01 August 2020

Camp Amersfoort

When I am visiting my mother, I tend to go running every day. I tend to go to Birkhoven, some woodland to the west of the city. But this time I thought I wanted some variety. I asked her if she had a map! I used to know Amersfoort quite well; I was in school there for six years. But that was decades ago, and a lot has changed. And she had one. 

My first map-inspired foray was to the east. There was a new green area there! Its main purpose was rainwater collection, but that goes together with recreation rather well. I had a nice run there! Didn’t bring a camera, though. 

My next goal was a bit more melancholy. I decided to run to the site of the small concentration camp that had been there. In all my years of visiting Amersfoort I had never been there! It was about time. I made sure to memorise a nice route there. It went up the hill to the main hospital (Amersfoort is built on a terminal moraine, hence the atypical height differences), then through a copse called ‘little Switzerland’ (exaggeration? What do you mean?), and then over a motorway. The terrain is on the other side of that motorway. 

The camp has started as ordinary barracks, with terrain around for military practice. It even had trenches! But when the German army invaded, they took it, of course. Firstly still as barracks, but now for German troops, but later as a transit camp for Jews, resistance fighters, black market traders, and suchlike. And later also Russian POWs. A sad aspect of local history! But the sad parts deserve attention too. 

The camp didn’t exist anymore, but there was a lot to remember it by: the firing range was still there, now with a monument to the people shot there; some trenches had been excavated and restored, a watchtower remained, and there are several other monuments. And there were life-sized portraits of ex-inmates in the wood! It was interesting to roam around there a bit. And let this bleak part of history sink in. I had been to camp Westerbork too, many years ago. And then there is Vught; I still haven’t been there. I think that’s the Dutch camp with most still standing of all three of them. 

I am glad I made the effort to go and see this place! I suppose I could have decades ago, but better late than never. One should never think ‘it couldn’t happen here’, but seeing right on front of you that awful things can happen in your own back yard is a good reminder of that! Maybe especially so in these 
troubled times...

Old sign and watchtower

The 'Schuilplaatsverlenersmonument'; such a good Dutch word. Translates to something like 'monument for the providers of hiding places'

The monument from the other side 

Portraits of former prisoners in the woods

Restored practice trench

The monument at the end of the firing range

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