The SS established the Neuengamme concentration camp on December 13, 1938.It would become the biggest concentration camp in Northwest Germany.In excess of 100,000 inmates would come through Neuengamme and its sub camps.
The death toll would be 42,900.14,000 in the main camp, 12,800 in the sub camps, and 16,100 during the death marches. These numbers are just hard to envisage.
To put it in context the death toll would be the equivalent of the full population of Hoddesdon in the UK, or Draper city in Utah, USA, or Drogheda in the Republic of Ireland.
The death toll had also an impact on sports and culture. I have mentioned Dutch sports and culture because it is nearest to me but undoubtedly it would have had an impact across Europe.
Coen Hissink was a Dutch film actor of mainly the silent era. He appeared in 25 films between 1914 and 1942. He was also an author. In 1928, he wrote a volume of short stories relating to decadence, homosexuality, prostitution and cocaine. To get the inspiration for the stories , he visited a gay club in Berlin where he snorted cocaine in a bathroom. The book about his experiences was titled Cocaïne: Berlijnsch zeden beeld (Cocaine: Berlin’s vice image).
Any Dutch artist who wanted their works published in the Netherlands had to becomE a member of the” Reichs Kulturkammer” (Reich Chamber of Culture).Hissink refused to do so and joined the Resistance instead. In 1941, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Neuengamme where he was killed on December 17,1942, age 34.
Jan Campert was a journalist, theater critic and writer who resided in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. During the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II He was arrested for helping Jews. He was also sent to Neuengamme , where he died on January 12, 1943.
He is most notably known for his poem “Het lied der achttien dooden”(the songthe eighteen dead) describing the execution of 18 resistance workers (by the German occupier.
Below the English translation of the poem
The Song of the Eighteen Dead
A cell is but six feet long
and hardly six feet wide,
yet smaller is the patch of ground,
that I now do not yet know,
but where I nameless come to lie,
my comrades all and one,
we eighteen were in number then,
none shall the evening see come.
O loveliness of light and land,
of Holland’s so free coast,
once by the enemy overrun
could I no moment more rest.
What can a man of honor and trust
do in a time like this?
He kisses his child, he kisses his wife
and fights the noble fight.
I knew the task that I began,
a task with hardships laden,
the heart that couldn’t let it be
but shied not away from danger;
it knows how once in this land
freedom was everywhere cherished,
before the cursed transgressor’s hand
had willed it otherwise.
Before the oath can brag and break
existed this wretched place
that the lands of Holland did invade
and for ransom her ground has held;
Before the appeal to honor is made
and such Germanic comfort
our people forced under their control
and looted as a thief.
The Catcher of Rats who lives in Berlin
sounds now his melody,—
as true as I shortly dead shall be
my dearest no longer see
and no longer shall the bread be broke
and share a bed with her—
reject all he offers now and ever
that sly trapper of birds.
For all who these words thinks to read
my comrades in great need
and those who stand by them through all
in their adversity tall,
just as we have thought and thought
on our own land and people—
a day does shine after every night,
as every cloud must pass.
I see how the first morning light
through the high window falls.
My God, make my dying light—
and so I have failed
just as each of us can fail,
pour me then Your grace,
that I may like a man then go
if I a squadron must face.
Rein Boomsma had been a Dutch football player between 1894–1907. He was a striker for both club,Sparta and the Dutch National team.
From 1936 to 1939 he was a Colonel. Before the invasion during the mobilisation period in 1939, he was commander of Fortress Holland. After the invasion, he became the commander of the Ordedienst for “Gewest Veluwe” an underground army.
The main objective of this underground army was to maintain contact with the exiled Dutch government in London via coded radio transmissions.
Rein was arrested and imprisoned 3 times for his activities in the underground army. The last time proved to be fatal. He died in Neuengamme on 27 May 1943.
Hans van Walsem:
Hans van Walsem ) was a Dutch rower. He competed in the men’s coxed pair event, as the coxswain , at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The team qualified for the semi finals but unfortunately did not get any medals.
During the war he was a lecturer of chemistry in the Leiden university. He helped establish a small resistance newspaper called “Ik zal handhaven” meaning I will maintain, which is the motto on the Dutch coat of arms.
The newspaper contained practical instructions on resistance activities. The German authorities arrested Hans and branded him as a fanatic member of the resistance, He was sent to Neuengamme where he died of tuberculosis on January 2. 1943.
Not only were these men heroic in their cultural and sporting endeavors, they were also heroic in standing up to evil and paid the ultimate price for it.
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