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Amersfoort Concentration Camp
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Amersfoort concentration camp (Dutch: Kamp Amersfoort, German: Durchgangslager Amersfoort) was a Nazi concentration camp in Amersfoort in the Netherlands. The official name was "Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort", P.D.A. or Police Transitcamp Amersfoort. During the years of 1941 to 1945, over 35,000 prisoners were kept here. The camp was situated in the southern part of Amersfoort, on the city limit between Amersfoort and Leusden in central Netherlands.
Kamp Amersfoort in 1939 still was a complex of barracks that supported army artillery exercises on the nearby Leusderheide. From 1941 onwards, it didn't merely function as a transit camp, as the name suggests. The terms "penal camp" or "work camp" would also be fitting. During the existence of the camp many prisoners were put to work in kommandos. In total around 37,000 prisoners were registered at Amersfoort.
To get to the camp, prisoners had to walk from the railyard through the city and through residential neighborhoods:
Visible in the windows, above and below, of most residences and behind closed lace curtains, were numerous silhouettes, especially those of children. Usually the silhouettes did not move. Sometimes, feebly and furtively, they waved. Children who waved were very quickly pulled back. It was a farewell from the inhabited world -- now a realm of shades.
The history of the camp can be separated into two periods. The first period started on August 18, 1941 and ended in March 1943. In March 1943 all but eight of the first prisoners in Amersfoort were transferred to Kamp Vught. The prisoner transfer to Vught allowed for the completion of an expansion of Kamp Amersfoort. Maintaining the camp, despite Kamp Vught coming 'online' in January 1943, still appeared necessary to the Nazis.
Amersfoort was a transit camp, where prisoners were sent to places like Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Neuengamme. It was on July 15, 1942 that the Germans began deporting Dutch Jews from Amersfoort, Vught and Westerbork to concentration camps and death camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor and Theresienstadt.
The remaining watchtower, as can be seen on the commemorative place, was built around April/May 1943, when the expansion of Kamp Amersfoort was completed and prisoners could be placed there again. In a lot of ways Kamp Amersfoort had changed relative to the first period. The most important changes were the much larger 'housing capacity', and the faster 'turnover'. What stayed the same, were the anarchy, the lack of hygiene, the lack of food, lack of medical attention and the cruelty of the guards. A point of light for the prisoners was the presence of the Dutch Red Cross. The second period ended on April 19, 1945, when control of the camp was transferred to Loes van Overeem of the Red Cross. On May 7, the Allies arrived and the camp was officially liberated.
The fluctuating prisoner population showed an eclectic group of people from all over Holland: Jews,Jehovah's Witnesses, POW's from the Soviet Union, members of the resistance, clergy, black marketeers, clandestine butchers and smugglers. From 1941-1943, 8,800 people were imprisoned in the camp, of which 2,200 were deported to Germany. During the period 1943-1945, 26,500 people were imprisoned, of which 18,000 were sent east to places like Buchenwald and Natzweiler concentration camps.
After the re-opening in 1943, 70 Jews from Kamp Vught and 600 Jews from camp Westerbork of British, American and Hungarian nationality were briefly sent to Kamp Amersfoort. They were joined by contract breakers of the German Arbeitseinsatz (forced labour program), AWOL Waffen SS soldiers, deserted German truck drivers of the Nationalsozialistische Kraftfahr-Korps, and lawbreaking members of the NSB (the Dutch National Socialist Movement).
This medley of prisoners was not the only feature that determined the character of Kamp Amersfoort. The extreme cruelty of the camp command made life miserable for thousands of prisoners. Despite their relatively short stay, many prisoners died from deprivations and violence at a camp where "rumour has it that one can hear the screams of people being beaten up there for miles over the heath. It is more than a rumour." Jewish prisoners in particular were treated horribly, not only from guards, but fellow prisoners.
Edith and Rosa Stein, two Hebrew Catholics arrested by the SS, described what it was like arriving at Amersfoort at 3:00 in the morning on August 3, 1942:
When the vans reached the camp, they emptied their passengers who were taken over by the S.S. guards. These began to drive them, cursing and swearing, beating them on their backs with their truncheons, into a hut where they were to pass the night without having had a meal.
The hut was divided into two sections, one for men, one for women. It was separated from the main lager by a barbed-wire fence. Altogether, the lager held at that moment, about three hundred men, women and children. The beds were iron frames arranged in a double tier, without mattresses of any kind.
Our prisoners threw themselves on the bare springs trying to snatch a few minutes sleep; but few slept that night, if only because the guards kept switching the lights off and on, from time to time, as a precaution against attempts to escape, which was next to impossible in any case. Their cold harsh voices filled the prisoners with anxiety about the future and, in these circumstances, it is anxiety which can turn a prison into a hell on earth.
Violence from the guards was not the only thing that prisoners had to worry about. Weakened physical conditions from overwork, very little food and poor hygiene in camp made illness and disease another frightening and lonely way to die. Yehudit Harris, a young boy in Amersfoort remembers screaming from the pain as his mother washed him with snow in the winter to rid them of lice and to protect against illness. Even the mattresses that prisoners slept on were often infested with lice, diphtheria, dysentery or T.B.
Amersfoort was a brutal place to be a prisoner and is summed up by Elie Cohen, was said that "transfer from Amersfoort to Westerbork was like going from hell to heaven.
Highest responsible authority went to the Lagerkommandant (camp commander). Below him was the Lagerführer (camp leader), who actually ran the camp. His assistants were the Blockführer (barrack leaders).
Virtually all prisoners were divided into workgroups or Kommandos. These kommandos were led by an Arbeitsführer. The lowest leadership level were the Altesten (Elders), also called "prominents" or "foremen". These were prisoners, who in exchange for taking care of minor issues, usually theft among prisoners, received special privileges.
Wachbataillon Nord-West (6 companies, around 1200 men total) was commanded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Anton Helle.
The first of these six companies was in charge of Kamp Amersfoort, under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Walter Heinrich. This company was split into Kamp-SS (20 men selected by Heinrich) and Guard-SS (100 men).
The first camp leader was SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer I Hans Cornelis Stöver. From January 1, 1943, the camp leader was SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer II Karl Peter Berg. Berg was a very cruel man, who was described as a "predator who derived great pleasure from the agony of others. During roll call he loved to sneak about unnoticed behind the rows of men and catch someone in some violation, such as talking or not following orders properly. With a big grin, he would torment his victim."
Another camp leader was SS-UnterSchutzhaftlagerführer Josef Johann Kotälla, a notorious sadist who often replaced Stöver during his absence. This former sales representative and repeat psychiatric patient was one of the most infamous SS guards in Amersfoort. B.W. Stomps, a Resistance fighter sent to Amersfoort recalled Kotälla's actions in the Christmas season of 1944:
On 23 December, Kotälla announced a ban on parcels for three weeks, which meant no Red Cross presents for Christmas or New Year. He further cancelled breakfast, lunch and dinner on Christmas Day itself, using the discovery of a smuggled letter as a pretext. And as an extra punishment on Christmas morning he kept the men standing on the parade ground, which was covered with thick snow, from their roll-call at seven till half past midday. A few days before, the geese for the guards' Christmas dinner had been on show, hanging on the barbed wire.
Also notorious were Blockführer Franzka, SS-Arbeitsdienstführer Max Ritter, SS-er Hugo Hermann Wolf, among many others.National monument in the former camp
In 1948 the camp commandant and guards of Amersfoort were tried and convicted for their crimes. Karl Peter Berg was sentenced to death and was executed in 1949. Josef Johann Kotälla was also sentenced to death but it was later commuted to life in prison. Along with three other prisoners he become involved in what was known as the "Breda Four," a group of prisoners whose possible release stirred up very strong feelings amongst Dutchmen. Kotalla was never released and died in prison.
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD), has many resources to the guards of Amersfoort and their trials. The NIOD has dossiers on the following Amersfoort guards and personnel: Berg, Brahm, Dohmen, Fernau, Helle, Kotalla, May, van der Neut, Oberle, Stover, Voight, Westerveld and Wolf. Newspaper clippings are available for Berg, Fernau, Stover and Helle.
Court records for the trial of these guards are also available, the following being a sampling of what is available:
1.) Indictment and verbal reports made by the period of the trial against EE Alscher, K.P. Berg, E. Brahm, J.J. Kotälla, e.g. May, J. Oberle and H.H. Wolf, November 16–14 December 1948.
2.) Graphic shorthand reports made by the period of the trial against EE Alscher, K.P. Berg, E. Brahm, J.J. Kotälla, e.g. May, J. Oberle and H.H. Wolf, 16–23 November 1948.
The Rusthof Cemetery
The Rusthof cemetery (Dutch: begraafplaats Rusthof) is located in Oud-Leusden, Leusden municipality, Utrecht Province, Netherlands. It is the largest cemetery that services Amersfoort, which is 4 km south of. Therefore it is often called Amersfoort General Cemetery orAmersfoort (Old Leusden) Cemetery or other variants. Address: Dodeweg 31, Leusden, Utrecht, Netherlands.
It is a partly civilian partly military cemetery. Buried there are the victims of the World War II, including 238 soldiers and pilots killed in action from the British Commonwealth, Poland, Belgium and France, also World War II military victims from Yugoslavia, Greece, Hungary, Romania,Portugal, Czechoslovakia and Italy (World War I and II), as well as 865 soldiers from the Soviet Union. A number of Soviet victims came from the nearby Kamp Amersfoort. The Soviet soldiers were eventually reburied in 1947/1948 from some other places in what is called "the Russian Honor Field" or "the Soviet Field of Glory"
A view of the prisoner barracks in Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort.
The guards were notorious for their harsh treatment of Jews and communists.
Two types of SS were engaged in the camp; camp-SS and SS guards. In charge of the camp organization were the camp-SS. They wrote policy procedures for camp Amersfoort. The first camp commander was SS-Obersturmführer - First Lieutenant in the SS, Walter Heinrich. As a policeman he had little experience with the internal running of a concentration camp. However, he had two former Dachau SS guards, SS-ers Berg, not the same as Karl Peter Berg, and Petri on staff. They taught him the lessons they themselves had learned while stationed in Dachau. Heinrich also attracted two men who had served the Nazi cause well as alternate commanders of Camp Schoorl. SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer I - first SS-Protective Custody camp commander, Hans Cornelis Stöver and his faithful side-kick SS-Schutzhaftlagerführer II - second SS-Protective Custody camp commander, Karl Peter Berg who would later succeed commandant Heinrich instead of Stöver.
The Camp was guarded by the Stabkompanie beim höheren SS- und Polizeiführer Nord-West - Staff company by order of the higher SS and commander of Police North-West, known as the SS guards. The first commander of theStabkompanie was SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain Dr. Alphons Brendel. He was succeeded by SS-Hauptsturmführer - SS Captain Paul Anton Helle.
Initially Camp Amersfoort was made up of 17 wooden barracks. Each of the barracks was 60 meters or 196.8 ft in length. Five of these barracks were occupied by prisoners to whom 3-tier beds were assigned leaving little space for tables or benches. Later, in 1942, the SD gave orders to enlarge the camp and 10 additional large stone facilities, as well as barracks and sheds to accommodate workshops, were built. Whereas only a maximum of 600 prisoners were meant to be housed in the wooden barracks, in reality over 4,000 were locked up at times. As a result, contagious diseases such as dysentery and typhus, but also pneumonia and lice infestation were rampant.
A minimum of 658 prisoners is known to have lost their lives in Amersfoort of which 428 were executed by firing squad. There is, however, strong indication that these figures are incomplete. In reality there may have been many more prisoners who perished in Amersfoort. Just before the end of the war the Nazis destroyed almost all camp administration and documentation in order to get rid of incriminating evidence.
Most prisoners were male, coming from various groups forbidden or blacklisted by the Nazis. They were Roma or Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, illegal butchers, black market traffickers, those who had, according to Nazi standards, committed economical offenses. Included also were several arrested freedom fighters, Jews, some Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy, political prisoners and hostages. Each group could be recognized by the color of the triangle sewn onto the prison tunic. Moreover, each prisoner had his prison number sewn onto his prison tunic and trousers.
Joseph J. Kotälla
SS-Unterschutzhaftlagerführer Joseph Johann Kotälla, who mistreated prisoners with the utmost of cruelty, was a barbaric man. Before the war, in 1938, he was diagnosed as mentally disturbed. In Amersfoort he shone as the sadistic ruler who personally and with great pleasure horribly mistreated prisoners. Kotälla was responsible for the cruel regime waged in Camp Amersfoort. Systematic starvation, repulsive ill-treatment of all prisoners and the abominable method by which some of the prisoners were murdered were daily occurrence. In particular, Jews and Russian prisoners of war suffered as a result of his cruelty. The "Rose Garden" was his invention. It was an oblong area designed for punishment. The ground was loose sand at the outer edges surrounded by concrete posts to which rolls of barbed wire were connected. In this place of torture prisoners were forced to stand still and erect between 24 to 48 hours without the benefit of food or drink.
Then there was de Bunker - the Bunker or Blockhouse. It consisted of twenty-two death cells, also referred as the portal of death. Prisoners disappeared here Im Nacht und Nebel - in Night and Fog. The only person who ever managed to miraculously escape from this place was the freedom fighter Gerrit Kleinveld. The movie De Bunker was made to commemorate his escape. Kleinveld was imprisoned from 22 December 1942 until 1 March 1943. The day of his escape came one day before his scheduled execution. He was condemned to death because of his involvement with several resistance groups. Among his activities, he was the founder as well as a member of the R.V.V. - Raad Van Verzet - Council of Resistance. He also was actively involved with several other resistance organizations. De Bunker was built half a meter or almost twenty inches below ground level. The two torturers Franska and Ritter practically were given free rein in de Bunker.
The Schieszstandcommando - Rifle-range Commando was a notorious penal commando charged with the most difficult kind of work assignment. This commando was made up predominantly of Jews. In stead of shovels they were forced to use wooden planks. With these crude, makeshift shovels they had to dig the future rifle-range that measured 350 meter long and 5 meter deep (1148 ft long and 16.4 ft deep). The work was carried out under threat of whips and bludgeons. Much blood was shed in this place. Many people succumbed to heavy work demands. The circumstances under which they had to work always were bad. They suffered hunger and thirst. Once the rifle-range was completed it was also used for executions. Many were executed here.
Some of the Camp-SS, third from the left is J.F. Stöver, extreme right K.P. Berg.
For instance, on 8 March 1945 the Nazis retaliated when the Dutch underground failed in its attempt to assassinate SS General Hanns Rauter near the Woeste Hoeve outside Apeldoorn. They first executed 49 men at the Rifle-Range in Amersfoort. Four days later one more person was shot at the same place to round off the total at 50. Today a statue of de Stenen Man - the Stone Man is erected on the precise place where the murders took place. The statue of de Stenen Man was designed by Frits Sieger and unveiled in May of 1953. The official designation for the statue is "Prisoner in front of the firing squad."
Karl Peter Berg
After the war seven mass graves were discovered alongside the rifle-range by the criminal investigation team and identification department of Amersfoort. Het Lijkenhuis - the Mortuary was sometimes used to temporarily store deceased prisoners for possible transport back to family. However, more than often victims were placed in mass graves somewhere in a remote area. The bodies were totally covered with quicklime in an attempt to erase all evidence. Most victims died in the second year of the war. After the war an additional 59 mass graves were discovered by Mr. Gerrit Kleinveld, who was mentioned earlier as the only escapee from De Bunker. Kleinveld put pressure on former commandant Berg to divulge the exact location of these mass graves. Berg was sentenced to death in 1948. The sentence was carried out in 1949. Ironically, Berg tricked his executioners by shouting "fire." He died instantly of the prematurely triggered shots.
Finally, 101 Russian POWs were sent to Camp Amersfoort on 27 September 1941. Together with the transfers from Camp Schoorl and the incarcerated Jews these Russian POWs made up the first internees of the camp. When they arrived in Amersfoort they were paraded through town in an attempt to show the population of Amersfoort how primitive and barbaric Russians (communists!!) were, but the town people recognized the diabolic Nazi plan. Many gave bread and other food to the prisoners. While incarcerated, twenty-two Russians died of dysentery and willful starvation. Two Russian POWs were ordered killed by the Dutch camp doctor van Nieuwenhuysen, a Nazi sympathizer and collaborator. The skulls of these two victims were placed as trophies on his desk.
On 9 April 1942, the remaining 77 Russian soldiers were liquidated by the SS. They were killed re- ceiving fatal neck shots. Before the execution the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) - Security police had organized a bacchanalia, a drunken orgy in the SS canteen. The murdered Russian prisoners were temporarily re-buried in the summer of 1945. Later their bodies were again exhumed and this time transferred to a cemetery called Rusthof - Garden of Rest. Finally they were re-burried in the Russian Honor Field which was created in 1947/1948, where to date 865 Soviet war victims rest.
Along the Appelweg, outside the camp, stood a large tree. Its branches leaned over the barbed wire inside the camp grounds. Many prisoners dreamed of grabbing the branches and catapulting themselves across the fence making a clean escape. That tree stood for many years. Even after it had died it remained as a silent witness to the atrocities that were committed in Camp Amersfoort. Unfortunately, on 25 October 2000 nature took its toll and toppled that tree. Many former inmates looked upon that day as a day of mourning because the tree was viewed by them as a symbolic monument. You see, in January of 1945, just beyond that tree, the Nazis buried a man alive. His name was Joop Swaanswijk, a radio operator. Joop also was a member of the Council of Resistance the R.V.V. - het Raad Van Verzet. After the war he received proper burial.
When the camp was liberated between 475 and 500 survivors were counted. Few of these were Jews.
Johann Joseph Kotalla
Was during the Second World War, chief of administration inCamp Amersfoort . Of Appeal Kotalla representative and he had been hospitalized several times for mental problems . In September 1942 he was Schutzhaftlagerführer II Karl Peter Berg appointed in Amersfoort.
Even after his appointment in Amersfoort was Kotalla psychiatric treatment. From December 1942 until approximately April 1943, he was nursed in the psychiatric ward of a German military hospital in The Hague. Kotalla was UnterSchutzhaftlagerführer Mountain in which function he replaced as commander in his absence.
Kotalla was rated as one of the most notorious torturers camp of Amersfoort and was nicknamed the Executioner of Amersfoort . He was mainly provided on Jews and priests . Kotalla several times was part of a firing squad .
In 1949 Kotalla was sentenced to death, what punishment in 1951 life sentence was converted. He was imprisoned in Breda, along with Willy Lages , Ferdinand aus der Funten and Franz Fischer (see also: The Four of Breda ). Kotalla Breda died in prison in 1979.
- 14 July 1908 ~31 July 1979
Karl Peter Berg
Karl Peter Berg
Was a German camp commander.
Berg was previously active in camp Schoorl and came in 1942 to Camp Amersfoort. Due to illness of Heinrich, he was soon appointedStellvertretener Schutzhaftlagerführer . Schoorl Mountain was barely noticed by cruelty, but in Amersfoort he is frequently guilty of mistreatment of prisoners. He was involved in the execution of 77 Russian and about 200 non-Russian prisoners.
After the liberation, Mountain sentenced to death, a petition for clemency was rejected. In 1949 he was the first - unexpectedly - the command "Fire" called to the firing squad.
- 18 April 1907 - 22 November 1949
The history of the Jews of Amersfoort begins in the mid-seventeenth century. In approximately 1650, a group of Portuguese Jews became the first Jews to settle in the city. Ten years later, the first Amersfoort Jew was awarded full rights as a citizen of the city. Soon after, the Ashkenazi Jews began to arrive Amersfoort and, in 1676, an Ashkenazic Jew was appointed lease hold of the municipal lending bank.
During the first years of Jewish settlement in Amersfoort, religious services were held in a private house. The Jewish community of Amersfoort grew steadily and soon enjoyed the protection of the municipal leaders, not least due to its role in the tobacco trade. Around 1700, a small cemetery was established near the Bloemendaalse Poort. Eventually, the growth of the Ashkenazi Jewish population led to the construction in 1727 of an Ashenazi synagogue in the Juffersgat. The Portuguese community slowly declined.
Benjamin Cohen, an heir of a leading dynasty of Amersfoort tobacco merchants, was a fervent Dutch patriot and twice during riots in 1787 offered his house on the Zuidsingel as a refuge to Stadtholder Willem V and his wife.
The Jewish community of Amersfoort was extremely observant. Its leaders not only opposed reforming measures put forth by the central Jewish Consistory at the outset of the nineteenth century but also initially opposed the establishment of the government of King Willem I in 1813.
From 1814 to 1917 Amersfoort was the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of the province of Utrecht. In 1867, a conflict within the community led to the building of a second synagogue located near the Kortegracht. In 1873, the community purchased a parcel of land along the Soesterstraatweg to serve as a new cemetery.
The Amersfoort Jewish community maintained a religious school, a burial society, and a society offering care to the sick and aged. A women's society engaged in charity and cared for the maintenance of synagogue appurtenances. The community also maintained two study societies, a cultural society, and a theater society. During the twentieth century, a number of Zionist organizations were founded.
During the German occupation, the lot of the Jews of Amersfoort was the same as that of Jews elsewhere. In September, 1941,the community established a school for Jewish children banned from public education. Between August, 1942 and April, 1943 the Jews of Amersfoort were deported to the concentration camp at Westerbork in the north of the Netherlands. From there, they were eventually transported to Nazi death camps in eastern Europe and murdered. Fortunately, several dozen Jews from Amersfoort and surroundings managed to survive the war in hiding.
Not far from Amersfoort is the site of the Polizeiliches Durchgangslager (Police Detention Camp) established by the Germans in 1941. The worse lot at this infamous detention center was suffered by its Jewish labor unit. In 2000, a memorial center was established at this terrible site.
After the war, the Amersfoort Jewish community was established anew. The synagogue on the Drieringensteeg was re-consecrated. In 1949, its badly damaged interior was fully restored. Today, in addition to a fully functioning Jewish community, Amersfoort is home to the Sinai psychiatric hospital of the Central Association for Jewish Mental Health.
In 1999, a memorial in the form of a scroll bearing the names of the 333 Jews of Amersfoort murdered during the war was unveiled at the local historical museum, the Flehite Museum. The scroll will be moved to permanent place at Amersfoort's municipal information center.
In the summer of 2000, during the restoration of a building at Muurhuizen 26, remains were recovered belonging to the former Mikve (Jewish ritual bath) that had stood at the site from 1737 to 1943.
Reconstruction of a copy of a stereographic drawing found in 1945 in the Camp commander's office.
The gate of Amersfoort camp.
After the war Victor Kugler spoke about his experiences after the arrest:
‘On September 7 1944 we were moved to the prison on the Weteringschans, and I was put in the same cell as those sentenced to death. This was followed, four days later on September 11, by a transport to the concentration camp in Amersfoort, where I was selected for transport to Germany. Luckily, this transport did not take place.
Shortly before New Year the prisoners, myself included, were moved to Wageningen where we were similarly put to work digging under the watchful eye of the Germans. As we approached Zevenaar the vehicles accompanying us were attacked from the air, fired on by British Spitfires. Unfortunately, a few people were killed. I made use of the confusion and escaped into a field.
I hid for a few days by a farmer. Once, in Barneveld, I almost fell into German hands again during a raid by the Nazi secret police. Still, I finally arrived home in Hilversum on Good Friday and I decided it was necessary, until the eventual liberation, to build a hiding place. So I had been away from home for an entire eight months.’
From the archives of the Anne Frank House.
Russian Field of Honor
Next to the municipal cemetery “Rusthof” in Amersfoort (Oud Leusden) in 1947 and 1948 the Russian Field of Honor has been established.
At the entrance of this memorial an information sign has been placed with the following text (apart from the Dutch text the same words have been translated in Russian):
“On this Field of Honor, the graves of 865 Russian soldiers have been put to rest. Of those 100 died during the German occupation in Camp Amersfoort. It was an infamous Camp which was situated where today you will find the police academy “De Boskamp” at the Appelweg. The Russians were made prisoner of war in Russia by the German Army and were transported in box cars in September 1941 to the concentration camp as means of alive propaganda material. After a of fourteen days’ train journey they arrived almost dying of starvation and were herded through the city in a parade to the concentration camp. The inhabitants of Amersfoort reacted horror struck. They came out of their houses with water, fruit and bread but were not allowed to hand these to the prisoners.
Twenty three of those Russian soldiers died of starvation within five months of their arrival. The 77 that remained were executed in groups of four prisoners on 9 April. At the place of execution, behind the police academy, a memorial column has been placed that reminds of this mass execution.
The other Russian officers, non commissioned officers and soldiers that have been buried in this Field of Honor, have mainly succumbed to the consequences of exhaustion and illness after they were liberated by the American Army out of their German imprisonment. Initially their remains were entered in an American War Cemetery in Margraten. Later on they have been reburied in this Russian Field of Honor.
The memorial has been made out of Russian white marble."
Women Prisoners Fall in for Rollcall
My mother, Eva Pencak, was born on a farm in Poland in a little village near Bilgoraj. Eva Choma was a young single woman when Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. She spent the next several years as a forced laborer in Nazi-occupied Germany.
After the war ended, Eva, along with other former laborers, concentration camp internees, and others displaced by the Germans, were housed at Displaced Person camps set up by the Allied Forces. The camps were often former German barracks that became home for several years for thousands of these refugees. The camps were like small villages with schools, churches, temples and medical centers where many refugees lived for years until they could find permanent homes. Eva met her husband, Frank Pecak (later changed to Pencak) in a displaced persons camp in Wildfleken, Germany where Ewa worked as a kindergarten and preschool teacher.
Like most newly liberated Poles, Eva and Frank needed to decide what to do after years of war had devastated their homeland. Eva's sister, Marisa, who stayed in the family home, wrote that things were very difficult in Poland after the war. There was much poverty and a lot of anxiety about the new Communist leadership in Poland.
Eva had a half-brother, Josef Choma (later changed to Homer) who lived in Hamtramck, Michigan. She didn't have his address, but she sent him a letter by way of an American soldier who was returning home to the States.
There was probably one chance in a million, but Joe Homer got her letter! He immediately invited Eva and her husband to come to the United States. By now, my mother had a child, so she wrote back to her stepbrother saying that she would love to come to the U.S., but she now had one daughter and another baby on the way. Josef Homer and his wife, Helen, graciously opened the invitation to include the new family.Coming to the USA
It was February 1950 when they arrived in Detroit, Michigan, carrying a nine-month old infant, and all their possessions.
They lived with Helen and Joe for a few months, then moved to their own home in Hamtramck, Michigan. Frank and Eva worked hard and finally bought their own home in Warren, Michigan. Frank passed away in 1958, leaving Ewa alone to raise their two daughters. With her brother's help, she was able to make it. Both daughters attended college and fulfilled their parents' biggest dream.
Unfortunately for Ewa, both daughters decided to live in California. For several years, Ewa managed very well by being active in Lutnia, a Polish American chorale organization with which she performed for 20 years, and in the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy, Michigan where she worked as a volunteer.
In 1998, she began feeling vulnerable to the physical limitations that come with age, and she worried that she could no longer count on her numerous friends for the kind of care only ones children can provide.
With much anxiety, Eva sold the home she lived in for over 40 years and road across country with her youngest daughter, and son-in-law to California in July 1998. She chose Sebastopol, a small town inSonoma County in Northern California, near her daughter's home in Bodega.
It was a very difficult move from her familiar home in a Polish community to California, where everything was different. Wanting desperately to stay in touch with her friends in Warren, Michigan, Eva learned to type so she could write letters more easily.
After a few months, Eva became very active in her community in the Santa Rosa area. She became very fond of Sebastopol. Eva joined the choir at St. Sebastians Catholic Church and participated until January. Eva also was a member of Young Christian Ladies, where she quickly became recognized for her fine European baked goods she brought to pot-luck meetings.
In August 2002, surrounded by family and people who cared for her, Ewa passed away in her home after an 8-month battle with congestive heart failure.
Eva is survived by two daughters, C. Satri Pencak Andersen of Bodega, Terese Pencak Schwartz of Westlake Village, two grandchildren, Eric Andersen, Sophia Eve Schwartz, and family and friends in California, Michigan, New York, Australia and Poland.
- August 2002