Nazi Forced Labour in Leipzig - Egbert Jan Beumkes

Egbert Jan Beumkes was born on 11 July 1922 in the Dutch town of Brummen. He was working at a paper factory in the nearby town of Loenen when the German Wehrmacht occupied the Netherlands in May 1940.

 

The German authorities initially tried to recruit Dutch workers for German companies, often under false pretences and with little success. From 1941 on, it became legal to indenture unemployed Dutch citizens; from 1942 on, the occupation authorities increased the pressure. For instance, Dutch enterprises had to make a certain percentage of their employees available for “Reichseinsatz” (Compulsory Work Service), i.e. forced labour.

 

In the summer of 1942, a list of the names of the workers who were required to go Germany was displayed at the paper factory in Loenen. Among those workers were Egbert Jan Beumkes and 16 of his colleagues: his brother Anton Beumkes, as well as Gerrit-Jan Jochems, Willem van Burgh, Gerrit Modderkolk, Jan Put, Jacob van de Spreng and Marten Wilbrink. They were transported from the factory to the train station in a lorry and then on to Leipzig by train. There they were used as forced labourers at the Hugo-Schneider-Aktiengesellschaft company (HASAG), Saxony’s largest producer of armaments in the north-east of the city.

They were housed in the “Dutch Camp Amstel” on the factory grounds themselves and worked producing ammunition and anti-tank warheads 60 hours a week. They also had a very limited amount of free time, at least during the first years of the war. What little leisure time was available to them was restricted and regimented. How they were allowed to spend their free time depended on the status of the individual forced labourer. While labourers from Western Europe were able to move around even outside the camps without supervision, this was only possible for those trafficked from Eastern Europe on very rare occasions. Towards the end of the war, however, the situation of Dutch civilian forced labourers deteriorated significantly; they received less food and had to work even harder. In May 1945, Egbert Jan Beumkes and the other Dutch workers returned home.

After his return to the Netherlands, Egbert Jan Beumkes who was weakened and had fallen ill as a consequence of being a forced labourer had to undergo treatment at a hospital until 1947. He worked as a head of production at the paper factory until 1980.

 

He died in 2001.

 

Egbert Jan Beumkes told his son Stef Beumkes about forced labour at HASAG and his life at the “Amstel” camp in detail. Stef Beumkes has been looking for other former HASAG labourers as well as photographs and documents for number of years. He has located several former forced labourers in the Netherlands and has contacted the Memorial. His research and numerous interviews with survivors resulted in the publication in 2014 of his book “Und dann weinte er … Auf den Spuren unserer Vorfahren” in cooperation with Leipzig Nazi Forced Labour Memorial (‘And Then He Cried … Tracing Our Ancestors). In 2016 a second edition was published in Dutch under the title “Vraag mij niet!” (‘Don’t Ask Me!’).

 

During their visits at the Memorial, Stef Beumkes and the relatives of the other “Loenense Jongens” (Loenen Boys) donated valuable historical objects and documents to the Memorial. Among them are Gerrit-Jan Jochems’s camera and photo album containing photographs taken at HASAG and the “Amstel” camp, as well as Jan Put’s diary. These resources give an insight into forced labour at HASAG from the perspective of Dutch civilian forced labourers.

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