The Netherlands: Camp Vught Memorial Museum
Today was a first for Connecting Spirits. After our 2008 trip a couple from the town of Vught in the Netherlands came across one of our cards in the cemetery at Bellicourt. Jan Van de Heuvel then emailed me to congratulate us on the wonderful project we have and suggested that we might like to take our students to visit the museum near his town that is a monument to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime in World War II. By the time that we had looked at this it was too late to put it into our 2010 itinerary but Jan persisted and kept up a trail of correspondence with myself and the director of the museum. Julie and I discussed the idea and ran it past Richard to see if it was viable. All was in place for a 2012 visit!!!
Leaving at 8.30 in the morning we made our way to the Netherlands, the 5th country of the tour, and for most of our group, the 5th country they had visited outside of Australia. We arrived at Vught and found the camp thanks to help from Sally Satnav. We got off the bus to meet an elderly gentleman who welcomed us to Vught. It was Jan's brother who explained that Jan was ill and in hospital in Amsterdam, so he had asked his brothers to welcome us on his behalf. They directed us into the cafeteria and invited us for coffee and some amazing local treats, which were basically huge cream puffs filled with cream and covered in chocolate!!!!! Awesome..
From there, the director of the museum took us into a theatre where we were shown a film that told the story of some of those who went through the concentration camp and their eventual fates. After this we were given a guided tour of the museum, which showed us the conditions that the prisoners lived in and the ruthless efficiency that the Nazi's used to eradicate those that they saw as enemies and / or sub-human. While Vught was not a death camp, Jews from here were transported to the death camps and a number of political prisoners such as Resistance members were executed here in the months before liberation. It was a glimpse into the depths that humans will sink to when intolerance and hatred for others are allowed to thrive unchecked.
On a personal level, my wife's Opa was a member of the Dutch Resistance, was smuggled out of the Netherlands to train, and returned to help liberate his country as a Dutch Marine. He was captured and spent time in Buchanwald before the war ended. I am not sure if he spent time in Vught on his way through but seeing and hearing how prisoners were treated and the random and arbitary way that death was meted out made me realise how events in the past impact so much on our present. If he had not travelled to Canada to train, he may not have decided to emigrate to Australia? Had the Nazi's known that he had fought in the Resistance, would he have been summarily shot? All of these circumstances (and many others) combined such that my life is what it is now!!! We cannot avoid the fact that we are a product of the past, with some monumental events and many mundane ones combining to create the reality that we now live in! Learn from history or be condemned to repeat it.
Today we visited the Nazi Concentration Camp. The bus trip was quite long, however, I believe it was worth it. Walking through and seeing where those prisoners were kept gave me a deeper understanding of what those poor people had to endure. I do recommed it for future trips as I think it is important that we gain an understanding of WWII and the brutatlity that came along with it.
Including a visit to Camp Vught in Holland was always going to be a bit of an experiment and Mal and I had decided we would give it a go this year. We just went up for the day rather than change hotels for one night so this meant a three to four hour coach journey. It went quickly as Jake took over the microphone for over an hour doing his own personal rap show and taking on the persona of a stand up comedian. Well you have certainly gained in confidence young fella…now we can’t shut you up!!! Love it! I found the Camp Vught museum very interesting and confronting; the most poignant part being the memorial to the 700+ children that died in the camp. The feelings amongst the kids were diverse about the value of such a day but I would like to see this become a permanent part of our CS programme as it links in well with the Holocaust section of the Imperial War Museum exhibits and exposes the kids to one of history’s most significant events. The other aspect I thought was really valuable was the fact that having completed our commemorations yesterday with the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, it was lovely to come ‘home’ to Ypres after today. Leaving this town is always hard and having a break between our CS commemorations and our departure made leaving just a little bit easier.