Visit of the Struthof, the former concentration camp of Natzweiler

by | Nov 24, 2022 | Memorial sites, Museum and monuments, Open on sundays | 0 comments

former-camp-concentration-nazi-struthof

The Struthof is an important place of memory in Alsace. It is located on the site of the former Natzweiller concentration camp, the only concentration camp in France. In addition to the visit of the former concentration camp, it is possible to visit a museum installed in one of the barracks of the camp, the former gas chamber, a national necropolis as well as the European Center of the Resistance members (which houses an exhibition). The whole ensemble forms what is known as Struthof.

Where is the Struthof camp?

The former camp of Natzweiller-Struthof is located in Natzwiller in the Bas-Rhin in Alsace, more precisely near Schirmerck in the Bruche Valley.

Why visit Struthof?

The Struthof is a very important place of memory in Alsace and even in France. Indeed, it is located on the site of the only concentration camp set up in France during the Second World War. Of course, it is not the most cheerful visit you can make in Alsace… but I think it is important to make such a visit. Struthof is the kind of place that horrifies but also makes you think and never forget what happened. A duty to remember, so that this never happens again.

History of the KL Natzweiller camp

Creation of the Konzentrationslager Natzweiller

The KL Natzweiler camp was created in 1941 on the orders of Himmler, the head of the SS, in order to exploit a vein of pink granite discovered in Natzwiller for the benefit of the Reich’s major construction work. On May 1, 1941, the Konzentrationslager Natzweiler was officially opened at a place called “Struthof”.

At first, the camp only received prisoners from other concentration camps, but in 1942 it became an “open” camp, i.e. it could receive prisoners sent directly by the Nazi security services (Sipo). At the end of 1942, the prisoners were also assigned to repair airplane engines for the German Air Force (Luftwaffe).

A crematorium and a gas chamber were installed in KL Natzweiller. The Nazis also created a set of about fifty annex camps to the main camp of Natzweiler, on both sides of the Rhine.

One of the deadliest camps

With a mortality rate of 40%, Struthof was one of the deadliest concentration camps in the Nazi system. More than 2,400 prisoners known as Nacht und Nebel (night Nacht und Nebel (night and fog), a code name for opponents of the Reich who were destined to die a slow and painful death in the greatest secrecy, were sent there. The camp is also the place of a series of appalling pseudo-medical experiments (experiments on combat gases, linked to a vaccine against typhus…).

From 1944 onwards, due to the advance of the Allies, the main camp and its annex camps on the left bank of the Rhine were evacuated and transferred to Germany, mainly to Dachau in Bavaria. Thus, Natzweiler continued to exist thanks to its annexed camps on the right bank of the Rhine.

Liberation: who liberated the Struthof camp?

The main camp of KL Natzweiler was discovered by the Americans on 25 November 1944. Emptied of its occupants, it is the first KL discovered in Western Europe. However, its final end came only with the evacuation of the annexed camps in Germany in March/April 1945.

How to visit the Struthof ?

The visit to Struthof is a self-guided tour that includes several different sites:

  • the museum
  • the European Center for Deported Resistance Members (CERD)
  • the historical site of the former concentration camp
  • the former gas chamber (located 1.5 km below the camp)
  • the national necropolis and the memorial

Duration of the visit: how long does it take to visit Struthof?

Count about 1 hour of visit if you visit only the camp (which I do not advise you to do: visiting the museum and the CERD is essential in addition to the camp) and between 2 and 3 hours to visit the whole site.

Museum and European Center of the Deported Resistance

I advise you to start your visit to Struthof by visiting the museum and the European Center for Deported Resistance Fighters, which are a good introduction to the camp. It is necessary to visit both buildings:

  • the museum located in an old barrack
  • the European Centre of Deported Resistance Members, located above and in the “Kartoffelkeller”, a huge reinforced concrete cellar

I find it important to visit both buildings: the exhibitions tell the story of the camp but also more generally the history of the Second World War and of the resistance that arose in Europe as well as the terrible organization of the Nazi concentration camp system.

I found the Struthof exhibitions particularly well done: they provide numerous testimonies and objects that allow us to understand life in the camp as well as the Nazis’ crazy projects in general. The kind of place that horrifies but also makes you think and never forget what happened. A duty to remember, so that this never happens again.

A former concentration camp in Alsace

After the visit of the museum, we visit the KL (Konzentrationslager) Natzweiler. It goes without saying that visiting such a place is extremely sad and moving. One walks here in the footsteps of prisoners who lived through terrible suffering, the place is striking.

The atrocities committed at Struthof contrast with the beauty of the place, Mount Louise, which offers a superb view of the surrounding Vosges mountains. Here is a quote from Léon Boutbien, a French deportee: “Those who admire the natural beauty of this summit will not be able to believe that this mountain is cursed because it sheltered the hell of free men”.

Gas chamber

You have to walk about 20 minutes to reach the old gas chamber, again a terrifying place… An annex of the inn located just across the street, this room was first used to lock up the first deportees in 1941 before being used to store food and then as a gas chamber from 1942. This was used to train the SS in the use of gas masks, and then a series of experiments with phosgene gas were carried out on the prisoners. Eighty-six men and women were murdered there in order to build up an anatomical collection of Jewish skeletons for the Reichsuniversität Straßburg.

Memorial and Necropolis

There is also a National Necropolis at Struthof with 1116 graves of French and foreigners who died during deportation. A memorial was installed there: the Memorial to the Heroes and Martyrs of the Deportation, officially inaugurated in 1960 by General de Gaulle, then President of the French Republic. Forty meters high and visible from the valley, it represents a flame and displays the emaciated silhouette of a deportee. The body of the unknown deportee, symbol of all the victims of the deportation, is placed inside the vault, at the foot of the Memorial, as well as 14 urns containing symbolic earth or anonymous ashes from the concentration camps in Germany.

Vous êtes intéressé par le tourisme de mémoire ? Découvrez notre guide des lieux de mémoire en Alsace!

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My photos of Struthof

Practical information

Rates and schedules

Here you can find the opening dates and times as well as the Struthof ticket prices. For holders of the Pass Alsace, the entrance is free.

Guided tours

Guided tours take place every day at 10:00, 11:00, 14:00, 15:00 and 15:30. The duration is one hour maximum.

Access

By car

The address is as follows: Route Départementale 130, 67130 Natzwiller. The Struthof is located in:

  • 60 km from Strasbourg (about 55 minutes)
  • 66 km from Colmar (about 1h10)
  • 108 km from Mulhouse (about 1h30)

The parking is free.

By public transport

This is not possible.

Laurène

Laurène

Laurène est la créatrice du blog Mon week-end en Alsace. Bretonne installée en Alsace depuis 2014, elle est tombée amoureuse de sa région d'adoption au point de lui dédier un blog et d'acheter avec son mari une maison alsacienne dans un village du Kochersberg, près de Strasbourg. A pied, à vélo, sur ses chevaux ou au volant de sa Fiat 500, elle aime partir explorer les moindres recoins de l'Alsace pour dénicher de bonnes adresses à partager sur le blog.

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