In western Germany along the border with Holland there is an area called Emsland. In this area, the Prussian interior ministry established three concentration camps in the summer and autumn of 1933, Börgermoor, Esterwegen and Neususturm. These were the first generation of concentration camps that arose in connection with the Berlin Reichstag fire, February 1933. They were intended to hold a capacity of about 10,000 prisoners. The prisoners incarcerated in one of these camps were mainly political opponents to the Nazis. Mostly imprisoned on the basis of what was called a protective custody (Schutzhaft). The camps were guarded by SS and SA members from Papenburg but were not under SS control. It was the Prussian interior ministry that controlled the camps. In December 1933, an amnesty was issued for about 1200 – 1500 prisoners who were considered to be ”rehabilitated”. Only when Heinrich Himmler and his SS took control of the German concentration camps in the spring of 1934 did these three camps fall under the control of the SS. Around the same time, Börgermoor and Neususturm, were transferred to the Prussian judiciary which transformed them into prisons. Esterwegen was kept as a Concentration camp

After SS took over Esterwegen, the camp underwent extensive expansion of both the prison camp and the SS area. Originally, the camp consisted of twenty barracks for about 2,000 prisoners. When SS took over, only ten of these remained. SS built a high white wall around the camp and outside the camp a sports facility and a swimming pool for SS were built. A camp street ran through the entire camp from the far end of the prison camp, through the SS area and out through the camp gate. About 1,000 prisoners were in the camp, including the 1935 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Carl von Ossietzky, and these were used as slave workers. In addition to political prisoners, other categories of prisoners were also imprisoned in the camp. Esterwegen was up to 1936, along with Dachau, Germany’s largest concentration camp. When the concentration camps underwent a reorganization in 1936, Esterwegen was wound up and its prisoners were sent to Sachsenhausen to build a new concentration camp. Esterwegen was handed over to the interior ministry who converted it into prison camp no. VII. Esterwegen was merged with the other Emsland camps and became one of total fifteen camps in Emsland. The camp was liberated in April 1945.

Between 1933 and 1945, 15 camps were established in Emsland, called the Emsland camps. The camps had different functions during different periods. Between 1933 and 1936 there were concentration camps, between 1934 and 1945 there were prisons, between 1939 and 1945 military prisons and prisoner-of-war camps and finally between 1944 and 1945 some of them served as satellite camps to Neuengamme. In total, about 80,000 prisoners were imprisoned in the Emsland camps. Plus between 100,000 – 180,000 prisoners of war. About 38,000 prisoners died, of these about 35,000 Soviet prisoners of war. The camp was intact after the liberation and was taken over by the British army to intern Germans suspected of war crimes.

Current status: Demolished with museum (2011).

Location: 53°00'28.90" N 07°38'21.55" E

Get there: Car.

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Until 2001, the camp was used for various military purposes and the barracks and other buildings were demolished or dismantled. In 2006 archaeological excavations of the camp began. Parts of the original camp street, foundations of barracks and watchtowers have been uncovered Since 2011 there is a museum at the site.

Follow up in books: Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (2006).