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Konrad Pflug

     

Struthof’s subcamps: from history to memory


The Natzweiler-Struthof camp grouped together 70 subcamps in Germany and France. Konrad Pflug, director of the Bade-Wurtemberg Civic Training Centre, co-ordinates the efforts of the directors of many camp memorials. Together they contributed their support to creating the European Centre on Resistance and Deportation by giving the DMPA the results of their research.

What were the conditions  in which the KL-Na subcamps   were opened?


First the deportees were placed in other camps – including the main camp – depending on Nazi Germany’s manpower needs. The same cruel, inhuman treatment was inflicted on deportees in the subcamps as in the main camp. In the spring of 1944, Allied air raids  forced the Nazis to transfer part of their factories to underground tunnels, where the deportees were assigned. In the Neckar region, they made aircraft engines. In the Schwäbische Alb, they unsuccessfully tried to extract oil from schist. The Jägerstab camps produced fighter planes (Vaihingen/Enz). As the Allies pressed forward in autumn, the deportees were evacuated from the main camp to other camps. Physically, KL-Na no longer existed but the subcamps continued to have that name until the liberation. Then the exhausted deportees from some subcamps were forced to make tragic ‘death marches’, the gruesome climax of Vernichtung durch Arbeit, extermination through work.

Some camps were particularly hard. What is left of them today?


After 1945, all that remained were cemeteries created by the French military government (Vaihingen, Schömberg, Schörzingen, etc.). Sites and camps had been dismantled or used as refugee camps. The local population gradually showed interest in the camps’ history, even though they had long fallen into oblivion. Young people started asking the survivors to tell them about their experiences.

Where are the subcamps’ archives?


They can be found in local and regional collections, the federal archives in Koblenz, Washington and some really unexpected places. Some research on Kochendorf and Leonberg has been published. We’re waiting for Professor Steegmann’s book on KL-Na and Dr. Glauning’s on Bisingen. Of course, the witnesses’ accounts are an indispensable contribution to scholarly research. Very close bonds have developed between researchers and survivors. All that leads to better knowledge about the camp, which in turn leads to more research.

Who was originally behind preserving the subcamp sites?


Isolated groups and organisations looked after the vestiges and did research. Then commemorative monuments were erected, little local museums created, etc. Germany doesn’t have an equivalent of the DMPA. Also, in 1995 a ‘working organisation’ was set up to coordinate local initiatives in Baden-Württemberg. The local parliament decided to support those actions by creating the Baden-Württemberg Civic Training Centre, which I have the honour of directing. Our action consists of encouraging civic commitment, helping historians and supporting museum and teaching initiatives. We have close ties with representatives from each memorial and with the working organisation, which still exists and is also in charge of maintaining the memory of other places of deportation, in particular of Jews and Gypsies.

What are the specific initiatives to keep the subcamps’ memory alive?


There dozens of subcamps in Baden-Württemberg. They had anywhere from 10 to several hundred deportees, but today each place has a commemorative plaque recalling the facts; some have museums, others are the object of scholarly research. Our long-term goal is to train volunteer guides, use the media to spread the word about our activities, and encourage teachers to bring their students to visit these places. Our education ministry subsidises excursions, including to Struthof.

How did you you react to the idea of creating a European Centre on Resistance and Deportation on the former main camp’s outskirts?


Mr. Voutey, a former French deportee to Neckarelz, accompanied by Mr. Vittori, came to meet Ms. Roos, president of the Neckarelz association. Their common interests were obvious. The history of France and Germany pre-1945 implies different responsibilities but a shared duty to keep the victims’ memory alive, uphold human rights and freedom, and encourage people to remain alert about any infringements of the democratic ideal.

For those reasons, and in the spirit of the Elysée Treaty, we are very happy, as the subcamps’ representatives, that these sites of history and remembrance find their place in the European Centre on Resistance and Deportation and help to forge real and virtual ties between our nations. In the name of all my colleagues, I send my best wishes to my French colleagues on the occasion of the laying of the European Centre’s cornerstone on 22 June.”

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