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Camps in Holland - Camp Amersfoort

A view of the prisoner barracks in PD Amersfoort. The guards were notorious for their harsh treatment.

       In 1939 the Dutch Army Command gave orders to build army barracks on the moor of Leusden. These barracks were erected on the outskirts of Amersfoort, along a sandy road leading into the direction of Maarn/Doorn. Its purpose was to provide lodging for and give support to members of an artillery corps that was carrying out maneuvers in the area. Briefly this camp site was in use by the military until the outbreak of war.

       Following surrender, the barracks were not used again until 18 August 1941 when the Nazis decided to use them for police custody purpose and for the round-up of Jews living in region Amersfoort. Its use can be divided into two stages. The first stage was from August 1941 until March of 1943. During this time some 9,000 prisoners were incarcerated in Camp Amersfoort. The first 450 inmates were transfers from Camp Schoorl which had been closed as of the end of October 1941.

       In the early stages of Nazi measures against Jews, Camp Amersfoort was also used to confine and then deport the Jews living in Amersfoort. In 1941, eight hundred and twenty Jews lived in and around the city. The municipality at first resisted anti-Jewish measures, but could not prevent the removal of Jews from Amersfoort's economic and cultural life. By 22 April 1943 most of the Jewish population was transferred from Camp Amersfoort to Camp Vught, another notorious Nazi camp in the Netherlands. From there most were deported via Camp Westerbork to Poland for extermination.

       Between the first and the second stage was a brief period in which the camp underwent changes. During the second stage, between June 1943 and 19 April 1945, more than 28,000 people were imprisoned in Camp Amersfoort at one time or another. During the second stage Camp Amersfoort began to function as a Polizeiliches Durchgangslager for the SS since more than 20,000 inmates passed through Camp Amersfoort to concentration camps located in Nazi Germany.

Walter Heinrich

Two types of SS were engaged in the camp; camp-SS and SS guards. In charge of the camp organization were the camp-SS. They wrote policy procedures for camp Amersfoort. The first camp commander was SS-Obersturmführer - First Lieutenant in the SS, Walter Heinrich. As a policeman he had little experience with the internal running of a concentration camp. However, he had two former Dachau SS guards, SS-ers Berg, not the same as Karl Peter Berg, and Petri on staff. They taught him the lessons they themselves had learned while stationed in Dachau. Heinrich also attracted two men who had served the Nazi cause well as alternate commanders of Camp Schoorl. SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer I - first SS-Protective Custody camp com- mander, Hans Cornelis Stöver and his faithful side-kick SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer II - second SS-Protective Custody camp commander, Karl Peter Berg who would later succeed commandant Heinrich instead of Stöver.

The Camp was guarded by the Stabkompanie beim höheren SS- und Polizeiführer Nord-West - Staff company by order of the higher SS and commander of Police North-West, known as the SS guards. The first commander of the Stabkompanie was SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain Dr. Alphons Brendel. He was succeeded by SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain Paul Anton Helle.

       Initially Camp Amersfoort was made up of 17 wooden barracks. Each of the barracks was 60 meters or 196.8 ft in length. Five of these barracks were occupied by prisoners to whom 3-tier beds were assigned leaving little space for tables or benches. Later, in 1942, the SD gave orders to enlarge the camp and 10 additional large stone facilities, as well as barracks and sheds to accommodate workshops, were built. Whereas only a maximum of 600 prisoners were meant to be housed in the wooden barracks, in reality over 4,000 were locked up at times. As a result, contagious diseases such as dysentery and typhus, but also pneumonia and lice infestation were rampant.

       A minimum of 658 prisoners is known to have lost their lives in Amersfoort of which 428 were executed by firing squad. There is, however, strong indication that these figures are incomplete. In reality there may have been many more prisoners who perished in Amersfoort. Just before the end of the war the Nazis destroyed almost all camp administration and documentation in order to get rid of incriminating evidence.

       Most prisoners were male, coming from various groups forbidden or blacklisted by the Nazis. They were Roma or Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, illegal butchers, black market traffickers, those who had, according to Nazi standards, committed economical offenses. Included also were several arrested freedom fighters, Jews, some Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy, political prisoners and hostages. Each group could be recognized by the color of the triangle sewn onto the prison tunic. Moreover, each prisoner had his prison number sewn onto his prison tunic and trousers.

SS-Unterschutzhaftlagerführer Joseph Johann Kotälla, who mistreated prisoners with the utmost of cruelty, was a barbaric man. Before the war, in 1938, he was diagnosed as mentally disturbed. In Amersfoort he shone as the sadistic ruler who personally and with great pleasure horribly mistreated prisoners. Kotälla was responsible for the cruel regime waged in Camp Amersfoort. Systematic starvation, repulsive ill-treatment of all prisoners and the abominable method by which some of the prisoners were murdered were daily occurrence. In particular, Jews and Russian prisoners of war suffered as a result of his cruelty. The "Rose Garden" was his invention. It was an oblong area designed for punishment. The ground was loose sand at the outer edges surrounded by concrete posts to which rolls of barbed wire were connected. In this place of torture prisoners were forced to stand still and erect between 24 to 48 hours without food or drink.


 Joseph J. Kotälla

       Then there was de Bunker - the Bunker or Blockhouse. It consisted of twenty-two death cells, also referred as the portal of death. Prisoners disappeared here Im Nacht und Nebel - in Night and Fog. The only person who ever managed to miraculously escape from this place was the freedom fighter Gerrit Kleinveld. The movie De Bunker was made to commemorate his escape. Kleinveld was imprisoned from 22 December 1942 until 1 March 1943. The day of his escape came one day before his scheduled execution. He was condemned to death because of his involvement with several resistance groups. Among his activities, he was the founder as well as a member of the R.V.V. - Raad Van Verzet - Council of Resistance. He also was actively involved with several other resistance organizations. De Bunker was built half a meter or almost twenty inches below ground level. The two torturers Franska and Ritter practically were given free rein in de Bunker.

       The Schieszstandcommando - Rifle-range Commando was a notorious penal commando charged with the most difficult kind of work assignment. This commando was made up predominantly of Jews. In stead of shovels they were forced to use wooden planks. With these crude, makeshift shovels they had to dig the future rifle-range that measured 350 meter long and 5 meter deep (1148 ft long and 16.4 ft deep). The work was carried out under threat of whips and bludgeons. Much blood was shed in this place. Many people succumbed to heavy work demands. The circumstances under which they had to work always were bad. They suffered hunger and thirst. Once the rifle-range was completed it was also used for executions. Many were executed here.


 Some of the Camp-SS, third from the left is J.F. Stöver, extreme right K.P. Berg.

       For instance, on 5 March 1945 the Nazis retaliated when the Dutch underground failed in its attempt to assassinate SS General Hanns Rauter near the Woeste Hoeve outside Apeldoorn. They first executed 49 men at the Rifle-Range in Amersfoort. Four days later one more person was shot at the same place to round off the total at 50. Today a statue of de Stenen Man - the Stone Man is erected on the precise place where the murders took place. The statue of de Stenen Man was designed by Frits Sieger and unveiled in May of 1953. The official designation for the statue is "Prisoner in front of the firing squad."

After the war seven mass graves were discovered alongside the rifle-range by the criminal investigation team and identification department of Amersfoort. Het Lijkenhuis - the Mortuary was sometimes used to temporarily store deceased prisoners for possible transport back to family. However, more than often victims were placed in mass graves somewhere in a remote area. The bodies were totally covered with quicklime in an attempt to erase all evidence. Most victims died in the second year of the war. After the war an additional 59 mass graves were discovered by Mr. Gerrit Kleinveld, who was mentioned earlier as the only escapee from De Bunker. Kleinveld put pressure on former commandant Berg to
divulge the exact location of these mass graves. Berg was sentenced to death in 1948. The sentence was carried out in 1949. Ironically, Berg tricked his executioners by shouting "fire." He died instantly of the prematurely triggered shot.


Karl Peter Berg

       Finally, 101 Russian POWs were sent to Camp Amersfoort on 27 September 1941. Together with the transfers from Camp

       Finally, 101 Russian POWs were sent to Camp Amersfoort on 27 September 1941. Together with the transfers from Camp Schoorl and the incarcerated Jews these Russian POWs made up the first internees of the camp. When they arrived in Amersfoort they were paraded through town in an attempt to show the population of Amersfoort how primitive and barbaric Russians (communists!!) were, but the town people recognized the diabolic Nazi plan. Many gave bread and other food to the prisoners. While incarcerated, twenty-two Russians died of dysentery and willful starvation. Two Russian POWs were ordered killed by the Dutch camp doctor van Nieuwenhuysen, a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. The skulls of these two victims were placed as trophies on his desk.

       On 9 April 1942, the remaining 77 Russian soldiers were liquidated by the SS. They were killed re- ceiving fatal neck shots. Before the execution the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) - Security police had organized a bacchanalia, a drunken orgy in the SS canteen. The murdered Russian prisoners were temporarily re-buried in the summer of 1945. Later their bodies were again exhumed and this time transferred to a cemetery called Rusthof - Garden of Rest. Finally they were re-burried in the Russian Honor Field which was created in 1947/1948, where to date 865 Soviet war victims rest.

       Along the Appelweg, outside the camp, stood a large tree. Its branches leaned over the barbed wire inside the camp grounds. Many prisoners dreamed of grabbing the branches and catapulting themselves across the fence making a clean escape. That tree stood for many years. Even after it had died it remained as a silent witness to the atrocities that were committed in Camp Amersfoort. Unfortunately, on 25 October 2000 nature took its toll and toppled that tree. Many former inmates looked upon that day as a day of mourning because the tree was viewed by them as a symbolic monument. You see, in January of 1945, just beyond that tree, the Nazis buried a man alive. His name was Joop Swaanswijk, a radio operator. Joop also was a member of the Council of Resistance the R.V.V. - de Raad Van Verzet. After the war he received proper burial. When the camp was liberated between 475 and 500 survivors were counted. Few of these were Jews.