Warning sign on the camp fence of the concentration subcamp Boelcke Casern, April 1945, detail. Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Winter of 1944/45: The First Phase of Dissolution

The structural dissolution of Mittelbau Concentration Camp had already begun in the late autumn of 1944. Due to overcrowding in the subcamp and particularly the onset of winter, the living conditions worsened throughout the complex, leading to a sharp rise in the mortality rate. Having reached a peak of 750 in March 1944, the monthly rate had sunk to 100–150 in the summer of the same year. In November it shot up again, reaching 570 (the number officially registered by the SS) in December, of which 500 were accounted for by the Ellrich-Juliushütte Camp alone.

At the end of 1944 the SS began to “evacuate” the Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen camps in view of the advancing Red Army, transporting the inmates to concentration camps farther west. Many of these transports went to Mittelbau: altogether 16,000 inmates from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen, including women and children, were deported there by March 1945. These transfers brought about an increase in the number of Jewish inmates in the Mittelbau camps. After weeks of travel in railway transports, most of those who had managed to survive the journeys were ill and completely exhausted.

This development resulted in another drastic rise in the number of deaths. Between January and early April 1945, over 6,000 inmates died in the camps of Mittelbau, including 3,000 in the Boelcke Casern in Nordhausen, set up by the SS in January as a central death camp for the Mittelbau complex.