Monday, February 1, 2010

Jewish Presence at Dora: from Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner, Director, Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial

Several community members have asked about why there were significantly fewer Jewish than non-Jewish prisoners at the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. We asked Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner, the director of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial in Germany and the author of the pre-eminent book on Dora, Produktion des Todes: Das KZ Mittelbau-Dora.

Dr. Wagner emphasized that there were two different kinds of camps in the Nazi system, concentration camps and extermination camps. People often hear "concentration camps" and think of extermination camps, but these were not the same thing, even though some of the larger complexes had both, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau -- Auschwitz was a concentration camp and Birkenau an extermination camp.

Most concentration camps were located on German territory and considered part of the "Reich." The majority of the concentration camp prisoners were non-Jewish and non-German prisoners, primarily arrested for resistance against German occupation, and transported into the territory of the "Reich" for incarceration. Other concentration camp prisoners included German "criminal" prisoners, other political prisoners, and prisoners pinpointed as "asocial."

Until 1943, Jews were systematically deported away from the Reich in order to make the Reich "judenfrei," or "free of Jews." They were deported to extermination camps in the German-occupied East.

At the outset, therefore, there were no Jews at Dora. Once there was a shortage of labor in 1944, Nazi leaders reconsidered and began to bring some Jewish prisoners into the Reich for labor, including Hungarian Jews transferred into the Reich via Auschwitz, including 1000 men and teenage boys brought to Mittelbau-Dora. Most did construction work at the Dora sub-camp Ellrich and died. In September 1944, 300 more Hungarian Jews arrived at Dora and engaged in V-1 production. At Dora, they were involved in confidential, secret rocket production, and they had better conditions as "production prisoners" than those sent to construction sites. Most of these 300 survived.

Jews at Dora were usually the lowest of the low in the camp hierarchy, targeted for special mistreatment from SS and Kapos. The Jews also lived separate from the other prisoners, including the V-1 prisoners, who had an isolated barracks at Dora that one survivor, George Stein, called a "prison in a prison." Towards the end, the isolation diminished somewhat and there were even several Jews in the Mittelbau-Dora system working as caregivers in the infirmary and in several cases named Kapos and Vorarbeiter. Yet these were exceptions. Most Jews at Dora did hard construction work and suffered greatly.

In the winter of 1944 and 1945, as the Eastern concentration and extermination camps were abandonded, transports of many thousands of Jews from Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen and Tschenstochau arrived at Mittelbau-Dora and Dora became a clear site of the Shoah/Holocaust.

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