As the only concentration camp run by the dreaded SS outside of Nazi controlled Germany, one can only imagine the atrocities that occurred at Kamp Vught. What is visible today is only a fraction of what once stood during its peak use during world war 2. The model in the courtyard attempts to convey the scale of the camp as the current building only equates to three of the tiny structures. Watchtowers are still present along the perimeter, on the freedom side of the high barbed wire fence, contributing to an uneasy atmosphere fuelling a feeling that every move is being scrutinised.
Originally constructed in 1943 on part of the former Konzentrationslager Herzogenbusch, Vught was intended to be used as a labour camp, with its prisoners arriving at the Vught train station who were then marched through the town. Kamp Vught was not just for Jewish prisoners, but the 30,000 detainees were made up of homosexuals, captured resistance fighters, allied sympathisers in addition to their families were all detained in squalled conditions. Cramped was an understatement as 240 people were confined to quarters not suitable for a third of its occupants. Bunks were stacked three high and in rows 20 deep with mattresses and pillows constructed from hay filled canvas bags with only a blanket as a shield from the cold making it a prime breeding ground for fleas and ticks. The common room and ablutions were suitable for a dozen to twenty people not the 240 that were in housed in the barracks all of which was made worse by the heating for the building was only a small stove.
The crematorium has been sympathetically rebuilt around the original furnaces and including the portable stove that was used to dispose of the bodies until the permanent works were finished. In one room stands the original autopsy table and in another the fittings for a small pathology lab. Due to the amount of bodies that passed through the furnaces the officer in charge was given his own bathroom and shower within the crematorium to ensure that disruptions to service were kept to a minimum.
Overworked prisoners and natural deaths were the minority that passed through this building, unfortunately many of the dead were executed by hanging at the gallows constructed close to the crematorium or the hundreds that were extinguished on mass by the Nazi firing squad. A short trudge through the surrounding woodland was the final actions of many that met their demise at Kamp Vught. An island in the nearby lake known as the killing yard is where 330 prisoners met their end. At the gates to the island visitors are greeted with a poem written after the first memorial was disgustingly vandalised. After what feels like a never ending walk along the range, where the noises of nature fall silent and not a sign of wildlife is visible is memorial is a memorial showing the names of all that ceased on that island. To add insult to injury the bodies were not simply dumped into the water surrounding the killing yard but other prisoners were forced to cart the bodies to the crematorium for disposal.
Cell 115 has been rebuilt in order for visitors to truly understand the horror that once took place there. One female prisoner was accused of betrayal and was set upon by two others, they held her down and chopped off her hair. The two attackers were then confined into cell 115. As an act of solidarity 89 other women signed to say they were also responsible in the act in a hope to get the culprits out of confinement.
In an act of vengeance camp commander Adam Grunewald ordered 74 of the woman into cell 115 that measured merely 9 metres squared. Throughout the night lack of ventilation multiplied with the heat emitted from the bodies packed into the cell made conditions unbearable. Those that fainted due to the overwhelming heat were simply trod upon to free up room for those still standing. Dehydration quickly set in and prisoners reluctantly licked condensation off the walls taking in not just what little fluid they could but the lime and lead from the freshly painted and plastered walls. When morning arrived and the cell door was once again opened 10 bodies laid motionless on the floor having sadly died from suffocation during the 14 hours of confinement.
On the camp men were separated from the woman and child with visiting amongst families allowed once every other Sunday. Seeing all children as a hindrance the camp commander of the time Karl Chmielewski (also known as Teufel von Gusen or the Devil of Gusen) decided to round up all prisoners under the age of 17 and one parent (often the mother) and send them to another concentration camp for remove the burden of having to care for them. The camp they were transported to Sobibor, extermination camp
infamous for gassing prisoners almost upon arrival. Along the barbed wire fence is The Jewish Memorial displaying the name and age in years, sometimes months, of the children that were removed from camp – All 1,269 names.
After the allies landed on the beaches on 6th June 1944, the Nazis planned to clear the camp of its prisoners and started transporting hours after the D-Day landings. Female prisoners were sent to Ravensbruck and the men shifted to Sachsenhausen. It took the allied troops a month and half to finally reach and liberate an almost deserted Kamp Vught, only the sick and dying were left in their beds. Kamp Vught was used as an internment camp once the war ended to house nearly 6,000 Dutch nationals that sided with the Nazi’s.
Due to its location and that it is one of the lesser known concentration camps the exhibits are in the local Dutch dialect, fortunately the audio tour is available in many languages and gives more information than the signs around the building. The final room of the museum is the reflection wall, a place for quiet time to consider what atrocities occurred not just at Kamp Vught but across Europe during both world wars.