Willem Jooren

The Netherlands
23.09.1893 - 09.05.1982
Willem Jooren © Camp Vught National Memorial

As a station officer in Vught, Willem Jooren saw more and more trains full of prisoners arriving at the small local station. He fulfilled a remarkable double role.

With the opening of Camp Vught in the winter of 1943, the small local train station became an arrival and departure point for the transports of thousands of mostly Jewish prisoners. The first transports arrived in January 1943. That same month, the first prisoner transport departed from Vught station to the extermination camps. In September 1944, the last transports left for the camps Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück.

One man who saw it happen before his very eyes was Willem Jooren, who worked as a station officer in Vught. Willem, then 50 years old, even lived on the top floor of the station building together with his family. No one knew the way around better than he did.

Soon he fulfilled a remarkable double role. One moment he was the station officer who had to ensure the arrival and departure of the trains, the next moment he helped the prisoners by passing on a message to family, sharing food with them as a guard was looking the other way, or, most remarkably, even helped them escape.

His help did not always go unnoticed, however. An eyewitness told how he saw Willem smuggling away three small children under the eyes of the SS guards. Another memorable story is the one of the then 15-year-old Nathan Wijnperle, who managed to escape with his mother in 1943 after Willem had deliberately failed to close the carriage properly. The two met in 1970, after Nathan tracked down Willem and wrote him a letter to thank him.

That meeting took place at a time when Willem slowly but surely started to talk about the help he provided. It had taken him some years to do so: “I didn’t dare talk to anyone about it. Every day you did things they could get you for it. It was a nervous time.”

After the war, Willem continued to work at Vught station until his retirement. He was decorated several times for his resistance work, and in 2022 a street in Vught was named after him.

The animation is a result of the collaboration with the St. Joost School of Art & Design in Den Bosch and Breda.