Early Forms of Commemoration

The First Commemorative Ceremonies

In the early post-war years, the commemorative ceremonies in Ohlsdorf cemetery, where many victims of the Nazi regime are buried, were jointly organised by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, its political parties, and the local survivors’ associations. An urn holding the ashes of an unidentified prisoner from Buchenwald formed the focal point of the very first of such a ceremony. This urn was later interred at the central “Memorial to the Resistance Fighters and Victims of National-Socialist Persecution”. At the inauguration of this memorial in 1949, the Cold War made itself clearly felt: the Hamburg Senate refused to hold a joint ceremony with the Communist-dominated “Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime” (VVN) and brought its inauguration ceremony forward to May 3. On May 8, the VVN held its own ceremony on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of Germany’s liberation.

A poster with a blue and white striped background depicting a red triangle on the left, a "Jewish star" on the right and a black cross with barbed wire coming out of it enclosing the triangle and the yellow badge in the bottom center. Above is a black lettering: Neuengamme is calling! On the 10th anniversary of the International Liberation Day.

Pilgrimages to Neuengamme

People from outside Germany who travelled to the sites of the former concentration camp often regarded such journeys as pilgrimages. They would visit the grounds, sing national or religious songs and say prayers. For the survivors and relatives of prisoners who had been killed, theprisoners’ barracks with the parade ground was of special significance as a place of suffering, as was the crematorium. Tothis day, victims’ relatives take soil from the site of the crema-torium home with them. For years, there was no public accessto these places. Visitors from abroad either drove around thegrounds or flew over them in order to catch a glimpse of the formercamp. The site where the crematorium used to stand was only madeaccessible and marked in 1970. The site of the prisoners’ barracks only became part of the Neuengamme memorial in 2003.

The First Monument

To many survivors and relatives of victims, it was unbearable not to have a place for grieving and commemoration on the actual site of the former camp. The French government exerted pressure on the Senate to find a solution to this problem. Access to the site of the crematorium and the erection of a monument became particularly important issues in this debate. The German side refused to grant access to the site of the crematorium, arguing that it was impossible to locate. Eventually, both sides agreed on the erection of a monument on the site of the former camp nursery. This monument was inaugurated on 18 October 1953. Responding to pressure from the AIN, the international survivors’ association, the Hamburg Senate added a stone cube with an inscription in 1960.


On October 18, 1953, a simple, seven-metre-high shell limestone column designed by director of construction Paul Seitz was inaugurated. Initially, this memorial site was dedicated to the French nationals who died at Neuengamme. The financial departmentof the Hamburg Senate suggested that it be dedicated to all the victims of the camp and that the inscription should express this as well. Senator of Justice Kröger chose the inscription: “Dedicated to the Victims 1938–1945”.

Historical black and white photo from an early commemoration, with participants standing in a circle around the memorial column erected in 1953.
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
Contact us at

Do you have questions or have you encountered errors while using the website? Then please write to us at:

E-mail: lernwerkstatt@gedenkstaetten.hamburg.de

Phone: +49 40 428 131 551