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One life before the camp, another one after

“My father Hendrik didn‘t start talking about his imprisonment in Germany until after he retired. From that point on, he talked about it a lot.” When Aart Quak visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) with his son Dick in November 2017, he had various documents and photos with him: a handwritten book in which his father, who died in 1999, had – as a kind of therapy – noted down his terrible experiences as a concentration camp prisoner and forced laborer, as well as newspaper articles that were published in East Germany after he attended a memorial ceremony in Buchenwald in 1966. But Aart Quak and his family were also troubled by a question: Why had Hendrik Quak been arrested? They hoped their visit to the ITS would finally clarify this. 

They did, in fact, find the information they were looking for in the archive. Hendrik Quak was arrested on April 15, 1944, by the Security Police in The Hague. He was deported from the police transit camp in Amersfoort to the Buchenwald concentration camp. The documents also revealed the reason for his imprisonment: “Political, Rückfluter [returning flood] campaign.” Hendrik Quak, a trained house painter, had been obliged to carry out forced labor for the Nazis but had either refused to do so or fled. This is what the “Rückflüter campaign” was about. Aart Quak was happy to find this information. “It's more than we expected. And it’s good to see the original documents with my father’s signature. It’s very emotional.”

Hendrik Quak’s opposition to the Nazis had grave consequences. The Dutchman was initially held in the Buchenwald main camp for six weeks before being sent to the Tröglitz satellite camp. After Brabag (Braunkohle-Benzin AG), a Nazi model factory in Tröglitz, was bombed in May 1944, concentration camp prisoners were to be used to quickly rebuild the factory. The numbers of dead from Tröglitz reveal how hard the work was and how terrible conditions were there. At least 5,871 prisoners from the improvised camp died within seven months. The completely exhausted men were replaced with new prisoners from Buchenwald often after only four weeks. Hendrik Quak remained there for over six months.

The last document at the ITS about his fate provides information on his release from Buchenwald to the Weimar employment office on November 13, 1944. Though this sounds harmless, it was a continuation of his torture. The article from the Volkswacht newspaper from 1966 reports: “He believed he had escaped the hell of Buchenwald, but his forced labor in the Reimagh plant was no different.” Quak had to work in the caverns of the underground armaments plant near Kahla. But in January 1945 he was able to escape to the neighboring town of Orlamünde. He was very lucky. Although they were aware of the risk to their own family, a widow and her two young daughters helped him. They gave him food and a hiding place so that he could regain his strength. In March 1945 the widow gave him her husband’s bicycle and he rode back to Maassluis – a nearly 700-kilometer journey in the chaos of the final weeks of the war. In 1966 he was reunited with the woman who saved him when he took part in the commemorative events on the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Fascism.

“My father always said that he lived two lives: one before his imprisonment and one after,” Aart Quak recalls. Now that Aart Quak has also retired, he has more time to deal with the past. Together with his son, he wants to type out Hendrik Quak’s notes, some of which are difficult to decipher, so that they are preserved for future generations.