History

When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the hunt for political opponents began. Life became increasingly difficult for the Jews and they were gradually marginalized from regular society. Some stayed in Germany, hoping that the persecution would end. Others fled abroad to countries like the Netherlands. The first overt persecution of the Jews came on 9th November, 1938, with the Kristallnacht.

Desperately, thousands of them tried to leave Germany. However, the Dutch government sent 600 extra officials to the borders ‘for the protection of our own people’. The flow of refugees had become too much for many Dutch people. Up to the beginning of the war, around 10 000 refugees were let in. Many others entered the country illegally. The government did not want the expense of sheltering all these homeless people. All help had to come from private sources. Refugee camps were established. At that time many children were in shelter homes, located all over The Netherlands. For the newcomers, there was hardly any time to find their feet. Camps were shut down continuously and others were opened. It seemed as if the suitcases had to be packed and ready at all times. Even the government understood that this was no longer a tenable situation. One central refugee camp was needed, but where? An area named ‘the Veluwe’ was quiet and spacious. An area near Elspeet was chosen, far enough from the residential world so the possibilities of integration of the refugees into Dutch society would be minimal. The choice of the Veluwe did not escape the attention of the ANWB (the Dutch motoring organisation, similar to the ‘AA’ in the UK). Such an area with beautiful nature was a popular tourist-attraction! That should not be a place for a refugee camp. Some neighbours-from-a-distance were also scratching their heads. So many strange folk in their neighbourhood? One letter of protest to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Van Boeyen, made a particular impression; Queen Wilhelmina was concerned. Her secretary reported that a refugee camp close to the Royal Palace at ’t Loo had not been given Royal approval. Although the palace was more than twelve kilometres away, the choice was still considered undesirable by the Royal Household. The government, giving the matter a second thought, shared this opinion. They looked towards Drenthe, also a province with long, rolling fields of heather. Near Westerbork, the Staatsbosbeheer (National Countryside Commission) owned extensive grounds which were remote, wild and empty, ideal for the Central Refugee Camp. It was decided. The people of Westerbork were indeed not at all enthusiastic, but the camp was far enough away from the village and the local shopkeepers were seduced by the extra income.