From Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945
With the arrival of better weather, the evacuation of the remaining prisoners from the tunnels into the barracks camp, and the beginnings of V-2 production in the Mittelwerk, the situation in Dora much improved; the death rate fell dramatically. At the same time, Kammler's many new underground projects in the Harz region necessitated the creation of new subcamps, the largest of which were Ellrich (“Erich”) and Harzungen (“Hans”). Although subordinate to Buchenwald, they increasingly came under the control of Dora, to which they were closely tied, in part because they gave Förschner a new mechanism for ridding Dora of exhausted and unskilled inmates.
The best educated and technically qualified prisoners, primarily from Western Europe, were selected to serve on the missile assembly line, while the others were put on the harsher outdoor, transport, and construction Kommandos. In the words of Jens-Christian Wagner, the SS in Mittelbau-Dora developed a system of “mobile selection,” where inmates who were worn out or less valuable were transferred to Kommandos, subcamps, infirmaries or “death blocks” of increasing harshness, so that the weakest died off.
In this system the best-treated inmates, other than the mostly German and Czech “reds” and “greens” in administrative and Kapo positions, were the assembly-line workers for the Mittelwerk company, which employed between five and six thousand prisoners (and two to three thousand German civil workers) on two 12-hour shifts, six days a week. (A roughly equal number of Dora prisoners worked on Wifo construction projects.) In an effort to secure better labor, Mittelwerk supplied shoes and other items to the SS camp, and instituted a premium wage system, where chits could be earned for use in the camp canteen.
Yet however much the factory came to resemble a modern high-technology enterprise, as demonstrated in color propaganda photos from mid-1944, it remained a fundamentally barbaric production site. In June, the company directors found it necessary to issue a confidential decree to the German civilian workers forbidding them from beating the prisoners and even stabbing them “with sharp instruments.” Cold, hunger, accusations of sabotage, and the threat of violence were constant companions for the Mittelwerk prisoner work force.
As time went on, and sub-assembly production was evacuated into the tunnels because of Allied air attacks, the number of prisoners working for companies other than Mittelwerk GmbH increased to several hundred in number. Askania was among the firms with Kommandos. V-2 production was disrupted, however, by political interventions because of the slowness of the weapon to mature technically, but also by a takeover of 40 percent of the tunnel area by the state-owned Junkers Aircraft Co., which set up the Nordwerk (North Works) aircraft-engine plant in the northern part of the tunnel system in late spring.
With a tiny number of exceptions, Junkers did not employ SS prisoners, but rather moved its civilian forced laborers to the Nordhausen area. Mittelwerk then consolidated its V-2 production line into tunnels 21-42, and in August 1944 accepted a contract for production of the V-1 cruise missile. The former “sleeping tunnels” (43-46) were outfitted for this purpose, and three hundred skilled Hungarian Jewish SS prisoners were transferred from the Volkswagen company, which ultimately lost the V-1 lead contractor role to Mittelwerk GmbH in October. Earlier in the summer, Dora got one thousand other Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz via Buchenwald, but these Jews were employed primarily in the worst construction jobs in Dora, Harzungen, and Ellrich.
The creation of the Junkers Nordwerk and the rise of the Mittelbau subcamps beginning in March 1944 were provoked by the same phenomena: near-panic in the Nazi leadership as a result of American daylight assaults on the aircraft industry in late February. On March 1, Speer created a “Fighter Staff,” led by the Armaments and Air Ministries, with its primary goal the rapid increase in fighter production for air defense. This gave powerful backing to plans already underway to evacuate aircraft production underground; SS General Hans Kammler thus came to play a central role through his new Sonderstab Kammler (Special Staff Kammler). He supervised a number of underground projects given “A” or “B” numbers, as well as some of the SS Construction Brigades (Baubrigaden) that were transferred to the region beginning in May 1944 for various road- and railroad- building projects.
The prisoners of the Baubrigaden were subordinated to Dora/Mittelbau until January 1945, at which time they were put under the jurisdiction of Sachsenhausen. The largest and most important underground projects in the Nordhausen region were on either side of the valley on the northeast side of the Kohnstein, especially B3 near Woffleben, and B11 and B12 on other side of the existing Mittelwerk tunnels. On April 1, 1944, the SS founded Harzungen, which supplied laborers to B3, and later also to B11. It was originally built as a civilian labor camp, and was thus better outfitted; the SS guard force was also supplemented with transfers from the Luftwaffe, which lessened the brutality, but certainly did not eliminate it.
The main camp for B3, however, was founded on May 2 at the town of Ellrich in the Juliushütte, an abandoned gypsum factory which had processed the anhydrite rock mined from the original tunnels. The conditions in this camp were especially disastrous, and the treatment of the prisoners especially brutal. Further subcamps in the region proliferated to the end of the war, for the Mittelwerk, for the Geilenberg program of underground oil production, but mostly for Kammler's various projects.
The formal subordination of these new camps to Buchenwald did not prevent the growing centralization of authority under commandant Förschner in Dora in order to save resources and gain flexibility. On June 8, the main camp received the designation “Mittelbau I,” while Harzungen and Ellrich-Juliushütte were grouped as “Mittelbau II”; in mid-July the SS guard force at the various subcamps in the region was unified into one Mittelbau Kommando under the supervision of Buchenwald Death's Head unit. On September 10, Förschner renamed Ellrich “Mittelbau II” and Harzungen “Mittelbau III” and reorganized the subordination of various Kommandos. The official WVHA order creating Mittelbau, which was made on September 30, and came into effect on October 28, 1944, was thus almost a formality.
On November 1, the SS counted 32,471 prisoners in the system, of which 13,738 were in the main camp still informally known as Dora; over half were Soviet and Polish.
Michael J. Neufeld
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. Vol 1, Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), ed. Geoffrey Megargee. Bloomington: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2009.