Amersfoort was a transit camp, whence prisoners were sent to places like Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Neuengamme concentration camps. It was on July 15, 1942, that the Germans began deporting Dutch Jews from Amersfoort, Vught and Westerbork to concentration camps and death camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor and Theresienstadt.
The history of the camp can be separated into two periods. The first period began on August 18, 1941, and ended in March 1943. In March 1943 all but eight of the surviving first prisoners in Amersfoort were transferred to Kamp Vught. The prisoner transfer to Vught allowed for the completion of an expansion of Kamp Amersfoort. Maintaining the camp, despite Kamp Vught becoming operational in January 1943, still appeared necessary to the Nazis. Following the invasion of the USSR in June 1941, the camp held Soviet prisoners of war . These included 101 Uzbek prisoners brought to display to the Dutch for propaganda purposes, all either dying in the winter of 1941 or executed in woods near the camp in April 1942. 865 Soviet prisoners are buried in nearby Rusthof cemetery.
The Camp was tightly organized. When the prisoners entered the camp, they were registered. They no longer had a name, but were given a number and the mark that they had to wear on their clothing, so that it was clear to which group they belonged according to the camp leadership. From that moment on, the number was the title of address for the prisoners. Everyone was given a soldier's shirt, soldier's underpants, soldier's trousers, a pair of foot flaps, a tunic and in winter an overcoat and leg wraps, and they walked in clogs. All this clothing consisted of old soldier uniforms and the size was not considered. The uniforms were worn by several prisoners one after the other and they were not washed in between. It often happened that the blood or dirt of the previous prisoners was still in the clothing.
In the Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort (PDA) , the roll calls were the most notorious. The prisoners had to line up in rows at the sandy roll call site. Then the aiming started, which meant that the rows had to be exactly straight. The guards took their time for this. Then all kinds of German commandos followed such as: Hats, hats off, heads on the left, heads on the right. Punishment exercises were also part of the daily routine. That meant that prisoners had to lie down in the mud and do squats.
During the roll-calls, the prisoners who had "misbehaved" during the day were punished even more. In the context of discipline, physical violence was a regular part of the regime in the camp. There was no system for the torture, it was based purely on the arbitrariness of the camp management. Since no one had to be accountable to the outside for what happened in the camp, the leadership could go ahead. A common punishment in the PDA was the Am Tor Stehen. Das Tor was the inner gate between the security and prison sections of the PDA. Initially it was a simple barbed wire fence. In the second period of the camp it became a stone inner gate with a guard house. Next to the inner gate was an area of 3 by 50 meters, which was demarcated with a double row of barbed wire. This was called the rose garden and was used as a place of punishment. People had to stand here for hours, sometimes days. Standing still and nothing else. In any weather condition. Other punishments included withholding food or beating with a cane. Those caning were administered in front of other prisoners. More severely punished people ended up in the bunker. This was a concrete barrack with cells. A prisoner was chained with hands and feet to iron chains.
In addition to the torture and violence, hard work was another means the camp leaders used to instill in the prisoners the required discipline. The prisoners were divided into work commands. In the first period of the Camp, the activities of these commandos were dominated by the expansion of the Camp. Groups of prisoners occupied themselves with the barbed wire fence, fetching wood, cooking, peeling potatoes, etc. In a "favorable" command, prisoners were less hunted and mistreated. Many prisoners tried to squeeze themselves and "organize" something edible out of sheer survival. The Jewish prisoners were generally assigned to the heavy commands. With every slip or suspected slip, the prisoner could count on a beating. All work commandos together fell under the leadership of the Arbeitsdienstführer, a Camp SS officer. Each work command had its own leadership and they were the Vormänner. These were themselves prisoners in charge of a group of workers.
A firing range was constructed outside the PDA, across the road. A long straight trench was dug at the foot of the Amersfoortse Berg. The sand was initially used for the construction of the stone barracks (second half of 1942).
Not only was the work very hard in the first period of the camp; it was also a camp with bad food for the prisoners. The PDA was a hunger camp from August 1941 to March 1943. The prisoners received a quarter of a sandwich a day, a small piece of margarine, a tiny piece of cheese and sometimes some jam. Very occasionally they got a piece of sausage. Lunch consisted of about half a liter of poor quality cabbage soup. These meals gave the prisoners about 1300 to 1400 calories, while a normal adult needs about 2500 calories. The lack of food and hard labor caused the prisoners to lose weight, reduce resistance, numbness and depression. Hunger led to many food thefts. People stole from the kitchen, but certainly also from each other. Hungry, the prisoners became thieves, fighters and attempted to escape. As a result of poor hygiene and food, many inmates suffered from starvation edemas, infections, poorly healing wounds, dysentery and general debility. At the end of January 1942, thirty percent of the prisoners had starvation edema. The camp management made no attempt to improve the situation in the camp.
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