What is going on, what mysteries are these, in what sort of fatal mechanism have we become enmeshed? The answer cannot simply be that we are all cowards. We're not that bad. We stand before a much deeper question . . .
In October 1939 the Dutch government established a camp in the peat bogs of northeastern Holland. Located near the German border, Westerbork's dismal wooden barracks were originally used to house Jewish refugees who had entered the Netherlands illegally. Westerbork was destined, however, to become a much more deadly place after the Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940. Westerbork was never an Auschwitz. Indeed, for a time it contained a more or less "permanent" population that led a relatively "normal" life. But before the war ended, Westerbork became for virtually all its Jewish inmates what it really was: a deportation assembly depot that organized Dutch Jews for transport to Nazi death camps.
Beginning in mid- July 1942, trains from Westerbork carried approximately 104,000 of Holland's 140,000 Jews to the East. Most of those transports went to Sobibor and Auschwitz. The victims included the Hillesum family--Etty, twenty- nine, her father, mother, and brother, Mischa, a brilliant young musician. They were deported from Westerbork on September 7, 1943. Upon arrival at Auschwitz--the most likely date is September 9, 1943--Etty's parents were gassed immediately. Mischa survived until March 1944. On November 30, 1943, the prisoner population at the Auschwitz complex consisted of 54,446 men and 33,846 women. Of that number 9,273 men and 8,487 women were reported as sick