What about... The Oranjehotel

A resistance monument

There is a giant hole in the Scheveningen prison wall. A breakout attempt? No, it’s the passageway to a Heijmans building site. Behind the yellow site cabins, you’ll find the notorious Oranjehotel. Between 1940 and 1945, the Germans imprisoned 26,000 suspects in these barracks. Heijmans is now renovating this national monument. A quiet visit to ‘Doodencel (Death Cell) 601’.

July 23, 2019

In 1919, the department of Justice had prisoner barracks built ‘to imprison non-smuggling convicts’, next to the old Scheveningen Detention Centre. In reality, it housed mainly petty thieves and convicts. However, the war literally brought a different regime. From then on it was called the Deutsches Untersuchungs- und Strafgefängnis and per the Summer of 1942 Polizeigefängnis.

Its involuntary residents came from all over the Netherlands. They shared resistance in word and deed: from reading an illegal pamphlet or hiding people to stealing ration coupons or executing traitors. The majority of them ended up in concentration and death camps, where many of them died. 215 prisoners were shot dead at the Waalsdorpvlakte near the Oranjehotel. They spent their final night in one of the death cells, which were located in the central corridor.

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Keychain

After the war, the department of Justice started using the building again. It closed due to overcapacity in 2010. Nowadays, the cell doors are all wide open, but you cannot escape the past here. “It is an honour to keep the memory alive”, says Dineke Mulock Houwer. She is the strong-minded president of Stichting Oranjehotel in the Hague. The foundation organises the annual commemoration and ad-hoc tours, which both attract many participants and are highly valued.

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Dineke Mulock Houwer, president of Stichting Oranjehotel

That is why got a terrible shock in 2010: “There were plans to not just close the barracks, but to demolish them. We couldn’t believe it. We really had to put in a fight to preserve the building. Everyone knows Nationaal Kamp Westerbork or Kamp Vught, but the Oranjehotel never got much attention. It is hidden behind a wall. Until recently, you could only visit this complex if you were accompanied by a guide. Guard Rob-with-the-keychain of the Detention Centre accompanied us on many occasions.”

Goodbye letters

Rob doesn’t have to come along anymore, because, nowadays, the cell block is located beyond the safety ring. Cause: the major renovation plan lying on the table in the Heijmans site cabin. The renovation is currently in full swing. The Oranjehotel will be open to visitors as of 7 September 2019. In the Remembrance Centre, the expected fifteen to twenty thousand visitors per year will learn about daily prison life during the war, but also about the violence and perpetrators.

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Anke van der Laan, director of Oranjehotel, and Heijmans project leader Sander Oosterbeek.

An informative route takes you along authentic cells, death books and goodbye letters, wall inscriptions, movies and unique objects. “In one cell you can even experience what it feels like to be locked up”, says director Anke van der Laan, who previously worked for the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. “Still, it’s not the horrendous story that is the main focus. The Oranjehotel is primarily about courage and resilience.”

Nightgown

Strong coffee in the cabin. “I’ll be honest”, Sander Oosterbeek says smiling. The young Heijmans project manager: “When they asked me to work on the Oranjehotel in 2017, I thought: ‘Gee, that works out well: I’ve worked on hotels before.’ However, even though I am well-educated and studied history in school, I hadn’t heard of this place before. This illustrates the necessity of this memorial centre.”

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He started working on the honourable assignment together with site manager Piet Rietveld at the end of 2017. “Two-thirds of the prison barracks had already been demolished, including the top floor. It was in such a poor state, it had to go. However, the remaining part also presented many risks: fungi, broken ceiling beams. That winter we made sure everything was wind and waterproof and stabilised.” During the Christmas holiday, they decided to take turns driving out to the Oranjehotel so they could use small electric heaters to reduce humidity in ‘Doodencel 601’. “Otherwise, the pencil scribblings and drawings might have become damaged”, says Piet.

“The Oranjehotel is about courage and resilience.”

Meanwhile, eleven months and a multitude of surprises have passed. Sander: “We have discovered the foundation of both the exercise yard and the shot tower. But also measuring tape, hidden inscriptions and a nightgown. On top of that, we were able to retrieve and restore the old entrance gate. It turned out it was in the Gevangenismuseum (prison museum) in Veenhuizen.”

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Interior Death Cell 601

Eternal devotion

Time to inspect the barracks. Daylight is scarce, but that’s no disguise for the gloomy cells. Their size: 3.85 x 1.80 m. Particularly the, intact, ‘Death Cell 601’ will leave you speechless. Its interior is authentic: a wooden bed with a grey blanket, table and chair and water jug. Prisoners have left emotional inscriptions behind on the walls. The translation of a small selection of inscriptions: Marietje B. is my love, I’ll always be faithful to her’, ‘Keep your head up!’ or ‘There is no scum in this jail, but Dutch glory potverdorie (dammit)!’. Many inscriptions are about God, the homeland, devotion and love. One prisoner carved the ‘Our Father’ in a wall, the other a quote by Shakespeare or Victor Hugo.

Emotional inscriptions on the prison walls.

With the exception of ‘Death Cell 601’, the whole complex is being renovated extensively. A number of tasks: the construction of E & W-installations including heat pumps and smart climate control. Sander: “Sustainability and renovation are definitely not mutually exclusive. An example? We use a special kind of roofing material, which allows us to infiltrate rainwater into the sandy soil.”

Heijmans prefers to use the original materials and techniques. “From building soldier courses and brick arches to repairing floors”, says Piet. “We loosen the boards, number them, take out nails, remove mould and repair them. Then, we put everything back exactly where it was before.”

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The current Oranjehotel corridor.

Mentality

The renovation costs amount to over three million Euro. However, the board of Stichting Oranjehotel managed to obtain support from various authorities and the national fund for peace, freedom and veteran care. You can leave that up to its president: she used to fulfil the role of director-general of prison services within the Department of Justice.

What makes the renovation particularly interesting is the fact that the contract deviates from its original version. “As we proposed, the foundation opted for a construction team,” says Sander. “It suits the way we cooperate. We have also committed ourselves to the budget. On the one hand, setbacks require creative cutbacks. While on the other hand, the budget profits from purchasing advantage. In financial terms, this project is not about achieving maximum return. It is mainly about social gain. It is a prestigious project.” 

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Mulock nods in agreement. “We share the benefits and burdens. Trust is essential in all of this. But there’s plenty of that. It’s Heijmans’ mentality, commitment and diligence that convinced us.”

Half an hour has passed. An alderman of the Hague has left his perfectly polished shoes behind in the tiny cabin hallway. He swapped them for safety boots. This working visit will be a feast to his eyes. The Oranjehotel: a monument that will captivate your attention.