“It was manageable, if you were lucky”, is how journalist Marijke Verduijn describes life for a large part of the inhabitants of Vught internment camp after the liberation of the Netherlands. Between 1944 and 1949, people were imprisoned who had collaborated with the German occupiers, or were suspected of doing so.
The internees also included innocents and children, for example because their parents were members of the NSB. Verduijn spent ten years researching the post-war internment camp and wrote a book about it, which will be released on 1 September.
Intrigued by story
The cradle of Verduijn’s research lies in a meeting in 2013 with the son of an NSB member. “As a 16-year-old he should have put on a German uniform and after the occupation he had been in internment camp Vught. I became intrigued by his story.”
She soon found out that while some was known about the early months of the internment camp, little was known about the years that followed. “I was curious about how you do that as a country: come to terms with citizens who have collaborated with the enemy. Anyone who only hears the stories from the early days of the camp will get a wrong picture of how we did that as the Netherlands. “
Because the stories from the early days of the internment camp are not the best. When the first internees arrive in the camp in October 1944, they end up in “chaos”, says Verduijn: “The Germans had left the camp just a month earlier. The barracks were polluted, there was poor infrastructure, no electricity and it was cold. In addition, the Internal Forces had often arbitrarily arrested people, sometimes on false rumors. Files were rarely opened.”
Due to the arrest urge of the domestic armed forces, innocent people and children also ended up in Vught. “Sometimes they were only interrogated in the camp for the first time, and they turned out to be innocent. In the worst case, you were wrongfully imprisoned for fourteen months.”
Life in the internment camp
Former SS men suffered the most in Vught. “They were actually declared outlaws, and had a miserable life. They were held separately and systematically abused.”
But in the ‘ordinary’ barracks there was a reasonable chance of evading fire. “You have to see it in perspective, because it was of course also cold for them, and there was hunger and there were diseases,” says Verduijn, “but still, whoever behaved, could make it. This is evident from a number of diaries, among other things. I read that.”
At the end of 1945, a different wind blows in the internment camp. Willem de Wit is appointed camp commander and is expressly instructed to focus on re-education and resocialisation.
“De Wit had been a probation officer. He soon noticed that ‘very strange methods were being used’ in the camp and fired a tyrannical guard who was responsible for this,” says Verduijn. “On his first day he gave a speech in which he indicated that he demanded the highest discipline from the camp guards. He felt that they should lead by example.”
There was a canteen in Vught, a football field, a theater, a camp newspaper and the possibility to follow a study. For the ‘ordinary’ internees, but also for the former SS. Discussion evenings were also held, where fascism and the war were discussed.
According to Verduijn, it is unclear whether the re-education was successful: “It is difficult to check that. You could return to society. You had to behave well for that. The assessment was done individually, via a form that was completed by a guard, the chaplain. and the social worker. But of course you made sure that you acted according to their expectations, because then you could be released. What you exactly thought remained unclear.”
‘Knowledge must increase’
Jeroen van den Eijnde, director of National Monument Camp Vught, is happy with Verduijn’s book. “I often hear from visitors that they did not know that the camp continued to exist after the war. I hope that the book will provide more knowledge in the Netherlands about this forgotten piece of history. The taboo to talk about these groups is diminishing, now we have to knowledge continues to grow.”
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