Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thank You and Commentary from UAB History Professor Dr. James F. Tent

Dear Dr. Johnson:

On behalf of the UAB History Students and Faculty including Dr. George Liber (PAT Faculty Adviser), and eight of our students, I thank you and your colleague and PAT Advisor, Dr. Sandra Mendiola, for hosting us and explaining in detail today the incredibly powerful exhibit you and your colleagues and students at UAH have prepared on that Nazi slave/forced labor camp dedicated to producing vengeance rockets, “Camp Dora” near Nordhausen in the Harz Mountains of W. Central Germany, 1943-45. Winston Churchill had already warned his own citizenry of the stakes involved in the outcome of World War II, including one point in particular. He wrote in 1940: "if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted sciences."

Was Churchill ever right! The images you have provided of “Dora” and of the hapless victims who became ensnared in that terrible camp bring into bold relief the contrasts between theoretical scientists who once dreamed of interplanetary exploration on the one hand, and on the other hand the grim reality of the Nazis’ determination to employ slave labor in the mass production of military, ballistic rockets whose sole purpose was their use against civilians (Hitler openly called them “Vengeance Weapons.”). Further, he placed that “scientific” program directly under the dreaded SS in late 1943, an organization that, as usual, employed torture, murder, and enslavement every day in the production of what a later generation has come to call “weapons of mass destruction.” After all, that was what the SS did, no matter what the immediate task might be. This was exactly the “perverted science” about which Churchill had forewarned the public. In this instance, the Nazis employed it on a gigantic scale! Nearly 3,000 British civilians were killed outright in V-2 attacks, over 6,000 were wounded, a high percentage blinded since the 3.2 Mach rockets exploded 3-4 seconds before any sound indication of impact had occurred with the result that the victims had simply swiveled around to observe a flash of light and received vicious wounds from exploding debris. For many years, nstitutions for the blind ran a brisk business after World War II in Britain (and Belgium where many other V-2s impacted). In fact, there were many orphanages devoted entirely to the care of blind children after World War II, much of this courtesy of Hitler’s V-2 program, a program based heavily upon Camp Dora.

Your powerful and sensitive exhibit of “Dora” reveals in excruciating detail those horrors of that camp and of the rocket production facility in their many dimensions, some subtle and others… painfully obvious. Dora used – and murdered – many Jewish victims in the Holocaust. Equally instructive is the fact that the bulk of those slave laborers were not Jewish. The other victims came from all walks in European society: socialists, liberals, resistance fighters, “intellectuals” and anyone else caught up in the maw of the Nazi military/racist regime. This is a lesson to all of us of what might easily have happened if the Nazis had won World War II (which they nearly did in 1941). In short, the Holocaust that Hitler planned was not intended to end with our Jewish neighbors and friends. Not at all! Shame on all of the rest of us for not understanding the dreadful world Hitler that envisaged and that we had done so little to protect his first victims, our Jewish compatriots, colleagues, and fellow human beings.

The fact that you and your fellow UAH colleagues at your History Department, in Art and Art History, and in related disciplines could conceptualize, then win major funding from the Alabama Humanities Foundation bring to fruition so sensitive and timely a historical exhibit for the entire Huntsville Community and for Alabama in general commands the greatest respect from all of us in Alabama’s institutions of higher learning. I conclude by observing that it would be fitting and proper if your Exhibit could also be shown at other University of Alabama campuses - to the enlightenment of all of our citizenry.

Sincerely yours,

James F. Tent

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Audio Interview on WLRH

WLRH interview by Bobby Milk with UAHuntsville historians Molly Johnson, Stephen Waring, and photographer Jose Betancourt.

mental_floss Blog Morning Cup of Links: Cultural Neuroscience

The Dora website was featured in Mental_floss, "where knowledge junkies get their fix."

mental_floss Blog � Morning Cup of Links: Cultural Neuroscience

Friday, March 5, 2010

What's missing in the Dora exhibit at UAH?

What's missing in the Dora exhibit at UAH? - al.com

Coming around the corner of the exhibit in the UAH library about the Nazi slave labor camps and seeing a photo of the handsome Wernher von Braun in the gallery labeled "Perpetrators" took me aback.
Our Wernher, a "perpetrator"? Was he?
Was our good Nazi, the engineer of our modern Huntsville, the patron of the arts and the visionary of space travel really so involved in all that mess as to be labeled "Perpetrator"? I mean, we all knew his factories used slave laborers, but should we hold him accountable like he was the human resource staffer?
Von Braun himself didn't think so. He described his own work during the war with the Germans as "my duty," same as what other Germans did to support their country at war.
"An engineer in times of war is a soldier," he told a radio interviewer in 1963.
The implication is that soldiers do unspeakable things out of a wartime necessity that civilians could never understand.
Well, soldiers may do that. But true heroes will stand, alone if necessary, against societal insanity, even when it is defined as "duty," to try to save even just one piece of the world, as did Oskar Schindler or Anne Frank's Miep Gies.
But when duty comes to shove, where would most of us stand?
The defining of one of our leading citizens as "perpetrator," reminded me of Horst Kruger's 1986 memoir, "A Crack in the Wall: Growing Up under Hitler."
Kruger describes being a child in a regular middle-class German household, outlining how far away from his life the cruelties of the war seemed. Sure, some shop windows got smashed one night, and some kids disappeared from school, but all that gritty annihilation of human beings seemed far removed from his orderly childhood.
I don't remember many of the details of the book, but I'll never forget that it ends with Kruger's experience as a young reporter covering one of the war crimes trial. Hurrying to get to his seat on time, he sat down, opened his notebook, and only then realized that he'd blundered into a place among the accused.
It's a moment when he realizes all the tiny ways that his own obliviousness had helped to empower the system that had ground to death so many millions of people.
Kruger was not listed as one of the accused, but he knew he was one of the guilty.
Among the awful consequences of Nazi atrocities, I'm afraid, is that the sensational nature of their cruelty makes it too easy for us to classify the sins that made those horrors possible as actions beyond any that we ourselves could do.
The sins of the slave camps, though, are worth considering. At their root, they are sins committed by far more than just our handsome hometown hero: Sins of feeling entitled, of classifying people as more or less useful, of obliviousness to the ways our daily living helps grind other people into the dirt as we use the systems that prevent fair wages and safe working conditions both here and in our supplier countries.
The sins, in short, of all the ways, both little and large, that we neglect to do for others what we expect to be done for us and our children.
I left the exhibit thinking it was incomplete.
Next to von Braun, they should hang a mirror.
Kay Campbell, Faith & Values editor, may be reached at 532-4320, kay.campbell@htimes.com. Her column runs the first Friday of each month.
"Dora and the V-2: Slave labor in the space age" is free and open to visitors during the regular hours of UAH's Salmon Library through March 12. www.Dora.uah.edu.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"A Proposal on Dora" from a local citizen, John W. Davis

Thank you for sharing, John. 

"Huge tunnels were bored into the Harz Mountains at a place called
 Dora-Mittelbau, Germany.  They were to protect the Nazis' V-2 rocket plant
 from  Allied bombers. The tunnels were also the site of mass murder. To build the
 rockets, most estimates conclude 20,000 slaves from across Europe were
 tortured, beaten, and worked to death there.  Strangely, some sixty
 years after the last SS guard ran away from the advancing US Army,
 Dora's legacy comes to directly affect Huntsville, Alabama.

 A seminar at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, is entitled
 "Dora and the V-2, Slave Labor and the Space Age". It notes an
 inexplicable reality.  Huntsville, the Rocket City, earned its title due to Project
 Paperclip, which brought captured German rocket scientists to America.
 They developed our rocket program which resulted in the magnificent trip
 to the moon and back.  For this grand accomplishment humanity will honor
 them forever. 

And yet, is this fair?  Is it fair to commemorate men who knowingly
used slave labor to produce their first rockets, then brought that science
 to America?  Otherwise stated, is it fair to forget those who
were beaten to death, often with sticks and boots like rabid animals, in
 the production of those flying Nazi bombs?

Photographs at the Huntsville University Library show dramatic  scenes.
Some were captured on scraps of paper by those who risked their
lives to do so.  They reveal beastliness, brutal, inhuman conditions,
and macabre death scenes.  One scene freezes forever the hanging of
 several prisoners, their mouths locked shut by sticks and cords. These
 devices were to prevent them calling out to the assembled slaves,
 arrayed to see the sight, and tremble.

Slavery.  We in this country fought a civil war to end that stain.
 One speaker at the conference said no memorial should only mourn the
 dead.  No, a democracy's strength is how it can objectively face its
 past, the better to learn from it. How can we do less in our city?  If,
 due to the horrible death of so many others, our future as the center
 for space travel began, surely we can acknowledge that fact.

Our Space and Rocket Museum should have a permanent display, perhaps
 using some of those photos or items on display at UAH. Our city's Big
, or Von Braun Center, could memorialize those murdered

 Europeans.  UAH could commemorate them, the better to remind young
 engineers of the future that life's choices have consequences.  Science
 affects the lives of people, not just equipment.  We should, after all,
 have an ethical awareness of cause and effect.  This awareness should
 inform our actions.  We should concretely recognize that while we did
 not cause the murders, indeed were the liberators of the slaves, we must
 do more.

We can honor those murdered by Hitler.  Their slave labor led not
 only to the development of Hitler's  weapons of vengeance, but gave us the
 basis of those wonderful ships which took us to the moon.  The world
 needs to know that these dead too, were as one professor observed,
 "Rocket Men."  Also, as so poignantly observed by one panelist, such
 recognition would wring immeasurable good out of unspeakable evil. 

The great German poet, J.C.Friedrich Holderlin said as much when he wrote
 "Near, but difficult to grasp, the God. But where there is danger, the
 saving powers also rise."  The thousands murdered, those denied every
 single dignity in the great danger that was Dora, might finally receive
 an earthly dignity.  We of Huntsville have only to recognize them in
 this, our Rocket City."

Faculty Music Recital, featuring "Horrors of War"

Dr. Don Bowyer, Chair of the UAHuntsville Music Department will premiere his original composition, tentatively entitled "Horrors of War" at his music recital on Sunday 7 March 2010.  The piece will honor the prisoners of Dora.  You can read about the piece and see what inspired Dr. Bowyer at his website.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Exhibit Tour Time for Sunday 28 February

Dr. Stephen Waring will be in the gallery of the UAH Salmon Library from 1:00 to 3:00 pm Sunday 28 February to answer questions and conduct brief tours of the exhibit.  No appointment is necessary, just drop in.

Future drop-in tours and discussion times will be posted on our Schedule page.

If you have a group that would like to schedule a tour, please email us at dora@uah.edu; we will do our best to accommodate your schedule.


Metafilter's story on our webpage.

Here is our favorite comment:

"Great post. From a digital history perspective one thing that interest me about the site is the way it does not try to host every file but liberally links to and incorporates relevant content from stable sites such as Archive.org. That may sound like no big deal but it is pretty unusual in a big digital history project like this one. A case in point are the newsreels hosted at Archive.org. This one: "“Nazi Murder Mills,” April 4th 1945 Newsreel based on Army footage, includes Nordhausen and reference to work on V2s" is chilling. posted by LarryC at 6:50 PM on February 22"


Neatorama's story about our web page

Monday, February 15, 2010

UAH sets V-2 slave labor exhibit

UAH sets V-2 slave labor exhibit

Monday, February 15, 2010
By Lee Roop
Times Staff Writer lee.roop@htimes.com
Photos, victims' art, posters tell ofmissiles' creation
The University of Alabama in Huntsville will host an exhibit titled "Dora and the V-2: Slave labor in the space age" this month.
The historical and art exhibit explores the history of forced labor in the construction of V-2 missiles at the Dora concentration camp and Mittelwerk underground factory near Nordhausen, Germany, during World War II.
The exhibit will be in UAH's Salmon Library beginning Sunday through March 12. It is free, open to the public and sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation.
A section of the exhibit focuses on Wernher von Braun, saying that after World War II he and other German engineers tried to distance themselves from the use of slave labor.
"However, historians in the last 30 years have discovered written evidence linking the engineers (including von Braun and Arthur Rudolph) to forced labor," the exhibit states.
The exhibit, which focuses on the victims of V-2 production, features the first U.S. showing of work from two European museums: La Coupole, Historic and Remembrance Center in Saint-Omer, France, and the Mittlebau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial and Museum near Nordhausen.
From La Coupole, the exhibit features color photographs of V-2 forced labor as well as artwork from victims and survivors. From Mittelbau-Dora comes a traveling collection of posters telling the stories and experiences of people in the camp and factory.
Yves Le Maner, director of La Coupole, and Dr. Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Mittelbau-Dora memorial, will speak at the exhibit opening Feb. 21.
Author Michael Neufeld, author of books on the V-2 and von Braun, will speak Feb. 25.
.UAH sets V-2 slave labor exhibit - al.com

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Exhibit Poster

Please click on the image of our poster, download, and print for your office, house of worship, library, or school!

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.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Facebook Group

Friends put the exhibit on Facebook.  Become a friend of the group!

Friday, January 15, 2010


We will periodically update this blog with news and information about the UAHuntsville Exhibit, "Dora and the V-2: Slave Labor in the Space Age." Thank you for your interest.