Camp Westerbork , the Netherlands

The camp was erected in 1939 partly by the Dutch government and Dutch Jewish community as a refugee camp for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, after the Netherlands had closed its borders one year before. In July 1942 the camp was turned into a transit and deportation camp. Eichmann’s Reichssicherheitsamt 93 transports were organised by the local camp commanders and 107.000 Jews, 245 Roma and also members of the resistance were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. Only 5.000 of them returned. Yet Westerbork in general representations was not known to be a brutal camp: it counted only 300 escapes, and the effective camp commander A.K. Gemmeker (his house is one of the few material remnants of the camp after its demolition around 1970), ‘smiled people into the trains’. One such deportee was the Roma girl Settela, held to be in fact Jewish until the discovery of her identity in a recent analysis of the Westerbork footage (a unique 90 minutes film documenting the transports and the conventions of a Nazi concentration camp), captured by the German-Jewish filmmaker Rudolf Breslauer. At the end of the War, Camp Westerbork turned into an internment camp for SS and NSB collaborators. This phase of Westerbork is particularly contested in light of its supposedly harsh regime discussed in recent ‘grey’ Dutch war historiography. The self-organisations of the camp by Jewish guards, depicted as the camp nobility and ‘worse than the SS’ in early testimonies, represents yet another contested insight. After the decolonization war of the Dutch Indies (Indonesia) in 1950, the camp was turned into a temporary accommodation for Moluccan Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) soldiers and their families. In 1975 and 1977, radicalized Moluccan activists hijacked two trains and a school, whose assault came to an end after a violent military action claiming the life of passengers and hijackers alike. Camp Westerbork thus indirectly evokes a silenced and conflicted past for both the Dutch Moluccan community and wider segments of society. In the 1970s, the government closed the temporary Moluccan camp, to be reused by the Westerbork radio telescope (ASTRON).

 

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