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.
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.
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.
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.