The Dora-Mittelbau (also known as Dora-Nordhausen or Nordhausen) camp was established in central Germany near the southern Harz Mountains, north of the town of Nordhausen.
It was originally a subcamp of Buchenwald. Prisoners from Buchenwald were sent to the area in 1943 to begin construction of a large industrial complex. In October 1944, the SS made Dora-Mittelbau an independent concentration camp with more than 30 subcamps of its own.
Allied air raids on industrial complexes in Germany necessitated the construction of underground production facilities. Concentration camp prisoners dug huge tunnels into the surrounding mountains to house the production and storage areas. In 1943, prisoners at Dora-Mittelbau began construction of large underground factories and development facilities for the V-2 missile program and other experimental weapons.
These so-called Weapons of Retaliation (Vergeltungswaffen), as the Germans called them, were constructed and stored in the underground facilities and bomb-proof shafts.
Until the spring of 1944, prisoners were kept mostly underground, deprived of daylight and fresh air, and enclosed in unstable tunnels. The mortality rate was higher than at most other concentration camps. Prisoners too weak or ill to work were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Mauthausen to be killed. In 1944, a compound to house forced laborers was built above ground level south of the main factory area. Once full production of the missiles began in the fall of 1944, Dora-Mittelbau had a standing prisoner population of at least 12,000.
Dora-Mittelbau was enclosed by an electrified barbed-wire fence, with the main entrance located in the east of the camp. To the west of the main entrance was the roll call area, where prisoners were assembled before they were marched off to forced labor. To the east, beyond the entrance, was the SS camp. The crematoria were located in the north of the camp. The camp prison was in the south part of the camp.
The Dora-Mittelbau camp, under commander Otto Förschner , was the center of a vast network of forced-labor camps constructed in 1944-1945 throughout the Harz Mountain region, including those located in nearby Niedersachswerfen, Nordhausen, and Neusollstedt. Prisoners in the Dora-Mittelbau camp system quarried stone and worked in construction projects, munitions factories, the nearby ammonia works, and other projects related to weapons development and production.
After the war commander Forschner was convicted by a US military tribunal and sentenced to death, along with 35 other co-defendants, on December 13, 1945. He was hanged in Landsberg prison on May 28, 1946, age 43.
Of the approximately 15,000 prisoners from Mittelbau, about half were from the Soviet Union and Poland. Although not in good health, these men were much healthier than most of the prisoners in the Belsen main camp. When the British Army liberated Belsen on 15 April, many of the inmates turned on their former overseers at Mittelbau. About 170 of these “Kapos” were killed that day.
In total, around 60,000 prisoners passed through the Mittelbau camps between August 1943 and March 1945. The precise number of people killed is impossible to determine. The SS files counted around 12,000 dead. In addition, an unknown number of unregistered prisoners died or were murdered in the camps. Around 5,000 sick and dying were sent in early 1944 and in March 1945 to Lublin and Bergen-Belsen.