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Camp Westerbork - Deportation to the East


A deportation train being loaded for Poland


       Refugee camp Westerbork officially was changed to Durchgangslager - Transit camp Westerbork in July 1942. The camp was located approximtely 3.1 mi (5 km) east of the village of Hooghalen, and just under 8.02 mi (12.9 km) to the south-east of Assen. The railway station of Hooghalen was on the main line between Zwolle and Groningen where, via a single side line, the deportation trains passed into Germany at the border town of Nieuwe Schans. In most cases the barbarous journey ended in either Auschwitz/Birkenau or Sobibor in Poland. The train rides usually lasted 2 to 3 days, depending on availability of the railroad systems which were also used for the war effort.

       Deportation to Poland began on 15 July 1942. On that date, 1137 Jews - men, women, and children - were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz/Birkenau. At first the train station near the small village of Hooghalen was used. That station was about a 3.1 mi (5 km) walk from the camp. The unfortunate inmates were made to walk, guarded by police, to and from the railway station in Hooghalen until the new line connecting the station at Hooghalen with the camp was completed.

       When the single track leading into the camp finally was completed in November 1942, deportations were organized from within the camp itself. Earlier the Nazis used outdated passenger coach cars to move the inmates via the border town of Nieuwe Schans into Germany. Once inside Germany they were transferred and locked into cattle cars. When the track leading into the camp was completed, the Nazis employed cattle cars all the way to carry out their evil intention. Now their actions were out of sight, so to speak.

       For the Jews of Holland, Westerbork was a camp which offered little comfort. Only they did not know it or see it that way. Using a scheme of trickery and deceit the camp was made to look like a place of vitality and even hope. Unlike other camps, the inmates were made to believe that life was not all that bad. Even the internal policing was not done by the SS, but by Dutch constables who belonged to the Marechaussee - Constabulary. The Nazi overseers allowed an almost near normal existence complete with medical attention. Weddings took place, circumcision, even synagogue life and classes for children provided they had not been deported yet. There was entertainment, sport, and work provided. The only exception to all this was the reality of the dreaded, regular transports which served as a constant reminder that nothing was normal at all in camp Westerbork. Over 104,000 Jews and 250 Sinti passed through its gate.

       To grasp the enormity the impact the regular transports must have had on the hapless victims, please take a look at this detailed chart. It lists the date of departure as well as the number of deportees to either Auschwitz/Birkenau or Sobibor, and later also to Theresienstadt and or Bergen-Belsen