Mechelen transit camp

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Mechelen transit camp
Concentration camp
Caserne Dossin.jpg
The main entrance to the Dossin Casern
Mechelen transit camp is located in Belgium
Mechelen transit camp
Location of the Dossin Casern in Belgium
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Other names SS-Sammellager Mecheln
Known for deportations by trains
Location Mechelen, Belgium
Operated by the Nazi German Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo-SD), a branch of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt
Original use Hof van Habsburg,[Note 1]
then Belgian Army barracks
First built 1756
Operational July 1942 – September 1944
Inmates mainly Jews and Roma
Number of inmates Jews: 24,916[1]
Roma: 351[2]
Killed about 300[3]
Liberated by Allied Forces, 4 September 1944
Notable inmates Felix Nussbaum,[4] Abraham Bueno de Mesquita

The Mechelen transit camp, or officially SS-Sammellager Mecheln in German, was a detention and deportation camp established in the Dossin, the oldest casern at Mechelen, by the Nazi German occupier of Belgium. The transit camp was run by the 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 Romas,[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 at the Dossin Casern called the Museum of Deportation and Resistance reminds of this infamous period.


Map of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II, 1939–1945. This map shows all extermination camps (or death camps), most major concentration camps, 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 the occupier's concept of Belgium,[citation needed] of which about 90 percent lived in the north near Antwerp or centrally at Brussels. Halfway these cities is Mechelen, a city with a major railway hub that ensured easy transport, also for eastern destinations. 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 the iron-barred small windows in military barracks of the Lt. Gen. Baron Dossin de Saint-Georges Casern.[8][Note 2] 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, became fitted with barbed wire. The camp staff was mostly German, assisted by Belgian auxiliaries of the Algemeene-SS Vlaanderen (General SS Flanders).[5][9] It was officially under the command of Philipp Schmitt, commandant of the Breendonk prison and transit camp. 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 with about 1,000 Jews each left the camp every week for Auschwitz-Birkenau. 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-Birkenau. This figure represented more than half of the Belgian Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In line with the Nazi horror policy that much later became named the Porajmos (or Samudaripen), 351 Roma were sent to Auschwitz early 1944.

Mechelen was known as the "Antechamber of Death" because so many Belgium Jews passed through there to Auschwitz. Conditions there 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 at Mechelen.

File:Mechelen-SS-Sammellager - Dossin Casern.jpg
Summer 1942: the Mechelen transit camp after the arrival of those caught during the night.[5]
Original boxcar used for transport to concentration camps
Memorial 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]
Transports Date Men Boys Women Girls Total
Transport 1 4 August 1942 544 28 403 23 998
Transport 2 11 August 1942 459 25 489 26 999
Transport 3 15 June 1942 380 48 522 50 1000
Transport 4 18 August 1942 339 133 415 112 999
Transport 5 25 August 1942 397 88 429 81 995
Transport 6 29 August 1942 355 60 531 54 1000
Transport 7 1 September 1942 282 163 401 154 1000
Transport 8 10 September 1942 388 111 403 98 1000
Transport 9 12 September 1942 408 91 401 100 1000
Transport 10 15 September 1942 405 132 414 97 1048
Transport 11 26 September 1942 562 231 713 236 1742
Transport 12 10 October 1942 310 135 423 131 999
Transport 13 10 October 1942 228 89 259 99 675
Transport 14 24 October 1942 324 112 438 121 995
Transport 15 24 October 1942 314 30 93 39 476
Transport 16 31 October 1942 686 16 94 27 823
Transport 17 31 October 1942 629 45 169 32 875
Transport 18 15 January 1943 353 105 424 65 947
Transport 19 15 January 1943 239 51 270 52 612
Transport 20 19 April 1943 463 115 699 127 1404
Transport 21 31 July 1943 672 103 707 71 1553
Transport 22a 20 September 1943 291 39 265 36 631
Transport 22b 20 September 1943 305 74 351 64 794
Transport 23 15 January 1944 307 33 293 22 655
Transport Z[Note 3] 15 January 1944 85 91 101 74 351
transport 24 4 April 1944 303 29 275 18 625
transport 25 19 May 1944 237 20 230 21 508
transport 26 31 July 1944 280 15 251 17 563
Total August 1942 – July 1944 10,545 2,212 10,463 2,047 25,267


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 next transports, 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 train escort guards.[10]

The last transport left on 31 July 1944 but Allied forces could 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 transport lists were left at Hasselt by the fleeing Germans and later discovered intact. From 1948 until it was abandoned in 1975, the casern again lodged Belgian military, mainly trainees.

Memorial and Museum

The Dossin Casern, apart from a wing renovated in the 1980s for civil housing, 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 the Belgian Army casern that the Nazis found. A most cynical historical coincidence: apart from the Empress and the Führer sharing their country of birth, the Empress was noted as an anti-Semitic monarch. Also under her reign, a law was passed to take Roma children away from their parents to have them raised in a Catholic family. (Sources: Juden, Austria-Forum. Retrieved 31 July 2011. – Sociology and Ethnology, Rombase. University of Graz. Retrieved 31 July 2011. – See also: section in the WP article on her.)
  2. 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 a lieutenant-general, the old casern at Mechelen was renamed after him and became colloquially referred to as the Dossin (Casern).
  3. Z stands for Zigeuner, Roma in German


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Schram 2006, De raciale deportatie van België naar Auschwitz vanuit Mechelen
  2. "Kazerne Dossin – History – Dossin barracks: 1942–44". Retrieved 31 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Schram 2008, Instigators and Perpetrators
  6. Schram 2006, De tewerkstelling van degenen die aan de onmiddellijke uitroeiing ontsnappen
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Kazerne Dossin – History – The Transports". Retrieved 31 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Dossinkazerne (voormalige) (ID: 3617)". De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed. Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 1 August 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Kazerne Dossin: History". Retrieved 9 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Schram, Laurence (21 February 2008). "The Transit Camp for Jews in Mechelen: The Antechamber of Death". Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence. ISSN 1961-9898. Retrieved 1 August 2011.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • The Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights web site. (Accessed 31 July 2011)
  • This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL: Mechelen. Holocaust Encyclopedia. (Accessed 31 July 2011).

External links