Located in the Dossin Kazerne, originally a Hapsburg Empire structure dating back to the 1750's, the former Belgian Army barracks were utilised by the SS as a Sammellager (assembly camp) during the second world war.
The KL site:
The site was used for the collection and Belgium's Jews and Roma, mostly from the Antwerp area which had a heavy concentration of Jewish residents. As with other Konzentrationslagers of the assembly nature, most deaths came later, following the numerous transports that left the camp. However, several hundred are estimated to have died at the Sammellager.
The first transport arrived near the end of July 1942, bringing Jews from Antwerp. Only a week later, Jews were being sent to their deaths on the first transport to leave Mechelen. A total of 28 transports eventually left the camp, with over 25,000 Jews and 352 Roma departing for KL-Auschwitz and Arbeitslager Heydebreck-Cosel. Between August and December of 1942, transports of 1,000 Jews left for Auschwitz twice a month. The last transport, "Transport-Z" ("Z" = "Zigeuner" - Roma), left early in 1944, taking its victims to KL-Auschwitz, where they were later killed. By war's end, only 1,240 of those deported had survived, barely 5%. More than half of all Belgian Jews to die in the Holocaust went through Mechelen.
Mostly German, led by Kommandant Philipp Schmitt from the nearby Konzentrationslager Breendonk, with acting Kommandant Rudolph Steckmann handling duties on site. Schmitt was later executed for war crimes.
Acts of Resistance:
During 1942-1943, several trains destined for Auschwitz were derailed on their way out of the country, due to the underground activity of the Belgian-Jewish Underground and Belgian Resistance forces. This intervention allowed an estimated 500 Jews to escape. The "20th Transport" was stopped at Boortmeerbeek Train Station, 10km from Mechelen, on 19.4.1942 by a group of resistance fighters. Approximately 230 prisoners managed to escape, of whom 90 were recaptured and 26 were shot by train escort guards.
Evacuation and Liberation:
The Germans fled the site on 3rd September 1944, leaving behind some 527 prisoners. Allied forces arrived and liberated the site the following day.
1. Period image of the Sammellager in use.
2. Recent view taken within the former assembly yard.