Buchenwald’s subcamp „Schwalbe V“ in Berga/Elster
The building project near Berga/Elster was one of many for the bomb-proof relocation of war-important production facilities between 1943-45, which were often under the control of the SS. In order to meet often unrealistic schedules, in Thuringia alone tens of thousands of people - prisoners of war, forced labourers and above all inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp - were exploited without any remorse. They were detained in provisionally erected, often overcrowded camps, suffering from insufficient food supply and forced to perform heavy labour. The people in charge considered human lives - especially those of concentration camp inmates - a disposable resource.
After the systematic bombing of fuel plants and the loss of many oil wells in the spring and summer of 1944, the Wehrmacht became increasingly concerned about their mobility. This led to the „Geilenberg programme“, part of which was the construction of the subcamp in Berga as it was supposed to ensure the supply of fuel. Up to 100,000 concentration camp inmates had to do forced labour to repair bombed fuel plants or set up new locations across Germany.
As for Berga, it was planned to dig 18 large tunnels in Zickra mountain, which would house a fuel production factory. Although an SS management team was created for the construction project, the planning of the relocation of the plant was also the responsibility of the Zeitz-based BRABAG-company. The BRABAG employed local mining and handicraft companies for the implementation.
On November 13, 1944 the first 70 inmates of Buchenwald arrived at the subcamp „Schwalbe V“ in Berga, followed by more than 1500 others until mid-December. In total about 3400 prisoners were deported to „Schwalbe V“. The transports also served to replace the many sick or injured men and adolescents who had been deported back to Buchenwald. Most of the prisoners were Hungarian or Polish Jews. In addition, there were mainly political prisoners from across Europe.
Those who died in the camp „Schwalbe V“ were buried in a meadow on Baderberg mountain north of Berga; in the so-called Jewish cemetery (today concentration camp prisoner cemetery „Am Baderberg“ Berga/Elster).
This plaque marks the beginning of the ascent to the grave site.
In addition to concentration camp prisoners, more than 100 civilian forced labourers and hundreds of prisoners of war were exploited for the project, including Croats and Red Army soldiers. On February 13, 1945, 350 American war prisoners were transferred to Berga. One in four came from an American-Jewish family. Some others were selected because the Germans found their name or appearance to be Jewish. They were initially housed in barracks on Eulaer Weg, then in the immediate vicinity of the subcamp, where they lived and worked in almost as inhuman conditions as the inmates.
Around 70 of them died of malnutrition, exhaustion and abuse in Berga or during the death march towards Bavaria. According to recent estimates, there could have been even over 100 victims.