Erich Finsches himself had to help build this massive concrete bunker, the last arch of which stretches high and far into the forest behind him. He hauled bags of cement from the railroad cars to the mixing machines, he shoveled gravel that spilled next to it back into the wagons and he was completely buried four times when the flaps of the dumping facility were opened too violently. There was nothing else to do against the cold of winter than to pull bags of cement over his prisoner’s clothing until they crumbled off his body weeks later. It is by no means a matter of course that Erich Finsches, born in Vienna in 1927, can stand here again at the Mühldorfer Hart at the age of 94 to tell all this. The prisoners only survived an average of 80 days once they were taken to the Mühldorf subcamp of the Dachau concentration camp here in the forest in the direction of Waldkraiburg. Erich Finsches survived six months, just as he survived Auschwitz and then the Dachau satellite camp in Kaufering. And if things go well, he might even see how soon the third and last part of the concentration camp memorial in Mühldorfer Hart is being built.
The other two parts opened in 2018. They are a few kilometers away at the site of the “forest camp” and the mass grave where more than 2,000 murdered prisoners were buried. Some citizens founded the association “For Remembrance” in 2002 and had to do years of convincing before the Free State gave money for a memorial. Only after Max Mannheimer, one of the last survivors, and the SPD politician Hans-Jochen Vogel, who has since died, had spoken to Horst Seehofer in 2015, did the Free State pledge 2.5 million euros. The federal government lacked “authentic building fabric” for funding – but there is at the area of the armaments bunker.
Of the approximately 8,300 concentration camp prisoners, around 4,000 perished in the Mühldorfer Hart, and there were also hundreds of dead among the approximately 1,700 prisoners of war and forced laborers. The camp was part of the Nazi killing machine, but its real purpose was the construction of this bunker, 400 meters long, 33 meters wide and eight stories high, half buried in the forest floor and half formed by twelve above-ground concrete arches. In it should jet planes of the type Me 262 be assembled, from which Hitler promised himself and the Germans final victory in 1944. That never happened, only seven arches were completed, and because the seventh was still resting on the gravel hill over which it had been concreted, it was the only one to withstand being blown up by the Americans after the war. 110 tons of TNT are said to have exploded there, and later the Allies used the debris field to blow up ammunition stocks that had been captured by the Reichswehr.
In the past two years, experts from a specialist company have recovered more than 20 tons of explosive material and around 49 tons of ammunition residue on almost 120 hectares of forest floor, much of which had to be blown up on the spot. The federal government paid more than six million euros for this “clearance of ordnance”. Large parts of the site, overgrown by spruce, birch and bushes over the decades, have now been uncovered again, and the structures of bunkers, ventilation tunnels and access buildings can be seen in the ground. All of this should now be experienced as the third part of the memorial site. The plans for this come from the office of Latz + Partner, which won the Bavarian Landscape Architecture Prize in 2021 for the two open and reserved first parts. An elevated view is crucial for the third part so that the visitor does not have to look up at the monumental bunker arch in its false grandeur. A footbridge resting on the remains of an arch should lead up without barriers, reports Jascha März, who heads the scientific services of the Bavarian Memorials Foundation.
Before the memorial can be completed, however, land negotiations must be conducted, which are about to begin. Because the forest belongs to two dozen private individuals, each of whom only has extremely narrow strips of land that can hardly be used because of the remains of the bunker. Barter transactions with the state forests should result in a uniform area for the memorial. When work can start on it depends on the negotiations. Erich Finsches, who recounted the story of his survival a few days ago at the commemoration of the 77th anniversary of the evacuation of the camp, has remained a positive person despite everything. But he doesn’t have much time left.