Struthof!

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Memorial to Those Who Perished in Struthof.

I have a long standing interest in the history of WWII and the European Resistance Movement. I have read extensively on the subject, visited The Holocaust Museum in the US and toured Dachau in Germany.

In 2010 we visited Obersalzburg where we visited the site of Hitler’s Bavarian residence, Berghof, and his house, the Eagle’s Nest. Hitler rarely visited Eagle’s Nest because he was a severe acrophobe. There is a museum very worth visiting about the Third Reich in Oberslazburg. Goring, Speer and Borman also had residences nearby.

We visited Obersalzburg on a freezing cold October morning, which seemed appropriate for what we were seeing and experiencing. It was a little difficult to find the site as there were very minimal road signs to indicate the way. The most remarkable thing about Hitler’s Berghof  is the extensive underground redoubt system he constructed. Goring had one also. These underground bunkers had extensive tunnels with elevators, air shafts, multiple interconnected underground rooms, some with chandeliers, storage facilities and a location for snipers to kill anyone entering the pass. Hitler planned this as a place to hide, fight, and win his last battles. What struck me most forcefully in Hitler’s redoubt was the true insanity of the man and his followers. He literally thought that if he was losing the war, he could live for an extended time frame underground with his loyal followers. This is a surreal place, and if you are in Salzburg,  I recommend you visit. We need to understand this type of insanity so we can better recognize it when it rears it’s ugly head.

bunker obersalzburg

Hitler’s Underground Redoubt

I also wanted while in Alsace to visit Struthof, which is a lesser-known concentration camp that housed many members of the European Resistance. So on another unseasonably cold day in July the subsequent year, we made the journey over the picturesque mountains and forests of Alsace to Struthof.

First, some facts about this camp.

Struthof Concentration Camp is located in Alsace France, thirty-one miles southwest of Strasbourg. This camp housed many members of the European Resistance, mostly from France, Norway and the Netherlands. An estimated 7000 prisoners were from the French resistance alone. Many communist resisters were incarcerated in this camp, along with Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. An estimated 52,000 people were incarcerated here with a death rate of approximately 40% of total inmates, or 22,000 people. The youngest inmate was eleven years old and the oldest was seventy-eight. (source: http://www.struthof.fr)

Struthof was “one of the most murderous camps of the Nazi system.” (www.struthof.fr)  Prisoners were used in forced labor for the Nazis. Medical experiments were conducted onsite by Nazi Physicians from the Reich University of Strasbourg, mostly on Gypsy prisoners. It contained a gas chamber. The medical experimentation rooms are still there and are quite distressing to see. Most disturbing of all to me were the pens where prisoners who were selected for special punishments were kept for extended periods. They resemble dog pens in a pet store, prisoners could sit in them but not lie down or stand, as they were just over 3×3′ in size. If Devil’s Island was malevolent, which it was, the evil in this place and in Dachau is non-describable by me.

Struthof

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It is worthwhile when visiting Europe to take time to visit some of these places. It leaves a strong impression and will to stand up for what is  humane all over the world. Estimates vary but between 11.5-17 million people were killed in The Holocaust during WWII.  Jews, (Roma) Gypsys, Russians, Poles, Slavs, allied military personnel, people of conscience, intellectuals, dissenters, Christians, homosexuals, members of the resistance, handicapped people, the list goes on and on (See references for source information regarding statistics.) My uncle was in a POW camp in Europe after he was shot down in a mission over Germany. He was an Air Force Navigator. 3.5 million POW’s were estimated to have been killed in these camps.  WWII would eventually claim the lives of more than 62 million people. This is most likely an under representation because there are not accurate counts of the dead in China (whole towns were obliterated) and Russia where countless millions of souls perished.

(Please see link below for discussion of latest population statistics on the war as they do vary, but contemporary consensus seems to be that numbers are under-reported.)

Visiting Struthof is difficult and disturbing, but important, in that we need to remember and honor all those who perished in this terrible war.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

References:

A Mosaic of Victims: Non Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. Ed:  Michael Berenbaum. NYU Press. 2000.

Ellis, John. World War II: A Statistical Survey, Facts on File. 1993.

Niewyk, Donald.  The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. Columbia University Press, 2000.

40 thoughts on “Struthof!

    • Thank you Rebecca for understanding. I think the scope of the horror was worse than we were taught. It is so disturbing, but also so important to know about and remember. I also am blown away by the bravery of the resisters and there were so many, on so many levels, all across the continent, and beyond..

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  1. I never heard of Struthof. But then, so much is skipped over about that horrible time in human history. It is a time that needs complete exposure as we might learn from past mistakes so that they will never be repeated again. Thank you for sharing your journey Cindy.

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  2. I was hesitant to do this post as I wasn’t sure how people would react, so it means a lot to get your understanding of why I think it is important. Thank you! I believe as you do, that knowledge of history is very important!

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  3. Hi Cindy,
    You are totally correct about Struthhof. I have only seen it casually referenced in the WWII anals when the holocaust is mentioned, an usually with no reference to the multi-faceted population of the camp. My mother’s family were immigrants from the Netherlands and the Rhine valley even before WWI but with that heritage I had a strong interest in the German side of WWII. The POW and extermination camps were truly evil personified. There were so many atrocities committed there, some that we are now just learning about. Thanks for posting this.
    Paul

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  4. Cindy, When I worked in Germany (’81-83) I visited Dachau and spent many of my off hours at Rommel’s Panzerkaserne in Böblingen, West (at that time) Germany He had an underground shelter with vaulted ceiling to protect him from bombing. I was fortunate enough to work with Rommel’s son. He was a gentleman of the first degree. I also attempted to visit Hitlers redoubt but was thwarted by heavy fog on that trip. Like so many others I had never heard of Struthhof. Thanks for posting these fotos and your desciption of them. I learned something from you (once again). Wally

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    • Wally, I think it’s the other way around. I learn from you. Incredible that you knew Rommel’s son. There were so many victims of this war. It was still freezing and foggy at the redoubt when we visited. My concern is that the people who actually lived through it, people my parents age are dying and this history needs to be told. Thank you for this support of my post. I had no idea how people would react.

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  5. Oh Cindy, I have goosebumps on my arms reading your post. I have read many books, seen pictures, museums, and so much more on this evilness. Your summary and pictures were so much more of a realization of this horrific crime on so many human beings. I am speechless. Thank you for sharing this.

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    • Seeing these places is very hard to describe. Words do fail. I still cannot get my head around the extent of the trauma in WWII and the incredible bravery of so many who had the courage in both big and small ways to resist. Thank you for supporting this post.

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  6. Cindy, thank you for your courage to face such evil head-on. Many about us want to pretend it never happened. Back in the 70’s, I lived in New York. I met several people with their numbers burned into their arms. A neighbour a few years older than myself had two aunts who had been “operated” on in the camps. They could never bear children and suffered a number of various medical problems not to mention the psychological issues.
    A dear friend wants to visit Poland during one of her trips here. She has Polish and Russian roots and speaks both languages. If I am able to go with her, I intend to visit Auschwitz and write about it.
    It is my belief that there is still so much that we do not know.
    If you like, I can send you the title of a book written about the camp in Collioure (one of the most beautiful beaches on The Med) and the exodus across the Pyrenees.
    Have you read about Varian Fry? The tiny road in Marseilles that bears his name is the home of The American Consulate there. There are many others and perhaps in this age of technology, it is time for a blog where those who have information can contribute to something that can inform millions.
    There are many “invisible” scars in this land I have come to be at home.
    Well done Cindy, thank you once again!

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    • Oh Lea,
      Sometimes there is push back when one talks about truly awful things, but what happens if people don’t talk about it enough? The biggest reaction to this post so far has been, “I have never heard of Struthof…….never heard about the European Resistance heroes who had died and been imprisoned there…..Thank you for posting.”
      We have such good fellow bloggers.
      There are so many more of these places, more camps, whole towns, ethnic groups like the Romas, countless villages in China, that few people know of. Who speaks for them? No one it seems. The Romas suffered such huge death rates from the Nazis, not to mention the Poles, Slavs, Ukranians, Russians. No one really has a number of the Russian dead. Some experts say 17 million.
      I am especially interested in those who perished, who no one remembers or champions.
      I would like to read your book. Please post the title.
      Thank you Lea, who can be found in France, for understanding.
      How do you suppose such a blog could be started?
      My uncle is 88. His story has never really been told. So many of the memory keepers are now dying. I am afraid their stories will be lost forever.
      And yes there are many people in our profession, who bear the tattoo. They are getting quite old now too.
      I will be in Marseilles for one day, can you believe only one, in 2013. How far is that from you?
      Cheers to you my friend.

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  7. We share the same interest ,maybee for different reasons and with different backgrounds but with the same message..
    Thank you for sharing this ,it cant be send out as much as possible so it wont be forgotten

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    • Yes. I have just been to your blog. Absolutely stunning photography and poems. I am now following you and I am very glad to have met you. Look forward to exploring more of your wonderful photos and work. Cheers & thanks!

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      • Sorry for late replies on my blog and here.
        Sat with a big smile on my face reading your comments as I do now 🙂
        It”s always nice to see someone enjoying the things you share , wether it is pictures , words , or thoughts.
        Hope to have more time in a few weeks to do some serious strolling over yours aswell..The feeling is mutual .
        Thanks Cindy 🙂

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  8. I was over there in the early 60s while in the service, it is said that Hitler sent an elite group over to study how this government treated our people, the natives, while he was mistreating his people, regardless that is one horrible place that everyone in the world needs to visit at least once.

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  9. I had a disturbing visit to Dachau in my early 20’s. It was really almost more than I could handle. I’d like to go back again. You’ve also proposed another institution I would add.
    It’s always interesting to here how this effected my husband even though it was far before he was born. His mother born in 1927 has first hand accounts. I’m sure your husband also has some stories and feelings about this very sad chapter.

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  10. Hi Wendy! My husband is of German origin, but born in the US. His father was a US naval officer who served in the Pacific during WWII. Jim identifies as a US citizen and a person of German origins. Another group of people whose story’s have been mostly ignored are the everyday German person, so many of whom suffered and died as well. Blaming all the German people for this travesty is like blaming me for Vietnam. No one in control was asking for my opinion/permission. My brother’s draft number was 1! Hitler was drafting 14 year old’s towards the end of the war. German children and widows suffered intensely, especially after the war. Some times people like to avoid complexity, and engage in black/white judgements which gets us no where in terms of understanding and preventing events like this from occurring in the future.

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  11. I had never heard of Struthof prior to reading your post, and I’m glad I stumbled across it. I studied in Prague, and in regards to Wendy’s comment above, I really liked the comparison you made of the Germans to the Vietnamese/WWII to Vietnam. Hitler sucked up Sudentenland and even today, people are quick to pass blanket judgments on the country without thinking about the other side of the story. I find it interesting how Germany is affected today by their past. Their past necessitates it for them to remember and incorporate their history into their present with their memorials, school curriculum, etc. I visited Terezin and Lidice in the Czech Republic and there was a palpable heaviness, it was a very sad day. Thanks for your post, I found it very interesting.

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    • Wow! I am really glad to have found your blog and vis versa.
      Such true statements, people tend to judge when they feel threatened by something I think. In this case I think people might be threatened by the banal mundaneness of evil, and how it can crop up anywhere, even in their own countries and governments, if they are not extremely focused on everyone’s equal rights, fundamental humanity, and right to exist and prosper. I have read extensively about what happened to German citizens during and after the war. The children and widows stories were particularly heartbreaking, but all of it was heartbreaking. Hitler and his henchmen victimized so many. And yes I notice this sense of shame in Germans, as if it is their stain. Sad to me, when Germany is such a beautiful country, with warm, welcoming people. It just shows what corrupt governments can do to everyone.
      We will be in Prague for seven nights in early May and I am so excited to visit for the first time.
      Very glad to have met you in blogdom and thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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  12. It is unbelievable that there are still people who swear the holocaust never happened. Your post is disturbing but very well-done and important, so that nobody ever forgets it happened or decides it never did.

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  13. Good post and very interesting Cindy, it’s good to have an understanding of this side of history. I visited Dachau many years back, I found it so disturbing and I still can’t get over the eerie quietness of the place, not even birdsong. I’m glad I went to see it though.

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