#otd1945

The Final Months of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camps

Starting in January, the blog #otd1945 (“on this day 1945”) will take a day-by-day look at what was going on in the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora concentration camps 76 years ago.

In early 1945, many concentration camp inmates hoped liberation was well on its way. They knew it was merely a matter of time before Germany lost the war. But the killing in the camps and the forced labour venues did not let up. On the contrary, it escalated.

The situations of the German public and the concentration camp inmates could hardly have been more different. Whereas the former carried on, joined in, or simply looked the other way, the latter struggled for sheer survival under the disastrous conditions in the overcrowded camps.

The mass deaths did not end with the liberation of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora camps on 11 April. Many of the inmates who had been forced to set out on death marches remained in captivity until the German surrender on 8 May. And even afterwards, inmates continued to die of the consequences of concentration camp imprisonment.

  • 04March

    Before His Father’s Eyes

    Karol Frim was only 19 years old when he died in the Buchenwald Little Camp on 4 March 1945. He and his father Leon had survived the Przemyśl ghetto, various labour camps, Auschwitz, and the death march from Gross-Rosen to Buchenwald. In the Little Camp, everything was scarce.

  • 03March

    Kin Liability

    On 3 March 1945, forty inmates arrived at Buchenwald. Referred to as “Sippe” (“kin”), they were lodged in an isolation barrack near the SS caserns. By order of the Nazi leadership, they were to atone for the participation of their family members in the 20 July 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life.

  • 02March

    More and More Dead: A Crematorium for Ellrich

    On 1 March 1945, the SS transferred 75 corpses from the Ellrich-Juliushütte subcamp to the Dora parent camp for incineration. It was to be the last such transport. The Dora crematorium could no longer meet the demand. Presumably on 2 March 1945, a new crematorium went into operation in Ellrich Juliushütte.

  • 01March

    The “Block of Death”

    On 1 March 1945, 229 persons died in the Buchenwald concentration camp and its subcamps. Block 61 in the Little Camp alone counted 135 dead. The inmates called it the “Block of Death”. It served as a sick ward. In January 1945 it became the scene of a murder operation.

  • “Dear Mum, we’re hungry …”

    The brothers Hans and Ernst Siegel reached the Mittelbau concentration camp in early 1945 on one of the murderous transports from Auschwitz. After their arrival, the two young men from Barmen found themselves living in disastrous conditions.

  • March Down
  • 28February

    Propaganda

    On 28 February 1945, the Reich propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gave one of his last radio addresses. At Ellrich-Juliushütte, a Mittelbau-Dora subcamp, the concentration camp guard Rudolf Zseby was listening.

  • 27February

    White Busses to Freedom

    On 27 February 1945, the Buchenwald SS had a list drawn up. It contained the names of 471 Norwegians and 75 Danes.

  • 26February

    Nursery Rhymes from Buchenwald

    A child’s perspective on an inhumane world: it was a boy who recorded his experiences in rhymes and drawings in this makeshift booklet.

  • 25February

    “With the utmost trust in God…”

    Ignacy Ledóchowski was 73 years old when he was sent from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp to Mittelbau-Dora on a clearance transport in February 1945. After months of hardship, it would be his last journey. He did not survive his time at the camp outside Nordhausen.

  • 24February

    “Re.: Detachments with Jewish inmates”

    On 24 February 1945, as he had done regularly for months, the SS labour allocation officer had a list drawn up under this heading. Wherever possible, the SS continued to insist on the separation of Jews and non-Jews, also in the subcamps.

  • 23February

    Refusal

    In the fall of 1944, the Nazi regime raised a national militia called the Volkssturm. All men between 16 and 60 not yet conscripted to army service were now to be mobilized for war as a last reserve. The coal miner Johann Rasch of Bottrop, however, refused to go along.

  • 22February

    Profiteurs

    After an Allied bomb attack, the city of Nordhausen requested inmates from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp for rescue and clean-up operations. On 22 February 1945, 389 inmates had to march the five kilometres to the town and carry out the dangerous and exhausting work.

  • 21February

    Beaten to Death by the Kapo

    On the early morning of 21 February 1945, the Pole Alfred Zarejski was admitted to the Dora camp infirmary with severe abdominal pain. He died of internal bleeding five hours later. An autopsy revealed a ruptured spleen.

  • 20February

    “Cause of death: total exhaustion”

    “Departure through death” is the heading on the death certificate of the Frenchman François Audran, who perished in the Elrich-Juliushütte subcamp of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp on 20 February 1945. He had been transferred to the Harz Mountains from Rechlin, a Ravensbrück subcamp, just a week earlier.

  • 19February

    Rubble Men

    On 19 February 1945, the Gauleiter of Thuringia proclaimed: “And we shall prevail!” in an attempt to boost the public morale. The same day, the municipal building office had 1,051 concentration camp inmates brought from Buchenwald to Weimar. There they were put to work in the most dangerous of operations.

  • 18February

    “Malachit” – Gruelling Construction Work in the tunnel

    On 18 February 1945, 135 Jewish inmates arrived in the Langenstein-Zwieberge subcamp of Buchenwald. In an operation with the code name “Malachit”, the SS were having a tunnel system constructed there in the Thekenberge, a chain of hills in the Harz Mountains.

  • 17February

    Fateless

    For those who pulled him out from among the corpses, he was a nameless boy. A medical orderly carried him up to the middle floor of the depot building in Buchenwald, where he got something to eat. Another orderly appeared and carried him off to an infirmary barrack in the “Little Camp”.

  • 16February

    “Desertion”

    On 16 February 1945, six so-called temporary detainees were committed to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. They were Wehrmacht deserters who were to serve their actual sentences after the war. Their varied fates testify to the despotic nature of Nazi terror in the final months of the war.

  • 15February

    “Pig-Face Anne”

    On 15 February 1945, there were 26,000 women and girls in the 26 Buchenwald women’s subcamps. They were guarded and harassed by 319 SS men and 567 women overseers.

  • 14February

    “Aiding and abetting his mother’s attempted escape”

    More than 700 persons died in the Ohrdruf subcamp in February alone. Their corpses were buried or burnt to ash in the open air. One of those to remain without a grave was the 30-year-old motorist Walter Roth of Kronberg, who died on 14 February 1945.

  • 13February

    Through the Middle of Town

    Marching gangs of concentration camp inmates had already long been a common sight in the Ruhr town of Witten-Annen. The SS had set up a Buchenwald subcamp there for the Ruhrstahl AG company in September 1944.

  • 12February

    “Shot trying to escape”

    Bernhard Lüdtke was one of more than 200 inmates of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp categorized as homosexual. He lived to be only 31 years old. According to SS records, he was brought in dead to the Harzungen subcamp infirmary on 12 February 1945.

  • 11February

    Big Politics

    In Yalta, a Soviet bathing resort on the Crimean Peninsula, the heads of government of the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom gathered for a closing group photo. Over the previous eight days, the “Big Three” had forged their anti-Hitler coalition plans for the period after victory over Nazi Germany.

  • 10February

    Secret Notes

    Alex Hacker recorded the events of his concentration camp imprisonment in a secret notebook. In Dora on 10 February 1945, he made a special entry: “And here I will enter the date when I see my dear and beloved mother and my father once again in health.”

  • 09February

    Air Raid

    On 9 February 1945, the U.S. Air Force attacked the armaments works to the north of Weimar. Yet hundreds of people also died in the town.

  • 08February

    An Escape from Everyday Life in the Camp

    Drawing gave the young Maria Brzęcka of Poland an escape from the agonizing realities of life in the Meuselwitz subcamp. Violence, vermin, hunger and forced labour to the point of exhaustion – the living conditions in the Buchenwald women’s camp were horrible.

  • 07February

    “By good forces wonderfully sheltered …”

    Thus begins the final verse of a poem the theologian Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent to his fiancée from the Gestapo prison in Berlin. It would be his last letter. On 7 February 1945, the Gestapo transferred him and eleven other prisoners to Buchenwald.

  • 06February

    Worked to Death

    On 6 February 1945, the officer in charge of the Harzungen subcamp reported the deaths of Eduard Florian, Mathis Dambrowski and Josef Herzenberger to Dora, the parent camp of the Mittelbau concentration camp. They had died of the consequences of forced labour, hunger, cold, miserable hygiene conditions and insufficient medical care.

  • 05February

    In “night and fog”

    On this day, 285 men reached Buchenwald from the Gross-Strehlitz penitentiary in Silesia after its clearance. In many cases, their relatives had had no sign of life from them for years. The German occupiers had deported them in “night and fog”, as it was called in Nazi jargon.

  • 04February

    “… a bit of freedom”

    The journalist Josef Ackermann of Munich had already been in concentration camp custody for more than five years, first in Buchenwald and since January 1944 in Dora. The Gestapo had arrested him when the war broke out.

  • 03February

    A “Righteous Among the Nations”

    On this day, the 63-year-old Maurice Trélut, a Frenchman, died in the Little Camp of Buchenwald. He had spent the last months of his life here in the camp slum, surrounded by filth, stench, disease and mass death.

  • 02February

    Carrying On

    By this winter, few Germans still believed in the “final victory” propagated by the Nazis. Although a defeatist mood had taken hold, there was neither any appreciable resistance nor any slump in armaments production.

  • 01February

    A New Commander from Auschwitz

    On 1 February 1945, the 33-year-old Richard Baer became the new commander of the Mittelbau concentration camp. He had come to the Southern Harz Mountains at the end of January along with thousands of inmates, hundreds of other members of the SS and the entire general staff of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

  • Up February Down
  • 31January

    Last Deportations

    On 31 January, the Gestapo deported 172 of the last Jews still in Germany from Weimar and other cities to the Terezín Ghetto.

  • 30January

    “… to the last breath!”

    On 30 January 1945, the 12th anniversary of the National Socialist accession to power, the Nordhausen chapter of the Nazi party staged a rally in the Riesenhaus, a city landmark.

  • 29January

    Murder as a Deterrent

    On 29 January 1945, the SS put Pēteris Zunters in custody in the Buchenwald detention cell building. The following day they hanged him and eight other inmates from the Langensalza subcamp in the crematorium cellar.

  • 28January

    From Auschwitz to the Harz Mountains

    The Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp received its first major clearance transport from Auschwitz, carrying some 4,000 inmates, on 28 January.

  • 27January

    His Father’s Death

    He had talked to his son Bertrand just the night before – like he had every night since he had been in the infirmary. Now Willy Herz was at the end of his strength.

  • 26January

    Death on the Train

    On 26 January, a train with dozens of open freight wagons brought nearly 4,000 inmates, primarily Jewish men and boys, to Buchenwald from Auschwitz.

  • 25January

    121 649 26 03 25 15 323

    On 25 January, SS headquarters in Berlin sent a ten-page list containing 850 numerical codes – the first of its kind – to Buchenwald.

  • 24January

    Desperation and Delusions of Grandeur

    In the week ending on 24 January 1945, shots of the V2 rocket flickered across Germany’s cinema screens on the Deutsche Wochenschau newsreel.

  • 23January

    Unexpected Help

    On 23 January 1945, after arriving in Buchenwald from Auschwitz, the 16-year-old Jewish inmate Robert Büchler experienced a hitherto unknown act of solidarity.

  • 22January

    Hanged in His Cell

    On the night of 22 January 1945, the Communist Albert Kuntz died in the Mittelbau-Dora detention cell building.

  • 21January

    From Wehrmacht Soldier to Concentration Camp Guard

    In 1944, the demand for guard personnel grew as the SS founded more and more new subcamps. To fill the gap, large numbers of Wehrmacht soldiers were assigned to duty in the concentration camps.

  • 20January

    Vermouth and Cigars with the Forced Labour Manager

    Even in the final months of the war, the Nazis continued planning the deployment of concentration camp inmates to the rocket assembly effort.

  • 19January

    Sunrise

    The inmates in the Holzen subcamp followed the Allied advance with a mixture of hope and anxiety.

  • 18January

    Children’s Block 66

    “So that is what my new home looked like.” With those words, 16-year-old Salek Orenstein concluded his description of his lodgings in the Little Camp of Buchenwald.

  • 17January

    The Last Letter

    Just a week earlier, a police officer in Cologne had raised Theodor Babilon’s hopes of being released. Those hopes were dashed.

  • 16January

    Frostbite on Their Hands and Feet

    On this evening, the thermometer registered -8 °C (17 °F); it had been bitterly cold for weeks. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 women from the Markkleeberg subcamp set off for their twelve-hour shift in the Junkers factory.

  • 15January

    A Prisoner of War in the Concentration Camp

    On 15 January, the Mittelbau concentration camp SS founded a new subcamp in Wickerode, a village in what is now Saxony-Anhalt. There they put 30 Italian prisoners of war to work laying a gas line.

  • 14January

    Jazz in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp

    On this Sunday, the daily Buchenwald statistics recorded nearly 89,000 inmates. Thousands waited in quarantine or lay mortally ill in the makeshift infirmaries; 71 died.

  • 13January

    “Like a desert storm …”

    Even the inmates in the Ellrich-Juliushütte subcamp learned of the Red Army’s rapid advance. After the war, Serge Miller, a member of the French resistance, remembered 13 January 1945 as a day of hope.

  • 12January

    “Invalid Transport”

    On 12 January 1945, 1,400 completely enfeebled inmates arrived at the Buchenwald station in the driving sleet. Nearly half of them were Hungarian Jews; 165 had died on the way.

  • 11January

    From the Front to the Concentration Camp

    “For assignment to heavy and dangerous labour […]” That is how an information bulletin for the German field army courts referred to the committal of convicted Wehrmacht soldiers to concentration camps in September 1944.

  • 10January

    The Women of Penig

    The Max Gehrt Works in Penig had already been requesting concentration camp inmate labourers for some time. On 10 January, the SS responded by sending a transport of 700 female forced labourers from Ravensbrück to the new Buchenwald subcamp in the small Saxon town.

  • 09January

    A New Concentration Camp in the Middle of the Village

    The network of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp outside Nordhausen gradually spread to the surrounding communities.

  • 08January

    A Microcosm of Nazi Camp Terror

    During the war, people from all over Europe were deported to Germany to perform forced labour. The Mittelbau-Dora subcamp founded on 8 January is a representative example of how the deadly system of various camp types operated.

  • 07January

    Sunday in Schlieben

    On this Sunday, more than 2,300 inmates of the Schlieben subcamp – men and women – went to work in the munitions factory. It was here, far outside the target range of the Allied bombers, that the Hugo Schneider company (Hasag) manufactured the Panzerfaust, the anti-tank weapon for the “final battle”. The aim was to produce one million a month, cost what it may.

  • 06January

    A “Hero of the Soviet Union” Dies in Buchenwald

    On 6 January, the camp administration registered the death of the 28-year-old Soviet prisoner of war Gawriil Lepjochin. A few months later, much to their astonishment, some of his fellow inmates encountered him alive.

  • 05January

    Children’s Transport

    One day in Buchenwald the order went out to assemble a children’s transport. Fearing the children would be sent to their deaths, the inmate functionaries tried to keep the number as small as possible. They had no means of preventing the transport altogether.

  • 04January

    Back to Auschwitz

    On 4 January 1945, two women left the Buchenwald subcamp in Hessisch-Lichtenau accompanied by a member of the SS. Their destination was Auschwitz-Birkenau.

  • 03January

    “Recruited for Labour Off the Street”

    The eighteen-year-old René d’Halluin of France died in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp on 3 January 1945.

  • 02January

    Help for a Sixteen-Year-Old

    In the “Hecht” subcamp in Holzen, the French inmate Camille Delétang drew a portrait of his fellow prisoner Jean-Louis Netter.

  • 01January

    “Life is beautiful”

    New Year’s Day 1945. For the Buchenwald inmate Jean-Louis Guellerin it was a day of hope – hope for an end to the war, a life in freedom and a return home.

  • Up January