The last time that Rolf Baruch (the brother of my grandmother) was a free man was as a Zionist pioneer in the Neuendorf Hachshara camp. He was sent to Auschwitz with his friends in the 37th transport from Berlin on April 19, 1943.
For years, these were the only last details that my grandmother had, about the fate of her brother.
Only in 1990, a year before her death, my grandmother received the story of Rolli’s life in the camps, from Jutta Bergt, a survivor of the Auschwitz camp who knew Rolli:
Rolli might not have survived the death marches, but he survived Auschwitz. I know he was on the lists of life to until right before the evacuation of Auschwitz, because I had access to lists of the dead…
The Death March
In mid January 1945, the Soviet army began advancing on occupied Poland and reaching close to the camps.
By January 17, orders were given to vacate the Auschwitz concentration camp. The SS began evacuating tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, which now were forced to march to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia.
Rolli was young and strong, just got married and believed in Zionism. He was optimistic and stubborn. Then what happened?
The Dora question
In some registrations, it was mentioned that Rolli was a prisoner in a camp called “Dora” in the state of Thuringia in Germany.
During his research in 2006, Rüdiger Pohlman wrote the Dora Archives, and he got an answer that according to their registration, Rolf Baruch was never a prisoner in this camp.
But just before the end of 2019, a batch of documents was released in the Arolsen archive, also including information about lists of prisoners from the camp Dora. Rolf’s card of entrance to the camp, with the date 2.2.1945 is among them.
Rolf Bruch survived the death march.
Rüdiger and I wrote Dora again. This time, they found the registration:
Mittelbau-Dora was a concentration camp for mainly political prisoners of war, from all across Europe. Jews of Gypsies were almost not to be found. The main goal of the camp was the production of the V1 and V2 missiles, all produced in a huge tunnel in the mountain.
In the beginning, the prisoners also slept in the tunnel, and once the camp became an independence camp, living barracks were built outside, alongside with a kitchen canteen, football field, and a cinema.
Remember this cinema.
(see the end of this post for images from my visit in Dora)
According to the “new” documents, Rolli arrived to Dora in february 4th, 1945. Another document pointed out that he was registered in the Boelcke-Kaserne barracks – a satellite camp of Dora, few kilometers from it. There, according to the Dora archives, he died or was transferred to Bergen-Belsen.
This completely changed our knowledge of how and where Rolli died. We now know that he survived almost until the end of the war and actually got back to his home, Germany.
I went to Dora to find out the truth.
The camp was nothing different from any other camp inside Germany – with mainly political prisoners and located in the forest far away from any town. The special thing about this camp is the huge tunnel in the mountains that served as the main production source of the camp – the production of the V1 and V2 missiles that terrorized London.
The camp had everything to maintain “life” of the prisoners including one building that was built only in the end of 1944 – the cinema.
In February 1945 4000 survivors of the transports from Auschwitz arrived completely exhausted and half-frozen to Block 131, the newly built cinema which then was converted to a “death block” for 1,200 prisoners from Auschwitz.
To the floor of the cinema, without beds, sanitation and treatment, they were all thrown in. Some of them could work, the rest were left to die.
Is this where Rolli ended his life? So what is the story about the Boelcke-Kaserne barracks?
I went to the archive of the camp. For some reason, although we talked about my visit via email, the historian of the camp refused to meet me.
The bookkeeper was much more friendly. Still, I was trying to understand, if the prisoners from Auschwitz were thrown to the cinema and how did Rolli arrived to Boelcke-Kaserne barracks?
about 8 kilometers seperate the main camp Dora from Boelcke-Kaserne barracks.
The horrors of the Boelcke-Kaserne barracks
The Boelcke barracks were built in the mid-1930s and were home to an air service school of the Wehrmacht. The barracks were handed over to the Luftwaffe in 1936 and named after the fighter pilot Oswald Boelcke. The area was bordering with the streets Kyffhäusertraße, Zorge, Am Rasen and the railway line that was in the south.
Since 1943, around 200 Soviet and French women workers had been housed there. After being cleared from the Air Force, in the early summer of 1944, 6,000 foreign forced laborers added to the Boelcke-Kasern barracks and had to assemble jet engines.
Since autumn 1944 there has been a Gestapo prison in the detention building at the barracks entrance, in which not only “foreign workers” but also prisoners from the Mittelbau concentration camp have been detained.
As a result of the transports from Auschwitz, the Dora concentration camp was completely overcrowded, which exacerbated hunger and made diseases spread more rapidly. Hence, the number of prisoners in the Boelcke-Kaserne barracks was rising further as the SS decided on to deport completely weakened prisoners as “unable to work” to the Boelcke-Kaserne. From the 16th of April on, newly arriving prisoners from the death marches directly were transferred to the Boelcke-Kaserne without stopping in Dora.
The Boelcke-Kaserne barracks was a place where people that couldn’t work were thrown in to die – no medicals, no food, no beds, rooms, kitchen – just die on the floor of huge industrial barracks.
It appears that Rolli, was so sick at the end of the journey and arrived there.
The Americans are coming
On April 3-4 1945 the allied bombed the place, killing around 1300 prisoners.
On the April 11, 1945, the 3rd Armored Division, the 104th Infantry Division, and the 9th Infantry Division entered Nordhausen and liberated first the barracks, and then Dora.
Boelcke-Kaserne was hell – a street, with burned industrial buildings and thousands of buddies on the floors. 6000 prisoners in total.
The images are horrible. In their testimonials, soldiers testify that thrive seen all, but even the strongest couldn’t bare what was in front of their eyes:
Troops of both the 3rd Armored Division and the 104th Infantry Division, who arrived in their wake, helped in the relief of the Boelcke Barracks. Sergeant Ragene Ferris of the 329th Medical Bat talion, 104th Infantry Division, testified:
We were battle-tired and combat-wise medics, and we thought there was nothing left in the books we didn’t know. Yet in a short period of two days, I and many others of the division saw and lived a story we shall never forget. We dismounted, litters in hand, and started for the nearest building with a sense of morbid anxiety. It was a sharp sting of reality which met us at the first doorway.
Bombs had ground flesh and bones into the cement floor. Rows upon rows of skin-covered skeletons met our eyes.
Men lay as they had starved, discolored, and lying in indescribable human filth. Their striped coats and prison numbers hung as a last token or symbol of those who enslaved and killed them. In this large motor shop there were no living beings; only the distorted dead. We went to the stairs and under the casing were neatly piled about 75 bodies, a sight I could never erase from my memories. (RIOD)After the Battle 101 – Nordhausen.
The German civilians from the town were called, and ordered to carry the bodies and bury them on a hill nearby.
I visited the area of the barracks in June 2020. The block was sold to private hands, fenced and protected. The old barracks are destroyed, but by comparing the images one can find the old street. The memorial standing there today is not indicating the precise location.
This is the last evidence that we have of Rolli. He probably did not survive the Boelcke-Kaserne barracks horrors and was buried on the hill.
Onto the hill, which is an open park, with a memorial monument, but no treatment and a mass grave – it is just a park where thousands are buried. Here, probably, is Rolli. Surviving all the horrors, he held it strong until the last moment.
We reached the missing part – how Rolli died. Many questions are left open.
I am not a religious man. But at that point, I took my phone and red the Izkor prayer. Just in case.
There is still a chance that Rolf was evacuated to Bergen-Belsen with the evacuation of Dora, but it is very unlikely – almost no one who came to Boelcke-Barracks got through it alive until the arrival of the Americans.
That was the end of all the Baruch family in Europe. Only my grandmother survived by fleeing to Israel.
My grandmother had 6 children. The family now counts many grandchildren. We live in Israel, Germany, USA, Britain – we won. For Rolf, Georg, Marion and Arno.
Rolf is deported from Berlin to Auschwitz
Arrives to Auschwitz
Death march from Auschwitz to Gleiwitz train station
Arrives to Dora concentration camp, or into the Boelcke-Barracks directly
On April 3-4 1945 the allied bombed Boelcke-Barracks, killing around 1300 prisoners.
The 3rd Armored Division, the 104th Infantry Division, and the 9th Infantry Division entered Nordhausen liberated the prisoners. Rolf is probably not among the living.
Germany surrenders and the war in Europe ends.
Concentration Camp Mittlebau Dora
A video of the findings of the camps in Nordenhausen: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nordhausen_concentration_camp_newsreel.webm
“After the Battle” number 101 – Nordhausen
Special thanks to Winston Ramsey Editor-in-Chief After the Battle for helping me confirm the location of the barraks.
Special thanks to my partners on research: Rüdiger Pholman and MImi Sewalski.