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Westerbork

WESTERBORK

WESTERBORK , the main transit camp for Dutch Jewry during the German occupation of Holland. The camp, situated in an extremely isolated region in the northeast of the country, had been set up by the Dutch government in 1939 with a financial guarantee from Dutch Jewry, in order to shelter numerous Jewish refugees fleeing from Germany who crossed the Dutch frontiers illegally. The first group came on Oct. 9, 1939. The camp held some 750 refugees when, on July 1, 1942, the Germans took command, after extending it considerably. From that date, more than 100,000 Jews arrested throughout the country remained for several days or weeks in Westerbork, where they had to work before being deported to other camps, primarily Nazi death camps, as part of the "final solution of the Jewish problem" (see *Holocaust: General Survey). During this period the camp was continually overcrowded. On Oct. 2, 1942, 13,000 Jews were imprisoned in Westerbork in one single Aktion. Thousands of them had to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets. Food and sanitary conditions were deplorable. By September 1944, a total of 93 trains, consisting of 20 trucks and containing 1,000–2,000 Jews, left Westerbork. Jewish officials were in charge of the internal organization and held responsible for maintaining law and order among the internees. Of those deported 54,930 went to Auschwitz in 68 transports, and 34,313 to Sobibor on 19 transports; most of these prisoners were killed upon arrival. In addition, 4,771 went to Theresienstadt, which itself was a transit camp. Nine transports were sent to Bergen-Belsen with 3,762 inmates. A special Jewish police force was created for this purpose. The most important task of these Jewish officials was to determine the order in which Jewish families were to be deported. Most of the Jewish officials, including their president, had been selected from the German-Jewish refugees who constituted the older segment of the Westerbork population. This frequently gave rise to serious conflicts, especially between Dutch and German Jews. Westerbork had its own theater, where famous German artists who had fled to Holland gave performances, as well as an orchestra. An excellent hospital, with a capacity of 1,725 beds, had 120 surgeons, more than 1,000 employees, and a completely equipped operating theater, various clinics, a pharmacy, and laboratories. The camp also maintained various schools and a playground for children, workshops for the repair of clothes and shoe shops, a bathhouse, and a post office. At the end of the war, only 900 Jews remained in Westerbork when the Canadians liberated the camp. The German commander, A.K. Gemmeken, was sentenced by a Dutch court to 10 years' imprisonment. Among those deported from Westerbork on one of the last trains in September 1944 was Anne *Frank and her family.

bibliography:

J. Presser, The Destruction of Dutch Jewry (1969), 406–64, and index; P. Mechanicus, Waiting for Death (1968); W. Warmbrunn, The Dutch under Nazi Occupation 19401945 (1963), 61–68, 167–80; A.J. Herzberg, Kroniek der Jodenvervolging (1956), passim.

[Abel Jacob Herzberg /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

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