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The Neuengamme concentration camp, a German concentration camp, was established in 1938 by the SS near the village of Neuengamme in the Bergedorf district of Hamburg, Germany. It was operated by the Nazis from 1938 to 1945. By the end of the war, more than half of its estimated 106,000 prisoners perished there. After Germany's defeat, the British Army used it until 1948 as an internment centre. In 1948 the facility was transferred to Hamburg prison authority which tore down the barracks and built a new prison cell block. After being operated as two prisons by the Hamburg authorities from 1950 to 2004, and a period of uncertainty, the site now serves as a memorial. It is situated 15 km southeast of the centre of Hamburg in the Bergedorf area.
The camp served the needs of the German war machine and also carried out exterminations through labour. The inmates were spread over the main camp and approximately 80 subcamps across north Germany. At least 50,000 succumbed to the inhumane conditions in the camp from hard manual work with insufficient nutrition, extremely unhygienic conditions with widespread disease, and violence from the guards.
Work at the mother camp was centered on the production of bricks. This included the construction of a canal to transport the bricks to and from the site. Inmates had to excavate the heavy, peaty soil with inadequate tools and regardless of weather conditions or their health state. From 1942, several armaments companies (e.g. Messap, Jastram, and Walther-Werke) established facilities right beside the Neuengamme concentration camp. SS Sturmfuehrer Alfons Bentele headed the administration of Neuengamme (16 September 1942 – 16 March 1943).
In September 1938 the German Earth & Stone Works Company bought the defunct brickyard (German: Klinkerwerk) in Neuengamme. On December 13, 1938 the Neuengamme concentration camp was set up with 100 prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
In April 1940, the SS and the city of Hamburg signed a contract for the construction of a larger brick factory, and on June 4, the Neuengamme concentration camp became an independent main camp.
According to the testimony of Wilhelm Bahr, an ex-medical orderly, during the trial against Bruno Tesch, 200 Russian prisoners of war were gassed by prussic acid in 1942. In April 1942, a crematorium was constructed at the camp. Prior to that all bodies were taken to Hamburg for cremation. In late 1943, most likely November, Neuengamme recorded its first female prisoners according to camp records. In the summer of 1944, Neuengamme received many women prisoners from Auschwitz, as well other camps in the East. All of the women were eventually shipped out to one of its twenty-four female subcamps.
In July 1944, a camp section for prominent prisoners from France was set up. These were political opponents and members of the French resistance who had taken arms against German forces. They included John William, who had participated in the sabotaging and bombing of a military factory in Montluçon. William discovered his singing voice while cheering his fellow prisoners at Neuengamme and went on to a prominent career as a singer of popular and gospel music. At the end of 1944 the total number of prisoners was around 49,000, with 12,000 in Neuengamme and 37,000 in the subcamps.
On March 15, 1945, the transfer of Scandinavian prisoners from other camps to Neuengamme started. This was part of the White Buses program. On March 27, a Scandinavian camp was established at Neuengamme. On April 8, an air raid of a train transporting prisoners led to the Celler Hasenjagd massacre.
On April 26, 1945, about 10,000 surviving prisoners were loaded into four ships: the passenger liners Deutschland and Cap Arcona and two large steamers, SS Thielbek and Athen. The prisoners were in the ships' holds for several days without food or water.
The order to transfer the prisoners from the camps to the prison ships came from Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann, who was himself acting on orders from Berlin. Kaufmann later claimed during a war crimes tribunal that the prisoners were destined for Sweden. However, at the same trial, Georg-Henning Graf von Bassewitz-Behr, the head of the Hamburg Gestapo, said that the prisoners were in fact slated to be killed in compliance with Himmler's orders, and it has been suggested that the plan called for scuttling the ships with the prisoners still aboard.
On May 3, 1945, the ships were attacked by three squadrons of Royal Air Force Hawker Typhoons. The RAF believed the ships carried SS personnel who were being transferred to Norway, intelligence that the ships carried concentration camp prisoners did not reach the squadrons in time to halt the attack. The Thielbek was sunk and the Cap Arcona and Deutschland set on fire, they both later sank; survivors who jumped into the water were strafed by cannon fire from the RAF aircraft. Thousands of dead were washed ashore just as the British Army occupied the area; the British forced German prisoners-of-war and civilians to dig mass graves to dispose of the bodies.
On May 2, 1945, the SS and the last prisoners left the Neuengamme camp.
|not officially on the lists||-||-||5,000|
|Dead in deportation||-||-||55,000|
Inmates were from 28 nationalities (Soviets (34,350), Polish (16,900), French (11,500), German (9,200), Dutch (6,950), Belgian (4,800), Danish (4,800)) and also from the local Jewish community, but also included communists, homosexuals, prostitutes, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, prisoners of war and many other persecuted groups. Of 106,000 inmates, almost half died. 20,400 victims, listed by name on the camp memorial Neuengamme, died in the camp and the subcamps. In actuality, an estimated 26,800 victims are known to have died there. During the last days of the camp and “evacuation” about 17,000 people died. At least 42,900 victims can be verified.
More than 80 subcamps were part of the Neuengamme concentration camp. First in 1942, inmates of Neuengamme were transported to the camp Arbeitsdorf. The dimensions of the camps differed from about 2,000 inmates to 10 or less. Several of these subcamps have memorials or at least plates, but as of 2000 at 28 locations there is nothing. Dr. Garbe, from the Memorial Museum of the Neuengamme concentration camp, wrote, "The importance of the satellite camps is further highlighted by the fact that toward the ends of the war three times more prisoners were in satellite camps than in the main camp."
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by Nazi Germany. The Germans built four Neuengamme subcamps on Alderney Island—the Alderney concentration camps—and named them after the Frisian Islands: Lager Norderney, Lager Borkum, Lager Sylt and Lager Helgoland. The Nazi Organisation Todt operated each subcamp and used forced labour to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. The Alderney concentration camps had a total inmate population of about 6,000.
Norderney camp housed European (usually Eastern but including Spaniard) and Russian enforced labourers. The prisoners in Lager Norderney and Lager Sylt were slave labourers forced to build the many military fortifications and installations throughout Alderney. Sylt camp held Jewish enforced labourers and was a death camp. Lager Borkum was used for German technicians and volunteers from different countries of Europe. Lager Helgoland was filled with Russian Organisation Todt workers.
In 1942, Lager Norderney, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Lager Sylt, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS Hauptsturmführer Max List. Over 700 of the inmates lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944.
Erich Frommhagen SS from May 1933 (ID No. 73754). In early 1940 he became adjutant to the commander of the camp in Neuengamme. He was killed in action March 17, 1945.
Female guards were trained at Neuengamme and assigned to one of its female subcamps. There were no SS women stationed at Neuengamme permanently. Many of these women are known by name, including Kaethe Becker, Erna Dickmann, Johanna Freund, Angelika Grass, Kommandoführerin Loni Gutzeit (who also served at Hamburg-Wandsbek and was nicknamed "The Dragon of Wandsbek" by the prisoners), Gertrud Heise, Frieda Ignatowitz, Gertrud Moeller, who also served at Boizenburg subcamp, Lotte Johanna Radtke, chief wardress Annemie von der Huelst, Inge Marga Marggot Weber. Many of the women were later dispersed to female subcamps throughout northern Germany. Today it is known that female guards staffed the subcamps of Neuengamme at Boizenburg, Braunschweig SS-Reitschule, Hamburg-Sasel, Hamburg-Wandsbek, Helmstedt-Beendorf, Langenhorn, Neugraben, Obernheide, Salzwedel, and Unterluss (Vuterluss). Only a few have been tried for war crimes including Anneliese Kohlmann, who served as one of six women-guards at Neugraben; and Gertrud Heise, Oberaufseherin at Obernheide.
Alfred Trzebinski (1902 – 1946) was an SS-physician, sentenced to death and executed for his involvement in war crimes committed at the Neuengamme subcamps.
As an independent concentration camp from June 1940 the following were camp commanders:
Following the end of the war, the camp was initially used as a Russian DP (Displaced persons) Camp, German prisoners of war were held separately. After June 1945 the camp was used by the British forces as an internment camp for SS members and Nazi officials.
Following guilty verdicts given in the Neuengamme War Trials, on 8 October 1946 British executioner Albert Pierrepoint hanged the following 11 people at Hamelin Prison for war crimes perpetrated at Neuengamme concentration camp during the war: Max Pauly, SS Dr Bruno Kitt, Anton Thumann, Johann Reese, Willy Warnke, SS Dr Alfred Trzebinski, Heinrich Ruge, Wilhem Bahr, Andreas Brems, Wilhelm Dreimann, and Adolf Speck.
Others convicted of crimes committed at Neuengamme received varying terms of imprisonment.
The Civil Internment Camp No. 6 was closed on 13 August 1948. Since 1948 the city of Hamburg used the camp as a prison. Several original buildings of the camp continued to serve as locations in this prison (for example Building Number 9), until February 2006. Since the demolition of the new-build structures in 2007 the whole area is used as a memorial.
The KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme (Neuengamme memorial site) is located at Jean-Dolidier-Weg 73 in Bergedorf. A first memorial was erected in 1953 on the site of the former camp garden. It was expanded in 1965, and a "document house" was added in 1981. In 1989, the Hamburg Senate decided that the prisons erected in 1950 and 1970 on the camp site should be relocated. The older one was closed in 2003, the newer in 2006. In 2005 a new memorial site and museum were opened. Since 1985, there are also memorials at the subcamps Fuhlsbüttel and Sasel, and in the Bullenhuser Damm school, where a number of children were murdered after being subjected to medical experiments.
The first of these is a memorial to the murder of 20 children from the Auschwitz concentration camp who had been taken to the main camp at Neuengamme and abused for medical experiments. On April 20, 1945, only weeks before the war was over, they were killed at the Bullenhuser Damm school in Hamburg to cover up that crime. The second is an outpost of Neuengamme concentration camp in Hamburg-Sasel where Jewish women from the Łódź Ghetto in Poland were forced to do construction work. The third one is located inside the gatehouse of the Fuhlsbüttel penitentiary. Parts of this complex served as concentration camp for communists, opponents of the regime and many other groups. About 450 inmates were murdered here during the Nazi reign.
Due to the demolition of the Neuengamme camp and its records by the SS in 1945 and the transportation of inmates to other subcamps or other working locations, the historical work is difficult and ongoing. For example: in 1967 the German Federal Ministry of Justice stated the camp existed from September 1, 1938 until May 5, 1945. In 2008, the organisation of the Neuengamme memorial site (German: KZ-Gedenkstätte Neuengamme)—an establishment of the Hamburg Ministry of Culture, Sports and Media—stated that the empty camp was explored by British forces on May 2, 1945 and the last inmates were liberated in Flensburg on May 10, 1945. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stated that the camp was established on December 13, 1938 and liberated on May 4, 1945.
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