In the morning, Martien and Jolanda drove us to Anita’s home in the town of
Vught. We also met Anita and her mom, Sjan in Africa in 2016. It was the first time all six of us were reunited since Africa. Sjan, Anita and her son Matts visited us in Canada last year.
We met Johan, Anita’s husband, Anita’s daughter Robin and beautiful granddaughter Maeve. We first had coffee and a delicious dessert called Bossche Bols which is a Dutch pastry treat filled with whipped cream and covered with chocolate which is a specialty from the area.
Anita took us to a grocery store so that I could pick up my favourite cheese, licorice droppes and Milka bars.
After a delicious lunch of kroket (another Dutch specialty), Sjan, Anita, John and I visited Camp Vught which was a work camp run by the Nazis during WW2 for political prisoners, Jews and anyone else the Nazis disliked. It was also the only concentration camp in the Netherlands as prisoners were also killed here although not on the scale of the other concentration camps.
Here are some of the facts that I learned on this visit to the camp:
In May 1940, the Dutch surrendered within five days after the Nazis bombed Rotterdam.
Replica of the original camp
The camp was 1 km long by 400 m wide. The only original building left from the war is the crematorium
At the time, people in the town didn’t know it was a camp. It was built at this location because it was isolated but also not too far from a train station and roads. Prisoners had to walk 1 1/2 hours from train to camp. The camp opened in January 1943 . Over 32,000 prisoners went through this camp; many were women & children.
Prisoners were given a number instead of their names in an attempt to take away their identities. All of the adults had their whole bodies shaved and had to wear striped uniforms. Children were not shaved and kept their own clothes.
The colour of the triangle on the uniform indicated what type of prisoner they were; criminal, gay, political, Jew or gypsy.
There were no windows on the barracks because the prison wasn’t ready when prisoners came. It was a very cold winter that year.
Children over four years old had to stay in their own barrack. People over sixteen stayed with the other adults.
This was a working camp. Amongst other things, they made light bulbs for the Phillips company. They worked 6 days a week from 5am until 6 or 7pm but did not work on Sunday.
Prisoners were punished by being whipped with a stick 25 times. Often, prisoners were forced to whip each other.
A barrack elder had to take care of the 250 prisoners in each barrack.
For meals they were rationed one cup of coffee for breakfast, soup made from dirty water for lunch (there was no clean water) and dinner was bread.
Mattresses and pillows were burlap filled with a bit of straw. It was better to sleep on the top bunk because the straw fell down on the bunks below. The barracks were never quiet because people were sick; many throwing up.
There were builders in the camp. Prisoners would write notes for their family which the builders would smuggle out.
1800 children were taken away to the Sobibor extermination camp in Germany where almost all died. If the children were sick and could not work they were taken away. The train ride took three days without food or drinks. When they arrived at Sobibor, they were taken to the gas chambers. There is a monument with the names of 1,248 children that were taken from the Vught Camp to their deaths in Sobibor.
There is still the cutting table in the crematorium where bodies were cut up into smaller pieces. If a person died of hunger or beating, the official cause of death was said to be heart problems.
Once one of the prisoners complained about the conditions in the camp. As punishment, they put 74 women in a small cell only 10’x10’ from January 15-16,1944. The walls were painted with a poison that burnt the skin if touched. There were 72 square tiles (each tile was 12 inches by 12 inches each) on the floor and 74 women. After two days when they opened the doors, ten women had died.
Outside there is a common grave where the ashes of the 750 people that died in this camp are buried. The rest of the prisoners were shipped to Germany to die.
When the war ended, there were 329 prisoners left in the prison; the guards shot and killed them all before the Allies arrived.
The youngest to die in this camp was 2 months old; the oldest was 94.
So dreadfully horrible.
In somber moods, we left the concentration camp and went to the nearby city of Den Bosch.
The painter, Heronimus Bosch came from this area (his paintings included “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and “Ship of Fools” to name a few). I was delighted by this pig statue created in the style of his paintings.
We went into the beautiful St Jans Cathedral (built in 1200). There were ancient graves inlaid into the floors and the St Mary’s chapel was so peaceful with its flickering candles.
We actually found a few stores that carried Mephistos but not the dressy ones that I was looking for.
The buildings and centre square with a statue of Bosch were lovely.
It was funny to see a Hudson’s Bay store here.
We stopped for a coffee and headed back to Anita’s place where Johan had prepared a delicious meal. We chatted and laughed till it was time for bed.