We spent our summer vacation in the province of Drenthe, in a village called Hooghalen. A place with about 1,400 inhabitants. There are two churches, a school, a supermarket, a bakery, a restaurant, an art gallery, a gas station and a cemetery. The scenery is beautiful: lots of forests and vast heaths. It sounds idyllic. However, Hooghalen’s history has a dark chapter.
One day we went for a walk through the surrounding woods. After a while we came to a forest path where we saw several black posts. Each post had a text sign: a date, a place and a number of persons. The first one we saw was: Wednesday 13 September 1944, Bergen Belsen, 279 persons.
The combination of the year 1944 and place names like Bergen Belsen, Auschwitz and Theresienstadt made painfully clear that we were looking at memorials. Each sign referred to a transport of people to a concentration camp in nowadays Germany, Poland or the Czech Republic.
At that moment we no longer felt the sunshine; it grew cold in our hearts. We could only ask ourselves how many people had walked on this forest path, or had been on a train that took most of them to their final destination. We saw:
- 13 September 1944: 279 persons to Bergen Belsen
- 4 September 1944: 2087 persons to Theresienstadt
- 3 September 1944: 1019 persons to Auschwitz
Almost 3,400 persons were deported in September 1944, exactly 76 years ago. And that was in one month only.
During World War II there were five concentration camps in the Netherlands. They were located in Amersfoort, Ommen, Schoorl, Vught and Westerbork. In these camps the Germans imprisoned Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, disabled people, prisoners of war, members of the resistance and dissenters. Some of these camps are nowadays open to the public.
This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. For many, memories of this period are still very painful. Many have questions: why was my relative arrested, what happened to him, in which camp was she? In order to get answers to these questions, it is important that as many documents as possible become public. Due to all kinds of privacy restrictions, this goes step by step.
A very important source for those who are looking for family members who died during World War II, are the Arolsen Archives. Their website says:
“As part of the World’s Documentary Heritage, the largest archive on the victims of Nazi persecution should be accessible to as many people as possible. This is why the Arolsen Archives are publishing more and more of their holdings online.”
Everybody can take a look at their online available documents. A search for the word ‘Westerbork’ yields 31 records. However, a record may exist of several digitized pages.
For example: the document Alphabetical registry of Jews deported from the transit camp Westerbork to various KLs 15.7.1942 – 13.9.1944 (signature 126.96.36.199, reference code 8160499) contains 2290 digital pages. It is a long list of people (including names, birth dates, addresses) and the date when they were transported. [source]
One of the pages shows the Van Zweden family, who lived in Amsterdam. Hartog (36), Frouke (33) and Elly (5) were on the last train to Theresienstadt that left from Westerbork on 4 September 1944. They never returned. Frouke and Elly died in Auschwitz in October 1944, Hartog three months later. [source]
It is important that these documents become public. It will help a lot of people to find valuable information about their families. At the same time, these documents still cause a lot of pain. Reading about aweful events that happened to your family is never pleasant. But it is part of our common past, and we need to understand what happened to them.