KZ-Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora

  • Mittelbau-Dora Memorial


Kohnsteinweg 20


+49 (0)3631/4958-0


+49 (0)3631/495813


The establishment of Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp was preceded by the development of the A4 rocket as a weapon of terror – later known by the propaganda designation "V-2" – at the Peenemünde army research centre on the island of Usedom. It was there, as well as at the Rax Works in Wiener Neustadt and at Zeppelin in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, that the serial production of this rocket began in the early summer of 1943. A heavy air attack by the Royal Air Force on the night of 18 August 1943 brought A4 manufacture in Peenemünde to an abrupt halt. At the other two sites, production had also been at least adversely affected by Allied air raids the same summer. The bombing of Peenemünde gave the authorities no other choice but to move the undertaking to regions less exposed to the air. A decision was made in favour of the tunnel system belonging to the Wirtschaftliche Forschungsgesellschaft (Wifo; economic research society) in Kohnstein Mountain near Nordhausen in Thuringia. Beginning in 1936, the Wifo had been having an underground fuel storage facility built there for the Wehrmacht; by the late summer of 1943 the construction measures were near completion. On August 28, 1943, i.e. a mere ten days after the air attack on Peenemünde, the first 107 concentration camp inmates arrived at the Kohnstein near Nordhausen with their SS guards. A new subcamp of Buchenwald Concentration Camp was thus founded: the Arbeitslager Dora (Dora labour camp), as it was officially designated by the SS. In the weeks and months that followed, further inmate transports arrived from Buchenwald almost daily. By the end of September 1943, there were already more than 3,000 concentration camp inmates in the Kohnstein, by the end of October more than 6,800, and by Christmas 1943 more than 10,500. Yet Dora was not a camp in the strict sense of the word. Because of the fact that no barracks or permanent living quarters had yet been made available for the inmates, the SS housed them in the tunnels of the planned Mittelwerk, as one section of the underground factory was called. For this purpose, Chambers 43 to 46 – four transverse chambers of the ladder-shaped tunnel system – were furnished with four-tiered wooden bunks. There were no sanitary facilities apart from oil barrels which had been sawed in half for use as latrines. The inmates suffered and died of hunger, thirst, cold and the heavy labour itself. In the initial months, a large percentage of them were put to work doing heavy construction and transport labour for the completion of the underground rocket plant. This task had priority over the construction of the aboveground barrack camp on the south side of the Kohnstein. It was not until January 1944, when the production of the A4 rockets got underway in the Mittelwerk, that the first inmate groups were moved to the barrack camp. Many remained in the crowded conditions of the underground sleeping chambers until May 1944. A large number of inmates, the majority of them Russians, Poles and French, did not survive the wretched months of the tunnel construction phase. Between October 1943 and March 1944, nearly 2,900 inmates died in Dora. A further 3,000 dying inmates were transferred to Lublin-Majdanek and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps in the spring of 1944. Hardly any of them survived. For the SS, which had directed the construction work, the tunnel system of the Mittelwerk was a prestige object. Particularly SS Gruppenführer Hans Kammler, chief of Bureau C of the SS Department of Economic Administration, was intent on distinguishing himself with a view towards further construction projects in the armament sector. The structural dissolution of Mittelbau Concentration Camp had already begun in the late autumn of 1944. Due to overcrowding in the subcamp and particularly the onset of winter, the living conditions worsened throughout the complex, leading to a sharp rise in the mortality rate. Having reached a peak of 750 in March 1944, the monthly rate had sunk to 100–150 in the summer of the same year. In November it shot up again, reaching 570 (the number officially registered by the SS) in December, of which 500 were accounted for by the Ellrich-Juliushütte Camp alone. At the end of 1944 the SS began to “evacuate” the Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen camps in view of the advancing Red Army, transporting the inmates to concentration camps farther west. Many of these transports went to Mittelbau: altogether 16,000 inmates from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen, including women and children, were deported there by March 1945. These transfers brought about an increase in the number of Jewish inmates in the Mittelbau camps. After weeks of travel in railway transports, most of those who had managed to survive the journeys were ill and completely exhausted. This development resulted in another drastic rise in the number of deaths. Between January and early April 1945, over 6,000 inmates died in the camps of Mittelbau, including 3,000 in the Boelcke Casern in Nordhausen, set up by the SS in January as a central death camp for the Mittelbau complex. While the two massive British air attacks that targeted Nordhausen did not trigger the “evacuation” of the Mittelbau camps, they substantially accelerated it. The process of vacating the parent camp Dora began on the evening of April 3, when 4,000 Soviet inmates were sent to Bergen-Belsen by rail. The officers in charge of the other Mittelbau camps must have received the pull-out order from Dora on or around April 4, as most of the camps were vacated on April 4 and 5. The tortures suffered by the inmates from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen in the context of those camps’ dissolution in January and February 1945 were now repeated: in a great hurry and with the utmost brutality, the guard details drove the inmates into the freight and cattle cars that had been obtained. By April 6, 1945, several trains, each bearing thousands of inmates, had left the Southern Harz Mountains for Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück. Driven by guard details, numerous gangs of exhausted inmates also dragged themselves on foot through the mountains towards the northeast. On these marches of violence, anyone who could not keep up was simply shot to death from behind by the guards. Most of the Mittelbau subcamps were completely vacated. The SS left only a few hundred ill and dying persons behind in Dora and the Boelcke Casern; these inmates were liberated by the U.S. Army on 11 April 1945. The majority of the Mittelbau camps were completely vacated. Only a few small camps with populations consisting solely of Italian prisoners of war were not “evacuated”. The SS moreover left several hundred sick and dying inmates behind in the Dora camp and the Boelcke casern. They were liberated on 11 April 1945 when American troops marched into Nordhausen. On the days that followed, American war correspondents took photos and films of the enfeebled and starving inmates in Dora and the Boelcke casern – images that soon went around the world and are today among the most well-known testimonies to the Nazi crimes. For the most part, the survivors of the clearance transports and death marches were liberated in the casern camp of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and in other camps in mid April 1945. However, a number of survivors remained in the hands of their tormentors, not to be liberated until early May 1945 in Mecklenburg and Austria. (Source:

Archival and Other Holdings

  1. Estates of concentration camp survivors
  2. Reports by witnesses
  3. Documents from within the SS hierarchy (transport lists, camp population lists, bookkeeping for forced labour)
  4. Trial documents (among others of the Dachau Dora Trial of 1947 and the Essen Dora Trial of 1967-70)
  5. Files from the German Democratic Republican Mittelbau-Dora Memorial
  6. Press clipping archive
  7. Photo archive: A selection of our photographic holdings can be viewed on the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial online database.

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