In 1938, a concentration camp was built at Flossenberg, located in northeastern Bavaria near the Czech border, because of its potential for extracting granite used for construction. Later the Flossenberg prisoners were used to make arms for the war effort.
Nearly 97,000 prisoners passed through the Flossenberg system between 1938 and 1945. An estimated 30,000 prisoners died in Flossenberg and its subcamps or on the evacuation routes, including 3,515 Jews.
PRISON POPULATION GROWS
Before 1944, relatively few Jews were prisoners in Flossenberg, probably no more than 100. Between August 1944 and January 1945, at least 10,000 Jews, mostly Hungarian and Polish, arrived in Flossenberg and its subcamps. By January 1945, as the Germans evacuated other camps to the East and West, there were almost 40,000 prisoners in the Flossenberg camp system. At its high point in March 1945, nearly 53,000 prisoners were in the system, with about 14,500 in the main camp.
Initially, Flossenberg prisoners worked in the construction of the concentration camp itself and in the nearby granite quarry. However, beginning in August 1943, after Allied bombers seriously damaged manufacturing operations, concentration camp laborers were used for producing arms. By 1944, prisoners in the Flossenberg system were primarily making aircraft parts.
As forced labor became increasingly important in German arms production, the authorities established around 100 subcamps of Flossenberg, concentrated mainly around armaments industries in southern Germany and western Czechoslovakia.
The conditions under which the camp authorities forced the prisoners to work and the absence of medical care facilitated the spread of disease, including dysentery and typhus, from which many prisoners died. The prisoners also suffered beatings and arbitrary punishments—typically solitary confinement, standing at attention for hours, whipping, hanging from posts, and transfer to penal labor details. There were, as well, numerous individual and mass “executions,” including shootings and hangings.
As U.S. forces approached Flossenberg, in mid-April 1945, the Germans began the forced evacuation of prisoners, except those unable to walk. Between April 15 and April 20, most of the remaining 9,300 prisoners in the main camp (including approximately 1,700 Jews) as well as about 7,000 prisoners who arrived from Buchenwald, were forced to march in the direction of Dachau. An estimated 7,000 of these prisoners died en route, either from exhaustion or starvation or because guards shot them when they could no longer keep up the pace.
Thousands of other prisoners escaped, were liberated by advancing U.S. troops, or found themselves free when their guards deserted during the night. Fewer than 3,000 of those who left the Flossenberg main camp arrived in Dachau, where they joined some 3,800 prisoners from the Flossenberg subcamps. When U.S. forces liberated Flossenberg on April 23, 1945, just over 1,500 prisoners remained in the camp. As many as 200 of them died after liberation.