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Natzweiler-Struthof: History & Overview

by Ben Weiss

Natzweiler-Struthof was located in eastern France in the Vosges mountains. After the Nazi occupation of France, Albert Speer surveyed the area and mentioned the granite resources indigenous to the region. The SS-owned business, Deutsche Erd Und Steinwerke (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd), began to move prisoners to the area in May 1941 to quarry the granite.

A gas chamber was installed in August 1943, although the camp remained primarily a labor camp. Victims of the gas chamber had their remains scattered in the surrounding area.. Records indicate that the bill for the gas chamber was paid by the Strausberg University Institute of Anatomy. Professor Hirt, director of the institute, wanted a skeleton collection. One-hundred thirty people, mostly Jews, were shipped out of Auschwitz into the gas chamber for this purpose. Explicit reference to the gas chamber was made in this invoice. This was unusual because official Reich policy did not encourage open reference to gas chambers in documents.

Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, socialists, and others were tortured and murdered at Natzweiler-Struthof. Many of the prisoners in the camp were members of resistance groups throughout Europe and were known as Nach und Nebel (Night and Fog) prisoners. Members of the French Resistance were killed immediately upon arrival. Remaining resistance group prisoners were sent to work in the quarry or on road construction, where work conditions were the worst.

In addition to the extreme working conditions, medical experiments at Natzweiler-Struthof were common. Testimonies at the Nuremburg trial relate the details of experiments using mustard gas on patients and detailing their effects. Gas was applied directly to the skin, inhaled, or injected and the effects were recorded. These experiments caused tremendous pain as they slowly destroyed the subjects' organs until their deaths days later . In a separate experiment, another faculty member of Strausberg University wanted to run medical experiments on prisoners with phosgene gas, a poisonous gas. Gypsy (Roma) (Roma) prisoners at Natzweiler were used for this deadly experiment. Other experiments at Natzweiler included studying the effects of typhus vaccines and epidemic jaundice.

Natzweiler-Struthof had satellite camps located in Baden-Wurttemberg, Neckarelz, Leonberg, and Schorzingen. By the end of 1944 a total of 19,000 prisoners were in these satellite camps, while the main camp had between seven and eight thousand. The main camp was liberated by the French Army on November 23, 1944, while the satellite camps were only evacuated in March of 1945. As the Allied forces approached, prisoners were marched toward Dachau.

It is estimated that 40,000 prisoners passed through the main camp during the time that it was in operation, and between ten to twelve thousand died. In 1989, a written testament was hung on the wall of the crematorium in memory of the Jews who died in the camp.

Sources: Gutman, Israel. ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. Vols. 1-4. NY: Macmillan, 1995.
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