The annex camps

What is a annex camp?

Annex camps were branches of a main camp. From an administrative viewpoint, the annex camps’ guards, deportees and administration were attached to the main camp. Most were set up in pre-existing buildings such as factories, hangars and even schools. Few looked like a main camp with barracks, watchtowers and barbed wire. The annex camp was not necessarily a small camp. It simply depended on the main camp, where registration and death records were kept. Some deportees never even passed through the main camp. The annex camps’ deportees stayed there for months or years. That’s where they were locked up, had their dormitories and received their food rations. The annex camps’ organisation was based on that of the main camp, with an SS hierarchy and work kommandos.

History

Like the other concentration camps, KL-Natzweiler ran a network of annex camps, approximately 70, located in Germany, annexed Alsace and, for two of them, occupied France.

The first one opened with 200 deportees in Obernai on 15 December 1942. One of Kl-Natzweiler’s unusual features was that even after the main camp’s evacuation in September 1944, the annex camps continued to operate and grow. New ones even opened in 1945 (such as Calw and Dormettingen on 1 January 1945).

The deportess

Deportees at Natzweiler’s annex camps did not come from the same places as those at the main camp. Most of the Jews, the Natzweiler complex’s second-biggest category, were deported to the annex camps. Josef Kramer, who had become the commanding officer at Auschwitz, transferred many Jews to toil at the Natzweiler annex camps, where their number had grown to 6,000 men and women by late September 1944. The only women registered at Natzweiler were in the annex camps. All were Jewish and most came from Auschwitz.

Work

KL-Natzweiler’s annex camps were created to meet the Nazis’ need for labour and grew as the war dragged on. The annex camps set up in 1942 were exclusively at the service of the SS: the deportees built and maintained their training schools and drill camps. In 1943 the deportees started working for the Nazi war industry to help the Wehrmacht offset its reversals on the Eastern front. By late 1944 the Nazis, realising they had nothing to lose, followed an all-out policy and increased the number of annex camps in the heart of Germany. In extreme haste they set up a forced labour industry, but it did not meet any production goals. Private companies signed contracts with the SS, which owned the labour, putting relentless demands on them. In this system neither the SS nor private industry had the least concern for human life.

Working conditions were especially harsh at the many camps buried in mines and tunnels in order to avoid damage from Allied air raids. Work, hunger, darkness and the lack of health care caused many epidemics; mortality rates could reach 80%.

The death marches

Between late March and late April 1945, the evacuation of these camps during the death marches caused the deaths of 5,000 deportees.

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