When a former brick factory was turned into the Neuengamme concentration camp in 1938, a six-year reign of terror began. Over the course of the most shameful chapter of Hamburg's history, tens of thousands of people were held captive in Neuengamme and used as slave labour in the outskirts of Bergedorf district. Political prisoners from German-occupied territories were forced to dig canals, work in clay pits and manufacture arms. Neuengamme was one of northwest Germany’s largest concentration camps, and here accommodation, nutrition and sanitation were insufficient or nonexistent at best and deadly at worst, with guards being rewarded for brutal handling of prisoners. When British soldiers finally liberated the camp on 2 May 1945, nearly 43,000 men, women and children had already been killed by their treatment in the camp, whether from disease, exhaustion, hunger or violence. Only 14 staff members were convicted for their crimes.
From prison to memorial
After the war, traces of the atrocities that had taken place at the Neuengamme concentration camp were thoroughly erased. The grounds were turned into a prison, and the site’s history mostly faded from public memory. Over the next several decades and with a fair amount of protest and strife, two monuments and an exhibition building were erected, the grounds were declared a heritage site, and other efforts were made by protesters and former prisoners to keep the memory of the horrors that had taken place on the grounds alive and to memorialize its victims. In 2005, more than sixty years after former prisoners erected the first memorial at the camp's entrance, the entire site finally became the memorial that it is today, with former factory buildings housing the centre for exhibitions, cultural exchange and research.
The memorial site spans an area of 600,000 square metres. 15 brick buildings remain, while only the outlines of the wooden barracks are still visible. The main exhibit, 'Traces of History', can be found in a former cell block and an exhibition about the crimes of the SS is housed in the former car park. Visitors looking for information about relatives can search the Memorial’s records for names of prisoners. Plenty of information boards and guided tours will make your visit to Neuengamme Memorial as informative as possible.
On-site parking is available.