In 1942, the armaments industry and the Reich Ministry of Armaments began to employ more and more concentration camp prisoners as workers. As a result, many satellite camps of Neuengamme concentration camp were set up close to factories and construction sites. Most of these were established in the last year of the war. By 1945, 85 satellite camps of Neuengamme concentration camp had been built all over northern Germany. In March 1945, there were roughly 13,000 men incarcerated in the main camp and another roughly 28,000 men and more than 1,000 women in the satellite camps working for industry, the Wehrmacht, the German state and the SS.
Neuengamme concentration camp had more than 60 satellite camps for men. Tens of thousands of men from all over Europe were forced to work in these camps to manufacture arms; build bunkers, defensive positions, industrial sites and underground production facilities; and to clear debris and repair streets. Working conditions could vary greatly, as could the conditions in the often provisional living quarters, but they were catastrophic nonetheless due to hard labour and SS terror.
In the 24 satellite camps for women that belonged to Neuengamme main camp in 1944 and 1945, female prisoners had to work in armaments factories above and below ground as well as clear debris and build provisional housing. Eight camps were located within Hamburg’s city limits. The women came from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. At least 100 women from Neuengamme’s satellite camps did not survive the war. They died as a result of poor living and working conditions in the camps, or they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died shortly before the end of the war.
“They worked in Schandelah, in the railway work detail, the worst work detail there was. […] So many people worked there. They died or came back to Neuengamme very ill, or they were transported somewhere else, to another work detail that was perhaps better. […] We were four kilometres away from Schandelah, and each Sunday, if the weather was good, they [neighbours from nearby came] by foot to the camp to stare at us. […] We were like monkeys in a zoo.”
Victor Malbecq from Belgium was a prisoner in the Schandelah and Wöbbelin satellite camps of Neuengamme concentration camp from September 1944 to May 1945. (Interview, 2 November 1991, ANg)