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KZ Drütte

Luftbild Hochstrasse 1945The Camp

One of the first satellite camps of the KZ (concentration camp) Neuengamme near Hamburg was the concentration camp Drütte. It was set up in the late summer of 1942 under the elevated road on the premises of the Reichswerke “Hermann-Göring.”

The four accommodation units were located in the curved section of the road. An infirmary, a storeroom, an orderly room and a kitchen were also part of the KZ. About 150 KZ guards were accommodated in two well-equipped huts in the area of the outer curve.

The Prisoners

On October 18, 1942 the first transport with 50 male prisoners from KZ Buchenwald arrived at the KZ Drütte. Further transports arrived, primarily from the main camp Neuengamme, which caused a quick increase in the number of occupants to about 3,000 prisoners. The men, most of them very young, had been deported to the KZ for various reasons. As far as the KZ Drütte is concerned, one can differentiate between the following groups of concentration camp prisoners, as defined by the SS: “Political,” “Jews,” “Roma (Gypsies),” “Homosexuals,” “Jehova’s Witnesses,” “Professional criminals,” and “Asocials.”

In the KZ Drütte the so-called political prisoners constituted the biggest group, many were active resistance fighters from European countries.

The Work

The prisoners at KZ Drütte were primarily forced to produce armaments at the Reichswerke “Hermann-Göring.” One main project was the newly established so-called “Aktion 88.” As part of this “Aktion,” artillery shells measuring 8,8 cm in diameter were produced. In the hall where the rolling mills were, the prisoners worked at the presses in the “Blockbrecherkommando” and “Blockputzerkommando” breaking and fettling the big glowing steel blocks. The works were done in a two-shift system covering twelve hours, but sometimes also in a three-shift system for eight hours. The prisoners did not get any protective clothing or working clothes when they were doing this hard work, handling the heavy and hot material.

Living Conditions

The term of imprisonment in the rooms under the elevated road where the men were put up was determined by different factors. All men were kept under extremely cramped conditions – many hundreds of men at the same time in a room that was much too small created an atmosphere of permanent agitation with poor air quality. The disastrous hygienic conditions and the toilets in the room caused a horrible stench and a rapid spreading of diseases. The food did not suffice to provide enough strength for the hard work at the factory. Yet it was crucial for one’s survival not to get a serious illness or injuries. Even though there was an infirmary, there was not any sufficient medical supply. A prisoner was classified as being unfit for work fairly quickly and was usually transported to another camp.

Between October 1942 and April 1945 several hundreds of men died at KZ Drütte. Until May 1943 the dead were transported to Braunschweig and cremated there. Their urns were interred at the cemetery Am Brodweg. Between June and July 1943 the KZ prisoners were buried on the Cemetery Westerholz and eventually on the newly established “cemetery for foreigners” Jammertal.

The Evacuation

The KZ Drütte was evacuated three days before the invasion of the American troops. On April 7, 1945 in the evening, the prisoners from KZ Drütte were crammed into a train together with the women from KZ Salzgitter-Bad. The transport left the camp and was heading north. The next day, the train stopped at the goods depot in Celle. Shortly afterwards, the Allies began an air raid of the train station. The train, containing several thousands of people, was shot as well. Many prisoners lost their lives.

Yet those who could at first reach safety the surrounding area, were herded up by the SS and the inhabitants of Celle, and some of them were shot indiscriminately.

Those prisoners who were unable to walk on were left behind in Celle, the others took up the so-called “death march” to the KZ Bergen-Belsen, which was completely overcrowded. The survivors were liberated there by the allied troops on April 15, 1945.

The Process

In the years from 1945 to 1948, there were several trials before British military courts of justice in Hamburg, in the course of which members of the SS camp administration at KZ Neuengamme and their satellite camps had to answer charges. Between March 18 and April 2, 1947, the British military authorities negotiated at the Curio-Haus on who was responsible for KZ Drütte. Despite the fact that in previous years investigations had been made against a great number of former SS men and company employees, only seven men were accused of “homicide and maltreatment of allied citizens at the work camp of the Herman-Göring-Werke in Drütte.” Three of them were found guilty:

■ Karl Hecht, who was Rapportführer at KZ Drütte from December 1942 to May 1943, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

■ Karl Sokola, a SS guard, was imprisoned for six months.

■ Walter Mehnert, first plant assistant at the Reichswerke, was sentenced to six years.

The Memorial Place

In 1992, after a ten-year-struggle, one of the four former accommodation rooms of the KZ Drütte was made available to the Arbeitskreis Stadtgeschichte e.V. to set up a memorial place.

The memorial place is located on the plant premises of the Salzgitter AG.