When the Soviets advanced into eastern Germany, the Nazis tried to quickly evacuate the jet factory. But by then, it was too late for the jet to have much effect on the outcome of the war.
By Uli Suckert
At the very end of World War II, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler still hoped that state-of-the-art technology could turn the tide in his favor. One of those projects, the Messerschmitt jet fighter, found a home in a remote corner of eastern Germany. But it was too late.
It took four and a half years, but finally, on March 20, 1944, World War II — and more specifically, the armaments industry — came to a remote corner of eastern Germany called the Lausitz. As the Allies flew an ever-increasing number of air raids over Germany’s industrial and urban centers, large weapons factories in Nazi Germany began an exhaustive search for suitable places to relocate — sites as inconspicuous and isolated as possible. Indeed, by 1943, Hermann Göring, commander of the Luftwaffe, had already forged plans to relocate the aviation industry to areas the Allies were unlikely to bomb.
It took a year, but then Junkers, an airplane and engine manufacturer from Dessau, moved into a factory belonging to the Moras Brothers textile company in Zittau, which today is located near Germany’s border with Poland and the Czech Republic.
Disguised as a company called Zittwerke AG, it was far from run-of-the-mill as far as armaments factories go. Zittau was to be where the world’s first production-ready jet engine would be completed, the same engine that was to power Hitler’s secret weapon, the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.
Jürgen Ulderup from Junkers’ Dessau production site was tasked with taking over as plant manager in Zittau. He immediately set up a network of manufacturing plants throughout the region, all top secret. Key to getting the project off the ground was his demand that 18 long-established textile producers make space in their factories for armaments production. Some companies had to turn over their factories in their entirety. It proved a further blow for the region’s textile industry, already largely crippled and converted to the war economy.
Core of the Enterprise
But winning the war took priority, and the remote corner of Nazi Germany now began producing components for the clandestine jet engine. Ulderup hired over 2,500 employees and put them to work in the Zittwerke plants, under the direction of aviation industry experts. They worked in the Moras factory, the Haebler Brothers textile company in Zittau, the Rudolf Breuer mechanical weaving mill in Reichenau, the Kreutziger & Henke company in Leutersdorf, the Ebersbach spinning and weaving mill, and at 13 other factories located in regional towns and villages.
But the core of the enterprise was to be found on the grounds of a former World War I prisoner of war camp in the present-day Polish town of Porajów — a camp which had been converted for use by the German armed forces. The factory, guarded by the 17th SS “Totenkopf” battalion, simply moved into several half-finished barracks.
Deep in the heart of the compound, behind several rows of barbed wire, was the administration building where a detachment from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp was housed. Along with prisoners of war and the so-called “Eastern workers” — forced labor from countries such as the Ukraine — over 850 concentration camp prisoners did most of the work in the Zittwerke factories.
Not long after Junkers had settled in, the sound of industry filled the Neisse River Valley day and night. Rumors of a “miracle weapon” circulated among the local population, but no one knew exactly what the factory produced. It wasn’t until final assembly that the object in question could be recognized for what it was: a special turbojet engine for a new type of jet fighter.
Shiny New Me 262s
Technicians had already tested the engines. A Messerschmitt plane, the Me 262-V 1, powered with a Junkers Jumo 004A-0 jet engine, took to the air as early as March 2, 1943. The test proved successful. And before long, the Zwittau factories mastered all aspects of the jet engine’s production, from pre-assembly to shipment.
The factories were well connected to the Third Reich’s rail network, with covered freight cars lugging the completed engines — once they had passed inspection — to the south. There, in the forests surrounding the Bavarian towns of Regensburg and Augsburg, workers installed the new engines into the jets. A converted Autobahn nearby served as a runway from which the shiny new Me 262s took off for their test flights. Only then would they be loaded onto freight trains for delivery to the Luftwaffe.
The Nazis had high hopes for the new jets. By the beginning of 1945, with the Russians closing from the east and the US and Britain marching in from the west, it was clear that Germany faced a catastrophic defeat, but the Nazi leadership refused to give up hope. On February 28, 1945, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced to the nation that Germany’s “miracle weapon” would soon turn the tide of the war.
For Zittau, however, indications were mounting that it would be too late. The day before the Goebbels speech, the city of Görlitz just north of Zittau had been declared part of the front. Workers in the jet engine factories could already hear the thunder of enemy guns.
It wasn’t long before the hectic evacuation got underway. A Wehrmacht counterattack near the present-day Polish town of Luba on March 7 and 8, 1945 managed to push back the Red Army. But after heavy losses on both sides, the Soviets halted the German advance, such as it was, and the factories ceased production.
Given the importance of the jet engine project, it didn’t take long for evacuation of both workers and factory machinery to get underway. In early March, two special trains carrying the most vital elements of the production chain made their way from Zittau to the west, one on the 6th and another on the 10th. They ultimately ended up in the town of Nordhausen, located in the state of Thuringia, some 100 kilometers west of Leipzig.
Luftwaffe soldiers, who had guarded the Zittwerke’s various factory locations producing jet engines for the Me 262, also boarded the train in Zittau. Two trains with over 500 people left directly from the factory premises for Halberstadt in Saxony-Anhalt. A final train, belonging to the Wehrmacht, left on April 30, just days before the end of the war, presumably carrying the last of the military units.
But the Nazis didn’t evacuate everything. Inside the remaining restricted military area, the forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners remained. Many of them died. A factory doctor issued 70 handwritten death certificates in April and the beginning of May. The causes of death listed were primarily “acute heart failure with asthenia,” “pulmonary tuberculosis,” “pneumonia,” or “scurvy.”
The role Zittwerke plant manager Jürgen Ulderup played in the deaths remains something of a mystery. According to his own reports, Ulderup fled by bicycle from Zittau to Osnabrück in western Germany in the last days of the war, with a backpack crammed full of copper bars. His driver, along with his company car, had long since disappeared, according to the former Nazi plant manager.
Today only a mass grave in Zittau’s women’s cemetery provides a reminder that the so-called “miracle weapon” was produced locally. A well-kept lawn covers the area behind the cemetery wall, where civilian victims of World War II are buried. They include the prisoners and forced laborers who sweated away in Nazi Germany’s final attempt to turn the tide of onrushing World War II destruction.
Walter Girg (left).
On 24 August 1944, a Russian offensive in north-west Romania tore through the Romanian Third and Fourth Armies, allowing the Russians, in turn, to inflict heavy losses on the German Eighth Army and nearly destroy the German Sixth Army for the second time in its existence, the first having been at Stalingrad. On the same day the young King Mikhail deposed the pro-German Marshal Antonescu and ordered all German personnel to leave the country. Two days later, the new Romanian government formally declared war on Germany. While most of Germany’s former European partners followed the same pattern of surrendering to the Allies and subsequently going to war against Germany, Romania performed its volte-face with astonishing speed. In a short space of time, Germany was facing nearly twenty Romanian divisions under Russian control. German military forces in Romania and many of their families who had been comfortably far from the front now found themselves hundreds of miles behind enemy lines almost overnight.
Skorzeny received an order from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW): ‘Form two special platoons for immediate operation to start from Temezvar airport, Romania. The object is to bar the Carpathian mountain passes, reconnoitre behind the enemy, wreck his communications and help German civilians to safety.’ The operation was codenamed ‘Landfried’ and was placed under the command of a young Untersturmführer called Walter Girg, who had been posted to Friedenthal only four months previously, directly after his commissioning at the Waffen-SS officer school at Bad Tolz.
Due to the Waffen-SS system, Girg was a hardened combat veteran and the holder of the Iron Cross in both classes even before commencing officer training. He was placed in charge of a team which included Russian speakers, demolition experts – and one incognito Irishman, whom it might be speculated was thought well of by his commanders. James Brady recalled: ‘About August 1944, about fifty members of the battalion, including myself, but not Stringer, were posted to Romania. We were in Romania for about three weeks, during which time I helped to blow up two river bridges and one railway bridge.’ At the last moment, Girg was warned that Temezar airport had fallen into Russian hands and his team instead diverted to an emergency airfield from which they commenced operations. According to Skorzeny’s account: ‘They operated behind the Russian lines, in Russian, Romanian and Bulgarian uniforms, according to the territory … Fifty men were committed, who operated 700 km behind the lines. They were divided into an eastern group, a western group and a central group. The first [Brady’s group] obstructed three passes and located appr. 2,000 men from the Ploesti AA batteries in the vicinity of Kronstadt [Brasov], of whom 250 were brought back.’ This was a German anti-aircraft regiment guarding the vital Ploesti oil fields, smartly turned out and equipped with the latest air defence artillery, who were patiently waiting to surrender to the Russians. The aforementioned 250 troops who were persuaded to stage a breakout succeeded in returning to German lines. Skorzeny recalled: ‘The western group brought back German residents and collected intelligence. The central group was under the command of Girg. It placed demolitions in the Rotenturm pass, south of Herrmanstadt [Sibiu] and observed Russian preparations in that vicinity. On one occasion they marched for about fifteen km in a Russian column. They were discovered and condemned to death. Girg however managed to escape from the firing squad and reach the German lines. He submitted a report containing valuable information on Russian order of battle and was awarded the Ritterkreuz [Knights Cross].’ According to Brady’s all too brief account of this spectacular special operation, his first time in combat: ‘There were only twenty-two of us left when we pulled out of Romania. Some men were killed by the Russians and others by the Romanians.’ Girg’s central group bore the brunt of the casualties, the other two escaping with minor losses. Interestingly, apart from Girg’s Knights Cross, two NCOs of the party were awarded the also prestigious German Cross in Gold. It would be reasonable to speculate that the nineteen remaining personnel received some lesser decoration.
“Her main aim is to synthesize and comment on the political ideas of the Russians and others associated with what she properly calls not simply the ‘Vlasov movement’ but the Russian Liberation Movement….Her book includes a comprehensive and judicious survey of what others have done, full citations to sources, and an extensive bibliography. The writing is clear, graceful, and precise.” American Historical Review”…an elegant, authoritative but highly readable book.” The Journal of Soviet Military Studies
“Andreyev’s book is likely to become the standard reference work on an important movement whose leading figures were hanged in Moscow in August 1946” Journal of Ukrainian Studies
This book deals with the attempt by Soviet citizens to create an anti-Soviet Liberation Movement during the Second World War. The Movement’s ultimate importance lies in its expression of grass-roots opposition to the Soviet regime, the first substantial such efflorescence since 1922. The motivation of its titular leader, Vlasov, is examined in detail, as is its fundamental ideology, analyzed within the context not merely of wartime but of prewar Soviet and Russian emigré society.
Published in: London
Overy, Richard. 1999. Russia’s War. London: Penguin.
Meyer, Henry Cord. 1996. Drang nach osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849–1990. Berne: Peter Lang.
Denotes a variety of ethnicities and nations in Central, Eastern, and South-East Europe whose tongues belong to the Slavic language group: “the Slavs” were seen by the Nazis as inferior peoples. In comparison to the Jews however, they occupied an indeterminate position in the Nazi racial hierarchy. They were collectively or separately characterized as fremdvölkische (“nationally alien”), Untermenschen, or “Asiatic,” and constituted the majority of victims of Nazi annihilation, deportation, and exploitation policies from 1938 to 1945. Nevertheless, representatives of all three Slavic subgroups—Western, Southern, and Eastern—were, at one point or another, accepted as German allies. A number of Nazi publications considered parts (and some all) of the Slavs as belonging to the original “Nordic” or “Indogermanic” peoples. The Third Reich’s attack on Eastern Europe may have been primarily determined by motives other than anti-Slavism, such as anti-Bolshevism and the quest for new Lebensraum. Yet implementation of the latter aims accounts only partly for the deaths of the millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other Slavs who perished not only in combat against, but primarily under the occupation of, the Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II.
Nineteenth-century German public opinion and research on Eastern Europe and Russia showed, along with certain russophile tendencies, strong currents of anti-Slavism that continued earlier negative stereotypes about Poles and Russians. Views of Slavs as “unhistorical,” “cultureless,” or “barbaric” were voiced by representatives of both Right and Left—including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In the völkisch discourse of late Imperial Germany, Slavs were described as “racially mixed” or “mongolized.” A significant minority of nationalist and racist publicists with influence on the Nazi movement, including Houston Stuart Chamberlain, did, however, write positively about the Slavs. The Slavs played a relatively minor role in interwar German racist discourse in general and Nazi racial thinking in particular. Both official statements and unofficial procedures of the Third Reich regarding Slavic people continued to be marked by contradictions and shifts right down to 1945.
Although the Czechs were viewed by Hitler in the 1920s more negatively than the Poles, German occupation policies in the Reichsprotektorat of Czechoslovakia were more permissive and less violent than those in the Generalgouvernement and other annexed Polish territories. Whereas “only” 40,000 or so Czechs perished during Nazi occupation, the overwhelming majority of the 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilian victims of World War II were killed by Germans. In spite of manifest SS anti-Polonism, Himmler’s Generalplan Ost of 1942 made a distinction between eindeutschungsfähige Poles (“those who can be Germanized”) and Poles who were to be deported to Siberia within the next decades. Earlier, the greater part of the Czech population had become regarded as assimilable by the Nazis, while the Slovaks had been allowed to form their own satellite state.
Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1996. “Antislavismus.” Pp. 512–524 in Handbuch zur “Völkischen Bewegung” 1871–1918, edited by Uwe Puschner. München: Saur.
Roughly translates from German as “living space”; particularly associated with the imperialistic ideology and population policies of Nazism, although there was an equivalent expression in Italian Fascism (spazio vitale). In policy and prosecution, the Nazi pursuit of Lebensraum involved the massive transfer—and violent uprooting— of indigenous populations in Central Eastern Europe. Forming a significant aspect of Hitler’s Weltanschauung as illustrated in Mein Kampf, and put into violent practice during World War II, the quest for Lebensraum can be seen to underpin a number of actions undertaken by the Third Reich: the invasions of Poland and Soviet Russia, massive population resettlements and “evacuations,” and the Holocaust. All were defended as a means to secure Germanic hegemony in Europe by control of natural resources (such as grain and oil) as well as forcible depopulation of vast territories— including some 50 million Eastern Europeans— construed as indispensable to the resettlement and functioning of a European “New Order,” or “thousand year Reich,” dreamed of by Nazi planners.
A group of Russians captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa: Documents from secret archives have revealed how some Soviets believed the Germans were Christian crusaders come to throw of the yoke of communism.
By Allan Hall
An extraordinary secret archive has revealed for the first time how thousands of Soviet citizens collaborated with Nazi invaders during World War II.
The cache of documents, some retrieved from the files of the KGB, shows how many viewed the Germans as Christian liberators – and their own masters as godless Communists.
This view was reinforced when the soldiers of the Third Reich opened up 470 churches in north-western Russia alone and reinstated priests driven from their pulpits by Stalin.
In turn, the clergy co-operated closely with S.S. death squads in betraying Communist officials, Jews and partisan resistance groups.
Perhaps most astonishingly, the Germans even shipped numerous mayors, journalists, policeman and teachers back to the Reich to show them the ‘German way of life.’
Russia has always portrayed the war against the Germans as a historic struggle which cost 27million lives but ultimately defeated the Nazis forever.
Until now, there has been little examination of the extent of collaboration by Soviet citizens with the invaders.
And there is no doubt that there many Russians detested the Nazis who inflicted mass atrocities on the civilian population.
But the archive, assembled by Professor Boris Kovalyov of the University of Novgorod, undermines the one-dimensional nationalist view of Soviet history.
Unsurprisingly, the research has already triggered a huge debate in Russia about attitudes to the Nazis.
‘The files give an extraordinary glimpse into a country that was deeply divided and not at all as heroic as Stalin made out,’ Prof Kovalyov, who teaches historical jurisprudence, said.
‘They show how local journalists strove under S.S. supervision to present to their compatriots the Nazis as friends of the Russians.
‘There was even praise in newspapers edited by former Communists for Alfred Rosenberg, the chief racial theorist for the Nazis who had made speeches in the past talking of the “sub-humanity of the Russians.”
‘Of course these newspapers were all collected and burned, or locked away, when the tide of war turned. And those who wrote the articles were executed.’
The Nazis marched on Russia in summer 1941 after Hitler put plans for the invasion of Britain on hold.
He had met heavy resistance and had become increasingly paranoid about the Soviets grabbing valuable natural resources as they expanded their empire.
The campaign was code-named Operation Barbarossa and plunged the Third Reich into a catastrophic situation of war on all fronts.
Troops were given stark rules of engagement. They were to press ahead with a ‘war without rules’ that would see the merciless execution of millions.
But the freshly rediscovered archives reveal a far more complex situation.
In many instances, the Nazi commanders attempted a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win over civilians already oppressed by Communist dictates which included a ban on religious worship.
The propaganda war had considerable success, with newspapers and collaborators praising the Germans.
‘We pray to the all-powerful that he gives Adolf Hitler further strength and power for the final victory over the Bolsheviks!’ ran one article in the newspaper ‘For the Homeland!’ that was printed in Pskow in December 1942.
Clandestine tours of Germany were also hugely effective for provincials who had never travelled ten miles beyond their birthplace, never seen indoor plumbing or central heating, such trips worked wonders.
When they returned to the Soviet Union, said Professor Kovalyov, they were ‘deeply impressed”’ and worked hard to undermine the stiffening Soviet resistance to the Nazi armies.
Even in January 1943, as the fate of the German Sixth Army was being sealed at Stalingrad – and with it the war – many Russians still enthused about the charms of Nazism.
Ian Borodin, a village mayor from Piskowitschi, wrote that month: ‘Germany is a country of gardens, first class steelworks and autobahns. It has exemplary order. We should fight for it!’
In the end it was the Nazis themselves who squandered the opportunity to rally an entire people to its cause.
As news of German atrocities spread and the Soviet Red Army began pushing the invader back, the population that had been initially so enthusiastic for Hitler now began to turn against him.
The Nazis were eventually driven out of Russia and the Red Army pressed on to Berlin, routing Hitler’s forces on the way.
For those tens of thousands who had shown disloyalty to Stalin during the occupation there was only death awaiting them or long years in the gulag.
Professor Kovalyov intends to publish a book based on his research next year.
After Hitler came to power in 1933 the order was given to demolish a rundown part of Berlin that had been notoriously ‘Red’ and an area the Nazis never had any serious support in. The residents thought they were being punished, but instead their flats were rebuilt with central heating and other improvements – how to win hearts and minds….. By 1939 living standards had increased to the point where Russian civilians visiting Nazi Germany would have been greatly impressed. It’s said that when US troops entered Germany in 1945 towards the war’s end it was the first time many of them had come across bathrooms with showers and indoor flushing toilets since leaving the USA, and yes that included those who had been stationed in 1940’s England! Good article – and illustrates how the German’s lost the opportunity to bring the critical mass of Soviet citizenry ‘on side’. Had they done so I don’t doubt they would have defeated Stalin and forced the Western powers to accept a negotiated peace.
– A Richards, London