Com­mem­o­rat­ing Hell: The Pub­lic Mem­o­ry of Mittelbau-Dora

Gretchen Schafft and Ger­hard Zeidler
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011
Mit­tel­bau-Dora was an under­ground rock­et-assem­bly camp in the mid­dle of Ger­many. It was a death camp with­out gas cham­bers. Its work­ers worked and lived like moles in the bow­els of a damp, dark, cold moun­tain. In the short time that it exist­ed, both in the main camp and the sub-camps, approx­i­mate­ly 20,000 of the 60,000 pris­on­ers died. Because the camp devel­oped rock­ets used in war­fare, it was sub­ject to exten­sive bomb­ing by the Allies try­ing to elim­i­nate it and for pay­back.” Because this is an anthro­po­log­i­cal exam­i­na­tion of the Nazi camp, it is less about events than it is about how peo­ple find mean­ing in the events: how that mean­ing is pro­duced; and how and by what means it changes over time. The mem­o­ry of this camp has been main­tained by peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing in many coun­tries and under a vari­ety of polit­i­cal regimes, includ­ing a divid­ed Ger­many. The offi­cial records are but the archi­tec­ture upon which anthro­pol­o­gy hangs frag­ments” of doc­u­men­ta­tion. Poems, memen­tos, mem­oirs, and oral his­to­ries are what it val­ues and there are many mov­ing exam­ples of each here. One can­not help but note that the Nazi sci­en­tists were brought into the Unit­ed States to lead its space explo­rations, a fact kept in mind by Eli Rosen­baum, direc­tor of its Office of Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions (O.S.I.). For the past three decades, he has kept Mit­tel­bau-Dora in mind, as he built a case against Arthur Rudoph, who man­aged the U.S. Per­sh­ing Mis­sile pro­gram and the Sat­urn V pro­gram, which devel­oped the first rock­et to the moon. Rudolph had been a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty two years before Hitler took office. In Mit­tel­w­erk, he had vol­un­tar­i­ly watched the slow stran­gu­la­tion by hang­ing of pris­on­ers accused of sab­o­tage. In all, this is a fas­ci­nat­ing account of a peri­od of his­to­ry and the peo­ple who expe­ri­enced the hor­ror and hero­ism of the era. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, photographs.
Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions