In 1938 Camp Westerbork was built with funds from the Jewish community in the Netherlands as a shelter for German-Jewish refugees. On 1 July 1942 it was officially transformed into a transit camp and placed under the command of the Sicherheitspolizei and the SD. Most of the nearly 107,000 Jews deported to the East were taken from Westerbork.
A few hundred Sinti and Roma and dozens of non-Jewish resistance fighters were deported via Westerbork as well. At first the trains left from the station in Hooghalen. Later the railway tracks were extended to the camp.
The camp was full of emotional and physical hardships. The prisoners lived in barracks, with men separated from women. Privacy was non-existent amid the overcrowding. Sanitary conditions left much to be desired: lice and fleas were rampant, and the food was bad. People who had been caught in hiding were sent to special prison barracks. At the same time, courses were taught in the camp, inmates purchased groceries with ’camp money‘, and Camp Commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker regularly authorized shows by talented Jewish performers and musicians. Some prisoners found jobs in the camp, hoping they would be exempt from deportation because of their work.
The ’schedule‘ of the trains to the East was irregular at first. From February 1943 they left every Tuesday. The camp commander supervised the selection of prisoners for each transport. Ninety-three trains left Westerbork for Eastern Europe. Most went to Auschwitz, although some went to Sobibor between March and July 1943.
For additional information, photographs, videos and audio recordings about life in Westerbork, see