• History and facts about

    Camp Erika

    175 people murdered
Remember the victims of Camp Erika

Kamp Erika was a camp situated at the Besthemerberg in the forests near Ommen in the province of Overijssel, Netherlands during WW2. In 1923 the Baron Van Pallandt donated his 18th century castle and 2000 hectares of forest from his estate Eerde to the British-Indian Jiddu Krishnamurti. He was head of the "Order of the Star" a theosophical movement. In the summer of 1924, the first Sterkamp meeting gathered in the woods of this estate.

"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing".

Simon Wiesenthal
  • Former Star Camp on place of Camp Erika

    The former Star Camp on the location of the later Camp Erika

  • The main gate of Camp Erika

    The main gate of Camp Erika

  • Prisoners on work detail

    Prisoners on work detail

  • Entrance to the camp area

    Entrance to the camp area

  • Barracks in the camp

    Barracks in the camp

  • One of the guard towers

    One of the guard towers

  • Fences surrounding the camp

    Fences surrounding the camp

  • Camp overview

    Camp overview

  • Standing guard at the gate

    Standing guard at the gate

  • Burned bodies dug up after the war

    Burned bodies dug up after the war

  • March to Westerbork in April 1945

    March to Westerbork in April 1945

  • Sign of the camp Erika

    Sign of the camp Erika

Copyright: USHMM, Bundesarchiv, Camps, Arolsen Archives and others (used with permission)
Copyright pictures: Stichting OudOmmen.nl

History and facts about Camp Erika

In the following years, in this hilly area, the Besthmenerberg, small wooden houses and large wooden barracks were built as accommodation for the administration, kitchen, warehouses, toilets and washrooms. Krishnamurti left, but the meetings continued until 1939; in 1940 the meeting was postponed due to the threat of war.

At the end of 1940, the camp was not liquidated, as is usual with undesirable organisations, but transferred in its entirety to the head of the executive body Referat 'Internationale Organisationen' of the Generalkommissariat zur besonderen Verwendung, Werner Schwier. This Generalkommissariat was headed by Fritz Schmidt. As a result, the future Erika camp did not fall under the Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD (at that time Wilhelm Harster), like the other concentration camps in the Netherlands, and occupied a unique position.

In this position, Schwier was charged with the dissolution of all organizations that opposed the National Socialist philosophy. According to Regulation No. 33 of 6 July 1940, the assets of these institutions were confiscated by the Sicherheitsdienst in collaboration with the Dutch police.

Schwier, born in 1907 in Germany, who liked to incorrectly call himself Doktor, also fulfilled other duties within the NSDAP, such as Gauredner (regional speaker for the NSDAP) and Lehrer und Bereitschaftsführer der Ordensburgen (teacher of racial science and unknown function within the training within the framework of the NSDAP). In addition, Schwier was chairman of the 'Westland Publisher' Foundation; this publishing house, which was founded with the assets seized by the Referat 'International Organisations' of the Generalkommisariatz.b. V., had set himself the goal of spreading National Socialist ideas. The publisher's treasurer, Anthony van Eist, was also responsible for the final inspection of the premises of Camp Erika.

Schwier took on Karel Lodewijk Diepgrond, a former police officer and NSB member. At that time, he was an interpreter for the SD in Amsterdam and was charged with the task of recruiting personnel. With the arrival of Diepgrond and 48 staff members, the furnishing of the camp was started on 13 June 1941. The group of men were mostly unemployed men from Amsterdam .

Camp Erika would become either a training camp for a 'colony' in Ukraine or a 'Jewish camp'. For the last destination there were two options: a Durchgangslager or an Arbeitslager.
It soon became clear that the plan for the 'Eastern deployment' was not going ahead and it seemed that Erika would become a 'Jewish camp'. This also changed the character of the deployment of the recruited personnel; instead of 'colonizers in the East', they would carry out guard duties. German ranks were introduced; Diepgrond was made Lagerführer, there was a German name for the security team, KK (Kontroll Kommando), and a German name for the camp: 'Arbeitseinsatzlager Erika'. Although the exact destination is still
was unclear, a start was made on furnishing the barracks, trees were felled and fences were placed. There were also drills led by a Dutch SS man and two former marines, including Lieutenant Jan de Jong who eventually received the German rank of Hauptzugführer. The uniforms came from the Dutch army, trimmed with buttons ordered from the SS, collar tabs with KK, field caps with the skull and a black band over the left sleeve with KK stitched on it.

In March 1942 she finally signed off a clear and concrete plan for Erika: the Generalkommisariatz.b. V. saw possibilities for a prison camp for men who had been convicted by the Dutch judiciary, especially economic offenders (bon fraudsters, illegal butchers, black marketers, etc.). The plan was converted into an assignment by Arthur Seyss-Inquart on June 5, 1942: Erika became a Justizlager where the prisoners would perform heavy physical labor. The minimum sentence to end up in Erika at the time of this decision was 3 months and was later reduced to 2 months. The thinned out KK was then replenished, this time also with a number of men from the NSB-department in Assen. Their number rose to 250 men. It was also decided that future prisoners would also be put to work in Germany.

Time table of Camp Erika

June 1942 - 31 May 1943
Penal camp or 'Justizlager' in German.
May 1943 - September 1944
Re-education and Transit Camp. Mostly for people who tried to avoid the Arbeitseinsatz in Germany and people who, for example, had an illegal radio in their possession.
September 1944 - April 1945
Penal camp or 'Justizlager' in German.
April 1945 - 31 December 1946
Detention camp for collaborators, which largely consisted of former NSB members.

Converted to a penal camp

The first inmates of the Justizlager arrived on June 19, 1942. At that time, it had a capacity of 800 'delinquents' and work was underway to expand to 1.300 inmates. On 1 July 1942 there were 368 prisoners in Erika and 1380 on August 1 of that year. In the meantime, in addition to economic delinquents, the camp also included prisoners with more serious crimes and at least four persons who had been convicted under Regulation 81/40: the prohibition of all homosexual acts. In addition, at least eight Jewish people, three of whom were not judicially, have been imprisoned in Erika.

As a result of the ever-growing pressure to take in more 'delinquents', capacity was expanded to accommodate 1,500 inmates and 500 men were employed in Germany. On November 30, 1942, Erika, together with its annexes in Junne (the former Junne Labor Camp, three kilometers away) and, among others, Heerte (near Braunschweig), Wesseling/Siegburg and Cologne in Germany (the guards went with them) held 2013 prisoners and 251 guards housed.

Prisoners arrived at the station in Ommen under the guard of the military police, marched the three kilometers to the gate and were handed over to the guards there. There began a dark period for the prisoners of Justizlager Erika. There was swearing, yelling and beatings and anyone who dared to say anything was beaten to blood. The prisoners were then registered, whereby the 'knackers' (lice, unworthy, parasites) had to stand at attention for hours. If they didn't, then they introduced them to the popular punishment "seals": the prisoner had to move along the ground with his elbows, body stretched, chin up and toes outstretched. If this did not work, more was beaten. The prisoners were shaved bald upon or shortly after entry. Constant bullying, beatings and intimidation were daily practice, including when eating. Piping hot soup or mashed potatoes had to be eaten between the first and second whistle, and there was never more than five minutes between the two whistles.

Prisoner treatment

The prisoners went to work in groups of ten or twenty men, G.J. Krijgsman wrote about his stay in camp Erika. Trees had to be hauled, which were so heavy that five men would have had a nice load of them. to have. However, we had to carry such a tree with two men about 2 km away. Others had to pull plows and harrows. We did this with five men. The harrows were weighted down with a block, on which a guard sat down. "Pull or don't eat today!" the guard hollored! So it went day in, day out. When I was once very ill, I had to cooperate and we were so close to despair. How many blows and beatings I got is beyond counting. I was not fed all day, while in the evening I was placed in criminal company. It is impossible to describe how terrible this is.

From the middle of 1942 a small number of Jewish men also stayed in the camp. The first of them arrived on June 21, when the camp was inaugurated. Five men had been convicted by the Dutch court and had to serve their sentences in camp Erika. Three men came from a Jewish Labor Camp and were transferred to camp Erika as a punitive measure. The Jewish prisoners were placed in the so-called Judenkommando and separated from the other prisoners. The task assigned to them was to clean the latrines. After they had performed this task, this was checked and if they had not done this well enough in the eyes of the guards, they were forced to lick the toilet bowls completely with their tongues. After they had done their work they had to go to their old army tent. This was their residence, even in winter. As an anti-Semite, camp commander Schwier hated the Jews for personally seeing how the Jewish prisoners should be treated, or rather mistreated. The Jewish prisoners were thus abused as 'distraction and entertainment' for the guards.

"A favorite practice of torture among camp guards was turning a gramophone record. A hole was made in the sand for the inmate to put his finger in. He had to spin around his own finger for hours like a gramophone record, until he fell down. Then the guards beat him with clubs or kicked him in the back. But most of the prisoners died due to malnutrition."

Smashed guns

Then there was the SK or Punishment Company, which contained an average of ten to twenty prisoners and they were mistreated even more systematically. Even the toughest jobs
were allocated to the SK; felling and moving trees. These prisoners were beaten and kicked a lot, especially in the genitals, which in many cases swelled as a result. A number of prisoners died as a result of this, due to internal bleeding. The Jews imprisoned in Erika suffered the same fate, they were also housed separately in a tent on the grounds of the camp. In the evenings, the Jewish prisoners had to hand in their clothes and sleep naked in the cold. These Jewish prisoners were given even less food and were systematically humiliated and mistreated. In a number of cases Diepgrond asked for new rifles. Prisoners were regularly beaten with clubs and rifle butts. Sometimes so that the rifle butts simply broke off.

The concentration camp system of the Lagerpolizei, introduced by the camp leadership, in which prisoners were used as guards (Kapo, called 'Kaputt' or 'kaput' in Erika by the prisoners), also led to horrific abuses. The Kapos were tasked with supervising other inmates and were responsible for supervising the work done by the inmates and its results. These Kapos were not inferior to the guards in ferocity; they used physical intimidation and violence to incite the inmates to higher results. In particular, Oberkapo Rien de Rijke stood out. In several cases, it was simply brutal murder that occurred in the Erika deaths.

Alarming messages

More than half of the three thousand prisoners in Ommen were sent to the German labor camps. One of these labor camps, in Heerte, was possibly even worse than Erika. About 150 more people died in these places. The miserable treatment of the prisoners did not go unnoticed by the outside world. After alarming reports in the illegal magazine Parool, Dutch judges conducted a startling investigation into the situation in Ommen. The judiciary then refused to sentence more people to "service sentences". Seyss-Inquart then decided to abolish Erika as a justice camp.

Work- and Transitcamp

The first temporary residents of the renamed camp were students who - under duress - had heeded the call to the Arbeitseinsatz and stayed there for several weeks under good conditions; the food was good and there was no work involved. After plans for the deployment of the students in Finland and as SS Frontarbeiter in the north of the Soviet Union were rejected by the Reichscommissarriat, the students eventually traveled to workplaces in Germany. Again Schwier came up with his plan for the deployment of his guards Am Osten'. They should establish a colony in Ukraine under his leadership; apparently he liked the idea of running such a colony. It could perhaps satisfy his thirst for power and influence more. Both the Generalkommissar zur besondere Verwendung Willi Ritterbusch (Schwier's new boss) and Seyss-Inquart agreed, but the plan was rejected by the executives in Germany.

Again a penal camp

The AKD was dissolved in September 1944 and its members went over to the Ordnungspolizei. The men now wore the green uniforms of the infamous 'Griine Polizei'. In addition, new ranks were introduced. For example, Diepgrond was now given the rank Hauptmann. The men of the KK went to the OrPo, but in particular to the Polizei Freiwilliger Bataillon Niederlande or they resigned. As a result of coming under the Ordnungspolizei, the camp was no longer a Durchgangs- und Arbeitseinsatzlager, but a penal camp. The prisoners, about 450, now consisted of people in hiding, suspects of illegal activities and violators of the distribution laws. The sentences of these prisoners were determined with complete arbitrariness.

Members of the SD regularly stayed in Erika. Together with members of the Wachgruppe Ommen, who therefore came under the Ordnungspolizei, so-called thugs were formed under the leadership of Schwier. These consisted of approximately 15 selected guards. Day and night these thugs were looking for offenders and people in hiding in the wide area surrounding Erika. Violence and intimidation were not shunned. Valuable or useful household effects were seized from those arrested, the rest was destroyed. Houses were also set on fire. The detainees themselves were almost always severely beaten, during interrogation or on their way to Erika.

The most important participants in these trips were from officer cadre Schwier, Diepgrond and De Jong. From the original Kontroll Kommando Jaap de Jonge, Freek Kermer, Toon Soetebier and Herbertus Bikker. The latter is one of the Waffen SS veterans who fought on the Eastern Front. There he was wounded several times and after his recovery in 1943 he ended up in Ommen. At least 10 deaths are known in the last 4 months of 1944 as a result of executions by members of the vigilante group.

From the end of December 1944, the treatment of the prisoners by the guards became somewhat less severe, although excesses continued to occur. There was still 1 death to be regretted in this last period as a result of an execution. Furthermore, 3 were killed and 29 injured in an Allied air raid on January 14, 1945. From February 1945, fewer and fewer guards returned from leave or simply ran off. From March 22, 1945, Schwier even had them locked up in the sleeping barracks to prevent them from leaving.

Executioner of Ommen

The camp was soon redesignated as a prison for "asocials", people of all kinds from, for example, the disciplinary colony of Veenhuizen, and those who refused or fled the compulsory employment in Germany. The groups lived in Erika strictly separated from each other. The regime was slightly more lenient than before, but abuse was still the order of the day. In 1944, the guards of Ommen were also instructed to actively track down the so-called Arbeitseinsatz dodgers and contract breakers, as well as other illegal immigrants. Erika's feared vigilante group carried out searches and raids for miles around. Herbertus Bikker made a name for himself as "the Executioner of Ommen". He shot resistance fighter Jan Houtman (from Ommen) in cold blood. After the war, Bikker managed to escape to Germany, where he lived as a German citizen until his death in 2008.

After the war

Immediately after the liberation on April 11, 1945, Penalty Camp Erika was given a different function and name: Detention Camp Erica. The Dutch were held here who had sided with the Germans during the war or NSB people. It continued in this position until December 31, 1946. Former Lagerführer Diepgrond, Bikker and other guards of Erika were imprisoned here.

Relatively few sources are available about the post-war period and there is little literature describing this period of the camp. In total, about 2.000 prisoners are said to have been held in Detention Camp Erica pending trial. For the first four months, until August 1945, the exterior security was carried out by the Homeland Forces, with the help of a number of Amsterdam police officers who had been detained in Erika during the last months of the war. This task was then taken over by the Commander's Forces under the Ministry of War. The internal surveillance was carried out until January 1, 1946 by the Military Authority and then by the Ministry of Justice. The commander of detention Camp Erica was Wemer Hermans from April 13, 1945 to April 1946 and from then until December 1946 this was P.E. Veldhuizen.

Holiday park

The camp site is now used as a holiday park. A modest monument has been erected in memory of this hell on earth.

Conclusion

Camp Erika is not a well-known camp and it has even been argued that what happened here was marginal, because it was thought that mainly lawbreakers, tried by Dutch judges, were imprisoned and not victims of persecution by the German occupier. The problem with this claim, however, is that it concerned convicts who had been tried under not pure Dutch law and under the responsibility of the German occupier. This at a time when Jews and people in hiding were also condemned as criminals and human rights were being trampled underfoot. Until September 1942, Dutch judges had no idea where to send the men they sentenced. Furthermore, it was not just about violators of Dutch law; Jews, people in hiding, suspects of illegal activities, evaders of the Arbeitseinsatz and so-called 'antisocials' also ended up in this camp in large numbers without any form of trial.

In addition, it is unique in the Netherlands that a camp functioned under the German system that was run by Dutch guards. It was Dutch guards who made the prisoners suffer under all that suffering. One of the prisoners who also experienced the infamous camps in Poland and Germany stated about Erika:

"Nowhere have I been physically abused so systematically, namely every day, as in Ommen." Many men have suffered greatly and have died needlessly at the hands of their sadistic guards. Died from beatings, executions, poor living conditions, malnutrition and heavy work. Many of them were men who worked for the victims of the German occupiers or who offered resistance to the occupier, they were innocent or the treatment was simply disproportionate to the punishment imposed.

Text translated from research by Stichting oudommen.nl

Notable inmates

  • Piet Eigenraam

    Survived: Yes
  • Rikus van Heerde

    Survived: Yes

    Original video footage

    Copyright of this video: RTV Oost
    Real eyewitness testimonies
    Sybe K. Bakker - Erika survivor
    English Transcription

    "A warm thank you to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for their willingness to help in allowing their testimonies to be featured on my website.

    The camp specifications
    Location: Ommen, The Netherlands

    Date of operation:
    Summer 1941 - 31 december 1946
    Number of prisoners:
    ± 2975
    Prisoners murdered:
    175
    The camp was liberated by:
    3rd Canadian Infantry Division

    Liberated on: 11 April 1945

    Visit the official memorial website

    "None of us who entered the camp had any warning what so ever of what we were about to see".
    Who were the camp commanders?
    Camp commmanders
    A list of the people who ordered and inflicted the atrocities on the prisoners.

    Werner Schwier

    Kommandant

    Karel L. Diepgrond

    Lagerführer

    Herbertus Bikker

    Butcher of Ommen

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