- A History of the Dora Camp
From the earliest days of the National Socialist regime, concentration camps and detention centers—whether in the form of the wilde Lager ("wild" or early camps) of 1933 or the later, more formalized sites of destruction at Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek—played a key role in the creation and maintenance of the totalitarian state. The camps served first as instruments for incarcerating, isolating, and eliminating the putative enemies of the Nazi regime, and then during World War II as sites of economic exploitation and mass murder for the racial, political, and social victims of Hitler's empire. The appearance of the English-language translation of André Sellier's Histoire du camp de Dora continues a scholarly trend toward examining "the theory and practice of hell" as exemplified in the daily workings of the Nazi concentration camp system.1
Sellier's history describes the creation, maintenance, demise, and afterlife of the Dora camp and the entire Mittelbau development. His choice of Dora is interesting for two reasons. First, in the narrative the author attempts to negotiate the often uneasy relationship between his own experiences as an "ordinary prisoner" within the camp and his observations as a historian. Second, Dora has come to occupy a unique place within the history of the concentration camp system, in both a real and an imagined sense. Three factors distinguish the camp from others: its role in the construction of Hitler's "vengeance weapons," the V-1 flying bomb and the V-2 missile; the activities of some of Germany's leading aeronautical scientists and engineers, including Wernher von Braun, in this enterprise; and the symbolic role that Mittelbau-Dora (and Peenemünde) played after the German capitulation in the prelude to the Cold War space race.
Sellier's stated goal is "to replace the somewhat static picture of the concentration camp phenomenon with a narrative that both takes account of the chronology and integrates it into the history of the final period of the Nazi regime" (p. 4). He begins with a discussion of the origins of the Third Reich's missile program, the decision to move production underground, the establishment of Dora as a subsidiary camp of Buchenwald, and the construction of the tunnel factory. The bulk of the [End Page 314] narrative is devoted to the description of daily life in the Mittelbau complex, the structure of the camps—including Dora's emergence as an independent camp in late 1944—and the role of the camps within Heinrich Himmler's SS economic empire. The last quarter of the work details the generally horrific experiences of the prisoners during the forced evacuations of the camps in the spring of 1945 and the survivors' subsequent repatriation, and includes a brief discussion of postwar efforts to preserve the memory and commemorate the victims of the "hell of Dora." A foreword by Michael Neufeld and an afterword by Jans-Christian Wagner frame the author's narrative, with the latter offering an especially trenchant discussion of the work's major themes as well as a useful update on the recent historiography of the camps.
Another of the author's aims is to move beyond the "Germano-centric" focus of many accounts by concentrating on the experience of French and Belgian men in the Mittelbau-Dora complex. Additionally, he examines the caste system of the camps and the respective roles played in the internal supervision of the prisoners by "Reds" (political prisoners, denoted by their red triangles) and "Greens" (criminals, denoted by their green triangles). He demonstrates that prisoners often broke into groups along national lines; the experiences of the Hungarian Jews, especially those of the children, evoke some of the most powerful images of depravity and malevolence in camp life. In contrast, the author's antipathy toward the Ukrainians finds repeated expression in his characterization of them as thieves, thugs, and plunderers.
The strength of this work lies in Sellier's ability to...