In 1951, Camp Westerbork was given its next function: accommodation for some thousands of Moluccans. From generation to generation, Moluccan men served the KNIL (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger – the Royal Dutch Indian Army). They were loyal to the colonial authority and the queen. They fought on the side of the Netherlands in the Second World War, and against Indonesian nationalists afterwards. When the Republic of Indonesia became independent in 1949, the KNIL was disbanded. However, as a result of the then-occurring independence conflict on the Moluccas, soldiers of Moluccan descent could not be demobilized on Ambon. It was decided that they would move to the Netherlands with their families for temporary housing. More than 12,000 Moluccans departed to the Netherlands.
Upon their arrival in the Netherlands, the Moluccans were told that they were discharged from the army. All they could do was wait until their return. Mainly in the beginning, they stuck to military tradition: marching around in uniform, daily roll-calls and retaining the ranked hierarchy. However, frustration and boredom arrived fast, partly due to the fact that men were not allowed to do paid work. They were at home during the day, helped with raising their family or hung around the canteen. Courses organized by the CAZ (Commissariaat Ambonezenzorg – the Commissionershop for Care of the Ambonese) and illegal odd jobs for farmers in the neighborhood offered some distraction and extra income.
It was only after the introduction of self-care in 1956 that more men secured a fixed job. They were often away from home during the whole day or night.
For children, Woonoord Schattenberg was an ideal and safe environment. Daily life for them consisted of going to school and playing. Primary school was on the terrain itself. For secondary education, children had to go to Beilen or Assen. A Harmani bus took care of transport to schools. The accommodation had numerous playgrounds and, of course, the direct environment held many possibilities for children to enjoy. The games played were a continuation of those played in their country of origin.
Woonoord Schattenberg lay in relative isolation. It was a community that had little contact with the outside world. The Dutch CAZ commissionership took care of them from the cradle to the grave. There was a school, a hospital, a theatre, a cinema and a bath house. Merchants came to offer their goods and some opened a shop in the residential area after self-care was introduced.
Departure and liquidation
Woonoord Schattenberg remained in service for twenty years, until its liquidation in 1971.
As the years went by, people started to move within Schattenberg and outside of it. The fire of 1958, which made 3 barracks go up into flames and made a fourth one unlivable, had drastic results. Many families had to leave the accommodation. It would be the start of a larger exodus.
Liquidation of the accommodation
For the Dutch government, it was clear at that point that a return to the Moluccas was an illusion, and that the Moluccans had to integrate into Dutch society. Although the promise was made that the residents were allowed to remain in Schattenberg – and that new barracks would be added – the government decided to liquidate the accommodation at the end of the 1950s. Despite resistance, the residents had to accept the situation – sometimes paired with the knowledge of the improvements in living conditions and educational possibilities for the children.
In 1964 and the following year, the largest part of the community moved to a special neighborhood built in Assen. The last inhabitants would be removed from the accommodation – under pressure – and move to Bovensmilde. Soon after, the final barracks were destroyed, and there were hardly any traces of Woonoord Schattenberg/Camp Westerbork that remained.