The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Histories from World War II Concentration Camp

Award-winning author and retired college professor James M. Deem reveals never-before-published photographs and survivor accounts in a look at one of the lesser-known concentration camps during the Holocaust in The Prisoners of Breendonk: Personal Stories from a World War II Concentration Camp (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 4, 2015). While it was never designated an official concentration camp—instead, it was called a “reception” camp—it was no less brutal.

Resembling a small castle, Fort Breendonk was originally used to protect Antwerp, Belgium from possible German invasion. It was damaged in World War I and fell into disrepair until German soldiers overtook it in 1940. The Nazis used the old fort to hold prisoners in transit. It soon became one of the most horrific camps in World War II, Of the 3,500 prisoners detained there, only 10 percent survived. As one person described it, “I would prefer to spend nineteen months at Buchenwald than nineteen days at Breendonk.”

With access to the death camp and its archives, and rare photographs and artwork, James M. Deem pieces together numerous stories of the victims—Jews, communists, resistance fighters, and common criminals—and offers readers an in-depth historical and anthropological look into the daily lives of prisoners during World War II. For the first time in an English-language publication this important nonfiction sheds light on a lesser-known component of the Holocaust with stories not yet encountered.

Meet the Author

JAMES M. DEEM is the author of numerous books of nonfiction and fiction for children, including Faces From the Past: forgotten People of North America and the 2009 Sibert Honor Book, Bodies From the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past. A former college professor, Deem and his wife live in Tucson, Arizona, where he writes full time. For more information please visit jamesmdeem.com.

LEON NOLIS is an award-winning photographer from Antwerp, Belgium. He was drawn to photograph Breendonk because he had been told that his grandfather was interrogated there during World War II. This is his first book.

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