Esterwegen concentration camp

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Press release about the establishment of the Börgermoor concentration camp , presumably from a Catholic press product, date questionable (probably end of June 1933)
Hall with memorial stones for the Emsland camps on the Esterwegen burial complex on the coastal canal
View along the Esterwegen burial complex

The Esterwegen concentration camp in Emsland was one of the " early concentration camps " under National Socialist rule. It was set up in the summer of 1933 as a double camp (camps II and III) for 2,000 political " protective prisoners " and was temporarily the second largest concentration camp after the Dachau concentration camp. The Esterwegen concentration camp was dissolved in the summer of 1936. The camp continued to be used as a prison camp until 1945, but also convicted political prisoners and night-and-fog prisoners were imprisoned. Thereafter, Esterwegen served as an internment camp, as a prison and until 2000 as a Bundeswehr depot.

Foundation phase

The Esterwegen concentration camp is part of the Emsland camps , a complex of a total of 15 barrack camps . Up to 1945, around 10,000 concentration camp prisoners, 66,500 German and military prisoners as well as more than 100,000 Soviet or French prisoners of war and Italian military internees were imprisoned in them.

On March 17, 1933, the Prussian Ministry of the Interior inquired of the district president in Osnabrück about a suitable site for the construction of a camp for 300 prisoners. In the long term, it was planned to accommodate up to 10,000 political opponents. Hermann Göring wanted to standardize the “wild actions” of party organizations and at the same time curb Heinrich Himmler's competing claims to power by the SS and Gestapo .

On June 20, 1933, the decision was made to set up three camps in Börgermoor, Esterwegen and Neusustrum. Under the guard of the Osnabrück police and SS men, 90 prisoners initially set up the Börgermoor concentration camp . In mid-August 1933, the Esterwegen concentration camp was completed as a double camp for 2,000 prisoners.

The Ministry of the Interior was responsible for organization and administration at this time, the prisoners were briefed or released by the Gestapo, the camps were guarded exclusively by SS members between July and autumn 1933, and later SA men were added. As in Börgermoor, the prisoners in the Esterwegen concentration camp were at the mercy of their guards and were often humiliated, mistreated or even murdered by them - as in October 1933 Otto Eggerstedt , former police chief of Altona .

In November 1933, Himmler was able to expand his responsibilities and formally submitted the Esterwegen camp on June 21, 1934. The Reich Justice Administration took over Börgermoor and Neusustrum as well as other Emsland camps as prison camps.

Esterwegen concentration camp

Rudolf Diels addressing the prisoners due to be released due to an amnesty on the occasion of the November election at Christmas 1933, picture from the Federal Archives

A considerable number of political "protective prisoners" had been released by the end of 1933. In June 1934, 812 prisoners were still imprisoned in Esterwegen. A year later, around 3,500 people were still being held in all National Socialist concentration camps, 322 of them as protective prisoners in Esterwegen. In July 1935, Himmler ordered a preventive arrest of potential enemies of the state, in which more than 1,000 political opponents - often from the ranks of the Communists - as well as homosexuals were sent to concentration camps. By the end of 1935, 476 “professional criminals” had been admitted as “preventive detainees” in Esterwegen.

The " Inspection of the Concentration Camps " under Theodor Eicke appointed SS-Standartenführer Hans Loritz as the new commander of the Esterwegen concentration camp in July 1934 and on August 1, 1934 introduced the "camp and disciplinary regulations" developed in the Dachau concentration camp . However, this allowed the guards to arbitrary interpretation and did not prevent prisoners from being "dragged" to exhaustion. An accumulation of unexplained deaths led to a complaint from the Provost of the Berlin Cathedral, Bernhard Lichtenberg , in 1935 and prompted Göring to intervene. This intervention was ineffective and did not result in any noticeable relief for the prisoners - among them Carl von Ossietzky and Werner Finck at the time . At least 71 deaths can be proven among the concentration camp prisoners.

On April 1, 1936, SS-Sturmbannführer Karl Otto Koch was appointed as the new camp commandant ; a further expansion of the warehouse was planned. But Himmler made a different decision at short notice. In late summer the site was abandoned as a concentration camp. The location near the border was unfavorable and the concentration camp was now to be replaced by a larger camp near Berlin. Heinrich Himmler justified this differently in a lecture:

“I dissolved this camp in the Emsland following the ideas of the Reich Labor Leader Hierl , who […] explained to me that it would be wrong to say that the service in the moor, the service of clearing a land, is an honorary service while you sit down there as a prisoner and tell him: I'll teach you guys more, I'll send you to the moor. " 

A group of prisoners was assigned to build the planned large concentration camp. Later, probably 1,000 prisoners were transferred from Esterwegen to the newly established Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Oranienburg .

Known inmates

Memorial plaque for Bernhard Lichtenberg in the Esterwegen memorial

On December 4 and 18, 1934, around 220 communists were arrested during major raids by the Hamburg State Police (see Hamburg State Police Headquarters ) in Elmshorn and the surrounding area, first they were taken to a collection point in Elmshorn, later to the Fuhlsbüttel / Hamburg prison and finally most of them Deported to the Esterwegen concentration camp. At the end of August 1935, the Elmshorn anti-fascists were transported to Fuhlsbüttel. Wilhelm Peetz could not be transported due to the harassment by the National Socialists and died on October 3, 1935 of his injuries.

Prison camp

In January 1937 the judicial administration took over the camp and continued to run it as "Prisoner Camp VII" in Emsland until shortly before the end of the war.


SA men were employed in the judicial service to guard the prisoners. During the entire period of National Socialism , political prisoners were held here together with criminals and those criminalized by new regulations. The political prisoners had mostly been sentenced to high sentences for high treason or treason or disruption of military strength ; their numerical share in the prisoners is estimated at 20 percent.

From November 1, 1939, all highly punished military prisoners from the Reich were generally concentrated in the Esterwegen camp; they later formed the largest group here. Between May 1943 and April 1944, 2,696 prisoners who had been abducted and held in penitentiaries due to the Night and Fog Decree were transferred to the Esterwegen prison camp. There most of them were isolated from the outside world in "Camp South"; several hundred were temporarily housed in the Börgermoor prison camp due to lack of space. In mid-1944, all “NN prisoners” were transported to Silesia.


While the NN prisoners were cut off from the outside world and were not allowed to leave the camp, the other prisoners were used to cultivate peatlands until 1941, doing strenuous physical labor . After that, many were used for forced labor in agriculture and other areas of importance to the war effort.

From 1942 there was a tenfold increase in deaths in the Emsland camps, for which the inadequate supply situation is blamed. At least 1,436 prisoners had died in prison camp VII by 1945.

On April 10, 1945, the camp administration drove the prisoners along with prisoners from the Börgermoor camp on a death march . Around 700 prisoners and 400 detainees on remand had to march to Collinghorst , after an overnight stay in Völlenerkönigsfehn , the survivors reached Aschendorfermoor on April 11, 1945. Very little is known about the death toll during the death march.

British internment camp after May 1945

After the Second World War, the site was provisionally used for the British Civil Internment Camp (CIC) No. 9 used for war criminals. All suspected war criminals, especially former concentration camp guards, were transferred here from other British internment camps such as Sandbostel , Westertimke and Fallingbostel to await their trial . At least 1,400 former concentration camp guards came from Sandbostel alone. With 2,612 suspected war criminals interned, the occupancy peak was reached at the end of June 1946. On July 1, 1946, "Esterwegen No.101 Prison Camp" received a German director and a British commander.

Known internees

Prison camp 1947

Map of the Esterwegen camp 1955

In 1947 the camp was handed over to the German prison administration, which used it as a normal prison . In addition, all members of criminal National Socialist organizations who had been sentenced by the German ruling chambers and whose prison sentence had not yet been declared as having served an internment came to Esterwegen. There were around 900 people in total because only a very small proportion of those convicted (4 percent) had received a longer sentence. Although these convicts were ordinary criminals under criminal law, they were largely separated from the "normal" criminals in Esterwegen; a British major oversaw the prison system. Most were released after a few months. In July 1950 only 43 of them were still imprisoned in Esterwegen.

After 1952

From 1953 to 1959, Esterwegen served as a transit camp for refugees before it was demolished in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the area was taken over by the Bundeswehr. Until 2001, a part was used as a Bundeswehr depot.

Memorial site

Plan of the Esterwegen memorial

In 1955, several hundred former moor soldiers met in Papenburg and Esterwegen for the first self-organized meeting, which was followed by other commemorative events in the following years. In 1963, the youth union of IG Bergbau from Essen erected a memorial stone in memory of Carl von Ossietzky on the former camp cemetery. In November 2004, a memorial to the Belgian Freemasons' lodge Liberté chérie was inaugurated on the Esterwegen burial site (cemetery) . It was the only lodge that was established within a camp.

The history of this and the other 14 Emslandlager was recorded from 1985 to July 2011 in the Documentation and Information Center (DIZ) Emslandlager in Papenburg u. a. shown in a permanent exhibition. With the opening of the new Esterwegen memorial on the site of the former Esterwegen concentration and prison camp on October 31, 2011, the DIZ in Papenburg was closed. Its employees and their collections moved to the new memorial, which is supported by the Esterwegen Memorial Foundation established by the Emsland district.


On the history of the Emslandlager (selection)

  • Kurt Buck: Esterwegen - The camp. In: Bettina Schmidt-Czaia (ed. On behalf of the Esterwegen community): Esterwegen 1223 to 1999 - “Moor and heather only all around ...…?” Esterwegen 1999, pp. 205–253.
  • Kurt Buck: In search of the moor soldiers. Emslandlager 1933–1945 and the historical places today. 6th edition. Papenburg 2008.
  • Bernd Faulenbach , Andrea Kaltofen (ed.): "Hell in the Moor". The Emsland camps 1933–1945 . Wallstein, Göttingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-8353-3137-2 .
  • Henning Harpel: The Emsland Camps of the Third Reich. Forms and problems of active historical memory in the northern Emsland 1955–1993. In: Study Society for Emsland Regional History (Ed.): Emsland History. Volume 12. Haselünne 2005, pp. 134-239.
  • Hans-Peter Klausch: perpetrator stories. The SS commanders of the early concentration camps in Emsland. (= DIZ publications; 13). Bremen 2005, ISBN 3-86108-059-1 .
  • Habbo Knoch: The Emsland Camps 1933–1945. In: Wolfgang Benz , Barbara Distel (eds.): The place of terror . History of the National Socialist Concentration Camps. Volume 2: Early camp, Dachau, Emsland camp. CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52962-3 , pp. 532-570.
  • Erich Kosthorst, Bernd Walter : Concentration and prison camps in the Third Reich. Example Emsland. Documentation and analysis of the relationship between the Nazi regime and the judiciary. Droste, Düsseldorf 1983, ISBN 3-7700-0638-0 .
  • Erich Kosthorst: The camps in Emsland under the Nazi regime 1933–1945. The task and meaning of historical memory. In: Karl Dietrich Erdmann, J. Rohlfes (Hrsg.): History in science and teaching. No. 6/1984, Seelze 1984, pp. 365-379, pp. 372-373.
  • Wolfgang Langhoff: The moor soldiers. Verlag Neuer Weg, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-88021-093-4 . (First edition. Zurich 1935.)
  • Willy Perk: Hell in the moor. On the history of the Emsland camps 1933–1945. Röderberg, Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 3-87682-713-2 .
  • Dirk Riedel: Vigilante and mass murderer in the service of the "Volksgemeinschaft": The concentration camp commandant Hans Loritz . Metropol Verlag, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-940938-63-3 .
  • Barbara Stühlmeyer , Ludger Stühlmeyer : Bernhard Lichtenberg . I will follow my conscience . Topos plus Verlagsgemeinschaft, Kevelaer 2013, ISBN 978-3-8367-0835-7 .
  • Elke Suhr: The Emsland camps. The political and economic importance of the Emsland concentration and prison camps 1933–1945. Donat & Temmen, Bremen 1985, ISBN 3-924444-07-2 .
  • Valentin Schwan: "Until further notice", novel by the moor soldiers . Progress Verlag J.Fladen, Darmstadt 1961.
  • Sebastian Weitkamp: A fight against the rule of law in 1934. The trial of SS-Sturmbannführer Heinrich Remmert for abuse of prisoners in the Esterwegen concentration camp . In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , vol. 66, issue 1/2018, pp. 43–86.
  • TXH Pantcheff: The executioner from Emsland. Willi Herold, 19 years old. A German lesson . Bund-Verlag, Cologne 1987, ISBN 3-7663-3061-6 (2nd edition as: Der Henker vom Emsland. Documentation of barbarism at the end of the war 1995. Schuster, Leer 1995, ISBN 3-7963-0324-2 ).

About the design of the memorial (selection)

Web links

Commons : Esterwegen concentration camp  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Information in the section after: Habbo Knoch: Die Emslandlager 1933–1945. In: Wolfgang Benz , Barbara Distel: The Place of Terror. History of the National Socialist Concentration Camps. Volume II: Early Camps, Dachau, Emsland Camps. Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-52962-3 , p. 537.
  2. Johannes Tuchel : Planning and Reality of the System of Concentration Camps 1934–1938. In: Ulrich Herbert u. a. (Ed.): The National Socialist Concentration Camps. Volume 1, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-596-15516-9 , p. 48.
  3. ^ Dirk Riedel: Vigilante and mass murderer ... ISBN 978-3-940938-63-3 , pp. 113–116.
  4. Habbo Knoch: Die Emslandlager ... ISBN 3-406-52962-3 , p. 542.
  5. a b Habbo Knoch: Die Emslandlager ... ISBN 3-406-52962-3 , p. 535.
  6. so at Habbo Knoch: The Emslandlager ... p. 542.
  7. Document 1992 (A) -PS in IMT, Volume 29 (= Document Volume 5), p. 217.
  8. NLA OL Best. 231-6 No. 35 - Police administration and prisoners ... - Arcinsys detail page. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  9. ^ Lothar Gruchmann: Night and Fog Justice. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte. 29 (1981) p. 370.
  10. ^ Heiner Wember: re-education in the camp. Internment and punishment of National Socialists in the British zone of occupation in Germany. Essen 1991, ISBN 3-88474-152-7 , p. 81 ff. And p. 342 ff. (Dusseldorf writings on the modern history of North Rhine-Westphalia, vol. 30)
  11. DIZ - Camp VII (Esterwegen). (No longer available online.) In: Archived from the original on March 14, 2010 ; accessed on March 31, 2018 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /

Coordinates: 53 ° 0 ′ 29 ″  N , 7 ° 38 ′ 23 ″  E