1) I went to Ommerschans. It’s called that way because of the nearby small city of Ommen in the Netherlands.
(Ommen Google earth N 52°.31′.31.18” E 6°.25′.34.42”)
(Ommerschans Google earth N 52°. 35′.14.59” E 6°.23′.30.72”)
A “schans” is a feature to hide behind or to take a position behind. It can be very primitive or very sophisticated or anything in between.
You can see a fortress as a composition of multiple “schansen”.
In this case it was a fortress, build between 1623 and 1628, or the remains of it.
2) I went there because last year I attended a lecture given by Willem Bemboom, the local field-archeologist.
Image with permission from http://ommerschans.nl
1) This was not the only defense. There were several of these fortresses as a defenseline for the northern provinces against
the Spanish invaders during the eighty-years war.(1568-1648)
There have been several occasions to use it as a defense, but every time by different defenders against various aggressors.
The last time it was used for military purposes was in 1787. By the way, this last use was for the same reasons as the French revolution in 1789.
In the beginning of the 19th century (1820) it was changed by the Dutch government into a camp for beggars, prostitutes and alcoholics from the western cities like Amsterdam.(*1) Resocialisation they called it. There was no big difference between a slave labour camp and this camp. It had the ridiculous name of “Maatschappij van Weldadigheid” (Company of Welfare)
This company had about 18,000 acres (7.000 hectare) of land with 20 farms on it.
Some new buildings were constructed just for this purpose. You may guess were building materials came from.
The institution went bankrupt in 1859 but the government managed it until 1889 as a labour camp.
During the time of operation there worked between a few hundred and two thousand people. In that timespan about 5448 workers died.
At a certain time there were only 79 people working, then the government awarded local policemen in other parts of the country a premium for sending people to this camp. In a very short time there were more than 3,000 workers.
Don’t think that workers were only 18+ men. Women, men and children from eight years on were considered workers.
Men and women were strictly separated even if they were a family. How effective the rules were shows the 550 children born in the period 1820-1870.
After 1870 there were no women in this institution anymore.
There were different cemeteries, one for the officials and one for the servants. The workers were buried outside of these
cemeteries, sometimes individual, but also several in one grave. This site is overgrown with trees and bushes.
After it’s closure it became part of a state penitential institution.
Now, what’s left?
You can see the drawings over the picture to designate the original form. Where the drawings were needed there’s hardly
anything left. You can still see a small part of the outside canal and about half of the inside canal.
Inside of this canal there are remains of walls. In the center part there are remains of the majors house, the sentinel house,
the buildings for the soldiers and the peat house.
At the foreground the officials were buried, look at the individual stones.
In the background the servants were buried, see the white crosses.
There’s no picture from the graves of the workers because they were buried among the bushes and the trees.
3) Did I enjoy it?
Yes, I learned a lot about the not so pleasant history. Especially the part that people were used there as slaves.
We certainly have more respect to the bones of the workers right now than the ones in charge had for the living workers in those days.
4) I will not visit it again. I’ve seen it once and that is enough.
On the other hand, I was lucky enough to have pleasant weather with some sunshine now and then.
5) See the pictures
http://ommerschans.nl (only available in Dutch)
http://home.kpn.nl/~nico.zuidhoorn/Ommerschans.html (only available in Dutch)