Deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Netherlands)

Deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Netherlands)
  • Version 1.0
  • Publication date 6 May 2024

On Friday afternoon 19 May 1944, 691 prisoners held in Camp Westerbork, German-occupied Netherlands, were ready to be deported in 18 railway carriages. 238 Jewish men, women and children boarded third-class carriages. Their final destination was the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp, near Celle. These prisoners were considered and treated as ‘privileged’: they were given seat reservations, were allowed to say goodbye to loved ones on the platform and had the option to take extra luggage with them.

The other prisoners were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau in cattle cars. They were seen as ‘transport material’. This group included 208 Jewish ‘punishment cases’. They were often people arrested in hiding who had to perform the least popular jobs in the camp: working in the industrial units or digging under the supervision of guards. Sometimes shaved and sometimes not, they were locked up in punishment barracks filled with three-tiered bunk beds, separated from the rest of the camp by a double row of barbed wire. Shortly before departure, they had exchanged their ‘prison clothes’— blue-and-red overalls with an S on the sleeves—for their own clothes.

The group of deportees also included 245 Sinti and Roma. They were given a place in the last three cattle cars of the train. A Jewish camp survivor stated after the war that the boarding of the Sinti and Roma was very chaotic. The people had no idea what was going to happen to them. Without any luggage, they were driven into the wagons by SS (Schutzstaffel) men and officers of the Marechaussee (Dutch gendarmerie). The vast majority of the deported Sinti and Roma were children and young people under 18 years.

Westerbork film

The departure of the train on 19 May 1944 was recorded on film by the Jewish filmmaker and prisoner Rudolf Breslauer (1903–1945) on the instructions of camp commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker (1907–1982). These images became a symbol of the Shoah worldwide. The most famous image is a girl looking out through the wagon doors. Only in the 1990s would it become clear through research by the Dutch journalist Aad Wagenaar (1939–2021) who this girl was: Anna Maria ‘Settela’ Steinbach (1934–1944), a Sinti girl who was murdered in August 1944 in Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was survivor Theresia ‘Crasa’ Wagner (1927–unknown) who confirmed Settela’s identity to Wagenaar. She was in the same wagon in Westerbork when Breslauer made the film shot. She reported: ‘I was flat on the floor behind her and she was standing there in front of that door. Her mother yelled at her to get out of there. For we heard that there were bolts on the doors outside. “Now get out of there”, the mother cried, “otherwise your head will come between them!” I believe she was watching a dog walking outside the train. Her mother finally pulled her away from that door.’1Broersma and Rossing, Kamp Westerbork gefilmd, 75.

Assen Station

After the train had left, a first stop was made at the nearby station of Assen. Here a transport departing from the Belgian assembly camp Dossin Barracks was coupled to the train from Westerbork. The transport from Dossin contained more than 500 Jews and one Rom, Stevo Caroli (1925–unknown). A small group of twelve Sinti had also gathered at Assen station, and they were to be added to the transport of the 245 Sinti and Roma from Westerbork, accompanied by a police officer. These Sinti had been arrested a day earlier in Vorden, among other locations. These twelve Sinti waiting at the railway station in Assen managed to escape their deportation with the help of the agent involved, who was active in the resistance. After the short stop in Assen, the train left for Groningen and then continued into Germany via Bad Nieuweschans. Via northern Germany, the train arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on 21 May 1944.


Upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a selection took place among the more than 500 Jews from Dossin Barracks and 208 Jews from Westerbork, in which approximately 100–200 men and women were chosen to work. The rest of the men, women and children were murdered in the gas chambers. The group of 257 Sinti and Roma was transferred in its entirety to the Section BIIe. Incredibly unsanitary conditions prevailed here, causing many to die of typhoid fever, diarrhea, or starvation. Some of the prisoners were subjected to medical experiments. The Sinti and Roma from Westerbork were housed in barrack 18, the ‘Holländerblock’. They were given a tattoo on their left forearm, a Z followed by a five-digit number. Almost every day there were hours of roll call and punishment drills. The ‘fit for work’ Sinti and Roma were eventually sent on to other camps. At the beginning of August 1944, the BIIe section was liquidated and all remaining women, children and the elderly were driven into the gas chambers under heavy resistance. Only 31 of the Sinti and Roma deported on 19 May 1944 would eventually survive the war.


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    Broersma and Rossing, Kamp Westerbork gefilmd, 75.


Bas Kortholt: Deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Netherlands), in: Enzyklopädie des NS-Völkermordes an den Sinti und Roma in Europa. Hg. von Karola Fings, Forschungsstelle Antiziganismus an der Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg 6. Mai 2024. -

16. Dezember 1942„Auschwitz-Erlass”: Heinrich Himmler, Chef der Schutzstaffel („Reichsführer SS”), ordnet die Deportation von Sinti:ze und Rom:nja aus dem Deutschen Reich in das Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslager Auschwitz-Birkenau an.
14. Mai 1944In den von Deutschland besetzten Niederlanden ordnet der Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei (SIPO) und des Sicherheitsdienstes (SD) die Inhaftierung im Lager Westerbork von „allen Personen […], die die Eigenschaft von Zigeunern besitzen“, an.
19. Mai 1944In den deutsch besetzten Niederlanden werden 245 Sinti:ze und Rom:nja sowie 208 Juden:Jüdinnen vom Durchgangslager Westerbork in das Konzentrations- und Vernichtungslager Auschwitz-Birkenau deportiert. In Assen, deutsch besetzte Niederlande, werden zwölf Sinti:ze und Rom:nja in diesen Zug verladen. Dank der Hilfe eines Polizisten kann Zoni Weisz mit Tante und Cousins dieser Deportation entkommen. Ein Deportationszug aus Mechelen (Dossin-Kaserne), deutsch besetztes Belgien, wird unterwegs an den Zug aus Westerbork gekoppelt; in diesem Zug befindet sich ein Rom namens Stevo Karoli.