The commando which had to make the Dove Elbe navigable was referred toin the camp as “Kommando Elbe”. A five kilometre stretch of this old arm of the River Elbe was to be broadened and deepened, and a canal was to be added so that ships would be able to moor at the new brickworks. Between 1940 and 1942, concentration camp prisoners had to bring dredged-up soil ashore and distribute it there. They also had to straighten and pave the river banks. At times, more than 1,000 prisoners would be working in different locations along the Dove Elbe simultaneously. The prisoners had to work hard in any kind of weather and were constantly abused and harassed while they worked. The guards regularly drowned, shot or beat prisoners to death. The “Kommando Elbe” was one of the most terrible work commandos at Neuengamme main camp.
The prisoners’ work at the brickworks illustrates the two aims the SS pursued by using concentration camp prisoners as slave labourers: economic profitability and human extermination. By contemporary technological standards, the new brickworks was a modern production facility where 160 to 180 prisoners worked producing bricks from clay. By contrast,in the clay pits, hundreds of prisoners had to dig up clay by hand and load it on tipper wagons, while other prisoners were forced to push the loaded tipper wagons to the brickworks on insecurely fastened tracks. If a tipper derailed, the prisoners had to lift the loaded wagon back onto the tracks while being beaten by their guards.Work at the clay pits, on the transport commandos and at the port was considered especially difficult, and many prisoners perished while carrying out this work.