Natzwiller (Natzweiler) in Alsace

After sampling the products of Champagne, we continued on our journey towards Alsace, the fourth smallest region in France. It abuts Germany to the east and Switzerland to the south. The drive was an easy four hours and we took our time dipping into villages along the way. You could see the architecture changing, the German influence becoming more obvious as we neared our destination of Strasbourg.

About 50 kms southwest of Strasbourg, outside the town of Natzwiller (French spelling; German spelling is Natzweiler) is the remains of the German concentration camp, Struthof. The entrance to the camp is daunting with 20 foot high wood scaffolding topped with barbed wire, and a guard tower to the right. It is impossible not to become emotional when you enter.

One of the barracks has been preserved and houses artifacts and detailed explanations of the camp’s history. Over 50,000 French Resistant Fighters, Jews, Gypsies and others were imprisoned here. Many of them were tortured, executed, worked to death, or used in medical experiments. Approximately 25,000 prisoners died while the camp was in operation between 1941 and 1944.

At the base of the terraced site are the crematorium and the “medical experiment” buildings. At every terraced level concrete blocks have been erected, each one stamped with the name of another concentration camp in memorial: Auschwitz, Dachau, Birkenau…I lost count as to how many there are. Down the road and across from a building that was used as the officers’ barracks, is the gas chamber. You can’t help but be impacted by what transpired in a place like Struthof. It was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced.