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Dora - Mittelbau/Nordhausen

Concentration Camp





Dora – Mittelbau also known Dora-Nordhausen was a concentration camp in the Harz Mountains, three miles from Nordhausen, Saxony, in Germany.


The Lutherplatz in the town of Nordhausen

The Dora-Mittelbau camp was first mentioned on 27 August 1943 as an external unit of the Buchenwald concentration camp. On 28 October 1944 it became a major concentration camp in its own right, with twenty-three branches, most of them in the vicinity, inside a restricted military area.


Following Hitler's August 22 1943 order for SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to use concentration camp workers for A-4 production, 107 inmates arrived at Nordhausen from Buchenwald on August 28, 1943, followed by 1,223 on September 2. Workers from Peenemünde departed on October 13, 1943.


Originally called Block 17/3 Buchenwald, the SS administration ordered Dora to be politically separated from Buchenwald at the end of September 1944 and to become the center of Konzentrationslager Mittelbau (Concentration Camp Central Construction). In effect, the camp became operational on November 1, 1944 with 32,471 Mittelbau prisoners of many nationalities.


The SS used the Boelcke Kaserne, a former barracks in Nordhausen city, as a dumping ground for hopeless prisoner cases. Thousands of prisoners were transferred to Dora-Mittelbau, mostly from Buchenwald and they were put to work excavating underground tunnels that were to serve as the site of a huge plant for the manufacture of V-2 missiles and other arms.


The original plan of excavation and tunnelling provided for two long tunnels that would parallel through the mountain from north to south and be connected by forty-six smaller tunnels. By 1943 the government research firm WIFO had completed Tunnel B and had partially finished the Tunnel A opening on the northern side of the hill.


The project yielded an excellent site for underground rocket production in the two main tunnels – each 1,800 meters long and 12 and a half meters wide – and twenty-three connecting tunnels. The Germans used the main tunnels for rocket testing. Railroad tracks ran the length of the tunnel, with sufficient space remaining at the side for huge pieces of machinery. The Junkers company used the small northern section to manufacture airplane engines.


Until the plant was put into operation, in the late spring of 1944, the ten thousand prisoners working on the site had no living quarters and were housed inside the tunnels, under unbearable conditions, deprived of daylight and fresh air for weeks at a time. They had to work at a murderous pace, in twelve-hour shifts, in very unsanitary conditions and lack of security precautions led to a mortality rate much higher than that in any other concentration camp in Germany.


Tunnel - A One of the two parallel tunnels

Only after production began was a camp of wooden barracks constructed in Dora – Mittelbau, to which the prisoners were transferred in the summer of 1944. That autumn, when maximum production was attained in the camp, Dora-Mittelbau had a permanent prison population in the main camp of over twelve thousand, with another twenty thousand in the satellite camps.


When construction was completed and the plant went into operation, thousands of Jewish prisoners from various countries were brought to Dora-Mittelbau. They were treated with great brutality and were assigned the most physically exacting jobs, their mortality rate was higher than that of any other group of prisoners.


Jewish prisoners who were exhausted and could not keep pace with the work were sent to Auschwitz and Mauthausen, in special transports, to be killed there.


The first group of prisoners sent to Dora-Mittelbau from Buchenwald included several individuals who had been active in the underground organisation in that camp. Together with other groups of prisoners of various nationalities, they formed an underground while Dora- Mittelbau was still under construction, in order to sabotage the work and slow it down.


When production began in 1944, the sabotage operations were intensified, seriously damaging the manufacturing process and upsetting the timetable for the delivery of the weapons desperately needed by the Nazis, as the tide of war turned against them.


Although most of the prisoners were men, a few women were held in the Dora Mittelbau camp and in the Groß Werther subcamp. Only one woman guard is now known to have served in Dora, Lagerführerin Erna Petermann. Regardless of gender, all prisoners were treated with extreme cruelty, which caused illness, injuries and deaths.


Dead & dying prisoners found at Nordhausen

Examples of the cruelty routinely inflicted on prisoners include: severe beatings that could permanently disable and/or disfigure the victims, deliberate and life-threatening starvation, physical and mental torture as well as summary execution under the smallest pretext.


Large numbers of prisoners were jailed on charges of sabotage; many were killed during their interrogations or were subsequently executed. More than two hundred prisoners, including several of the underground leaders were hanged in public.


On 1 April 1945 the Nazis began the evacuation of the camp, within several days most of the prisoners had been taken out, with the majority transferred to Bergen-Belsen.



Thousands were murdered en-route, at one point near the village of Gardelegen, several thousand prisoners – mostly Jews – were crowded into a barn that was set on fire, burning them all to death.


Others succumbed to disease after they reached Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on the very eve of liberation. On 25 March 1945 Dora-Mittelbau and its satellites contained 34,500 prisoners.


The camp was liberated on 9 April 1945 by the American forces, who found only a handful of prisoners there. Between 7 August and 31 December 1947, an American Military Tribunal, which was independent of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, tried nineteen former staff members of the Dora- Mittelbau, fifteen were found guilty.



Sixteen of the nineteen defendants on trial for war crimes at Dora-Mittelbau

The commandants of Dora – Mittelbau were SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Foerschmer, and SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Richard Baer, who was also commandant at Auschwitz. Other notable camp personnel were Karl Fritzsch who also served at Auschwitz and Flossenburg, Karl Hoecker, who was at Majdanek and Auschwitz, Franz Hossler, who served at Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, Dr Karl Kahr, who also served Dachau and Buchenwald, Alois Kurz, who also served at Majdanek and Auschwitz, Max Sell who served at Ravensbruck and Auschwitz, Dr Eduard Wirths, who was in charge of all physicians at Auschwitz. 


The protective-custody camp leader, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hans Karl Moeser, was sentenced to death by hanging. In his trial statement said:


“The same way, with the same pleasure, as you shoot deer, I shoot a human being. When I came to the SS and had to shoot the first three persons, my food didn’t taste good for three days, but today it is a pleasure. It is a joy for me.”



The other defendants received sentences that ranged from five years to life imprisonment.







Gernot Römer: Für die Vergessenen : KZ-Aussenlager in Schwaben; Schwaben in Konzentrationslagern. - Augsburg : Presse-Dr., 1984

The Camp Men by French L MacLean published by Schiffer Military History Atglen PA 1999

Encyclopedia of the Holocaust - Israel Gutman (Ed) - New York 1990.





Copyright: F.J Frasier, Chris Webb & Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2007 - 2008



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