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In 1939 the Central Refugee Camp Westerbork is built in the municipality of Westerbork in Drenthe. Initially, this 'Camp Westerbork' served as a refugee camp for Jewish refugees from Germany. During the occupation of the Netherlands, on 1 July 1942, it becomes a transit camp for Dutch Jews toward the concentration and death camps in Germany, Poland, and Czechia. The camp remains in use after the war, it is used to house thousands of Moluccans starting in 1951.
When the Germans take over Camp Westerbork in 1942, it is named 'Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Westerbork'. In the night of 2 and 3 October of that year, about 10,000 Jews are transported to Drenthe from labour camps in different parts of the Netherlands. Even Jews who had been living in freedom until that moment, are systematically transported to Camp Westerbork. On specific dates, they have to 'voluntarily' report to special collection points and are transported to the camp by passenger train at night. Upon arrival they are registered and added to the civil register of the municipality of Westerbork.
Most prisoners only spend a few days there, sometimes several weeks. A small number stays there for months or even years. Compared to other camps, living conditions in Camp Westerbork are relatively good. There is little abuse and murder, for instance. Families are allowed to stay together, and in general there is enough to eat. There is also a shop, playground, school, hospital, and theatre.
Living in Fear
Life in the camp is all about one thing: avoid being placed on the weekly transport to Germany. The usual final destination of this train is Auschwitz. Sometimes trains depart for Sobibor, Theresienstadt, and Bergen-Belsen. A total number of 100,000 prisoners are transported from camp Westerbork by train between 15 July 1942 and 13 September 1944. Only 5,000 Jews and 32 Romani that have been transported from Westerbork survive the Second World War.
Moluccan Refugee Camp
The barracks of Camp Westerbork continue to be used even after the war. First it is used as a prisoner camp for NSB members, but in 1951 it is again taken into long-term use as a refugee camp. When the republic of Indonesia gains its independence in 1949, Christian Moluccans are repatriated to the Netherlands for safety reasons. They are housed in Camp Westerbork, which is renamed 'Woonoord Schattenberg'. At its peak, the camp is home to about three thousand Moluccans.
You can learn more about the impressive history of this site in the Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork.