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Title: Natzweiler-Struthof  
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Subject: Jewish skeleton collection, Vera Atkins, Diana Rowden, August Hirt, Andrée Borrel
Collection: Natzweiler-Struthof, Vichy France
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German Nazi concentration and extermination camp (1941-1944)
Natzweiler-Struthof Camp entrance
Monument to the Departed in background
Known for Nacht und Nebel resistance fighters, Jewish skeleton collection
Location Nazi Germany 1941-44 (de facto)
Operated by the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS)
First built Hans Hüttig
Spring, 1941
Operational May 1941 - September 1944
Number of gas chambers one from April 1943
Inmates mainly resistance fighters from overrun European nations
Number of inmates 52,000 estimated[1]
Killed 22,000 estimated [2]
Liberated by French 1st Army, U.S. 6th Army Group, November 23, 1944
Notable inmates Boris Pahor, Trygve Bratteli, Henri Gayot, Charles Delestraint, Per Jacobsen, Asbjørn Halvorsen, Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel, Sonya Olschanezky
Notable books Necropolis, The Names of the Numbers
Website Museum website

Natzweiler-Struthof was a German-run concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller (German Natzweiler) in France, and the town of Schirmeck, about 50 km (31 mi) south west from the city of Strasbourg. Natzweiler-Struthof was the only concentration camp established by the Nazis on present-day French territory, though there were French-run temporary camps such as the one at Drancy. At the time from 1941 to 1944, the Alsace area in which it was established was administered by Germany as it was an integral part of the German Reich. The camp operated from May 21, 1941 to early September 1944 with prisoners. A small staff of Nazi SS remained, found when the camp was liberated by the French First Army under the command of the U.S. Sixth Army Group on November 23, 1944. [3]

About 52,000 prisoners were estimated to be held there in its time of operation.[1][4] The prisoners were mainly taken from the resistance movements in German-occupied territories. It was a labor camp, transit camp and as the war went on, a place of execution. Some died from the exertions of the labor and the poor food. There were an estimated 22,000 deaths at the camp, including the network of subcamps.[5] Many prisoners were moved to other camps; in particular, the former head of Auschwitz concentration camp was brought in 1944 to evacuate the prisoners of Natzweiler-Struthof to Dachau as the Allied Armies neared in 1944. August Hirt conducted some of his efforts in making a Jewish skeleton collection in this camp. A documentary movie has been made about the 86 named men and women who were killed there for that project. Some of the people responsible for atrocities in this camp came to trial after the war ended.

The camp is preserved as a museum in memory of those held or killed there. European Centre of Deported Resistance Members is located at this museum, focusing on those held at this camp. The Monument to the Departed stands at the site. The present museum was restored in 1980, after damage by neo-Nazis in 1976. Among other notable prisoners, the writer Boris Pahor was interned in Natzweiler-Struthof and wrote his novel Necropolis based on this experience.


  • Operations 1
    • Initial focus and later actions 1.1
    • Notable prisoners 1.2
  • List of Personnel 2
    • Commanders (Commandants) 2.1
    • SS “Doctors” 2.2
  • Jewish skeleton collection 3
  • Post-war criminal trials 4
  • Post-war history, museum and monument 5
  • Documentary 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Overview of present-day Struthof Concentration Camp in Natzweiler, France

Natzweiler-Struthof operated between 21 May 1941 and the beginning of September 1944, when the SS evacuated the camp to Dachau. Its construction was overseen by Hans Hüttig in the spring of 1941. The camp was evacuated and its surviving prisoners sent on a "Death march" on early September 1944 with only a small SS unit keeping the camp's operations.[2] On 23 November 1944, this camp with its small staff was discovered and liberated by the French First Army as part of the U.S. Sixth Army Group,[2] on the same day that the city of Strasbourg was liberated by the Allies. Through 1945, Natzweiler-Struthof had a complex of about 70 subcamps or annex camps. [6] For the system of subcamps see List of subcamps of Natzweiler-Struthof.

Initial focus and later actions

The total number of prisoners reached 52,000 over the three years, of 32 nationalities.[4] Inmates originated from various countries, including Poland, the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, France, Germany, modern day Slovenia and Norway. The camp was specially set up for Nacht und Nebel prisoners, in most cases people of the resistance movements. It was labor camp and a transit camp, as many prisoners were sent to other Nazi concentration camps before the final evacuation. As the war continued, it became a death camp as well. Some people died from the exertions of the work they had to do, while poorly fed. Deaths are estimated at 22,000 at the main camp and the subcamps.[5]

Interned prisoners provided forced labor for the Wehrmacht war industry, through contracts with private industry. This was done mainly at the numerous annex camps, some of which were located in mines or tunnels in order to avoid damage from Allied air raids. Work, hunger, darkness and the lack of health care caused many epidemics; mortality rates could reach 80%.[6] Some worked in quarries, but many worked in the arms industry at various subcamps. Daimler-Benz moved its aircraft engine factory from Berlin to a gypsum mine near the Neckarelz annex camp. The disused autobahn Engelberg Tunnel tunnel in Leonberg, near Stuttgart, was used by the Messerschmitt Aircraft Company which eventually employed 3,000 prisoners in forced labor. Another annex camp at Schörzingen was established in February 1944 for extracting crude oil from oil shale. The total number of prisoners at all of the Natzweiler subcamps was estimated to be 19,000 while there was between 7,000 to 8,000 in the main camp at Natzweiler. [3]

Camp entrance
Panorama of Natzweiler-Struthof
The gas chamber located at 2 km from the camp
Crematorium at Natzweiler-Struthof

The camp also held a crematorium and a jury rigged gas chamber outside the main camp, which was not used for mass extermination but for selective extermination, as part of the human experimentation programs, in particular on the problems of fighting a war, like typhus among the troops.

Dr Otto Bickenbach and Dr Helmut Rühl were also accused of crimes committed at this camp. Dr Hans Eisele was also stationed in this camp for a time. August Hirt committed suicide in June 1945, and was never charged with crimes related to his experiments on prisoners at Natzweiler.

Strenuous work, medical experiments, poor nutrition and mistreatment by the SS guards resulted in a documented 4,431 deaths. The female prisoner-population in the camp was small, only seven SS women served in Natzweiler-Struthof camp (compared to more than 600 SS men), and 15 in the Natzweiler complex of subcamps. The main duty of the female supervisors in Natzweiler was to guard the few women who came to the camp for medical experiments or to be executed. The camp also trained several female guards who went to the Geisenheim and Geislingen subcamps in western Germany.

The camp became a war zone in late summer 1944, and was evacuated in early September 1944. Prior to evacuation of the camp, 141 prisoners were shot to death on August 31 - September 1, 1944. The 70th anniversary of this execution of those who resisted Nazi occupation was commemorated at the museum in 2014.[4]

Notable prisoners

Inmates included the Norwegian resisters Per Jacobsen who died there, Tor Njaa en route, the famous footballer Asbjørn Halvorsen, Trygve Bratteli, later the prime minister, Alf Grindrud, Niels-Henrik Kolderup, Arne Brun Lie who later in life moved to the US, Kristian Ottosen, Haakon Sørbye, an engineer, and Hans Cappelen, who survived to write a memoir and testify in the Nuremberg trials. Polish Leon Weintraub was in the camp, age 18, as one of a string of Nazi camps until he escaped from a train to a town in the Black Forest just as the Allied Armies liberated it. In his 50s, Prince Xavier of Bourbon-Parma joined the Belgian Army and was taken in Vichy France as a Nacht und Nebel prisoner, sent here, then to Dachau and then to Niederdorf, from which he was liberated.

Four female British SOE agents were executed together on 6 July 1944: Diana Rowden, Vera Leigh, Andrée Borrel and Sonya Olschanezky.[7] Brian Stonehouse and Albert Guérisse (Belgian who escaped to the UK) of the British SOE witnessed the arrival, execution and cremation of the four female SOE agents; both men testified to the executions of the four women in post-war trials,[8] and Stonehouse later sketched them. The two men were sent to Dachau, where they were liberated. Roger Boulanger writes of the four British SOE women executed under the supervision of Dr. Plaza and Dr. Rhode, in his section on Capital Punishment (Les exécutions capitales), as to the intent of the RSHA of Berlin, Reichssicherheitshauptamt, to have them disappear with no trace, as their names were not recorded as being at this camp.[9] The other prisoners pretended not to notice, but as the trials revealed, they did notice.

Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski came from Auschwitz and was held here briefly, and then sent to Dachau, where he was liberated. Boris Pahor, a Slovenian man and noted writer born in Trieste, survived his time at this camp, and wrote an autobiographical novel about his experience, Necropolis, now translated into many languages. His main character visits Natzweiler-Struthof, where he was held twenty years earlier, and recalls his experience.

Charles Delestraint, leader of the Armée Secrète, was detained at Natzweiler-Struthof, then was executed by the Gestapo in Dachau days before that camp was liberated and the war ended.[10] Henri Gayot a member of the French Resistance who was interned at Struthof between April and September 1944, documented his ordeal in drawings which are now in the Struthof Concentration Camp Museum.[11]

General Aubert Frère, founder of the French Organisation de résistance de l'armée (ORA) (Army Resistance Organization) in 1942, died of exhaustion at Natzweiler-Struthof on June 13, 1944.

Bishop Gabriel Piguet, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, was interned at Natzweiler before being transferred to the Priest Barracks of Dachau Concentration Camp. He is honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial for hiding Jewish children in Catholic boarding schools. [12]

Two British Royal Air Force airmen (Flying Officer Dennis H. Cochran, and Flight Lieutenant Anthony "Tony" R. H. Hayter) who were involved in "The Great Escape" and murdered by the Gestapo after re-capture,[13] were cremated at Natzweiler-Struthof.[14][15]

List of Personnel

The camp had five commandants and numerous doctors in its history.[16][17]

Commanders (Commandants)

SS “Doctors”

Jewish skeleton collection

The Jewish skeleton collection was an attempt by the Nazis to create an anthropological display to showcase the alleged racial inferiority of the "Jewish race" and to emphasize the Jews' status as Untermenschen ("sub-humans"), in contrast to the Germanic Übermenschen ("super-humans") Aryan race which the Nazis considered to be the "Herrenvolk" (master race). The collection was to be housed at the Anatomy Institute at the Reich University of Strasbourg (Reichsuniversität Straßburg) in the annexed region of Alsace, where the initial preparation of the corpses was performed.

The collection was sanctioned by Reichsführer of the SS Heinrich Himmler, and under the direction of August Hirt with Rudolf Brandt and Wolfram Sievers who was responsible for procuring and preparing the corpses as part of his management of the Ahnenerbe (the National Socialist scientific institute that researched the archaeological and cultural history of the hypothesized Aryan race).

Josef Kramer, former commandant of Natweiler-Struthof, in leg irons at Belsen before being removed to the POW cage at Celle, 17 April 1945.

Ultimately 87 of the inmates were shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof, 46 of these individuals were originally from Thessaloniki, Greece. The deaths of 86 of these inmates was, in the words of Hirt, "induced" at a jury rigged gassing facility at Natzweiler-Struthof and their corpses, 57 men and 29 women, were sent to Strasbourg for study. One male victim was shot as he fought to keep from being gassed. Josef Kramer, acting commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof (who would become the commandant at Auschwitz and the last commandant of Bergen Belsen) personally carried out the gassing of 80 of these 86 victims at Natzweiler-Struthof.[18][19]

The first part of the process for this "collection" was to make anatomical casts of the bodies prior to reducing them to skeletons. In 1944, with the approach of the allies, there was concern over the possibility that the corpses, which had not yet been defleshed, could be discovered. In September 1944 Sievers telegrammed Brandt: "The collection can be defleshed and rendered unrecognizable. This, however, would mean that the whole work had been done for nothing-at least in part-and that this singular collection would be lost to science, since it would be impossible to make plaster casts afterwards." And so it was left, as the camp was evacuated in September 1944, and the human remains were left at a room in the University of Strasbourg.[20]

Two anthropologists, who were both members of the SS, Dr. Hans Fleischhacker and Bruno Beger, along with Wolf-Dietrich Wolff, were accused of making selections at Auschwitz of Jewish prisoners for Dr. Hirt's collection of 'racial types', a project which created the Jewish skeleton collection. Beger alone was found guilty, although he served no time. Also named as associated with this project are Doctor Karl Wimmer and the anatomist Anton Kiesselbach.[21]

The cadaver of Berlin dairy merchant Menachem Taffel. Deported to Auschwitz in March 1943. He was chosen to be an anatomical specimen, shipped to Natzweiler-Struthof and executed in the gas chamber in August 1943

For many years only a single victim, Menachem Taffel (prisoner no. 107969), a Polish born Jew who had been living in Berlin, was positively identified through the efforts of Serge and Beate Klarsfeld. In 2003 Dr. Hans-Joachim Lang, a German professor at the University of Tübingen succeeded in identifying all the victims, by comparing a list of inmate numbers of the 86 corpses at the University in Strasbourg, surreptitiously recorded by Hirt's French assistant Henri Henrypierre, with a list of numbers of inmates vaccinated at Auschwitz. The names and biographical information of the victims were published in the book Die Namen der Nummern (The Names of the Numbers).[22] Rachel Gordon and Joachim Zepelin translated the Introduction to the book to English, at the web site where the whole book, including the biographies of the 86 people, is posted in German.[20] Lang recounts in detail the story of how he determined the identities of the 86 victims gassed for Dr. August Hirt's project of the Jewish skeleton collection.

In 1951 the remains of the 86 victims were reinterred in one location in the Cronenbourg-Strasbourg Jewish Cemetery. On December 11, 2005, memorial stones engraved with the names of the 86 victims were placed at the cemetery. One is at the site of the mass grave, the other along the wall of the cemetery. Another plaque honoring the victims was placed outside the Anatomy Institute at Strasbourg's University Hospital.

Post-war criminal trials

An American soldier in Natzweiler-Struthof examines an urn used to bury the ashes of cremated prisoners.
The Monument to the Departed at Natzweiler-Struthof.

The first camp commandant, Hans Hüttig was sentenced to death on July 2, 1954 by a French military court in Metz, but the death sentence was not carried out. In 1956, he was released from detention after eleven years. [23]

Josef Kramer, the former commandant of the camp during the time of the Jewish skeleton collection project, was arrested at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 17 April 1945 and tried at Lüneburg in the British-occupied sector for his crimes, including the murder of Jews in the gas chamber at Natzweiler. He was sentenced on 16 – 17 November 1945 and was hanged at Hamelin prison on 13 December 1945.[24]

The commandant of Natzweiler at the time that 4 female resistance agents were executed, Fritz Hartjenstein and five others were tried by a British war crimes court at Wuppertal, from April 9 to May 5, 1946. All of the accused were found guilty; of these, three were sentenced to death and two hanged. Hartjenstein’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on June 1, 1946. Then he was tried again at Rastatt by the British for hanging a POW who was a member of the Royal Air Force. Hartjenstein was sentenced to death by firing squad on June 5, 1946. [25] The sentence was not carried out, and he was then extradited to France, where he was tried at Metz for his crimes at Natzweiler and sentenced to death. He died of a heart attack while awaiting execution on October 20, 1954.[26][27]

Those tried at Wuppertal were:

  1. Franz Berg: death sentence (executed by hanging 11 October 1946)
  2. Kurt Geigling: 10 years imprisonment
  3. Josef Muth: 15 years imprisonment
  4. Peter Straub: death sentence (executed by hanging 11 October 1946)
  5. Magnus Wochner: 10 years imprisonment
  6. Fritz Hartjenstein (commandant): death sentence, commuted to life (Wuppertal), death sentence by British (Rastatt), death sentence by French Court (Metz), died before sentence was carried out

Magnus Wochner was also implicated in the Stalag Luft III murders and was listed among the accused.[27] Heinrich Ganninger, adjutant and deputy of commander Fritz Hartjenstein, committed suicide in Wuppertal prison in April 1946 before his trial. He was accused of having murdered four British female spies.[27][8]

Heinrich Schwarz was tried separately at Rastatt in connection with atrocities committed during his tenure as commandant of Natzweiler-Struthof. He was sentenced to death and subsequently shot by firing squad near Baden-Baden on 20 March 1947.[28][24]

Post-war history, museum and monument

During the night of 12–13 May 1976, neo-Nazis burned the camp museum, with the loss of important artifacts. Structures were rebuilt, placing the artifacts that survived the fire as they were found originally. The reconstructed camp museum was officially opened on 29 June 1980. The European Centre of Deported Resistance Members, a new structure at the site, opened in November 2005, and at the same time, "the museum was entirely redesigned to focus solely on the history of Natzweiler concentration camp and its subcamps."[29]


A documentary film was shown in 2014 about the 86 who were murdered in the camp and whose remains were later identified by name, as described above in The Jewish skeleton collection section.[30] The film "The names of the 86" (French: Le nom des 86) was directed by Emmanuel Heyd and Raphael Toledano (Dora Films, 2014, FR). The DVD is in French. DVDs subtitled in English and German are planned for February 2015 release.[31]

See also



  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^ Mitscherlich, Fred Mielke: Medicine without humanity: documents of the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 216
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ a b c
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^

Further reading

Inmate accounts include
  • , memoirs of the former prime minister of Norway
  • , written as an historical account by a former inmate, based on interviews and research
Recent research identified the 86 people murdered for the Jewish skeleton collection
  • Lang, Hans-Joachim, The names of the numbers. How I succeeded in identifying the 86 victims of a NAZI crime. Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 2004, ISBN 978-3-455-09464-0.

External links

  • Struthof official site
  • Natzweiler: German Concentration Camp near the French Border
  • Die Namen der Nummern
  • Independent researcher Diana Mara Henry's site
  • Hans-Joachim Lang
  • KLNA Survivor Joseph Scheinmann Aka Andre Peuleve's memoirs
  • Images by Henri Gayot
  • History of the Natzweiler-Struthof Camp by Roger Boulanger, camp survivor (in French)
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