Grunertstraße tunnel

Nöggerathstraße / Grunertstraße, 45144 Essen | 51.454582, 6.959792‎ | +51° 27′ 16.50″, +6° 57′ 35.25″

There was a tunnel in Essen’s district Frohnhausen which had been used as an accommodation for prisoners of war. The tunnel ran below the Duisburg-Dortmund line. Nowadays, it is utilized as an underpass. At the level of the former outdoor swimming pool West (closed down in 2000), there is a commemorative plaque:

Tunnel Grunertstraße 1

„During World War II, this tunnel was used as an accommodation für 170 prisoners of war.“

The plaque was meanwhile vandalized by unknown offenders. A fate which it shares with numerous places of remembrance. Everywhere in Germany, people belonging to the far right desecrate places remembering fascist atrocities and their victims.

In Essen-Altendorf, north of the tunnel, there was a camp where 644 French prisoners of war were locked up. In 1944, on April 27th, this camp was destroyed through an air raid. Just 350 persons survived, of whom 170 were put up in the tunnel. The living conditions were inhumane: darkness, coldness and humid walls determined the everyday life of the imprisoned. The prisoners of war who were not forced into the tunnel, had to slave away for Krupp’s companies. In the years of war, the Nazis tried to exploit their prisoners as intense as possible. Nevertheless, these people were exposed to horrible conditions, especially taking into account the kind of function they had to do.

At the southern end of the tunnel – where you find the district’s sports complex nowadays – there was an extra camp, set up in order to lock up even more prisoners of war. In here, 1500 persons from the Soviet Union were arrested. These prisoners were also exploited by the companies of Krupp. Some of them had to slave away on the Overrathshof, in the immediate neighbourhood of the tunnel. To separate the French from the Soviet soldiers, a wall was installed temporarily on the inside of the tunnel.

Tunnel Grunertstraße 2Tunnel Grunertstraße 3

Historical background

The prisoners of war sentenced to hard labour in Frohnhausen stood not alone with their human-made „destiny“. During World War II, the Nazis condemned millions of people to perform forced labour in Germany. Most of the prisoners of war brought in for these kinds of work came originally from Russia and the Ukraine. The Nazis spared nobody – they even transported children to Germany. Frequently, they snatched them from their families. People sentenced to hard labour were employed in the armaments industry, in agriculture and forestry, but also in public agencies. Like mentioned above, Krupp’s companies fell back on the forced workers in a huge extent. In most cases, they were treaten in a humiliating and abusive way. In addition, they suffered from malnutrition due to the Nazis providing them too less to eat and to drink. Often, they were not payed for the work they had done.

In Eastern Europe, the Nazis carried out raids in the regions they conquered. They forced their way into the homes of their victims, deporting persons which they considered to be strong enough to withstand the hard labour conditions in Germany. For accommodating the numerous persons deported, the fascists set up special camps, like the aforementioned one in the Hamburger Straße. The deported were driven together, suffering from devastating conditions. All day long they had to slog away for the fascist Hitler regime. There was no safety and healthy protection helping these forced workers. In case of bombardments, they were not allowed to seek shelter in a bunker. People defying the Nazi’s orders ran the risk of being put into specialized labour camps bearing a resemblance to the concentration camps. Forced workers were mistreated regularly by their guards. If female workers got pregnant, their children were transported to so-called Ausländerkinder-Pflegestätten (engl.: “care station for foreign children”). In there, the Nazis let the children die of hunger.

The racist Nazi ideology contributed as well to the way the camps were organized by the fascists. In comparison with „Slavic“ people, imprisoned persons from Western Europe were treated in a privileged manner. Therefore the spatial separation between French and Soviet people in the Grunertstraße tunnel.

Zeitungsartikel NRZ 1995 -  Zwangsarbeit in Essen

A newspaper article drawn from the collection of Horst Zimmer, pointing out the rude and abusive treatment prisoners of war received in Nazi Germany. The title reads: „Slaves“ for the German workbench



1) Read carefully the information given on this side and regard the commemorative plaque, although its inscription might be hard to decipher due to the vandalism. Formulate a brief text addressed to the city council containing the demand for cleaning the plaque. Try to underpin your demand using sound reasoning. Probably you are even able to draft an argumentation which may persuade the council of renewing the plaque?

2) Photograph the tunnel. Try to accentuate your feelings regarding the unflattering happenings which once took place here.

3) Imagine the city council would indeed renew the commemorative plaque. Formulate an alternative text which you consider to be suitable, keeping in mind the history of this place.

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