One would never think, driving through the picturesque German countryside, that so much atrocity could have occurred in such a tranquil place. But nestled in the trees not far from Trier, is a memorial site for the SS Special Camp/ Concentration Camp Hinzert.
Operational during World War II from 1939-1945, the camp housed 13,000 prisoners. It served a variety of purposes over the years, starting as a police detention camp, becoming what was called a “retraining camp” for workers who defaulted, and eventually a concentration camp for deportees from numerous countries.
Between air raids and everything else that went on after the war, none of the original camp is left. The site now consists of a memorial cemetery, and a modern looking building that serves as an exhibition for the camp and all that happened there.
They offer audio tours, which guide you around the entire large room, to read the facts, the stories, see pictures, old letters, clothes. Highlighting on some authority figures, as well as some prisoners, it is unbelievable to me the cruelty people can be capable of.
There were the official murders, deadly injections, firing squad, but many of the inmates were killed by the sheer brutality of the guards. From refusal of medical care, to being tortured and then drowned in a trough. It is estimated that 321 deaths took place within Hinzert, but it was impossible to find all the victims after the war. Even in transfers to other camps, prisoners would go missing and never be found again.
What I found striking in the exhibition were the Artistic Witnesses. Some prisoners were given access to materials, and through different mediums, brought to life their experiences. Some of the drawings were chilling. You may want to take time to look up Arthur Michel and Jean Daligault, who were able to smuggle their art out of the camp.
I feel that the Camp Hinzert is not very well know, relative to some of the larger camps, but it was very much there, as were a number of other camps all across Western Europe. The terror of the war spanned farther than one might imagine. And now, looking out from the historical site, there are green rolling hills and giant windmills. Innocent beauty with an invisible stain.