The Nazis set up a number of transit camps in occupied lands. After being rounded up, Jews were imprisoned in transit camps before being deported to a concentration camp, labour camp or one of the six Nazi extermination camps in Poland.
Examples of transit camps include Drancy in France, Mechelen in Belgium, and Vught and Westerbork in the Netherlands.
The Germans established a camp at Drancy, northeast of Paris, in August 1941 as an internment camp for foreign Jews in France. It then became the major transit camp for the deportation of Jews from France. Initially, French police under the control of the German Security Service administered Drancy. Then, in July 1943, the Germans took over the running of the camp.
Drancy held 5,000 prisoners. Around 70,000 mainly Jewish prisoners passed through the camp between August 1941 and August 1944. On 22 June 1942, the Nazis began systematic deportations of Jews from Drancy to the extermination camps in occupied Poland. In the first transport 1,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. By the last transport on 31 July 1944, 64,759 Jews had been deported from Drancy in 64 transports. Approximately 61,000 of these Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. A further 3,753 Jews had been transported to Sobibor.
The Nazis established Mechelen transit camp, to the south of Brussels, Belgium, as a detention and deportation camp, on 4 August 1942. The camp was operational until 31 July 1944.
During its operational life Mechelen was used to collect and deport Jews and Roma from Belgium to the labour camp at Heydebreck, in Germany and Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. In excess of 25,000 Jews and Roma were deported by train from Mechelen to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Westerbork was a transit camp located in the north east of the Netherlands. The camp had originally been set up in October 1939 by the Dutch government. It was a place to hold German Jews who had entered the Netherlands illegally. These people were fleeing Germany because of Nazi persecution.
The German army had invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, and very quickly had imposed their antisemitic policies. In late 1941 they decided that Westerbork was an ideal place in which to assemble the Jews of Holland before their deportation. The first Jews arrived at the camp on 14 July, and the first deportation to Auschwitz left the following day.
Selections for transit were a regular feature at Westerbork. Each Monday evening a train of about 20 cattle wagons would arrive at the camp. A list of one thousand people would be compiled by the Jewish council, which was made up of leaders of the community appointed by the Nazis and forced to carry out the Nazis’ orders. Early on the Tuesday morning those selected would assemble for deportation. After a roll call, they would enter the trains, at least 50 to each wagon, a bucket of water at one end and an empty one for use as a toilet at the other. The doors would close before the train departed for the long journey to the intended destination.
Between July 1942 and September 1944 almost 100,000 Jews would pass through Westerbork camp. They would leave on one of the 103 trains going to the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, the Theresienstadt Ghetto or the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor. Fewer than 5,000 of them survived.
Like many of the camps, Westerbork also had a permanent population of workers. They would be doing metalwork or manual labour, or set to work serving the various areas of the camp.