I’ve been meaning to get this set up for quite a while, and now that I actually have some solid sources (all secondary for now), I am able to put this together.
Zotero is a great bibliography tool, and the web version allows anyone to collaborate on a group bibliography. This will be helpful in working with the Concentration Camp Memorial and Documentation Center of Porta Westfalica (CCMDC), a group that is actively working with the city of Porta Westfalica to put up memorial signs and collect information relating to the former labor camps.
I’m a nerdy, geeky type of guy, fascinated with technology, so I just had to figure out a way to keep myself on track using a spreadsheet. I chose Google Docs through my Google account as it is safely backed up online and I can do cool things like provide a link for anyone to see it and thereby keep track of my progress.
With ideas and thoughts cribbed from Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books, I came up with a deadline (December 31, 2014, so that I can edit and finalize things before graduation in May 2015), and looked at a calendar to plot the days I would be able to work. I first put down all of the events and times where I know I will NOT be able to work on the dissertation. Saturdays and Sundays are out because of family and religious reasons (my family gets me for 2 whole days of the week, where it’s my turn to take care of the kids). 40 hours a week for work. Sleeping time (although that’s the first to go). And any other times I knew I wouldn’t work on the dissertation; holidays, vacations, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
With some basic numbers, I was ready to put together a tracking spreadsheet: 250 pages for a dissertation (on the short end for history dissertations, but I’ll have a lot of digital aspects to supplement), with roughly 40 pages a chapter; 175 days to work until December 31, 2014; 12 hours a week; 2.5 hours a day with 4.5 hours one day of the week. That works out to about 1.5 pages a day (that I plan on working) or .5 pages an hour. That seems easy enough. I can write half a page in an hour… when I have the material in hand (and mind) already. This is by far the hardest part; not waking up at 4am (that’s easy).
I have a sheet to keep track of the days I work on the dissertation, how many pages I write that day, and what I worked on.
This automatically updates my “dashboard” that tracks things on a monthly level, with a cell with giant numbers of how many pages left I have to write. The closer I get to 0, the greener the cell automatically becomes. (I just can’t help it.)
The downside to this, is that it doesn’t really track the progress of the actual chapters; how much of chapter one is left, how much of the introduction is written, etc. I don’t really have a set number of pages to reach in order to call a chapter “done”. It’s “done” when I get all of the information across and points made and theories explored and backed up with examples. That could take 40 pages or 100 pages. But a rough guesstimate and quick goal is for 40 pages per chapter.
This is where Scrivener comes into play, or would “more better” if I spent more time figuring and configuring the awesome tracking abilities built into Scrivener. One of the great progress tracking features is to set a “words per section” goal. A quick calculation and another rough guesstimate puts us at 350 words per page, or 87,500 words. You can set a word goal for each section, and then see the results as you type and see all sections in a group at a glance. I have each chapter broken down into smaller sections, and each of those sections gets a word goal.
Now I just need to use all of these tools and get back to work!
There are many ways and means of finding sources. Even though I should be just in the writing stages by now, I’m still finding sources to add to my collection. I was reading in Pierre Bleton’s book “Das Leben ist schön!” (no relation to the film of the same name, this book came out first), and a footnote here and there got me off on a web search for things. I don’t know why I have not searched the USHMM catalog until now, but it proved useful. I already knew of the three or four books that come up with a search for “Porta Westfalica”, but the 76 survivor interviews were a new find. I have transcripts from about 25 survivors that I found in the Neuengamme archive. Only one of those is listed in the results from USHMM. That gives me 100 survivor accounts. Of the estimated 3,000 prisoners in four camps at Barkhausen, Hausberge, and Lerbeck/Neesen, that gives me a view of 3% of the prisoners. Further looking into the records of the interviews, showed that not all of them were in English; some were in Danish, Hungarian, Hebrew, and Slovak. Of the 76 listed, only 45 were in English. So that gives me a total of 70 survivor interviews to use for my dissertation. I’ll have to compile some data points to draw up some graphs and what not (maps, info-charts, etc) about the survivors, and see what that can tell me. I also need to find some time to go down to the USHMM so I can view the interviews which are provided by the USC Shoah Foundation and only viewable from select locations.
The final tunnel location that I was able to visit was in the small village of Happurg, near Nuremberg. I was unable to contact anybody from the village of Happurg before arriving, but found a hotel close to where I suspected the tunnel location might be. In the evening of my arrival I walked around the local man-made lake and noticed information signs denoting the historical interests of the village of Happurg. One of these signs was about the underground dispersal project from World War II, noting that the man-made lake now covered the location of the former concentration camp. The next morning I asked the hotel owner if there was anything to see of the old tunnel. She said that just the morning before, three survivors with members of their family had come, as they do every year, to hold a small service at the entrance to the tunnel, and that the entrance was only a short 10-minute walk from the hotel. I was able to visit the tunnel entrance, which was blocked off, and take pictures of the memorial signs left to commemorate the death of the forced laborers.
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:
My first week in Germany was very lonely. I’m such an introvert, so it’s my own fault, but still. That’s the reality.
On Saturday I took the train to Minden. I dropped my things off at the hotel, then took the train further to Nienburg. I served there as a missionary for my church 16 years ago. I had contact with friends there, still, so I stayed there Saturday night and went to Church on Sunday. That was great fun. Sunday evening I was back in Minden.
On Monday, I met with Dr. Gerhard Franke. He is a retired school teacher and teacher instructor (which he did for over twenty years). He was interested in this topic because he grew up in Hausberge, was four years old when all of the tunnel stuff was going on, and is interested in history. He was a great help. He had contacted the city of Minden archives and was notified of several people in the area who were interested in the topic. So, being the great person that he is, he made appointments for us to visit with them.
The first stop on Monday was with a Herr Münstermann. He was a teenager during the war and experienced the issue first hand. He also later became a city official for many years. I wasn’t prepared to even meet with anyone that had lived through this time period, so I didn’t complete any paperwork at GMU to allow me to use personal interviews in my research. But nothing says I can’t listen anyways. He told us a little about the situation, and most helpfully, explained why it came to the point where forced labor and underground factories were necessary in the first place. Basically, after “Big Week” (a massive, multi-day bombing raid on Germany by the Allies), the Ambi-Budd company in Berlin was nearly completely destroyed. Numerous other business suffered a similar fate. They began the process of requesting increased protection from the military and help from the government. The idea was then, to disperse factories into smaller sub-factories where products could be produced in part, then brought together at yet another facility to be assembled.
In 1944, the decision was to move dispersal to underground facilities to further keep the factories secret and protected. Herr Münstermann had several copies of documents created by Rainer Fröbe and others. It would have been great to get copies of some of these documents, and Dr. Franke asked. Herr Münstermann, a very serious but kindly man (he is a widower and we could tell he was pleased to have us as company, he even put on a tie, and his suit coat when we sat down to talk), but he never gave out his things, because they had a tendency to not be brought back. We sat in silence. He capitulated, based on the good relationship Dr. Franke and he had. After our meeting, we immediately went to a copy shop, made double copies, and took the originals back to Herr Münstermann. Thank you, Herr Münstermann! (As it turns out, I found all of those documents in the Neuengamme archive, but you never know, so get copies while you can!)
Our next visit was with Thomas Lange, someone I ended up having much in common with. He was my age, for one. Second, he did his masters thesis on this topic. Thirdly, he is into technology. He’s actually a sound technician now, after finishing his Masters in History. Dr. Franke very kindly invited us all to his house for the discussion. Thomas, also very, very generously, provided Dr. Franke and I with nice, bound copies of his Master’s Thesis. He was thrilled that someone was interested in his work, doubly so that some crazy American was interested. We had a good talk about the subject, what sources he found and where, and things like that. Good stuff.
On Tuesday, we traveled all over Porta Westfalica (which consists of 15 districts which used to be individual villages, including Barkhausen, Hausberge, Neesen, and Lerbeck). We visited the Wilhelm Monument, one of the entrances on Jakobsberg (apparently we missed some huge cement oil tanks that can still be seen), and one entrance on Wittekindsberg, under the monument and behind the current lodgings of the Schützenverein Barkhausen. Dr. Franke knows lots of people and was able to work out some amazing opportunities.
One such opportunity was to meet with Wolfgang Walter who was very young in the military during WWII. He ended up serving in the West German military in the Porta Westfalica area, and thereby developed a great interest in the tunnel systems near by. He was a joy to talk with. He even gave me a large, 2 foot by 3 foot map of the area, so as to properly get a sense of my surroundings and landscape. Thank you, Herr Walter!
Dr. Franke had called the local newspaper and set up an appointment for a photographer to come take pictures. So on Wednesday just before I left, we (Dr. Franke and I) and the chief of the Schützenverein had our picture taken by the old entrance. It was blown up in 1947, so the only thing left to see are huge concrete blocks. Dr. Franke is very interested in turning the tunnel system into some kind of memorial or museum, and is using me (coming all the way from America, showing interest in this place) as an example to local government officials and what not, that this is something important, and worth spending money on. A great thing, I think.
My time in Minden/Porta Westfalica was much too short. I could have used another day in the archives, and another day taking pictures and meeting people. But all in all, a great experience.
Well, here I am. In Germany again. The overriding thought for this trip is not the awesome opportunity to be in Europe, to see wonderful cities, meet amazingly friendly people, or finally be able to get into the “meat and potatoes” of this darn dissertation. No, I’m much more practical than that. My overriding thought, is… I sure miss my family. How can I be away for a whole month? My baby girl won’t even remember me, will she? Think about that next time you think going off to Europe to do research sounds so cool.
That’s the reality of the situation. Now on to the academic and other sides of things. The first stop on my research trip is Detmold. It is a very pretty city, so I’ll intersperse this post with pictures. Here I will be looking for anything in any way related to the tunnels at Porta Westfalica. I’m staying at the Hotel Nadler, a quaint little Fachwerkhaus turned into a restaurant and hotel. It’s right on the outskirts of the city center, where all the action is. I picked this location for it’s closeness to the city center and because it’s not too far from the archive. Just a 10-15 minute walk. I have done that for all of the locations except Berlin. That makes me walk so I get some exercise before and after sitting at a desk looking at old papers all day.
I got to the city too late to get to the archives the first day, so I went the second day I was there. And the two following days there after. That was Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The first day made the trip seem a bit worthless. Of the fifteen or so folders of material that I had to go through, I got through about seven of them on Wednesday, and there was nothing worth wile in them, at least not for me. I did almost want to change my topic to something about how to prepare your house or building for bombing raids. There were some cool brochures and books on that. I later saw a portion of a documentary on TV that showed some training videos on what to when bombed by the British fire bombs. That seems like it could be a good research project; focusing on the literature and other forms of educating the populace on how to survive bombing raids. Anyhow, I digress.
On Thursday and Friday I hit the proverbial jackpot. Not for documents relating to the building and use of the tunnels during the war, but what was done with it afterwards. Most of the works out there all close their research with liberation by the US or British. I want to write about what happened after that. How did the people in the area deal with all of those former prisoners? Where did the former prisoners go? What did they do with these huge holes in their mountains? What happened with the equipment? Who was punished?
What I found in the archive were loads of documents that dealt with this post-war period. Unfortunately the archive follows the arcane tradition of not allowing users to maker their own copies of their documents. If I had a whole month, or $1000, I could have got all of the information. But I will have to be satisfied with what I could transcribe into my computer. One folder was full of tabulations of the weekly hours worked in the tunnel site in dismantling hardware and machinery, and preparing the site for demolition. Another folder was full of correspondence to those in charge of the post-war tunnel and the companies and firms that had contracts for building during the war. They apparently felt they should still be paid for work done. That’s something I had never considered before. Companies that contracted with the National Socialist Government to build and design, were promised money. When the war was lost, the National Socialist Government dissolved. Well, did that dissolve the contracts as well? Were the companies to lose out on the money owed them? I’m not sure what the answer on that one is. But I found a bunch of complaints and claims from building companies and architecture firms that wanted payment from somebody.
One final thing that I found in Detmold, was the correspondence between the town of Hausberge and the occupying British Army. The British plan was to blow up the whole of the tunnel system due to the possibility of the location being a highly usable military compound. The Allied Occupying forces want to completely wipe out any German military compounds.
My time in Detmold was a bit too short, but I may be able to swing a day on the way back if all goes quickly in Berlin. But I doubt I’ll ever be back, unless some other generous organization would like to pay for another research trip.
I have finally decided which tunnel to focus on for the dissertation. After finally getting up the nerve, I called Dr. Wagner at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial to ask his opinion on which tunnel to focus on. He graciously and patiently listened to my bumbling German and suggested I focus on the tunnel sites at Porta Westfalica.
Herein enters the difference that new media provides in researching a topic. What’s the first thing I do? Search on Google, of course. I found a few interesting sources right off the bat, and after digging deeper, even more surfaced.
I searched for ‘Porta Westfalica Ambi-Budd’ because Ambi-Budd was the business assigned to the tunnels at Porta Westfalica. I got some interesting results:
As you can see, there are hundreds of web pages out there with those three terms on them (including this one).
Here are some of the more interesting links I found.
I’ll make sure to go to the Neuengamme archive and memorial site this summer.
The following links could provide connections to sources, but also will be a source in and of themselves. I want to write about what has happened since 1945 with this tunnel, and it looks like a lot of “online” things have been happening. This shows that these tunnels are still of interest today. Why? Well, that’s what I’ll write about in the dissertation.
With my recent trip to Germany and the Bundesarchiv in Freiburg, I learned a few important things. One, my original proposed study of the Jägerstab and all of the tunnel projects that organization created is too large. Dr. Herbert suggest that would make a nice life-time study, rather than a dissertation topic. Instead, I should focus on one tunnel project and the accompanying business and forced laborers. Two, it is good to have contacts. Dr. Herbert put me in contact with Dr. Wagner at the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial. Dr. Wagner gave me some excellent advice on how to better select a project. First and foremost, is to have a research question. So far, my research question has been, “What can I find out about the tunnel projects.” I have been content, to this point, to want to just tell a narrative of a tunnel project. One other question comes to mind: Was underground dispersal effective? More will surely come to me as I dig into the data (pun intended).
After crafting a decent research question, the next step is to ask myself if I would like to study the organizational structure of the tunnel project. If so, three types of organizations were involved in underground dispersal: the Jägerstab and their aircraft armaments programs, the Geilenbergstabes focused on the oil and fuel production, and private, individual businesses. Within this study of organization, there were government bodies that oversaw the tunnel construction, such as the SS, the OT (Operation Todt), and others.
All underground dispersal projects utilized forced labor. I will also need to consider several aspects regarding the use of such labor. First of all, which type of labor to focus on: political prisoners, prisoners of war, foreign civil prisoners. Second, is the research to cover the daily life and working conditions and experiences of the laborers?
Along with these great questions, Dr. Wagner suggested several books to see as examples.
To help formulate a new outline, I took several of the books and reconstructed an outline based on their table of index. There was a common thread that weaved through each of the works, so I replicated that structure for my new outline. As of this writing, I don’t even have an idea of the business or tunnel I will end up researching, but I can formulate a rough outline nonetheless. Here is what I have so far:
Chapter 1: The Business Above Ground (193x – 1944)
Chapter 2: Decision to Disperse
Chapter 3: Organization of Project X
Chapter 4: Technology of Tunnels
Chapter 5: Collaboration with Killers: Use of slave labor
Conclusion: Meanings, Memories, and Movements
I will refine and add to this as I get more information.
As a technical side note, the above list of books was automatically generated using a the Zotpress plugin. This connects my WordPress install with my online Zotero account. With that set up, I can easily select books to include in a list or bibliography, and have them input into the post.