In summer 1944, the SS began clearing the concentration camps close to the front. The prisoners and the production facilities classed as kriegswichtig (important to the war effort) were transferred to numerous new satellite camps deep inside the Reich. When the concentration camps inside the Reich were also cleared in spring 1945, the state had hardly any reception camps left at its disposal. Nevertheless, the SS tried to keep the prisoners under their control for as long as possible. The closing down of the Neuengamme concentration camp complex started on 24 March 1945 with the clearance of the satellite camps in the Emsland region on the Dutch border. In early April, the camps in the Weserbergland region, in Wilhemshaven, Hanover, Braunschweig and Salzgitter were cleared. The last camps to be disbanded were the satellite camps in Bremen and Hamburg.
View of the SS barracks from the watchtower at the SS main guard station facing north towards the brickworks. The four huts parallel to the street at the centre of the photograph contained the Jastram facility. The photograph was taken after the war.
Death Marches and "Reception Camps"
At the end of the war the camps were emptied by goods carriages transport. Often 50 to 100 prisoners were crowded together in one wagon with little or no rations, sometimes for days. During breaks in the journey, the numerous dead were buried next to the railroad tracks. If rail transport was not possible, the prisoners were herded out of the camps on foot. Those who could not keep up were shot by the guards. The destinations were "reception camps" such as Bergen-Belsen, Wöbbelin and Sandbostel.
The Clearance of the Main Camp
The main camp, from which more than 4,000 Scandinavian prisoners were rescued by the “White Buses” on April 20, 1945, and subsequently nearly 10,000 prisoners were brought to Lübeck by freight trains, served as an execution site until the very end. On April 21 and 23, the SS murdered 58 men and 13 women who had been transferred from the Fuhlsbüttel police prison for execution. A residual commando of about 700 men cleaned up the camp, burned files and made traces of the crimes disappear.
Since he had no more “reception camps” for the prisoners from the main camp at his disposal, the Hamburg NSDAP Gauleiter (regional party leader) Karl Kaufmann requisitioned ships berthed in Lübeck. More than 9,000 prisoners were then taken to Lübeck and put on board of these ships. The prisoners were crammed into the holds, where they suffered from hunger, thirst and disease. Many of them died.
The complete permanent exhibition "Time Traces" and the other side exhibitions on the grounds of the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial are also available digitally in the memorial's media library. Unfortunately, the media library is only available in German.media library
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