At the Edge of the Abyss: A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944
Northwestern University Press
This powerful diary deserves to take its place among the small number of such journals, notably that of Anne Frank, that elucidate the evil of the Nazi war against the Jews.
As a very young man, David Koker was already involved in Amsterdam's literary scene as a poet, editor, and writer. Koker and his family were caught in the roundup of Jews by the Nazis and their Dutch collaborators that took place in the years following the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. Sent to the Dutch concentration camp at Vught in February, 1943, Koker began to keep a diary, which has survived to provide one of the most insightful accounts of daily life in a concentration camp. At the time of Koker’s incarceration, Vught was an internment camp; it gradually became a labor camp and finally a camp from which Jews were deported to Westerbork, a temporary stop before being sent to Sobibor or Auschwitz.
By Febuary 11, 1943, when Koker made his first diary entry, deportations from the Netherlands had been going on for almost seven months, wherein 44,000 Jews had been sent to Auschwitz. But life for Koker and the Jews sent to Vught was at first not the traumatic experience endured by Jews in the major Nazi concentration camps: because it was an internment camp, Vught’s Jewish prisoners enjoyed privileges unknown to Jews in the German concentration camp system. Jews were allowed to receive parcels from their relatives and friends, including food, books, and toiletries; children attended school, and at first, the prisoners did not wear prison garb. An early diary entry informs us, "Ate well. People were quite touched by the meat, bread, butter, herring…At moments like that life is good, and being together with people is bearable." This situation did not last. As Vught evolved into a more brutal and typical concentration camp, life became harder, and the fear of deportation weighed heavily on the prisoners . Koker notes in his diary, “The good times are pretty well gone…all kinds of barriers are raised up and punishments are threatened….”
Koker’s diary is an invaluable record of his observations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as a record of daily life in Vught. The diary covers almost a year of his life before he was deported. He did not survive the war. Koker died in transport to Dachau in 1945. He was twenty-two years old.
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