Mittelbau-Dora camp locations and construction projects in 1944/45. Graphic: Jens Borleis

Summer of 1944: The Development of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Complex

Dora and other subcamps originally belonging to the Buchenwald complex were amalgamated to form the independent Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp, in which Dora now served as the main camp. This step was carried out in connection with the formation of the “Jägerstab” (“Fighter Staff”) and the relocation of military aircraft production to underground sites beginning in the spring of 1944. Throughout the area surrounding Nordhausen, in a project referred to as “Mittelbau”, underground plants were to be constructed for the Junkers combine after the example of the Mittelwerk. At the same time, measures got underway to create the necessary infrastructure for the planned armament complex in the Southern Harz Mountains.

The founding of the “Geilenberg Staff” was followed in the summer of 1944 by further underground relocation projects for the petroleum industry. These projects created an enormous demand for labourers, met to some extent by concentration camp inmates, but also by foreign civilian workers recruited by force, prisoners of war and Germans subjected to compulsory work.

In view of the imminent end of the war, hardly any of these projects were carried even close to completion, despite the ruthless exploitation of the labourers, particularly the concentration camp inmates. Most of the Mittelbau camps set up in connection with the underground relocation efforts were situated within a relatively small radius around Nordhausen.

In addition to the main camp Dora with its average population of some 15,000 inmates, the core of the Mittelbau complex comprised the camps of Ellrich (founded on May 2, 1944; average inmate population approximately 8,000), Harzungen (April 1, 1944; 4,000 inmates), Rottleberode (March 13, 1944, 1,000 inmates) and the SS Construction Brigades III and IV (altogether some 3,000 inmates, divided up among several smaller camps along the construction site of a railroad side track in the Helme Valley between Nordhausen and Herzberg). Once Mittelbau had become an independent concentration camp, it gained further subcamps through the relocation of new armament projects to the Southern Harz Mountains. By the spring of 1945, the Mittelbau camps – then numbering approximately forty – accounted for over 40,000 inmates.

The inmates came from all over Europe, mostly from the Soviet Union, Poland and France. The majority of them had been imprisoned for political reasons. Since May 1944, also Jews were deported to Mittelbau-Dora. Following the dissolution of the Auschwitz “Zigeuner-Familienlager” (gypsy family camp), the SS additionally transported numerous Sinti and Roma to the southern Harz mountains between April and August 1944.