For Americans, like myself, World War II stories are fresh in our minds. As we’re traveling around the country, we try our best to visit them and keep reminding ourselves what can happen if we are not careful, mindful. One of the things that are abundant in Germany are concentration camps, and unlike the names of Dachau and Auschwitz which have been engraved on our brains.
Flossenburg Concentration Camp is one of thousands of camps during World War II that no one has heard of, yet millions of people of all ages and gender were imprisoned, or worse, in these unforgotten hells. The numbers of concentration camps during the Second World War is staggering. Numbers vary depending on your source, however up to 42,500 camps have been named, some extermination camps, some work camps.
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KZ Gedenkstatte = Flossenburg Concentration Camp Memorial
Flossenburg Facts and History
Flossenburg before the war, was a place people went to enjoy the outdoors in an area of natural beauty. The town was known for its mine and quarry which brought much needed work to the locals. Unfortunately it was the mine that also drew the attention of the Nazis. In the early stages of National Socialism, a new state was being built and the building material of choice was stone. Massive projects like Tempelhof in Berlin had staggering requirements for quarried stone and slave labor was the horrible solution.
The camp was established in 1939 and immediately prisoners from Dachau Concentration Camp, north of Munich sent some of their overflow. The original inmates were political prisoners, but not much later, prisoners were streaming in from Eastern countries, primarily from Poland and Russia, but no area was unrepresented.
The camp did have a crematorium and many prisoners were killed outright, but the main killer was the mine. Inmates marched to and from the mine in all types of weather with little protection from the elements. They worked 12 hour days, back-breaking and dangerous work in the quarry, moving rocks, digging, and other menial tasks. They were only given one break per day and fed a small bowl of broth. Needless to say, the mine broke many men.
At the end of the war, when the Allies were advancing the management of the camp ordered the inmates on a Death March so they wouldn’t be discovered. The march was brutal and many more people lost their lives during these late stages of the war.
One of the most famous prisoners, who also lost his life here, was Dietrick Bonhoeffer. A Catholic priest and theologian, his writings and involvement in the Resistance led him to Flossenburg.
Visiting Flossenburg Concentration Camp Today
We visited on a cold, wintry day with snow on the ground. For me, it’s the way it should be, because the grayness, the coldness, seeps into my being. As I shiver from the wind, my heart weeps for the inmates that had to endure these hardships.
The site is very well maintained and informative. There is no cost to get in, so you are free to wander the grounds. First you walk through the arch of the administrative center, which opens up onto the old parade grounds where many atrocities took place, least of which was making the prisoners stand for hours as they were counted.
The exhibition building, with a cinema in the basement, is the best place to start. It tells you the history of Flossenburg Concentration Camp as well as many stories, autobiographies of the inmates, and economic information. The film is offered throughout the day in German, but at 2:30 in the afternoon it is in English, and I would highly recommend it. It is narrated by people who were inmates at the camp and is very moving.
Further along is the Jewish memorial and the church, along with some towers and the crematorium. All are worth a visit.
A sobering afternoon, but a very informative one, I would recommend anyone in the area to visit the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.
Getting to KZ Flossenburg
By car: Take autobahn A93 and exit Nuestadt an der Waldnaab or take autobahn A6 and exit Waidhaus. For either way, once you leave the autobahn follow the signs to “KZ-Gedenkstätte Flossenburg.” From: Grafenwoehr 45 min., Munich 2 hrs., Stuttgart 3 hr., Wiesbaden 3.5 hrs., and Düsseldorf 5.5 hrs.
By Public Transporation: Take the train to Weiden in der Oberpfalz, then you must take Bus number 6272 to Flossenburg. It takes 45 minutes once you get to Weiden.
Children: I would not take children below the age of about ten. The exhibits are all reading, and I think a small child could get easily bored.
Dogs are not allowed.
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