Prisoners in the German camps were the purest poor. Everything was taken from them,
even their hair. And the least little bit they were able to acquire with a lot of
effort and luck, was taken from them with every transport. And nobody had a camera,
except for Wim Eggink, however, it was after the war.....
Here is his story.
I would like to tell you about a camera that I was able to procure after the liberation.
For photography lovers, it was a Voigtländer collapsible camera; with a Anastigmat
Voigtar 1: 6.3, with remote and time exposure. So it had everything, suitable for
6 x 9 cm, eight exposures. The beauty was that when I found the camera, there was
an unexposed film inside, with an extra film laying next to it, all of this I found
in a desk drawer in the office of the SS.
You can understand that this camera has become a relic for me. This group picture
was made with that instrument.
Immediately after the liberation of Dachau the gates were opened wide. We were liberated
after all and were free to come and go as we pleased. But the typhus epidemic had
not yet been suppressed and there was a strict quarantine. The Americans understood
that freedom could also lead to excesses. That why Hans Teengs Gerritson was asked
to form a group of about twenty-four people as a sort of camp police to make sure
that there would be no irregularities and that the quarantine would be adhered to.
They were all Dutchmen, all spoke English and that was good because of the communications
with the Americans. They were called the Prisoners MP.
One day Hans was called to the Commander, who told him he had been able to procure
an old bus and that it was ready for a trip home. With a trembling finger, Hans picked
out seventeen Dutchmen who would accompany him. This trip has been described in the
book De bus uit Dachau (The bus from Dachau) by Jos Schneider and Gijs van Westerlaken.
In that book are several pictures, also the one taken of the MP group. In addition
I took a picture of the Jourhaus, with the gate of camp Dachau. On the way I made
pictures of the bus, which were painted by Freek Niemeyer with titles such as "Dachau
Bevrijd" (Dachau liberated) and "Eindelijk weer thuis" (Finally home again).
Our chauffeur, Frits Steen turned out to be a good mechanic, and that was handy,
because while we were under way, the bus suddenly refused to go any further. When
he checked, it turned out it was the bobine. Luckily there was a broken jeep in a
ditch close by, from which we took the bobine, so we could travel on.
At Remagen we had to cross the Rhine river. At first the guards of the bridge would
not let us pass, they were afraid of sabotage. After a lot of convincing we were
finally allowed to pass. We crossed the brightly lit bridge as fast as possible.
Through the Ruhr area, which was destroyed by gunfire, we arrived in Vaals, at the
Dutch border, where initially they would not let us pass, because we did not have
a passport! After a phone call to the Military authority in Maastricht, we were allowed
to go on, with a message to report there. First the trip to Eijsden, where we dropped
of the Catholic priest Louis van den Dungen. We also had a sick guy on board, who
was tucked into bed at the rectory. Nico Rost also remained behind, because he was
from Belgium. In Maastricht we were jubilantly received and we drew a lot of attention
because of the markings on the bus. With a permit, we were allowed to continue our
trip to Nijmegen, where we had to report to the Military authority, which was located
on the base on the Groesbeekse weg (Groesbeekse Road), where I used to be stationed
as a soldier. There is was discovered that the sick guy we had left in Eijsden had
Typhus and that we were not allowed to go home due to the danger of contamination,
so we had to stay in quarantine for several days.
That was a heavy damper on our joy, although we were spoiled rotten by the people
living around there. They showered us with flowers.
Finally, we were able to go home, of course and also the last leg of our journey
was not without obstacles. Altogether it was an adventurous trip back. The camera
served me well for many years and is still kept with great care.
It felt so good to have old friends across the waters. People who came to our rescue
when we were in need of help. Who heroically slew the demons and freed us from chains.
Who helped us, fed us, dressed our wounds, cured our sick. Who gave us new hope,
freedom and friendship. Uniformed men who were kind to us; we could hardly believe
it! After an eternity of being shouted and hollered at in an abominable German tongue;
only fit for swearing, it seemed to us.
Then there were the Americans. Americans from all over the states, with their peculiar
way of talking we know so well, from the movies we used to see at home. It all came
back to us: Tom Mix, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper... Our heroes from the screen were
back! In worn battle fatigues that spoke of the long heavy journey it had taken them
to get there.
The atrocities in Dachau had become a numbing daily routine to us; in order to survive
we had to harden ourselves and put these things to the back of our minds. But you,
our American friends, who came from so far, and had seen so much misery and suffering
on the way, you were deeply shocked by Dachau. You had not thought it possible for
human beings to do such things to one another.
You gave us the food we needed so badly. Respect and understanding which we needed
even more. And your friendship. Which remains, up to this very day.