Work at the mother camp was centered on the production of bricks. This included the construction of a canal to transport the bricks to and from the site. Inmates had to excavate the heavy, peaty soil with inadequate tools and regardless of weather conditions or their health state. From 1942 on, the inmates were forced to work in the Nazi armament production. Initially the work was performed in the workshops of the camp but soon it was decided to transfer prisoners to the armaments factories located in the surroundings areas.
At the end of the war, the external kommandos of Neuengamme spread all over northern Germany. Because of the Allied advance, hundreds of inmates were also forced to dig antitank ditches. In many large north German cities, concentration camp prisoners cleared rubble and removed corpses in the wake of bombing raids.
Several original buildings of the camp continued to serve as a prison (like the one number 9). There is a good museum located at the south end of the site. In the summer of 1944, Neuengamme received many women prisoners from Auschwitz, as well as some SS matrons, or Aufseherin. Today several fomer guards are known by name, including Kaethe Becker, Erna Dickmann, Johanna Freund, Angelika Grass, Kommandofuhrerin Loni Gutzeit (who also served at Hamburg-Wandsbek and the prisoners nicknamed “The Dragon of Wandsbek”), Gertrud Heise, Frieda Ignatowitz, Gertrud Moeller, who also served at Boizenburg subcamp, Lotte Johanna Radtke, chief wardress Annemie von der Huelst, Inge Marga Marggot Weber. Many of the women were later dispersed to female subcamps throughout northern Germany.
Today we know that female guards staffed the subcamps of Neuengamme at Braunschweig SS-Reitschule, Hamburg Sasel, Hamburg Wandsbek, Helmstedt-Beendorf, Neugraben, Obernheide, Salzwedel, and Unterluss (Vuterluss). Only a few have been tried for war crimes, including Susanne Hille (who served as head woman guard at Unterluss), and Anneliese Kohlmann (who served as one of only six woman guards at Neugraben).
The estimated number of victims in Neuengamme is approximately 55,000. Thousands of inmates were hanged, shot, gassed, killed by lethal injection or transferred to the death camps Auschwitz and Majdanek. Prisoners in the Neuengamme camp were also used as subjects for medical experiments. Dr. Ludwig-Werner Haase, for example, tested a new water filter by adding 100 times the safe dose of arsenic to water. He then filtered the water using the new machine, and gave it to more than 150 prisoners over a 13-day period. The heavy doses involved in the test probably caused long-term injury to the prisoners. SS doctors also subjected some Neuengamme prisoners, including children, to medical experiments involving tuberculosis. In the last weeks of the war, the SS decided to evacuate Neuengamme.
This was the start of one of the worst death marches of the war. During these death marches, approximately 10,000 inmates perished by shootings or simply starvation. The destination of one of these death marches was Neustadt, a German haven where the inmates had to be transported on a liner transformed into a military freighter: the “Cap Arcona”. On April 27th, 1945, another freighter, the “Athen”, arrived in Neustadt with 2,500 inmates from the Dora concentration camp. They were immediately transferred to the “Cap Arcona”. Another ship, the “Thielbeck”, arrived later with 2,500 inmates from other camps. On May 3rd, 1945, 3 PM, three “Typhoon” fighters from the RAF attacked the three ships. There were 7,500 inmates on board. Only 500 of them survived.