In the early summer of 1941, the Germans decided to convert Dutch army barracks near Amersfoort and Leusden into a camp. The "Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort", as the camp was officially called, contained a total of more than 35,000 prisoners, most of them male. Some 20,000 of them were sent to work in Germany or transported to other camps, while of the remaining 15,000 some were freed, some (very few) escaped, while others were executed or died from their privations.
The detainees had to work in "Arbeitskommandos", which were divided into teams that worked inside or outside the camp. Most of them performed simple but heavy manual labour in the neighbourhood of Amersfoort and returned to the camp in the evening.
The prisoners came from all over the country and had diverse backgrounds: Jews, men who had evaded labour recruitment, members of the resistance, Jehovah's Witnesses, individuals who had been interned in retaliation for activities of the resistance, black marketeers, smugglers and clandestine butchers. There were also more than a hundred prisoners-of-war from the Soviet Union (mainly Uzbeks). Those who did not die of hunger or exhaustion were shot dead after a few months. An unknown number of members of the resistance who had been imprisoned in the camp were executed on Leusderheide. Besides these executions, physical violence was an everyday occurrence in the camp. Jewish prisoners in particular were the targets, and were beaten for the slightest pretext. Fellow prisoners also let their aggression loose on them.
In the first phase of the camp, which lasted until March 1943, the prisoners suffered from hunger and were treated cruelly. After the expansion of the camp, most of the inmates were men who had evaded labour recruitment. The conditions were slightly better during this second phase. Medical care improved, there were more activities of a cultural, religious and recreational kind, and prisoners (except the Jews) were allowed to receive food parcels. Those food parcels were provided in particular by Mrs L.H.M.A. van Overeem of the Netherlands Red Cross, who was allowed to visit the camp every Friday during the last six months of the Occupation. Many prisoners regarded the weekly visit by this "Florence Nightingale" of Amersfoort as the high point in their prison lives.
The premature liberation ecstasy that the Netherlands experienced on "Crazy Tuesday" (5 September 1944) did not leave the camp unaffected either. A mild panic broke out among the camp guards, there was no roll call, and the outdoor shifts did not leave the camp. All the prisoners were given back their civilian clothes, and a large number were released. Nevertheless, detainees continued to arrive until April 1945. After the German camp command had fled, the camp was transferred to the Red Cross on 19 April 1945 and the German prison camp had ceased to exist. The Canadian liberating forces entered the camp at the beginning of May.
Browse through the Camp Amersfoort inventories
© Netherlands Institute for War Documentation