The SS Leadership Staff (SS-Führungsstab) A II set up three satellite camps of Neuengamme concentration camp in Porta-Westfalica to move production critical to the war effort underground. The first of these camps was in Barkhausen. On 19 March 1944, the first commando consisting of 250 prisoners arrived at Barkhausen from Buchenwald concentration camp. The prisoners marched from the train station to the Kaiserhof hotel which had been seized by the SS. While the camp was in operation, up to 1,300 men would be crammed into four-level bunk beds with straw sacks in the former ballroom of the hotel. Over half of the prisoners came from Poland and the Soviet Union, and they were later joined by prisoners from France, Belgium and the Netherlands. A group of 200 Danes was also transported to Barkhausen via Neuengamme concentration camp after the assembly camp in Frøslev was evacuated.
In Barkhausen, the prisoners were forced to dig an underground shelter to house the pressing plant of the Berlin-based company Ambi-Budd which produced fuselage parts for fighter planes. Construction of the underground facilities in the Jakobsberg hill began in early summer 1944.
The Allies’ major air offensive against the German petroleum industry also led to the relocation of petroleum companies. The largest part of the underground facility, code named “Dachs I”, was to be used by the company Deurag-Nerag to set up a refinery.
The prisoners had to excavate tunnels 5 to 6 metres wide and 4 metres high. Some parts of the tunnels were expanded to form large production halls. The malnourished prisoners were forced to carry out this work without protective gear, and many of them died as a result. Work was carried out on three levels within the mountain. The tunnels were shored up by concrete beams from the Weber concrete plant in Lerbeck, where another prisoner work detail was stationed. Other companies involved in the work included Dr. Boehme & Co., Rentrop, Veltrup, Weserhütte and Friedrich Uhde KG.
In late March 1945, around 200 prisoners were transferred from satellite camp A I in Lengerich to Barkhausen. On 1 April, all of the men were “evacuated”. They were taken on various transports via the Schandelah, Fallersleben and Helmstedt-Beendorf satellite camps and finally arrived at the “reception camp” in Wöbbelin in mid-April. They were liberated there by American troops on 2 May 1945.
The name of the camp commander is not known.
19 March 1944 to 1 April 1945
1300 Male Prisoners
Construction of an underground tunnel system
SS Leadership Staff A II, Ambi-Budd, Dr. Boehme & Co., Rentrop, Veltrup, Weserhütte, Deurag-Nerag, Friedrich Uhde KG, Betonwerk Weber (Lerbeck)
32457 Porta Westfalica
Prisoners who died at satellite camp A II were buried in the cemetery in Barkhausen. In the post-war period, many of them were exhumed and returned to their home countries. A memorial stone in the cemetery bears the following inscription: “Here lie 73 unknown victims of Nazi tyranny”. There is no indication, however, that these victims were former prisoners of the A II satellite camp.
After the war, the ballroom of the Kaiserhof hotel which had formerly housed prisoners from the Barkhausen camp was turned into a riding hall. Researchers and schools began to express interest in the history of the satellite camps in Porta Westfalica in the 1980s. However, it was not until 1992, following long public debates, that the city council of Porta Westfalica unveiled a memorial plaque commemorating the concentration camp prisoners who were forced to excavate the tunnels. The plaque was designed by the artist Dieter Lehmann from Minden and placed in the Hausberge quarter of Porta Westfalica at the initiative of French survivors of the Barkhausen camp. There is nothing to mark the site of the former camp, however.
The memorial path "Wege des Erinnerns, Mahnung gegen das Vergessen" was inaugurated in Porta Westfalica in May 2014. The path contains six tablets which present information about what happened in Porta Westfalica satellite camp during 1944 and 1945. An expansion of the path is planned. Interested groups are able to book different kinds of guided tours along the memorial path.