Transverse tunnel, up to 1944 accomodation for inmates. Photo: Claus Bach
Transverse tunnel, up to 1944 accomodation for inmates. Photo: Claus Bach

Mittelbau-Dora in the National Socialist Concentration Camp System

Mittelbau-Dora is a prototypical example of forced labour by concentration camp inmates, and thus of a new camp type within the National Socialist concentration camp system – a type not represented by other concentration camp memorials. Between 1943 and 1945, some 60,000 persons from nearly all the countries of Europe, above all the Soviet Union, Poland and France, were deported to the Harz Mountains as concentration camp inmates to perform forced labour for the German armament industry. One in three of them died.

“Dora” was founded in the summer of 1943 as a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp when the rocket production activities carried out at Peenemünde were relocated to tunnel facilities near Nordhausen to protect them from air attacks. Other armament projects soon followed: in 1944/45, tens of thousands of concentration camp inmates were deployed for forced labour in the construction of underground aircraft factories and fuel plants. To accommodate them, the SS established new subcamps which in the autumn of 1944 were consolidated with the Dora camp to form the independent Mittelbau concentration camp. The Mittelbau network consisted of nearly forty camps located throughout the Harz Mountains.

Today Mittelbau-Dora is a place of learning and commemoration. Relics on the former camp grounds and in the tunnels testify to the crimes, but also to the differing treatment of the site’s history over the decades. Changing exhibitions inspire critical examination of the past. The permanent exhibition opened in 2006 presents Mittelbau-Dora not just as a model case of forced labour and the relocation of armament production to underground locations, but also as an example of the strong integration of the concentration camps in German society.