Moringen Youth Camp
The Nazi regime established so-called youth protection camps for young people who were alleged to have strayed from Nazi norms and ideals. Among these camps was the Moringen camp for male youths.
In the autumn of 1940, at the initiative of Chief of the Security Police and the SD Reinhard Heydrich, a concentration camp for male youths between the ages of 16 and 21 was opened in the buildings of the state work house (Landeswerkhaus) in Moringen near Gottingen. The first youths were interned in August after having been classified by state institutions for youth, the Reichskriminalpolizei, and welfare practitioners for closed corrective training as “burdensome hereditary criminals” (erblich kriminell belastet) or “ethically and morally degenerate” (sittlich und moralisch verwahrlost).
The Jugendkonzentrationslager in Moringen was the first of the so-called youth protection camps (Jugendschutzlager), which were generally welcomed by the social welfare authorities. Formerly the site of an early Nazi men’s camp in 1933 and an early women’s camp from 1933 to 1938, the Moringen Jugendschutzlager was administratively and conceptually related to similar camps established in 1942 for females at Uckermark and for Poles at Litzmannstadt (Łodz). The Reich Criminal Police Office (Reichskriminalpolizeiamt, RKPA) confined male youths to Moringen after studying their files. Applications to send such youths to the camp were initially made by the State Youth Offices and later by the Criminal Police (Kripo), by the Hitler Youth leadership, and by the protective courts and other judicial authorities. The applications constantly referred to asocial behavior or criminal tendencies. The overwhelming majority were said to be incapable of “readmission to the national community” (Wiedereingliederung in die Volksgemeinschaft). The terms used to justify admission to the camps were deliberately vague and allowed the punishment of any type of behavior that deviated from the norm, as well as allowing the expanded persecution of youths who hitherto had not been seized.
Under the command of SS-Sturmbannfuhrer und Kriminalrat Karl Dieter, the guards from the SS-Totenkopf (Death’s Head), and “trainers” (Erziehern) from the Waffen-SS, the Moringen youths were subjected to military drill, euphemistically termed “community training” (Gemeinschaftserziehung). The stated aim was character education, focusing on cleanliness, order, punctuality, discipline, and above all, work.
The camp organization corresponded to that established for concentration camps for adults. The inmates were divided into various blocks, each of which was supervised by an SS Blockfuhrer, as well as block elders and camp elders, who were chosen from among those interned. These prisoner functionaries had a similar function to Kapos in the large concentration camps. Operating at the behest of the SS, they reported infringements against camp regulations and ensured that the orders of the camp personnel were carried out.
Everyday life in the camp was planned to the minute. During the summer, the day began at 5:15 A.M. and in winter at 5:45 A.M. The hard physical labor lasted for more than 10 hours; the SS Erzieher permanently controlled, supervised, and committed arbitrary acts of violence against the prisoners. The slightest infringement of the rules, such as a mistake while making beds (Bettenbauen), alleged loafing during work, and many other infringements led to draconian punishments. Authorized and unauthorized punishments included the withdrawal of mail privileges; the order to stand while eating; the withholding of meals; sleeping on a “hard bed” (Harte Lager—removal of the mattress so that the prisoner slept on the wooden boards); standing at attention; performing penal exercises (often to the point of total physical collapse); placement under arrest (with only bread and water, with a full meal every third day); and being beaten with a cudgel.
At the end of 1941, the Criminal-Biological Institute of the Security Police (Kriminalbiologische Institut der Sicherheitspolizei, KBI), whose tasks included the observation of “community alien youths” (jugendliche Gemeinschaftsfremde), was incorporated into the RKPA. It was headed by Dr. Robert Ritter, who promptly established a department of KBI inside the Moringen youth concentration camp. He used the camp to continue his studies, begun in the 1930s, to develop a preventive “racial hygienic campaign against criminals,” which amounted to experiments and selections conducted on the youths based on pseudoscientific criminal and hereditary theories. A letter from the RKPA dated June 24, 1942, to the Moringen and Uckermark youth concentration camps as well as to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp defined the purpose of the youth concentration camp as follows: “[to] examine the inmates for criminal-biological traits, to support those who can still be members of the community so that they can take their place in the national community while holding those who are uneducable until their final accommodation elsewhere, while using their labor.”1 This “final accommodation elsewhere” (endgultigen anderweitigen Unterbringung) could mean deportation and murder in one of the deathcamps, the fate of 21 Sinti (Gypsies) on March 24, 1943.
Ritter developed a classification system to examine and sort the youths into different “human types” (Menschentypen): the youths were divided among various blocks based upon their genealogical, moral, and medical characteristics. At Moringen, the newly admitted inmates were allocated to the so-called observation block (Beobachtungsblock, or B-block). Held for six months until a final “determination” by Ritter or his assistant of many years, Eva Justin, they were allocated to a block depending upon KBI’s expectation of success in their training and the resultant social prognosis. The prisoners were dispatched to the blocks for incompetents (Untauglichen, U-block), troublemakers (Storer, S-block), total failures (Dauerversager, D-block), occasional failures (Gelegenheitsversager, G-block), questionably educable (fraglich Erziehungsfahigen, F-block), educable (Erziehungsfahigen, E-block), and the political opponents, Stapo-block (Staatspolizei, or STblock).
The Stapo-block was strictly separated from the others. It held youths who had been classified by the police authorities as political opponents, including foreign youths from countries such as Norway and Luxembourg, partisans from Slovenia, and members of Hamburg’s Swing Youth. The prisoners were mostly admitted to this block on the basis of “protective custody” orders issued by the Gestapo. They were regarded by the police authorities as extremely dangerous to the community. Consequently, they were subjected to an especially strict training and security regime.
The fate of the youths depended on the blocks to which they were allocated. The blocks determined the inmates’ everyday life and formed the basis for their later transfer to the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labor Service, RAD) and Wehrmacht units or, if there was a negative assessment, to the asylums or to death camps.
Ritter’s criminal and hereditary biological assessment had severe consequences for those who survived the physical and psychological terror of the camp. Many of the youths interned in Moringen were forcibly sterilized at the request of the criminal biologists.
The center point of everyday life in the camp was the ceaseless exploitation of the inmates’ labor with completely inadequate sustenance or medical care. For breakfast there was a little bread with jam and a cup of ersatz coffee. At midday and in the evening, the meal was mostly a thin watery soup with cabbage, potatoes, or beets. Meat was a rarity.
Initially, the inmates’ sustenance was restricted to the minimum necessary to maintain their work strength. Later it did not even suffice for this. As a consequence of malnutrition, at least four youths died, with the result being that the SS-Lagerarzt was forced to demand an improvement in April 1942; otherwise, there would be more deaths. However, the food situation changed so little that illnesses, hunger, and malnutrition remained the inmates’ constant companions.
The daily 10 hours’ forced labor regimen was regarded by the detaining authorities as a particularly valuable education method for the growing boys, even though it imposed the most difficult physical travails, monotony, and permanent threat of punishment. The youths were deployed in labor detachments both inside and outside the Moringen camp. In the camp itself, there were a number of workshops such as a saddlery, a weaving mill, a knitting mill, and machines to glue paper bags, as well as tailor, bookbinding, and paint shops. Some of the prisoners worked under SS supervision and for piece wages offered by the companies Gotting Leineweber GmbH, Papiersackfabrik Alfred Rockenfeller, and Jute-Spinnerei und Bindfarbenfabrik August Greve KG. They manufactured overalls, sheets, and hand towels; glued together cement bags; sorted string; and produced cartridge holders and other armaments products for the Wehrmacht. Other inmates worked on farms in the area and at harvest time were sent to work in the sugar mill at NortenHardenberg.
The majority of the youths worked in labor detachments that were especially notorious for their physical work. They dug trenches to lay cables for the Reichspost, worked on the nearby Leine River to regulate its flow, and on the run carried 50-kilogram (110-pound) cement bags for hours for the Portland Cementfabrik Hardegsen AG. The SS used other prisoners in quarries or on construction sites for the Reichsautobahn and the Reichsbahn.
The SS extracted the most profit from the youths when they worked in armaments industries, which paid bonus and wages to the Reich Security Main Offi ce (RSHA). The prisoners never received their wages or bonuses. Inmates from the Moringen camp worked as slaves in the Heeresmunitionsanstalt (Muna), a former salt mine situated about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the camp in Volpriehausen and in the workshops of the Piller company, which opened a branch factory in Moringen on October 1, 1942, with the express purpose of using the camp’s labor. According to historian Hans Hesse, the Moringen work house director, Hugo Krack, while performing a war time assignment, informed Piller of the youth camp’s labor sources.2
Before its dissolution on April 9, 1945, when the US Army marched into Moringen, around 1,500 male youths passed through the camp. At least 56 youths died in the camp as a result of the inhuman living conditions or were shot while working in the labor detachments or while trying to escape. To this number should be added those who contracted tuberculosis and were transferred to the tuberculosis institute at Benninghausen, where many of them died. Others were transferred to the death camps or the asylums, where they fell victim to systematic mass murder and euthanasia measures. Even when the remaining prisoners were sent on the death marches, they were murdered by the SS guards when they could go no further due to exhaustion and illness. One can assume that at least 10 percent of the inmates in the youth concentration camp died while in camp or as a result of the period spent in the camp.
The following secondary sources contain information on Moringen: Martin Guse, “Wir hatten noch gar nicht angefangen zu leben”: Eine Ausstellung zu den Jugend-Konzentrationslagern Moringen und Uckermark 1940–1945, 4th ed. (Moringen, 2001); Diana Dorusz, Tod durch Erziehung? Eine Klasse forscht zum Thema Jugend-KZ (Berlin, 1996); Martin Guse and Andreas Kohrs, “Die ‘Bewahrung’ Jugendlicher im NS-Staat: Ausgrenzung und Internierung am Beispiel der Jugendkonzentrationslager Moringen und Uckermark,” (Diplomarbeit, Fachhochschule Hildesheim, 1985); Martin Guse, Andreas Kohrs, and Friedhelm Vahsen, “Das Jugendlager Moringen—ein Jugendkonzentrationslager,” in Soziale Arbeit und Faschismus: Volkspfl ege und Padagogik im Nationalsozialismus, ed. Hans-Uwe Otto and Heinz Sunker (Bielefeld, 1986), pp. 321–344; Martin Guse, “Der Kleine, der hat sehr leiden mussen . . . ‘Zeugen Jehovas im Jugend- KZ Moringen,’ ” in “Am mutigsten waren immer wieder die Zeugen Jehovas”: Verfolgung und Widerstand der Zeugen Jehovahs im Nationalsozialismus, ed. Hans Hesse (Bremen, 1998), pp. 102–120; Michael Hepp, “Vorhof zur Holle: Madchen im ‘Jugendschutzlager’ Uckermark,” in Hesse, “Am mutigsten waren immer wieder die Zeugen Jehovas,” pp. 239–272; Heinrich Muth, “Das ‘Jugendschutzlager’ Moringen,” DaHe 5 (1989); Manuela Neugebauer, Der Weg in das Jugendschutzlager Moringen: Eine entwicklungsgeschichtliche Analyse nationalsozialistischer Jugendpolitik (Monchengladbach, 1997); Hannah Vogt, Moringen: Mannerlager, Frauenlager, Jugendschutzlager, ed. Gesellschaft fur Christlich-Judische Zusammenarbeit Gottingen e.V. (Gottingen, 1982). On Hugo Krack’s relationship with Piller and the Moringen Jugendschutzlager, see Hans Hesse, Das Frauen KZ- Moringen: 1933–1938 (Moringen, 2002). On the “Swing Youths,” see Detlef J.K. Peukert, Volksgenossen und Gemeinschaftsfremde (Cologne, 1982). On the Moringen memorial, see Bundeszentrale fur politische Bildung, ed., Gedenkstatten fur die Opfer der Nationalsozialismus, Eine Dokumentation, vol. 1, Baden-Wurttemberg, Bayern, Bremen, Hamburg, Hessen, Niedersachsen, Nordrhein- Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland, Schleswig- Holstein (Bonn, 1999), pp. 437–440. On the history of the work house, see Cornelia Meyer, Das Werkhaus Moringen: Die Disziplinierung gesellschaftlicher Randgruppen in einer Arbeitsanstalt (1871–1944) (Moringen, 2004).
As cited by Hesse and Neugebauer, the most important primary sources for the Moringen youth camp may be found in NHStA-H, which holds the denazification files of workhouse director Hugo Krack (Nds. 171 Hildesheim No. 39367) and SS guard Karl Romer (Nds. Hildesheim, No. 20705), as well as rec ords relating to the camp’s administration (Hann. 158 Moringen 38/83, Nos. 1, 2, 4; Hann. 158 Moringen 84/82, No. 1. In an appendix, Neugebauer, Der Weg in das Jugendschutzlager Moringen, pp. 177–199, reproduces relevant RSHA, RKPA, and other police documents dealing with youth detention.
Quoted in Martin Guse and Andreas Kohrs, “Die ‘Bewahrung’ Jugendlicher im NS-Staat: Ausgrenzung und Internierung am Beispiel der Jugendkonzentrationslager Moringen und Uckermark” (Diplomarbeit, Fachhochschule Hildesheim, 1985), p. 173; original found in BA- K, NS 4 RA 1.
NHStA- H, Nds. Hann. 158 Moringen 38/83, No. 4, p. 239, cited in Hans Hesse, Das Frauen KZ- Moringen: 1933–1938 (Moringen, 2002), p. 99.