The Harz, located in the middle of Germany, was developed into an important location for the armaments industry due to its natural conditions by the National Socialist leadership in World War II. More than 7.000 forced labourers, prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates worked and lived under often inhumane conditions in the city of Wernigerode and its surrounding villages alone. From April 1941 onwards, forced labor camps were set up in the city, the first at Veckenstedter weg 43. This was followed by many other smaller and larger camps, and the largest at Ziegenberg.
On March 23, 1943, the camp on Veckenstedter Weg was vacated as a forced labor camp and converted into an external work detail of the "Buchenwald" concentration camp in order to meet the increasing need for workers. Instead of the 300 forced labourers, the number of people housed there increased to 800 over the course of the year. After 300 of the concentration camp prisoners had been distributed to other subcamps from the end of October, the remaining 500 prisoners were taken to the new camp of the "Steinerne Renne" branch on December 24, 1944.
Already on the day of the building inspection, the need to increase the capacity quoted for further forced labourers. So from July 1941, 180 French and Belgians prisoners were placed. These came mainly from Flanders (Kortrijk, Rousselare, Ieper) and Northern France. The Rautenbach Group took part in its operating facilities, especially in the areas of the light metal works and the Rautal-Werke extensive investments for the expansion upgrading of the production facilities.
In a letter dated September 12, 1941, Reichsfeldmarschall Hermann Göring, ordered the "1 B Hannover 124" of the Rudolf-Rautenbach-Leichtmetallwerk to the highest possible severity level “0.” Based on this order, the intensified conditions of the war related or restrictions of construction materials are now no longer in the way of expansion. This also increased the demand of the workforce.
As early as December 9th, 1941, the Rautal Werke submitted a new application for the construction of more Barracks in this camp known as "Barackenlager III". This time, a different type of standard building, one with a central aisle, was chosen. The two living and sleeping barracks were roofed together and the washing and Lavatory barracks bordered in the middle. These pointed in the direction of the Werkshallen and buildings three barracks a closed wooden front, so that no one from there into the barracks could see.
The camp consisted of seven barracks in the actual camp area and an eighth barrack for the SS guards outside the camp. It was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence, the inner fence of which was electrically charged and about 12 feet high. A total of three watchtowers offered the SS guard an overview of the interior of the camp.
The concentration camp prisoners came from the "Buchenwald" concentration camp, which had been set up on the Ettersberg near the city of Weimar. When choosing the location in Wernigerode, the favorable location played a major role (safety, seclusion, proximity to the production site).
On March 25, the forced labor camp on Veckenstedter Weg in Wernigerode was converted into a subcamp of Buchenwald concentration camp and was codenamed 'Richard'. 800 prisoners have to produce electrical systems for the Luftwaffe's bomber program in the Rautal factory. The prisoners mainly work in the Rautal works and in the expansion of an underground tunnel system on the Galgenberg. The tunnel system was further expanded until the end of the war, but was no longer used after that. An underground relocation by the Rautal works was probably planned.
The prisoners in the 'Richard' subcamp were mostly Poles, Russians, Czechs and southern Slavs. Above all, they suffered from the poor hygienic conditions and the completely inadequate medical care in the camp. Extreme physical labor and the outbreak of contagious diseases led to the complete exhaustion of the prisoners. It is estimated that 18 prisoners died in the satellite camp in Wernigerode. These included seven people who were hanged for an alleged attempt to escape. More than 400 prisoners died on a death march in April 1945 from the satellite camp in Hasserode to the Leitmeritz concentration camp, including many prisoners from the dissolved 'Richard' camp.
In a total of 52 transports, there was an exchange with the Buchenwald main camp in order to always have available workers who could work. The prisoners' working day lasted from early morning until late at night. Before and after work, roll-calls were held in the camp. Areas of work was the Rautalwerk, mining work in the Galgenberg, track construction work and the expansion of the camp.
Within the Rautal factory, which mainly manufactured cylinder and engine housings for aircraft, vehicle, express and assault boat engines, the prisoners worked in the foundry, gutting and cleaning shop, the control and dispatch hall and in the light metal works. The work was difficult and hazardous to health. Prisoners who could not cope with these hardships were deported back to the main camp and replaced by healthy prisoners. The lists show that a total of 1.144 prisoners were imprisoned in the one and a half years that this external work detail existed.
In November 1944, the forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners set up a new subcamp at the Steinerne Renne in Hasserode. The Wernig works, set up in the former factory halls of the Agenta chocolate factory in early autumn, needed more workers to expand and increase their production. In addition to the fittings for various aircraft types, production of the JUMO 4 engines (jet engines for Junkers engines, which were required for the Me 262 (Messerschmitt) one of the new weapons of the Third Reich, began there in January 1945.
On December 25, the 500 prisoners of the Wernigerode branch of the Buchenwald concentration camp (until then working in the Rautal works and housed in a barracks camp on Veckenstedter Weg) moved into the empty buildings of the company premises at the "Steinerne Renne" train station. The site is surrounded by an electrically charged barbed wire fence. Every day, the SS guards take the prisoners from here to forced labor in the "Wernigwerk" on Burgmühlenstrasse. The Argenta-Schokoladen-Aktiengesellschaft, founded here in 1935, stopped production at the beginning of the war. The Junkers aircraft works then set up a branch to manufacture aircraft parts.
The guards were reduced from 65 SS men to 49 SS men. In the final phase, most of the guards were replaced by members of the Luftwaffe and foreign workers from allied countries (Romania, Hungary, Croatia) who had been accepted into the SS. These were often dissatisfied with their own situation and willing to enter into agreements to the advantage of the prisoners.
With the approach of the American troops, the order to evacuate the subcamp was issued, which began on April 10, 1945. Around 11:00 p.m. 502 concentration camp prisoners left the camp with their guards. After three days they reached Calbe, where 300 concentration camp prisoners were left behind because they could not keep up the pace. They were released the next day. The other prisoners who were still alive were herded to Köthen on foot, from where they were taken by truck to the outskirts of Dresden. After a walk to Pirna, where they arrived on April 14th, they continued to Schlottwitz. From there, shipping on the Elbe to Ústí was planned. Due to at least one more death march coming from Aschersleben, the capacity of the transport was not sufficient. Some of the concentration camp prisoners had to return to Pirna. Of these 60 prisoners, 57 reached the camp in Leitmeritz, where they were released a few days later. The prisoners shipped by Schlottwitz were transported by train from Aussig via Prague and Pilsen towards Mauthausen. On May 8, Czech partisans stopped the train and freed around 180 concentration camp prisoners, including an unknown number of prisoners from the Wernigerode subcamp.
A memorial was established in 1974/75 under the leadership of the district in the former forced labor camp and later concentration camp branch office on Veckenstedter Weg. Today there are still 3 wooden and 2 stone barracks on the site. The building envelopes are all original. Half of one of the three wooden barracks still has the original structure. The three rooms "examination room, infirmary and accommodation for the Soviet prisoners were restored according to old plans and descriptions of former prisoners. Since 2018, a special exhibition has been on display in the rear area, showing the structure of the barracks and their changes, taking into account the different uses up to the present day In a second barrack there is a permanent exhibition with documents and exhibits from the camp. The administration, archives, libraries and training rooms are housed in the other two buildings. There is also a memorial on the memorial site, which commemorates the victims of Nazi terror. Commemorations and wreath layings are held here regularly.
A sponsorship group has been formed at the memorial, which, in addition to preserving the memorial, also strives for its public perception and acceptance. He tries to sharpen the profile of the memorial with his own events and, above all, makes his own contributions to the processing of history through his own special research projects.
In addition, the association "Lebensspuren e.V. - interest group of Lebensborn children in Germany and association for the processing of Lebensborn" has its headquarters here.
This website is made out of respect for the victims, the civilians and the veterans of WWII. It generates no financial gain what so ever and it is merely a platform to educate the visitor about WWII.
A big THANK YOU to the United States Army Center of Military History for their help in providing the input for these pages. All pages on this website are constantly being refitted with acurate data and texts and it is an ongoing process.