From Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945
On April 11, 1945, elements of the US 3rd Armored and 104th Infantry Divisions reached Nordhausen and discovered the horrific situation at the Boelcke Kaserne, where sick and dying survivors lay with the corpses of the prisoners burned in the air raids. Not much later, the liberators also found the Mittelwerk tunnels and Dora.
The scene in Nordhausen provoked outrage among the occupiers; the US Army made a propaganda film that made the name of the city briefly infamous. But soon afterward came a different set of US Army personnel who were only interested in the technology. Before the Soviets could move forward into their prescribed occupation zone, US forces removed large numbers of missile parts and personnel. The operation to exploit German science and technology that came to be known as Operation Paperclip had one of its most important origins here. After the Soviets moved forward on July 5, they too were eager to grab the fruits of German rocket and missile technology, and used some Mittelwerk facilities to assemble and refurbish some V-2s, and later sent many German engineers and technicians to the USSR.
The first SS functionaries from the camp to be tried were 12 charged by the British in the Bergen-Belsen trial of fall 1945; 3 were hanged, including the last Mittelbau Schutzhaftlagerführer, Franz Hössler, better known for his role at Auschwitz. The long-time commandant, Otto Förschner, was executed in May 1946 by the US Army for his actions in the Dachau subcamps at the end of the war.
At Dachau in late 1947, the Army also held the only dedicated Allied trials for Dora/Mittelbau; of the 18 SS members and 5 Kapos tried, 1 was executed and 18 received prison terms. Also tried was the General Director of Mittelwerk GmbH from May 1944 to the end, Georg Rickhey, but he was acquitted because of the narrow focus on individual mistreatment of prisoners.
In the Soviet zone and GDR, 1 SS officer was sentenced to 20 years, another executed, but during most of the 1950s, little further interest was paid to the issue on either side of the border.
After the founding in 1958 of a central authority in West Germany for investigating war crimes, however, renewed investigations were made into the Mittelbau story. Ultimately they led to the "Dora trial" in Essen from 1967 to 1970. Richard Baer had earlier been discovered living under an assumed name during the investigations for the Auschwitz trial, and committed suicide in prison in 1963. So the court tried Helmut Bischoff, security chief of the Mittelbau region, Erwin Busta, an infamous SS guard, and Ernst Sander, a Gestapo officer. Just before the announcement of the sentencing on May 8, 1970, Helmut Bischoff was released on grounds of poor health (yet lived to 1991); Busta and Sander got terms of 7.5 and 8.5 years respectively, but were also allowed on health grounds to escape further imprisonment.
Thus ended the last trials on this subject, but the name "Dora" has lived on because of its connection to the group of German rocket engineers around Dr. Wernher von Braun who became so prominent in the US space program. The case of Arthur Rudolph, a close subordinate of von Braun and a key figure in the Apollo lunar landing project, has attracted particular attention; he left the United States in 1984 rather than fight a denaturalization hearing initiated by the Justice Department for his role as production manager for Mittelwerk. Rudolph settled in Hamburg, but the German prosecutor decided that there was no longer sufficient evidence to make a case; he died at the beginning of 1996. One thing definitely came of the Rudolph case: the story of Mittelbau-Dora can no longer be left out of the history of the German rocket program, as it was for much of the Cold War.
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.