The Arrowhead Club

On Forced Labor

A continuation of my post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben


A recap…

On 28 September 1944, the John Oliver Buslee crew B-17 (the unnamed 43‑37822) was involved in a mid-air collision with the James Joseph Brodie crew B-17 (42‑31222Lazy Daisy) coming off the 384th Bomb Group’s target at Magdeburg, Germany.

On the afternoon of 28 September 1944, following the mid-air collision, the two B-17’s fell from the sky near Ost Ingersleben, Germany.

The crash site of 43-37822 was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Buslee crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9753) as “33 km west of Magdeburg and 2 km north of Ost Ingersleben.” My father, George Edwin Farrar, was the waist gunner aboard this fortress. He was thrown from the plane following the collision and was the only survivor of his crew.

The crash site of 42-31222 Lazy Daisy was noted in a German Report on Captured Aircraft included in the Brodie crew Missing Air Crew Report (MACR9366) as “north edge of Ost Ingersleben, 33 km west of Magdeburg.” Three of the airmen aboard Lazy Daisy bailed out and survived.

At least one of the planes crash-landed in the general vicinity of Beendorf and Bartensleben, according to an eye-witness who came forward in 1948 and provided a sketch of the area.

Sketch of crash site

Notes:

  • Location name corrections of locations noted on the sketch,
    • Helmstadt should be Helmstedt
    • Bernsdorf should be Beendorf
    • Braunsweig (Braunschweig) is also known as Brunswick.
  • The locations of Beendorf and Bartensleben also seem to be swapped in the sketch. Beendorf is actually to the west of Bartensleben.

To make the location of the sketch more clear, I have plotted each location on a Google map,

Google map of crash area for comparison to hand-drawn map
Hand-drawn map points outlined in black
Military document crash area location names outlined in blue
MAP DATA ©2022 GOOGLE

Click images to enlarge…


The witness to the crash of B-17 43-37822, a Czechoslovakian man, described his reason for being at the crash site as, “I have been working in the fields, there the Germans put me on forced labor.” And his father described his son’s situation as “on forced labor in lager close to village Bernsdorf [Beendorf].”

I looked into the man’s circumstances and I learned that his “forced labor” may have been as a concentration camp prisoner of the Helmstedt-Beendorf sub-camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, considering the area in which he described his forced labor.

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 44,000 camps and other incarceration sites (including ghettos). The perpetrators used these locations for a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people deemed to be “enemies of the state,” and mass murder. Millions of people suffered and died or were killed. Among these sites was the Neuengamme camp and its subcamps.

from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia

During World War II, the demand for prisoner labor in the German armaments industry led to the establishment of about eighty subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp at locations in northern and central Germany, beginning in 1942.

The Neuengamme camp, itself a subcamp of the Sachenhausen concentration camp, was located at an abandoned brickworks on the banks of the Dove-Elbe River, a tributary of the Elbe in the Neuengamme suburb of Hamburg in northern Germany.

The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was a subcamp of the Neuengamme camp about 90 miles (about 145 km) to the south. The Helmstedt-Beendorf camp was located on the former site of a potash and rock salt mine, known as the Marie mine, and a potash chloride plant which produced fertilizers from the crude potash salts. Later the Bartensleben mine was constructed and connected to the Marie mine.

Between 1937 and 1944, the German Air Force used the former Marie mine as an ammunition plant at the surface and aircraft ammunition storage underground. Then beginning in 1944, the entire mine was used for armament production and became the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp for concentration camp prisoners from the Neuengamme concentration camp. The prisoners were the forced labor who produced armaments underground.

The first prisoners arrived in Beendorf on 17 March 1944. The men were used to excavate underground production halls in two neighbouring salt mines, “Marie” (Beendorf) and “Bartensleben” (Morsleben). Important equipment for manufacturing air force munitions was moved to the two tunnels, and the secret projects were given the code names “Bulldogge” [Bulldog] and “Iltis” [Polecat]. The hard physical labour and terrible working conditions in the shafts damaged the prisoners’ eyes and lungs in particular.

 from KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme

At Beendorf, from March of 1944, the men’s camp of about 800 concentration camp prisoners were used for building works. From August of 1944, the women’s camp of up to 2,500 concentration camp prisoners were used for armament production.

The women prisoners worked for the Askania factory in the Bartensleben mine and Luftfahrtgerätewerk Hakenfelde in the Marie mine, and manufactured electro-mechanical components such as control units and steering gear for the V1 and fighter aircraft.

The number of prisoners eventually numbered 4,500, housed in an area designed for less than half that number. The work was very hard and their diet insufficient to sustain them, leading many to become weak and sick, and killing many.

Near the end of 1944, ten- to twelve-thousand prisoners were interned in the Neuengamme concentration camp with another thirty-seven- to thirty-nine-thousand in the subcamps. The death rate was staggering during the winter of 1944 to 1945 with thousands dying each month.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia records the number of deaths of Neuengamme prisoners so close to the end of the war and the evacuation of the camp.

As British troops approached Neuengamme, the SS evacuated some 9,000 prisoners towards Lübeck on the Baltic Sea on April 19, 1945, and murdered most of the remaining 3,000 prisoners in the camp. Some 700 almost exclusively German prisoners remained behind to destroy the internal documents of the camp. Half of them were conscripted into an SS armed unit; the remainder evacuated the camp on April 30, leaving it empty.

British forces arrived on May 4, 1945. In early May 1945, the SS loaded some 9,000-10,000 prisoners—most of them evacuated from Neuengamme and its subcamps—onto three ships anchored in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Neustadt in Schleswig-Holstein. Some 7,000 lost their lives when the British attacked two of the ships in the course of a raid on the harbor on May 3. The Thielbek, carrying about 2,000 prisoners, sank quickly. The Cap Arcona, carrying more than 4,500 prisoners, burned and capsized during the attack. Only about 600 prisoners from both ships survived.

The death register at Neuengamme indicates that about 40,000 prisoners died in the camp by April 10, 1945. Perhaps as many as 15,000 more died in the camp in the following week and during the course of the evacuation. In all, more than 50,000 prisoners, almost half of all those imprisoned in the camp during its existence, died in Neuengamme concentration camp.

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme reports that at the Helmstedt-Beendorf subcamp on 10 April 1945, both camps (the one for the men and the one for the women) were evacuated. The women and men were loaded onto goods cars and taken via Magdeburg, Stendal und Wittenberge to the Wöbbelin “reception camp”, arriving 16 April.

The History of the Morsleben Repository notes that the male survivors were liberated there by American troops two weeks later. The female survivors were taken to the previously evacuated Hamburg sub-camps, from which they could be evacuated and saved by the Swedish Red Cross. This source adds that,

At the end of the war, the Marie and Bartensleben mines were located within the Soviet occupation zone and later on in the Border Area of the GDR. Commemoration of the victims was only possible to a limited extent. In the centre of Beendorf, a memorial stone and, on the cemetery, a mass grave remind of the victims. Only since 1989, have survivors had the option to visit this location as memorial site.

The Czechoslovakian witness’ simple description of his internment as “the Germans put me on forced labor” does not begin to describe the ordeal he survived during World War II. He was extremely fortunate to live through the war, to be able to return to his home and family in Czechoslovakia, and to survive to tell his story about the crash and the fate of those aboard the Buslee crew’s B-17, of which my father was the sole survivor.

I liken the Czechoslovakian witness’ simplified description of his wartime ordeal to my father’s simplified description of his own wartime P.O.W. experience, his 86-day 500-mile march to liberation from his and his fellow P.O.W.’s internment by the Nazis, with his own simple explanation, “We were marched across Germany.”

Suitable words do not exist for a survivor of this kind of atrocity to utter, to convey to those who did not share the experience of the true horrors they lived through and the unbelievable miracle of their survival. Simple words and simple explanations protect both parties of the story, the teller and the listener, from the unimaginable truth where words become images and images become nightmares. Simple words paint simple images, images one can live with on the shallow side of the truth.

Sources

History of the Morsleben Repository

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CAMPS AND GHETTOS, 1933–1945

KZ-Gedenkstätte (Memorial) Neuengamme Satellite Camp HELMSTEDT-BEENDORF (MEN)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust Encyclopedia, NEUENGAMME

Previous post, When in Magdeburg, Look Up

Previous post, Path from Mid-air Collision to Crash Area

Previous post, Mapping the Crash Area Near Ost Ingersleben

Previous posts, The John Buslee Ring Letters

Aircraft records and Missing Air Crew Reports courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group website.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2022


4 Comments

  1. Willy K says:

    Your post has so much detail, I was both horrified reading about the nazi inhumanity. And I was amazed reading how strong willed the air crews were and especially the people in the concentration camps were to endure that inhumanity.

    • I had no idea of the detail either until I started researching what the Czech man endured. And after all that, he persevered to return the pilot’s ring to his family. Truly incredible to me.

  2. This is excellent writing. How any of those faced with ‘forced labour’ survived the war, just beggars belief. Their words can only go so far as to paint the true picture and many will not even venture that way for fear of reliving what they went through. Very interesting reading indeed!

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