Papers/reports

If you want to write a paper or report or hold a presentation about Kamp Amersfoort, the information below could be useful.

A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF KAMP AMERSFOORT

Kamp Amersfoort was built in 1939 as a military camp, intended for the Dutch military. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940, they took over the camp for use by their own soldiers. However, as the occupiers continued to make more enemies and more prisoners arrived, they needed to use the camp as a prison.

The first prisoners arrived on 18 August 1941. Later, in 1943, the camp had become too small and had to be expanded. The prisoners were put up in Kamp Vucht in the interim. In April 1945 the guards realized the tide had turned and on 19 April 1945 they officially handed over the camp to the Red Cross and on 20 April they left. The prisoners were free, but they not yet allowed to leave the camp. Outside the camp, the war was still in full swing. On 7 May, they were finally truly free!

WHAT KIND OF CAMP WAS KAMP AMERSFOORT?

During the war, Kamp Amersfoort was officially called Police Transit Camp Amersfoort (Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort) or PDA for short. It was a transit camp for prisoners waiting for their punishment to be determined. Most did not stay in Kamp Amersfoort for long but were sent on to other camps, often in Germany. Other prisoners died of exhaustion or were shot. Some prisoners were released or were able to escape.

WHICH PRISONERS WERE IN KAMP AMERSFOORT?

Kamp Amersfoort was remarkable in that the prisoners were quite varied: young and old, men and women, highly educated and less well educated, Catholics, Protestants, etc. The reason for the arrests were different for everyone: there were communists, retribution hostages, smugglers, carnival workers, travelers, Russian prisoners of war, contract breakers, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, ministers, priests, illegal workers, black marketeers and illegal butchers. There were also people who had hidden people or refused to work for the occupiers.

WHAT DID THE CAMP LOOK LIKE?

The PDA was a small camp. It consisted of two sections which were separated by barbed wire. The camp leadership was in one section and in the other (behind double barbed wire) the prisoners. In this part there were various barracks, including an infirmary, barracks for infectious diseases and the barracks where the prisoners slept.

There was also an on-site punishment bunker, a roll call ground with a roll call bell and a punishment area called the rose garden.

WHO GUARDED THE KAMP?

Initially, the camp was guarded by the German SS. Later the Dutch SS were involved. Often these were youths who were taken out of prison or had committed some other crime. They were usually lured into the SS with false promises. Some of them had not chosen such a role in the camp, but once they were there, there was no going back.

HOW COULD YOU RECOGNIZE THE VARIOUS PRISONERS?

The Jews had to wear a Star of David, other prisoners in the camp were recognizable by a colored triangle over their right breast. From the color of the triangle you could see what sort of prisoner this was.

A red triangle was for political prisoners (members of the resistance), white for clergy, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, black for anti-social and criminal types (such as illegal butchers and black marketeers), brown for the Sinti and Roma (gypsies) and green for criminals. If you had a red ball on your back, you were an escape risk.

Every barracks had a (block) leader, who had to tell the others what they could or could not do. In addition, there were prisoners who were allowed to do (just a bit) more than the others. The higher your “rank”, the more you got to eat. Or you were given less demanding work.

WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE IN THE CAMP?

The roll call bell sounded at 6:30 a.m., the prisoners had to get up immediately, shake out their straw mattress, fold the blankets neatly, get washed and dressed. After this came (very weak) coffee and if you were lucky, some bread left over from the day before. A little before 8:00 a.m. the second roll call bell rang out. From this roll call the prisoners had to run to their assembly place. Then they went, two-by-two, to their work station of the day.

At 12:00 noon there was a break at which time they received something to eat. After the meal there was again a roll call and after this they had to return to work. At 6:00 p.m. there was yet again a roll call (in the winter it was at 5:00 p.m.). During the evening roll call all the prisoners were counted to be sure everyone was still there. This often took quite a while; sometimes they were still standing there at 8:00 p.m. After the evening roll call the prisoners could return to their barracks.

WHAT IS STANDING TO ATTENTION

Standing to attention in the camp meant to form a straight row as silently and as quickly as possible and to stand in one’s own designated place. Then to remain standing perfectly still or following orders as quickly as possible.

It is known that in Kamp Amersfoort some of the orders were absurd, such as: hats on, hats off (Mütze auf, Mütze ab) – 40 times in a row. Sometimes such a roll call went on for hours.

HOW MANY PRISONERS WERE IN KAMP AMERSFOORT?

We do not know exact numbers, but we estimate that in total roughly 40,000 people were imprisoned there. Approximately 600 of them were murdered in the camp, 19,000 were transported to other camps. People were also released or escaped.

When the camp was liberated there were still 500 prisoners in the camp. Even today not all of the names of the prisoners are known. During the war accurate records were kept as to who arrived, left or died. But at the end of the war and afterwards a (substantial) part of these administrative records were destroyed or disappeared.

WHAT CLOTHING DID THE PRISONERS WEAR?

As soon as the prisoners arrived in the camp, they had to undress. They were washed clean and shaved bald. Instead of their normal clothing, they were given an old and worn uniform, some rags for their feet and clogs. Or, if they were lucky, shoes. Whether the clothes or the clogs fit did not matter, you just had to wear what you were given.

They had to sew their camp number on their clothing. From that moment on they were only addressed with this number.

WHAT DID THE PRISONERS EAT?

In the morning the prisoners were given a cup of coffee (in reality little more than warm colored water), in the afternoon watery cabbage soup and in the evening a hunk of bread (250 grams). Sometimes the food was undercooked, at other times it was spoiled. But they were often so hungry that they ate everything they could get. Each prisoner had their own bowl and spoon. They had to guard these well, because if they lost their bowl or spoon, they got nothing.

WHAT ARE BUNKER CELLS?

Initially there were six small cells in the camp. As this was not enough, new cells were built. Together all the cells were called ‘The Bunker’. Because the cells were lower down it was always cool and damp. Sometimes (ground) water would seep in. The cells were about 1.20 meters wide and 2.40 meters long.

There were also a few larger cells which held several prisoners at the same time. These cells had a window with five bars. In some of these cells the window was darkened with a piece of wood – such a cell was called a ‘Dark Cell’ (‘Dunkelzelle’).

There were heating pipes at the bottom of the cells. Some prisoners were chained to these pipes. The cell contained only a steel bed and straw mattress and bucket to be used as a latrine. There was also a mug for drinking.

HOW WERE THE PRISONERS PUNISHED?

The prisoners were punished regularly; if they weren’t on time, if they didn’t stand straight, if they were too insolent, of just because the guard felt like it. They were beaten and kicked and they had to stand to attention for a longer time in the Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden was a small piece of land, next to the roll call ground, which was surrounded by barbed wire. The prisoners had to stand perfectly still here, sometimes for hours. The Rose Garden was not really a rose garden, the name was thought up by the prisoners themselves. They pretended the Rose Garden was a lovely place in which to be.

Bunkercel kamp amersfoort

DID ANY PRISONERS EVER ESCAPE?

Many stories are known about prisoners who managed to escape. Escapes were best made when working outside the camp.

The most famous story is that of Gerrit Kleinveld who escaped from the bunker cell. After the war he told the tale of exactly how he had done it: I scraped my handcuffs on the ground until I freed one hand. With the back of a spoon which I had found in the cell, I was able to scratch away the cement holding a bar in place. Then I bent my cuffs with a bedpost so I could free my ankles and wrists. I kicked the bar out, lowered the shutter in front of the window using strips of towel tied together. Naked, after covering my skin with coffee and soap, I crawled through the opening, put my clothes on again and fled.

HOW DID THE PRISONERS COPE WITH THESE CONDITIONS

It was important to the prisoners to have something personal, especially because virtually everything they had was taken from them upon arrival in the camp. Often just little things, for example a spoon, an eggcup or a note. Tobacco was also very important. If you had something like this, you protected it as best you could.

Sometimes a prisoner managed to smuggle some material from an outside work assignment into the camp, such as pieces of wood or bits of iron wire. These could be turned into chess pieces or picture frames. Some prisoners kept a secret journal or made drawings.

They also organized (secret) lectures, and some found comfort in their faith. There were also ministers and priests in the camp who conducted clandestine worship services.

WHEN WAS THE CAMP LIBERATED?

In April 1945 the guards could tell which way the wind was blowing. On 19 April 1945 they officially handed the camp over to the Red Cross and left the next day. The prisoners were free, but they not yet allowed to leave the camp. Outside the camp, the war was still in full swing. Only on 7 May, when the Canadians entered the camp, were they truly free!

WHO WAS LOES VAN OVEREEM?

Loes van Overeem worked for the Red Cross and she was deeply moved by the lot of the prisoners. She went to the commandant and informed him that the Red Cross would be monitoring the camp. Commandant Berg laughed a bit and said: ‘Then you will have to come and live here.’ And that’s what she did. She sought a place among the prisoners and monitored things closely. She remained until the camp was liberated.

Because she lived in the camp and kept an eye on things, the lives of the prisoners were a bit better. They were so pleased with her, that after the war they name the street where they camp was located after her.

Loes van Overeem

WHAT HAPPENED TOT HE CAMP AFTER THE WAR?

Immediately after the war people who were suspected of collaborating with the occupiers were rounded up. A number of these people were brought to Kamp Amersfoort. There were 2500 men, 1000 women and about 100 children.

German and Dutch SS members who could indicate where people were buried during the war were also held in the camp. After this the camp was temporarily used to house Moluccans (in 1951).

Still later, when the camp was abandoned, the barracks were razed. The only thing left was the former office of Commandant Berg, a small building in which the fresco made during the war can still be seen.

WHAT IS THERE (LEFT) TO SEE IN KAMP AMERSFOORT TODAY?

Shortly after the war people preferred not to be reminded of what had occurred in the camp. A large part of the camp was therefore immediately razed. Only years later did interest in the camp grow. Fortunately, there are a number of things which have been well preserved or reconstructed as well as possible.

The contours of the bunker cells are marked in the courtyard of the Memorial Center. If you look at these or stand in them you get an idea of how cramped these cells were.

The roll call bell can also be found in the courtyard; it is the same now as it was then. The bell is rung twice annually, on 19 April and on 4 May. 19 April is the day that Kamp Amersfoort celebrates the liberation of the camp; 4 May is National Remembrance Day.

There is a fresco to be seen in a small building in the courtyard which the camp commandant had made by the prisoners. The painting was found when the first memorial building was erected. The fresco depicts the prisoners working in the camp, they appear to be healthy and happy. This was the picture the camp commandant wanted the world outside the camp to see, even if the reality within the camp was often very different.

The original watch tower stands just outside the courtyard gate. It is on the exact spot where it stood during the war. It has been restored on a regular basis, but looks exactly the same as it did then.

The shooting range is in the outer grounds. The prisoners dug this range themselves. At the time it was barren ground, not a tree to be seen. Many prisoners were shot the far end of the shooting range. After the war a mass grave containing 49 prisoners was found. They were murdered on 8 March 1945; a reprisal for the attack on SS General Rauter at Woeste Hoeve.

At the site where the rose garden was, there is now a symbolic rose garden with real roses.

HOW DO WE KNOW ALL THIS?

Some of the prisoners in Kamp Amersfoort kept a journal, or what passed for a journal. Other prisoners wrote down or spoke about their memories after the war. There are also a variety of documents, drawings and photographs from the time in the camp which have been preserved. On the Kamp Amersfoort website you can watch and listen to a number of interviews with former inmates.

Since the end of the Second World War in 1945 many books have been written about the war. Kamp Amersfoort is mentioned in some of these books.

SOMETHING TO REFLECT ON

When you visit Kamp Amersfoort, you may be shocked by the stories you hear, the films you see, the things which happened here. You might think ‘I would never work in such a camp’, but are you sure about that? Imagine: you’re young, you have a wife and a child. You don’t have money, there is barely anything to eat and then you are offered a job. It is a job in a camp with prisoners, but it pays well. And you also get meals. What do you do then?

How does this happen? Why is one person a guard and another a prisoner? Is one person more important than the other? Who decides who can do what? Who is in charge and why? What does ‘being in charge’ mean? Can you decide everything? Why? Or why not?

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

Would you like more information, project packs or other materials about the Second World War? Have a look on the Nationaal Comité 4 & 5 May website.