History of the memorial
Historical appraisal of the camp's history began in 1977. The Wülknitz secondary school had been given the task of 'researching the antifascist resistance struggle in the vicinity of Zeithain' by the Society for German-Soviet Friendship (DSF). In the ensuing cooperation with Soviet middle school no. 21, attention focused on the Zeithain camp. This work led to the brochure 'Der Widerstandskampf im sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenenlager Jacobsthal 1941-1945' (The Resistance Struggle in the Jacobsthal Soviet Prisoner of War Camp 1941-1945), published in 1983.
The research results prompted the decision by the local SED leaders in 1984 to establish a memorial in the cemetery of the Zeithain Memorial Grove on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. With the prior approval of the Soviet military authorities, the first permanent exhibition was opened in April of 1985 in what had previously been the cemetery gardener's house. It was the first memorial on German territory dedicated exclusively to remembrance of the fate of Soviet prisoners of war in German captivity.
There were, however, a number of historical deficiencies in the exhibition. There was no mention of non-Soviet prisoners of war, whereas the members of the Communist resistance were given disproportionate emphasis. In keeping with the memorial culture of the German Democratic Republic, the exhibition and the work of the memorial served primarily to portray the antifascist resistance struggle and, emanating from it, the legitimacy of the East German political system.
After 1989 economy measures and general disinterest made the survival of the memorial appear questionable. From 1991 to 1998 only sporadic supervision by volunteers was possible.
Since 1995 the Saxon Memorial Foundation has sponsored scholarly research into the history of the camp. This led to the first comprehensive treatment of the camp's history, published in 1997 by Jörg Osterloh: 'Ein ganz normales Lager – Das Kriegsgefangenenmannschaftsstammlager 304 (IV H) Zeithain bei Riesa/Sa. 1941 bis 1945' (A Perfectly Normal Camp - Prisoner of War Personnel Main Camp 304 (IV H) Zeithain near Riesa, Saxony, 1941 to 1945).
In January of 1997 the sponsor organisation Gedenkstätte Ehrenhain Zeithain e.V. (Society for the Promotion of Zeithain Memorial Grove) was founded. This society is dedicated to establishing and maintaining the memorial and to uncovering the structural remnants of the former prisoner of war camp. On 1 January 2002, the memorial was placed under the auspices of the Saxon Memorial Foundation. It is the fifth work site now directly supported by the Foundation. Since that time, the society and the Foundation have joined together in performing the work of commemoration and research.
The 1985 exhibition was initially replaced in 1999 by a temporary exhibition that reflected current research. One of the former camp huts has been open to the public since May 2001. Since June 2003 visitors have been able to view the new permanent exhibition on the ground floor of the main building and inside the former camp hut. Following the withdrawal of the Red Army in the 1990s, the memorial's work has expanded to include all four Soviet cemeteries and the former Italian military cemetery.