The Mittelsteine concentration camp was a Nazi Arbeitslager or slave-labour camp functional on the territory of Nazi Germany during the latter part of the Second World War.
It was originally established in 1942, but was operated formally for 250 days (8 months and a week) between 23 August 1944 and 30 April 1945 (the latter being the date of its liquidation) as an all-female subcamp of Gross-Rosen.
The detainees at the camp included primarily women of Jewish background deported from Hungary and Poland. The number of inmates averaged at 300, or 400, while towards the end of the War the total swelled to nearly 1,000. The function of camp commandant or Lagerkommandant (a position sometimes denominated Zwischengeschalteter SS-Offizier or "SS liaison officer") was performed by SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Radschun. The Oberaufseherin or "senior overseer" (the highest female official) was Erna Rinke. The staff included 10–15 female guards. Among the most notorious of them are mentioned the names of the Aufseherinnen Philomena Locker (sentenced after the War to seven years' imprisonment), Charlotte Neugebauer, and Schneider (first name unknown).
The camp was situated in the locality called Mittelsteine (renamed Ścinawka Średnia in 1947) in what was then the territory of the Third Reich, about 17 kilometres to the north-west of Kłodzko (Ger., Glatz), the nearest larger town, or 104 kilometres to the south-west of the regional metropolis, Wrocław (Ger., Breslau) — in the territory of Lower Silesia that was awarded to Poland after the War.
Despite its picturesque geographical location in the so-called Steine Depression (Obniżenie Ścinawki) between the Table Mountains and the Stone Mountains and its history reaching back to the 14th century, Mittelsteine was before the Second World War a highly industrialized village. The hamlet was, for example, the site of a major power plant that supplied electricity to the electrified Silesian grid (the Elektrischer Bahnbetrieb in Schlesien) of the German railway system (see picture below) considered one of the most valuable assets of the Reich. It was a major railway junction already in the 19th century. Mittelsteine was thus a natural choice for the location of various industries.
Today, the border crossing between the Czech Republic and Poland at Otovice–Tłumaczów is just 8½ km or 5 miles away; while the nearest town in Germany, Zittau, is 179 km or 111 miles away.
The camp consisted of three barracks located by the north-western side of the exit road leading out of the village towards Ratno Dolne (Ger., Niederrathen) — the present-day Voivodeship Route (or DW) locally called the ulica Piłsudskiego — about 600 metres from the bridge on the River Steine (present-day Ścinawka) in the direction away from the village centre on the right-hand side. The prisoners were marched under armed guard back and forth along village streets between their places of forced labour and the camp. The forced labour involved primarily work for the armaments and munitions manufacturer Totex, a subsidiary of Metallwarenfabrik Spreewerk GmbH, itself owned by the Deutsche Industrie-Werke AG (DIWAG), and for other DIWAG munitions concerns located at Mittelsteine, and at the aviation-parts factory Fa. Albert Patin, Werkstätten für Fernsteuerungstechnik (whose location within the village is today uncertain). Contemporary German accounts suggest the Albert Patin factory was located within 15 minutes' walk of the railway station. The inmates' slave labour was specifically related to the manufacture of component parts of the V-1 and V-2 rockets — components which were being secretly produced in the factory installed in the converted cotton mill (die Baumwollspinnerei) of Schiminsky & Co. (The factory is said to have been connected by an underground tunnel with the Kłodzko Fortress where a similar factory manned by slave labour was in operation.)
Prisoners unable to work because of serious illness were removed from the camp to be executed off premises, as were those in advanced stages of pregnancy. In the latter stages of the camp's existence in 1945 a number of prisoners who fell ill were allowed to die without medical care in the camp's revier or isolation ward.
With the defeat looming in the last months and weeks of the War the Nazis liquidated the camp and transferred the prisoners to two alternative slave-labour sites according to the following selection process: the Hungarian nationals were sent to the preexisting camp of Mährisch Weisswasser in Bílá Voda in the Sudetenland, while the Polish nationals were sent to the newly created camp at Grafenort in Germany (now Gorzanów in Poland) at a distance of 27 kilometres from Mittelsteine. As Bella Gutterman, the director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, comments on these ultimate developments, by 1945 the decisions of the Nazis with regard to the Mittelsteine camp "followed no evident logic". However, the inexplicable dénouement may be linked to the fact that, with the advances of the Allied forces on the Eastern Front, the Nazis rapidly halted the secret production of the V-1 and V-2 rocket components at Mittelsteine, dismantled the specialized machinery used for the purpose and shipped it out of the region.
Among the several memoirs published by former inmates during the post-War period, the most detailed description of the camp, according to experts, is that offered by Sara Selver-Urbach in her book Through the Window of My Home published in Israel in 1964. Selver-Urbach writes, in part,
...life in Mittelsteine was sheer hell, even if a lesser hell than elsewhere, and our portion of torments and suffering was undoubtedly an indivisible part of that total, comprehensive system I have labelled "A Different Planet"...
Another former inmate, Ruth Minsky Sender, who in her 1986 book The Cage vividly conveys the pervasive atmosphere of terror established at Mittelsteine by the random use of torture, speaks in the interviews of the suicides among the despairing inmates.
However, the owner of the chief among the slave-labour enterprises at Mittelsteine, the industrialist and inventor Albert Patin, instead of being prosecuted for war crimes after the War had ended, was brought in 1945 — together with his family which followed in 1946 — to the United States (initially to New York City) and subsequently provided with housing at U.S. Government's expense at Wright Field (near Riverside, Ohio) in a bid to wrest Luftwaffe secrets out of him, even as a bidding war raged among the British and the French intelligence agencies as to who would make the most attractive offer to entice him to their side. These events took place at precisely the time when the Nuremberg Tribunal — of which the United States was one of the four constitutive powers — was defining in the strict sense as war crimes, in Article 6(b) of its 1945 Charter, violations of the laws and customs of war that included but were not limited to
ill-treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners...
According to Polish press reports, the cotton mill that used to house the slave-labour factory, which until 1991 had been a running concern as a subsidiary of the (now defunct) state-owned Piast cotton mill (the Zakłady Przemysłu Bawełnianego "Piast") of Głuszyca, in 1992 became a private enterprise under the name of Raftom, and has since fallen victim to unscrupulous real-estate speculators and is being dismantled. There is no evidence of any official attempts to preserve or commemorate this major Holocaust site.
The Mittelsteine concentration camp has been formally recognized by the government of the Third Polish Republic as a place of martyrdom by the decree (rozporządzenie) of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland of 20 September 2001 promulgated in the official statute book, the Dziennik Ustaw (Dz.U.2001.106.1154), as a legal technicality resorted to for the purposes of including former Mittelsteine inmates within the category of persons eligible for special care and protection of the Polish State as veterans and/or victims of Nazi or Communist repressions — a class of persons previously established by the Veterans and Certain Victims of Repressions Act of 24 January 1991 (Dz.U.1997.142.950).Marietta Moskin, Vienna-born American children's book author (1928–2011)
Sara Selver-Urbach, writer
Ruth Minsky Sender, writer
Sara Zyskind, writer