- The corpses of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near Hirzenhain lie out in a field.
- Louis Dougall
1945 May 07
- Hirzenhain, [Hesse] Germany
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Nathan Weil
- Event History
- In March 1945, approximately 250 slave laborers, 200 of them women, were interned in a factory slave labor camp half a mile from Hirzenhain, near Buedingen. The prisoners were of mixed nationality and included Russians, Poles, French, and Belgians. The camp was staffed by 15-18 SS men and 14 female civilians hired from neighboring towns. The factory, believed by American investigators to have been part of the Breuer complex, produced generators and airplane parts. At the end of March as Allied troops advanced, the labor camp at Hirzenhain had to be evacuated. On March 25, 13 male prisoners were instructed by five SS guards to dig a large pit three-quarters of a mile northeast of Hirzenhain. The guards claimed that the pit was to be used for gasoline and gun storage in preparation for the arrival of Allied troops, but the following morning, when the prisoners were assembled for evacuation to Buedingen, they were taken instead to the pit and shot at close range in the back of the head. A total of 87 bodies were buried in the pit, and their clothing was burned in a pile next to the grave. SS guards blocked the road leading to the execution site to prevent anyone from witnessing the event. In the following days the remaining prisoners were evacuated to another location. Towards the end of April, 1st Lt. Robert E. Smith of the Third U.S. Army, Battery C, 261st Field Artillery Battalion, heard from German civilians about the existence of a mass grave in the vicinity of Hirzenhain. After searching the surrounding area for a few days, the grave was located. American troops then forced German civilians from Hirzenhain to exhume the bodies on May 2 in order to give the victims a proper burial. Kleber, a German who assisted in the exhumation of the bodies, noted that there were only 11 men in the pit, all of whom were at the bottom. Although most of the bodies were fully clothed, some of the women were completely or partially undressed. All of the bodies had bullet wounds. In addition, most of the prisoners still wearing jewelry, indicating that they were probably political prisoners who had only recently arrived at the camp. The last transport of political prisoners destined for Hirzenhain left the Klapperfeldstrasse prison in Frankfurt am Main on March 23, 1945. Between 47-59 prisoners, primarily female, were evacuated from the prison. During the transfer five prisoners managed to escape. The transport arrived at the factory near Hirzenhain the following day. It is likely that these female prisoners were the ones killed at the pit a few days later. On May 7, five days after the exhumation of the mass grave, German civilians from the area were called upon to place the bodies in coffins, bury them in the local cemetery, and place wooden crosses above each grave. Attempts were made to identify the victims, but most of the records from the factory camp were destroyed in a fire set by the SS at the time of its evacuation.
[Sources: USHMM Archive, RG 06.005.05M, Reel 9. Judge Advocate General, War Crimes Command. NARA, RG 338-Cases Not Tried-box 535-file 00-50-87.]