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Publication of 1942 diary marks liberation anniversary

Camp Amersfoort taken over by Red Cross

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

AMERSFOORT - A diary kept by Camp Amersfoort inmate Dirk Willem Folmer in early 1942 was the centerpiece during the recent 60th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious SD prison and transit camp. It was published in an extended form, written by Folmer himself after he had escaped from Amersfoort in September 1942, only to be caught again and likely executed in 1944.

Folmer had been arrested as a resistanceman in 1940. After almost a year, he was sentenced to life inprisonment and eventually was sent to Camp Amersfoort in March 1942. Give a job in the garage, Folmer manages to steal writing paper and he begint to write down his experiences, bad and not-so-bad. At the end of May, after only two months, Folmer manages to escape with the help of a German SS soldier and Folmer’s wife. He went into hiding, where he expands on the notes taken during his incarceration.

Folmer again joined the resistance, now in Amsterdam, where he took part in the July 1944 failed attempt to seize the Detention House at the Weteringschans. Although wounded, he managed to elude his pusuers for a while, but got caught. When he and others were taken from detention to be moved to Amersfoort again, Folmer tried to escape, but got shot. Incarcerated in the sick bay of the Amsterdam Detention House he tried to liberate earlier, Folmer likely was put on a transport to Germany in September, never to be heard from again.

Folmer’s notes and expanded diary were not found again until a few years ago, when his daughter discovered them in a cookie tin among the household items left after her mother had died. She retyped her father’s notes, which in April 2005 were published - in Dutch - as ‘Diary from Camp Amersfoort, 1942’.

In his notes, Folmers hoped that his thoughts at the time would ‘not be read for the need for sensation, but that they would be an incentive to want only what is good and to learn to understand that, despite pressure and misery, the glorious, the love for everything good will remain. That all this sorrow only is a surge for a better tomorrow.’

Camp Amersfoort originally was a group of barracks built for the Dutch Army in 1939. It became the main transit camp for those arrested by the German police - Sicherheitsdienst (SD) - in August 1941, until a new prison camp, the even more notorious Camp Vught, was built. In the nineteen months of operation, a total of over 8,500 prisoners were housed in the camp. Over 1,800 detinees were discharged, 2,850 eventually were sent on to Vught, over 800 Jews were moved to Mauthausen and an equal number to Westerbork, with another 1,400 prisoners moved to other concentration camps in Eastern Europe, 300 to Germany for forced labour, while 142 people died in the camp and seven - including Folmer - managed to escape and stay at large.

With the opening of the Vught facility, Camp Amersfoort was shiudown in March 1943, only to be reopened and expanded two months later. Until the end of the war, some 26,500 people were temporarily housed in the transit camp. More than 18,000 of them eventually were transported to concentration and death camps in Germany and Eastern Europe.

From the Summer of 1943, the inmates of Camp Amersfoort were allowed to receive food parcels from family and from the Red Cross, with the frequency increasing gradually. With the liberating troops, Canadians and British, getting closer and closer in April 1945, the Germans decided to hand the camp over to the Red Cross. On April 19, 1945. Loes van Overeem-Ziegenhardt, as the representative of Princess Juliana, the head of the Dutch Red Cross, took possession of the camp and its remaining inmates, almost 500 people.

With the Liberators closing in, the city of Amersfoort became a staging area for the nearly defeated Germans, unwilling to surrender. By April 21, nearby towns such as Barneveld had been liberated, but it still took more than two weeks before Camp Amersfoort officially was taken. On May 5, the inmates were told of the capitulation and were free to leave. Remaining German guards had disappeared and duties were taken over my members of the BS (Interior Forces).

On May 7, 1945, two days after the German capitulation, a local man persuaded two Canadian officers to accompany him to the camp. Shortly after, a British Humber armoured car rode through the gates of Camp Amersfoort, and the Allies officially took possession of one of the most notorious German prison camps in the Netherlands, and its remaining victims of Nazi occupation.

Soon after, the camp was used to house German war criminals, members of the Dutch Nazi party NSB and other collaborators, rounded up to prevent bloody retaliation by the Dutch. One of the more fitting prisoners of that era was SS officer Kotälla, the former deputy commander of the park. The cruel German was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life inprisonment by Queen Wilhelmina. Eventually he became one of the notorious ‘Three of Breda’, three of the four elderly Germans with life sentences who in the late 1960s were the controversial subjects of a move to free them all for ‘compassionate reasons’. Of the four, Willi Lages was freed in 1966 to die at home (whic he did in 1971). The move to free Joseph Kotälla, Ferdinand Aus der Fünten and Franz Fischer died with Lages. Only in 1989, Aus der Fünten and Fischer were released, especially after a group of nineteen former resistance workers pleaded their case. The release came far to late for Kotälla. He died in the Breda jail in 1979.