Lion Tokkie researched the Jewish labor camps around Amsterdam. These camps were intended as ‘job expansion’ during the crisis. But the Germans used them to isolate and remove the Jews. According to Tokkie, 36,500 Jews were killed in this way. Due to 75 years of liberation, the Amsterdamse Bos is showing the exhibition ‘Employed in the Amsterdamse Bos – Jewish labor camps in and around Amsterdam 1941-1944’ in the Boswinkel from September 2, 2021 to April 3, 2022.
Lion Tokkie meets his wife. We meet at cafe Amstelhoeck on Waterlooplein. Until the Second World War it was the beating heart of the Jewish quarter. The destruction of the Amsterdam Jews was so radical that nothing practical can be seen of it. Their houses have been demolished. The Stopera now stands on that spot, like a kind of huge funerary monument.
Tokkie grew up in this neighbourhood, on the Raamgracht. He tells his story with emotion. It is a personal history and the results of his thorough investigation into the fate of the Amsterdam Jews in the labor camps. Tokkie knows all about that.
Jews at work in the Amsterdamse Bos. of society. Source: private collection Van de Aa.
Here we see ourselves down to the main line and to the labor camps in the Amsterdamse Bos. On September 1, Mayor Halsema opens the confrontational exhibition. The central theme is how cleverly the German occupier made use of the Dutch job creation system to isolate, remove and murder the Jews. An unknown story to be told.
Where will the exhibition pass?
Tokkie: “It’s about the ‘work camp Jews’ from Amsterdam who are placed in the National and Municipal Work Expansion Program in the Amsterdam region. The job easing was a response to mass unemployment in the 1930s. In 1935, therefore, the construction of the Amsterdamse Bos started. Both Jews and non-Jews worked there. During the war, the forest turned into a place with antiaircraft guns, ammunition depots and a shadow airfield. Schiphol-East was defended from here. Not a place where you as a Jew and non-Jew were found safe to work in 1941-1942 and 1944.”
Why is that important?
“Because the success of the Dutch persecution of the Jews is strongly related to the labor camp. That started when the Germans invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. In the exhibition we discuss, among other things, the life of Jonas Turksma, radio operator/radio operator at the ANP. There he became incongruous as a Jew. On May 21, 1940, 9 men joined the AVRO because they were Jewish. The persecution of the Jews began immediately. These men form the common thread in the exhibition. It is the first exhibition in the Netherlands about mixed-married Jews and how the Germans target the persecution of the Jews. In Amsterdam at the time there were more than 6,500 Jews in that work expansion.”
How many ‘camps’ were there in Amsterdam?
“There were 17 in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. In 1941-1942 there were about 2,600 Jews in the municipal work expansion in the Amsterdamse Bos. About 1,500 in the National Work Expansion in and around Amsterdam. In 1944, about 500 mixed-married men worked in the Bos and about 450 at Schiphol-East.”
Employed in the forest. Source: Amsterdamse Bos archive.
How does it border on the Jews and their families?
“The Jews were inspected at the Diamantbeurs on the Weesperstraat and later at the Rode Leeuw in the Valkenburgerstraat. All rejected Jews were placed in the municipal work expansion. The Jewish department of the Social Services was located at 122 Kerkstraat. It was led by an NSB member and collaborating officials. In June 1942 Himmler came to the Netherlands, the head of the SS. Then treatment of the Jews hardened. The envisioned bear the star.
On 14 July 1942 the first labor camps in Drenthe were emptied. The women and children were arrested by the police. They all went by train to the Westerbork transit camp in Drenthe. 36,500 Jews have been gathered, gathered and murdered. Preventing the men working in the labor camps prevented a possible revolt of the Jews.”
Why is this so unknown?
“First of all because there were no survivors. And a lot of relevant documentation was thrown into the Amstel on Mad Tuesday. The Northern Netherlands then prematurely thought that the liberation had begun. One of the protagonists, the director of the J department of the social services of Amsterdam, committed suicide. And almost all other archives are exports in 1965, 20 years after the war. Only a number of Amsterdam archives were preserved and that is the source of my information.”
Social service card with work for Betlem and Muiderberg. The social services had a separate section for Jews. Source: Amsterdam City Archives 5256.
Mr Salomon Mandaat met the Star of David in 1944. Source: private collection Sjef Mandaat.
How should you understand?
“In December 2009 I decided to call my mother’s family. I got an aunt on the phone. In 2010 I visited that aunt in Hilversum. And then the story of my mother came up. Then I started researching my family in World War II. That’s how I came up with this topic, because my father, David Tokkie, was in one of those camps. I am writing a book about my father. I found a lot of information about him in the archives of the Amsterdam social services. I came from one thing to another. In the end, 4 books about my labor camps will be published.”
How was your father?
“He was born in 1910 at the Hogeweg 9 in the Watergraafsmeer. And he died in 2005. My father grew up in a sartorial family. His cousin took him under his wing. He did the HBS on the Mauritskade and became a tailor. He was a ballet dancer. And in 1936 he founded the Snip and Snap Revue with a picture. But at the outbreak of the war he was made unemployed in 1941 due to the anti-Jewish measures. Artists were no longer allowed to perform. Via the Gewestelijk Arbeidsbureau and the J-department of the social services of the municipality of Amsterdam, he was in a labor camp near Hoogeveen. On 14 July 1942 he fled and returned to Amsterdam. He went into hiding in a garden shed and narrowly escaped the Gestapo. He eventually became a spy for the English secret service in Germany. He miraculously fought the war.”
Tanned by outdoor work. Still ignorant of the gruesome future. Source: Van der Aa private collection.
And after the war?
“In 1948 he met my mother. I grew up with my parents at 11 Raamgracht, near the Zuiderkerk. My father did theater work until 1954 and worked with fashion designers Max Heymans and Frans Molenaar. I have been doing research since 2010. And that is my lust and my life.”
What is your main conclusion?
“In 1942 there was ‘a reservoir’ of Jews because of the labor camps. There were 12,000 men in the labor camps. Their wives and children were at home. Added together, there were 36,500. And then there were 10,000 mixed-married men and women. The labor camps of the labor expansion played an important role in the extermination of the Dutch Jews. And many of those camps were in and around Amsterdam with the signs on the Amsterdamse Bos. That is what the exhibition is about.”
Main photo: Jewish Historical Museum collection