Mechelen transit camp

Mechelen transit camp
SS-Sammellager Mecheln
Transit camp

Modern view of Dossin Barracks which housed the transit camp
Location of the camp in Belgium
Coordinates 51°02′02″N 4°28′42″E / 51.03389°N 4.47833°E / 51.03389; 4.47833Coordinates: 51°02′02″N 4°28′42″E / 51.03389°N 4.47833°E / 51.03389; 4.47833
Other names SS-Sammellager Mecheln
Location Mechelen, Belgium
Operated by

Nazi Germany

Original use Military barracks[Note 1]
First built 1756
Operational July 1942 – September 1944
Inmates mainly Jews and Roma
Number of inmates Jews: 24,916[1]
Roma: 351[2]
Killed c.300[3]
Liberated by Allied Forces, 4 September 1944
Notable inmates Felix Nussbaum,[4] Abraham Bueno de Mesquita

The Mechelen transit camp, officially SS-Sammellager Mecheln in German, was a detention and deportation camp established in the former Dossin Barracks at Mechelen in German-occupied Belgium. The transit camp was run by the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo-SD),[5] a branch of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, in order to collect and deport Jews and other minorities such as Romani mainly out of Belgium towards the labor camp of Heydebreck-Cosel[6] and the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in German occupied Poland.

During the Second World War, between 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, 28 trains left from this Belgian casern and deported over 25,000 Jews and Roma,[1][7] most of whom arrived at the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the end of war, 1240 of them had survived.[7]

Since 1996, a Holocaust museum has been open near the site of the camp: the Kazerne Dossin – Memorial.


Map of the Holocaust: this map shows all concentration and extermination camps in German-occupied Europe as well as labor camps, prison camps, ghettos, major deportation routes and major massacre sites

In the summer of 1942, the Nazis made preparations to deport the Jews of German-occupied Belgium, of which about 90 percent lived in the cities of Antwerp and Brussels. Mechelen, a city with a major railway hub that ensured easy transport, was located nearly halfway between the two cities. A track that connected a local freight dock ran along the River Dijle bypass at the inner city's ring road, where the rails passed a former Belgian army barracks, named Dossin Barracks (Caserne Dossin) after Lieutenant-General Émile Dossin de Saint-Georges.[8] In the First World War, the division led by General Emile Dossin had put up a brave defense near the River Yser, including at a place named St.-Georges. In recognition, the general received the title Baron de Saint-Georges. At his death in 1936, the old barracks at Mechelen was renamed in his honour. The Germans found this location with minor adaptions required ideal for a transit camp in their Endlösung programme.


The three-storey block that completely surrounded a large square yard was fitted with barbed wire. The camp staff was mostly German but was assisted by Belgian collaborationists from the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen ("General SS Flanders").[5][9] It was officially under the command of Philipp Schmitt, commandant of the prison camp at Breendonk. The acting commandant at Mechelen was SS officer Rudolph Steckmann.

The first group of people arrived in the camp from Antwerp on 27 July 1942. Between August and December 1942, two transports, each with about 1,000 Jews, left the camp every week for Auschwitz concentration camp. Between the 4 August 1942 and 31 July 1944, a total of 28 trains left Mechelen for Poland, carrying 24,916 Jews and 351 Roma;[1] most of them went to Auschwitz. This figure represented more than half of the Belgian Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In line with the Nazi racial policy that much later became named the Porajmos (or Samudaripen), 351 Belgian Roma were sent to Auschwitz in early 1944.

Conditions at the Mechelen camp were especially brutal. Many Roma were locked in basement rooms for weeks or months at a time without food or sanitary facilities. The Roma had an especially low survival rate.

Summer 1942: the Mechelen transit camp after the arrival of those caught during the night.[5]
Original boxcar used for transport to concentration camps in the collection of Fort Breendonk
Transports from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Deported people per age (above and below 15 years old) and gender. All were Jewish people, with the exception of Transport Z in 1943.[1]
TransportsDateMenBoys WomenGirls Total
Transport 1 4 August 19425442840323998
Transport 2 11 August 19424592548926999
Transport 3 15 June 194238048522501000
Transport 4 18 August 1942339133415112999
Transport 5 25 August 19423978842981995
Transport 6 29 August 194235560531541000
Transport 7 1 September 19422821634011541000
Transport 8 10 September 1942388111403981000
Transport 9 12 September 1942408914011001000
Transport 10 15 September 1942405132414971048
Transport 11 26 September 19425622317132361742
Transport 12 10 October 1942310135423131999
Transport 13 10 October 19422288925999675
Transport 14 24 October 1942324112438121995
Transport 15 24 October 1942314309339476
Transport 16 31 October 1942686169427823
Transport 17 31 October 19426294516932875
Transport 18 15 January 194335310542465947
Transport 19 15 January 19432395127052612
Transport 20 19 April 19434631156991271404
Transport 21 31 July 1943672103707711553
Transport 22a 20 September 19432913926536631
Transport 22b 20 September 19433057435164794
Transport 23 15 January 19443073329322655
Transport Z[Note 2] 15 January 1944859110174351
transport 24 4 April 19443032927518625
transport 25 19 May 19442372023021508
transport 26 31 July 19442801525117563
Total August 1942 – July 194410,5452,21210,4632,04725,267


Monument to the resistance action against the 20th Belgian Jew transport in the railway station of Boortmeerbeek, Belgium.

Some people succeeded in escaping the transports, especially from the 16th and 17th transport which consisted of men returned from forced labor on the Atlantic Wall to Belgium. Most of these men jumped between Mechelen and the German border. Many were caught and were soon put on subsequent transports but a total of about 500 Jewish prisoners did manage to escape from all the 28 transports. On April 19, 1943 three resistance fighters, acting on their own initiative, stopped the 20th transport near the train station of Boortmeerbeek, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) south-east of Mechelen. From this action 17 prisoners managed to flee. More Jews escaped by their own deeds, a total of 231 Jews fled although 90 were eventually recaptured and 26 were shot by guards escorting the train.[10]

The last transport left on 31 July 1944 but Allied forces could not stop it before its destination was reached. When the Allies approached Mechelen by 3 September 1944, the Germans fled the Dossin camp, leaving the 527 remaining prisoners behind.[5] Some remaining prisoners escaped that night and the others were freed on the 4th, though soon replaced with suspected collaborators. The lists of deportees were left at Hasselt during the German retreat and were later discovered intact.

Memorial and Museum

From 1948 until it was abandoned in 1975, Dossin Barracks was again used by the Belgian Army. Apart from a wing renovated in the 1980s for social housing, the barracks became the site of the Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance by 1996. In 2001, the Flemish Government decided to expand the institution by a new complex opposite the old barracks; the latter closed in July 2011, to become a memorial monument.[11] The Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights reopened its doors on 26 November 2012.[12]

See also


  1. The Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresia of Austria, last of the House of Habsburg, ordered the building of the so-called Hof van Habsburg for an infantry regiment in 1756. Later it became a Belgian Army barracks.
  2. Z stands for Zigeuner, Roma in German


  1. 1 2 3 4 Schram 2006, De raciale deportatie van België naar Auschwitz vanuit Mechelen
  2. "Kazerne Dossin – History – Dossin barracks: 1942–44". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  3. Mikhman, Gutman & Bender 2005, pp. xxx
  4. Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. "The Fate of the Jews – Across Europe Murder of the Jews of Western Europe". Retrieved 2 August 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Schram 2008, Instigators and Perpetrators
  6. Schram 2006, De tewerkstelling van degenen die aan de onmiddellijke uitroeiing ontsnappen
  7. 1 2 "Kazerne Dossin – History – The Transports". Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  8. "Dossinkazerne (voormalige) (ID: 3617)". De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed. Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  9. Mikhman 1998, p. 212
  10. Steinberg 1979, pp. 53–56
  11. "Kazerne Dossin (main page of August 2011)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 12 August 2011.
  12. "Kazerne Dossin: History". Retrieved 9 July 2015.
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