• Version 1.0
  • Publication date 8 February 2024

Created by the German police authorities, the Schirmeck security camp [Sicherungslager] was designed to intimidate and control the members of the Alsatian and Moselle population who opposed the Nazi regime. This repressive facility was also used for the internment, expulsion, and deportation of Sinti, Roma and Yenish people between July 1940 and November 1944. The site was located on the outskirts of the municipality of La Broque (German: Vorbruck), which was united with Schirmeck under German administration to form one large municipality. For this reason, the camp was also known as Schirmeck-Vorbruck or Vorbruck security camp in German correspondence. In France, the name ‘Camp de Schirmeck’ is commonly used.

Transit Camp

Shortly after German troops entered Strasbourg, France, on 19 June 1940, the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) deployed an Einsatzgruppe to carry out a ‘clean-up’ operation in Alsace against populations labelled as ‘undesirable’. On 2 August 1940, Gustav Adolf Scheel (1907–1979), head of the police security force, ordered the construction of a transit camp to facilitate mass expulsions to unoccupied France. Karl Buck (1893–1977), newly appointed camp commandant, took over six barracks located in Schirmeck, in the Bruche valley, approximately 50 km away from Strasbourg. This facility had originally been built by the French authorities in 1939 as temporary housing for refugees from the areas near the front.

In August 1940, the German authorities implemented a vast police operation aiming to ‘cleanse Alsace of asocial, criminal and gypsy elements’.1Einsatzkommando III/1 leader to the Strasbourg criminal police, 14.08.1940, 938005, T-175/ 513, NARA, Washington. Men identified as ‘gypsies’ and those ‘who roam around in the Gypsy manner’ were to be taken to the Schirmeck camp, along with their wives and children. For instance, on 16 August 1940, a roundup was organised in Obernai, a municipality located in the southwest of the Strasbourg area, and 41 ‘asocial elements’ were arrested and transferred to Schirmeck.2List of the ‘asocial elements’ living in Obernai, 16.08.1940, Digital Archives, Archives Nationales. This group consisted of four Yenish families living in the city centre and working as basket-makers. Researchers and historians have pointed out the paucity of sources on detainees in Schirmeck. Therefore it is difficult to establish definitively the number of Sinti, Roma and Yenish individuals interned in this camp. However, a statistical report sent to the RSHA by the Strasbourg police in July 1943 indicated that between July 1940 and March 1943 nearly 22 000 individuals were forcibly sent to unoccupied France, among them 673 Sinti, Roma and Yenish people, most of them expelled in December 1940. It is very likely that many of them were transferred to the Schirmeck camp before being sent to Lyon.

Sicherungslager (Security Camp)

Gradually expanded over the years, the camp became a key element of the Nazi system of repression in annexed Alsace and Moselle. Surrounded by a barbed wire fence and watchtowers, the camp was composed of three complexes: the camp entry area (Vorhof or Vorlager) with administrative and residential barracks for the guards, the main camp with eleven wooden barracks and labour facilities, and the last part of the camp, comprising several barracks reserved for women and a bunker with 26 cells in its basement.

The number of prisoners who passed through the Schirmeck camp is estimated at up to 15 000 individuals. They faced daily violence at the hands of the guards, harsh living conditions and forced labour inside and outside the camp. The duration of their imprisonment varied widely according to the police authorities which ordered the internments: Strasbourg Gestapo, RSHA or Alsace police security forces. Inside the camp, the profiles of the interned population were also diverse and reflected the principal targets of Nazi repression: political opponents, illegal border crossers, ‘professional criminals’, ‘asocials’, prostitutes, homosexuals, and individuals with an itinerant lifestyle identified as ‘gypsy’. After the German decision to incorporate young people from Alsace and Moselle in the Wehrmacht in August 1942, draft evaders and those identified as anti-German were also sent to Schirmeck.

The camp rules were modelled on those of the concentration camps, although there was some variation, particularly in the colour of the internees’ clothing. Furthermore, the Schirmeck camp was not part of the concentration camp system but was subordinate to the Alsace-Lorraine penal authorities and used as a place of detention for persons in ‘preventive custody’. However, there were close connections between Schirmeck and the SS-run Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, established a few kilometres away in May 1941, particularly in respect of the handling of corpses and of medical experiments on prisoners. For instance, the crematorium at Natzweiler-Struthof was used to burn the bodies of detainees who had died at Schirmeck and several doctors from the University of Strasbourg began their medical experiments on prisoners at Schirmeck before working at the Natzweiler-Struthof camp. From late 1943, the forced labour of inmates contributed to the German war effort and the Daimler-Benz company used the camp’s workforce in a nearby facility.

The repressive practices of the German police in Alsace are illustrated by the trajectory of Elisabeth Hammerschmidt (1914–unknown), arrested as a ‘Zigeuner by the criminal police in Strasbourg and sent to the Sainte-Marguerite prison in June 1942. In October, she was transferred to the Schirmeck camp and interned for one year. In October 1943, Elisabeth Hammerschmidt was deported to Ravensbrück, where she was liberated, to be finally repatriated in August 1945. Her path illustrates the incorporation of annexed Alsace into the system of persecution that targeted Sinti and Roma during the war.

Dissolution and Aftermath

In late August 1944, the German authorities organised the dissolution of the Schirmeck camp and evacuated the inmates mainly to Rotenfels, Haslach and Sulz am Neckar. Around 600 forced workers from the Schirmeck camp were sent to a Daimler-Benz factory in Gaggenau. The last prisoner transport left the camp on 22 November 1944. Two days later, American troops entered Schirmeck and liberated the 600 remaining women detainees. Beginning shortly after the liberation of the camp, French authorities used the facility to intern collaborators up until 1949.

Although the internment camp and barracks were completely dismantled between 1954 and 1960, the former Commandant’s office located in the Vorlager still remains; a commemorative stele was erected in front of it in 2019. In 2005, the Alsace-Moselle Memorial was inaugurated near the site of the Schirmeck-Vorbruck camp and dedicated to the memory of the victims of Nazism in Alsace and Moselle, with an important emphasis on the forced conscription of Alsatian men (the ‘Malgré-Nous’) into the Wehrmacht. In 2019, a new memorial initiative was launched by the Grand Est region to build a database documenting the fate of all 52 000 victims of Nazism in Alsace and Moselle, including that of Sinti, Roma and Yenish people. This digital memorial will be accessible in a dedicated room inside the Alsace-Moselle Memorial and should be inaugurated in 2025 or 2026.


  • 1
    Einsatzkommando III/1 leader to the Strasbourg criminal police, 14.08.1940, 938005, T-175/ 513, NARA, Washington.
  • 2
    List of the ‘asocial elements’ living in Obernai, 16.08.1940, Digital Archives, Archives Nationales.


Théophile Leroy: Schirmeck-Vorbruck, in: Enzyklopädie des NS-Völkermordes an den Sinti und Roma in Europa. Hg. von Karola Fings, Forschungsstelle Antiziganismus an der Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg 8. Februar 2024. -

14. August 1940Die im deutsch besetzten Elsass angesiedelten deutschen Polizeibehörden ordnen an, die als „Zigeuner“ bezeichneten Personen im Sicherungslager Schirmeck-Vorbruck zu sammeln, um sie ins unbesetzte Frankreich abzuschieben.
22. Juli 1943673 „Zigeuner oder Mischlinge“ werden laut eines statistischen Berichts der Polizei in Straßburg (deutsch besetztes Frankreich) seit Juli 1940 in das unbesetzte Frankreich ausgewiesen.
22. November 1944Auflösung des Sicherungslagers Schirmeck-Vorbruck im Elsass (deutsch besetztes Frankreich).