Commemoratory History

As interesting as the historical events surrounding the Bisingen concentration camp in 1944/45,are the later developments that began to take place immediately after the evacuation of the camp in April 1945. Traces were covered up even before the French troops arrived: Mayor of Bisingen had all the documents burned, including the death reports of the concentration camp victims; the SS also destroyed their documents.


Post-war Years: Concentration Camp Cemetery


At the end of 1946, the French occupation forces ordered the exhumation of the mass graves by inmates from the Reutlingen political detention camp. After unsuccessful attempts at identification, the 1158 ramains of the inmates of the War Crimes Balingen Camp were reburied on the site of what is now the concentration camp cemetery. Each grave received a wooden cross. The cemetery was inaugurated on April 29, 1947. It was the first and for a long time the only memorial site for the victims of the Bisingen concentration camp.


In the 1950s and 1960s there was a discussion about the name and signage of the cemetery. When the French signpost "Cimetière d'Honneur" (Cemetery of Honor) withered, the Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime in Baden-Württemberg (VVN) 1956 suggested replacing it with a sign saying "Concentration Camp Cemetery". While the Hohenzoller State Building Authority Sigmaringen suggested the name "war grave site,” the Hechingen district office decided in 1961 for the inscription “Ehrenfriedhof" (Honorary Cemetery). The reason given was that "it was absolutely appropriate to keep the memory of the crimes of National Socialism alive among the local population. However, there was no reason for indirectly pointing out the crimes of National Socialism to the foreigners who drive in large numbers on the federal highway 27, which serves as an international thoroughfare."


1950s and 1960s: Oil Slate Site and Hometown Book


On the site of the oil shale works in Kuhloch more was concealed than remembered too. From 1953 to 1956, the community planted around 170,000 trees and hedges, which soon overran the traces of production facilities and forced labor. In July 1969, the Bisingen football club opened a field situated on top of the former charcoal kiln. A memorial stone in the form of a truncated pyramid was erected not far from there as a "memorial". The cryptic inscription reads: "Wanderer, if you pass here, remember those whose lives were taken before they had lived it meaningfully." This saying is repeated on two side panels in French and Latin.


A document typical of the time is the "Heimatbuch der Gemeinde Bisingen-Steinhofen" (Hometown book of the Bisingen-Steinhofen community) published by the Heimatverein in 1953, in which the subject of National Socialism is completely ignored. Under the main heading "War events in Bisingen" an arc is drawn from the Middle Ages to the First World War with some additional observations on the Second World War. The topic of the Bisingen concentration camp is under the subheading "Bisingen's sacrifice in the war.”


1980s: Reprocessing the events through Juso AG


At the beginning of the 1980s, Juso AG Bisingen opposed the incorrect, and uncriticizing representation of the events which unfolded in the Bisingen concentration camp. The taboo of the subject and the extremely sparse information — there was only the inscription on the concentration camp cemetery, and the vague sentences in the hometown book — prompted the young people to jump into action themselves, and to gather information about the camp in archives and eyewitness interviews. As a result of their research, the Jusos published a documentation in 1984, which they presented at the well-attended event in the Hohenzollern hall. From the very beginning, the young people encountered resistance to their work: not only from the municipal administration, and the CDU parliamentary group in the municipal council, but also from many Bisingen citizens who advised them to "put the old stories to rest.” The group members were repeatedly insulted and called "nest polluters,” and individual members received anonymous calls.


Since 1995: Museum, history trail and memorial society


Only with the speech of Richard von Weizsäcker on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in 1985, the widespread defense against reprocessing attempts was gradually broken up. In the years that followed, initiatives emerged in many places that worked on local persecution stories. In Bisingen, a certain change of heart took place in the political institutions during these years. In 1995, the Bisingen municipal council decided to dedicate the first exhibition to the history of Bisingen concentration camp in the new local history museum. Interestingly, the same mayor, who vehemently opposed the initiative of Juso AG in the early 1980s, now advocated for this issue. The exhibition, conceived by the Stuttgart historian Christine Glauning, was opened in November 1996 under the title "Difficulties of Remembering.” Four survivors of the Bisingen concentration camp were also present; two of them gave speeches and the museum was supplemented by a history trail in 1997/98. At the dedication ceremony in the concentration camp cemetery, a memorial stone for the Jewish victims was also unveiled. 


In 1998, the municipal council declared the presentation in the museum to be permanent. The memorial is filled with life by the association Gedenkstätten KZ Bisingen e.V., founded in 2003, which leads around a thousand visitors to the historical sites every year. The vast majority of them are students. 


The new permanent exhibition in the Bisingen Concentration Camp Museum presents the history of memory in a separate room.