The Westerbork camp was situated in the northeastern part of the Netherlands in the Dutch province of Drenthe, near the towns of Westerbork and Assen. The Dutch government established a camp at Westerbork in October 1939 to intern Jewish refugees who had entered the Netherlands illegally. The camp continued to function after the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940. In 1941 it had a population of 1,100 Jewish refugees, mostly from Germany.
From 1942 to 1944 Westerbork served as a transit camp for Dutch Jews before they were deported to extermination camps in German-occupied Poland. In early 1942, the Germans enlarged the camp. In July 1942 the German Security Police, assisted by an SS company and Dutch military police, took control of Westerbork. Erich Deppner was appointed camp commandant and Westerbork's role as a transit camp for deportations to the east began, with deportation trains leaving every Tuesday. From July 1942 until September 3, 1944, the Germans deported 97,776 Jews from Westerbork: 54,930 to Auschwitz in 68 transports, 34,313 to Sobibor in 19 transports, 4,771 to the Theresienstadt ghetto in 7 transports, and 3,762 to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 9 transports. Most of those deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor were killed upon arrival.
The Westerbork camp had a "double life." While most inmates stayed in the camp for only short periods of time before being deported, there was also a "permanent" camp population of 2,000 people, mostly German Jews, Jewish council members, camp employees, and certain other categories of persons exempt from deportation. The Germans encouraged "normal" activities by this group, including metalwork, health services work, and cultural activities. A Jewish police unit kept order and assisted with the transports. In the end, however, most of the "permanent" inmates were also sent to the concentration camps and death camps.