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Thesis on the Reconstruction of the architectural history of Neuengamme

Research for his doctoral thesis brought Andreas Ehresmann, Director of the Sandbostel memorial site, to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in mid-September. The subject of his thesis is the reconstruction of the architectural history of Neuengamme concentration camp. “This is the first thesis of its kind”, said Ehresmann. “The system underpinning the construction of concentration camps was only brought into the focus of research only in the mid-1990s.”

The historian has already sifted through several archives in his search for relevant data, including the Central Archives in Moscow, the Federal Archives of Germany, and the archives of the memorial sites, especially Neuengamme. The issues he is pondering include the location and purpose of the single barracks, the time they were built and their equipment, the extension of the camp and possible basic construction patterns in comparison with other camps. “The buildings are sources of inestimable value for reconstructing camp life,” said Ehresmann. At the ITS archives, the historian uncovered further pieces of the puzzle, among them a document drafted by the central SS construction management. “I have to reconsider many aspects and fill them with life, as parts of the construction plans were destroyed.“

Late in 1938, the SS company “Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH" opened Concentration Camp Neuengamme at a brickworks that had been closed down in Hamburg-Neuengamme, using it as a sub-camp of Concentration Camp Sachsenhausen first and then running it as an independent main concentration camp as of the early summer in 1940. The site located at the Hamburger Vierlande and stretching a total of 50 hectare could be used for cutting clay in pits. Up to 1943, the camp including barracks, watch towers and fence was continuously expanded. “After that, it was extended in the interior. Two stone buildings with four blocks each came to replace wooden barracks”, explained Ehresmann. The main objective the SS pursued with Neuengamme was to fulfil the economic aspect of producing stones. The ultimate size of the camp had  never been defined.”

More than 100,000 prisoners from all over Europe, most of them Poles and Russians, were incarcerated in the main camp and the 86 sub-camps, and at least 42,900 persons perished there. The reasons for interning these people had been mainly resistance against the German occupation and the punishment of forced labourers. The prisoners had to collaborate on constructing and extending the camp. “And prisoners were to draw the construction plans”, recalls Ehresmann. And furthermore, they worked on widening the Dove Elbe, constructing a branch canal with docks, building the large new brickworks and excavating the clay pits. The historian plans to have completed his thesis for Hamburg University by mid-2012.