Westerbork-Auschwitz Train Signboard
From the collection of the Camp Westerbork Memorial Centre
h 40 cm x w 80 cm
This metal train sign ‘Westerbork-Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Westerbork’ indicated a return trip that nobody would ever make. On 15 and 16 July 1942, the first two cargo trains packed with more than 2,000 Jews left the Westerbork Transit Camp headed for the Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland. Most of the people aboard these transports were killed the same day they arrived. A total of 65 trains left for Auschwitz alone.
The prisoners at Westerbork lived from transport to transport and between hope and fear. The evening before a departure was unbearable because the names of those who would be transported were announced then. The next day there was no escape. Sometimes as many as 70 people with all their bags were crammed into each filthy boxcar of the lengthy train. The doors were then bolted shut from the outside. ‘It is overwhelming for the men; they swallow their tears. The train screeches: the poisonous snake begins to inch forward,’ wrote the Dutch writer and photographer Philip Mechanicus in the diary he kept in Westerbork.
Of the 107,000 Jews and 245 Sinti and Roma who were deported from the Netherlands, for the most part via Westerbork, only a total of 5,000 people returned.