102,000 stones – for those who never returned

  • Kamp Westerbork stones
More than one hundred thousand people were deported from the Westerbork transit camp in Holland during WWII. 102,000 of them did not return. The camp was obliterated after the war but, after an initiative by former prisoners, a museum opened in the Eighties and 102,000 stones were placed on the original parade ground. Read this compelling and under-told account of the transit camp that was, then wasn’t, and is now one of the most poignant memories of the Shoah.
by ANT KATZ | Jan 25, 2016

ABOVE: One of the many videos that can be viewed on the interactive website of this fascinating museum - read this almost forgotten story


Camp Westerbork seemed to have all-but vanished from the face of the earth. Who could blame the Dutch for wanting to remove it from their national psyche in 1945. After all, it was their beloved Jewish neighbours, whom they had tried so hard to protect and defend (often at the expense of their own lives) who had been shipped out in railway cattle cars from Kamp Westerbork to extermination camps by the Nazis.

The names of each and every deportee dutifully, meticulously, recorded by the Nazi guards. That’s how Hollanders were able to establish that 101,000 of their Jewish brethren had never returned from the death-camps.

Kamp Westerbork logo

museum logo

Of course it wasn’t only Jews – there were Roma and Sinti and many local resistance fighters too, but their names were not recorded.

Later, the people of the Netherlands realised that the obliteration of the camp masked “one of the blackest pages in the history of our country” - as they referred to it – and was an injustice to those Dutch, mainly Jewish, who had been deported and murdered.

At the behest of surviving detainees, the good citizens of Holland decided to erect a museum. But not just any museum – they wanted a museum to end all museums. They were determined obliterate their shame at obliterating their past. Now, they wanted to do something that would make a statement. And they did!

The National Westerbork Memorial was designed by Ralph Prins, himself a former prisoner in this camp. In 1970 the first memorial at the site was unveiled by Queen Juliana.

It is situated at the spot where, during the war, the railroad from Hooghalen to the camp terminated. After having cut through the entire camp, the train came to a standstill in front of a buffer, just outside the camp. The museum itself was officially opened by the Queen on 12 April 1983 - and continued to be expanded to what stands there today.

The 102,000 stones

The idea of the 102,000 stones, each named for a Jewish deportee who didn’t return, is to make it graphically clear how many people were murdered. Besides this massive number of people, the stones are placed in such a way as to emphasise individual people: 102,000 times a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister…

The stones are arranged uniformly within a map of the Netherlands. Before the war most Dutch municipalities had a Jewish population, making the persecution of the Jews the concern of the whole of Dutch society. At the head of the stones there is a Star of David.

On 19 May 1944, a group of 245 Sinti and Roma people were deported from Westerbork and murdered in Auschwitz. To commemorate this, 213 stones are have a flame on top. One hundred stones have no symbol. They represent the unknown number of Dutch resistance fighters (and those found to be hiding Jews) who were imprisoned in Westerbork before being deported and murdered.



For survivors, there are no remains of their relatives, friends and acquaintances. For them there is no known final resting place or gravestone. As a result, many regard the 102,000 bricks as a direct 'reference' to their loved ones.

The Dutch built a memorial to signify their dismay from the realisation of what had happened to their Jewish citizens - their bewilderment that something like this had been possible in a ‘civilised’ world like theirs.

There are curled up rails that express this despair. At the end they have been treated as if they have been shot at. The railway sleepers show the extent of the destruction. The closer one comes to the end the more they are torn up. At the other end there is a wall of boulders from the surrounding area. They have been stuck together with a strong binding material and resemble skulls. On two slabs of marble there is a text from the Bible:

`They hunt our steps,
that we cannot go in our streets;
our end is near, our days are fulfilled;
for our end is come.'
(Lamentations 4:18)

Kamp Westerbork model

Kamp Westerbork (officially: Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Westerbork) was a transit camp during WWII in the former municipality Westerbork in Drenthe. Westerbork is known as a gateway residing in the Netherlands where 107 000 Jews, 245 Sinti and Roma and dozens of resistance fighters were deported to extermination camps in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. The Nazis demanded the Dutch Jewish community repay the cost, over one million guilders, in instalments.

 Kamp Westerbork Monument 102000 stones distant

Escape was infrequent as the camp’s residents genuinely believed that that they were to be transported to labour camps in Poland. As a result, only 200 people were recorded as having escaped from Westerbork. In 1945 the camp was with its remaining ​​Jewish prisoners was liberated by Canadian soldiers. Anne Frank had been on the last cattle-wagon that left the camp.

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