Deze website maakt gebruik van geanonimiseerde cookies om jouw gebruikservaring te optimaliseren en voor de analyse van onze website. Deze cookies kun je niet uitzetten. Bij het tonen en afspelen van YouTube video's worden cookies van derden geplaatst. Deze cookies van derden kun je wel uitzetten. Klik op "Akkoord" als je akkoord gaat met dit gebruik van cookies, klik op "Aanpassen" voor meer informatie en om zelf te bepalen welke cookies deze website plaatst.
Summer 1942 – construction
Building work gets underway in the woods around Vught. Dozens of construction workers from Vught but also from other parts of the Netherlands arrive to work in the summer of 1942. They welcome the work, because unemployment is high and there is a threat of forced labour in Germany. It is a huge project. Lorries deliver 6,000 cubic metres of timber, 9,000 tonnes of cement and 30 million bricks.
But what is it going to be? Barracks? An airport? The purpose is kept secret, as is the origin of the money used to pay for the building. The 15 million guilders that the project costs has been seized from Jews throughout the Netherlands. Plundering Jewish property is one of the ways the occupying forces use to isolate and exclude Dutch Jews. It doesn’t become clear until months later that a concentration camp is being built on the outskirts of town.
Winter 1943 – Arrivals
In January 1943, residents of Vught witness thousands of people arriving at the station in the freezing cold. They are prisoners, and their destination is Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch, the official name of Camp Vught. They have to walk for an hour to reach the camp, often without coats.
On arrival, they are forced to hand over everything that makes them human: clothes, possessions, even their names. Each prisoner is assigned to a group, identifiable by a coloured triangle on their prison uniform. Each group – from Jews to political prisoners – has its own place in the camp.
The first prisoners arrive at an unfinished camp. It is cold and dirty. Over 140 people die in the first months from beatings, illness and malnutrition. The conditions improve, but only slowly.
Spring 1943 – Working in the camp
Even after the building work is finished, there is still plenty of work to be done in the camp. Prisoners have to keep the camp running themselves. They are also deployed more and more intensively for the German war effort. The work in Camp Vught varies from exhausting to mind-numbing.
One important workplace in the camp is the Philips-Kommando, set up at the beginning of 1943. Under pressure from the occupying forces, Philips, whose company headquarters are in Eindhoven, puts prisoners to work soldering radios and making dynamo torches, for example. The Philips-Kommando is a sought-after place to work, partly because the prisoners are given decent food there. The camp also has an aircraft scrapyard.
Not all prisoners work in the camp. Many prisoners – mostly men, separated from their families – work outside the camp. These field commandos are often required to do heavy and dangerous labour.
Summer 1943 – Intermediate station
Camp Vught is one cog in the international camp network. Prisoners arrive from dozens of countries, mostly from the Netherlands, but also from Germany, Belgium, France, Norway, Surinam, Morocco, Poland and the Dutch East Indies. Each of them follows a different route to Vught.
After leaving Camp Vught, their onward routes vary wildly too. Some Dutch prisoners are able to send telegrams after a few months containing the message: “I’m coming home!”. A handful even escape.
But for many other prisoners, often Jewish, an abominable death awaits. On 6 and 7 June 1943, for instance, almost 1,300 Jewish children (ranging from babies to 16 year olds) are deported. Three days later, almost all of them – 3,014 people – are murdered in the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland: all the children with one or both of their parents.
Autumn 1943 – Camp society
Living alongside thousands of other people, always being watched and having no freedom is a completely different existence than people are accustomed to. “Your whole life is a world unto itself” is how one prisoner describes life at Camp Vught.
Working, eating, sleeping, showering, even going to the toilet: it all has to be done communally, and at set times. A unique language develops, there is camp currency, and all sorts of unwritten rules apply in different parts of Camp Vught.
It’s one camp, but everyone experiences it differently. Jews, students, hostages, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, black market traders, men, women, children: some experience Camp Vught as a relatively mild prison camp, while for others it is hell on earth. But in the words of the Dutch historian, Loe de Jong: “There are different degrees of hell”.
Winter 1944 – Violence and resilience
Violence is a permanent and integral part of the system at Camp Vught. Guards wield their power to punish, abuse and humiliate prisoners. That’s how they keep control. Sometimes things get completely out of hand, such as during what has become known as the “bunker tragedy”. On the night of 15 to 16 January 1944, ten prisoners die when guards lock 74 women all into one tiny cell in the camp prison.
Prisoners try to make the brutal camp life more bearable in all kinds of ways, such as through art, creativity or music. Prisoners devise games, and there is a small library. Birthdays are celebrated as effectively as possible. Religion and solidarity also give many prisoners the resilience they need.
Summer 1944 – Approaching the end
From spring 1944 onwards, it becomes obvious that the war will not end well for Nazi Germany. The tension among the camp leadership and guards grows. Life at Camp Vught becomes even harsher. Many prisoners are caught between hope and fear.
After the invasion at the beginning of June, Berlin orders that prisoners suspected of crimes can be executed without trial. Members of the SS subsequently shoot dead 329 men at the firing squad site outside the camp in the space of just three months. Just before liberation, thousands of other prisoners are deported to Germany, where many of them meet their deaths.
The last deportations take place at the beginning of September. Some guards accompany them, while others flee. Then the camp is evacuated, apart from a few hundred prisoners held hostage. They are freed soon afterwards. When Allied soldiers reach the camp in October 1944, it is quiet and empty.
1944-1949: Internment camp
After the last remaining prisoners are transported to Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück in September, the camp stands empty. From October 1944 onwards, the first people suspected of being collaborators, NSB members and Reichsdeutsche – ethnic German citizens – arrive in the internment camp in Vught. The internment camp is closed in mid-January 1949.
1944-1945: German civilian evacuees
Partly in the same period, the site is designated as a reception camp for German civilian evacuees from the border area near Sittard known as the Selfkant. After the Allies capture the south of the country, these civilians find themselves on the frontline. They are evacuated to Vught (mid-November 1944 to mid-May 1945).
From 1951: Woonoord Lunetten
From 1951 onwards, Camp Vught is converted into Woonoord Lunetten, living quarters for Moluccan KNIL military personnel and their families. The camp barracks are not demolished until 1992. Barrack 1 is left intact. A new housing estate is built to house Moluccans who arrived after 1951 as well as new generations of Moluccans born in the Netherlands. Barracks 1A houses the Moluccan church.
Visit Barracks 1B
Stories of the various groups who were at the camp either during or after the war can be heard in the exhibition called “If walls could talk”.
A visit to Barracks 1B (restored and opened in 2013) is included in the admission ticket for the memorial centre. Please note: the opening hours of Barracks 1B vary!