“She never lost her faith.”
Jan van Ommen spent a day at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen viewing documents on nearly 200 Dutch women. They had been deported from the Herzogenbusch (Vught) concentration camp to Ravensbrück when the Allied forces moved closer in September 1944. “My mother Rinsje was one of these women,” says the Netherlander.
During the war, van Ommen’s mother was a member of the Dutch resistance and relief organisation “LO en LKP” (Landelijke Organisatie en Landelijke Knokploeg – National Organisation and Combat Unit). Most of its members were from church groups and they forged or stole food stamps which were then distributed among people in Holland who had gone underground. “First my father was arrested in April 1944, but he wasn’t an active member of the resistance like my mother was,” explains van Ommen, who was just seven years old at the time. “About three weeks later, my mother turned herself into the Security Service. She had assumed that my father would not survive imprisonment. He was actually freed though.”
Rinsje van Ommen was sent to the Herzogenbusch (Vught) concentration camp in May 1944. When the Allied troops started moving in, she was transported to Ravensbrück in September 1944. From there, the group of Dutch women was transferred on 13 November 1944 to the Dachau concentration camp’s satellite camp in Munich-Giesing. Here they were deployed as slave labourers at the AGFA plant. “During imprisonment, my mother never lost her faith in God. The fight to preserve her Bible which had been forbidden during imprisonment is a big part of her concentration camp story. She always had that Bible on her and read from it to other prisoners,” recounts the 73-year-old. On the death march from Dachau towards Austria, the women were eventually liberated by American troops in Wolfratshausen.
“I am moved by the question as to what kind of women were imprisoned together with my mother, where they came from and who they were,” says van Ommen. The Netherlander was taken aback by the fact that even physical characteristics had been noted on the prisoners’ personal data cards at Ravensbrück. “This type of use of a “rogues’ gallery” was obviously part of the concentration camp’s system,” notes van Ommen. With the documentation archived at ITS, he was able to verify some of the stories his mother used to tell with actual data.