I was looking through some after action reports from the U.S. military groups that entered the Minden, Porta Westfalica area in early April 1945. The reports come from 5ad.org, an unofficial site dedicated to the 5th Armored Division in WW2, and the Combined Arms Research Digital Library (http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p4013coll8). The best find so far was the map showing the path of the 5th Armored Division as they swept through Germany.
I was hoping to get information about the discovery of the underground factories, but the detail, so far, has been at a much higher level… this company moved here at this hour, and this company here, etc.
It was interesting to mentally plot the course of these military groups as they approached and left the area I was interested in. For the most part, I could just type the town’s name into Google Maps to pull up the location, but I noticed what seemed like coordinates listed sometimes as well.
That got me curious to see if there was a way to locate these coordinate points. I searched Google for “ww2 german map coordinates” which led me to this post (http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=158724) at the the forums at axishistory.com, which led me to this site (http://www.echodelta.net/mbs/eng-welcome.php) that converts old ww2 coordinates to locations in Google Maps.
The system in use at the time uses a grid over northern Europe with a letter pair to distinguish each grid square. Within that square, a set of numbers determine the kilometers on the x and y axis to travel to reach the correct point. I had to guess which grid was used, since the coordinates were just numbers. It worked out well.
During May 5-10, I was once again in Porta Westfalica, Germany. The town of Porta Westfalica held a 70 year anniversary commemoration event, in honor of those who were slave laborers there during World War II, and especially those who died under the extreme and inhumane conditions.
May 5, 2015
Despite striking train workers, I made it to Porta Westfalica from Hannover airport. The first place I visited was the cemetery in Lerbeck where the mass grave site of a number of prisoners who died at the camp was located. Babette Lissner, who put together the event, and picked me up from Bückeburg where I was stranded by Deutsche Bahn because of “obstructions” on the tracks.
32457 Porta Westfalica
The site had recently been cleaned up, and it looked quite nice. One amazing story I heard while there was about the groundskeeper in charge of the cemetery during that time. As he saw so many bodies buried in the grave, with no apparent regard for record keeping, he took it upon himself to record how many people were buried on a given day, and the location in the mass grave. This document survived in the church or state archives, and became extremely helpful many years later. In 2009 the nephew of Albertus de Raaf from the Netherlands, a prisoner who died at the camp in December 1944, came to exhume the remains of his uncle in order to return them to the Netherlands to be buried next to his own father, Albertus’ brother, both of whom were prisoners in the camp. In order to find where Albertus was buried, Babette and others looked at the death records of the camp to find when Albertus died, then looked at the notes created by the cemetery worker to find the location in the grave.
More about Albertus (called Bertus) his life, and his journey back home can be found on the family’s website: http://www.bertusderaaf.nl/
May 6-7, 2015
These two days I mostly spent finishing up my presentation and doing some more research. I met again with Babette Lissner where she told me about Marianna Dumkel. As a 16 year old girl living in Porta Westfalica in 1944-45, she and a friend would need to walk across the foot bridge over the Weser river connecting Hausberge and Barkhausen (part of present day Porta Westfalica). This was the same bridge that the prisoners kept in the Hotel Kaiserhof in Barkhausen would use each morning and evening. Marianna saw them each day, their emaciated bodies, rags for clothing in the cold of winter. Her heart went out to them, and despite the risk if caught, she would sneak bread to them as they crossed the bridge.
I also met with Michael Althoff, a local expert on the tunnels. He later gave me a copy of a C.I.O.S. report detailing the findings of the tunnel and factories by a joint British and American research team. An invaluable find and worth the trip just for this document.
I had a brief tour of the Bremse Berg with Herbert Wiese. This was a sort of rail track on the side of the mountain used to ferry goods and people from the upper tunnel system to the lower and vice versa. There is a “secret” entrance to the tunnel system here, and we noticed it was uncovered. Thinking that someone might be down there, we yelled down that we were the police, and they should come out! No one did.
Update, June 22, 2015: Originally, there was a picture of one of the ‘secret’ entrances including the GPS coordinates for the location. After a concern was raised, I decided to remove the picture and the coordinates. I don’t believe making the location available on this site would have caused any issues, but I also don’t want to be held responsible in any way for having provided the information if an accident were to happen.
I’m 100% sure the city knows of this ‘secret’ entrance, and would close it if they felt the need to, whether or not I left the picture and GPS coordinates on the site. One argument for leaving the information in place would be that many people accessing the tunnels would force the city to do something. In the short term that might look like sealing the tunnel closed. In the long run they could open the tunnels to the public.
I believe there is a better way than trying to force the city’s hand, though… Peaceful petition for public access. If you would like to visit the tunnels, I strongly encourage you to petition the city of Porta Westfalica to make access to the tunnels available to the public. Let them know how many people are interested in visiting this site. When those in charge have a large number of people expressing interest, then they will have the data to show those who hold the power that opening the tunnels to the public is something that should be done.
May 8, 2015
We had a lunch with members of the KZ-Gedenk- und Dokumentationsstätte Porta Westfalica, city officials-including the mayor-and all of the invited guests, which included myself, my mother and aunt, the Hochstadt family from Australia, the de Raaf family from the Netherlands, the Bleton family from France, and the Strozyk family from Poland. The last four families are descendants of survivors of the concentration camp.
After lunch there was a brief opening meeting at city hall, and then a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial in Porta Westfalica.
That evening was a concert at the local Catholic church.
May 9, 2015
The big day of the conference. I presented the following paper in German. It was the same presentation as that given at the AAG conference in April, just two weeks earlier.
A great paper was presented by Danish historian Jens-Christian Hansen. He spoke about the Danish prisoners kept at Hotel Kaiserhof. He recreated the floor plan of the hotel. One interesting point he made, was that the prisoners who were taken because they were asocial (homosexual, mentally ill, etc.) were statistically more likely to die because they were totally unprepared for capture and life in prison. Those who were resistance fighters were more prepared, knowing that they had a high likelihood of being captured, tortured and sent to a prison camp. Before being sent to German concentration and work camps, they had already spent several months in Danish prisons.
I also translated a short statement into German for one of the Hochstadt’s to present at the conference. It was a touching and moving speech.
The text and video of the conference will be available on the KZ-Gedenk- und Dokumentationsstätte Porta Westfalica website.
Later that evening was a reading with Jennifer Teege, who found out in her 30’s that she was the grand daughter of Amon Goeth, a mass murderer and SS officer (portrayed in the film Schindler’s List). Since I was there, and my name is similar to her grand father’s, I asked Jennifer if she knew why he was named Amon. She did not know. My name has two m’s. Here is a lengthy write up about Jennifer Teege’s story:
This was the day we were able to tour inside the tunnel. It was remarkable to see the size of the system. Our group was mostly the English speakers, so I helped translate for our tour guide (Michael Althoff). The pictures here speak better than words.
Later that evening, I went on another walking tour with Herbert Wiese and the English speaking guests, again acting as translator at times. We visited the Jewish cemetery up the hill and learned more about the town of Porta Westfalica. We went to the entrance of the upper system where the Hochstadt’s wanted to retrace their mother’s steps back to the women’s camp in Hausberge. We met Rainer Fröbe at the entrance, and he provided much more information and in much more detail than I could have.
(52.2371642,8.9508522) [pics of hausberge camp]
Apparently, the women prisoners were marched through town in order to reach the tunnel entrance. After the women of the town complained, the prisoners took a different path through the woods.
I left the next day for other parts of Germany. All in all it was a great week. I learned a lot and now have a greater sense of what I need to do to finish the dissertation.
Here’s an interesting history I ran across in my research. It’s a little bit of situational irony, something that happens to everyone. This woman was able to notice it and find humor in it later in life despite all of the tragedy. This event is juxtaposed with another event that shows how interesting humanity can be. Even though she had just survived months of the most brutal displays of humanity in the concentration camps, she was able to show compassion to her “enemy”.
Györgyné (Zsuzsa) Papp was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1921. Her family was Jewish, but not religiously. She was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Later she was selected to go to a labor camp. She ended up being transferred to several labor camps and ended up in Salzwedel.
One morning she woke up and all of her captors were gone. It was April 1945. The Americans were advancing quickly, so the German soldiers had fled. Zsuzsa and her sister went into the town of Salzwedel to search for food. The town was nearly deserted as well. They went into stores already looted by other prisoners. Then entered homes to find any food they could. In one home they found a loaf of bread on the table. As they went to get it they heard sobs from a woman who told them that was all the food she had left for herself and her four children. Even though they were starving and had been abused and mistreated for months by this woman’s nation, they felt pity on her and left the bread.
Zsuzsa tells how one of the things she was most fearful of while in the concentration camps was cleaning the latrines. They were just too awful for her to contemplate. She felt so fortunate to have escaped the dreaded latrine duty in all her months in the concentration camps. As she was walking around Salzwedel she somehow fell into a ditch used for a latrine and found herself covered in waste.
While reading through the survivor accounts that I gathered from the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial last summer, I found a unique report. Apparently at one time either the Danish government, the National Museum in Copenhagen, or the Freedom Museum in Copenhagen put out a survey to former concentration camp inmates.
Axel Christian Hansen was one such inmate. Born in 1899, he was captured in Denmark as a political dissident on September 30, 1944. Sent first to Neuengamme, he was then sent to Porta Westfalica on October 3. His answers are terse, yet convey much; as do the questions left unanswered. Here are a few of the questions and his answers. The survey was conducted in Danish on an unspecified date, and translated into German in 1990.
The first section deals with his transportation from Neuengamme (near Hamburg) to Porta Westfalica.
Type of transportation: Cattle car/ passenger car/automobile/ship – open/closed
How many in each car: 50 men
Was there straw or carpet or other? No
Did you receive any rations during the trip? bread-jam-meat? No
Did you receive anything to drink? No
How did you relieve yourself? In the corner of the car.
Were there air raids? Yes
Did you stay in the cattle car? Yes
Was it locked? Yes
Where were the guards? In the first car.
Where there any dead or wounded? No
Where there any escape attempts? No
Was there any mistreatment? No
Further comments regarding the transportation and description of exceptional experiences.
There was no time to sleep in the train car because there were too many of us. When we were shipped to Porta, we were given a little bit of water and a little bit to eat from a guard.
The second part deals with the arrival in Porta Westfalica.
What did you have remaining of your things upon arrival? A belt.
Was your face or head shaved? Yes
Was your body shaved? Yes
Where you shaved in another way? Yes, with a reverse mowhawk
How often did you get a reverse mowhawk (Autobahn)? 3 times
When were you allowed to grow your hair? Never
Section three deals with daily life.
How often did you receive a change of clothes (approximate date received)? The prisoner clothes were never changed.
What was exchanged? Shirt and underpants were changed every third week.
Was there any opportunity to wash or receive washed clothing? No
What kind of shoes? Wooden shoes (clogs)
Condition of the shoes? bad
List your other personal belongings (toothbrush, soap, tissue, toilet paper, etc, and how long you had them)
How many roll calls were there per day? about 4-5
When? Mornings, evenings, middle of the night
How long did they normally last? from 1 to 3 hours
How long did the longest last? 3 hours
There is much more to be found in the document. It will be available in the document repository I am building with Omeka, where it can be translated and transcribed by anyone who wants.
Much about the camp life is known because of memoirs of the Danish political prisoners. Following are a couple of books by Danish survivors:
Kieler, Jørgen. Resistance Fighter: A Personal History of the Danish Resistance Movement, 1940-1945. Jerusalem, Israel; Lynbrook, NY: Gefen Publishing House, 2007.
Madsen, Benedicte, and Søren Willert. Survival in the Organization: Gunnar Hjelholt Looks Back at the Concentration Camp from an Organizational Perspective. Aarhus [Denmark]; Oakville, Conn.: Aarhus University Press, 1996.
One of the uses of Digital Humanities is to enlarge the community of scholars. Building up to a paper at the annual German Studies Association conference in September, I will be researching how the Open Source model of creating software and hardware can be applied to the humanities. Specifically, what does having open access to information and scholarship do to/for/with that information and scholarship. One mantra in Open Source software development is that many eyes on the code spot the errors more quickly. I would like to repurpose that mantra for humanities, specifically history: many eyes make more better history.
To try an experiment, here is a section of chapter one of the dissertation. A quick look at the use of air power as it changed from WWI to WWII and the use of strategic bombing in WWII. Any and all comments on the process, the information, scholarship, history, images, methodology, layout, facts, etc are welcome and acceptable.
STRATEGIC USE OF AIR POWER IN WWI AND WWII
By some accounts, the total Allied air offensives during World War II dropped almost two million tons of bombs on Germany, completely destroying over sixty cities, killing an estimated 583,000 Germans as well as 80,000 Allied air crew. 1 What was the goal of strategic bombing? Did the bombing of British or German cities really have the desired effect? Beginning with their implementation in World War I, airplanes were believed by only a few military leaders at the time to be of any strategic advantage in modern warfare. Incorporating strategic use of airplanes in wartime planning was in itself an early battle fought among US military leaders even before Germany invaded Poland. This section will describe the early use of bombing and how it came to be used strategically in World War II by both Germany and the Allies. Weakening civilian morale and destroying military production facilities were the main goals for both sides of the conflict. This section will look at these two goals, and describe the success or failure of the goals as seen by contemporary observations as well as present-day arguments. Finally, Big Week is discussed as a major turning point in German military planning, effectively cementing the turn from offensive to defensive measures.
Bombing as Strategy
A few British and US airmen saw the advantage of strategic bombing in World War I but were unable to convince Army officers in charge of the war to utilize bombing as an offensive strategy, that is, bombing specific non-battle front targets for the sake of military advantage. For US and British Army commanders in the Great War, the fight was on the ground, between the battling foot soldiers. The airplanes main and only responsibility, according to the commanding officers, was to support those troops. If bombs were to be dropped, they would be at or near the battle’s front. Bombing specific targets, such as military production facilities, was not seen as contributing to winning a war. After the First World War, United States airmen continued to push their belief that strategic bombing could impact a war. Their break came, when air force strategists replied to President Franklin Roosevelt’s general inquiry to the US military in the summer of 1941 for best practices for defeating Axis powers, as they expected and planned for the US entry into the current war in Europe. 2
Britain had also began interwar plans for strategic bombing and beginning with their entrance into war in 1939, British air forces began a systematic bombing of German cities. After the United States entered the war in 1941, they added their air force to the British offensive intensifying the bombing efforts the next year. Bombing raids by the Allies were designed to complete two tasks in hopes of shortening the war: weaken soldier and citizen morale, and destroy German war production. As it played out, strategic bombing of key military locations in the European theater worked as planned, causing German military production great problems.
British Bomber Command under Arthur Harris sought total destruction of industrial areas and their associated civilian support as the main objective. While the press and population saw the bombing of German cities as retribution for bombed British cities, Harris saw it as the way to disarm the German military, city by city if necessary. 3
Americans approached the issue of bombing with different goals than the RAF. American air strategists, even between the wars, had long studied the problem of bombing in order to determine the most effective strategy. In studying New York city, for example, they learned that the city could be rendered uninhabitable by destroying just seventeen key location. In studying examples of how the Japanese bombed Chinese cities as well as bombing during the Spanish Civil War, American strategists came to the conclusion that terror bombing, or bombing civilians to weaken morale, most often had the opposite effect, and usually led to a much more resistant population. Based on these studies, American strategy was for precision bombing, targeting key industrial and military locations. That American bombing often ended up destroying civilian areas just as much as RAF bombing was due to the limits of technology, rather than conscious implementation of strategy. U.S. operational records and mission reports from raids show that the Americans consistently and honestly, even relentlessly, stressed precision bombing of military and industrial areas. 4
Differing opinions as to the purpose of strategic bombing caused some tension among British and American air force leaders. American air forces entered the European Theater as a junior companion to the British forces who had already been fighting for two years. While commanders of Eighth Air Force and Eighth Bomber Command were committed to day time precision bombing, and viewed civilian bombing as a waste of resources and inefficient military strategy, they did not want to create more unwanted tension in the British-American alliance. British military leaders pressed their U.S. counterparts to adopt night time raids, citing high casualty rates and the seemingly ineffectiveness of daytime bombing. American air commanders were able to reach concessions at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 by persuading British leaders to adopt an around the clock bombing strategy, with RAF bombing civilian locations at night, and American bombers carrying out raids on military targets by day.
Hansen, Randall. Fire and Fury. Doubleday Canada, Limited, 2009, 279. ↩
Birkey, Douglas A. “Aiming for Strategic Effect: The Evolution of the Army Air Force’s Strategic Bombardment Campaigns of World War II.” Dissertation, Georgetown University, 2013. Georgetown University Library, 7. ↩
Childers, Thomas. “‘Facilis Descensus Averni Est’: The Allied Bombing of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering.” Central European History 38, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 87. ↩
Childers, Thomas. “‘Facilis Descensus Averni Est’: The Allied Bombing of Germany and the Issue of German Suffering.” Central European History 38, no. 1 (January 1, 2005): 88-89. ↩
Reinhold Blanke-Bohne wrote a completed his dissertation on the Nazi SS labor camps at Porta Westfalica in 1984. There were many different commands that inmates were assigned to; they switched commands often for various reasons. Reinhold Blanke-Bohne has a list of 26 different commands; not all of them were in existence at the same time.
Some of the jobs at the labor camp in Porta Westfalica:
Höhle 1 (= unteres System im Jakobsberg);
Höhle 2 (= oberes System im Jakobsberg); (Beide Kommandos hatten mehrere Unterkommandos)
Häverstädter Stollen (ebenfalls mit Unterkommandos)
Stollenkippe (= oberes System im Jakobsberg)
Betonwerk Weber (siehe Teil 4.6)
Verschiedene Baukommandos für Erdarbeiten , Zementtransport und Mischung , Klinkerbau- und Transport, Betonbau (Betriebe: OT Einsatzgruppe Philipp Holzmann, ARGE Herford u.a.)
Kommando Saupe und Hielke
Kommando Be- und Entwässerung
Kommando SS Haus.
And English translations (Better, more accurate suggestions are welcome. Just add a comment to this post.)
Large tunnel or cave one (the lower tunnel system in Jakobsberg)
Cave Two or Phillip works (Upper tunnel system in Jakobsberg)
Weber Concrete works
Various’ construction for earthworks
well construction command
Command gravel pit
Command Saupe and Mielke
Command irrigation and drainage
Barrack construction command
Various Transport Command
Forest workers command
machine construction command
Command hammer works
track construction Walther
Command bath heater
I have a copy of Reinhold Blanke-Bohne due to the extreme generosity of several individuals. Foremost is Wolfgang Walter from Minden who had a copy of the dissertation he allowed to be copied. Second is Dr. Gerhard Franke who had the copies made and sent them to me while I was in Berlin. And third, is Dirk Volkening at Kopiertechnik who made the copies. He actually scanned them to PDF files, which is even better than paper copies. I then opened the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro and converted it to a searchable document (Open the Text tool, select the Recognize Text menu, and click the “In This File” option; may be different in your version of Adobe Acrobat Pro).
Another option is to upload the PDF to your Google Docs.
First make sure the upload settings are set to automatically convert the document on upload, or at least ask you on each upload. When you view the PDF document in Google Docs, rather than Google Drive Viewer, you will have a searchable text page after each image page.
The largest memorial to the underground factories in Germany is near Nordhausen, at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial. I was able to visit with Jens-Christian Wagner, the director of the memorial. We had a great discussion on the importance of memorials and the purpose they have in contemporary Germany. We spoke on the many different meanings of “Gedenkstätte”, how there are political, social, emotional and economic meanings and reasons for creating a monument or memorial site. One interesting, and sad, fact is, that much of the financial support for the memorials throughout Germany that commemorate the Holocaust is provided by survivors or their relatives. Dr. Wagner also noted how it was not until 1998 that a German Bundesregierung took national responsibility for their Nazi past in the form of financially supporting memorials and monuments. Before then, “cultural” aspects of the national past were left to local and state governments.
One question I asked of Dr. Wagner was how many memorials are needed. He replied that it is impossible to construct one at each location where people were unjustly kept prisoner or executed. It should be enough to use one ore two locations as an example, as in the case with Auschwitz and Dachau. Those sites with multi-regional, or national importance, though, should be funded by the national government. Local population and authorities should determine what is adequate and appropriate for them. Dr. Wagner warned that care must also be taken due to issues that can arise when there is good intent, but no input from survivors or those affected. He was adamant, though, that something should be done. Dr. Wanger said that they also offer their services as editors and advisers on how to construct an appropriate memorial, but are limited themselves as to the financial contributions they can make. We discussed that the reason for memorials should be for social history, and only as it relates to the concentration camp inmates. The use of forced labor can never be separated from the technological and scientific discoveries made by the Nazi engineers and scientists. For example, you can’t separate the technical aspects of the V-weapons and tunnel building from the forced labor and the laborers. Doing so leads to disconnect from the laborers and leads to right wing Nazi fascination.
There is a problem even nowadays with people seeking to clear the Nazis of wrongdoing, looking to find Nazi secret weapons or proof of Nazi creation of an atomic bomb. Dr. Wanger was quite emphatic that the German war production and armament program was a fantasy. The only thing the projects produced was the death of thousands. The role of the memorial at Mittelbau-Dora is to show how completely fantastic and impractical the plans were that the Nazis had made. There is no way to separate anything they did from the reality that what they did was kill people. Everything they did here was well documented and well known. There were no secret atomic bombs here, or at any of the other tunnel projects.
We also discussed the looming issue that within 10 years, all of the living Holocaust survivors will pass on. In the past they have successfully lobbied to have the German national government fund some memorials, but within 10 years they will all be gone and the leverage they could extend will no longer exist. One question that arose was, what happens when nobody feels responsible for the history? In the 1990s and early 2000s there was a “bloom” of memorials as the government and citizens came to a “reawakening” of the horrors perpetrated during World War II. During that time there was finally a political party in power that wanted to take responsibility of the past. We also discussed that how the past is remembered is a generational issue. The question that memorials should answer is: For the youth of today, what connection do they have with the past, and why does it matter? For teenagers today, World War II is as far in the past as the Middle Ages. The Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial tries to teach the visiting youth that the structure of today’s society, with racism, political ideologies, and class separation are still in existence, just as they were in the 1930s, and that the choices their grandparents or great-grandparents made over these same issues is what lead them to a society that allowed such atrocities as the Holocaust to exist. The question then becomes, how do we learn from that past? Or, getting more to the heart of the matter, how do we deal with the “others”? How do we deal with differences of culture and class, religion and gender, and a host of other issues in our society? When youth realize that they face the same issues, as did their ancestors who allowed for fascism, then the past is no longer distant. It is relevant to them and the situations they face now, and becomes a learning tool to shape their future.
One final point of discussion was how much the people in Nordhausen knew about the concentration camp. Dr. Wagner was direct in stating that everyone at the time knew what was happening, and that they knew that forced laborers were used and abused. It was directly in front of them every day. For example, the hospital for the concentration camp was in the city, near the main train station. There were businesses in town that would “rent” inmates for war production jobs. It was similar in nearly every city in Germany. They knew what was happening.
I was able to visit three other tunnel locations, besides the tunnels at Porta Westfalica. The first of these former projects is near the small village of Langenstein. From the train station, it is a 5-kilometer walk to the memorial museum. Along the way I found another monument and memorial. It was originally built to honor those from the area that died during the First World War. Those who died during the Second World War were added on later.
From the museum house, it is another 2-kilometer walk. I had to walk the distance there and back due to a lack of taxi and public transportation. This ended up adding a certain amount of appreciation for the concentration camp inmates who were forced to walk from their barracks about 3 kilometers every morning to the tunnel entrance where they worked for 12 hours, and then marched back another 3 kilometers. Indeed, in planning and building the memorial museum, the planners purposely built the museum house 2 kilometers away, so that visitors would have to walk the same path as the inmates.
I spoke with an older grounds keeper on the way to the tunnel entrance. He was helpful in providing some background history on the former underground dispersal project. I was curious to see how much the neighboring villagers knew about what was happening a short distance from their homes, so I asked my guide. He grew up in the village, as did his parents who lived there during the war. He said that the villagers only knew that “something” was happening in the mountains, some kind of building project, but they did not know what exactly. According to this local, they did not have any knowledge that concentration camp members were used as forced labor. Taking into account the distance of the village, and the accompanying fear that people had in saying or doing anything against the Nazi party (a point that was continually brought up by Dr. Franke in Porta Westfalica), it is understandable that no one knew or would claim not to know anything about the nefarious acts of the Nazi party.
One other aspect of the visit to the memorial museum at Langenstein is of interest to note. Part of my dissertation research is to find out how the Nazi past, particularly the victims of the Nazi government, are remembered in the present. It was interesting to see that a youth organization was at the memorial grounds volunteering their labor to keep the area clean and beautiful. A good way for youth to connect in some way with their history is by performing service to commemorate and honor those from the past, particularly those who suffered unjustly.
A final experience in Langenstein is worth sharing. As I walked through the town on the way to the memorial I noticed signs for the cave dwellers of Langenstein. After my visit to the memorial, I made a stop at the cave dwellers. The story goes that in 1856 or there about, several families moved to Langenstein, but there were no houses available. They were instructed to carve out some rooms in the Shepherd Mountain sandstone. So they did. Upwards of 12 families lived in these cave houses, just like Hobbits, with one house being continuously occupied until 1916. Here’s the website: http://www.hoehlenwohnungen-langenstein.de/ And some pictures of the place:
South of Hamburg, and just south of the town of Bergedorf, lies the rural area known as Neuengamme. During World War II this area was turned into a large concentration camp, housing mainly political and war prisoners from surrounding countries. During the last few years of the war, many of these prisoners were taken to “satellite” camps for use in SS building projects. One of these projects was to become the underground factories in Porta Westfalica. Some 2000 men and women were transported from Neungamme to Porta Westfalica to convert the mines and create new tunnels into underground factory space. After the war, the Neungamme concentration camp was used as a prison, and only recently turned into a museum and archive commemorating the victims of Nazi terror.
The staff at the archive, particularly, Mrs. Alyn Beßmann, helped me find all of their resources regarding the sub-camps at Porta Westfalica. Of particular interest from the Neuengamme archive were the many interviews conducted by former concentration camp inmates. I was able to make copies of the interviews of twenty-four inmates who were moved from the larger camp at Neuengamme to one of the smaller camps at Porta Westfalica. Particularly helpful at Neuengamme was the exhibits about the life of inmates at the Neuengamme concentration camp, and the extent of the concentration camps in Germany’s occupied territories. Particularly striking, is a large map with small markers indicating the location of all known large main camps and sub-camps. Fourteen large camps provided inmates to hundreds of smaller sub-camps throughout Germany, France, Holland, Austria, Czech Republic, and Poland. The extent of the terror brought about by the Nazi ideology is truly astounding.
Not quite the same feeling and fun as a road trip, but fun enough.
Yeah, archive work! Yeah, Germany! Yeah, yeah archive work in Germany! Thanks to a grant from George Mason University’s Provost Office, I just spent the last two weeks in Germany (by myself, not so yeah) doing some archival research for the dissertation. Here are some thoughts on the trip.
Make sure you have a good internet connection where you will stay. I booked a decent hotel with Internet included, and free breakfast. The only problem is, the connection to the Internet is spotty at best. I have to get a new user/pass combination to connect to the Internet every 24 hours, too. It’s so frustrating to want to communicate, but not be able to. Especially when you’re trying to get in touch with family back home. So, do some research and hope you get lucky. Also, it is important to know any quirks about the Internet in the country you go to, if going out side of the USA. In Germany, they use 13 channels for their routers, in the USA we only use 11. So if your place of stay uses channel 12 or 13, you’re almost out of luck. You can pick up a relatively cheap USB wireless adapter in the country that should get you all of their available channels. But you will most likely have to find some place with Internet to download software. Enter in the great Internet hubs scattered throughout the world: Starbucks and McDonalds! Even BurgerKing has Internet available. Find out where they are and use them.
2. This is only a test.
Don’t get your hopes up too high for your first trip. I kind of went on this trip with the attitude that it would be a test run of a later real trip. This was possible because I know that I’m coming back in a few months. If you don’t know if you’ll ever go back, then you need to do a lot of background research and contacting before hand. I had scheduled to go to the archive Tuesday through Friday the first week and Monday through Thursday the second week. The first day ended up being a get settled day; exchanging money, finding my way around, finding the Starbucks for Internet, etc. It often felt like I was wasting time, but if you know you are going to go back, then it is time well spent to get your bearings and figure things out. I lived in Germany for two years, but that was a life time ago (like 15 years ago). So I am a bit rusty on speaking German, and German customs, and such. Luckily that mostly all came back easily.
3. Talk to me.
Talk with your contacts before leaving home. Or email them. Let them know exactly what you want to do, what you want to research, where you are going to look, etc. They can save you lots of time. I had one contact at the University of Freiburg, Professor Ulricht Herbert. I met with him twice, and he gave me sound advice. I should have emailed him more often before hand, but nothing really beats face to face contact anyway. My one contact here has turned into two or three. He also helped me realize I am trying to do too much in my dissertation. As it stands, its really a life’s work project. Going through the sources helped me understand that too. There is just way too much for me to be able to grasp it in two years time (my goal). Instead, I’m going to scale back and only cover one tunnel project, and cover that in depth. The reason there is no all encompassing history about the underground projects from World War II is because it was a huge project. Basically the whole of the German economy was turned to focus on these projects towards the end of the War. There is just too much to understand, too many documents to go through, and too much to grasp before this history can be written. That’s why nobody has done it, yet. It would take lots of financing and lots of time. Dr. Herbert suggested four years of work, but only after I had perfect understanding of German, have read all that has been written on the subject so far, and had an intimate grasp of Germany in World War II. That ain’t gonna happen in two years when I have a full-time job, a family, and no financial support. Perhaps that will be my ongoing project as a professor…
4. I’ll make a note of that…
Figure out a good note taking routine. I have several hundred documents digitized from another archive already, and figured out a good naming scheme for them. I have a spread sheet for taking notes on each file, and for later import into Omeka for an online archive. This time around was a little different. The Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg had lots of documents for me to go through. Whereas before it was one collection/folder in one archive, I now had many collections/folders in one archive. So I had to figure out something a little different. I also didn’t have enough money to make digital copies of any of the records I found. It turned out that I didn’t need to make any, but that should be budgeted and planned for as well. There were a handful of documents that I wanted copies of, so I just transcribed them into a word processing document. I thought about making them plain text documents, but ran into a few formatting issues. I chose to make them LibreOffice (OpenOffice) Text documents, because there will always be a program that can open those, and that program is free. Of course, any program nowadays can open Microsoft Word documents, too, and there is no fancy formatting, so that would work fine too. One of my greatest struggles so far is keeping the documents in place chronologically. So my naming scheme for the files takes care of that. Start the name of the file with the year, then month number, then day number (YYYY-MM-DD), and the documents sort themselves! The file viewer (File Explorer for Windows or Finder for Macs) will usually sort by alphabet, so there’s nothing to it. Another thing I did was to go through the documents as quickly as I could. If It looked like it was helpful, I jotted notes about it, or quickly transcribed it. I will be able to go through the notes and transcriptions later to make sense out of them. That leads into the next point.
5. Plan it right.
Leave a day on either end for miscellaneous things. I unintentionally had a whole day with nothing to do. I was finished with the archives on Wednesday, and didn’t need to leave until Friday. That left me with the whole day on Thursday to tie things up and get ready to leave. I did some laundry, packed my bags and wrote this. It’s also a good time to go through the notes to make sure you don’t forget anything.
The final tip is to just enjoy the time. If you’re in a foreign country, take a day to go see the sights. I had a weekend where the archive was not even open, so I spent the day walking around the awesome Altstadt (the oldest part of town, buildings from the 1400’s!). If you have funding for your trip, just think, who else gets paid to go look at old documents. Man, history is great! 🙂