Concentration camps in the Netherlands 1940-1945

It is well known that there were concentration camps in Germany and Poland during the Second World War and that Jews in particular were murdered there. The name Auschwitz alone speaks volumes in that regard. It is less known that there were also camps in the Netherlands in the years 1940-45. Westerbork was specially intended for Jews. In addition, there were four detention centers that could be called concentration camps: Schoorl, Amersfoort, Ommen and Vught.

Camp Westerbork

Camp Westerbork was originally built by the Dutch government as a residential camp for Jews who had fled Nazi Germany. It was put into use for this purpose in 1939. When the Germans became the boss in the Netherlands on May 14, 1940, after a short battle, the 700 refugees who were there at the time still came under the Nazi yoke. Westerbork was expanded (it measured 500 by 500 meters), barbed wire was added around it and it turned into a concentration camp to which a total of approx. 102,000 Jews from the Netherlands and occasionally from other countries were brought together. They were then taken to the labor and extermination camps in Germany and Poland; every Tuesday a train with camp residents left for those countries. The term Judendurchgangslager for Westerbork was therefore common (among the Germans).

Also guarded by Dutch military police

On July 1, 1940, the camp was placed under the supervision of the Commander of the Security Police and the SD . In October 1942, Lagerkommandant SS-Obersturmführer AK Gemmeker made his debut. It was unfortunate that the camp had no train connection; the nearest station was Hooghalen, 5 km away. The deportees therefore had to cover the distance on foot. In November a branch from Hooghalen station to the camp was completed.

The camp was guarded by an SS guard battalion , assisted by a section of the Dutch military police. Despite this, a total of 210 Jews managed to escape from the camp. Within the camp there were also Jews who fulfilled a function, including within the Order Service. Such a position was generally highly coveted because it meant (temporarily) exemption from transport to Poland.

The food could be described as reasonable and parcels were allowed to be received. There was a hospital with 1700 beds. There was a department store where shopping could be done. However, the housing was highly inadequate. Almost all lived in large barracks, men and women separated. There was no privacy at all.

On April 12, 1945, the day the prisoners were liberated, there were 876 prisoners in the camp.

Camp Vught

Concentration camp Vught dates from January 1943 and was then officially called concentration camp s Hertogenbosch, the only German concentration camp in the Netherlands that fell directly under the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt . It was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence with a moat in between. Every 50 meters. there was a watchtower with an SS man on it with a searchlight and a machine gun. Relatively most prisoners died in the first four-month period. They arrived in a building that had not yet been completed, for example, most of the barracks had no windows yet (and it was the middle of winter), there were no mattresses or blankets and no drinking water. And it should also be remembered that in the first period 2,000 prisoners arrived from Amersfoort who were already seriously weakened.

Hanns Albin Rauter, the highest SS officer in the Netherlands, saw the Vught camp as a model company. The commander was the SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Walter Chmielewski. L. de Jong, in his The Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Second World War’ (vol. 8 p. 608), calls him dull and lazy and only interested in providing himself with the most pleasant life possible, complete with lots of drink and women. Women and men were separated there; the women under the supervision of so-called Aufseherinnen (including Dutch ones). And then there were the Kapos , prisoners who had to watch over their fellow prisoners. They mainly came from German camps, they were often ordinary criminals, sometimes with murder on their conscience. It happened that the Lagerālteste in Vught was a decent guy who often protected prisoners. After about six months he disappeared from Vught.

The concentration camp held prisoners on the one hand, who were transported from there to Westerbork and then to extermination camps in Poland, and on the other hand, Dutch and Belgian political prisoners, including students, many of whom were soon released. Furthermore, a diverse group: illegal workers, refusers of the Labor Deployment, people who had listened to English radio, violated the curfew, black marketers, people who had allowed Jews to go into hiding, etc. etc.

Regime less harsh than in German camps

The food was bad; when it was allowed to receive sent packages (with food), the situation improved temporarily. Torture also took place in Vught. Jews in particular were targets of bullying and torture. Yet the regime was, on average, less harsh than in the camps in Germany. It was also possible to write a letter home and receive it (all under strict censorship, especially in the early days). And lectures were also given and discussion groups were formed. They even played music and a band was founded by musicians who were imprisoned there. The fact that the regime in the Dutch camps was less strict than in the German camps is, according to L. de Jong in part 8 of his well-known series (p. 658), due to the fact that Seys-inquart and Rauter tried to create an anti-German mood. in the Netherlands as much as possible and to win that people over to Germanic cooperation’.

The prisoners in Vught had to work six and a half days (for free). Philips had a workshop there. That was positive for the prisoners: they were fed at Philips and were not taken to extermination camps. There were also many Aussenkommandos ; these were groups of people who were put to work outside the camp, for example in a factory.
The camp existed for almost 20 months; During that time, 209 people were killed, excluding the Judendurrchgangslager .

Camp Ommen

(also called ‘Erika’)
The history of the Ommen camp can be divided into four periods. A : Autumn 41 – June 42, when the camp was intended as a training camp for the eastern deployment. B : June 42 – April 43, when it was a detention center for prisoners of the Dutch justice system. C : May 43-February 44, when there were anti-socials and absconders from the labor force. D : During the Hunger Winter, when it had become a detention center for prisoners of the Ordnungspolizei .


Ommen was a creation of Seyss-Inquart’s closest advisor, Generalkommissar Fritz Schmidt, to whom it fell. He gave it a new name in 41: Arbeitseinsatzlager Erika (here: Ommen). It was not clear at first which Einzats had to be performed. It was therefore empty in the initial period above). Subsequently ( B ) it provided shelter to convicts of the Dutch justice system. Some of them were sent to labor camps in Germany. In 43 there were students who had refused to sign the declaration of loyalty. Contract breakers, refusers and antisocials, including economic delinquents and illegal slaughterers, also arrived in May that year. The total number of prisoners who served time in Ommen is not exactly known. There must have been several thousand. It is known from Ommen municipal data that thirty-nine prisoners died, including five who were shot by guards.

The barracks were small and overcrowded. Clothing and food were bad. Heavy physical work had to be done. And if it was not heavy, it was made heavy: when harrowing arable land, it happened that a block was placed on the harrow, which was pulled by five prisoners, on which a guard would sit.

Camp Schoorl

The Schoorl barracks camp served as a shelter for part of the Dutch army until the capitulation on 14 May 1940. Afterwards it was used by the German Wehrmacht. In June 1940 it became a transit camp, for both Jews and non-Jews awaiting transfer to other camps, for example Jews to Buchenwald. Prisoners were also sent to Amersfoort camp. In total, Schoorl housed around 1,900 prisoners before it was closed in October 1941.
It is inappropriate to use the word ‘pleasant’ in relation to Schoorl compared to other camps, but the regime was not strict and no one died.

Camp Amersfoort

More than 8,500 are registered in the ‘Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort’ (PDA). Barracks from the Dutch army were used. It was put into use in early August 1941.

Harsh regime

The camp was overcrowded. The regime was harsh. The camp had only just been put into use when two SS men from Dachau arrived to explain how prisoners should be treated: on August 18, 41, several prisoners at one point had no teeth left in their mouths.

In September 42 Kotālla was appointed; it was he who was given the real leadership. SS man Berg was also active there. It happened that, sitting on the back of a crawling prisoner, he allowed himself to be driven straight across the Appellplatz .


If we want to be complete, Barneveld should not be missing. It is hardly comparable to the above camps. A number of Jews stayed in De Schaffelaar Castle, as well as in the former De Biezen work placement camp. No one was there longer than two to nine months. Most of them were socially or culturally more or less prominent Jews who stayed there with the whole family. At the beginning of 1943 this number was almost 540 people. They did not have to work hard, lectures were given. In the long run, however, the screws were tightened by the Germans. In September 1943 the entire Barneveld group was transferred to Westerbork. Yet they remained privileged in the sense that, with the exception of the Germans among them, no one from the Barneveld group was deported to Auschwitz.

The Beetse

Camp De Beetse, located west of Sellingen (Gr.), was built by the Dutch government in 1935 to serve as a labor camp in the context of the provision of work. Unemployed people from all over the Netherlands were deployed to develop the heathlands. In 1942 the camp became a buffer for Westerbork. On the night of October 2 to 3, all Jewish men were transported to Westerbork. There they were reunited with the women and children, after which they were all taken to Auschwitz; almost all died there.

The barracks remained empty until 1944, after which they were used for the transit of Dutch men to Germany as part of the labor deployment there.

After the war, NSB members and SS members were interned in the camp. The barracks were demolished in 1948. One remained standing, which was renovated in 2014 and given a public function to keep the history of the camp alive.

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