Station: [8] The Canal

  • The Canal

You are standing next to the Neuengamme's canal. Please look around! Can you imagine that, before its expansion, this canal used to be an overgrown and silty stream not more than 5 meters wide? The Dove-Elbe expansion was to enable the transportation of the bricks produced in the camp into Hamburg by boats. On the edge of the dock, you can see one of the boats which were used at the time.

For this purpose, a five-kilometer-long navigable canal was required, which would connect the brickworks with the Dove-Elbe, a secondary-channel of the Elbe River. From 1940 until 1943, the prisoners assigned to the so-called Elbe work detail worked on the widening and deepening of the existing stream to make it the average 25 meters. Regardless of the weather, they had to perform grueling work: shoveling the earth they had previously dug out into wheelbarrows and flattening and consolidating the bank. Apart from the horrible working conditions, they had to endure constant mistreatment by the SS guards so it is no wonder that death was a daily occurrence. This work detail was considered one of the deadliest at the Neuengamme concentration camp.

Joseph Händler, a former prisoner from Austria said the following about the Elbe work detail: “In February 1942 I started working on the excavation of the Dove-Elbe canal which was done by primitive tools. I worked there for nine months. There were two work details, one with 1500, the other with 2000 people, who had to dig the canal which will connect the Dove-Elbe with the canal next to the brickworks. We had to stand knee-deep in water and shovel the mud into the wheelbarrows which then had to be  pushed onto ships over a thin plank. Many prisoners fell off of the plank and into the Elbe, together with the wheelbarrows. Every day we had at least two or three dead and 20 or 30 injured.”

Next to the dock and close to the boat, you can see a tipper wagon. They represent another work detail, the clay pit.

This will be our next station.