1944 - THE LAST MONTHS OF NATZWEILER KZ
Between January 5th and 31st of August 1944 23,199 prisoners were registered in Natzweiler, of which 9,800 had already been there in August. In March of that year they opened other satellite camps on both sides of the river Rhine, namely: Markirch , Cochem, Wesserling, Sennheim, Frommern, Neckarelz, Leonberg, Erzingen, Thil, Ebingen, Geislingen and Vaihingen . With Thil, existed even a camp in occupied France.
In September 1944 there were in total 18,151 prisoners, of which 2,398 were Jewish women interned outside of the main camp. The majority of the new arrivals were transferred directly into the satellite camps without having undergone any type of screening at the Main Camp (Srammlager) as it had been the rule since 1943. They were , however, continued to be managed and registered by the main camp. These prisoners never saw or knew any activities in Natzweiler, with the exception of those referred to the infirmary and from there, either returned to the transit or satellite camps, or they were evacuated steadily in September 1944 to Dachau. Approximately 12,000 of the 18,000 prisoners who were detained in sub-camps, had never entered the main camp before its resolution.
In the first two months of the year only a few new prisoners were registered: 396 in January and 427 in February. All remained in the main camp , of which 309 were classified as NN prisoners that was a quarter of the newcomers. At the beginning of the year, a larger group of prisoners came from the Mosel region to Natzweiler. Between January and the end of August 566 prisoners were registered as subjects from Lothringen (Lorraine) and 145 as Elsässer (Alsations). Many of the prisoners from the Mosel region were previously interned in the Fortress Göben, which had been built by the Germans after 1871. The SS used the fortress as SS Sonderlager for Lorraine who were accused of belonging to the Resistance. Between October 1943 and the 17th August 1944, about 1,500 to 1,800 male and female Resistance Fighters (Widerstandskämpfer) were kept at the fortress and processed. Most of the prisoners came from Queuleu, they were members of the resistance group Mario, which had been founded in 1941 in Metz by Jean Burger .
|'The city of Magdeburg named a street in his honour as Jean Burger Street . In the neighbouring Lennéstraße a memorial stone was erected'.|
Charles Hoeffel, a Communist Party militant and member of the CGT railway workers' union, put Burgers into contact with Georges Wodli , a member of the Communist Party Central Committee. Wodli asked Burger to organize a Communist Resistance Brigade in the Moselle region. Burger organized the " Mario " resistance group, whose activities included the printing and distribution of leaflets , collection of arms, aid to prisoners and resisters, and sabotage . Three thousand men and women participated in the Mario group. The organization which integrated into the national resistance movement, that counted between 100,000-200,000 members or sympathisers and had contacts in Paris and Luxembourg. Activities included aid to German deserters and assistance for Soviet prisoners of war in camps in the Moselle region .
Massive arrests of resisters started in August 1943. The arrests were aided by information seized by the Gestapo in 1940 from the Direction centrale of renseignements généraux , the intelligence service of the French National Police. Jean Burger was arrested in Metz on 21st September 1943 by the Germans , who had set a trap for resisters. As a result, by the time American troops arrived in the area in 1944, the Mario group had practically ceased to exist.
After his arrest, Burger was tortured by the Gestapo, then moved to a military prison in Metz. From there he went to the Fort de Queuleu just outside of Metz , which was used as a detention and interrogation centre for members of the Resistance. In November 1944 he was sent to prisons in Mannheim and Wiesbaden, then to Dachau concentration camp, as American forces were closing in on Metz. Not long after arriving at Dachau, they moved him to the Auschwitz concentration camp . With the approach of Soviet forces , Burgers and a few other Marios members were marched to Gleiwitz in Silesia . Finally he was moved into an annex of the Dora concentration camp, he was mortally wounded during an American bombing raid on the factory complex. Weakened by pneumonia, in addition to his wounds, where he died .
By August 1944, most detainees had been transferred from the concentration camp Buchenwald , Sachsenhausen , Neuengamme , Mauthausen and Dachau to Natzweiler , after the 18th August the bulk of Transports came from France. The advance of the allied forces from the west and south led the German occupiers to relinquished the prisons and sent their inmates into other camps . These transports made up three-quarters of all new arrivals as from August and almost exclusively all of them were French (total of 1,472 - which meant 91.8 %). Other transports from France went after this directly to Dachau.
THE EVACUATION OF THE MAIN CAMP (SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER 1944)
In the second half of August 1944 , there was considerable unrest in the camp, the SS feared that the resistance groups would attack the camp from the Vosges Mountains. The prisoners were hoping for this who had contact with the Resistance outside the camp. Inside the camp a nucleus of resistance cells were built around communists and Gaullists adherers . They could since February 1944 rely on the German Communist prisoner Willy Behnke, who was imprisoned in Natzweiler since the 21st May, 1941 ( Number 6 ) , and had managed to take over the position of the camp elder. Another resistance group formed around General Delestraint , chief of the secret army in France , who was interned in the camp on the 10th March 1944. This group succeeded in 1944 , to contact a resident of Rothau, Madame Paulette Mainz, who benefited from the complicity with the 60-year-old security guard Albert Schienle . Albert Schienle was responsible for the commando 'Railway Station' that brought the food into the camp. He had the habit of eating with the prisoners of his commando at Paula's place. This created the opportunity to exchange information and receive letters. Schienle even managed to get the desired medication requested by the detainees doctors. Paula's brother worked at Bahnhof (railway station) of Straßburg, he was a member of the resistance group Maquis du Donon - which his sister did not know. With his help, he delivered a package with gingerbread to her, which in fact contained a detailed map of the region. The communist resistance in the camp hid the map in the ceiling of the prisoners' kitchen. But ultimately the escape attempt failed, which had been developed in collaboration with the Maquis group. [For resistance in the Stammlager, see : Stegmann, Struthof, page 365-368 , sic]
|The cemetery and memorial in Vassieux-en-Vercors where, in July 1944, German Wehrmacht forces executed more than 200, including women and children in reprisal for the Maquis's armed resistance. The town was later awarded the Ordre de la Libération'.|
Delestraint retired in 1939 but was recalled to service after the outbreak of World War II. During the Battle of France, on 3 June 1940, he led the armoured counter-attack against Germans in Abbeville.
After the surrender of France on 25 June, he retired to Bourg-en-Bresse where Henri Frenay recruited him for the French Resistance. Delestraint began to organize resistance cells in Lyon. He clandestinely visited Charles de Gaulle in London and agreed to lead the Armée Secrète. He returned to France on 24 March 1943. However, he was betrayed by the informant René Hardy, and was arrested by the Gestapo on 9th of June, interrogated by Klaus Barbie. He was taken as special prisoner (Nacht und Nebel) to Natzweiler-Struthof and then to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was executed on 19th April 1945, only a few days before the camp was liberated and the war ended.
|'Memorial plaque at the rue du Général-Delestraint, Paris 16e, France'|
During the Allied invasion of Normandy, the Maquis and other groups played some role in delaying the German mobilization. The French Resistance (FFI Forces Françaises de l'Interieur for "French Forces of the Interior") blew up rail road tracks and repeatedly attacked German Army equipment and garrison trains on their way to the Atlantic coast. Thanks to coded messages transmitted over the BBC radio, each Maquis group was alerted of the impending D-Day by listening for seemingly meaningless messages such as "the crow will sing three times in the morning" or any other pre-arranged messages read in a continuous flow over the British airwaves. As Allied troops advanced, the French Resistance rose against the Nazi occupation forces and their garrisons en masse. For example, Nancy Wake's group of 7,000 maquisards was involved in a pitched battle with 22,000 Germans on June 20, 1944. Some Maquis groups took no prisoners so some German soldiers preferred to surrender to Allied soldiers instead of facing maquisards.
The Allied offensive was slowed and the Germans were able to counter-attack in south-east of France. On the Vercors plateau, a Maquis group fought about 8,000 soldiers under General Karl Pflaum, a defector Generalleutenant of the Third Reich and was defeated with 600 casualties during the Battle of Vercors Plateau. When General De Gaulle dismissed the resistance organizations after the liberation of Paris, many maquisards returned to their homes. Many also joined the new French army to continue the fight.
|'Members of the Maquis in La Tresorerie'|
The preparations for the evacuation of the main camp took place in a very tense atmosphere . The prisoners were afraid of being executed at any moment. On the 1st of September 1944, the Commander Hartjenstein received from Oranienburg an order to evacuate the camp. On the same day the commander began proceedings to implement clearing the camp . Hartjenstein went to Karlsruhe to negotiate with the railroad authorities (Reichsbahn) the organization and method of transport . 2,000 prisoners who had already descended and assembled for the transport at the Rothau Railway Station had to be brought back to the camp , because although the wagons were ready , but the locomotive was missing. Thus, a first transport went off in the direction of Dachau later on during the night of September 2nd . Two other transports followed on the 4th of September . Overall, the SS had set 5,517 prisoners ready from Natzweiler to be taken to the Dachau concentration camp . For the route to Dachau the transport took two days . 13 prisoners did not survive these transports . Only twelve of the evacuated prisoners to Dachau had been detained at Natzweiler since 1941. 36 came in 1942 , 634 in 1943 . All others were taken to Natzweiler not until 1944 .
Since 1941, the origin of the prisoners in the concentration camp had greatly changed. At the beginning of the German occupants were in the majority, but they made at the end of only 7.2 % of the total, whereas the French (39.3 %) together with the Alsatians (0.82 %) and the inhabitants of the Moselle region ( 3.4 %) , formed the the majority ( 43.5 %). The prisoners from Western Europe , whose numbers increased sharply since 1943 , made up two-thirds of all inmates (63.2 %). The group of prisoners from Central - and Eastern Europe formed the second largest group ( 28.6 %). With the prisoners from Poland (13.6 %) and from the Soviet Union (12.2 %) were the strongest groups. Only one single Hungarian prisoner was in the main camp .
The categories of prisoners, that is: Political prisoners dominated and with that ruled others often without pity ( 62.23 %), NN prisoners comprised of (24%) during its existence of the camp and these proportion were almost constant until the end . The other groups were only a small minority : BV ( 1.78 %), anti-socials (2%) , Homosexuals (0.32 %) , Gypsies (0.21 %), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.05 %). Natzweiler was a camp for political prisoners and NN (Nacht und Nebel) detainees.
All prisoners from Natzweiler were registered at Dachau , but Natzweiler took over for some reason a fifth of the prisoners again . They were transferred to the next existing satellite camp at the right bank [ East side ] of the river Rhine . The SS moved most prisoners gradually from the left bank [ West side ] into the right-bank located sub-camps. In the main camp only 500 prisoners remained . On September 14th, eight and at the 19th September 401 prisoners left the camp in the direction of Dachau . At this time the camp was occupied by 3,000 men of the militia of Joseph Darnand who fled from Nancy in France to Sigmaringen in Germany. They stayed only about 14 days in the camp. The militia occupied the camp while the commandant was there . The commander Fritz Hatjestein remained on site, while all other administrative units had been evacuated and went to Dachau.
At the beginning of World War II, Darnand volunteered to join the French army and was commissioned a lieutenant. He served in the Maginot Line and was decorated for bravery. During the Phoney War he took part in several commando actions against German forces. He was captured in June 1940 but fled to Nice. He became a leading figure in the Vichy French organization Légion Francaise des combattants (French Legion of Veterans) and recruited troopers for the fight against Bolshevism.
The next year, he founded the collaborationist militia, Service d'ordre légionnaire (SOL), that supported Philippe Pétain and Vichy France. He offered his help against the French Resistance. On 1 January 1943 he transformed the organization into the Milice. Although Pierre Laval was its official president, Darnand was its de facto leader. Darnand's political convictions were of the far right but he was known as a Germanophobe: on three occasions he attempted to join the Resistance or flee to free French territory. Each attempt was rebuffed. The last overture to the Free French was made in July 1943.
After failing to join the Resistance, Darnand definitively turned to Nazi Germany and the next month was made an officer of the SS. Darnand's turn to the SS was also influenced by the fact that miliciens were being targeted for assassination by the Resistance but Vichy and Wehrmacht authorities refused to arm the Milice.
In joining the SS, Darnand took a personal oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, receiving a rank of Sturmführer (Lieutenant) in the Waffen SS in August 1943. In December 1943, he became head of police and later secretary of the interior. Joseph Darnand expanded the Milice and by 1944 it had over 35,000 members. The organization played an important role in investigating the French Resistance. After the Normandy Invasion and Allied advance, Darnand fled to Germany in September 1944 and joined Pétain's puppet government in Sigmaringen. He received a promotion to Sturmbannführer on 1 November 1944.
In April 1945, he had to flee from Sigmaringen to Meran in Northern Italy. He was captured by the British in Italy on 25 June 1945 and taken back to France, where he was sentenced to death on 3 October 1945 and executed by firing squad on 10 October 1945.
At the 11th or 17th November Hartjenstein left with his staff and managed the Natzweiler headquarters from a nearby town at Neckargerach at a village of Guttenbach . In Natzweiler remained only about 20 SS men and 16 German-speaking prisoners ( seven Luxembourger , one from Lorraine , seven Germans and an Austrian ) . On the 22nd of November, they left in a truck the Struthof Hotel , where they had last been interned to be transferred to Neckarelz . At the exit they had an accident with the truck and crashed, after being strafed by American Fighter Planes and six prisoners escaped (two German and four Luxembourger) . During the last months of the war the Natzweiler Concentration Camp no longer existed as a cohesive entity. It was spread out over different parts of that region. The main camp no longer existed as topography and the eponymous town in Alsace, but only as an administrative unit of the SS to continue to administrate the still existing sub-camps. The Commandant , his Car Services and Effect Department (Inmates belongings) were were domiciled over several places . Prisoners of the some satellite camps from Neckargerach and Neckarelz were used for relief work at the various locations.
In the village Guttenbach on the river Neckar, which was connected by a ferry with Nechargerach the actual Headquarters of the KZ was evacuated to this place from Alsace . This team was about 15 to 20 men strong and consisted of telegraph staff , telephone operators , typists together with the Adjutant . The SS car pool occupied from early December 1944 Neukirchen/Baden , removed about ten kilometres from Necharelz and five kilometres from Guttenbach and occupied several buildings : Garages for five or six trucks, the backyard of the electric business Breinig for maintenance and repairs, the cooking school for food preparation , as well as private housings for about twelve SS drivers was selected. As a further site for the evacuated Staff of the Commanders Office from Alsace the city Binau was chosen . In the attic of a local Manor House (Palace) large parts of the Effect Contents was stored here . A member of the command staff , reported that " Guttenbach at the the end of February or early March was cleared . The headquarters was moved to Stuttgart. From Stuttgart we went to Dürmendingen in Saulgau " . [ This place is actually spelled Dümentingen , HKS ]
[There are signs of human settlement in the area dating from the Bronze age. Binau is first mentioned in historical records in 769. The convent in Lorsch had many land holdings in Binau. The present-day palace stands on the site of an older one, which stood until the middle of the 18th century. Today it is used as a rest home. The church dates from the 14th century and was remodelled in 1926 and 1956.
The nearby Burg (Fortress) Dauchstein was built in 1150 as a toll station for the Hohenstaufen aristocracy. It lies about 1.5 km from the town.sic]
|'Schloss (Palace) Binau'|
On the 23rd November 1944 entered the first American soldiers of the 6th Army the vacated camp in Alsace. But the history of the camp went on, by still administrating and maintaining of its satellite camps . Until April 1945, the number of satellite camps and the prisoners rose . This was largely the result due to evacuation of Jewish prisoners from the north and easterly located concentration camps. Upon their arrival, they had the experience of a death march behind them. The men were mainly taken into the "desert camps" [means horrible condition, created due to the extraction of oil from shale deposits] thus= (Wüstenlager) Bisingen and Echterdingen or Hessental , while the women were placed into the shortly before September 1944 completed women's sub-camps of Calw, Geisenheim , Walldorf and Geislingen. Of the total 52,000 prisoners who passed through Natzweiler , 20% were Jews - men and women.
The death rate reached at this time its high point, with 10 % per month . The satellite camp Vaihingen became a deathbed . The death rate for some arrivals of these marches exceeded 80%.
In total 19,000 - 20,000 prisoners of the concentration camp Natzweiler had died, this would mean that 40% of all internees were no longer alive at the end of the war. Furthermore In the months after the evacuation of the main camp , the average survival rate of new arrivals did not last longer than three months.
Der Ort des Terrors Vol 6
Researcher/Author: Robert Steegmann
C.H.Beck oHG, München 2007
Institute for Research on Anti-Semitism-Berlin
Translated from German and French by:
Herbert Stolpmann, April 2014
HKS: My Initials, when expressing
my own opinion or other sources
[sic]:transcribed exactly as found
in the original source.
a)Cultural Department of the
Federal Republic of Germany
b)The Foreign Office of Germany
c)Alfred Krupp Foundation