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.