Natzweiler

Coordinates: 48°27′17″N 7°15′16″E / 48.45472°N 7.25444°E / 48.45472; 7.25444



Natzweiler-Struthof was a German concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller (German Natzweiler) in France, and the town of Schirmeck, about 50 km south west from the city of Strasbourg.

Natzweiler-Struthof was the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on present-day French territory, though there were French-run temporary camps such as the one at Drancy. At the time, the Alsace-Lorraine area in which it was established was administered by Germany as an integral part of the German Reich.

The writer Boris Pahor was interned in Natzweiler-Struthof and wrote his novel Necropolis based on this experience.

Operations

Natzweiler-Struthof was operational between 21 May 1941 until the beginning of September 1944 when the SS evacuated the camp into Dachau. Its construction was overseen by Hans Hüttig. The camp was evacuated and sent on a "Death march" on early September 1944 with only a small SS unit keeping the camp's operations,[1] and on 23 November 1944, discovered and liberated by American Allies as the first concentration camp in Western Europe.[1] Its system of subcamps is listed in List of subcamps of Natzweiler-Struthof.

The total number of prisoners reached an estimated 52,000 over the three years originating from various countries including Poland, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Norway. The camp was specially set up for Nacht und Nebel prisoners, in most cases people of the resistance movements.

The camp also held a crematorium and a gerry-rigged gas chamber outside the main camp, which was not used for mass extermination. Josef Kramer, a former commandant of the camp, was executed for his crimes, including the murder of Jews in the gas chamber here.

Dr Otto Bickenbach, Dr Friedrich Bickenbach and Dr Helmut Ruehl were also accused of crimes committed at this camp. Dr Hans Eisele was also stationed in this camp for a time.

Strenuous work, medical experiments, poor nutrition and mistreatment by the SS guards resulted in a documented 4,431 deaths. Among those who died here were four female SOE agents executed together on 6 July 1944: Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky. Since the female prisoner population in the camp was small, only seven SS women served in Natzweiler Struthof camp (compared to more than 600 SS men), and 15 in the Natzweiler complex of subcamps. The main duty of the female supervisors in Natzweiler was to guard the few women who came to the camp for medical experiments or to be executed. The camp also trained several female guards who went to the Geisenheim and Geislingen subcamps in western Germany.

Two Royal Air Force airmen (F/O Dennis H. Cochran, and F/L Anthony R. H. Hayter) who were involved in The Great Escape, and murdered by the Gestapo after re-capture, were cremated at Natzweiler.

Among the inmates were also the Norwegian resisters Per Jacobsen who died there, Tor Njaa en route, and Charles Delestraint, leader of the Armée Secrète who died later in Dachau.

Among the personnel: On 1 July 1944, SS Untersturmfuehrer Heinrich Wicker was transferred to KZ Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp in Alsace, which at that time was in the Greater German Reich, and was an administrator there.[2]

Heinrich Schwarz was appointed commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof, where he oversaw the evacuation of the camp's inmates to Dachau during April and May 1945. Following the German defeat, Schwarz was convicted of war crimes by French occupation authorities in Rastatt. He was sentenced to death and subsequently shot by a firing squad near Baden-Baden on 20 March 1947.[3]

Jewish skeleton collection

The Jewish skeleton collection was an attempt by the Nazis to create an anthropological display to showcase the alleged racial inferiority of the "Jewish race" and to emphasize the Jews' status as Untermenschen ("sub-humans"), in contrast to the Germanic Ubermenschen ("super-humans") Aryan race which the Nazis considered to be the "herrenvolk" (master race). The collection was to be housed at the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg in the annexed region of Alsace, where the initial preparation of the corpses was performed. The collection was sanctioned by Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler, and under the direction of August Hirt with Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers, general manager of the Ahnenerbe, being responsible for procuring and preparing the corpses.


Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof, 46 of these individuals were originally from Thessaloniki, Greece. The deaths of 86 of these inmates was, in the words of Hirt, "induced" at a jury rigged gassing facility at Natzweiler-Struthof and their corpses, 57 men and 29 women, were sent to Strasbourg. One male victim was shot as he fought to keep from being gassed. Josef Kramer, acting commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof (who would become the commandant at Auschwitz and the last commandant of Bergen Belsen) personally carried out the gassing of 80 of these 86 victims.

The first part of the process for this "collection" was to make anatomical casts of the bodies prior to reducing them to skeletons. In 1944, with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility that the corpses, which had still not been defleshed, could be discovered. In September 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt: "The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing-at least in part-and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards."

Two anthropologists, who were both members of the SS, Dr. Hans Fleischhacker and Bruno Beger, along with Wolf-Dietrich Wolff, were accused of making selections at Auschwitz of Jewish prisoners for Dr. Hirt's collection of 'racial types', a project which created the Jewish skeleton collection. Beger alone was found guilty, although he served no time. Also named as associated with this project are Doctor Karl Wimmer (de) and the anatomist Anton Kiesselbach (de).[4]

In The Names of the Numbers,[5] Hans-Joachim Lang describes this mass murder. He also recounts in detail the story of how he was able to determine the identities of 86 victims of Dr. Otto Bickenbach and Dr. August Hirt's medical experiments.[6]

Post-war criminal trials


Fritz Hartjenstein died in prison before his sentence could be carried out. The remaining two death sentences were carried out by hanging, on 11 October 1946. Those tried were:

  1. Franz Berg: death sentence (executed)
  2. Kurt Geigling: 10 years imprisonment
  3. Fritz Hartjenstein (commandant): death sentence (died before sentence was carried out)
  4. Josef Muth: 15 years imprisonment
  5. Peter Straub: death sentence (executed)
  6. Magnus Wochner: 10 years imprisonment
  7. Heinrich Schwarz: execution by firing squad

Magnus Wochner was also implicated in the Stalag Luft III murders and was listed among the accused.[7]

Heinrich Ganninger, adjutant and debuty of commander Fritz Hartjenstein, committed suicide in Wuppertal prison in April 1946 before his trial. He was accused of having murdered four British female spies.

Post-war history

During the night of 12–13 May 1976, neo-Nazis burned the camp museum which was subsequently rebuilt, but with the loss of important artifacts.

See also

References

Further reading

Inmate accounts include:

  • Boris Pahor, Necropolis, 1967
  • Willem Lodewijk Harthoorn, Verboden te sterven, Van Gruting, 2007, ISBN 978-90-75879-37-7
  • Hinke Piersma, Doodstraf op termijn 2006, Walburg Pers, ISBN 90-5730-442-2
  • Floris Bakels, Nacht und Nebel; mijn verhaal uit Duitse gevangenissen en concentratiekampen, Elsevier, 1977, ISBN 90-435-0366-5
  • , written as an historical account by a former inmate, based on interviews and research
  • , memoirs of the former prime minister of Norway
  • Hans-Joachim Lang: the names of the numbers. How I succeeded in identifying the 86 victims of a NAZI crime. Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 978-3-455-09464-0.

External links

  • Struthof official site
  • Natzweiler: German Concentration Camp near the French Border
  • Die Namen der Nummern

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