Anne Frank and After: Dutch Holocaust Literature in Historical Perspective

By Dick Van Galen Last; Rolf Wolfswinkel | Go to book overview

IV
The Transit Camps

I can see a father, ready to depart, blessing his wife and child and being himself blessed in turn by an old rabbi with a snow-white beard and the profile of a fiery prophet. I can see...ah, I can't begin to describe it all... ( Etty Hillesum)

All roads lead through Westerbork (SS-Hauptsturmführer Aus der Fünten)

Ironically enough, Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Westerbork (Police Transit Camp Westerbork) began its short unhappy life as a Dutch project. In February 1939 the Dutch Cabinet had decided to build a camp to house Jewish refugees from Germany. For the last lot of the more than 30,000 German and Austrian Jews who had entered Holland in the Thirties, it was difficult to find a place, not in the least because these latecomers were on the whole not as wealthy as those who had come between 1933 and 1937. This had led to enormous financial and accommodation problems. They became the charge of the Jewish Committee for Special Jewish Interests, private institutions and church organisations. The government wanted to make a camp available to them and put forward the money, on loan. Eventually, all of it would have to be repaid by the Jewish community. The chosen site -- on the heathland of Drente -- was in one of Holland's more desolate areas: bleak and wet in winter, sandy, dusty and full of flies in summer. One of the first refugees to enter the new site remembers:

The further we walked, the more lonely it became. It was just heathland as far as the eye could see. An occasional shrub. Where the refugee camp was to be built, we saw a large plain of heath and sand, very desolate. But we had no say in the matter and had to be satisfied. (Quoted in Mulder, 1991:4, own translation)

That was 1939; in the winter of 1940, things had not improved much. Fred Schwarz, an Austrian immigrant from Vienna, was one of the first inhabitants of the new camp. He writes:

I have no idea what the 'civilised' world looks like at the moment, but here it is a nightmare. Snowstorms are raging round the barracks, icicles are hanging from the leaking gutters. The heater in our washroom has given up, and therefore washing facilities and toilets are frozen. ( Schwarz, 1994:87, own translation)

It had not been the government's first choice. That had been a site near Elspeet, nearer the centre of the country. One of the protests against this

-75-

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Anne Frank and After: Dutch Holocaust Literature in Historical Perspective
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Table of Contents 5
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Introduction 'Statistics Don't Bleed' 9
  • I Dutch Jewry Before 10 May 1940 15
  • II From Aryan Declaration to Yellow Star - The Antechamber of Death 33
  • III Deportation or into Hiding 53
  • IV The Transit Camps 75
  • V The Railroad of No Return 91
  • VI The Paradox of Silence: Survivors and Losers 121
  • VII The Epilogue 147
  • Notes 155
  • Chronology 165
  • Short Biographies 167
  • Bibliography 173
  • Sources 179
  • Index 181
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