To the French, it is Le Struthof; to the Nazis it was Konsentrationslager Natzweiler; to Americans it is Natzweiler-Struthof. By any name, it was a horror camp where prisoners suffered inhumane treatment or were murdered by the Nazis during the period when Alsace was incorporated into the Greater German Reich after the defeat of France in 1940. Now the beautiful province of Alsace is once again in France and the camp has the distinction of being the only concentration camp on French soil.

The former Natzweiler-Struthof camp is now a protected historical site, called the "Memorial of the Deportation." It is located in a scenic area, in the majestic Vosges mountains, above the Bruche Valley, near the former Hotel Struthof, once a well-known winter resort in the heart of Alsace. The Deportation refers to the French resistance fighters who were deported to the Greater German Reich after they were captured. As illegal combatants who were fighting without uniforms in violation of the Geneva Convention of 1929, they could have been legally shot, but instead they were worked to death in concentration camps, particularly at Natzweiler, but also at Buchenwald and Mauthausen.

The Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp was opened by the Nazis on May 21, 1941 near the tiny French village of Natzwiller in the Vosges mountains, 31 miles southwest of Strasbourg in the province of Alsace. This location was chosen in the fall of 1940 because the Deutsche Erd und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd.), a company owned by the SS, wanted to make use of a nearby granite quarry, which would be worked by condemned German prisoners who had been sentenced to hard labor. This quarry was noted for its beautiful red granite which would be used for buildings in Nuremberg, the unofficial capital of the Nazis, and one of Hitler's favorite cities.

In a book written jointly by several Natzweiler survivors, François Faure wrote the following:

Natzweiler is situated in Bas-Rhin, about 30 miles south west of Strasburg. It is a lovely Alsacian village, like many others, and nothing could have foreseen during the happy years of the pre-war period that its very name could evoke so many tragical memories...

But in September 1940, a certain Blumberg, Standarten Führer of the S.S. who was exploring the region, decided to set there, 2,500 feet high, in a majestic site facing the Donon mountain, on the North side of Louise rock, wellknown of the inhabitants of Strasburg who enjoyed skiing there, a quarry and a concentration camp which became the only Nazi extermination camp on French soil. The Germans called it Natzwiller and it was to gain after that a sinister reputation under the name of Struthof, a locality situated near the camp.

Note the spelling "Natzwiller" which is the French version of the name of the village. It is pronounced Nots-veeler. Natzweiler is the German name for the village; it is pronounced Nots-vyler which rhymes with Rottweiler.

The first prisoners were 300 German criminals. According to a book which I purchased at the Memorial site, "they lived in temporary blocks situated near the Struthof hotel, about half a mile from the present location of the camp. Those prisoners carried on their back from the farm all the materials necessary for the first blocks, made all the earthwork and construction. As soon as blocks number 1, 2, 3 were finished, the number of prisoners went up to 800 (Germans)."

On August 15, 1942, the first political prisoners arrived in the camp and Natzweiler became one of the main camps where French resistance fighters were sent.

The barracks of the camp were built on a steep hillside, as an old photo of the camp shows. The space between the barracks was used for the prisoners to assemble for roll call every morning and evening.

Natzweiler was originally built to hold around 1,500 prisoners who would be brought there to work in the nearby granite quarries. However, only around 500 prisoners were ever put to work in the quarries; most of the prisoners were employed in munitions factories. In the summer of 1943 Natzweiler prisoners were put to work overhauling aircraft engines.

At the beginning of 1944, there were fewer than 2,000 prisoners at Natzweiler-Struthof, but by September 1944, when the camp had to be evacuated, there were 7,000 prisoners. Some of them had been brought to Natzweiler from other camps that were in the war zone.

The first Commandant of the Natzweiler camp was Josef Kramer. When Kramer was transferred to Auschwitz, he was replaced by Fritz Hartjenstein, who had previously been the Commandant of the Auschwitz II death camp at Birkenau, beginning in 1942. Hartjenstein had the rank of Lt. Col. in the SS. He got his start in the concentration camp system in Sachsenhausen in 1938. In 1939, he was transferred to Niederhagen, and in 1941 he served for a year with the 3rd Waffen-SS Division called the Totenkopf division. After the Natzweiler camp was closed, he was transferred to Flossenbürg where he became the Commandant.

On April 9, 1946 Hartjenstein and five staff members at the Natzweiler camp were brought before a British military tribunal in Wuppertal, Germany. The trial ended on May 5, 1946 with the conviction of all six of the accused. Hartjenstein was sentenced to death for the execution of four female SOE agents at Natzweiler, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died on October 20, 1954.

The names of the accused staff members of Natzweiler and their sentences are as follows:

Franz Berg - Death sentence (Executed)
Kurt Geigling - 10 Years Imprisonment
Fritz Hartjenstein - Death sentence (Commuted)
Josef Muth - 15 Years Imprisonment
Peter Straub - Death sentence (Executed)
Magnus Wochner - 10 Years Imprisonment

Franz Berg and Peter Straub were hanged on October 11, 1946.

Josef Kramer was transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944 when the exchange camp there was converted to a concentration camp. He was arrested by the British after Bergen-Belsen was voluntarily turned over to them on April 15, 1945. He was put on trial before a British Military Tribunal and convicted; he was hanged in December 1945.

Sub-Camps of Natzweiler-Struthof