However, I also enjoy learning new things and experiencing places not typically on a tour agenda. During our stay with my cousins near Groningen, in the northern part of the Netherlands, we had the opportunity to visit Camp Westerbork Memorial Site. While the name doesn't have the same notoriety as Nazi camps further east such as Auschwitz and Sobibor, Westerbork served a crucial role in the history of Jews during World War II and is well known to Dutch citizens. It was not a labor or extermination camp such as the more notorious, but served as a transfer point for 107,000 Jews, Gypsies, Resistance Fighters and others from the Netherlands to camps and ultimately the fate of 102,000 of them. Of those who passed through this camp, only 5,000 survived to the end of the war. Among the notable "guests" of Westerbork were Anne Frank and her family.
It was a cloudy and somewhat foggy day when we arrived, which gave a surreal atmosphere to the camp. Birds were singing and the trees had sprouted their iridescent spring leaves, which seemed in contrast to the eerie silence. Though much of the camp structure has been removed, mounds delineate where the barracks and other buildings were formerly located. One can also see rail ties for the trains that brought people in...and then took them on to their final destinations.
What structures are present have been faithfully reconstructed using photographs. The barbed wire fence, the guard tower, are stark reminders of life in this camp between 1940 and 1945. I found the symbolism of the rails ripped from the ties especially poignant.
Perhaps the most moving part of the memorial (and the main purpose of this place is now to never forget what happened) are the stones laid out in patterns on the ground...one for each of the 107,000 that didn't return. Most have the Star of David representing their religious belief, but others had symbols for Gypsies and those who resisted their captors.