Nationaal Monument Kamp Vught
Vught was chosen because it was close to Den Bosch, where various German head offices were. There was also a railway line, making it easier to transport prisoners.
SS CONCENTRATION CAMP IN THE NETHERLANDS
Kamp Vught is officially called: Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch (January 1943 – September 1944). It was not a “death camp” where Jews were massively killed. Rather it was the main SS concentration camp in the Netherlands (other concentration camps are Schoorl, Amersfoort and Ommen). For many Jewish people, this was an intermediate station, as they were later transported to an extermination camps. But it’s important to note that there were not only Jews in this camp, but also gypsies, gays, resistance fighters, political prisoners, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.
Approximately 12,000 of these people were Jews, sent here before being sent to the death camps in Eastern Europe. The rest of Kamp Vught’s inmates were resistance fighters, political prisoners, Jehovah Witnesses, Roma, criminals, and a variety of others whom the Nazis deemed “unacceptable”. As with other camps, prisoners were forced to wear coloured triangles on their prison clothes to identify their category of ‘crime’.
FREE AUDIO TOUR
When I visited, there were still doing some renovations to the site, which were not too bad as it is nearly done, but in exchange, they offered a FREE audio tour with a small device – I plugged in my headphones but you can hold the box to your head too – English, Dutch, French & German options. [The tour is normally €2.50 per person]
As you walk around, you see small boxes which you just tap with your device and it plays. There are additional buttons (a) or (b) which give you more bonus information. Personally, I loved the informative audio tour and the additional information.
MUSEUM SET UP
The area is currently a museum is spread out over several buildings and outdoor areas. A model of the camp, made of natural stone, shows the extensive size of the camp and the many buildings it included.
The watchtowers, which were built a hundred meters apart, have been reconstructed.
The prisoners lived in barracks, over 400 prisoners per barrack. There was a bedroom here, a toilet room, laundry room and a dining room and washroom where they could wash once every 10 days! The display barrack, rebuilt at half the original size, shows how the prisoners lived.
There is also a crematorium, where the bodies of prisoners who died or were executed at the camp were burned. Again, while it was not an extermination camp, around 750 people died due to hunger, sickness, and abuse. Of these, 329 were murdered at the execution site just outside the camp.
The “bunker drama” is an example of the atrocities in the camp. When one of the women from barrack 23B was imprisoned in camp prison (the “bunker”), a number of women protested. Camp commander Grünewald ordered retaliation as many women as possible in one cell. In cell 115, 74 women were eventually squeezed together on an area of nine m², with hardly any ventilation. On Sunday morning, January 16, 1944, the cell door opens after 2 p.m. Ten women did not survive the night. This drama soon became known outside the camp and was described in various resistance papers. The occupier finds it extremely annoying that the news has leaked out. Grünewald is sentenced to three and a half years by an SS judge. Himmler repeats this verdict and degrades Grünewald as a regular soldier. He joins his division again and is killed in 1945 in Hungary.
In June 1943, the Nazis decided there were too many Jewish children in Camp Vught. So they rounded up all the children under the age of 17 and sent them, along with those of their parents who chose to accompany them (most did), to Sobibor, where they were gassed. The names of these 1269 Jewish children are inscribed on the Children’s Monument. The youngest of these victims was only 6 days old when he was deported from Vught. When the train carrying him arrived for a stopover at Westerbork, he was so ill that he had to be taken to the hospital there, where he was placed on an incubator and assigned two private nurses. Two weeks later, when he had fully recovered, he was sent directly to the gas chambers at Sobibor. Of all the Dutch Jews sent to Sobibor, only 18 adults survived and came back to tell their stories.
Located in the Vughtse Heide woods, at about a 15 minute walk from the museum. Since I have small legs, it was more like 25 minutes!
Simply follow the path in the woods of the logo and you’ll come to a memorial erected that displays the names of the 329 prisoners who were executed at this site. The walk back was more tricky and a few times I questioned which path to take – as I was literally alone in the woods – and only one time did I pass ONE other person. It was a bit creepy to be honest, I hated this part! My mind starts racing like a horror film and before you know it, I work myself up in my mind.
The monument was installed in 1947 and unveiled by Princess Juliana. Behind the monument is a large wooden cross, this cross was already posted as a tribute to the victims.
The original memorial wall bearing the names of these victims was vandalized with tar in the 1990s on the 50th anniversary of the Dutch liberation – never caught! The defaced tablets are on display in the camp museum. Written on a wall above them is a poem in Dutch addressing those responsible for the act of desecration.
The daubed plates are on display in boxes in the museum.
At the gate to the monument someone pasted a poem in response to the defacing of the monument, this poem is placed in bronze on the gate too.
A translation appears in the guidebook and spoken in the audio tour.
Could you paint tar
across stone, names, the past?
Pitiable fool, such names
can never be erased.
They are ingrained in countless
human souls, untouchable
by your foul hatred.
They are written in fire
in the skies, and their light
is insupportable to you.
You have accomplished nothing
Above all you have only smudged
your own name.
They are smiling at your anger
bathing in light,
gently rocking on God’s breath.
And singing very softly and still
for those who want to hear:
After my long walk in the woods, I returned, picked up my car and drove up the road to the Barrack 1B parking lot (tiny but as most people walk there was plenty of room). I had to get the kids right after in MiniGestel camp, so didn’t want to have to go back again.
Barrack 1B (Barak 1B) was opened after restoration in 2013; all information is bilingual: in English and Dutch. Barrack 1B is the last remaining barrack from Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch: a unique war heritage site and remembrance site. The exhibition covers four periods: the concentration camp (1943-1944), the evacuation camp for German citizens from the border area (1944-1945) and the internment camp for NSB members, Dutch citizens suspected of collaboration, and imperial Germans (1944-1949).
Watch a film which is part of this exhibition with English subtitles [22 minutes – can take some time to load].
From 1951, part of the former camp was used as the Lunetten compound and it housed former troops from the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL in Dutch) and their families from the Moluccas. The stories of tens of thousands of people who were obliged to live here in past seventy years converge here at the Barracks 1B site. Stories that tell of doubts and hope, dreams and ideals. About conscious choices and chance, about traumas and taboos.
PRESSURE OF THE ALLIED ADVANCE.
The camp was hastily evacuated by the occupying forces at the beginning of September 1944. Some 3,500 prisoners were quickly put on a transport to Germany, while the camp command sought a safe refuge. The Canadians entered the camp on 26 October 1944.
Overall I found it very informative and am glad I had a chance to visit to learn more about the history on my doorstep. Such awful events must never be repeated!
5263 NT is the location on Google Maps – but more details about location, price & time can be found on their website. I used my Museumkaart . Not 100% sure if it is still the case but it used to be free to the public on the 1st Wednesday of each month.