Torgau is famous as the place where the Allied (American) troops finally met up with the Soviet Red Army forces on the
road bridge over the River Elbe on 25 April 1945.
This pretty, historic town has a handsome market square at its centre with the tourist office
occupying an impressive location on the ground floor of the town hall in the
southwest corner. Torgau is a prison town as explained in one of the pamphlets (in English)
available from the TO, about the
two military prisons there used during and after WWII. It is titled "Traces of Injustice" and subtitled "Penal system of the Wehrmacht, NKWD special camps and East German prison in
The first is the Bridgehead prison (Bruckenkopf) just east of the River Elbe on the B87 road leading out of the town. This is now deserted, in a state of disrepair and surrounded by country walks and woods. The second is Fort Zinna, to the
west of the town alongside the B182, which is still used as a prison today.
These held mainly German military prisoners. The only Allied troops held
there were those accused of serious "non-military" crimes such as
hall Bridgehead prison
Torgau was at the very centre of Germany's military penal system. As well as
being the location of the two prisons mentioned above – out of only eight in
the whole of the country – it is also the place where the two infamous
Feldstraflager (field punishment camps) were built and operated. Here many
prisoners died through hunger, punishment regimes, maltreatment or summary
execution. And from August 1943 it was also the home of the Military Court
of the Reich – the highest authority in military law.
After the war,
the Soviet secret police agency NKWD established "special camps" here
where Germans and Soviet citizens were interned or served sentences passed by
Soviet military tribunals.
From 1950 to 1990
the East German People's Police used Fort Zinna prison as a penitentiary
where, in the 1950s, it primarily housed political prisoners.
As part of the
Memorial Foundation of Saxony the Dokumentations & Informations Zentrum (the Documentation and Information Centre)
known as DIZ
created and is based in Hartenfels Castle in Torgau. This houses a permanent
exhibition "Traces of Injustice" in commemoration of the victims of
It also has a
large archive of material concerning all aspects of imprisonment in Torgau
including information on PoW camp Stalag IV-D. I am indebted to the
director of DIZ for all this patience, tenacity and professionalism in helping
me during my visit there. Without his assistance, I would not have been able to
visit the sites of the camp in such detail.
Prior to my own visit in July 2007, I could find very little concrete
information about the camp. Certainly I could not find any photographs or
precise details of its location on the Internet. So, as far as I am aware, this
is the only and definitive report on the camp publicly available. If I am wrong
on this I would be grateful to hear from anyone with other sources.
Stalag IV-D was not a true PoW "camp" in the normally accepted sense
– ie lots of huts in a barbed wire compound designed to hold prisoners within. Rather it was a
processing centre for distributing PoW out to the many arbeitskommandos or work
camps under its jurisdiction. These could be factories, mines, railway yards or even farms up to
160 km/100 miles from Torgau.
Stalag IV-D comprised two separate buildings both located in the town itself.
centre" was the administrative "head office" for the camp and is
situated on the northern edge of the old town centre at the corner of Wolfersdorffstrasse and Puschkinstrasse.
According to a Red Cross inspection report of 21 October 1944 it was a
"large stone building (a former German Army school for NCOs) with six
wooden huts [each taking six men] which are still in good
condition". It is in fact a large red-brick building now used as a
night school and vocational training centre. Naturally, the wooden huts are no
longer there. Only 20 or so PoW were housed here to
assist the German staff with their administrative duties.
The building and
its various outbuildings are surrounded by railings and securely gated.
However, it can be easily viewed from the street and, during the day in term
time you can enter the courtyard to look around the exterior. I also made an
appointment to see inside the building by telephoning the administrator whose
offices are on the top floor. Now returned to their original purpose as
classrooms, there is nothing inside to evoke the building's use during WWII.
To see a
comprehensive set of photographs of the headquarters building, please click on the navigation
button in the left margin or click here
According to the
Red Cross inspection report of 8–10 March 1945 the main camp was situated
"about 300 yards west of Torgau railway station". The distance is
about right but the direction is in fact southwest. It is in Naundorferstrasse,
right beside the railway line, located between the Torgau brewery and the town's
monumental mason with its display of modernistic gravestones.
The building was
originally a small, privately-owned factory making flags and doing other
specialist printing. After a previous fire, it was rebuilt during the
1930s and was requisitioned to be used as a PoW camp in May 1941.
After the war it
remained in the hands of the East German state (GDR) but was not utilised.
When Germany was reunited in 1990 the owner's daughter (now in her 70s) was able
to reclaim ownership of the property. Since then parts of the factory have
been rented out to various businesses but, at the time of my visit, it was
completely unoccupied and derelict.
I was fortunate
enough to meet the current owner who still lives near Torgau and who told me
stories about the camp and the liberation of Torgau when she was a child.
She was also kind enough to take me and the director of DIZ round the factory
both inside and out.
Although used for
most of the war as a transit camp for PoW being sent out to work camps
elsewhere, towards the end of the war it was also used as a holding camp for PoW
to be exchanged for German PoW (a "Heilag") and as a
"convalescent camp" for sick and wounded PoW intended for
repatriation. In this capacity the main camp held up to 800 PoW.
Unfortunately, despite building up hopes of repatriation and exchanges of PoW,
it never happened as the British feared that repatriated Germans would be
returned to combat duties.
Again I am most
grateful for the assistance, co-operation and hospitality provided to me by the
current owner of the factory for allowing me to visit
the site of the old Stalag IV-D main camp, and the director of DIZ for arranging
it all and acting as interpreter.
To see a
comprehensive set of photographs of the main camp building, please click on the navigation
button in the left margin or click here