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The Development of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Complex

A wooden watchtower can be seen next to a half-open wooden camp gate. In front of it, a Spanish horseman with barbed wire can be seen standing next to the access road.
Camp entrance to the Ellrich-Juliushütte subcamp, 1945 (after liberation). Photo: Georges Philllips.
View through the barbed wire fence to the field barn converted into prisoner accommodation.
View of the former Kleinbodungen subcamp, May 1945. Photo: René Tournemire.
A section of a map of the surroundings of Nordhausen in Thuringia. Several locations are marked.
Map section of the subcamp map Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp.

The establishment of the later Mittelbau subcamps, which initially still belonged to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, took place from the spring of 1944. Throughout the area surrounding Nordhausen, in a project referred to as “Mittelbau”, underground plants were to be constructed for the Junkers combine based on the example of the Mittelwerk. At the same time, measures got underway to create the necessary infrastructure for the planned armament complex in the southern Harz Mountains. In the summer of 1944 further underground relocation projects for the petroleum industry were added. 

These projects created an enormous demand for labourers, met to some extent by concentration camp inmates, but also by foreign civilian workers recruited by force, prisoners of war and Germans subjected to compulsory work. In view of the imminent end of the war, hardly any of these projects were carried even close to completion, despite the ruthless exploitation of the labourers, particularly the concentration camp inmates.

Most of the Mittelbau camps set up in connection with the underground relocation efforts were situated within a relatively small radius around Nordhausen. In addition to the main camp Dora with its average population of some 15,000 inmates, the core of the Mittelbau complex comprised the camps of Ellrich (founded on May 2, 1944; average inmate population approximately 8,000), Harzungen (April 1, 1944; 4,000 inmates), Rottleberode (March 13, 1944, 1,000 inmates) and the SS Construction Brigades III and IV (altogether some 3,000 inmates, divided up among several smaller camps along the construction site of a railroad side track in the Helme Valley between Nordhausen and Herzberg). Once Mittelbau had become an independent concentration camp, it gained further subcamps through the relocation of new armament projects to the Southern Harz Mountains. By the spring of 1945, the Mittelbau camps – then numbering approximately forty – accounted for over 40,000 inmates.

The inmates came from all over Europe, mostly from the Soviet Union, Poland and France. The majority of them had been imprisoned for political reasons. Since May 1944, also Jews were deported to Mittelbau-Dora. Following the dissolution of the Auschwitz “Zigeuner-Familienlager” (gypsy family camp), the SS additionally transported numerous Sinti and Roma to the southern Harz mountains between April and August 1944.

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