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Commemorating Hell

Commemorating Hell: The Public Memory of Mittelbau-Dora

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Commemorating Hell
    Book Description:

    This powerful, wide-ranging history of the Nazi concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora is the first book to analyze how memory of the Third Reich evolved throughout changes in the German regime from World War II to the present. Building on intimate knowledge of the history of the camp, where a third of the 60,000 prisoners did not survive the war, Gretchen Schafft and Gerhard Zeidler examine the political and cultural aspects of the camp's memorialization in East Germany and, after 1989, in unified Germany._x000B__x000B_Prisoners at Mittelbau-Dora built the V-1 and V-2 missiles, some of them coming into direct contact with Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, who later became leading engineers in the U.S. space program. Through the continuing story of Mittelbau-Dora, from its operation as a labor camp to its social construction as a monument, Schafft and Zeidler reflect an abiding interest in the memory and commemoration of notorious national events. In extending the analysis of Mittelbau-Dora into post-war and present-day Germany, Commemorating Hell uncovers the intricate relationship between the politics of memory and broader state and global politics, revealing insights about the camp's relationship to the American space pioneers and the fate of the nearby city of Nordhausen.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09305-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    This book is about the Nazi concentration camp “Mittelbau-Dora,” which controlled the lives of up to sixty thousand slave laborers from twenty countries for about nineteen months from August 1943 until April 1945. Although Mittelbau-Dora was not a death camp in which planned extermination was carried out through gas chambers, in the short time that Mittelbau-Dora existed, approximately twenty thousand of the sixty thousand prisoners in the main and subcamps died. However, died is the wrong word to use, for the prisoners were given little chance to live, and, indeed, their survival was of no concern to their captors. Toward...

  4. 1. Conceptualizing Horror
    (pp. 1-18)

    KZ-Gedenkstätte. KZ- Mahn- und Gedenkstätte. For speakers of English, these German words are without meaning. However, for a few, whose numbers are dwindling, these are key words. Key in the sense of being among the most meaningful in one’s vocabulary. Key in the sense of unlocking for an individual the most deeply needed information and emotional truths.

    Take Leo Kuntz, for example. The concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora is for him a center within his cognitive space, a phrase that is vivid in mental pictures and constructions that are inseparable from his personal history and his current concerns. The camp, once a...

  5. 2. The Camp Mittelbau-Dora
    (pp. 19-38)

    Today, in the twenty-first century, more than sixty years after the end of the Second World War in Europe and the end of the Nazi Reich, the whole world recognizes that the Hitler regime was synonymous with a reign of terror, a major part of which was the gigantic network of concentration camps. Mittelbau-Dora, one of the approximately twenty thousand camps established by the Third Reich, was the site of the largest underground factory in the world where the V-1 and V-2 missiles were assembled.

    Nordhausen, a city in the northern region of the German state Thuringia (Thüringen), almost in...

  6. 3. An End and a Beginning
    (pp. 39-58)

    The end of the war and events in Nordhausen in the battle’s final days influence even today the way in which the Mittelbau-Dora memorial is integrated into the local community. While the memorial draws a national and international array of visitors, the townspeople of Nordhausen and the Thuringia area are those most likely to participate in the lectures, meetings, and events held at the site. This makes it critical for the memorial staff to place the events and gear the exhibit to the context of local memory and perceptions of what happened in those times. As we shall see in...

  7. 4. The Change of Command
    (pp. 59-76)

    Nordhausen was devastated by the April air raids just days before Allied troops arrived on April 11, 1945. Almost nine thousand people were killed: six thousand townspeople, fifteen hundred refugees, and thirteen hundred concentration camp prisoners.¹ That represented 14 percent of the prewar population, but Nordhausen’s population had almost doubled by 1945 if one took into account those who had either been forcefully imprisoned in the camps and barracks or sought refuge from bombing elsewhere.² Tens of thousands were injured in the bombing raids on the city. Landmarks of the inner city were incinerated, including four churches and forty-six businesses...

  8. 5. Shaping the New Land and Its Memories
    (pp. 77-92)

    There was such relief that the war was over, but there was also much anxiety as the new government of the Soviet occupation began in July 1945. The Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp and Mittelwerk assembly plant had been left in shambles by the retreating SS and looted by the Americans who took the missiles and the paperwork, leaving most of the machinery to the Soviets. The people milling around the ruins of the town of Nordhausen, looking for food and shelter, now had to deal with the new Soviet administration. No one had enough of anything: food, supplies, shelter, and clothing...

  9. 6. The Mahn- und Gedenkstätte in the GDR
    (pp. 93-114)

    The early years following the war were filled with work and hardship for the people of Nordhausen, but they settled into the new reality and actively engaged in rebuilding the infrastructure of the city. They also developed the permanent structures of government and city life under the watchful eyes of the new state and its Soviet sponsors. In this flurry of changing perspectives, the camp at Mittelbau-Dora engaged the imagination of the new city leaders and a core of dedicated citizens and party members who wanted to keep the reality of those years alive.

    For many, the anxiety about a...

  10. 7. The Wall Comes Down
    (pp. 115-136)

    Nordhausen had not existed in a vacuum; it was highly influenced by the national policy makers and had to work largely within that framework. Indeed, the national government was not entirely free to make its own decisions, for it was a country that, as often asserted in the West, was a “satellite of the Soviet Union.” Nordhausen, like other small cities, was on the end of a chain of command, impacted by what was occurring internationally and nationally, but also shaping its own local future. In the 1980s, the situation became critical.

    Germany had experience in transitions. The denazification of...

  11. 8. The Modern Gedenkstätte
    (pp. 137-151)

    The anxiety within the Gedenkstätte gradually lessened during the first years after the reunification of Germany as the new director, Cornelia Klose, gained knowledge and understanding of the camp through her work with staff and survivors and became a well-known and well-liked figure in Nordhausen. The importance of the site had grown regionally, nationally, and internationally as scholars addressed the history of the Mittelbau-Dora complex using records and data that had not been available to the GDR historians.

    Along the way, the name Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora was changed to simply KZ-Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora (Concentration Camp Memorial Mittelbau-Dora). No longer was...

  12. 9. Major Themes and Conclusions
    (pp. 152-168)

    In this book, we have presented three phases of the Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora’s history in the context of what had happened in the concentration camp and missile assembly plant: the initial memorial under the GDR, the interim memorial during and just after the reunification of Germany, and the restructured memorial as it exists today. We placed the concentration camp events in the context of the last days of the war and subsequent American and Soviet occupations of Nordhausen, a small city that, to a large extent, was shaped by the camp and its survivors. They were a quiet reminder of a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 169-182)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)
  15. Index
    (pp. 195-198)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-200)