Demolition and Redevelopment
In 1971, the last of the barracks were demolished or sold to farmers. In 1967, the first radio telescope was erected on the terrain of Camp Westerbork. Later, another 13 followed. The telescopes require for the surrounding zone to be free of interference, which is why there is a distance of 3 kilometers between the telescopes and the museum. In 1983, Queen Beatrix officially opened Memorial Center Westerbork.
Although the attention for the war past was very prominent after the liberation, hardly any attention was paid to the Holocaust – the systematic elimination of Jews. This was the same for Camp Westerbork. In fact, in the first decades after the war, there was no public support for a monument at all – not from the Jewish side, either.
Toward the end of the sixties, however, this view began to change. More awareness arose about the persecution of Jews. Then, a new initiative by the provincial government of Drenthe to realize such a monument did gain support. Although the generation that lived through the war still had no desire for a memorial sign, the second generation begged to differ. The result was a National Monument, revealed by Queen Juliana in 1970. The design, in which the train tracks are essential, was imagined by Ralph Prins, a former camp prisoner.
This changing climate was necessary to gain enough support to establish an informational facility about Camp Westerbork near the historical site. The first idea on this initiative arose on 4 May 1971. 25-year old Manja Pach, the child of a camp survivor, stood at the National Monument at 8 PM to observe Remembrance Day. ‘There were demolishers on the camp terrain tearing the place down, and they just continued at eight o’clock. That was so absurd; I was so perplexed […]. All I could think about was one thing: they have to stop demolishing it now!’
In the subsequent years, small changes were made that were to make this historical place more recognizable. In 1974, a display case with information was placed on the terrain; two years later, a scale model was added. In 1979 the decision was made to build Memorial Center Camp Westerbork. On 12 April 1983, almost forty years after the liberation, Queen Beatrix opened Memorial Center Camp Westerbork officially. Over time, the number of visitors has increased from 40,000 in the first few years to the 170,000 that visit nowadays.
With the increase in visitors, it was brought to the attention that there was a lack in visibility of the camp itself. Although some original construction had remained – a potato bunker, a SS-hideout bunker and the new water purification system – Camp Westerbork seemed to have vanished from the earth. One recurring point of feedback was the absence of a barrack. At the start of the nineties of the previous century, Memorial Center Camp Westerbork decided to symbolically renovate the camp terrain. On 16 June 1992, the renovated terrain of Camp Westerbork was officially revealed by Princess Margriet.
Wagons and barrack 56
Since then, there have been even more changes. The Spoken Names now sound from two original freight cars at De Rampe, the place in the camp where the trains left for the east during the Second World War. The names of all 107,000 deported Jews, Sinti and Roma are called on the day they left in the war. Under a glass cover, you can find the residence of the camp commander. Barrack 56 has been partially reconstrued with authentic barrack parts. In other places, silhouettes of weathering steel give an impression of the buildings in the camp.
In the middle of the camp terrain stands Markering Schattenberg, a mark to commemorate the twenty-year occupancy by the Moluccans, built from authentic barrack parts.
There is one thing we can never forget, though: Camp Westerbork no longer exists. It is a historical site, there are original structures and historical artefacts, but it is no longer a camp. It will not come back, no matter what happens. That is the paradox of dealing with heirlooms of loss: how can you experience what is lost, feel something that is no longer there? Living with this realization and with this question at its core, Memorial Center Camp Westerbork will try to fill in the relationship with the past as well as possible.