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The Diggers of Kamp De Landweer

by Chiara Longmore

At first glance the group of men depicted below in the group portrait that forms part of the Beeldbank WO2 / the Image Bank WW2, who are shown holding spades, some of whom have cigarettes in their mouths, could be mistaken as any group of land workers in Europe the first half of the 20th century. As with many photographs taken during the war years, however, the symbol of the yellow star is visible on the clothing of almost all those who appear in the image, is an important indicator of a much darker reality. Behind the façade of smiles and relaxed postures, this photograph tells the much more a sinister story of Kamp De Landweer in Elsloo, one of fifty Jewish labour camps in the Netherlands, and the Jewish diggers (spitters) who were forced to work there.
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A group of diggers (spitters) poses for the photographer. Kamp De Landweer in Elsloo, 1942. NIOD Collection - 62321

In 1942, Jewish labour camps in the Netherlands were established as a steppingstone to Kamp Westerbork. The Jewish labour camps were located in Drenthe and Friesland, far away from where most of the Dutch Jewish population lived in the Randstad, a central-western region of the Netherlands covering the cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague. As such, the Jewish labour camps were created not only as sites of forced labour but were introduced by the National Socialists as a means to separate Jewish men from their families and community.

De Landweer in Elsloo

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De Landweer in Elsloo. NIOD Collection - 153054

Kamp de Landweer in Elsloo was a Jewish labour camp, housing between 150 to 200 Jewish men who ranged in age from 18 to 65. The first prisoners arrived at Steenwijk by train on March 31, 1942, and were largely from Amsterdam. In a letter written by Guus van der Wijk to his girlfriend Mina van der Wijk-de Vries, Van der Wijk describes his arrival at De Landweer, “[…] we have been addressed by several people […] we’re kind of stuck here […] unfortunately we do not know when we will go on leave. Theoretically every three weeks, but permission must always be given from the German authorities!!!, so that we are counting on at least six weeks here for the first time. […]”.

In the beginning of their forced imprisonment, the inmates at De Landweer were given some measure of freedom[1], as the men were allowed to walk through the village of Elsloo in the evenings and meet the people that lived there. Ben Pijnappel recalled nights of music and entertainment, with a performance by Maloitz, a Jewish magician from Amsterdam. Their work included digging up heathland or building roads, under the supervision of de Nederlandse Heidemaatschappij. The main foreman in De Landweer was Siebe van der Veen from Appelscha, a village in Friesland. As the year went on, however, conditions at De Landweer gradually worsened with food becoming scarce. During Yom Kippur on the night of the 2nd October the Jewish labour camps were cleared. The prisoners were sent to Kamp Westerbork, a place that was referred to by Jewish prisoners as the ‘gateway to Hell’. Westerbork was a transit stop where people were detained before being sent to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor.

Identifying the Diggers of De Landweer

The names of the diggers in the photograph were provided by a prisoner of De Landweer, Ben Pijnappel, who survived the war, and whose testimony is included in Niek van der Oord's book, Jodenkampen, a detailed historical study about the labour camps in the Netherlands.

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1. Bram Dupont

2. Jacob van Lochem

3. Dick Klisser

4. David van der Kar

5. F. de Levie

6. Siebe ven der Veen

7. Nathan Swart

8. Maurits Jacob de Leeuw

9. Ben Pijnappel

10. Wim Preser

11. Maurits 'Mautje' Polk

12. Arend Gompert 'Arie' Englander

13. D. Krijn

14. Lucas 'Luc' Blitz

15. Levie 'Lou' Blitz

16. J. van der Klei

17. Gerrit Speijer

Forgotten Piece of History

The existence of Jewish labour camps such as De Landweer in Elsloo in the Netherlands during the Second World War represents a dark side of Dutch history. Perhaps due to this, the story of Jewish labour camps has been described as an “unknown piece of history”. For national memory to be fully inclusive it is important that the most sinister and uncomfortable truths are incorporated into collective understandings of the past. Attempting to understand more about the individuals in this photograph allows the stories of those who were incarcerated at De Landweer in Elsloo to be integrated into national memory. This lies at the heart of NIOD’s Behind the Star project, which seeks to identify and piece together the stories of those portrayed in photographs during the time when Jewish people in the Netherlands were forced to wear the Yellow Star, seeking to ensure their memories and stories are not lost.

In identifying the names of these individuals, the stories of their lives can begin to be stitched together. Amongst the seventeen names, there are a few which recur across photographs of the diggers at De Landweer. Included here are biographical details about some of the people who appear in the photograph.

Arend Gompert 'Arie' Englander

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Born in Amsterdam on October 21, 1909, Arend Gompert ‘Arie’ Englander appears in several photographs, almost always with a cigarette in his mouth. He was married to Esther Englander-Zeeman and they lived together at Cilliersstraat, 27-III in Amsterdam. Arie Englander was murdered at Gross-Rosen on the 2nd February 1945 and his wife Esther was killed at Auschwitz on November 2, 1942.

Nathan Swart

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The seventh child of Jesaia Swart and Saartje Levitus, Nathan Swart was born in 1920 in Amsterdam. He was a basket maker before the war. After being transferred from De Landweer to Westerbork, Swart was killed at Buchenwald on March 14, 1945, at the age of 24.

Levie 'Louis' Blitz and Lucas 'Luc' Blitz

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Beeldbank WO2 - 62321.jpg

Levie ‘Louis’ Blitz is also distinguishable across photographs with his thick rimmed glasses. Born in Amsterdam on May 27, 1913, Louis Blitz was a businessman before the war, and was killed on March 31, 1944. His brother Lucas ‘Luc’ Blitz was also sent to De Landweer and is identified in this photograph as well as in another image in which he also appears with his brother.

Ben Pijnappel

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Ben Pijnappel survived the war, escaping the the camp alongside Eli Englander, Eliazer de Raay, S. Norden, Ies Peye and Maurits ‘Mautje’ Polk. Ben Pijnappel was able to escape with the help of the De Vegt family after he started dating their daughter Anke de Vegt and went into hiding. 

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Pijnappel (far right) stands with Anke de Vegt, two unidentified woman and Arie Englander in Kamp De Landweer in Elsloo. Joods Historisch Museum Amsterdam Collection, Beeldbank WO2 no. 161289.

In surviving the war, Pijnappel was able to help Niek van der Oord in his research of the Jewish work camps in the Netherlands, specifically of De Landweer. 

Maurits ‘Mautje’ Polk

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Born in Amsterdam on September 9, 1915, Mautje Polk obtained the alias Willem Boom during the war. Under this alias he went to the German camp Landeshut / Kamienna Góra of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp near Auschwitz, where he worked for the Arado-Flugzeugwerken and received a passport from the Deutsche Arbeitsfront and a Vorläufiger Fremdenpass​ (a temporary passport issued by the German Reich).[2]

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From left to right, Arie Englander, Eli Englander, Ben Pijnappel in Kamp De Landweer in Elsloo. Niek van der Oord, 2003.

This article is built upon the work of Niek van der Oord, in particular his work 'Jodenkampen' and 'Het mankeert ons aan een goed adres'. Thanks and credit is given to the author for his contribution to the NIOD ImageLab Behind the Star project. 


[1] Elsloo, 'De Landweer', National Comite 4 en 5 mei

[2] Niek van der Oord, Jodenkampen, 2003, p. 169 

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