NINE SQUARE METRES OF REVENGE
Herzogenbusch Concentration Camp bunker, Vught
Page 2, top left. “Mr and Mrs H. Arts-Woestenbergh hereby announce the birth of their daughter Susanne.” It was a modest family announcement in the Nieuwe Tilburgse Courant on 13 November 1916. But the joy at the newspaper was without doubt great. The editor, Harry Arts had a new daughter. Two and a half months later he placed another announcement in his own paper. An obituary. For his wife.
Not long after this a stepmother entered the world of Suzanne (known as Suze), but things did not go well. Suze was forced to spend her childhood years at boarding schools at home and abroad. That brought her into contact with national socialism in Germany. She befriended Franz Ettlinger, a member of the Hitler Youth.
Back in the Netherlands Suze trained as a nurse. By the time she was 24 she was assistant to a married doctor in Nistelrode. Their secret love affair resulted in her becoming pregnant. Disgrace, shame and scandal. Suze left and ended up in Amsterdam as an unmarried mother with her young son Hans.
In the summer of 1943 Franz Ettlinger, with whom she had stayed in touch, contacted her about a vacancy for the job of camp warden at Vught. Suze applied for the job immediately. Getting this job would also be a welcome reunion with Franz, the SS officer who was the camp commander’s right hand. Although Franz was married and father to four children, old love does not go rusty – not even behind barbed wire.
Suze was not at all popular with the prisoners. She was considered to be sadistic and ruthless. On 15 January 1944 she escorted a group of 74 women to bunker cell 155. It was a retaliatory measure; one of the women had admonished a female prisoner for being a traitor. On the way to the bunker the atmosphere was still light-hearted. “Just you wait”, Suze told the prisoners, “You’ll be laughing from the other side of your faces when you get inside the bunker.”
Nine square metres. That was the size of the cell in which the 74 women were crammed together. Hardly any air, no ventilation. When the bunker door was opened fourteen hours later, ten of the women were dead. But life and death often went hand in hand for Suze. Three weeks after the bunker tragedy she gave birth to a baby girl.
The father: Franz.
The joy was short-lived. Suze was dismissed, as were the leaders of the camp – the tragedy was too much even for the Germans. Shortly after the liberation Suze was detained on suspicion of complicity. The attorney general at the Special Court demanded a twenty year sentence, despite his statement that Suze “had been developmentally neglected in her youth.” The sentence: fifteen years. During her imprisonment in Rotterdam she was given a job in return for good behaviour: as a guard.
Suze was released in 1953. With her criminal record it was difficult for her to find a proper job, but in the end she succeeded. She worked for many years under the alias of Marion Blom for the Dutch women’s magazine Margriet as coordinator of the letters and puzzles section. She didn’t see her son Hans, who grew up in a foster family, until 1987, four years before her death. She never saw her daughter again, who had been taken from her after her arrest in 1945.
As her own life was coming to an end Suze spoke to a historian: “In retrospect, I think it was the humiliation I suffered in my youth that took me to Vught. When I was in uniform I was someone who counted.
Left: Suze Arts
Right: Suze Arts during her trial in 1947
Source: Camp Vught National Monument