The name Erika might have a nice ring to it but like all other Nazi concentration camps, Erika was a place of distress and torture.
Erika was a Nazi concentration camp. The camp was situated at the Besthemerberg near Ommen. The camp was designated mostly for Dutchmen convicted of black market trade or resistance to the occupational authorities, and yet, only eight Dutch Jewish were imprisoned there.
The prisoners went to work in groups of ten or twenty men, G.J. Krijgsman wrote about his stay in camp Erika. “Trees had to be hauled, which were so heavy that five men would have had a nice load of them. However, we had to carry such a tree with two men about 2 km away. Others had to pull plows and harrows. We did this with five men. The harrows were weighted down with a block, on which a guard sat down. “Pull or don’t eat today!” the guard hollered. So it went day in, day out. When I was once very ill, I had to cooperate and we were so close to despair. How many blows and beatings I got is beyond counting. I was not fed all day, and in the evening I was placed in the criminal company. It is impossible to describe how terrible this is.
From the middle of 1942, a small number of Jewish men also stayed in the camp. The first of them arrived on June 21, when the camp was inaugurated. Five men had been convicted by the Dutch court and had to serve their sentences in camp Erika. Three men came from a Jewish Labor Camp and were transferred to camp Erika as a punitive measure. The Jewish prisoners were placed in the so-called Judenkommando and separated from the other prisoners. The task assigned to them was to clean the latrines. After they had performed this task, this was checked and if they had not done this well enough in the eyes of the guards, they were forced to lick the toilet bowls completely with their tongues. After they had done their work they had to go to their old army tent. This was their residence, even in winter. As an anti-Semite, camp commander Schwier hated the Jews for personally seeing how the Jewish prisoners should be treated, or rather mistreated. The Jewish prisoners were thus abused as a distraction and entertainment for the guards.
A favorite practice of torture among camp guards was turning a gramophone record. A hole was made in the sand for the inmate to put his finger in. He had to spin around his finger for hours like a gramophone record until he fell. Then the guards beat him with clubs or kicked him in the back. But most of the prisoners died due to malnutrition.
Then there was the Strafgefangene Kapitänleutnant (SK) or Punishment Company, which contained an average of ten to twenty prisoners and they were mistreated even more systematically. Even the toughest jobs were allocated to the SK; felling and moving trees. These prisoners were beaten and kicked a lot, especially in the genitals, which in many cases swelled as a result. Several prisoners died as a result of this, due to internal bleeding. The Jews imprisoned in Erika suffered the same fate, they were also housed separately in a tent on the grounds of the camp. In the evenings, the Jewish prisoners had to hand in their clothes and sleep naked in the cold. These Jewish prisoners were given even less food and were systematically humiliated and mistreated. In many cases, Diepgrond asked for new rifles. Prisoners were regularly beaten with clubs and rifle butts. Sometimes so hard that the rifle butts simply broke off.
The concentration camp system of the Lagerpolizei, introduced by the camp leadership, in which prisoners were used as guards (Kapo, called ‘Kaputt’ or ‘kaput’ in Erika by the prisoners), also led to horrific abuses. The Kapos were tasked with supervising other inmates and were responsible for supervising the work done by the inmates and its results. These Kapos were not inferior to the guards in ferocity; they used physical intimidation and violence to incite the inmates to higher results. In particular, Oberkapo Rien de Rijke stood out. In several cases, it was a brutal murder that occurred in the Erika deaths.