The Clearance of the Main Camp

On 20 April 1945, more than 4,000 Scandinavian prisoners were rescued from the main camp as part of the “White Buses” operation. Immediately afterwards, almost 10,000 prisoners were taken to Lübeck on goods trains. However, the main camp was used as a site for executions until the very last minute. On 21 and 23 April, the SS murdered 58 men and 13 women who had been taken to the Neuengamme camp from Fuhlsbüttel police prison for execution. Twenty children who had been used for “medical” experiments were taken to the cleared Bullenhuser Damm satellite camp in Hamburg and murdered there.While all this was going on, a 700-manstrong work commando had to “clean up” the camp during the last days of April. In a concerted operation, the SS made them cover up the traces of the crimes committed at Neuengamme. All files were burned, the huts were cleaned of dirty straw and vermin, and the flogging trestleand gallows were disposed of. The last prisoners and SS men left the camp on 2 May 1945.

“[…] The Allies are advancing further and further. Outside Bremen and to the east and west of Hanover they’ve reached the Elbe.What’s going to happen to us? All manner of fantastic and contradictory rumours are going around. Will they evacuate us? – There could be nothing more senseless than carrying on with the war. Are they planning to exterminate us? – We all used to think this was likely, now only a few isolated individuals believe this will happen. Will the tanks come rolling in here one day, and will the SS be gone by then? Will we be formally handed over? –Who could answer these questions?”

Entry from the diary of Paul Weissmann, written in May 1945.

The “White Buses” Rescue Operation

In March 1945, all prisoners from Norway and Denmark imprisoned in German concentration camps were taken to Neuengamme. A camp section known as the “Scandinavians’ Camp” was established as Himmler’s concession to the demands of the Vice President of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte. Through Bernadotte, Himmler hoped to establish contacts with the British government, with whom he wanted to negotiate acease fire to avert Germany’s unconditional surrender. On 20 April 1945, more than 4,000 Scandinavian prisoners were allowed to leave Neuengamme concentration camp, after some sick prisoners had already been taken to Sweden on the “White Buses”.

Black and white photo of the “White Buses” of the Danish Red Cross at the base camp Friedrichsruh
Media Library

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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