NVA (National People’s Army) parade on the former roll call square of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, 19 October 1978. Photo: Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial

The Memorial during the German Democratic Republican Era

By the end of the 1940s, hardly anything remained to be seen of the former camp. The grounds had rapidly been reclaimed by nature. The only buildings left standing were the crematorium, the fire station and the camp prison in which hundreds of persons had been tortured and murdered in 1944/45.

In 1952 the German Democratic Republican (GDR) authorities had the prison torn down against the protests of former inmates. At around the same time, a group of Nordhausen citizens – including Buchenwald survivor and later mayor Fritz Giessner – began landscaping the area around the former crematorium and the ash grave to serve as a cemetery and commemorative site.

In 1964 the Socialist Unity Party (SED) district committee founded the “Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Dora” (Dora Memorial) and had a sculpture by the artist Jürgen von Woyski erected in front of the former crematorium. Woyski’s work had actually been conceived for Auschwitz Memorial. Two years later the Dora Memorial went into operation with the opening of a permanent exhibition bearing the programmatic title “Die Blutspur führt nach Bonn" (The Trail of Blood Leads to Bonn) in the former crematorium.

The Mittelbau-Dora Memorial never played a key role in the GDR commemoration policies. Unlike Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück, it was never granted the status of a “national memorial”. Mittelbau-Dora remained in the shadow of Buchenwald. Even if local efforts were made to expand the memorial, Mittelbau-Dora remained in the shadow of Buchenwald.

In the early 1970s, the local authorities had the completely overgrown former muster ground landscaped as a “Memorial of the Nations” with a speakers’ platform, a bowl of flames and flagpoles. In 1988, excavation work got underway to access the tunnel facilities. For lack of funds, however, the project was discontinued the same year.