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Camp Westerbork - Royal Constabulary


Deportation train leaves Hooghalen for Auschwitz (1942). The presence of the constabulary is evident


       The Koninklijke Marechaussee - Royal Constabulary dates back to 26 October 1814 when King Willem I signed the decree that led to the establishing of the Koninklijke Marechaussee. The decree read as follows: "The purpose for the establishing of a Marechaussee constabulary is to ensure that law and order is maintained, that border crossings are safeguarded, and that the main highways are controlled for safety." Who could have guessed that one day some members of this corps would betray their fellow citizens?

       Until 5 July 1940, the corps was a respectable organization distinguishing itself serving with various police departments throughout the Netherlands as well as serving closely with the Armed Forces. After that date the Corps forfeited the title "Royal" because of the German occupation of the Netherlands. At this time also it lost its status as a Military Detachment. It became a regular constabulary supervising day to day police forcing under the supervision, of course, of the German authorities. They were now simply referred to as Marechaussee - constabulary. Needless to say that from that day forth the image and nature of the Marechaussee underwent a dramatic change. The original leadership of this police force was replaced with collaborating officials. Most of the policemen serving as constables also were sympathizers with the Nazis. However, it must be recorded that some of the police enforcers were good men who under difficult circumstances tried very hard to lessen the pain and intolerance that was inflicted especially upon the Dutch Jews. They often did so risking their own safety. Unfortunately, in general this was not so the case.

       The Netherlands was liberated for the most part by Canadian, English, Polish and French troops. However it should be noted that the city of Nijmegen was liberated by the Americans. The American forces were replaced by British and Canadian troops in November 1944. These were part of a new front, intended to liberate the northern and western part of the country that still was occupied by the nazis's. This explains the large number of British soldiers in the Nijmegen area. In 1945 the police corps, the Marechaussee, once again was awarded the status of Royal Constabulary serving in military as well as in civil roles. Besides counting on the service of the newly instituted Koninklijke Marechaussee - Royal Constabulary, the Dutch Government also instituted and maintained a regular police corps in cities, towns and villages throughout the Netherlands.

       It is the period of 1940 - 1945 that I wish to address on this Site. During these years, members of the Marechaussee were employed at Camp Westerbork also. Initially, no dramatic changes affecting the camp's German Jewish refugees were introduced. On 1 July 1942 the responsibility for the camp was taken over by the Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und SD - Head of the Security Police and SD. The new designation for the camp officially became known as Durchgangslager - Transit camp Westerbork. From that date on, as was learned later, the only reason for the camp's existence was to deport Dutch as well as German refugee Jews and Sinti to eastern Europe for extermination.

 

The Marechaussee participated in Nazi festivals

Getting ready for a good meal


       Immediately after the transfer of authority and power, the Nazis erected a two meter high barbed wire fence around the compound. Seven watchtowers were erected also. A battalion of German SS troops was charged with the outside security of the camp. SSers manned the watchtowers and also guarded the entrance to the camp. The Marechaussee - constabulary was charged with the responsibility of maintaining internal "law and order."

       The Marechaussee stationed in camp Westerbork were mainly drawn from the three northern provinces, Drente, Groningen, and Friesland. Active duty for these constables was limited to two months of service at a time, after which they were replaced by a fresh contingency. The main purpose for this continuous turnover was to prevent constables from fraternizing with the Jewish inmates.

       Until November 1942, one of the tasks of the Marechaussee was to accompany columns of Jewish men, women, and children, between the now defunct, small railroad station in Hooghalen and camp Westerbork. From the station at Hooghalen to the entrance of camp Westerbork was a little over 3 mi or 5.1 km. This was carried out in coordination with constables from the regular Dutch police force. After November 1942 arrivals and departures would take place from within the camp, utilizing the new railroad track that had been constructed by Jewish inmates.

       In January 1943 the Marechaussee completely took over the task of guarding the camp from the SS battalion. The Marechaussee saw to it that Jews were secured in the cattle trains that would ultimately bring them to one of the extermination centers in Poland. From that moment on they also manned the watchtowers surrounding the camp. It must be said that among these Marechaussee were some who showed kindness to the Jews while others were convinced Nazi sympathizers. Acting commander of the detachment, Master Sergeant Albert de Jong, belonged to the latter category. He frequently beat prisoners and showed little or no mercy for Jews who had made an attempt at escape. For having carried out his "very difficult" task in an exemplary way he was promoted to Warrant Officer on 17 February 1944.

       As can be seen from the pictures on this page, most constables not only carried out their task with enthusiasm, they also enjoyed what they were doing.