The Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp complex was created in 1943, firstly as a sub camp of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, named the Dora Labour Camp. It was located within Central Germany, near to the Harz Mountain range and the town of Nordhausen.

People were brought into Mittelbau-Dora from August 1943, with increasing numbers arriving from Buchenwald Concentration Camp until the end of 1943. The people transferred from Buchenwald were used as forced labour to construct Mittelbau-Dora. As a result of allied air raids on industrial areas in Germany, production of armaments and rockets was moved underground. The SS gave Mittelbau-Dora independence from Buchenwald in 1944, and the complex grew to have at least 30 sub camps of its own.

Deportations to Mittelbau-Dora included people from the Soviet Union, Poland, and France. Many people did not survive the hard labour required to complete the construction phase of the concentration camp. Following the original transportations, prisoners were also transferred from other concentration camps, such as Auschwitz.

Until January 1944, there were no barracks, meaning that people were forced to live underground in tunnels similar to those they worked in. There were no sanitary facilities other than a barrel that had been cut in half which served the purpose of latrine in the tunnels. Conditions underground were horrific and claimed the lives of many people between 1943 and 1944. People deemed too ill to work were deported to other camps such as Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen.

At any one time, Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp held at least 15,000 people within the main camp. By 1945, capacity of the main camp and its sub camps was as high as 40,000 prisoners.

The Camp Complex

Once the underground construction phase was complete, forced labourers were used in construction of the above ground Mittelbau-Dora camp complex. From 1944, barracks for the prisoners of Mittelbau-Dora were created above ground; although many people did live above ground when not working in the underground tunnels, conditions were still poor. Many individuals were not brought to live on the surface until May 1944.

In 1944, an underground factory named the Mittelwerk, was established for the manufacture of V-2 rockets as part of the Nazi war effort. People were selected specifically to work on the V-2 rocket factory production.Conditions dire, with many individuals falling victims to disease and exhaustion. German civilians were also employed by the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp; these individuals worked 12 hour shifts alongside the Concentration Camp’s prisoners. The treatment the civilians received from the SS guards inside the factories was dramatically better. The civilian workforce also persecuted the prisoners who worked alongside them. The abuse became extreme enough that a ruling in the factories was created to prevent the civilian workforce murdering people held as prisoners of the concentration camp.

Plans to expand the concentration camp further were never completed due to the Second World War.

Sub camps

Within the Mittelbau-Dora complex, around 30 sub camps were created in order to utilise the prisoners of the concentration camp as forced labour.Major sub camps included Ellrich, Harzungen and Rottleberode which were created during 1944, holding around 13,000 prisoners between them. Other smaller sub camps collectively held around 40,000 people by 1945.In these camps, labourers were sent directly to particular ammunitions factories; armaments factories such as B3 and B11 were intended originally for civilians to work within these factories, and therefore were in better condition than many of the underground factories. Although working conditions in camps such as Harzungen and Ellrich were improved, people still faced received brutal treatment from the SS guards and limited rations.

Most sub camps within the Mittelbau-Dora complex were originally under the control of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp; however, by June 1944 the Commandant of Mittelbau-Dora began to take control. As part of this, the main Mittelbau-Dora Concentration camp was named ‘Mittelbau I’, whilst the two largest sub camps, Harzungen and Ellrich, were named ‘Mittelbau II’. SS guards within the Mittelbau-Dora camp complex were put under the control of the Mittelbau I Commandant in September 1944.

Camp Life

Executions at the camp were common; multiple mass hangings occurred between February and March 1945 under the authority of Helmut Bischoff, who was appointed head of security for the concentration camp. Within this time, at least 57 Soviet prisoners were hung, as were at least 60 more in the following months.

Resistance leaders from within the camp population, most of whom were political prisoners that had been trusted with roles of authority, made escape plans; on March 9, 1945, 20 prisoners attempted to escape, they were not successful and were executed.

Following the arrival of many thousands of prisoners from other camps such as Auschwitz, and Gross-Rosen, conditions deteriorated rapidly. As the Second World War came to an end, the conditions of the Mittelbau-Dora deteriorated rapidly. As other concentration camps were liquidated as the Allies approached, camps deported prisoners to Mittelbau-Dora to prevent them from being liberated. In March 1945, at least 16,000 people arrived from the Auschwitz Concentration camp.Overcrowding and disease meant the camp became increasingly dire. As a result of diseases, many ill prisoners were moved in 1945 to the Boelcke Kaserne, near Nordhausen, there they were left in aircraft hangers to die. People were also transported on ‘annihilation transport’ trains to other camps such as Bergen-Belsen, most of these trains held only corpses by the time they arrived at their destination.


The British Air Force started bombing the area around Mittelbau-Dora, as a result SS guards started removing people from the concentration camp. Officially, prisoners in Mittelbau-Dora were evacuated from the camp in April 1945, every person able to march was moved towards Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Many individuals who were forced to move on foot in what became known as ‘death marches’, did not survive. Having survived the horrific conditions in the camp, many people were in a terrible condition before they started marching. They then faced exposure or, if they became too ill to keep up, being shot by SS guards.

Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp was liberated by the American army on 11, April 1945.  At this time the American troops first discovered the tunnel system used for the production of armaments for the Third Reich. The American army found 1,300 corpses within the tunnels of Mittelbau-Dora, none of which had been registered in the camp administration records.They were horrified by the living conditions of the prisoners within these tunnels, taking footage from the site to use in propaganda films against the Nazi regime. The Americans were also interested in the production of V-2 rockets that had occurred within the tunnels; missile parts were removed from the site before the Soviets arrived in the area in July 1945.

After liberating the concentration camp, the American army created a Displaced Persons camp on the site of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp. Many people who had survived the camp remained on the site until well after the end of the Second World War. The Soviet Union took control of the Displaced Persons camp in July 1945. They used the camp as a ‘repatriation camp’ for Polish and Soviet slave labourers until the end of 1946. After the Soviet’s left in 1946, the camp was dismantled by villagers of the nearby Nordhausen.

From August 1943 to March 1945 at least 60,000 prisoners were held within the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp complex. Although records are not clear, it is believed that at least 12,000 people were murdered within the camp. The death marches that followed the evacuation of Mittelbau-Dora also resulted in the murder of over 20,000 people.


Throughout the majority of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp’s existence SS officer Otto Förschner held the position of camp Commandant. He had held various positions in the administration of Buchenwald Concentration Camp following the end of his active service in 1942. Forschner used German political prisoners as administrators in positions that were not required to be held by SS officers; individuals such as the Communist Albert Kuntz was given the position of supervisor of the camps construction. This created problems within the concentration camp, eventually leading to his removal from position and replacement by Richard Baer.

Richard Baer took control on February 1, 1945, on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. At around the same time as his arrival, many evacuation trains arrived from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp, bringing thousands of extra prisoners and some former staff. Baer used many of the staff from Auschwitz that had worked alongside him to fill positions within the camp.

Following the liberation of the concentration camp in 1945, trials were held by the British and Americans to prosecute the SS officials responsible for the atrocities at Mittelbau-Dora. In May 1946, Otto Förschner was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. Richard Baer fled Germany but was captured in 1960, he committed suicide in prison.

In 1958, Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp came under the investigation of the central authority for investigating war crimes; the ‘Dora Trial’ was the result. Taking place in Essen between 1967 and 1970 SS officers who had worked at Mittelbau-Dora were prosecuted.

German rocket engineers involved in the creation of the V-2 rocket, and intricately connected to Dora, became prominent in the US space programme. Arthur Rudolph, production manager in Mittelwerk was taken to the United States and worked in the Apollo lunar landing project. He left the United States in 1984 after the Justice Department began a denaturalisation hearing for his role in the atrocities of Mittelbau-Dora.


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