Turkish Jews in Westerbork transit camp

In early November 1943 a contingent of Turkish, Spanish, Romanian, Italian and South American Jews arrived in Westerbork. The popular journalist Philip Mechanicus records in his diary (bit of a dodgy English translation here) the “small colony of Turks” which made its home near his bed and whose “lively, agile children, quick as water” gabbled a mixture of Spanish (by which he probably means Ladino) and Dutch. Inter-communal relations deteriorated and on Sunday 28 November he writes:

A leaden-gray sky all day, from which poured a scourging rain. The camp a sea of mud, black, black, black. People huddle in the barracks, their day off… Quarrelling around my stove between the Turkish colony and the Dutch Jews. A Turk: “Shut your gob!” A little boy: “I haven’t got a gob!”. The woman: “Mr Turk, you have no contribution to make here”. Another Turk, with a magnificent moustache and a cigarette between his glittering teeth: “We make sure all day that there’s coal and peat in the stove, so we have a right to sit here.” The Turks monopolise the stove, occupying it by eight in the morning and remaining seated there at ten in the evening… They are known informally as the ‘Dardanelles’, through which none may pass…

Philip Mechanicus aka Pére Celjenets came to Westerbork after a career as a journalist in Holland and the Dutch East Indies. He was tortured in Amersfoort prior to arrival and shot in Auschwitz in 1944. Many of the Turkish Jews survived, saved by their passports, although their post-war destinations suggest that home was not necessarily where their hearts were.

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