|German Nazi concentration and extermination camp (1941-1944)|
Natzweiler-Struthof Camp entrance
Monument to the Departed in background
|Known for||Nacht und Nebel resistance fighters, Jewish skeleton collection|
|Operated by||the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS)|
|Commandant||Josef Kramer, Heinrich Schwarz|
|First built||Hans Hüttig
|Operational||May 1941 - September 1944|
|Number of gas chambers||one from April 1943|
|Inmates||mainly resistance fighters from overrun European nations|
|Number of inmates||52,000 estimated|
|Liberated by||USA troops, November 23, 1944, first camp liberated|
|Notable inmates||Boris Pahor, Trygve Bratteli, Henri Gayot, Charles Delestraint, Per Jacobsen, Asbjørn Halvorsen, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel, Sonya Olschanezky|
|Notable books||Necropolis, The Names of the Numbers|
Natzweiler-Struthof was a German-run 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 (31 mi) 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 Elsass-Lothringen area in which it was established was administered by Germany as an integral part of the German Reich. The camp operated from May 21, 1941 to early September 1944 with prisoners. A small staff of Nazi SS remained, found when the camp was liberated by US soldiers on November 23, 1944, the first camp to be liberated.
About 52,000 prisoners were estimated to be held there in its time of operation. The prisoners were mainly taken from the resistance movements in overrun European nations. It was a labor camp, transit camp and as the war went on, a place of execution. Some died from the exertions of the labor and the poor food. There were 4,431 documented deaths at the camp. Many prisoners were moved to other camps; in particular, the former head of Auschwitz concentration camp was brought in 1944 to evacuate the prisoners of Natzweiler-Struthof to Dachau as the Allied Armies neared in 1944. Nazi Dr. Hirt conducted some of his efforts in making a Jewish skeleton collection in this camp. A documentary movie has been made about the 86 named men and women who were killed there for that project. Some of the people responsible for atrocities in this camp came to trial after the war ended.
The camp is preserved as a museum in memory of those held or killed there. European Centre of Deported Resistance Members is located at this museum, focusing on those held at this camp. The Monument to the Departed stands tall at the site. The present museum was restored in 1980, after damage by neo-Nazis in 1976. Among other notable prisoners, the writer Boris Pahor was interned in Natzweiler-Struthof and wrote his novel Necropolis based on this experience.
Natzweiler-Struthof operated between 21 May 1941 and the beginning of September 1944, when the SS evacuated the camp to Dachau. Its construction was overseen by Hans Hüttig in the spring of 1941. The camp was evacuated and its surviving prisoners sent on a "Death march" on early September 1944 with only a small SS unit keeping the camp's operations. On 23 November 1944, this camp with its small staff was the first concentration camp in Western Europe discovered and liberated by American Allies, on the same day they reached Strasbourg. For the system of subcamps see List of subcamps of Natzweiler-Struthof.
Initial focus and later actions
The total number of prisoners reached 52,000 over the three years, of 32 nationalities. Inmates originated from various countries, including Poland, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, France, Germany, modern day Slovenia and Norway. The camp was specially set up for Nacht und Nebel prisoners, in most cases people of the resistance movements. It was labor camp and a transit camp, as many prisoners were sent to other Nazi concentration camps before the final evacuation. As the war continued, it became a death camp as well. Some people died from the exertions of the work they had to do, while poorly fed.
The camp also held a crematorium and a jury rigged gas chamber outside the main camp, which was not used for mass extermination but for selective extermination, as part of the human experimentation programs, in particular on the problems of fighting a war, like typhus among the troops.
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. 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.
The camp became a war zone in late summer 1944, and was evacuated in early September 1944. In preparation, as it were, for the evacuation, 141 prisoners were shot to death on August 31 - September 1, 1944. The 70th anniversary of this execution of those who resisted Nazi occupation was commemorated at the museum in 2014.
Inmates included the Norwegian resisters Per Jacobsen who died there, Tor Njaa en route, the famous footballer Asbjørn Halvorsen, Trygve Bratteli, later the prime minister, Alf Grindrud, Niels-Henrik Kolderup, Arne Brun Lie who later in life moved to the US, Kristian Ottosen, Haakon Sørbye, an engineer, and Hans Cappelen, who survived to write a memoir and testify in the Nuremberg trials. Polish Leon Weintraub was in the camp, age 18, as one of a string of Nazi camps until he escaped from a train to a town in the Black Forest just as the Allied Armies liberated it. In his 50s, Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma joined the Belgian Army and was taken in Vichy France as a Nicht und Nebel prisoner, sent here, then to Dachau and then to Niederdorf, from which he was liberated. Four female British SOE agents were executed together on 6 July 1944: Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky. Brian Stonehouse and Albert Guérisse (Belgian who escaped to the UK) of the British SOE witnessed the arrival, execution and cremation of the four female SOE agents; both men testified to the executions of the four women in post-war trials, and Stonehouse later sketched them. They were sent to Dachau, where they were liberated. Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski came from Auschwitz and was held here briefly, and then sent to Dachau, where he was liberated.
Charles Delestraint, leader of the Armée Secrète, was detained at Natzweiler-Struthof, then was executed by the Gestapo in Dachau days before that camp was liberated and the war ended. Henri Gayot a member of the French Resistance who was interred at Struthof between April and September 1944, documented his ordeal in drawings which are now in the Struthof Concentration Camp Museum.
Two British 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-Struthof.
Hans Hüttig was the first commandant, overseeing construction. After the war Hüttig was in Allied internment. He was sentenced to death on July 2, 1954 by a French military court in Metz, but the death sentence was not enforced. In 1956, he was released from detention after eleven years.
On 1 July 1944, SS Untersturmfuehrer Heinrich Wicker was transferred to KZ Natzweiler-Struthof, becoming an administrator there. Wicker was the newly arrived commandant of Dachau on April 29, 1945 when the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions of the US Army liberated it; he was killed on the spot. Josef Kramer, a former commandant of the camp during the time of the Jewish skeleton collection project, was executed for his crimes, including the murder of Jews in the gas chamber here. After his time running Auschwitz concentration camp, Heinrich Schwarz was appointed commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof, where he oversaw the evacuation of the camp's inmates to Dachau, leaving a small staff to be discovered by American Allied troops on 23 November 1944, the first concentration camp found. Following the German defeat, French occupation authorities in Rastatt convicted Schwarz of war crimes. He was sentenced to death and subsequently shot by a firing squad near Baden-Baden on 20 March 1947.
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 Übermenschen ("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 who was responsible for procuring and preparing the corpses as part of his management of the Ahnenerbe (the National Socialist scientific institute that researched the archaeological and cultural history of the hypothesized Aryan race).
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 for study. 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 at Natzweiler-Struthof.
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 not yet 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." And so it was left, as the camp was evacuated in September 1944, and the human remains were left at a room in the University of Strasbourg.
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 and the anatomist Anton Kiesselbach.
For many years only a single victim, Menachem Taffel (prisoner no. 107969), a Polish born Jew who had been living in Berlin, was positively identified through the efforts of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. In 2003 Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang, a German professor at the University of Tübingen succeeded in identifying all the victims, by comparing a list of inmate numbers of the 86 corpses at the University in Strasbourg, surreptitiously recorded by Hirt's French assistant Henri Henrypierre, with a list of numbers of inmates vaccinated at Auschwitz. The names and biographical information of the victims were published in the book Die Namen der Nummern (The Names of the Numbers). Rachel Gordon and Joachim Zepelin translated the Introduction to the book to English, at the web site where the whole book, including the biographies of the 86 people, is posted in German. Lang recounts in detail the story of how he determined the identities of the 86 victims gassed for Dr. August Hirt's project of the Jewish skeleton collection.
In 1951 the remains of the 86 victims were reinterred in one location in the Cronenbourg-Strasbourg Jewish Cemetery. On December 11, 2005, memorial stones engraved with the names of the 86 victims were placed at the cemetery. One is at the site of the mass grave, the other along the wall of the cemetery. Another plaque honoring the victims was placed outside the Anatomy Institute at Strasbourg's University Hospital.
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:
- Franz Berg: death sentence (executed)
- Kurt Geigling: 10 years imprisonment
- Fritz Hartjenstein (commandant): death sentence (died before sentence was carried out)
- Josef Muth: 15 years imprisonment
- Peter Straub: death sentence (executed)
- Magnus Wochner: 10 years imprisonment
- Heinrich Schwarz: execution by firing squad
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, museum and monument
During the night of 12–13 May 1976, neo-Nazis burned the camp museum, with the loss of important artifacts. Structures were rebuilt, placing the artifacts that survived the fire as they were found originally. The reconstructed camp museum was officially opened on 29 June 1980. The European Centre of Deported Resistance Members, a new structure at the site, opened in November 2005, and at the same time, the museum was entirely redesigned to focus solely on the history of Natzweiler concentration camp and its subcamps.
A documentary film was shown in 2014 about the 86 who were murdered in the camp and whose remains were later identified by name, as described above in The Jewish skeleton collection section. The film "The names of the 86" (French: Le nom des 86) was directed by Emmanuel Heyd and Raphael Toledano (Dora Films, 2014, FR). The DVD is in French. DVDs subtitled in English and German are planned for February 2015 release.
- "Introduction to the history of the camp | STRUTHOF". Struthof.fr. Retrieved 2013-01-10.
- Buonasorte, Alvezio (September 1, 2014). "Struthof: Commémoration des exécutions de 141 résistants" [Commemoration of the executions of 141 resistance fighters at Struthof] (in French). Natzwiler, France: l'Alsace. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
- Thompson, David (2002). "Huettig, Hans". A Biographical Dictionary of War Crimes Proceedings, Collaboration Trials and Similar Proceedings Involving France in World War II. Grace Dangberg Foundation, Inc. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- "Natzweiler-Struthof: story, pictures and information". Fold3.com. Retrieved 2013-08-05.
- Walter J. Boyne (August 26, 2004). Today's Best Military Writing: The Finest Articles on the Past, Present, and Future of the U.S. Military (first ed.). Forge Books. ISBN 0-7653-0887-8.
- Rachel Gordon, translator; Joachim Zepelin, translator (2007). "Die Namen Der Nummern". Berlin. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Mitscherlich, Fred Mielke: Medicine without humanity: documents of the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 216
- Hans-Joachim Lang (August 31, 2004). Die Namen der Nummern: Wie es gelang, die 86 Opfer eines NS-Verbrechens zu identifizieren [The names of the numbers: How it was possible to identify the 86 victims of a Nazi crime] (in German) (hardback ed.). Hoffmann + Campe Vlg GmbH. ISBN 3-455-09464-3.
- Andrews, Allan. Exemplary Justice
- "The KL-Natzweiler museum". Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "Le Nom des 86" [The Names of the 86]. Dora Films. 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- "Le Nom des 86, DVD" [The Names of the 86, DVD]. Dora Films. 2014. Retrieved 30 January 2015.
- Inmate accounts include
- Bakels, Floris, Nacht und Nebel; mijn verhaal uit Duitse gevangenissen en concentratiekampen, Elsevier, 1977, ISBN 90-435-0366-5
- Bratteli, Trygve (1995) . Fange i natt og tåke (in Norwegian) (2nd ed.). Oslo: Tiden. ISBN 82-10-03172-4., memoirs of the former prime minister of Norway
- Harthoorn, Willem Lodewijk, Verboden te sterven, Van Gruting, 2007, ISBN 978-90-75879-37-7
- Ottosen, Kristian (1995) . Natt og tåke - Historien om Natzweiler-fangene (in Norwegian) (2nd ed.). Oslo: Aschehoug. ISBN 82-03-26076-4., written as an historical account by a former inmate, based on interviews and research
- Pahor, Boris, Necropolis, 1967
- Piersma, Hinke, Doodstraf op termijn 2006, Walburg Pers, ISBN 90-5730-442-2
- Recent research identified the 86 people
- Lang, Hans-Joachim, 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp.|
- Struthof official site
- Natzweiler: German Concentration Camp near the French Border
- Die Namen der Nummern
- Independent researcher Diana Mara Henry's site
- Hans-Joachim Lang
- KLNA Survivor Joseph Scheinmann Aka Andre Peuleve's memoirs
- Images by Henri Guyot
- History of the Natzweiler-Struthof Camp by Roger Boulanger, camp survivor (in French)