a man who isolates his own desire; he rages after judgement. a woman, isolate, instinct with all creation.

At this moment, the lights are being turned off in the men’s barracks. But was there ever a real light in them?

– Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life, p. 205

– from camp diary, Eli Leskley

I once thought, “I would like to feel the contours of these times with my fingertips.” I was sitting at my desk with no idea what to make of life. That was because I had not yet arrived at the life in myself, was still sitting at this desk. And then I was suddenly flung into one of many flashpoints of human suffering. And there, in the faces of people, in a thousand gestures, small changes of expression, life stories, I was suddenly able to read our age – and much more than our age alone. And then it suddenly happened: I was able to feel the contours of these times with my fingertips. How is it that this stretch of heathland surrounded by barbed wire, through which so much human misery has flooded, nevertheless remains inscribed in my memory as something almost lovely? How is it that my spirit, far from being oppressed, seemed to grow lighter and brighter there? Is it because I read the signs of the times and they did not seem meaningless to me.

How can I draw this small village of barracks between heath and sky with a few rapid, delicate, and yet powerful, strokes of the pen? And how can I let others see the many inmates, who have to be deciphered like hieroglyphs, stroke by stroke, until they finally form one great readable and comprehensible whole?

One thing I now know for certain: I shall never be able to put down in writing what life itself has spelled out for me in living letters. I have read it all, with my own eyes, and felt it with many senses.

– Etty Hillesum, op.cit., pp. 209-210

Gemmeker remains an enigmatic figure. He rarely raised his voice or dealt out punishments to the prisoners, and was said to be incorruptible. He took an interest in the camp’s entertainments and afterwards joked with the performers. Jewish gardeners cultivated flowers for him and he was treated by Jewish doctors and dentists. Yet on Tuesdays he stood quietly watching the trains depart for the east. Gemmeker had a film made in Westerbork which was to show everything, good and bad, of the camp’s daily life.

Scenes from the film appear frequently in Shoah-related documentaries. One particularly haunting image from the film, that of a 9 year-old girl staring from the doorway of a cattle wagon, has become synonymous with the Holocaust. The girl, who was in fact not Jewish, but Roma, was named Settela Steinbach. She perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

– http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/othercamps/westerbork.html