Camp Ommen

"Arbeitseinsatzlager Erika" near Ommen housed prisoners who had been found guilty by Dutch judges of violating the 1939 Rationing Act. Over a period of ten months hundreds of them were beaten so severely that they had to go into nearby hospitals. Although the worst excesses came to an end halfway through 1943, the prisoners still suffered heavily and were kicked and beaten until the end of the war.

Unlike the other camps in the Netherlands the origins of camp Ommen go back long before the war. From the 1920s a theosophical group held its annual meeting on the same grounds. In the summer of 1941 the Generalkommissariat zur besonderen Verwendung gained control of the estate. This made Ommen the only camp under civilian administration. Werner Schwier was in command, but he left the day-to-day running to Dutchman Karel Diepgrond.

Ommen was the only prison camp in the Netherlands that had no military guards: the guards were unemployed persons who formed the so-called Kontrollkommando. They treated the prisoners, whom they referred to as "Knackers", very harshly. Beatings with fists, clubs and whips were the order of the day. The prisoners’ heads were shaved as soon as they arrived in the camp and they slept in hammocks. Although the food supply was reasonable, the prisoners were given so little time to actually eat it that many were continuously hungry.

The majority of the almost three thousand prisoners were black marketeers and clandestine slaughterers. However, the camp population also included burglars, fences, murderers and sex offenders. Hundreds of prisoners ended up in hospitals in the province of Overijssel due to exhaustion, starvation, and continuous ill-treatment. After several public prosecutors learned of the abuse, they managed to persuade the Germans in April 1943 to imprison the economic delinquents elsewhere.

One month later a new group of prisoners arrived in the empty camp: 3,700 students who had refused to sign the pledge of loyalty. For eight days they lived in tents that were pitched especially for them, as they waited to go to Germany to be put to work. Also in May 1943 the first forced-labour evaders and so-called contract-breakers, i.e. forced labourers who did not return from leave, arrived in the camp. A separate part of the camp was organized as a penal camp for about four hundred "antisocial" persons: vagrants, beggars, and unemployed people. Although the abuse continued unabated, the regime was relaxed slightly. Prisoners no longer had their heads shaved, they were allowed visits by family on Sundays and they could send and receive mail. During this period an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 prisoners were held in camp Ommen.

In September 1944 the camp was placed under the supervision of the Ordnungspolizei. The guards in the Kontrollkommando, now equipped with the uniform and ranks of the German police, became more and more involved in tracking down forced-labour evaders. An assault group of some fifteen guards helped arrest them and terrorized the surrounding area in the last months of the year. During this period the camp population consisted mainly of a few hundred prisoners from the vicinity of Ommen. The majority of them refused to work or had broken rationing laws, but there were also people suspected of the illegal possession of a radio and resistance activities.

As the Canadians drew near the camp was evacuated. Escorted by guards the three hundred prisoners marched towards the province of Drenthe on 5 April 1945. The people who had not escaped on the way were liberated there on April 10th.

Browse through the Camp Ommen inventories

Kamp Ommen

© Netherlands Institute for War Documentation