France’s only Concentration Camp: Natzweiler-Struthof

A couple weeks ago I wrote about mainland France’s region of Alsace. All my own experiences from visiting Alsace and anything I have read about the region comes back to one thing, the beauty of the mountainous landscape. But, in researching my post last week about the new and as yet still proposed memorial to French victims of Nazi concentration camps, I discovered information about a concentration camp in Alsace – Natzweiler-Struthof.

I have never heard about this camp, I did not know there had been a concentration camp in France. Interestingly, no one I know has heard about this camp either. Natzweiler-Struthof was in fact the only Nazi built concentration camp in what is today France. During World War II the Alsace-Lorraine region was annexed by Germany and was an integral part of what was the German Reich. I wonder then how many Europe A La Carte readers knew about this site.

Photograph by penwren on Flickr

Natzweiler-Struthof was in use from 21 May 1941 until the beginning of September in 1944, when the camp was evacuated to another camp Dachau. Over the next three years some 52 000 prisoners were brought to this camp from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the Soviet Union. On November 23 1944 this was the first concentration camp in Western Europe camp to have been liberated by American troops.

Today there is a memorial site at Natzweiler-Struthof, closed from Christmas to the end of February. But the memorial’s website has a rather poignant virtual tour, as well as all sorts of other interesting information, in French, English, Dutch and Italian, for anyone who has the remotest interest in this part of Europe’s history. The website has all the practical information anyone might need to visit the memorial when they are in the Vosges mountains.

When enjoying some of the most beautiful areas of France, of Europe – such as the Vosges mountains in the Alsace region, I think it is important that we are least mindful of some of the darker aspects of the continent’s history.

One of the buildings that housed a crematorium when the camp was in operation during World War II. Photograph by Lybil Ber on Wikipedia

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.