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Camps in Holland - Camp Vught

A Canadian soldier stands between two rows of barbed wire. Photo NIOD - 26 September 1944
Vught earned a bad name because of the harsh treatment Dutch and Belgian inmates received.

       Concentration camp Vught officially was referred to as Konzentrationslager-KL Herzogenbosch - concentration camp 's-Hertogenbosch. Its first inmates arrived on 13 January 1943. They came from concentration camp Amersfoort were they had been badly mistreated. The evidence was in the condition they were in when they arrived. What awaited them was an even worse nightmare. The first Jewish prisoners, textile and diamond workers, arrived three days later.



Karl Chmielewski

 Adam Grünewald

 Hans Hüttig

       The first camp commandant was SS-Untersturmführer SS Subaltern Karl Chmielewski. This SS Officer had already earned his badge of cruelty and disgrace at Gusen concentration camp. He was well known for the barbaric atrocities he had committed while serving at Gusen, a notorious Nazi camp annex of Mauthausen. Mauthausen ranked among the most brutal of the Nazi camps. In October 1943, accused of grand theft, he was replaced by a new commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain Adam Grünewald. Grünewald was responsible for the infamous bunker drama. Because of this, he was replaced in February of 1944 by yet another SS officer, SS-Untersturmführer - SS Subaltern Hans Hüttig. Hüttig was responsible for at least 329 murders, victims who were executed at Vught between July and September of 1944. This happened just prior to the liberation of the camp by Allied forces.

Arrival of Jews at the station of Vught

Another arrival of Jewish prisoners in Vught

       Originally, Vught was divided into two sections. The first section, JDL - Judendurchgangslager - transit camp for Jews, was designed to house Jewish inmates before they were deported to Poland. These transfers were carried out in two stages. First they were moved from Vught to Westerbork. Next, they were sent from Westerbork to either the extermination camp of Auschwitz/Birkenau or Sobibor. Approximately twelve thousand Jews including two thousand children under the age of sixteen left Vught via Westerbork to extermination centers in Poland or, as in the case of two transports, these went directly to Poland . The transfer of Jewish prisoners to Westerbork hardly ever created panic. Although, because of separation from father or mother, or both, children often felt deserted and bewildered. Treatment in Vught had been barbaric. Many who were transferred thought that they would permanently stay in Westerbork. That in itself was a consolation of sorts. They did not realize that Westerbork was but a holding place and subsequent portal for deportation and ultimate extermination in either Birkenau or Sobibor.


 Arrival of the first prisoners in 1943

       The second section of Vught served as Schutzhaftlager - security camp. This section received Dutch as well as Belgian political prisoners, both men and women. Unlike Westerbork and Ommen, the guards were exclusively drawn from the SS. Food was nearly non-existent. It basically consisted of warm water with some carrots or sauerkraut floating on the surface. The SS guards tortured the prisoners with incredible cruelty often beating them to death. Several prisoners were brutalized with a club wrapped with barbed wire. SS men often provoked their dogs to attack the prisoners. Several former inmates gave testimony how attacks by dogs had left them with horribly inflicted wounds, including wounds to the genitals. Hundreds of Dutch and Belgian prisoners were executed by firing squad in a place called De IJzeren Man - The Iron Man. This place was located approximately half a mile outside camp perimeter.

Prisoners worked six and

one half days per week , under extremely difficult

torturous circumstances

       Extensions to camp Vught were carried out. Two sections were added in May and in August 1943 respectively. In May Frauenkonzentrationslager, FKL - a women's concentration camp and in August Polizeiliches Durchgangslager, PDL - a police ordered transit camp was added. The latter was reserved for hostages. A number of inmates of the PDL were shot by firing squad in retaliation for acts of sabotage committed by underground fighters, a.k.a. partisans.

       Vught had its own gallows and crematorium. 747 prisoners, mostly Jews, perished in Vught between 1943 and 1944. In September 1943, these gallows were used for the executions of twenty Belgian prisoners. Several prisoner convoys left Vught directly for major camps located in Germany and Poland. However, most Jewish prisoners were deported to the extermination centers via Westerbork. The most notorious of all transports was the children transport which left Vught on the 5th of June 1943. Its ultimate destination was the extermination center at Sobibor. This transport was made up of 1266 children, all under the age of sixteen. The number of executions increased dramatically as the war came to a close.


       On the 4th and 5th of September alone 117 prisoners were shot to death at the shooting range outside the camp. Tension and uncertainty descended upon the camp. Prisoners asked themselves what would happen with them. Speculation was widespread. Especially when news did the rounds that a freight train had been observed in the vicinity of the camp. Was the train for them? Would they be deported just before liberation?
      In early September 1944 it had the appearance that the war would soon be over. On 4 September the
BBC broadcast the news that the Americans had entered South-Limburg. All expectations were that the German war-machine would soon collapse..Later that evening the news even came that allied forces had reached the outskirts of the city of Breda. This resulted in the chaotic retreat of German nationalists and collaborating Dutch citizens fleeing the south for the north-east of the Netherlands and some attempted to get into Germany. This phenomenon became known as Dolle Dinsdag - Chaotic Tuesday. The British Field Marshall Montgomery opened an enormous offensive on Sunday, the 10th of September. Its purpose was to make a quick end to the war with Germany and defeating Hitler's Nazi regime. Montgomery's intentions were to make a corridor from Belgium through to Arnhem. In doing so he hoped to capture the bridges over the rivers Rhine, Maas and Waal, in order to secure a passage way through to Germany. This operation was code-named Market Garden. Pressured by the Allied offences, the SS leadership,who had committed crimes against humanity in campVught, did not want to wait for the approaching Allied troops. In haste the camp was vacated. Several prisoners were released immediately, others were first sent to Amersfoort where these too were released upon arrival. Following the last transport of Jews to Germany on the second of June, the last remaining 2221 male political prisoners were hastily put on a freight train on the 5th of September and transferred to the notorious Sachsenhausen prison camp. The next day, the 6th of September, the last 600 female political prisoners and the remaining 600 male prisoners were also deported to Germany. The women went to Ravensbrück while the men went to Sachsenhausen.

       The liberation of the province of Brabant, and consequently also of the town of Vught, was included in operation "Market Garden". That particular action was code-named "Operation Pheasant". In her booklet Kamp Vught, de laatste maanden - 6 juni - 26 oktober 1944 - Camp Vught, the last months - 6 June - 26 October 1944, author Winanda de Vroe details how the Allied forces came upon the vacated camp.

       On page 32 she writes "Late in the evening of the 26th of October, the English had broken through to the deserted concentration camp of Vught. The grim watch-towers, barbed wire enclosures and in particular the view of the crematorium and gallows, made an ominous and deterrent influence on the liberators. Concentration camp Vught was liberated, but only a few people were present to really enjoy their freedom. Waiting for the liberators was a small contingent of caretakers, made up of a group of men from the town of Vught who had been detailed there since the 22nd of September. The group fell under the leadership of nurse Hulsman, who made it clear that she represented the Red Cross, and Jan van de Mortel (reference, the book Vught in de Tweede Wereldoorlog - Vught in the Second World War). Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch - Concentration camp Vught had officially ceased to exist as of the 14th of September 1944.

       National Monument Konzentrationslager Hertogenbusch - concentration camp Vught was opened on 18 April 1990 at the exact location where the former concentration camp Vught once stood. Planning a visit to the National Monument? Visit their website first.