The Holocaust - Lest we Forget - Theatre

Westerbork Cabaret

       Several German and Dutch Jewish inmates with extensive professional theater experience took pride in staging cabaret performances once they had arrived at Westerbork. Nazi authorities, commandant Gemmeker included, encouraged them in this. The SS went overboard to make these indulgences a great success. To numb the senses of the hapless inmates, show time for each cabaret performance was deliberately scheduled to start on the evening following the dreaded departure of a deportation train to one of the extermination centers in either Auschwitz/Birkenau or Sobibor.

Camilla Spira in the Revue 1943 in Transit camp Westerbork

       Every Tuesday night the stage was set for the Bunter Abend and most inmates wanted to set their minds off the transports of that same morning and the SS wanted to show their superiors how subdued the camp population was due to the performances of some of Europe's best theater performers. Some of the well known performers where Jewish German refugees. Some artists belonged to the top performers in Europe, such as the German Jews Willy Rosen, Max Ehrlich en Erich Ziegler who had fled Nazi Germany and who had found refuge in the Netherlands. Great names were Camilla Spira, Eshter Philipse, Otto Aurich, Mara Rosen, Liesl Frank and Jetty Cantor. The latter survived the war and had a very successful career afterwards, played roles in the Bunter Abend - Variety Evening. Together they formed the Gruppe Bühne Lager Westerbork - Theatre group camp Westerbork.

Ehrlich and his group performing in Westerbork camp, Netherlands, 1943. (source:

       Music had already played an important role in the camp life of Westerbork before it became known as transit camp Westerbork. As early as 1940, Heinz Neuberg was the director of the Gruppe Musik Lager Westerbork - Music group of camp Westerbork. Many Jewish inmates had played in orchestras before, therefore it was not too difficult to form a camp orchestra in Westerbork.

       Popular music was played by singers like Johnny and Jones, two Jewish boys from Amsterdam. Camp commandant Gemmeker liked the German repertoire better than the songs sung by Johnny and Jones, so they were not permitted to perform in the Bunter Abend - Variety Evening too often. However, they were allowed to sing their songs in das Lagerkaffee - the camp coffee shop. It didn't affect the popularity of their songs and the inmates greatly appreciated their famous song The Westerbork Serenade.

Johnny and Jones - The Westerbork Serenade

       Ironically, the stage used for cabaret productions, but also for concert performances by the Camp orchestra, was build from wood the Nazis had plundered from the wrecked synagogue located in the city of Assen, a town in the vicinity of Camp Westerbork.