From Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945
During the last phase of Mittelbau's existence, the production lines in the Mittelwerk continued to run smoothly almost to the last day before evacuation, but the persecution and suffering of the prisoners in the main camp, not to mention the subcamps, increased dramatically. Although the Mittelwerk never reached its specified output of 900 V-2s per month, beginning in September it produced between 600 and 700 monthly—over 20 complicated ballistic missiles per day.
Between November and March, the company also assembled 6,000 much simpler V-1s, about equivalent to its total production of V-2s during the war. The death toll in Dora did not begin climbing again until after the beginning of the year, when large numbers of evacuated prisoners from Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and other eastern camps began arriving, but November marked a significant change in atmosphere. An alleged plot among the Soviet prisoners to stage an armed uprising on the anniversary of the October Revolution provoked the Gestapo to arrest not only alleged ringleaders, but also to smash the informal resistance leadership in the camp, which included the German Communists Thomas, Kuntz, Szymczak, and Beham, as well as prominent French prisoners.
Those arrested were thrown in the Dora bunker and other local Gestapo prisons and tortured. The pace of executions increased. Förschner and his SS subordinates now permanently installed "green" criminal prisoners in positions of responsibility, including Roman Drung as Lagerälteste.
The repression was ratcheted up yet further when on February 1, 1945, Himmler replaced Mittelbau commandant Otto Förschner with Richard Baer, the last commandant of Auschwitz. The Gestapo-SD security apparatus had criticized Förschner for his reliance on Albert Kuntz and other "reds" who turned out to be resistance leaders, but the last straw was the discovery that he failed to report a 10,000 Reichsmark bonus he had received from the Mittelwerk GmbH.
The evacuation of Auschwitz in late January left many hardened SS camp officers without posts, and Baer promptly installed his former subordinates throughout the Mittelbau hierarchy. Yet the great increase in executions in February and especially in March, including a number of mass hangings in the camps and in the tunnels, was largely the responsibility of SS-Obersturmbannführer Helmut Bischoff, the head of security for the Mittelwerk and the V-weapons program. Effectively Bischoff reported directly to Kammler.
The executions reached grotesque proportions after an attempted breakout of about 20 Soviet prisoners in the Dora bunker on the night of March 9. Two days later, 57 Soviets were hung, and on March 21 and 22, 30 again each day. The German Communist leaders who had survived torture were shot in the last days of the camp.
At about the same time as Baer became commandant, evacuation trains began arriving from Auschwitz and later from Gross-Rosen, which had the most profound impact on the Mittelbau camp system of all events of the last few months. Over 16,000 inmates, many in disastrous condition, were dumped into the Mittelbau system by the end of March, 10,000 of them from Gross-Rosen alone and a large percentage of them Jewish.
These trains also had many dead who were not even registered; the corpses were piled up and when the crematoria could not cope, were burned in piles. Dora's population temporarily shot up from fourteen to twenty-one thousand in February, before many were transported to Ellrich-Juliushütte and other subcamps, including a new location for mass suffering, the former Luftwaffe base in Nordhausen, the Boelcke Kaserne. The seriously ill were dumped onto straw laid out in the airplane hangers and left to die. Even before the final evacuation, 2,250 from there and Ellrich were shipped off to Bergen-Belsen in an "annihilation transport."
The end came at the beginning of April. On April 1, work stopped in the Mittelwerk. On April 3 and 4, the Royal Air Force burned down much of Nordhausen in two raids that also killed up to 1,500 at the Boelcke Kaserne. Baer and the camp leadership began the evacuation on April 4 by train and foot, abandoning only several hundred seriously ill in Dora and the Boelcke Kaserne. The ensuing death marches and trains had the same catastrophic and senseless pattern seen elsewhere; surviving Mittelbau inmates ended up at Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück, and many other places as far away as Austria, with a death toll in the thousands.
The most infamous crime of the evacuation took place at the village of Gardelegen, where 1,016 marchers from Mittelbau and Neuengamme subcamps were locked in a barn and burned alive, or shot if they tried to escape. Only 20 to 25 survived. Wagner estimates that over 8,000 died during the evacuations, raising the final Mittelbau toll to over 20,000.
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.