The SS "special camp", aka concentration camp Hinzert, operated between 1939 and 1945, initially as a police detention camp. Later, it became a concentration camp following a period as a retraining camp for Org.Todt workers. Due to various functions, the title of SS-Sonderlager was retained but the camp came under the administration of the SS Office for Economics and Administration.
Over 13,000 people suffered at the site during its existence. Many prisoners who experienced several concentration camps regarded Hinzert as the worst. Through 1942-1943, large groups of inmates were transferred to other camps. Despite the site being originally designed to hold around 500 prisoners - Hinzert was certainly a smaller major concentration camp, up to 1,500 were present during the peak of 1943-1944. The average inmate population was between 800 and 1,200. Many nationalities were represented among the inmates, from Germans and Dutch to Soviets and Poles, many of whom were categorised as asocials. Very few Jews were present at Hinzert, although several who were there were murdered. Others were sent to different concentration camps. One distinctive category of Hinzert inmate were the E-Polen (Eindeutschungs-Polen), Poles who had had sexual relations with German women and were selected for possible Germanisation. The six month process of examination, ordered by Heinrich Himmler, was eventually phased out in 1944.
The camp consisted of two main sections, the Häftlingslager (prisoner camp) and the SS-Lager. The SS zone featured several accommodation and administrative barracks, as well as stables, kennels and garages etc. The prisoner camp, surrounded by high barbed wire fencing and several watchtowers, measured around 30,000 sq.metres.
Most of the workers were deployed in forestry, repairs and fortification details, with some also being utilised by nearby companies and the external camps within the Hinzert system, of which there were over 20.
Hermann Pister, who later replaced Karl Koch as Kommandant at KZ-Buchenwald, was the first Kommandant at Hinzert. He later died of a heart attack after being sentenced to death in September 1948. Egon Zill, the second Kommandant, served at numerous other concentration camps including KL-Dachau, f.KL-Ravensbrück, KL-Natzweiler-Struthof and KL-Floßenbürg. Later, Zill disappeared only to be found in the 1950's when he received a life sentence. On appeal, it was reduced to 15 years. Following his release, he settled in Dachau where he died in 1974. Paul Sporrenberg was the third Kommandant, having earlier served as Kommandoführer at the Vicht Außenlager. He transferred to Buchenwald in early 1945 to take command of another sub-camp. He died in 1961 before his trial commenced. The details of the final Kommandant, an SS-Obersturmführer from nearby Trier, are somewhat limited. Initially, Allgemeine-SS, former veteran soldiers and Org.Todt guards served at Hinzert. From 1940, the staff arrived from the ranks of the SS-Totenkopfverbänden.
Official records are limited, with several hundred deaths recorded. Realistically, a significantly higher death toll existed at the camp. Although Hinzert was a smaller main camp, operating as a transit camp with inmates staying for shorter periods than at other locales, a further adjustment to any casualty total must be made when considering the large groups brought to the camp for execution, for these were not documented as other deaths at the camp were. Well over a hundred victims fell during three such executions in the winter of 1944 and autumns of 1941 and 1942. No escape attempts were ever recorded as successful at Hinzert.
In November 1944, Hinzert formally came under the administration of KZ-Buchenwald. Even as late as February 1945, small groups of inmates arrived at Hinzert and its sub-camps. The camp was dissolved in early March 1945, when US forces reached Trier. The last few SS guards marched the remaining 120-150 inmates toward Buchenwald, before they separated into smaller groups and were liberated by US forces over the next few days. Very few prisoners actually remained in the camp itself. Those that did hid within the woods nearby until US troops arrived.
By 1946, designs for a memorial site had already been planned. Former inmate Lucien Wercollier designed the monument erected in 1986, with a modern award winning museum opening later in 2005.