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Berga: Soldiers of Another War
Stories of Berga What Would You Do? Timeline & Maps Berga and Beyond War Crimes
Intro Prisoners of War Civillian Prisoners
Civilian Prisoners
Intro The Civilian Camp System Extermination Camps Labor Camps Transit Camps The Berga Camp

Transit Camps
People boarding train

View of camp

Prisoners in transit, by train (above left), and in the Gurs internment camp (above right). A moat and a barbed wire fence enclose the Vught transit camp (directly above).

Group of prisoners

Jewish political prisoners, some visibly wearing the Star of David.

Women behind barbed wire
Transit camps functioned as collection centers for prisoners -- most often Jews -- bound to extermination or labor camps. In Eastern Europe, the Jewish ghettos established in cities like Warsaw and Lodz served this purpose. In the Nazis' western occupied territory, camps such as Westerbork in the Netherlands and Drancy in France held thousands of regional Jews before shipping them east, usually to Auschwitz and certain death.

Westerbork shipped 54,930 people to Auschwitz. Mechelen, a converted police barracks between Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium, shipped 25,257 to Poland, mostly to Auschwitz. Drancy was located in a northeastern suburb of Paris. With a capacity of about 5,000, Drancy saw around 70,000 prisoners pass through its walls between August 1942 and August 1944.

Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, shipped 54,930 people to Auschwitz -- a death sentence.

Internment camps also played a role in the process of collecting and shipping the Nazis' civilian prisoners. Gurs was an internment camp in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France constructed to hold Spanish Republican soldiers fleeing the Franco regime in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. In 1940, around 4,000 German Jewish refugees and French left-wing political leaders were detained in the camp. All in all, about 22,000 prisoners passed through Gurs, about 18,000 of whom were Jewish; 1,100 internees died in the camp. Many Jews were sent on to Drancy or Auschwitz, but there were also a number who escaped, were released, or were able to emigrate.

Breendonk, an early twentieth century fortress along the Antwerp-Brussels highway that was converted into a prison for Belgian insurgents, was another internment camp. Fewer than 4,000 prisoners were confined there, several hundred of whom were murdered through torture, execution, and mistreatment. Its Belgian Communist prisoners were sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp; its Jewish prisoners were sent to Mechelen or Auschwitz-Birkenau.

For most civilians, the point of destination from the transit camp was either extermination or hard labor. Yet beyond the transit camps, many prisoners faced one more step that would determine their fates: arrival at a center with both labor and extermination camps.

When trains carrying new prisoners arrived at a concentration camp with extermination facilities, the prisoners were hurried off the train and lined up on a platform. Those who were unable to walk were immediately sent to their deaths. All children, women with babies, and the elderly were executed. The rest, those fit for work, were put to brutally hard labor -- a process that was, in fact, designed to work them to death. When there was not an immediate need for laborers, entire transports were annihilated.

-- John Uhl

© 2003 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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