Established: 10 September 1943
Location: 20 Km from Nordhausen
Dora was originally a detached camp, a satellite dependent upon Buchenwald. It was transformed into an autonomous camp only in the final years of the war, on the first of November 1944.
The constitution of Dora and of its annexations is related to the history of Hitler’s secret armaments and to the bombardment and consequent destruction of the aerospace base Pernemünde at the hands of the Allied forces. It was at Pernemünde where the fabrication and experimentation of the von Braun missiles took place.
As a consequence of these bombardments, it was decided to transfer the fabrication of the missiles to a more secure location, in already available caverns in the mountain of Sudharz, and in the hills of Kohnstein, which were up until that moment used as fuel deposits. The project of the camp’s setup was entrusted to the company Ammoniak, in society with IG Farben.
In a short time, the deportees were made to complete two tunnels, 1,800 meters in length, which were linked to one another with a great number of minor tunnels. These tunnels were served by an internal narrow-gauge railway, which consented the movement of the single components of the bombs to the room where the assembly took place.
After August 1944, another three large tunnels were excavated to permit greater space for the production of these deadly missiles. The management of the business was passed to Mittelwerke GmbH, a company controlled by the SS.
The first groups of deportees had the tasks of preparing the caverns, setting up the workshops and installing all of the mechanics. They lived in the caverns, slept in holes carved into the wall of the tunnel, being divided into separate shifts in a manner that allowed one squad to rest while the other was at work. The ventilation and the illumination were scarse and insufficient. There was a total absence of any sort of hygienic facilities to satisfy basic bodily functions, there was no running water; life in this place was hell. Many deportees never even saw sunlight for months and months.
Who was not killed by the fatigue, who was not beaten to death or executed by firearms for suspected sabotage, could consider himself fortunate.
In March of 1944, to satisfy the needs of the camp, the construction of barracks on the hills was completed. This change was implemented because by now the space in the caverns prohibited the installation of other deportees and above all because the enlargement of the plant was deemed necessary for the production of missiles. In that way in addition to the 12-16 hours of back-breaking work, one had to add the transfer times and the interminable roll calls. The time dedicated to rest was drastically reduced to several hours a day. In the twenty months of its existence, 138,000 deportees were registered at Dora, of which more than 90,000 perished. Included in this number there were several thousand Italians, political and also military prisoners, transferred here despite every international regulation concerning the treatment of prisoners of war.
The difficulties in communication, given the diversity of the languages did not prevent the formation of a strong clandestine resistance movement that organized above all work of sabotage. If the Nazi missiles were not produced in the desired timeframe and if they were not always works of perfection in their capacity to bring about the auspicious mortality in Hitler’s design, this is also thanks to the fact that those deportees forced to assemble them applied themselves constantly to assure delay in their consignment and damage in their fabrication.
Dora was liberated by the Americans on 15 April 1945.