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Helmbrechts Concentration Camp

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Introduction

Helmbrechts concentration camp was a women's subcamp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp founded near Hof, Germany in the summer of 1944. The first prisoners who came to the camp were political prisoners from the Ravensbrück camp in northern Germany.

In the beginning, no barracks were completed so the women slept in the factory hall. Eventually twelve barracks were completed, but only four were for prisoners living quarters. Fifty-four guards served at the camp; twenty-seven men and twenty-seven women. Most of the women guards served at other camps; many trained at Flossenburg, two at Gross Rosen and some in Ravensbrück concentration camp before they arrived at Helmbrechts. The male guards were mostly older Germans or ethnic Germans who were no longer combat worthy.

Herta HaaseErna AchtenbergErna AchtenbergEllia MainsIngeborg Schimming-Assmuss,Ruth Hildner, were some of the female SS troops stationed in the camp. The male guards profiles however are unknown by the most part. According to a postwar testimony of overseer Elli Mains, relations between the male and female guards were "very good." The camps population was mainly non-Jews, but in March 1945, a group of over 500 Jewish women arrived on foot from the Gruenberg subcamp in Poland.

Many died as a result of beatings for lack of productivity. In early April 1945 the front closed in on Germany. Commandant Doerr ordered the women to depart on a death march to the Dachau concentration camp. Along the way the Nazi guards learned that the US army liberated the camp and turned the march into Czechoslovakia. Along the way many prisoners died. The Germans left all the non-Jewish women at the Zwodau subcamp on the seventh day of the march but took with them the 167 Jewish women. The march ended on May 8 in a small farming village in Czechoslovakia where the US staged an air raid on the group, killing a pregnant SS woman and injuring two other female guards. The US army found the inmates the next day. The camp at Helmbrechts was liberated the same day as Bergen Belsen, April 15, but no inmates remained behind. The non-Jews had been left at the Zwodau camp in what is today Czechoslovakia.

In 1996 renewed attention focused on the Helmbrechts sub-concentration camp. Two stories broke about former SS-Aufseherin Ingeborg Schimming-Assmuss who was accused of killing four prisoners at the camp and on the death march into Czechoslovakia. One article began "DEATH FORSTALLED the LAW." "The [camp] called her 'the Terrible Inge'- Inge Assmuss, earlier Schimming, one of 27 [female guards] inside the external bearing Helmbrechts." She was hidden from prosecution by the state security service in Berlin for over fifty years. The first record of murder was done by Ingeborg, as well as the other female guards in Helmbrechts on February 24, 1945. She and the other overseers flogged a female inmate, Dr. Alexandra Samoylenko to death for escaping. The act was tolerated and ordered by camp commandant Alois Doerr. Another former prisoner related, "...on the first day after the march [began] an Aufseherin-she was called Inge-tore my completely weakened friend Bassia from my arms with a switch and dragged her into the forest. I heard a shot. Subsequently, the Aufseherin returned alone." Two other inmates also related to Allied forces that the Aufseherin killed other internees. In 1951 a warrant was issued for Ingeborg's arrest to the GDR. Authorities in East Berlin refused to hand over the former SS employee, saying that 'she works for us.' In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and Inge was still living in East Berlin, scarcely fifty meters from the former wall. In 1994 she was discovered living in Berlin-Pankow. In 1996 Ingeborg Schimming-Assmuss died, a free woman. The German government was in the process of prosecuting the former female guard, but as the title of the article stated, death stopped all proceedings. She was seventy-four years old.

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Herta Haase: Obituary

Saxon Newspaper: Published on 30 April 2010

It is the wind blowing a leaf from the tree, one of many leaves. This is a leaf, you hardly notice it, because no one is yes. But this one sheet alone, was part of our lives. Therefore, this sheet is missing us alone again! In gratitude and sorrow we must say goodbye to our dear mom, mom-law, grandmother and great grandmother

Herta Haase 
born Bauer Shepherd * 23 7th 1920 † 24 4th 2010 In loving memory of daughter, Gisela, daughter of Joachim's son Ronald Birgit and Mathias Kerstin grandson Michael, great-grandchildren Stephanie Nicole and Sebastian The funeral will be held on Friday 7 5th 2010, 13.30 clock in the crematorium instead of Goerlitz, after which the urn was buried.

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Ruth Elfriede Hildner

Ruth Elfriede Hildner 

(November 1, 1919 – May 2, 1947)

was a guard at several Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Hildner was conscripted into camp service in July 1944, arriving at Ravensbrück concentration camp to be trained as a camp matron. Hildner, just 26 years old, entered the Dachau concentration camp in September 1944 as an Aufseherin. Next she was sent to an Agfa Camera-werke-connected subcamp at Munich; she eventually served in several subcamps, including HennigsdorfWittenberg and Haselhorst. In December 1944, she arrived at Helmbrechts, a tiny subcamp of Flossenbürg located near Hof, Germany. There, she was feared by the camp's inmates, both Jews and non-Jews.

In April 1945, the guards at the small camp evacuated the women in the face of the U.S. Army. Hildner was one of several guards on thedeath march who took part in mistreatment and murder of several young girls with her rod. She also accompanied the march into Zwodau, another subcamp of Flossenbürg, located in Czechoslovakia. Several days later the march left there and headed into western Czechoslovakia. In very early May 1945, the SS men and female overseers fled the march site. Hildner melted into the hordes of refugees, escaping temporarily.

Execution

In March 1947, however, Czechoslovakian police arrested her and put her in prison. On May 2, 1947, aged 27, she was tried in the Extraordinary People's Court in Písek, Czechoslovakia. She was found guilty and hanged for war crimes the same day.

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97th Infantry Division

Members of the 97th Infantry Division, investigating war crimes, examin an exhumed body of a concentration camp prisoners who were killed by the SS while on a death march from Flossenbuerg. 

Members of the 97th Infantry Division, investigating war crimes, examin an exhumed body of a concentration campprisoners who were killed by the SS while on a death march from Flossenbuerg.

The original caption reads "This is the body of one of the slave laborers killed during Death March from FlossenburgConcentration Camp near Weiden, Germany. Many prisoners moved from Flossenburg to another camp as Allies advanced. Those unable to march were shot and beaten, although suffering from malnutrition, by brutal SS guards. Somebodies were exhumed during the investigation by Military Government of 97th Division, U.S. third Army."

By the beginning of April 1945, Allied forces were closing in on the Flossenbuerg concentration camp, which was situated 20 kilometers NE of Weiden, approximately five kilometers from the Czech border. Several other concentrationcamps had already evacuated many of their prisoners to Flossenbuerg earlier in the year, including Buchenwald and Auschwitz, so that by the beginning of May the camp and its satellites were overflowing with almost 52,000 prisoners. Now, because the area was also about to be liberated, a series of evacuation transports was sent southwest by train in thedirection of Dachau. Allied planes already active in the area had successfully destroyed a number of rail lines and locomotives, effectively delaying many of the transports, or forcing them to take alternate routes. A number of the trains laden with prisoners were even fired on while in transit, accidentally killing prisoners. Eventually, most of the prisonerswere forced to continue their journey on foot because of the destruction to the German rail system. During these “deathmarches,” numerous prisoners were killed by the SS for lagging behind or stumbling. When ammunition ran short after several days of marchingthe slower and weaker prisoners were beaten to death rather than shot. Some of the bodieswere buried by prisoners who were kept at the back of the group for exactly this purpose. Others were just left on theside of the road.

Date: May 1, 1945 
Locale: [Bavaria] Germany 

 

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The Bodies of Female Prisoners Exhumed

The bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechts concentration camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg. 

The bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechts concentration campa sub-campof Flossenbuerg.

Towards the end of the war, as Allied troops closed in on Germany from all sides the prisoners in concentration and slave labor camps were evacuated to camps further from enemy lines. Although some prisoners were evacuated by train, most were sent on forced marches that covered hundreds of miles.

One such "death march" began in Gruenberg, a sub-camp of Gross Rosen in Lower Silesia. The 900 female prisoners of Gruenberg were evacuated along with a similar number of female prisoners from the Gross Rosen sub-camp of Schlesiersee. The prisoners were divided into two smaller groups and accompanied by SS men and women. Approximately 1,100 prisoners were sent in the direction of the Flossenbuerg concentration camp, while the remainder was sent to Bergen-Belsen.

On January 29, 1945 the two groups left Gruenberg, unaware of the long journey ahead. Although each of the prisoners had been given a blanket before their departure, few had proper shoes, and some walked barefoot or only with cloth wrapped around their feet. They were forced to march from 9-18 miles a day, receiving only a few potatoes or a small bowl of soup once a day for nourishment, occasionally going without food for one or two days. At night the women slept in unheated barns or out in the open.

Several prisoners died each day from frostbite, starvation, and fatigue. Many others were killed by SS guards for attempting to escape or lagging behind. Amalie Mary Reichmann (later Robinson), a survivor of the march, recalled that on one occasion when several women had tried to escape, the SS lined up all the prisoners and shot every tenth one. After several weeks of marching, the group reached Dresden just as it was fire-bombed by Allied planes on February 13-14. Finally, on March 6, after five weeks of marching, the first group of prisoners reached Helmbrechts, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg, 300 km. from Gruenberg. Of the original 1,100 prisoners who set out on the death march, 150-250 had died along the way, and another 330 had been left at other camps.

621 arrived in Helmbrechts. Upon arrival, the women were issued clothing to replace their lice infested garments and were put into separate barracks. Because they were too weak to work, they were given only a minimal amount of food. During their five-week stay at Helmbrechts, an additional 40 women died. On April 13, the remaining women were sent on a second death march along with the rest of the 590 prisoners from Helmbrechts. The group which headed toward the southeast, ended up in Volary, Czechoslovakia, 200 km. away.

After the liberation of Helmbrechts and the surrounding area by American troops, a mass grave was discovered near the concentration camp. On April 18, American soldiers forced German civilians to exhume the grave, which contained the bodies of 22-30 female prisoners. Although the women were not identified, it is possible that they had participated in the death march from Gruenberg, and were some of the 40 who died in Helmbrechts during their five-week stay.

[Sources: Goldhagen, Daniel. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. 
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996); Klein, Gerda Weismann. All But My Life. (New York: Noonday Press, 1998); Robinson, Amalie Mary. The Reichmanns of Bielitz. (Los Angeles: s.n., 1992). USHMM Archival Vertical File, "Volary."]

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Mass Grave Near Volary

A German civilian exhumes a mass grave near Volary containing the bodies of Jewish women who died at the end of a death march from Helmbrechts, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg.

A German civilian exhumes a mass grave near Volary containing the bodies of Jewish women who died at the end of adeath march from Helmbrechts, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg. The woman, Mina Singer, is a survivor of the march, and was the oldest of the group.

The Helmbrechts death march was one of hundreds of forced marches that occurred near the end of the war. As Allied troops closed in on Germany from all sides, the prisoners in concentration camps and slave labor commandos were evacuated to camps further from enemy lines. Although some were evacuated by train, many prisoners were sent on foot distances of hundreds of miles. The Helmsbrechts death march began in Gruenberg, a sub-camp of Gross Rosen in Lower Silesia. The prisoners of Gruenberg, consisting of 900 Jewish women of mixed nationality, were evacuated along with 900 other female prisoners from another Gross Rosen sub-camp known as Puerschkau (or Schlesiersee). The group was divided into two smaller groups accompanied by SS men and women, with approximately 1,100 prisoners sent in the direction of the Flossenbuerg concentration camp. The remainder of the group was sent to Bergen-Belsen. On January 29, 1945, the groups left Gruenberg, unaware of the long journey ahead of them.

Although each of the prisoners had been given a blanket before their departure, few had proper shoes, and some were even barefoot or only had cloth wrapped around their feet. They were forced to march from 9-18 miles a day, receiving only a few potatoes or a small bowl of soup once a day for nourishment. They occasionally went without food for one or two days. At night, the women slept in unheated barns or out in the open when shelter could not be procured. In these conditions, several prisoners died each day from frostbite, starvation, and fatigue. In addition, SS guards killed many prisoners for attempting to escape or lagging behind.

Amalie Reichmann (later Mary Robinson), a survivor of the march, recalled that on one occasion when several women tried to escape, the SS lined up all the women on the march and as punishment shot every tenth one. After several weeks of marching, the group reached Dresden just as it was fire-bombed by the Allied planes on February 13-14, 1945. Afterwards, many survivors remembered the fire, destruction, and death as they marched through the city.

Finally, on March 6, after five weeks of marching, the first group reached Helmbrechts, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg, 300 km. from Gruenberg. Of the original 1,100 prisoners who set out on the death march, only 321 arrived at Helmbrechts. 230 had been left at other camps along the way; a few had escaped; and the remaining 150-250 had died.

Upon their arrival in Helmbrechts, the prisoners' clothing was taken away to be deloused, after which they were given temporary clothing and put into separate barracks. Because they were too weak to work, they were given only minimal food and shelter. During their five week stay at Helmbrechts, an additional 40 women died. On April 13, the remaining women were given their clothing back and were sent on a second death march, along with the rest of the 590 prisoners from Helmbrechts.

The group headed southeast, accompanied by 22 SS men and 25 SS women, who brought along a horse-drawn wagon to transport the sick, and later, the dead. On the fifth day, the march reached Zwodau, 80 km. from Helmbrechts. After a day of rest at Zwodau, another women's sub-camp of Flossenbuerg, all the non-Jewish prisoners (primarily those who had been in Helmbrechts prior to the arrival of the death march from Gruenberg) were left behind, while the Jewish prisoners, along with 50 Jewish prisoners from Zwodau, continued on the march.

The remaining 625 prisoners were marched in the direction of Prachatitz, a small town just east of the Czechoslovakian border, where they were to be abandoned. Along the way, 10-12 women died daily of fatigue and starvation, in addition to the 4-8 who were shot or beaten to death by the SS each day, often for no reason. On the 21st day the group reached Volary (Wallern), after having marched 200-300 km. since leaving Helmbrechts, with fewer than half of the prisoners still alive.

After the death march reached Volary, there is confusion as to exactly what happened, where the prisoners were sent, and how many more were killed. According to Alois Doerr, the top-ranking SS officer on the death march from Helmbrechts, the prisoners were split into three groups upon arriving in Volary. His intention was to march all the prisoners to Prachatitz, yet some were too weak to continue the march. Those still able to walk were sent the following day, while the rest were to be transported by truck.

There was only one truck available, in which a small group was loaded and sent after the marching group. The rest of the sick waited in a building adjacent to a factory to be sent on a second trip. The group on foot was abandoned just after Prachatitz, where locals cared for them. The truck transport, however, was strafed by American planes, killing one SS woman and wounding two others. Some of the prisoners fled, but those not able to get away were brought to a barn nearby.

The following day three SS men took those in the barn to the woods and shot 14 of them, letting three go free. The same day 12 other prisoners were shot by SS men in Volary. It is suspected that both incidents were in retaliation for the death of the SS woman the previous day. Finally, on May 6, the 2nd Regiment of the 5th Division, U.S. 3rd Army entered Volary and liberated the women from the factory building.

There they found 118-133 prisoners covered in lice lying on the floor. They had no potable water and only a wooden box in the corner as a toilet. The women were suffering from starvation, malnutrition, tuberculosis, typhus, heart trouble, blistered and gangrenous feet, festered wounds, diarrhea, and frostbite. Upon seeing the poor condition of the women, American soldiers set up a hospital for them in Volary, where they were able to recuperate for the next few months.

On May 11, the mass graves near Volary were discovered, and Germans were forced to exhume them in order to give the victims proper burial. Of the 83-89 bodies exhumed, many of them showed evidence of having been murdered.

[Sources: Goldhagen, Daniel. "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust." New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996; Klein, Gerda Weissmann. "All But My Life." New York: Noonday Press, 1988; Robinson, Amalie Mary. "The Reichmanns of Bietlitz." Los Angeles, 1992; USHMM Library Vertical File, "Volary."]

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German Civilians View the Bodies

Under the supervision of American soldiers, German civilians view the bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechts concentration camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg.

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German Civilians Lay Out The Bodies

German civilians lay out the bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechts concentration camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg. 

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American Soldiers

Two American soldiers stand among the bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechts concentration camp, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg. 

Two American soldiers stand among the bodies of female prisoners exhumed from a mass grave near the Helmbrechtsconcentration campa sub-camp of Flossenbuerg.

Towards the end of the war, as Allied troops closed in on Germany from all sides the prisoners in concentration and slave labor camps were evacuated to camps further from enemy lines. Although some prisoners were evacuated by train, most were sent on forced marches that covered hundreds of miles. One such "death march" began in Gruenberg, a sub-camp of Gross Rosen in Lower Silesia. The 900 female prisoners of Gruenberg were evacuated along with a similar number of female prisoners from the Gross Rosen sub-camp of Schlesiersee. The prisoners were divided into two smaller groups and accompanied by SS men and women. Approximately 1,100 prisoners were sent in the direction of the Flossenbuerg concentration camp, while the remainder was sent to Bergen-Belsen. On January 29, 1945 the two groups left Gruenberg, unaware of the long journey ahead. Although each of the prisoners had been given a blanket before their departure, few had proper shoes, and some walked barefoot or only with cloth wrapped around their feet. They were forced to march from 9-18 miles a day, receiving only a few potatoes or a small bowl of soup once a day for nourishment, occasionally going without food for one or two days. At night the women slept in unheated barns or out in the open. Several prisoners died each day from frostbite, starvation, and fatigue. Many others were killed by SS guards for attempting to escape or lagging behind. Amalie Mary Reichmann (later Robinson), a survivor of the march, recalled that on one occasion when several women had tried to escape, the SS lined up all the prisoners and shot every tenth one. After several weeks of marching, the group reached Dresden just as it was fire-bombed by Allied planes on February 13-14. Finally, on March 6, after five weeks of marching, the first group of prisoners reached Helmbrechts, a sub-camp of Flossenbuerg, 300 km. from Gruenberg. Of the original 1,100 prisoners who set out on the death march, 150-250 had died along the way, and another 330 had been left at other camps. 621 arrived in Helmbrechts. Upon arrival, the women were issued clothing to replace their lice infested garments and were put into separate barracks. Because they were too weak to work, they were given only a minimal amount of food. During their five-week stay at Helmbrechts, an additional 40 women died. On April 13, the remaining women were sent on a second death march along with the rest of the 590 prisoners from Helmbrechts. The group which headed toward the southeast, ended up in Volary, Czechoslovakia, 200 km. away. After the liberation of Helmbrechts and the surrounding area by American troops, a mass grave was discovered near the concentration camp. On April 18, American soldiers forced German civilians to exhume the grave, which contained the bodies of 22-30 female prisoners. Although the women were not identified, it is possible that they had participated in the death march from Gruenberg, and were some of the 40 who died in Helmbrechts during their five-week stay.

[Sources: Goldhagen, Daniel. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. 
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996); Klein, Gerda Weismann. All But My Life. (New York: Noonday Press, 1998); Robinson, Amalie Mary. The Reichmanns of Bielitz. (Los Angeles: s.n., 1992). USHMM Archival Vertical File, "Volary."]

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