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On March 24, 1938, SS authorities determined a site near
the small town of Flossenbürg to be suitable for the
establishment of a concentration camp, due to its potential
for extracting granite for construction purposes. The site
lay in northeastern Bavaria near the Czech border, less
than ten miles northeast of Weiden.
Six weeks later, on May 3, 1938, the first 100 prisoners
transported from Dachau concentration camp arrived at the
newly designated Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Initially, the SS intended the camp as a place of detention
for males, particularly those rounded up in the winter and
spring of 1938 in the course of the major police operations
to remove so-called asocial persons and repeat criminal
offenders from German streets. The SS planned to deploy
the prisoners as forced laborers in the nearby stone quarry
owned by the SS company German Earth and Stone Works
View, through the barbed wire, of the prisoner
barracks in the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
Flossenbürg, Germany, 1942.
— Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz
(Deutsche Erd- und
View Photographs
By the end of 1938, nearly 1,500 prisoners were in the camp, most of them
repeat criminal offenders and “asocials,” with a few homosexuals. Approximately
1,000 political prisoners, mostly of German nationality arrived in Flossenbürg in
late 1939. They had been in Dachau concentration camp, which SS authorities
temporarily closed down in order to use the site for training the first authorized
SS military units (later to be designated the Waffen SS).
Although the Dachau prisoners returned to Dachau in late spring 1940, new
political prisoners replaced them in Flossenbürg, including the first Czech
prisoners. In 1941, an influx of approximately 1,500 Polish prisoners followed,
many of them were members of the Polish resistance. By the end of 1941,
approximately 3,150 prisoners were incarcerated in Flossenbürg along with 1,750
Soviet prisoners of war, who were held in a separate compound within the camp
There were over 4,000 prisoners in the Flossenbürg main camp in February
1943. More than half were political prisoners (mainly Soviet, Polish, Czech,
Dutch, and German). Almost 800 were Germans identified as repeat criminal
offenders; more than 100 were homosexuals; and seven were Jehovah's
Witnesses. Over the next eighteen months, hundreds of prisoners, mostly
French, arrived in Flossenbürg after having been seized by German occupation
authorities under the Night and Fog (Nacht und Nebel) Decree.
View Personal Histories
View Artifact
Before 1944, relatively few Jews were prisoners in Flossenbürg, probably no
more than 100. In mid-October 1942, the SS deported the surviving 12 Jews to
Auschwitz in accordance with general SS orders concerning Jews in German
concentration camps. To this point, according to the official camp death registry,
78 Jews had died in the camp.
Between August 4, 1944 and the middle of January 1945, at least 10,000 Jews,
mostly Hungarian and Polish Jews, arrived in Flossenbürg and its subcamps.
Some 13,000 more came in the winter months of 1945, as the SS evacuated
other camps to the East and West. In January 1945, there were almost 40,000
prisoners in the Flossenbürg camp system, including almost 11,000 women. At
its high point in March 1945, nearly 53,000 prisoners were in Flossenbürg camp
system, with about 14,500 in the main camp.
Initially, the SS staff deployed the prisoners in the construction of the
concentration camp itself and in the nearby granite quarry. Until mid-1943, the
quarry occupied the labor of about half of the prisoner population. Another
employer was an SS-owned weaving workshop. In accordance with SS efforts to
provide forced labor for the German armaments industry, the Messerschmidt
company established a plant in February 1943, in which prisoners produced parts
for ME-109 fighter planes. After Allied bombers seriously damaged the central
Messerschmidt plant in Regensburg in August 1943, the company's managers
moved surviving production facilities to various locations, among them
concentration camps, including Flossenbürg and its subcamps. The production of
aircraft parts thus dominated labor deployment in the Flossenbürg system by
The conditions under which the camp authorities forced the prisoners to work and
the absence of even rudimentary medical care facilitated the spread of disease,
including dysentery and typhus. In addition to the dreadful living conditions, the
prisoners suffered beatings and arbitrary punishments. SS overseers and
prisoner functionaries (the camp and block elders, and the kapos) abused and
killed prisoners according to whim in addition to the typical “official” punishments
of prisoners (solitary confinement, standing at attention for hours, whipping,
hanging from posts, and transfer to penal labor details).
A condition unique to Flossenbürg was the presence and “veteran status” of the
numerous criminal offenders in the prisoner population. Tolerated by the SS, they
tended to dominate the prisoner administration, which, as a result, was
particularly brutal and corrupt. This hierarchy of criminal prisoners distinguished
itself in sexual exploitation of lower ranking prisoners: coerced homosexual
relationships and outright rape occurred frequently enough to induce the camp
authorities to segregate male minors in a separate barracks, in a futile attempt to
interdict efforts to sexually prey upon them.
The SS hierarchy at Flossenbürg was no less corrupt and brutal. The first
commandant, SS Major Jakob Weiseborn turned up dead in his apartment under
mysterious circumstances on January 20, 1939, spawning rumors that he had
committed suicide to avoid scandal. His replacement, SS Lieutenant Colonel Karl
Künstler was often drunk during the two and one half years he served as
commandant; in August 1942, he was sent to the Balkans as a supply officer for
an anti-partisan unit. From September 1942 until April 1943, SS Major Egon Zill
View Maps
commanded Flossenbürg. SS Major Max Koegel replaced Zill and remained
commandant until the end of the war.
As prisoner forced labor became increasingly important in German arms
production, the SS authorities established around 100 subcamps of Flossenbürg,
concentrated mainly around armaments industries in southern Germany and
western Czechoslovakia. One labor detachment was assigned to work on the
agricultural estate of the widowed spouse of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the
former chief of the RSHA, who had died in June 1942 as the result of an
assassination attempt in Prague.
In addition to the generally high mortality rate, which included 1,367 deaths
recorded for March 1945 alone, the camp authorities conducted numerous
individual and mass shootings characterized as “executions.” SS guards had shot
more than 1,000 Soviet prisoners of war in Flossenbürg by the end of 1941;
shootings of Soviet prisoners of war continued sporadically through 1944.
Between February and September 1941, camp authorities shot about 500 Polish
prisoners, including a July 1941 shooting of 40 Polish prisoners at the SS firing
range outside the camp. In 1944, the SS in Flossenbürg murdered 40 Soviet
prisoners of war whom they had identified as leaders of a prisoner revolt in the
subcamp of Mülsen Sankt Micheln.
On March 29, 1945, the SS hanged 13 Allied prisoners of war (including one U.S.
soldier), who had been captured behind German lines on the Normandy coast in
the previous summer. Ten days later, on April 9, after a drumhead court martial
inside the camp, the SS hanged several prominent prisoners linked, however
tenuously, to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy, including former military intelligence
(Abwehr) chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, his deputy, Major-General Hans Oster,
and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom Oster had recruited into the Abwehr in
1939. The Gestapo had arrested Bonhoeffer and Oster in April 1943, and
Canaris in the aftermath of the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944.
As U.S. forces approached the camp, in mid-April 1945, the SS began the forced
evacuation of prisoners, except those unable to walk, from the Flossenbürg
camp. Between April 15 and April 20, the SS moved most of the remaining 9,300
prisoners in the main camp (among them approximately 1,700 Jews), reinforced
by about 7,000 prisoners who had arrived in Flossenbürg from Buchenwald, in
the direction of Dachau both on foot and by train. Perhaps 7,000 of these
prisoners died en route, either from exhaustion or starvation, or because SS
guards shot them when they could no longer keep up the pace.
Thousands of others escaped, were liberated by advancing U.S. troops, or found
themselves free when their SS guards deserted during the night. Fewer than
3,000 of those who left Flossenbürg main camp arrived in Dachau, where they
joined some 3,800 prisoners from the Flossenbürg subcamps. When members of
the 358th and 359th U.S. Infantry Regiments (90th U.S. Infantry Division)
liberated Flossenbürg on April 23, 1945, just over 1,500 prisoners remained in
the camp. As many as 200 of them died after liberation.
Nearly 97,000 prisoners (of whom just over 16,000 were female) passed through
the Flossenbürg system between 1938 and 1945. An estimated 30,000 prisoners
died in Flossenbürg and its subcamps or on the evacuation routes, including
3,515 Jews.