What was the role of transit camps?

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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.

What were transit camps?

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 Pithiers and 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.