Neuengamme Concentration Camp

Photos of Memorial Site by Bonnie M. Harris

Gravel beds show the outline of the former barracks buildings

Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

Neuengamme remained a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen until June 1940, when it became an independent concentration camp of 18 barracks built in 9 rows. These rows of barracks are demarcated today by slightly raised gravel beds showing the place where the barracks once stood.

At first, prisoners slept on the floor but after 1941, they were provided with three-tier bunk beds. The Barracks, called "blocks," were designed to hold about 200 people, but according to the Memorial site, "the blocks were mercilessly overfilled, sometimes with 400 prisoners per block. The sanitary facilities were utterly inadequate and the level of hygiene below all human dignity."

These same barracks were used by the British to imprison suspected German war criminals from 1945 to 1948. The barracks were demolished in 1949 and replaced with a new tract of prison cells, after the camp was handed over by the British to Hamburg's justice department.

Neuengamme's prisoner population in 1940 was over 1,100. By July 1941, the number of prisoners increased to over 5,000. Due to chronic overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, typhus became an ongoing problem. Over 1,000 prisoners died during an outbreak of typhus that began in December 1941.

As the war progressed and the shortage of labor increased, the SS expanded the use of slave labor from concentration camps in the armament factories. By mid-January 1945, the Neuengamme Camp system consisted of about 60 satellite camps with an inmate population of approximately 50,000 prisoners.

From April 1942, when the SS completed construction of a crematorium at Neuengamme, the bodies of prisoners who died in the camp were cremated and the ashes spread in the camp gardens. The prisoner death rate continued to rise, and the SS later constructed a second crematorium.

Display shows photo of the crematorium building

Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

This picture, which is displayed at Neuengamme today, shows how the crematorium once looked. The crematoria were demolished in late 1946 and early 1947. A memorial plaque was placed in the location of the first crematorium in 1970. It is shown in the photo below.

Memorial marks the spot where bodies were burned in the crematorium

Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

The outline of the former crematorium building

Photo Credit: Bonnie Harris

Of the 106,000 inmates held at Neuengamme and its sub-camps, approximately 55,000 died from starvation, disease, abuse, experimentations, and executions, according to information given at the Memorial Site. According to the United States Holocaust Museum, precise numbers for Neuengamme are unknown because the camp records were burned by the SS before the British liberators arrived. Although Neuengamme was a labor camp, not a death camp, and did not have a gas chamber, the 52% death rate during its 8 years of existence was far higher than the 15% death rate at the Dachau main camp where 31,951 out of 206,206 prisoners died during a 12 year period and half of these deaths were in the last six months of the war when a typhus epidemic devastated the Dachau camp.

Barbed wire fence and guard tower at Neuengamme camp

Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

Display shows photos of original fence

Photo Credit: Bonnie M. Harris

The camp's fence consisted of several parts. In addition to the electrically charged barbed wire that was held in place by the bent concrete pillars, there was also a diagonal wire fence which was constructed with the intention of preventing prisoners from committing suicide by throwing themselves onto the charged barbed wire.

There were paths on both sides of the fence, along which the SS guards patrolled. On the inside, the path was bordered by an area of raked sand in which footprints could be instantly seen.

The watchtowers were manned with sentries equipped with machine guns and searchlights, with which the fence could be additionally illuminated. This part of the fence was reconstructed to illustrate these security measures. The original sawed-off fastenings for the barbed wire and two porcelain rings that held the electric wires can still be seen in the wall of the watchtower.