The hell of Dora
In August 1943, after the bombing of Peenemünde, the decision was made to prioritise the use of prisoners from the concentration camps for the manufacture of rockets, in order to secure absolute secrecy.
Prisoners at Camp Dora - by Walter Frentz, Hitler's photographer
On 28 August, a first group of prisoners from Buchenwald arrived near Nordhausen, in Thuringia, to begin development work on the Mittelwerk underground factory. The whole site was placed under the direct control of the SS. The task of this Kommando, christened "Dora", was to transform an underground storage facility into a modern factory for the mass production of rockets.
For six months, the Dora tunnels were a hell on earth: in the midst of confusion and violence, the prisoners had to finish drilling the galleries and transport large scale machines, with rudimentary lifting methods. In addition, the prisoners had to sleep below ground, in dreadful hygiene conditions. From 6,000 in November 1943, the number of prisoners employed in the "Tunnel" shot up to 12,000 in January 1944, when the factory went into production. The mortality rate was high: there were 2,882 deaths in six months (the bodies were burnt in the incinerator at Buchenwald) and 3,000 other prisoners who were sick were sent to Maïdanek and Bergen-Belsen to be "eliminated" there.