As one of many labor camps that were set up in south-west Germany during the final phase of the war and were generally subordinate to the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace, the Bisingen concentration camp was used for armaments production. From August 1944 to March 1945, a total of 4,150 men were deported to Bisingen, including around 1,500 Jews. They came from almost all European countries and arrived at the station in several “batches.” For most of the prisoners, Bisingen was just a stop on the long horrific road that brought them through the large concentration and extermination camps of Dachau, Auschwitz, Danzig-Stutthof and Buchenwald to the camps of the “Desert” (Wüste) company.
When the first thousand prisoners were deported from Auschwitz to Bisingen on August 24, 1944, the camp was not yet in place. The prisoners had to build barracks, watchtowers, and barbed wire fences, lay a water pipe and set up the oil shale work stations in the Kuhloch. In the “Desert Station 2,” (Wüste-Werk 2) and on the second mining site near Engstlatt ("Desert 3") the prisoners had to break the shale out of the rock with the simplest of tools. It was not until February 23, 1945 that the first "kiln" was ignited and oil smoldered out of the shale. The yield was low; little fuel was recovered until the camp was liquidated.
In addition to shale mining, the prisoners were used for other work. Some men were "borrowed" by the Keller shoe factory, sent to repair the church roof that had been damaged in an air raid, or to clear the debris from bombed-out houses. On these occasions, the Bisingen population was able to get a glimpse into the miserable lives of the prisoners; they could also observe it during the worker’s daily march to Desert Station 3, which led the prisoners along the main road twice a day. Individual Bisingen citizens tried to help the emaciated prisoners by placing food items along the route.
The hard work in the oil shale work stations, the malnutrition and the unhygienic conditions in the camp claimed many victims, especially in the especially wet autumn and winter of 1944/45. The prisoners sank up to their knees in mud, they could not keep themselves dry and clean, and an epidemics broke out. Many prisoners died from disease, weakness, malnutrition, and abuse on the daily basis. During punitive actions and as a deterrent, prisoners were shot or hanged by SS men, mostly for trivial reasons.
The first 29 dead from the camp were incinerated in the crematorium in Reutlingen. Later, two Bisingen men had to drive the corpses in horse-drawn carts to mass graves in the Ludenstall area, where they were buried. In the eight months of its existence, the Bisingen concentration camp claimed at least 1187 victims, 1158 of whom are buried in what is now the concentration camp cemetery. Following the order of the Reichsfuhrer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, to evacuate all camps before the Allies approached, the SS dissolved the Bisingen concentration camp in April 1945; they sent 769 prisoners in two transports to Dachau-Allach, and the rest were set on foot onto the "death march " in the direction of Upper Swabia and Bavaria, during which many died. The surviving concentration camp prisoners were liberated in Dachau: near Ostrach, Altshausen or Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
After the end of the Second World War, the French occupying power ordered that the dead from the Bisingen mass grave be exhumed and buried individually in coffins in the newly created cemetery. This work was done by inmates of the Reutlingen and Balingen war crime camps. Former Nazi officials from all districts of the French-occupied territory were brought to Bisingen to see for themselves the atrocities in the Bisingen concentration camp. The Bisingen concentration camp cemetery was established in April 1947. It marks the first – and the, for an unfortunately long time, only – step in commemorating the history of the Bisingen concentration camp and its victims.
Wachmannschaft im KZ Bisingen: Angehörige der Luftwaffe (Bodendienst), ein Beispiel für die Kooperation zwischen SS und Wehrmacht in den Lagern
Foto: Privat, Museum Bisingen