On April 27th, the Dachau Memorial opened the special exhibition "Names not Numbers" - Dutch Political Prisoners in Dachau Concentration Camp. Sydney Weith, 21 year old, talked about former inmate Ernst Sillem, whom she met when she was 16. One could almost feel the close connection with the guest of honor sitting in front of her.
From 1941 to 1945 more than two thousand prisoners from the Netherlands were imprisoned In the Dachau concentration camp. Most of them were classified as political prisoners. Like all other inmates, upon their arrival, they received a number. Their names did not matter anymore. The exhibition shows through personal stories and authentic objects how the prisoners tried to preserve their identity and personality in a system designed to dehumanize the inmates. Pim Boellaard scratched a checkerboard into the lid of a wooden box, Johannes Kapteyn drew power from his Bible, Lies Bueninck hid a photograph of her daughter, and Ernst Sillem managed to smuggle and send two letters to his parents, while he was moved to another concentration camp.
The exhibition, designed under the direction of the Resistance Museum Amsterdam, is based on the biographies of former prisoners written by Dutch pupils. The students researched archives, explored historical places and conducted interviews with the Dachau survivors or their descendants. With these biographies, the young people made a contribution to the Gedächtnisbuch, (Book of remembrance), which is located in the Church Reconciliation on the former concentration camp site. Every year on March 22nd, the Anniversary of the establishment of the Dachau Concentration Camp, Dutch students travelled to Dachau to present new biographies and add them to the Book of remembrance. Almost always the survivors involved travelled with them. A strong friendship developed between several of the survivors and their young biographers. This is what also happened between 94 years old Ernst Sillem and 21 years old Sydney Weith.
At the opening of the exhibition, the head of the Concentration Camp Memorial, Dr. Ing. Gabriele Hammermann and Peter Vermeij, General Consul of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Munich, gave a speech. But the speech of Sydney Weith was certainly the most touching. She did not just talk about Ernst's resistance activities and his imprisonment, but also about the life wisdom that she learned from Ernst. She touched many when she talked about the friendship she has built up with Ernst. Together with her friend she visited him at his home in southern France and they regularly write to each other. She radiantly described how "His letters always put a smile on my face and always end with the words 'your Ernst' ". Ernst was sitting in front of her in the front row. He enjoyed it.
The special exhibition is on show until February 28, 2019, daily from 9 am to 5 pm (except on December 24th). Entrance is free of charge.
Jos Sinnema, honorary employee of the memory book project and initiator of the exhibition.