operation "Desert"

The Bisingen concentration camp was set up in August 1944 as one of seven camps run by the "Desert" company. By this time the Allies had already landed in Normandy and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg had tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Hitler. In this very last phase of the war, from August 1944 to May 1945, just as many people were to die as in the years since September 1939. This is the historical context in which the Bisingen concentration camp, a satellite camp of the Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace, is to be viewed.


After the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943 and with the intensified Allied air raids from the beginning of 1944, the Reich lost access to the Romanian oil fields and its own hydrogenation plants in East Germany. However, since the Wehrmacht urgently needed fuel, the mining of Posidonia shale on the edge of the Swabian Jura was ordered by the highest levels of the Reich. Despite previous unsatisfactory attempts to extract oil from shale, the Nazi Armaments Ministry under Albert Speer decided in July 1944 to build ten oil shale work stations with seven concentration camps along the Tübingen-Rottweil railway line: in Bisingen, Dautmergen, Dormettingen, Erzingen, Frommern, Schömberg and Schörzingen. Various competing organizations, ministries, research institutes, and companies were involved in the large-scale project, code-named “Operation Desert". The workers were provided by the SS: concentration camp prisoners, who were paid between four and six Reichsmarks per day. In total, more than 11,000 men from all countries of occupied Europe had to do forced labor in the seven "Desert" camps.


The expectations of the Nazi regime were not fulfilled. Only four out of ten oil shale works stations were able to start production by the end of the war, and only little and inferior quality fuel was produced. The senseless project cost over 3480 lives in its short existence. This number was determined when the mass graves were exhumed after the end of the war and the bodies were reburied in the three concentration camp cemeteries in Bisingen, Schömberg and Schörzingen. However, the actual number of victims is significantly higher. The SS had the first dead in the camps incinerated in crematoria; sick and weak prisoners were transported to the so-called sick camps, for example to Vaihingen/Enz, and handed over to face certain death there. When the camps were dissolved in April 1945, the prisoners were deported to Dachau or sent on "death marches,” where a large number of the men died of exhaustion or were shot by the SS.