REICH-OWNED (STATE-OWNED) KZ-ENTERPRISE : THE FORMATION OF 'MITTELWERK' FACTORY GmbH
The term "Mittelwerk" had been established in the early days and was familiar to most rocket program managers, long before the place was incorporated as a Limited Company (GmbH). Presumably it was intended from the beginning to organize the new company along commercial lines. The strings attached for the planned company formation was in the hands of Karl-Maria Hettlage, who was Head of the General Referat (Speaker) of Economy and Finance in the Ministry of Munitions. After several preliminary negotiations on the missile program, the participants met on September 21, 1943 in Hettlage's board room, based in Berlin for the founding meeting of the Mittelwerke GmbH. Present were, besides Hettlage, among others, Karl-Otto Saur, Walter Dornberger, Hans Kammler, Gerhard Degenkolb and his deputy as well as representatives of WIFO and the Reich-owned Armour Kontor GmbH (Trading House). It was agreed to leave the reconstruction of the tunnel system to the missile factory of WIFO, who owned the tunnel system and should remain their property. The Raketenproduktion (Rocket-production) was transferred to the newly established 'Mittelwerk' GmbH, which was funded by the Armur Kontor GmbH and thus was a privately organized state operation. Up to this point, that the company was founded on this basis, was nothing special. Reich-owned (State-owned) arms factories were by no means rare. Unusable, however, was the decision that "a KZ-Administrator would be provided as an over-all operator [...]". It is quite obvious that the SS had enforced this recommendation, and it is no coincidence that the Advisory Board of the Mittelwerk GmbH next to Degenkolb, Hettlage, Dornberger, Kunze and the Amor Kontor boss Heinz Schmidt-Loßberg as well as SS Brigadefürer Kammler should belong to the board.
Three days after the meeting, on 24 September 1943 the new company was officially established in the presence of a notary, and since October 7, 1943, it existed upon entry into the Berlin commercial register also de jure (by Law). Kurt Kettler took over the management as intended. As a second managing director was the commander of the satellite camp Dora, SS-Sturmbannführer Otto Förschner in October 1943, after the WVHA chief Oswald Pohl and Kammler had named him as the representative of the SS on the board of the Mittelwerk enterprise.
The former professional soldier Förschner, born in 1902 in the Bavarian Dürrenzimmern was already in 1934 a member of the SS (Allgemeine SS) and took over after various assignments as an instructor in the Waffen-SS, the leadership in 1942 of the guards at the concentration camp Buchenwald, before he was transferred in September 1943 and became Kommandant of the newly founded camp at Dora. Officially Förschner was indeed a member of the management of the Mittelwerke, but his real job in the operation was not initially well defined, they could hardly have been, because the SS officer was neither trained, technically nor economically and thus for his new job anything but suitable . The title as a director was therefore purely formal in nature, and documented the claim of the SS participation in its administration of the company. The actual technical and commercial tasks were performed by director Kurt Kettler and the third Managing Director Otto Karl Bersch appointed in December 1943 . All three of them of them were sub-ordinated to the new member since April 1944, as Chairman of the Board Georg Rickhey, who came from the Demag-Vehicle Assembly Plant located at Berlin-Falkensee and appointed to this position at Nordhausen.
|Georg Rickey under arrest in June, 1947|
STRUCTURAL CHANGES: THE BEGINNING OF THE ROCKET ASSEMBLY AND THE RELOCATION OF PRISONERS INTO THE CAMP BARRACKS.
The gradual inclusion of the rocket assembly began in the early 1944 at 'Dora' and with that a transition of structural changes began. Prisoners had previously been used primarily in the gruelling construction work that did not require special skills, the Mittelwerke needed now a trained workforce for the machines with highly qualified operators. Unlike on the construction sites, the exploitation of labour of the prisoners were now subject to technical and economic limits in production of rockets. Just work on technically sensitive missile components required technical know-how, a highly and skilled workforce, and who was not a skilled worker, had to be trained usually over a longer period of time. Thus, it was in the interest of management of the Mittelwerke to ensure that the living conditions of prisoners had to be greatly improved and get their work force into such conditions that they were able to perform at least initially a required standard of workmanship in the assembly process.
A major reason for the high levels of absenteeism and the huge death toll was in the disastrous sanitary conditions in the sleeping tunnels. The basic requirement for improving work performance, therefore, was the move into the above-ground barracks. After the Mittelwerke and the SS camp, from January 1944 was almost completed, the prisoner commando that was used in the construction of that camp, had been considerably enlarged. Gradually, what emerged were 18 wooden watchtowers surrounding the area with an electric fence in addition to some massive Administration Buildings, the crematorium and an equally massive detention cell building (bunker) and numerous barracks that served as logistic- and accommodation blocks.
|From prisoners secretly taken photo from the building of the inmates infirmary barracks building of the camp Dora, early summer 1944|
To the left of the parade ground - seen from the entrance gate - was a 'sports ground' and right next to that, the massive arrest cell construction. On the right side of the parade ground the Library. Since the beginning of 1945, a prisoners' brothel was located behind some accommodation barracks and a little further set back the prisoner hospital barracks and not far from here, the crematorium, which was built on top of a hill and went in the late summer of 1944 into operation after the bodies were originally taken first for cremation to Buchenwald, but this procedure was done now locally from April 1944 in a mobile crematorium near the laundry barrack. In the rear area of the camp was the majority of the 56 housing barracks, many of which were obscured by trees, because the SS left the surrounding trees standing to camouflage the area.
As of December 1943 inmates were gradually transferred from the sleeping gallery into barracks which were under construction - at first mainly those prisoners who were not used in construction commandos, but the rocket production. The move into the barracks which stretched out until early June 1944. Some prisoners therefore had to spend up to nine months in the dark - if they survived such time.
|Gallery 46 was the first side passage on the south end of Tunnel A, but it did not go all the way through to Tunnel B. This chamber was used as living quarters for the prisoner labourers and later for V-1 construction'|
However, the reduction in the death rate was not only a result of improved living conditions. First of all, it was due to the fact that all seriously ill and dying were summarily deported to Majdanek and Bergen-Belsen. There, the dying went on - so it was only outsourced. In addition, a large number of about 12,000 prisoners present during the summer of 1944 were not all exposed to the catastrophic phase of the winter 1943/44, and had thereby survived. Since the Mittelwerke required skilled and efficient manpower for the A4 assembly, it was through its engineers, who selected in all concentration camps new, and "unused" prisoners and deported them to Dora - even the director of the Peenemünde development work, Werner von Braun, mustered in August 1944 in Buchenwald concentration camp prisoners for missile assembly plant at Mittelwerk. (Although he denied ever been there, but there is evidence on record: 'Letter of Braun, to Sawatzki, dated 15.06.1944, in NASM, FE 694, (reprinted in facsimile. Eisfeld, Mondsüchtig, page 135f) The exhausted tunnellers, however, were deported from April 1944 into the newly created adjacent satellite camps where they were continued to be used as a construction workers. There was a distinct artificial drop in the death-rate, due to this move from the sleeping gallery into the above-ground barracks that included a gradual replacement of the exhausted against "fresh" detainees. The death rate would thereby in the Dora camp without improvement of living conditions, as not all inmates benefited from it, still higher then indicated, as the exhausted workers died in associated sub-camps.
|Between the main tunnels (A and B) every few yards were connecting galleries. These housed machine and sub-assembly shops and parts storage areas. This gallery was one of the machine shops.|
The management of the Mittelwerke were trying to overcome the inherent structural dilemma inherent of forced labourers, in collaboration with the SS, which meant, for the prisoners engaged in manufacturing, to introduce a performance incentive, in form of a bonus system, ie payment of vouchers with which the prisoners in the camp, in addition - usually could buy additional food (mainly inferior) - or given access to the camp cinema and the brothel, were female inmates had been forced into prostitution. For a premium system to work, the introduction of a group piece method (Akkord), which was for prisoners and German foremen alike and should thus enhance the interest of the German civilian workers to higher work performance including the inmates alike. In addition, the management of the Mittelwerke constantly corrected the ratio between prisoners and German civilian workers downward. In the fall of 1943, the ratio of prisoners to civilian workers was still at eight to one, in practice as of April 1944, it stood only about two to one (on May 1, 1944, in the A4 assembly of the Mittelwerke were 2,500 German civilian workers including other employees and 4,910 concentration camp inmates.)
Two views of the workshop areas inside the tunnel systems while in use. Some of the tunnels were two stories in height, for larger machines.
Considerable difficulties arose for the production process in the Mittelwerke by political and military decisions that were precipitated by Hitler, the top Wehrmacht hierarchy and in the defence ministry. At the direction of the Armaments Ministry, the Mittelwerke was forced in April 1944, to clear the northern half of its tunnel system in favour of the Junkers Group. This was code named "North Werk AG", and started in the summer of 1944 with the production of jet engines. As a result the Mittelwerk by moving within the tunnel system and the reduction of the production area by almost half had a dramatic drop in their own output: They assembled not more than 430 A4-rocket in May 1944, the production decreased further in June to 132 and in July 1944 only 86 missiles. And even if the monthly output levelled off during September 1944 to about 600 to 700 missiles, it was still a far cry from the 1,800 rockets that had been planned in October 1943 by the management of the Mittelwerke to be fully mounted on a monthly basis. Even the revised plan of November 1943, which provided for a monthly output of 900 pieces, could never be fulfilled.
As to production inhibitory which turned out at the start of the rocket assembly, the fact that you had to struggle in the underground facilities despite elaborate supply of fresh air with dust and high humidity, the people and machines were always at risk. Management had to deal with replacement of resources, not only replacing the workforce, but deal with a host of other problems. In an internal report of May 1944, doctors indicated that a large number of sick German civilian workers - apart from the many thousands of mortally sick KZ prisoners were unfit to work in underground tunnels. The report it states clearly, there is no question about it. Around the same time a circulated memorandum noted of the condition that "the work in tunnels is a major health risk in the long run. The production in there will therefore probably need to be taken out in peacetime ". Compared to Hitler's demand of March 1944, "The final relocation of the entire German industry works will be under the earth". This was a significant downbeat assessment of the underground movement, to which in the last year of the war the hopes of the Nazi armaments planners, as for them it was a successful model project.
Initial V-2s were plagued by bad welds, soldering problems, and faulty parts. At first electrical components were installed and final testing was performed at Degenkolb’s DEMAG facility at Berlin-Falkensee. Later in 1944, these activities were moved to the Mittelwerk.
Many prisoners involved in electrical assembly and testing were required to put slips of paper, bearing their unique identification numbers alongside of parts they had produced or certified. Then, if problems were found with these during later inspections, the workers responsible would be punished. Prisoners did in fact whenever possible urinate into the electrical wiring. Still, minor forms of passive sabotage could be accomplished by the prisoners for example by accepting for assembly subcontractor parts that they knew did not meet specifications. There were instances of prisoner workers knowingly passing along electronic sub-assemblies that contained “cold solder” connections—ones that were likely to produce intermittent or no electrical contact at all, and thus lead to failures. Other prisoners recount making partial arc welds in hidden locations on the rocket (for example, inner welds on fins that would hopefully come apart later under launch stresses).
Sabotage was a dangerous undertaking, however. The penalty was death, and the SS guards often carried out individual or group hangings as an object lessons to the prisoners. The huge cranes in Hall 41 were used to hoist victims up by their necks and let them slowly strangle, in full view of the members of each of the Mittelwerk shifts, who were called to witness these hangings. The dead were then left to hang there, about five feet off the floor, for a day or so, while the prisoners came and went beneath them. A permanent gallows was later erected in the roll call yard at Dora.
|Plan of concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora Memorial'|
Mittelbau, also known as Dora, was the contraction for "Mitteldeutsche Baugesellschaft A.G.," the industrial complex that produced VI and V2 rockets. It consisted of three sub-camps: Mittelbau 1, the main camp, located near Nordhausen; Mittelbau 2, located near Ellrich; and Mittelbau 3, the smallest sub-camp, located near Harzungen. The Mittelbau camp notes are the most complex of all camp issues, because of the many series that were made. The notes range from .01 RM (which are easy to obtain today) to 10 RM denominations. The other denominations are extremely rare. There is no list of the complete nominal values issued. The notes were printed at the Buchdruckerei Theodore Müller in Nordhausen, Konugshof. The printing orders for Mittelbau notes were destroyed by the Nazis before the liberation of the camp by the Russian Army in April 1945. Thus no documentary materials pertaining to the issuance of camp money at Mittelbau-Dora are extant.
The legend printed on the reverse side of all the notes reads: "The safekeeping of funds for these vouchers is maintained by the Central Administration of the SS canteens in the Mittelbau area garrison. Counterfeiting will be dealt with in the most severe manner." Below the legend is a stylized six-pointed star and the serial number. The obverse wordings are always the same: "Work Camp Mittelbau. " The notes differ in colour, series, and denomination. All notes were printed on watermarked paper as a security device. Since the notes are similar in layout, their designs were probably created locally.
|Mittelwerk related currency|
For many years it was impossible to find out how women selected for camp brothels dealt with their life. In the 1990, German activist and writer Chrisinta Paul managed to interview women who had been forced into sexual exploitation in concentration camps. The Sonderbau in Buchenwald, to which Magdalena Walter was abducted, was a wooden barrack in the peripheral area of the prisoners' camp. It was divided into a day room. a room for the SS-Guard, a medical room, small brothel rooms, and bedroom, in each of which two forced sex workers slept. The clothing in the Buchenwald brothel consisted of a white plaid skirt, under which they were allowed to wear panties, and a bra. Every morning the women were required to get up at 7:30, wash themselves, and get dressed. During the day they were occupied with cleaning the barracks and airing the rooms. They could also read non-political books from the camp library, according to Magdalena Walter. This routine suggest a level of civil normality inside the brothel, but this picture is deceptive. The daily routine was monotonous and consisted of waiting for the 'terrible hours' in the evining, after the male prisoners had finished their daily work. Then, as if she were part of an assembly line, Magdalena Walter had to let the male prisoners use her:
'Now every night we had to let the men get on top of us for two hours. That meant they could come into the brothel barrack, had to go to the medical room to get an injection, could go to the number assigned - then the prisoners, could do their thing, come into the room, on top, down, out, back to the medical room, where they again got an injection. The prisoner had to leave the brothel after a fifteen minutes performance. We had a bathroom with a certain number of water closets. It did not lack cleanness there. And then right away there came the next one. Non-stop. And they didn't have more than a quarter of an hour.
In another interview By Christina Paul, with a women who had to suffer in the camp brothel of Mittelbau-Dora, she explains, that the women had few opportunities to resist. There was often nothing they could do but bear their fate, as they already were mentally broken by their long imprisonment in concentration camps and faced almost certain death if they rebelled. Linda Bachmann (pseudonym), who was abducted to the Mittelbau-Dora camp brothel in 1945, reported:
We put up with our fate. Each woman had to accommodate at least six “visitors” each evening although this varied from camp to camp. We always said: it's still better than Ravensbrück or Belsen-Bergen, What can you do? Do you want to stand up against it? We did so much. Well deep down, of course, it was a shock, that's understandable, isn't? You know, we were so deadened by the whole thing and everything. We practically had - you know, even in Ravensbrück, when you woke up in the morning, you were lying next to a dead body. And if you said to the senior prisoner, there is a dead body here, then she just said: "Yes, throw it down". You see? And you know, you only look out for yourself. I never thought I'd survive or anything. I was deadened by the whole thing, and I'd practically said goodbye to life. sic]
There were not the necessary need to sexual gratifications in concentration camps to establish brothels nor the so-called Bonus System as it is claimed, rather in part of it was, to avoid rectal rape between males, of which the SS were fully aware of. SS-Doctors reported, that the physical consequences are the tearing and abrasions of rectal and anal areas, which demand immediate attention because they put the victims of rape at increased risk of bacterial infections. I do not think the SS were that stupid as to it's happening. It is a clinical established fact that most men have 3 to 5 full erections during deep (rapid eye movement, or REM) sleep. Men who do not have erections because of psychological or physical problems can still have erections during deep sleep. Occasionally, some sleep problems or serious depression can prevent these normal night-time (nocturnal) erections. What happened in a three-men bunk (in a number of camps) that a fellow inmate just mounted his next neighbour, which had nothing to do with homosexuality. (The Catholic Priesthood is doing it to this very day!) I can only relate incidents as it often took place in Dachau, as retold by younger prisoners.HKS]
CONTINUED UNDER PART 3