Apeldoorn, The Netherlands  - Deportation to Auschwitz

Doctor Jacob Presser recorded the deportation of mental patients from the Jewish mental hospital at Apeldoorn, in the Netherlands on January 21, 1943:

They were escorted into the lorries with pushes and blows, men, women and children, most of them inadequately clad for the cold winter night. As one eye-witness put it: ' I saw them place a row of patients, many of them older women, on mattresses at the bottom of one lorry, and then load another load of human bodies on top of them. So crammed were these lorries that the Germans had a hard job to put up the tailboards.'

The lorries hurtled to the station. The matter -of-fact unadorned report of the station master at Apeldoorn, who stood by the train throughout, gives us a few more particulars. At first everything went smoothly. The earliest arrivals, mainly young men, went quietly into the front freight wagons, forty in each. When the station -master opened the ventilators, the Germans quickly closed them again.

At first, men and women were put into separate wagons, but later they were all mixed together. Although it was a very mild night, it was not nearly mild enough for old people in night-dresses to travel in open lorries. As the night wore on, the more seriously ill were brought into the station. Some wore straight-jackets, staggered into the carriages and then leant helplessly against the wall.

Of course, a person in a straight-jacket cannot protect himself if he slips between the platform and the train. I remember the case of a girl of twenty to twenty-five, whose arms were pinioned in this way, but who was otherwise stark naked. When I remarked on this to the guards, they told me that this patient had refused to put on clothes, so what could they do but take her along as she was. Blinded by the light that was flashed in her face, the girl ran, fell on her face and could not, of course, use her arms to break the fall. She crashed down with a thud, but luckily escaped without serious injury. In no time she was up again and unconcernedly entered the wagon.

In general, the station-master went on, 'the loading was done without great violence. The ghastly thing was that when the wagons had to be closed, the patients refused to take their fingers away. They simply would not listen to us and in the end the Germans lost patience. The result was a brutal and inhuman spectacle.'

This transport of 921 Jewish patients, including children and medical personnel from the psychiatric hospital at Apeldoorn arrive at Auschwitz -Birkenau on January 24, 1943. The vast majority 869 were sent to their deaths in the Birkenau gas chambers. Rudolf Vrba, recalled after the war, the arrival of this particular transport:

In some of the trucks nearly half the occupants were dead or dying, more than I had ever seen. Many obviously had been dead for several days, for the bodies were decomposing and the stench of disintegrating flesh gushed from the open doors. This, however, was no novelty to me. What appalled me was the state of the living. Some were drooling, imbecile, live people with dead minds. Some were raving, tearing at their neighbours, even at their own flesh. Some were naked, though the cold was petrifying; and above everything , above the moans of the dying or the despairing, the cries of pain, of fear, the sound of wild, frightening, lunatic laughter rose and fell.

Yet amid all this bedlam, there was one spark of splendid, unselfish sanity. Moving among the insane were nurses, young girls, their uniforms torn and grimy, but their faces calm and their hands never idle. Their medicine bags were still over their shoulders and they had to fight sometimes to keep their feet; but all the time they were working, soothing, bandaging, giving an injection here, an asprin there. Not one showed the slightest trace of panic.

'Get them out!' roared the SS men. 'Get them out, you bastards!'

A naked girl of about twenty with red hair and a superb figure suddenly leaped from a wagon and lay, squirming, laughing at my feet. A nurse flung me a heavy Dutch blanket and I tried to put it round her, but she would not get up. With another prisoner, a Slovak called Fogel, I managed to roll her into the blanket. 'Get them to the lorries! roared the SS. 'Straight to the lorries!' Get on with it for Christ's sake!'

Somehow, Fogel and I broke into a lumbering run, for this beautiful girl was heavy. The motion pleased her and she began clapping her hands like a child. An SS club slashed across my shoulders and the blanket slipped from my numbed fingers. 'Get on you swine! Drag her!' I joined Fogel at the other end of the blanket and we dragged her, bumping her over the frozen earth for five hundred yards. Somehow she clung to the blanket, not laughing now, but crying, as the hard ground thumped her naked flesh through the thick wool.

'Pitch her in! Get her on the lorries!' The SS men were frantic for here was something they could not understand. Something that knew no order, no discipline, no obedience, no fear of violence or death. We pitched her in somehow, then ran back for another crazy, pathetic bundle. Hundreds of them were out of the wagons now, herded by the prisoners, who were herded by the SS; and everywhere the nurses. Still working.

One nurse walked slowly with an old, frail man, talking to him quietly, as if they were out in the hospital grounds. Another half-carried a screaming girl. They fought to bring order out of chaos, using medicines and blankets, gentleness and quiet heroism instead of guns or sticks or snarling dogs.

Then suddenly it was all over. The last abject victims had been slung into one of the overloaded lorries. We stood there, panting in the chill January air; and all our eyes were on those nurses. In unemotional groups they stood around the lorries, waiting for permission to join their patients.

The SS men were watching the nurses with a respect they seldom showed for anybody, hoping that the nurses would be selected to remain in the barracks. 'God knows, we could use some decent medical help around here.' one of them commented. But the doctor making the selection - his name is unknown- decided that the nurses must die.

Rudolf Vrba recalled:

One of the SS officers shrugged and shouted, 'Get the girls aboard! it seems they've got to go too.' The nurses climbed up after their patients. The lorry engines roared and off they swayed to the gas chambers.' Not a single nurse, nor a single patient survived.

This page is dedicated to the nurses of the Jewish mental hospital at Apeldoorn and one nurse who worked there, who was murdered in the Sobibor death camp, Lea de Jongh. The photograph below was kindly donated by Binyamin Yacobi, Jerusalem.

Lea de-Jongh0001-1

Lea de Jongh

JONGH, de Lea. Born on February 16, 1919, in Amsterdam. She was the daughter of Izaak and Judic, who both perished in Auschwitz Concentration Camp on October 22, 1943. She worked as a nurse in the Jewish Lunatic Asylum in Apeldoorn. From there she was deported to Sobibor death camp in Poland, where she was murdered in the gas chambers on July 23, 1943.


M. Gilbert, The Holocaust - The Jewish Tragedy, published by Collins, London 1986

D. Czech, Auschwitz Chronicle, Henry Holt and Company, New York1989

C.Webb, The Sobibor Death Camp, ibidem-verlag, Stuttgart 2017

Photograph: Kindly donated by Binyamin Yacobi, Jerusalem

Holocaust Historical Society, March 14, 2020