1945-1954: from the end of the war to the beginnings of Remembrance

Struthof Penitentiary

From 1945 to 1948 the camp served as a penitentiary, depending first on the interior and later on the justice ministry. Nearly 2,500 German civilian men, women and children who found themselves in the battle zone were interned there in January 1945. So were Alsatians accused of collaborating.

The earliest demonstrations of remembrance

When Natzweiler deportees returned from the camps, they met to remember those who did not and to find what comfort they could in the company of their fellow former detainees. They set up three organisations between 1945 and 1950: the Amicale des Anciens Déportés Politiques du camp de Struthof, Amicale des Anciens internés des camps de Schirmeck et du Struthof and Amicale des Déportés et Familles de Disparus de Natzweiler-Struthof et ses Kommandos. Commemorations took place as early as 1945. On 11 February General de Lattre, at the head of the 1st French Army, led a funeral service celebrated in memory of General Frère and Alsatian patriots. On 11 November Fanny and Yves Bouchard (representatives of the Alliance network and founders of the Haut-Rhin COSOR) invited camp survivors to participate in Political Internees and Deportees Day and organised a torchlight march between Struthof and Strasbourg. Fanny Bouchard collected documents at Struthof, went through the camp’s files with a fine-toothed comb and listed approximately 20 nationalities. A cross and a marker were temporarily erected at the bottom of the camp. They were the first monuments of remembrance.

The trials

In 1945 the Allies held trials trials for each camp director. The British tried former camp commander Josef Kramer for the part he played at Bergen-Belsen. The other identified officers were tried at the trials of Wuppertal, Rastatt and Metz.

The earliest conservation measures

Meanwhile, the government soon realised how important it was to preserve the site. At a meeting of the Interministerial Commission on 28 September 1949, the prime minister transferred the site’s management to the ministry of veterans’ affairs and war victims and a project was designed to turn the camp into a high place of remembrance for the victims of Nazism. On 3 March 1950 the National Committee of Deportees, Internees and Resistors unanimously decided to create a national necropolis at Struthof in order to bury the bodies of deportees that the Nazis had not managed to make disappear. The former camp’s soil was declared a national historic monument in 1950 and the gas chamber in 1951. On 13 October 1953 a decree set up a national committee for the erection of a Struthof deportation memorial.

The destruction of the camp’s barracks

Bad weather took its tool on the camp’s wooden barracks and they had to be knocked down. On 29 March 1954 the symbolic incineration of barrack 12 took place during an official ceremony marking the start of construction work on the national deportation memorial. In attendance were Paul Demange, prefect of the Bas-Rhin, former deportee at Neuengamme; Georges Ritter, vice-president of the Bas-Rhin General Council, former deportee; Camille Wolff, deputy from the Bas-Rhin, former deportee, President of the Amicale des Anciens internés des camps de Schirmeck et du Struthof; Yves Bouchard, former deportee, representing the Alliance network; the representatives of the Struthof National Committee, FNDIRP, UNADIF, and UFAC; and a delegation of former officers who had been deported.

Four barracks were preserved: a deportee dormitory, the kitchen block, the cellblock and the crematory oven block. Today stone markers with the other concentration camps’ names engraved on them show where the barracks once stood.

The start of a national fund-raising drive

The Executive Board of the National Committee was set up by the decree of 2 December 1954. Its members are former resisters, internees and deportees from Natzweiler or other camps. The board was in charge of taking all useful steps to build and conserve the memorial. A decree of 5 December 1954 authorised the start of a national fund-raising drive. An imposing monument designed by Bertrand Monnet, architect in chief of Historic Monuments, was built thanks to the large amount of money raised.

In 1956 a commemorative stamp showing the “National Deportation Memorial” intended to finance the Struthof National Committee and the national fund-raising drive went on sale. A special first-day obliteration ceremony took place at Natzwiller (Bas-Rhin) on 14 January 1956.