Mechelen transit camp

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Mechelen transit camp
SS-Sammellager Mecheln
Transit camp
Dossin 2.JPG
Modern view of Dossin Barracks which housed the transit camp
Mechelen transit camp is located in Belgium
Mechelen transit camp
Location of the camp in Belgium
Coordinates51°02′02″N 4°28′42″E / 51.03389°N 4.47833°E / 51.03389; 4.47833Coordinates: 51°02′02″N 4°28′42″E / 51.03389°N 4.47833°E / 51.03389; 4.47833
Other namesSS-Sammellager Mecheln
LocationMechelen, Belgium
Operated byNazi Germany
Original useMilitary barracks[Note 1]
First built1756
OperationalJuly 1942 – September 1944
Inmatesmainly Jews and Roma
Number of inmatesJews: 24,916[1]
Roma: 351[2]
Killedc.300 (on-site only)[3]
Liberated byAllied Forces, 4 September 1944
Notable inmatesFelix Nussbaum,[4] Abraham Bueno de Mesquita
Websitewww.kazernedossin.be/en

The Mechelen transit camp, officially SS-Sammellager Mecheln in German, was a detention and deportation camp established in a former army barracks at Mechelen in German-occupied Belgium. It was managed by the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo-SD),[5] a branch of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, in order to collect and deport Jews and Romani mainly out of Belgium towards the labor camp of Heydebreck-Cosel[6] and the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in German occupied Poland.

During the Second World War, between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, 28 trains left from this Belgian casern and deported over 25,000 Jews and Roma,[1][7] most of whom arrived at the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the end of war, 1240 of them had survived.[7]

Since 1996, a Holocaust museum has been open near the site of the camp: the Kazerne Dossin – Memorial.

Background[edit]

Map of the Holocaust: this map shows all concentration and extermination camps in German-occupied Europe as well as labor camps, prison camps, ghettos, major deportation routes and major massacre sites

German occupation and persecution[edit]

Belgium was invaded by Nazi Germany in a rapid military campaign on 10–28 May 1940. It was subsequently placed under a military occupation administration which would endure until July 1944 when the territory briefly passed under a civilian administration, brought to an end by the Liberation of Belgium in September 1944.

As early as September 1940, the German administration established a prison camp (Auffanglager) in Fort Breendonk, a former Belgian military fort. Inmates were largely political prisoners, though a number of Jews were also held in a segregated part of the camp. As part of the Final Solution (Endlösung) after January 1942, it was decided to transport Belgian Jews to concentration and extermination camps in Eastern Europe.

Mechelen transit camp[edit]

Approximately 90 percent of Belgium's Jewish population lived in the cities of Antwerp and Brussels in 1942. Accordingly Mechelen, a city with a railway hub located halfway between the two, was chosen as the site of the new transit camp.

The building chosen to house the camp was a former army facility called Dossin Barracks (Caserne Dossin), built in 1756 and named after Lieutenant-General Émile Dossin de Saint-Georges, a hero of the Battle of the Yser during World War I. It was located in the north of the city and provided access to the railway freight dock serving the River Dyle.[8] The three-storey block that completely surrounded a large square yard was fitted with barbed wire. It became operational in July 1942.

Operation[edit]

The camp staff was mostly German but was assisted by Belgian collaborationist paramilitaries from the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen ("General SS Flanders").[5][9] It was officially under the command of Philipp Schmitt, commandant of the Fort Breendonk. The acting commandant at Mechelen was SS officer Rudolph Steckmann.

The first group of people arrived in the camp from Antwerp on 27 July 1942. Between August and December 1942, two transports, each with about 1,000 Jews, left the camp every week for Auschwitz concentration camp. Between the 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, a total of 28 trains left Mechelen for Poland, carrying 24,916 Jews and 351 Roma;[1] most of them went to Auschwitz. This figure represented more than half of the Belgian Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In line with the Nazi racial policy that much later became named the Porajmos (or Samudaripen), 351 Belgian Roma were sent to Auschwitz in early 1944.

Conditions at the Mechelen camp were especially brutal. Many Roma were locked in basement rooms for weeks or months at a time without food or sanitary facilities. The Roma had an especially low survival rate.

Summer 1942: the Mechelen transit camp after the arrival of those caught during the night.[5]
Original boxcar used for transport to concentration camps in the collection of Fort Breendonk
Transports from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Deported people per age (above and below 15 years old) and gender.
All deportees were Jews with the exception of those on Transport Z.[1]
Transports Date Men Boys Women Girls Total
Transport 1 4 August 1942 544 28 403 23 998
Transport 2 11 August 1942 459 25 489 26 999
Transport 3 15 June 1942 380 48 522 50 1000
Transport 4 18 August 1942 339 133 415 112 999
Transport 5 25 August 1942 397 88 429 81 995
Transport 6 29 August 1942 355 60 531 54 1000
Transport 7 1 September 1942 282 163 401 154 1000
Transport 8 10 September 1942 388 111 403 98 1000
Transport 9 12 September 1942 408 91 401 100 1000
Transport 10 15 September 1942 405 132 414 97 1048
Transport 11 26 September 1942 562 231 713 236 1742
Transport 12 10 October 1942 310 135 423 131 999
Transport 13 10 October 1942 228 89 259 99 675
Transport 14 24 October 1942 324 112 438 121 995
Transport 15 24 October 1942 314 30 93 39 476
Transport 16 31 October 1942 686 16 94 27 823
Transport 17 31 October 1942 629 45 169 32 875
Transport 18 15 January 1943 353 105 424 65 947
Transport 19 15 January 1943 239 51 270 52 612
Transport 20 19 April 1943 463 115 699 127 1404
Transport 21 31 July 1943 672 103 707 71 1553
Transport 22a 20 September 1943 291 39 265 36 631
Transport 22b 20 September 1943 305 74 351 64 794
Transport 23 15 January 1944 307 33 293 22 655
Transport Z[Note 2] 15 January 1944 85 91 101 74 351
Transport 24 4 April 1944 303 29 275 18 625
Transport 25 19 May 1944 237 20 230 21 508
Transport 26 31 July 1944 280 15 251 17 563
Total August 1942 – July 1944 10,545 2,212 10,463 2,047 25,267

Confrontation[edit]

Monument to the resistance action against the 20th Belgian Jew transport in the railway station of Boortmeerbeek, Belgium.

Some people succeeded in escaping the transports, especially from the Transports 16 and 17 which consisted of men returned from forced labor on the Atlantic Wall to Belgium. Most of these men jumped between Mechelen and the German border. Many were caught and were soon put on subsequent transports but a total of about 500 Jewish prisoners did manage to escape across all the 28 transports. On 19 April 1943 three resistance fighters, acting on their own initiative, stopped Transport 20 near the train station of Boortmeerbeek, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south-east of Mechelen. From this action 17 prisoners managed to flee. More Jews escaped by their own deeds, a total of 231 Jews fled although 90 were eventually recaptured and 26 were shot by guards escorting the train.[10]

The last transport left on 31 July 1944 but Allied forces could not stop it before its destination was reached. When the Allies approached Mechelen by 3 September 1944, the Germans fled the Dossin Barracks, leaving the 527 remaining prisoners behind.[5] Some remaining prisoners escaped that night and the others were freed on the 4th, though soon replaced with suspected collaborators. The lists of deportees were left at Hasselt during the German retreat and were later discovered intact.

Memorial and Museum[edit]

In 1948 Dossin Barracks reverted to its original use by the Belgian Army. It was used until 1975 when it was abandoned. Apart from a wing renovated in the 1980s for social housing, the barracks became the site of the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance by 1996. In 2001, the Flemish Government decided to expand the institution by a new complex built opposite the old barracks; the latter closed in July 2011, to become a memorial monument.[11] The Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights reopened its doors on 26 November 2012.[12]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresia of Austria, last of the House of Habsburg, ordered the building of the so-called Hof van Habsburg for an infantry regiment in 1756. Later it became a Belgian Army barracks.
  2. ^ Z stands for Zigeuner, or Roma in German

References[edit]

Citations
  1. ^ a b c d Schram 2006, De raciale deportatie van België naar Auschwitz vanuit Mechelen
  2. ^ "Kazerne Dossin – History – Dossin barracks: 1942–44". Cicb.be. Retrieved 31 July 2011.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Mikhman, Gutman & Bender 2005, pp. xxx
  4. ^ Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. "The Fate of the Jews – Across Europe Murder of the Jews of Western Europe". Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d Schram 2008, Instigators and Perpetrators
  6. ^ Schram 2006, De tewerkstelling van degenen die aan de onmiddellijke uitroeiing ontsnappen
  7. ^ a b "Kazerne Dossin – History – The Transports". Cicb.be. Retrieved 31 July 2011.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Dossinkazerne (voormalige) (ID: 3617)". De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed. Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  9. ^ Mikhman 1998, p. 212
  10. ^ Steinberg 1979, pp. 53–56
  11. ^ "Kazerne Dossin (main page of August 2011)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  12. ^ "Kazerne Dossin: History". Retrieved 9 July 2015.
Bibliography


External links[edit]