Holocaust, concentration camps

Westerbork was the main transit camp used by the Germans during their occupation of Holland to send Jews to the death camps in Poland. Between July 1942, and September 1943, approximately 110,00 Jewish people passed through the two camps. Westerbork was located near Assen, in northeastern Holland.

It was actually set up by the Dutch government before the Nazi invasion, as a refugee camp for Jews fleeing persecution in Germany. After the Nazi takeover, the Germans employed the German Jewish refugees to run their camp in an orderly, efficient manner.

Life in the camp was dominated by hope, but above all by fear; and every Monday evening a list of the week’s 1,020 deportees was announced to the inmates in their sealed barracks. The next morning trains carried them to the Auschwitz or Sobibor death camps in Poland, and they always left promptly at 11 o’clock in the morning.


Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the Germans. It was a complex of camps, including a concentration, extermination, and forced-labor camp. It was located in the town of Oswiecim near the prewar German-Polish border in Eastern Upper Silesia, an area annexed to Germany in 1939.

The first commander of the camp was Rudolph Hoss. In 1940, he was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp as commander, where he started organizing mass murder technically. Höss remained commander of Auschwitz until December 1, 1943, then he was followed by Arthur Liebehenschel as camp commander.

Auschwitz I was the main camp and the first camp established at Oswiecim. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was the killing center at Auschwitz. Trains arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau almost daily with transports of Jews from virtually every German-occupied country of Europe. Auschwitz III (also called Buna or Monowitz) was established in Monowice to provide forced laborers for nearby factories.

At least 1.1 million Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included between 70,000 and 75,000 Poles and about 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.


In April 1943 the Nazis created Bergen-Belsen in lower Saxony near the city of Celle as a transit center. The camp was never officially given formal concentration camp status, however the second commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, completed the transformation of Bergen-Belsen into a regular concentration camp.

Bergen-Belsen was primarily a holding camp, a place where Jews with foreign passports awaited exchange, and where sick; debilitated prisoners were moved from labor camps. By 1945 thousands of prisoners who had become too weak to work were shipped there, to die off slowly by starvation and typhoid. In the one-month of March, more than 18,000 died.

The first commandant in Bergen-Belsen was SS-Hauptsturmführer Adolf Haas. His previous assignment had been the concentration camp known as Niederhagen/Wewelsburg near Paderborn. In early 1944, Haas was replaced by SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, who had been working in concentration camps since 1934.