The Holocaust was the systematic annihilation of six million Jews during the Nazi genocide - in 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Nazi Germany during World War 2. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed.
The number of children killed during the Holocaust is not fathomable and full statistics for the tragic fate of children who died will never be known. Estimates range as high as 1.5 million murdered children. This figure includes more than 1.2 million Jewish children, tens of thousands of Gypsy children and thousands of institutionalized handicapped children.
In his book Sheltering The Jews the Holocaust historian Mordecai Paldiel later wrote:
"Never before in history had children been singled out for destruction for no other reason than having been born. Children, of course, were no match for the Nazis' mighty and sophisticated killing machine .."
KZ Dachau was the first concentration camp established in Nazi Germany - the camp was opened on March 22, 1933. The camp's first inmates were primarily political prisoners, Social Democrats, Communists, trade unionists, habitual criminals, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, beggars, vagrants, hawkers.
In the late 1930's the Nazis killed thousands of handicapped Germans by lethal injection and poisonous gas. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, mobile killing units following in the wake of the German Army began shooting massive numbers of Jews and Gypsies in open fields and ravines on the outskirts of conquered cities and towns.
Eventually the Nazis created a more secluded and organized method of killing. Extermination centers were established in occupied Poland with special apparatus especially designed for mass murder. Giant death machines.
Six such death camps existed: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. Large-scale murder by gas and body disposal through cremation were conducted systematically by the Nazis and Adolf Hitler's SS men ..
Victims were deported to these centers from Western Europe and from the ghettos in Eastern Europe which the Nazis had established. In addition, millions died in the ghettos and concentration camps as a result of forced labor, starvation, exposure, brutality, disease, and execution.
The terms extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) and death camp (Todeslager) are interchangeable usages, each referring to camps whose primary function was genocide, not for punishing crime or containing political prisoners, but for the systematic killing of the prisoners delivered there.
Nazi Germany (1933–45) built the most infamous extermination camps in Occupied Poland. These differed from concentration camps, such as Dachau and Belsen, which were initially prison camps for people defined as socially or politically undesirable in Nazi society. In the early years of the Holocaust, the Jews were primarily sent to concentration camps, but from 1942 onwards they were mostly deported to the extermination camps.
Extermination camps are distinguished from the Arbeitslager (forced labor camps) established in German-occupied countries to use the prisoners, including prisoners of war, as slave labor. In most camps (exceptingPoW camps for the non-Soviet soldiers and certain labor camps), the high death rates resulted from execution,starvation, disease, exhaustion, and physical brutality.
The Nazis distinguished between extermination camps and concentration camps. As early as September 1942, Dr. Johann Paul Kremer, M.D., an SS physician, witnessed a gassing of prisoners, and in his diary wrote: "They don't call Auschwitz the camp of annihilation [das Lager der Vernichtung] for nothing!" The distinction was evident during the Nuremberg trials, when Dieter Wisliceny (a deputy to Adolf Eichmann) was asked to name the extermination camps, and he identified Auschwitz and Majdanek as such. Then, when asked "How do you classify the camps Mauthausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald?" he replied, "They were normal concentration camps, from the point of view of the department of Eichmann."
The camps Mass Deportations: the routes to the extermination camps
U.S. aerial photograph of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) showing crematoria II and III
The Nazis used the euphemismEndlösung der Judenfrage (Final Solution of the Jewish Question) to describe their systematic killing of Europe's Jews, which Nazi leaders likely decided during the first half of 1941. The initial, formal killings of the Final Solution were undertaken by the SSEinsatzgruppen (Task Forces) death squads who followed theWehrmacht during the Operation Barbarossa invasion of the USSR in June 1941. The initial extermination method of shooting people in burial pits proved logistically and psychologically inefficient, so in late 1941, the Nazis established camps specifically for mass extermination via gas chambers. The logistical details were established in the Wannsee Conference(January 1942) and were executed by the administrator Adolf Eichmann. The camps atTreblinka, Be??ec, and Sobibor, were constructed during Operation Reinhard (October 1941–November 1943), for the extermination of Poland's Jews.
Whereas the Auschwitz II (Auschwitz–Birkenau) and Majdanek camps were parts of a labor camp complex, the Operation Reinhard camps and the Che?mno camp were exclusively for the quick extermination of many people (primarily Jews) within hours of their arrival. Some able-bodied prisoners delivered to the death camp were not immediately killed, but were forced into labor units (Sonderkommando) to work at the extermination process, removing corpses from the gas chambers and burning them. Because the extermination camps were physically small (only several hundred metres long and wide) and equipped with minimal housing and support installations, the Nazis deceived the prisoners upon their arrival, telling them that they were at a temporary transit stop, and soon would continue to an Arbeitslager (work camp) farther east.
Numbers of victims
The estimated total number of people killed in these camps is 2,814,500:
CampEstimated deathsNotes/references Auschwitz–Birkenau 1,100,000 Treblinka 700,000–800,000 The Höfle Telegram indicates some 700,000 killed by 31 December 1942, yet the camp functioned until 1943, hence the true deaths total likely is greater. Be??ec 434,500 Sobibor 167,000–250,000 Che?mno 152,000 Majdanek 78,000 Total2,631,500–2,814,500
The approximate total numbers of people killed in the lesser-known death camps, vary between 85,000 to 600,000 at the Jasenovac concentration camp in Yugoslavia. At the Maly Trostenets extermination camp in Belarus, USSR, some 65,000 Jews were killed, whilst the number of gentiles (non-Jews, i.e. communists, priests, non-religious, soldiers, et al.) varies between 100,000 to 400,000.
For political and logistical reasons, Nazi Germany built most extermination camps in occupied Poland:
Camps were built where most of the intended victims lived; Poland had the greatest European Jewish populace.
The camps could be kept secret from the German civil populace.
Operation of the camps
The formal mass-killing method at an extermination camp was poison gas (made to order by the IG Farben chemicals company); besides gas chambers, the camp guards continued killing prisoners via mass shooting, starvation, torture, et cetera. After the war, the diary of the Auschwitz Commandant, Rudolf Höss, revealed that psychologically "unable to endure wading through blood any longer", many Einsatzkommandos—the killers — either went mad or killed themselves.
Carpathian Ruthenian Jews arrive at Auschwitz–Birkenau, May 1944. Without being registered to the camp system, most were killed in gas chambers hours after arriving.
Operationally, there were three types of death camp:
(1) Aktion Reinhardt extermination camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec, where prisoners were promptly killed upon arrival. Initially, the camps used carbon monoxide gas chambers; at first, the corpses were buried, but then incinerated atop pyres. Later, gas chambers and crematoria were built in Treblinka and Belzec; Zyklon-B was used in Belzec.
(2) Concentration–extermination camps where some prisoners were selected for slave labor, instead of immediate death; they were kept alive as camp inmates, available to work wherever the Nazis required. These camps — including Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Jasenovac — later were retrofitted with Zyklon-B gas chambers and crematoria, remaining operational until war's end in 1945.
The corpses were incinerated in crematoria and the ashes either buried or scattered; yet, at Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, and Chelmno, the corpses were incinerated on pyres. The efficiency of industrialised killing at Auschwitz-Birkenau produced too many corpses to adequately burn or bury, so the crematoria (manufactured to specification by Topf und Söhne) were put into use to handle the disposals around the clock, day and night.
Each extermination camp operated differently, yet each was identically designed for quick and efficient industrialized killing. To wit, SS_Obersturmführer_ Kurt Gerstein, of the Institute for Hygiene of the Waffen-SS, during the war told a Swedish diplomat of life in a death camp, of how, on 19 August 1942, he arrived at Belzec extermination camp (which was equipped with carbon monoxide gas chambers) and was shown the unloading of 45 train cars filled with 6,700 Jews, many already dead, but the rest were marched naked to the gas chambers, where:
Unterscharführer Hackenholt was making great efforts to get the engine running. But it doesn't go. Captain Wirth comes up. I can see he is afraid, because I am present at a disaster. Yes, I see it all and I wait. My stopwatch showed it all, 50 minutes, 70 minutes, and the diesel [engine] did not start. The people wait inside the gas chambers. In vain. They can be heard weeping, "like in the synagogue", says Professor Pfannenstiel, his eyes glued to a window in the wooden door. Furious, Captain Wirth lashes the Ukrainian [prisoner] assisting Hackenholt twelve, thirteen times, in the face. After 2 hours and 49 minutes — the stopwatch recorded it all — the diesel started. Up to that moment, the people shut up in those four crowded chambers were still alive, four times 750 persons, in four times 45 cubic meters. Another 25 minutes elapsed. Many were already dead, that could be seen through the small window, because an electric lamp inside lit up the chamber for a few moments. After 28 minutes, only a few were still alive. Finally, after 32 minutes, all were dead . . . Dentists [then] hammered out gold teeth, bridges, and crowns. In the midst of them stood Captain Wirth. He was in his element, and, showing me a large can full of teeth, he said: "See, for yourself, the weight of that gold! It's only from yesterday, and the day before. You can't imagine what we find every day — dollars, diamonds, gold. You'll see for yourself!"
Auschwitz Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss reported that the first time Zyklon B gas was used on the Jews, many suspected they were to be killed — despite having been deceived into believing they were to be deloused and then interned to the camp. As a result, the Nazis identified and isolated "difficult individuals" who might alert the prisoners, and removed them from the mass —lest they incite revolt among the deceived majority of prisoners en route to the gas chambers. The "difficult" prisoners were led to a site out of view to be killed off discreetly.
A prisoner Sonderkommando (Special Detachment) effected the most of the processes of extermination; they accompanied the Jews into the gas chamber, and remained with them until the chamber door closed. To psychologically maintain the "calming effect" of the delousing deception, an SS guard stood at the door, as if awaiting the prisoners. The Sonderkommando hurried them to undress and enter the "shower room" (gas chamber) as quickly as possible; to that effect, they also assisted the aged and the very young in undressing.
To further persuade the prisoners that nothing harmful was happening, the Sonderkommando deceived them with small talk about camp life. Fearing that the delousing "disinfectant" might harm their children, many mothers hid their infants beneath their piled clothes. Camp Commandant Höss reported that the "men of the Special Detachment were particularly on the look-out for this", and encouraged the women to take their children into the "shower room". Likewise, the Sonderkommando comforted older children who might cry "because of the strangeness of being undressed in this fashion".
Yet, not every prisoner was deceived by such psychological warfare tactics; Commandant Höss reported of Jews "who either guessed, or knew, what awaited them, nevertheless . . . [they] found the courage to joke with the children, to encourage them, despite the mortal terror visible in their own eyes". Some women would suddenly "give the most terrible shrieks while undressing, or tear their hair, or scream like maniacs"; the Sonderkommando immediately took them away for immediate execution by shooting. In such circumstances, others, meaning to save themselves at the gas chamber's threshold, betrayed the identities and "revealed the addresses of those members of their race still in hiding".
Once the door of the filled gas chamber was sealed, pellets of Zyklon B were dropped through special holes in the roof. Nazi regulations required that the Camp Commandant supervise the preparations, the gassing (through a peephole), and the aftermath looting of the corpses. Commandant Höss reported that the gassed victims "showed no signs of convulsion"; the Auschwitz camp physicians attributed that to the "paralyzing effect on the lungs" of the Zyklon-B gas, which killed before the victim began suffering convulsions.
After the gassings, the Sonderkommando removed the corpses from the gas chamber, then extracted any gold teeth, and — to minimize the distinct smell of burning human hair — they shaved the corpses, before delivering them to the crematoria or to the fire pits, thus maintaining secret the existence of the extermination camp. The Sonderkommando were responsible for burning the corpses, and stoking the fires, draining body fat, and turning over the "mountain of burning corpses" for even combustion and a peak fire-temperature. Commandant Höss was impressed by the diligence of the Sonderkommando prisoners, despite their being "well aware that . . . they, too, would meet exactly the same fate", yet always doing their jobs "in such a matter-of-course manner that they might, themselves, have been the exterminators". Höss further reported that the men ate and smoked "even when engaged in the grisly job of burning corpses", in the course of which they occasionally encountered the corpse of a relative, but, although they "were obviously affected by this . . . it never led to any incident" of revolt, as in the case of a Sonderkommando who so encountered the corpse of his wife, yet behaved "as though nothing had happened".
As a matter of political training, some high-rank Nazi Party leaders and SS officers were sent to Auschwitz–Birkenau to witness the gassings; Höss reported that "all were deeply impressed by what they saw . . . [yet some] . . . who had previously spoken most loudly, about the necessity for this extermination, fell silent once they had actually seen the 'final solution of the Jewish problem'." As the Auschwitz Camp Commandant Rudolf Höss justified the extermination by explaining the need for "the iron determination with which we must carry out Hitler's orders"; yet saw that even "[Adolf] Eichmann, who certainly [was] tough enough, had no wish to change places with me."
The post-war period The English-language memorial in Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, Auschwitz II
In 1944, as the Red Army advanced into eastern Poland, the Nazis either partly or completely dismantled the eastern-most extermination camps to conceal the mass killings done there, and the buried remains (exceptingAuschwitz–Birkenau, which was partially demolished in 1947). Because most of the death camps in the far east of the country (Belzec and Sobibor) had been constructed with local lumber, the physical installations were quickly deteriorated, eroded, and destroyed, by the natural elements.
The Auschwitz Cross before Block 11, Auschwitz I
In the post-war period, the Communist government of the People's Republic of Poland (1944–90) created monuments at the extermination camp sites, that mentioned no ethnic, religious, or national particulars of the Nazi victims. In 1989, upon the collapse of Polish communism, the extermination camps sites became accessible to Western visitors to Poland; the camps are tourist attractions, especially the most-infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz concentration camp, near the town ofO?wi?cim (Auschwitz). In the early 1990s, Jewish Holocaust organisations disputed with Polish Catholic groups about: "What religious symbols of martyrdom are appropriate as memorials in a Nazi death camp such as Auschwitz?" The Jews opposed to the erection of Christianmemorials at a quarry adjacent to the Auschwitz camp, wherein featured the Auschwitz cross — a Roman cross erected near death campAuschwitz I, where mostly Poles were killed, rather than at Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau), where mostly Jews were killed.
In 1979, the French academic Robert Faurisson in his publications said that "Hitler's 'gas chambers' never existed" — that the existence of gas chambers in the extermination camps was "essentially of Zionist origin"; that The Diary of Anne Frank is inauthentic; that Elie Wiesel lied about what he lived in under the Nazis; and that no more than 6 million people were killed in the camps.
In 2005, in Austria, where Holocaust denial is a crime, the Austrians, acting upon a 1989 arrest warrant, detained British author David Irving for the crime of "trivialising the Holocaust"; his trial earned him thirteen months imprisonment in 2006, and subsequent perpetual banishment from Austria.
Contemporary Holocaust debate about the Nazi concentration camps concerns the complicity of the local populations who claimed ignorance of the camps and their activities. The responses in fact ranged from attempts to save their Jewish neighbors, through indifference, to active collaboration, for example betraying Jews to the authorities. Other debates include the extent to which the Nazis had a plan to destroy the Jews even before they came to power, as opposed to the Final Solution arising in a haphazard manner. This is known as the functionalism versus intentionalism question. Many other aspects of the Holocaust continue to attract vigorous research efforts.
Liberation: April 30th, 1945, by the Russian Army.
Estimated number of victims: 92,000
Ravensbrück was the only major Nazi concentration camp for women. At the end of autumn 1938, Himmler decided to establish a concentration camp for women in Ravensbrück. This location was chosen by Himmler because it was out-of-the-way and at the same time easy to reach. Ravensbrück was a small village located in a beautiful area with many forests and lakes, not far from Furstenberg. There was a good road from Furstenberg to Ravensbrück and the rail station of Furstenberg had a direct link to Berlin.
At the end of 1938, 500 prisoners were transferred from Sachsenhausen to Ravensbrück in order to build the new camp. They built 14 barracks, a kitchen, an infirmary, as well as a small camp for men, which was totally isolated from the women's camp. The whole camp was surrounded by a high wall with electrified barbed wires on the top.
The first prisoners arrived in Ravensbruck on May 18, 1939: 860 German women and 7 Austrian women. From this time, the number of prisoners increased dramatically--400 gypsy women from Austria arrived on May 29, 1939 and on September 28, 1939, the first women from Poland arrived in the camp. End of 1939, the population of the camp was 2,290.
The "Walzkommando" in Ravensbrück: the punished women had to pull this roller until they died...
After the war began, the population of the camp became more international, and soon there were prisoners coming from 20 European countries. The conditions of life in Ravensbrück were as shameful and difficult as in all the other concentration camps--death by starvation, beating, torture, hanging, and shooting happened daily. The women who were too weak to work were transferred to be gassed at the Uckermark "Youth Camp" located nearby Ravensbruck or to Auschwitz. Others were killed by lethal injections or used for "medical" experiments by the SS doctors. Several SS companies surrounded the camp where the prisoners had to work day and night until they died by weakness and illness
Due to the constant growth of the population, the camp had to be enlarged four times during the war. By the end of 1941, there were 12,000 prisoners. In 1942, several convoys of Russian women were transferred to Ravensbrück. By the end of 1942, the population was 15,000, and it reached 42,000 by the end of 1943. As in the others concentration camps, Ravensbrück had a crematory, and in November 1944, the SS decided to build a gas chamber. At this time, the total population of the camp was 80,000.
A work team in Ravensbrück
All in all, more than 132,000 women and children were incarcerated in Ravensbrück. It is estimated that 92,000 of them died in the camp by starvation, executions, or weakness. During the last months of the war, and due to the rapid advance of the Russian Army, the SS decided to exterminate as many prisoners as they could, in order to avoid any testimony about what happened in the camp. For example, 130 babies and pregnant women were gassed in March 1945.
At the end of March 1945, the SS decided to transfer the archives of the camp and the machines of the workshops to a safer place. On April 27 and 28, 1945, they ordered the woman still able to walk to leave the camp in a Death March. Only 3,000 exhausted or ill women were left in the camp, as well as 300 men.
The hell of Ravensbrück...
The camp was liberated by the Russian Army on April 30th, 1945. The survivors of the Death March were liberated in the following hours by a Russian scout unit.
The Uckermark "Youth Camp"
Every two or three weeks, the SS commandant of the camp Suhren and the SS doctors Schwarzhuber and Pflaum selected the ill or weak women for the "transport to Mittweida". The women had to lift their skirts over their hips and run in front of the SS guards and doctors. Women with swollen feet, injuries, or scars or those simply too ill or too weak to run were immediately selected for a "recovery" period in Uckermark. This "recovery" period consisted in fact of being jailed in sealed barracks without medical care and food until death. But most of the selected women never arrived in the Uckermark "Youth Camp". They were gassed in special vans transformed in mobile gas chambers. The exhaust pipe of the engine was directly connected to the van's freight compartment, and gassing was done in 15-20 minutes. One of those gas vans was a captured sanitary truck from the Dutch Army. Others trucks were sealed German freight trucks, often named by the prisoners "Green Mina". The so-called "transport to Mittweida" was an SS code name for gassing. "Mittweida" was supposed to be a place where prisoners could recover from their slave work. Of course, it was an imaginary place and "Mittweida" was just a synonym for "gas chamber".
The Children of Ravensbrück
Hundreds of children were incarcerated in Ravensbrück. The cruelty and the sadism of the Nazis against the children had no limits, and the fate of those little victims was absolutely awful. Children and babies were in fact sentenced to death before they were born. Newborn babies were immediately separated from their mother and drowned or thrown into a sealed room until they died. Most of the time, this was done in front of the mother. There are dozen of testimonies about children thrown alive into the crematory, buried alive, poisoned, strangled, or drowned in Ravensbrück. Several children were also used for sadistic "medical" experiments. Hundreds of little girls, sometimes only 8, were sterilized by direct exposure of genitals to X-rays. In the early months of Ravensbrück, children were immediately killed. The SS doctor Rosenthal and his girlfriend Gerda Quernheim aborted by force pregnant women, and this was often done using bestial methods. Later, newborn children were sometimes allowed to survive, but due to the lack of food and the awful sanitary conditions, these babies died very soon.
Only the strongest children could survive. Those children had to work day and night with the women in the workshop and help them with the heaviest labor. Only very few of these children survived the war.
Auschwitz had for a long time been a German name for O?wi?cim, the town by and around which the camps were located; the name "Auschwitz" was made the official name again by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of_Brzezinka_ (= "birch tree"), referred originally to a small Polish village that was destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.
On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 2010 had seen 29 million visitors—1,300,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes free").
At the head of the concentration camp at Auschwitz stood the camp commandant who was responsible for all matters connected with the camp, particularly in relation to the security of the complex.
The camp commandant was at the same time the commander of the SS garrison and the director of the SS economic enterprises.
The first commandant of Concentration Camp Auschwitz was SS-Obersturnbannfuhrer Rudolf
Höss, from 4 May 1940 to 10 November 1943.
The second commandant was SS- Obersturmbannfuhrer Arthur Liebehenschel from 11 November 1943 to 8 May 1944, and the third was SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Richard Baer from 11 May 1944 until the end of the camps existence in January 1945.
Employed in the camp command were the adjutant to the commandant, a staff sergeant and a legal officer. The mail censorship office was also located here.
After the division of the Auschwitz camp into three camps, the commandant’s of Auschwitz ll – Birkenau were SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Fritz Hartjenstein from 22 November 1943 to 8 May 1944 followed by SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Josef Kramer from 8 May 1944 to 25 November 1944.
The commandant of Auschwitz lll – Monowitz was SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinrich Schwarz from 22 November 1943 to the liquidation of the camp in 1945.
The Political Department
This was the representative arm of the RSHA in the camp and was independent of the commandant regarding its decisions as to the fate of prisoners, although it had to inform the commandant of these decisions.
The Political Department was divided into the following sections – registration, reception, registrar’s office, interrogation section, legal section and records division.
The Political Department sphere of activity embraced the following duties:
Keeping files on the prisoners
Correspondence with RSHA , Gestapo and Kripo (Criminal Police) stations
Reception of prisoners transports
Security of the camp including combating Resistance movements
Keeping Registrar’s records
The Political Department was headed by an officer seconded from the Gestapo.
The first head of the Political Department was SS-Untersturmfuhrer Maximilian Grabner.
On 1 December 1943 the post was assumed by SS-Untersturmfuhrer Hans Schurz.
This department was concerned with all matters relating to the direct management of the camp, such as accommodating, feeding and clothing the prisoners, the prisoners labour activities and the maintenance of order in the camp.
The compound head – Schutzlagerfuhrer performed the function of deputy to the commandant, was responsible for reports on the camp complement and for internal order, recommending punishments and was present at executions and when punishments were inflicted.
To help him he had several camp marshals (Rapportfuhrer) who reported to him, block leaders (Blockfuhrer) and SS wardresses (Aufseherinnen) in the women’s camp. One of the most brutal Rapportfuhrer’s was Gerhard Arno Palitzsch, who was responsible for carrying out executions in the courtyard of Block 11.
The chief Lagerfuhrer of the main camp and later of Auschwitz l were in order of appointment:
SS- Haupsturmfuhrer Karl Fritzsch until the end of 1941.
SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Hans Aumeier until 18 August 1943
SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Heinrich Schwarz until 22 November 1943
SS- Obersturmfuhrer Franz Johann Hofmann until June 1944
SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Franz Hössler up to the liquidation and evacuation of the camp January 1945
The chief Lagerfuhrer of the men’s camp at Birkenau was SS-Obersturmfuhrer Johann Schwarzhuber, and the women’s camp from August 1943 to January 1944 Franz Hössler.
In the women’s concentration camp at Birkenau the function of chief supervisor was:
Johanna Langefeld from 26 March to 8 October 1942
Marie Mandel from 8 October 1942 until 25 November 1944
Elisabeth Volkenrath from 25 November 1944 until 18 January 1945
To help her the chief supervisor had supervisors who performed the functions of block leaders and heads of work gangs, corresponding to the functions of the Blockfuhrer in the men’s camp.
Department of Employment
This department was concerned with the employment of prisoners, the organisation of their work, the keeping of registers, the formation of work gangs, calculation of wages for prisoners employed by various enterprises and firms.
The prisoners during their working shifts were guarded by SS men, who were known as Postenfuhrer and Kommandofuhrer.
The tasks of this department included the management of the property of the camp, the supplying of the SS men and prisoners with food and clothing, heating, the maintenance of buildings, including the crematoria and financial matters.
It was in charge of all warehouses, including those containing the effects of the murdered, of the tailoring and repair shops, and also of the motor pool.
Until June 1943 the Administration constituted Department 1V of the camp command, on 1 July 1943 it was made an independent establishment bearing the name of Garrison Administration.
In September 1944 it was renamed the Central Administration of the Waffen SS.
The successive heads of the administration were:
· SS – Hauptsturmfuhrer Rudolf Wagner until the end of 1941
· SS- Sturmbannfuhrer Willi Burger until June 1943
· SS- Obersturmbannfuhrer Karl Mockel from July 1943
The Garrison Doctor
The SS Garrison doctor was responsible for the SS men’s state of health, for providing health care for the prisoners and for all sanitary installations throughout the Auschwitz complex.
The SS garrison doctor was responsible for the medical officers of the SS detachments who were responsible for treating the SS, the camp doctors who were responsible for the health of the prisoners in the camp, SS dentists and the camp pharmacist.
The SS camp doctors had assigned to them trained medical orderlies.
The successive garrison doctors were:
SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer Dr. Max Popiersch until September 1941
SS- Haupsturmfuhrer Dr. Siegfried Schwela to May 1942
SS- Obersturmfuhrer Oskar Dienstbach until August 1942
SS- Haupsturmfuhrer Dr. Kurt Uhlenbrock from 17 August 1942
SS- Obersturmbannfuhrer Dr. Eduard Wirths from 6 September 1942 until 18 January 1945.
A number of doctors carried out selections in the camps and those sick were killed by injections of phenol into the heart.
Selections of the sick were conducted by the SS doctors Freidrich Entress, Erwin von Halmerson, Heinz Thilo, Edmund Konig, Josef Mengele and Bruno Kitt
The phenol injections were usually administered by the SS orderlies Josef Klehr and Herbert Scherpe, in Block 20 in the main camp.
The Agricultural Department
The agricultural department was responsible for the development of farming and stockbreeding and also with research into experimental plant stations.
The agricultural department was managed by SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Caesar
Central Construction Board
The Central Construction Board of the Waffen SS and Police at Auschwitz was directly subordinated to WVHA and was concerned with the planning, construction and extension of the Auschwitz camps and extermination facilities.
It was managed by SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Karl Bischoff and in 1944 by SS-Obersturmfuhrer Werner Jothann.
Robert Mulka was born on the 12 April 1895 in Hamburg, Germany: the son of a postal employee. After completing_Realschule_ and a year of army service he served an apprenticeship in a business firm. In August 1914 he volunteered for the army that fought in World War One, serving in France, Russia and Turkey, and he rose to the rank of lieutenant.
After the war ended in November 1918, he joined the Baltic Guard, a right-wing paramilitary force, “to prevent the advance of Bolshevism in the West.” He returned to Hamburg in 1920, returning to the business community, that same year the Hamburg District Court sentenced him to eight months imprisonment and two years loss of civil rights for failing to account for funds confiscated by him in the Baltic, a charge Mulka fiercely contested.
In 1931, he founded his own import –export business whilst remaining a reserve officer, taking part in manoeuvres, he was promoted to first lieutenant, but after his conviction, he was expelled from the army reserve. Mulka joined the_Waffen- SS_ and he was assigned to serve in Auschwitz concentration camp at the beginning of 1942, where so he was told, “a large prison camp with a farm had to be supervised.”
In May 1942 he became Commandant Hoess’s adjutant and he was arrested in March 1943 for making a critical remark about a speech made by Dr Paul Josef Goebbles, the Propaganda Minister, but was released a short time later and the proceedings against him dropped. He returned to Hamburg on leave, and when the Allies commenced their bombing campaign he volunteered for the SS North Sea command. In early 1944, he was transferred to an SS engineer school near Prague.
Mulka became ill and once more he was granted home leave, and he returned to Hamburg, where he stayed until the Nazis capitulated in May 1945. Between the 8 June 1945 and the 28 March 1948 he was interned in various camps, such as, Iserbrook, Neumunster, Eselheide/ Paderborn, as well as in the War Criminal camps at Fischbek and Neuengamme.
A Hamburg de-Nazification chamber sentenced him to eighteen months imprisonment, “for familiarity with the events in Auschwitz,” but the sentence was reviewed and Mulka was put into Category V, which allowed him a free access to employment without restrictions.
Mulka was married, the father of a son and daughter, another son died during the Second World War, and when the Auschwitz trial started in December 1963 worked for an export firm founded by him and since transferred to his son.
At his trial in Frankfurt, Mulka claimed he knew nothing about the fact that many prisoners seemed to be dying and of course he issued no orders that had any connection to the murder or death of Jews or Gypsies at Auschwitz.
He claimed that the atmosphere at Aushwitz disgusted him stating things that occurred there shocked him from the very beginning. When asked what specifically shocked him he mentioned the striped cloths of the prisoners.
"Just the striped clothes?" the judge asked.
"The SS men in Auschwitz had no class, no style" he replied.
When questioned about his role as second in command of the camp in 1942 he stated he worried a lot about whether or not the camp could afford some entertainers he wished to bring in.
When questioned about the gassing of Jews he stated:
"Gas chambers? Yes I had heard something about gas chambers through the grapevine, overtime word of this got around. I wondered about the red glow and smoke and the rumours that these were the fires burning in the crematorium."
When pressured as to why he didn't investigate further or perhaps inquire further her stated:
Who was I to ask? No one would answer such questions, and Hoess was an Opaque man" he did admit that there were some general instructions regarding the "special treatment" and disinfection of "asocial and undesirable elements" but these were only vague details and of course they bypassed his department.
When confronted with orders regarding treatment of Jews, and the procurement documents for the gas Zyklon B and the construction orders for gas ovens that he himself had signed personally, he offered no response.
Nor did he have much to add in regards to his notification dispatches relating to to the imminent arrival of transports from Hungary who would later be gassed at Birkenau. Instead he maintained that his role was purely administrative and he had never mistreated anyone during his time at Aushwitz.
However, Alexander Princz, a deliverty coachman who visited all the camps, testified about an incident involving Mulka:
“There is something else about the commandant who substituted for Hoess. There was a wooden bridge between Auschwitz and Birkenau. There were three of us drivers, and an SS man accompanying us.
About 1,000 feet before the bridge Mulka overtook us in the commandant’s car and 300 feet in front of us he stopped before two SS men and two prisoners. Mulka asked, “Whats that?”
They got hold of this, one of the SS men said and showed him something. The prisoners had already been beaten and were covered with blood, and Mulka shouted: “Shoot the dogs.”
One hadn’t been fatally wounded and tried to get up again. Whereupon Mulka pulled out his pistol and himself shot him again. He rode off and we had to take the bodies to Birkenau.
Judge Hofmeyer asks the defendants to line up in front of the judge’s bench for a confrontation with the witness.
“Which of them was the man?” the Judge asks the witness.
Princz identifies Broad, Bednarek, Boger and Kaduk. He walks by the defendants three or four times, then stops in front of Mulka and says: “This is he,” in front of Stark he says: “Him I know also.”
Robert Mulka, former SS- Hauptsturmfuhrer, was found guilty at the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt –am –Main of complicity in the murder of 750 persons each on at least four separate occasions, and was sentenced to a total of 14 years imprisonment at hard labour.
Oswald Kaduk was born on the 26 August 1906 in Konigshutte, Upper Silesia, the son of a blacksmith. He had five brothers all of whom were killed in the Second World War.
Oswald Kaduk attended public school in Konigshutte and subsequently became a butcher. For a year and a half he worked in the municipal slaughterhouse of his home town.
In 1927 after a brief period of unemployment he became a member of the municipal fire department of Konigshutte, where he remained until being called –up after having volunteered to serve in the Waffen-SS, in the spring of 1940.
In 1942, after a fairly long illness, he was transferred to the guard detachment of the _Auschwitz_Concentration Camp. His first assignment in the camp was that of “block leader” – he said, “he only saw to quiet, order and discipline.”
Later he became leader of a work detail, he admitted at his pre-trial examination before the Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt –am- Main that he was present at the selections on the ramp, however he claimed never to have selected victims for the gas chambers from the incoming transports.
On the 20 April 1943 Roll Call Leader (Rapportfuhrer) Oswald Kaduk is among thirty-two members of the Guard Storm troopers that were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Second Class with swords.
Milton Buky was deported to Auschwitz in December 1942 and he testified at the Auschwitz trial:
“The chosen victims were brought to the two former farm buildings in trucks and had to undress and get on line. Kaduk gave the orders, Moll only sometimes. The people were driven into the gas chambers with dogs.
They didn’t all go in always. Either they didn’t want to, or sometimes there were too many. Those who stayed outside were shot, in their clothes.
**Judge Hofmeyer: **"Who did that_?"_
“Mostly Kaduk." At first it was difficult to watch this, but later I got used to the sight. The procedure was repeated frequently, and there were always more and more people, primarily the aged and the sick.
A man inserted the Zyklon, also a car with a red cross always stood by. At first I assumed that the Red Cross truck came to look after the sick.”
**Judge Hofmeyer: **“Kaduk has been telling us that he had never gone to Birkenau.”
Witness: “That’s a lie! “Kaduk divided the members of the special detail into groups, Group 1 was the gas mask group that pulled the bodies out of the huts. Group 2 dragged them to the lorries. Group 3 loaded them on the trucks and Group 4 brought them to the incineration pits.
The bones that remained were chopped up and thrown into the water. In this connection the witness accuses Kaduk of the murder of a ten or eleven year old boy, “Kaduk took him by the hand, calmed him down, led him to a ditch and shot him.”
In a later interview Kaduk admitted to witnessing the gassing operation and made this statement:
"It's hard for me to say. But I have personally seen it. Only the doctors gave the orders to insert the gas. I have even seen SS men who were supposed to be involved in gassing operations cry.
And to them, the then doctor, Dr. Mengele said, 'You have to do it'. He said... I can remember Theuer well. I knew him from... was my fellow countryman, been a young man. And he said, 'You have to do it.' He did it, with tears in his eyes.
He inserted it and immediately shut the hatch. I was there."
He remained at Auschwitz – Birkenau until its evacuation in January 1945, Kaduk claimed, he walked to Mauthausen by foot.
Heinrich Durmeyer, one of the last group elders at the Auschwitz main camp said of Kaduk:
"Kaduk was an especially cruel SS man because he was an ethnic German, and felt he needed to prove he was just as tough as those who lived in Germany their whole lives. The other SS called him a Wasser-Pollak a disrespectful phrase for those Polish speaking Volksdeutsche from upper Silesia.
He was an unpredictable in his actions but because he felt inferior and had to prove himself to the others, he killed whenever he had the chance and he drank more schnapps than water."
After the end of the war he assumed a false identity working in a sugar refinery in Lobau. In December 1946 he was arrested by the Soviet Military Police, a former inmate had identified him.
On 24 March 1947 he was sentenced to death, by a Soviet military tribunal for membership in the SS and belonging to criminal organisations. The death penalty was subsequently commuted to twenty-five years in prison.
He was released from Bautzen prison, in the former East Germany on the 26 April 1956, he then moved to West Berlin where he worked as a male nurse, his patients called him “Papa Kaduk.”
In July 1959 Kaduk was again arrested, and appeared in the Auschwitz Trials in Frankfurt where he was one of the main accused. On August 19 1965 the court sentenced him to life imprisonment for murder in ten cases, and joint murder in at least one thousand cases.
At the trial testimony was given that in the late summer 1944 a prisoner was missing for the evening roll call, the other prisoners were forced to remain standing a camp wide search was conducted lasting several hours. When the missing man was found asleep, and brought back to the roll call, his punishment began.
Kaduk and another SS man leader hit the prisoner in such a way that he fell several times to the ground. After several such blows the prisoner remained lying on the back barely moving, but clearly still alive. Kaduk then proceeded to step on his thorax cracking four of his ribs with an audible snapping sound and which inevitably killed him.
As if to ensure that the testimony was correct was more relevant than the death of the prisoner.However, due to the gravity of Kaduk's deeds, the responsible Spruchkammern rejected his various pleas for clemency.
One charge against him was that he enjoyed breaking the necks of elderly prisoners by standing on a walking stick placed against their necks.
While in prison, Kaduk was interviewed as part of a TV documentary about SS men stationed at Auschwitz. When asked about Holocaust denial, Kaduk said:
"I have to say, I do not consider these people normal. We have to stick to the truth. There are people denying it, but what happened, happened, and it is not up for dispute."
After the 1984 shift to the Offener Vollzug, Kaduk was released from the Schwalmstadt prison in 1989 due to health reasons. He died in Langelsheim-Lautenthal, Harz, as a pensioner in 1997, at the age of 91.
Wilhelm Boger was born on the 19 December 1906 in Stuttgart- Zuffenhausen, the son of a local merchant who did not enjoy the best of reputations. Boger joined the National Socialist youth movement (later called the Hitler Youth) in 1922. Boger later recalled, “I was an old-timer in the Nazi movement.”
In the summer of 1925, after nine years of schooling and a three year apprenticeship in a business firm, he obtained a clerical job with the Stuttgart district office of the National German Commercial Employees Association.
Boger joined both the Nazi Party and the SA in 1929. Until the end of 1929 he was also a member of the Artaman League, an organisation that wished to substitute voluntary agricultural service for universal military service.
In the years following, Boger worked for a number of private business firms in Stuttgart, Dresden and Friedrichschafen. In 1930, while in Dresden he joined the SS.
Boger lost his job in the spring of 1932, a year later on 5 March 1933, as a member of the SS, he was called for duty in the auxiliary police of Friedrichschafen.
On 1 July 1933 he was transferred to the Stuttgart political emergency police corps and after another six weeks to the Württemberg political police, also at Stuttgart and in October 1933 to the offices of the Friedrichschafen political police.
He attended the police training school at Stuttgart between autumn 1936 and spring 1937, took the criminal police candidate examination and was appointed _Kommissar _in March 1937.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he was transferred to the state police office at Zichenau; after three weeks he was put in charge of setting up and supervising the border police station in Ostrolenka.
After a spell in a Gestapo prison in 1940 he was called up to the 2nd SS and Police Engineer reserve unit based in Dresden. After a brief training period, he was sent to the front and in March 1942 he was wounded.
In December 1942 he was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Boger served as an SS Staff Sergeant in the Political Department, this department was the representative of the RSHA in the camp and its chief responsibilities was keeping files on individual prisoners, the reception of prisoners, maintaining the security of the camp, combating resistance and conducting interrogations etc.
It was Wilhelm Boger who invented the “Boger swing” an instrument of torture which consisted of two upright beams, in which an iron pole was laid crosswise. Boger made the victim kneel, placed the iron pole across the backs of the knees, and then chained the victim’s hands to it.
Then he fastened the iron pole to the beams so that the victim hung with their head down and their buttocks up. In this way Boger wrung confessions out of his victims.
Josef Kral a Polish citizen arrested on 4 February 1940 in Vienna, was deported to Auschwitz in June 1941, and was interrogated by the Political Department in December 1942. He recalled at the Auschwitz trial in 1965:
“At first I didn’t know what it was all about. I was arrested in the basement of Block 17, a new building, brought to the Political Section, and left standing there in a hall.
I was taken into a room by Untersturmfuhrer Wosnitza and Grabner said, “At last we’ve got you. We’ll talk to you.” I saw Kirchner, Boger, Dylewski, and other SS men in the room.
They said, “We are not the Gestapo, we are not the criminal police, we are the Political Section. We don’t ask - we only listen. You yourself must know what you have to tell us.” At a signal from Grabner somebody knocked me unconscious.
At that point I saw Boger standing next to me. When I came to again I was lying in the hall. My ankles hurt badly, as if someone had kicked me. When I opened my eyes I saw Boger standing next to me. Later I was again interrogated together with my comrades in the presence of Security Service men from Berlin. Boger interrogated and mistreated the prisoners till they died.
First Janicki was put on the swing, and tied hand and foot. One SS man put him into proper positions and two others alternated hitting him. They simply made mincemeat out of Janicki. He was torn to bits.
Afterwards Boger threw him out into the corridor. After a while he moved his lips, it was obviously that he was thirsty, because he stuck out his tongue all the way. Boger went over to him and pushed his head around with his boot.”
Boger remained at Auschwitz until its evacuation, when he accompanied prisoners, when he accompanied prisoners being transported to Germany. Toward the end of the war he was to have gone to the front from Ravensbruck, but his unit disintegrated, and he succeeded in making his way to his parent’s home in Ludwigsburg.
On the 19 June 1945 he was arrested by the American Military police. He was to have been extradited to Poland on the 22 November 1946, but he managed to escape at Cham, which probably saved him from execution in Poland.
For about three years he lived in the vicinity of Crailsheim under an assumed name. In 1950 he took a job at an airplane factory in Zuffenhausen. On the 8 October 1958 he was arrested and charged with complicity in the crimes of Auschwitz.
Boger and nineteen other former members of the Auschwitz –Birkenau garrison were tried before a court in Frankfurt –am – Main 1964/65, the so-called Auschwitz Trial.
Frau Braun a witnesses for the prosecution against Boger had the following to say after the trial:
"I almost fainted the first time she entered the courtroom and saw Wilhelm Boger himself. During the questions meant to establish his identity, I came close to utter collapse, having to face this now old man in civilian clothes, who stared into me eyes with cold rage."
Frau Braun had been his private secretary and stenographer chosen to observe daily and take notes while he “interrogated” prisoners. SIt was her job to sit beside Boger daily, attending him not only in his office, but in that “chamber,” as we would term the place of torture.
Not all testimony at Bogers trial was as cut and dried, sever judges acknowledged that "the possibilities of verifying the witness declarations were very limited." This situation was underscored during the trial when former inmate Rudolf Kauer suddenly repudiated earlier statements about his one-time SS masters.
In pre-trial interrogation he claimed to have seen defendant Wilhelm Boger brutally beat a naked Polish woman with a horse whip, ripping off one breast and flooding a room with blood.
When asked to repeat his statement in court, Kauer admitted:
"I lied about that. That was just a yarn going around the camp. I never saw it ..."
Another claim that Boger had smashed an infant's skull against a tree trunk was also not true, he claimed. Although Boger was not liked, Kauer told the court, he was actually a just SS man.
The court did not agree with Kauers claims and Boger was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life and an additional five years hard labour.
“They arrested people simply because they were born Jewish—That French people should do that is still beyond me, even 60 years later.” – Michel Muller
Jews from France who were non-French citizens were the first Jews to arrive at Auschwitz from Western Europe. Relatively few German soldiers were in France, and those who were there had an easier time than the soldiers fighting against the Russians in the East. France had been divided into two zones—only one of which was occupied by Germany, but the French largely administered both zones.
The only way Nazis could get Jews out of France was with the help of French authorities.
Although the Nazis wanted the French to turn over all Jews, the French agreed at first to round up only Jews with foreign citizenship, many of whom were in France because they had fled the Nazis in other countries.
The first roundup took place in July 1942. In an early morning visit, in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris, French Police knocked on the door of the Mullers—Jews originally from Poland.
Annette and Michel Muller, children at the time, describe what happened:
Survivor of French deportations from Paris
“In the morning we were very violently woken by knocks on the door and I saw my mother on her knees on the ground, with her arms around the legs of two policemen. She was screaming and crying, and I saw the policemen, well the Inspectors, who were pushing her back with their feet saying, ‘Hurry up. Hurry up. Don’t make us waste our time.”
“I remember we were a bit frightened because it was so early in the morning. They told us to take three days worth of food. I seem to remember they said for three days. But that didn’t worry me. It wasn’t so much that I trusted my country’s police but rather that I completely trusted my mother.”
– Michel Muller, Survivor of French deportations from Paris
Since the Nazis’ greatest need was for Jewish adults who could work, Michel and Annette Muller were separated from their mother. Along with 4,000 other children, they were sent to a makeshift camp in the suburbs of Paris. It was called Drancy.
“My mother was in the first row of the women and she signalled to us with her eyes. Michel was crying. That’s the last image I have of my mother because then they took the women away and we children were left alone.”
– Annette Muller, survivor
Within a short time, all the children at Drancy were packed into freight trains and sent east. Michel and Annette Muller, however, were spared the journey because their father bribed French officials for their release.
The journey for the parentless children lasted two days and nights before it ended at Auschwitz. They were then taken from the train ramp to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were murdered with the poisonous insecticide Zyklon B. None of the children sent from Drancy survived.
More than 4,000 children were sent from France to Auschwitz, and every one of them was murdered.
During 1942 about 200,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz from all over Europe— France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Czech lands, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. About 70 percent of them were murdered immediately upon arrival.
Oskar Gröning’s job at Auschwitz was to count the money stolen from the arriving inmates and to arrange its transfer to Berlin. Though the Final Solution was ideologically motivated, the Nazis were well aware they could benefit financially from its implementation.
"In my job as administrator of these foreign currencies, I saw practically all the currencies of the world. Believe it or not, I saw them from the Italian lira to Spanish pesetas, to Hungarian and Mexican currencies, from dollars to the English pound."
In July 1942 Heinrich Himmler again visited Auschwitz. There were approximately 30,000 inmates there at the time, most of them Jews and Polish political prisoners. He inspected the main camp, the expansion at Birkenau, and the synthetic rubber factory being built in nearby Monowitz. Himmler also witnessed the gassing of Jews, and he promoted Rudolf Höss, Auschwitz’s commandant, to SS Lieutenant Colonel.
“I’ll never forget what I saw. Those little children, those people. What did they ever do to anyone? It was a terrible thing.”
– Eugenia Samuel, Treblinka Villager
Sixty miles northeast of Warsaw, the SS built a death factory called Treblinka. Unlike Auschwitz, its only purpose was to kill people. Ultimately, about 800,000 Jews, many of them deportees from the Warsaw ghetto, were gassed or shot there. It was second only to Auschwitz as the most murderous place in the Nazi state. A clearing in a forest and memorial stones are all that is left of it today.
At Auschwitz, Commandant Höss was facing the difficult problem of disposing of thousands of bodies. At first, they were buried in a large field, but the graves could not be dug deep enough and the bodies putrefied in the summer heat. Jewish prisoners, such as Otto Pressburger, were ordered to exhume them:
“We had to dig the bodies out and burn them. A big fire was made here with wood and petrol and we were throwing them right into it. There were always two of us throwing the bodies in, one holding the legs and one on the arms. The smell and the stench was terrible. The bodies were not only bloody but rotten as well. We were given some rags to put over our faces.
“The SS men were constantly drinking vodka or cognac or something else from their bottles. They couldn’t cope with it either. It was terrible.
– Otto Pressburger, Auschwitz survivor
To deal with Auschwitz’s body disposal problem, Rudolf Höss journeyed in September 1942 to a remote area of Poland near the small village of Chelmno. He wanted to talk with SS Colonel Paul Blobel, an expert in remains disposal, who had been experimenting with a new type of field cremation unit.
New field cremation units helped the Nazis get rid of large numbers of bodies (graphic reconstruction).
The units were large fire pits with grates at the bottom on which to stack alternate layers of bodies and wood. Gasoline was used to start the fires. On the whole, the new installations worked very well, allowing the Nazis to dispose of large quantities of bodies.
Meanwhile, architects at Auschwitz were changing the plans of basement mortuaries that were part of new crematoria to be built at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The changes included the removal of a chute designed to slide bodies into the basement. Instead steps were added so that living people could descend into the morgue. Next, the doors into the large basement mortuaries were reformed as single, gas-tight, reinforced doors with a peep-hole.
When these buildings opened in spring 1943, the basement mortuaries had become gas chambers.
Oskar Gröning’s job at Auschwitz was to count the money stolen from the arriving inmates and to arrange its transfer to Berlin. Though the Final Solution was ideologically motivated, the Nazis were well aware they could benefit financially from its implementation.
"In my job as administrator of these foreign currencies, I saw practically all the currencies of the world. Believe it or not, I saw them from the Italian lira to Spanish pesetas, to Hungarian and Mexican currencies, from dollars to the English pound."
In July 1942 Heinrich Himmler again visited Auschwitz. There were approximately 30,000 inmates there at the time, most of them Jews and Polish political prisoners. He inspected the main camp, the expansion at Birkenau, and the synthetic rubber factory being built in nearby Monowitz. Himmler also witnessed the gassing of Jews, and he promoted Rudolf Höss, Auschwitz’s commandant, to SS Lieutenant Colonel.
“I’ll never forget what I saw. Those little children, those people. What did they ever do to anyone? It was a terrible thing.”
– Eugenia Samuel, Treblinka Villager
Sixty miles northeast of Warsaw, the SS built a death factory called Treblinka. Unlike Auschwitz, its only purpose was to kill people. Ultimately, about 800,000 Jews, many of them deportees from the Warsaw ghetto, were gassed or shot there. It was second only to Auschwitz as the most murderous place in the Nazi state. A clearing in a forest and memorial stones are all that is left of it today.
At Auschwitz, Commandant Höss was facing the difficult problem of disposing of thousands of bodies. At first, they were buried in a large field, but the graves could not be dug deep enough and the bodies putrefied in the summer heat. Jewish prisoners, such as Otto Pressburger, were ordered to exhume them:
“We had to dig the bodies out and burn them. A big fire was made here with wood and petrol and we were throwing them right into it. There were always two of us throwing the bodies in, one holding the legs and one on the arms. The smell and the stench was terrible. The bodies were not only bloody but rotten as well. We were given some rags to put over our faces.
“The SS men were constantly drinking vodka or cognac or something else from their bottles. They couldn’t cope with it either. It was terrible.
– Otto Pressburger, Auschwitz survivor
To deal with Auschwitz’s body disposal problem, Rudolf Höss journeyed in September 1942 to a remote area of Poland near the small village of Chelmno. He wanted to talk with SS Colonel Paul Blobel, an expert in remains disposal, who had been experimenting with a new type of field cremation unit.
New field cremation units helped the Nazis get rid of large numbers of bodies (graphic reconstruction).
The units were large fire pits with grates at the bottom on which to stack alternate layers of bodies and wood. Gasoline was used to start the fires. On the whole, the new installations worked very well, allowing the Nazis to dispose of large quantities of bodies.
Meanwhile, architects at Auschwitz were changing the plans of basement mortuaries that were part of new crematoria to be built at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The changes included the removal of a chute designed to slide bodies into the basement. Instead steps were added so that living people could descend into the morgue. Next, the doors into the large basement mortuaries were reformed as single, gas-tight, reinforced doors with a peep-hole.
When these buildings opened in spring 1943, the basement mortuaries had become gas chambers.
The origins of the camp can be dated to early 1940, when the SS sent a commission to the Polish town of Oswiecim (German: Auschwitz) to determine whether a set of barracks that had been constructed outside the town during WW1, and that between the wars had been used by the Polish military, could be used as a concentration camp.
Although the initial report was negative, a later inspection determined that the change of use would be possible after some construction works. Another commission, headed by SS-HauptsturmführerRudolf Höß, visited Auschwitz on 18-19 April 1940. Höß' report seems to have carried the most weight, for on 27 April 1940 Reichsführer-SSHeinrich Himmler ordered the establishment of a concentration camp in Auschwitz and on 4 May appointed Rudolf Höß as its commandant.
The National Origins of Auschwitz Victims Auschwitz was originally intended to serve as a concentration camp and a place of slow death for Polish political prisoners and other Poles. In later years, it gradually became the main centre for the systematic murder of those the Nazis considered human vermin, namely Jews and Roma. The Nazis' pseudoscientific theories on the superiority of the Aryan race condemned more than one million people to die in this place alone.
**Auschwitz I ******* Auschwitz I and II The first prisoners to be sent to Auschwitz, a group of 728 Polish political prisoners (including some Jews), arrived in Auschwitz from Tarnowon 14 June 1940. The first large group sent to Auschwitz from outside Poland was a transport of Czechs. This was in June 1941. Soviet prisoners of war started arriving a month later (immediately after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union), and groups from Yugoslavia in September 1941 - initially men, but by July 1942 women as well. Among the latter were uniformed women partisans who demanded to be treated as prisoners of war and refused to have their heads shaved. Within a few months of the "Wannsee Conference" in January 1942, where the method by which the Jews of Europe were to be murdered was discussed and agreed ("Final Solution of the Jewish Question"), Auschwitz became one of the main camps to which Jews were to be sent for extermination. The first known transport, composed entirely of Jews, arrived the very next month, and such transports continued to arrive from all over occupied Europe until November 1944. In September 1942 Rudolf Höß visited Treblinka and Chelmno (Chelmno nad Nerem / German:Kulmhof) to witness the gassing operations, as these differed from those used at Auschwitz. In his memoirs, Höß stated that the methods used at Treblinka and Chelmno were primitive, and in his opinion, inferior to those of his own camp. In 1943 the Nazis started to murder Romany at Auschwitz, brought there for this purpose, initially from occupied Poland (starting in February 1943) and later from other countries, primarily the Reich and Bohemia and Moravia.
The Auschwitz Complex **Auschwitz III - Monowitz *** Expanding Auschwitz's capacity, both to murder Jews and to assist in the Nazis' war effort through the use of slave labour, was of paramount importance. In 1940 Auschwitz I had 20 buildings. By 1942 there were 28 buildings, all of which had two storeys. Work commenced in 1942 on building Auschwitz-Birkenau, which could accommodate 200,000 people. Birkenau is 2 miles away from Auschwitz I. An additional satellite camp (Auschwitz III), the first of a series of forced labour camps, was opened as part of the construction of a massive synthetic oil and rubber factory, known as Buna Monowitz. Thus the three main Auschwitz camps became one huge extermination complex, eventually to encompass not only gas chambers and the camps themselves, but also 45 sub-camps, factories, and mines in Upper Silesia and the Sudetenland.
Arrival at Auschwitz Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Arrival at the Ramp Höß Telex People were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau bytrains, from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. They were generally sent in freight cars or cattle trucks. Often they travelled for days without toilet facilities and with nothing to eat or drink. Originally, the railway cars arrived at the old ramp ofBirkenau, 1 km southeast of the entrance gate. FromMay 1944 they continued into Auschwitz II (Birkenau / Brzezinka) itself, along a specially constructed spur. The majority of the people, sent in these transports, were murdered in gas chambers directly on arrival. Their names never appeared in the camp records, so that it is very difficult to determine precisely how many perished from these transports. Those the SS deemed fit for work were not murdered immediately but were used as slave labourers. They were given striped prison clothing and a prisoner number. From1943, most prisoners (though never Germans, unless they were Jewish) were tattooed with their numbers, generally on the left forearm. In all, more than 400,000 people, members of all national and ethnic groups, were allocated numbers. Of these, about one half died. Few lived longer than six months: they died from starvation, disease, the rigours of hard labour, beatings, torture, and summary execution - by shooting, hanging or gassing.
Conditions in Auschwitz
Prisoners in Auschwitz I were initially housed in one-storey brick barracks, formerly used by the Polish Army for stabling horses. When the number of inmates increased, a second storey was added to each barrack. At first the prisoners slept on the floor: later two and three tier bunk beds were installed. Auschwitz I was a concentration camp, with a regime similar to other camps of that kind. Amongst other "privileges", the inmates were allowed to use the camp's **postal service. **
Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was a hybrid. Principally an extermination camp, it also served as a concentration camp. Here the prisoners were housed in wooden or brick huts. The wooden huts were based on the design for SS stables, and as many as 800 prisoners were sometimes crowded into a space designed for fifty-two horses. Lavatories were extremely primitive and few in number. Prisoners had very limited time to relieve themselves. Washing facilities were likewise, grossly insufficient.
Hungarian Jews on their way to the gas chambers
"Work" meant slave labour in factories, mines, farming operations, and construction. Even the heaviest tasks, such as excavation and earth moving, generally had to be undertaken without equipment. Although prisoners were quite literally starving, they were often forced to carry bricks or push barrows at a run. Any attempt to rest was punished by transfer to special penal units where conditions were so very bad that few who experienced them survived. Upon return to the camp after work a roll call was held. After the roll call, prisoners received a meal which consisted of a small piece of bread (300 grams), some lard or margarine, and occasionally about 100 grams of salted pork. Prisoners who had missed the noon meal because they had been working outside the camp were given a soup as well, usually turnip or cabbage soup, but as it had been poured out at noon it was a cold and tasteless pulp by the evening.
Prisoners were totally at the mercy of the SS and could be sadistically punished at any time for infringement of the arbitrary camp rules. The usual punishment for infringements of this kind was twenty-five or more lashes with a whip. Prisoners working in the labour camp were always subject to summary execution.
The principal sites in Auschwitz I where executions were carried out, were in the cells of Block 11 and the courtyard between Blocks 10 and 11 ("The Death Wall"). Political prisoners of the Gestapo were also sent here from Katowice for execution. Gerhard Palitzsch was the sadistic chief executioner. Maximilian Grabner, director of the Political Department, was another prominent figure in these "clean-ups". In addition, a portable gallows, which generally stood in the courtyard of Block 11, was carried out to the roll-call square for public executions. Phenol injections to the heart were another common method of execution in Auschwitz.
The first gassing in Auschwitz took place in the cellars of Block 11 at theend of August 1941, conducted by SS-HauptsturmführerKarl Fritzsch, who used Zyklon B gas to kill Soviet prisoners of war. Following this, 600 Soviet POWs and 250 Polish prisoners were gassed on3 September 1941, in the cellars of Block 11. In autumn 1941 the mortuary of Auschwitz I was converted into a gas chamber. This first Auschwitz gas chamber was in use until July 1943. Later two additional gas chambers were put into operation, using converted farmhouses in Birkenau. The first, known as the "Red House" (also "Bunker I"), was so called because of its red brick structure.
The first transport to be gassed in "Bunker I" was from Beuthen, murdered on 15 February 1942. The second, known as the "White House" (also "Bunker II"), was another whitewashed farmhouse, hence its name. "Bunker I" was divided into two gas chambers, "Bunker II" into four. Initially buried in mass graves, fromSeptember 1942 the corpses of those gassed in these bunkers were exhumed and cremated. By late November 1942 over 100,000 bodies had been burned. "Bunker I" was dismantled in spring 1943. "Bunker II" ceased operating at the same time, but the bunker itself was left intact, to be brought into operation again in May 1944 during the extermination of the Jews of Hungary. It remained operative until November 1944, when all gassing was discontinued.
Crematorium IVCrematorium II
Between March and June 1943, four very large gas chambers with adjacent crematoria were activated atBirkenau (Crematorium "II", "III", "IV" and "V"). Crematoria II and III were identical, with undressing rooms and gas chambers beneath ground level. Crematoria IV and V were also of identical construction, but with undressing, gassing and cremation carried out at ground level. Their principal victims were Jews, transported to Auschwitz from all over Europe. The pace of the murders reached an apogee in the summer of 1944, when more than 400,000 Jews were transported from Hungary, over a period of two months. Most of the deportees (especially the elderly, babies and children) were gassed immediately upon arrival, following selection by doctors, such as Mengele and Thilo. As mentioned earlier, in order to speed up the killings, a spur from the main railway line was extended directly into the camp, stopping short of crematoria II and III. The gassing was carried out using Zyklon B (prussic acid) in pellets. In crematoria II and III the gas was poured through vents in the roof directly into the gas chambers, in crematoria IV and V from apertures at the side of the buildings. Sonderkommando testimonies state that victims with whom the crematoria could not cope, were burned in the open air. Sometimes people were pushed into the flames whilst still alive.
Established in March 1933, the Dachau concentration camp was the first regular concentration camp established by the Nazis inGermany. The camp was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, which is located in southern Germany. Heinrich Himmler, in his capacity as police president of Munich, officially described the camp as “the first concentration camp for political prisoners.”
Dachau served as a prototype and model for other Nazi concentration camps that followed. Its basic organization, camp layout as well as the plan for the buildings were developed by Kommandant Theodor Eicke and were applied to all later camps. He had a separate secure camp near the command center, which consisted of living quarters, administration, and army camps. Eicke himself became the chief inspector for all concentration camps, responsible for molding the others according to his model.
During the first year, the camp held about 4,800 prisoners and by 1937 the number had risen to 13,260. Initially the internees consisted primarily of German Communists, Social Democrats, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and homosexuals, as well as “asocials” and repeat criminals. During the early years relatively few Jews were interned in Dachau and usually because they belonged to one of the above groups or had completed prison sentences after being convicted for violating the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.
The main gate leading to the Dachau concentration camp.
In early 1937, the SS, using prisoner labor, initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. Prisoners were forced to do this work, starting with the destruction of the old munitions factory, under terrible conditions. The construction was officially completed in mid-August 1938 and the camp remained essentially unchanged until 1945. Dachau thus remained in operation for the entire period of the Third Reich. The area in Dachau included other SS facilities beside the concentration camp—a leader school of the economic and civil service, the medical school of the SS, etc. The KZ (Konzentrationslager) at that time was called a “protective custody camp,” and occupied less than half of the area of the entire complex.
The number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau rose with the increased persecution of Jews and on November 10-11, 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, more than 10,000 Jewish men were interned there. (Most of men in this group were released after incarceration of a few weeks to a few months.)
The Dachau camp was a training center for SS concentration camp guards, and the camp’s organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps. The camp was divided into two sections — the camp area and the crematoria area. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. The camp administration was located in the gatehouse at the main entrance. The camp area had a group of support buildings, containing the kitchen, laundry, showers, and workshops, as well as a prison block (Bunker). The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp.
In 1942, the crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp. It included the old crematorium and the new crematorium (Barrack X) with a gas chamber. There is no credible evidence that the gas chamber in Barrack X was used to murder human beings. Instead, prisoners underwent “selection”; those who were judged too sick or weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim “euthanasia” killing center near Linz, Austria. Several thousand Dachau prisoners were murdered at Hartheim. Further, the SS used the firing range and the gallows in the crematoria area as killing sites for prisoners.
In Dachau, as in other Nazi camps, German physicians performed medical experiments on prisoners, including high-altitude experiments using a decompression chamber, malaria and tuberculosis experiments, hypothermia experiments, and experiments testing new medications. Prisoners were also forced to test methods of making seawater potable and of halting excessive bleeding. Hundreds of prisoners died or were permanently crippled as a result of these experiments.
Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers. At first, they were employed in the operation of the camp, in various construction projects, and in small handicraft industries established in the camp. Prisoners built roads, worked in gravel pits, and drained marshes. During the war, forced labor utilizing concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important to German armaments production.
Dachau also served as the central camp for Christian religious prisoners. According to records of the Roman Catholic Church, at least 3,000 religious, deacons, priests, and bishops were imprisoned there.
In August 1944 a women’s camp opened inside Dachau. Its first shipment of women came from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Only 19 women guards served at Dachau, most of them until liberation.
The prisoner's barracks at Dachau in 1945.
In the last months of the war, the conditions at Dachau became even worse. As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners in concentration camps near the front to more centrally located camps. They hoped to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau. After days of travel with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient provisions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.
Owing to continual new transportations from the front, the camp was constantly overcrowded and the hygiene conditions were beneath human dignity. Starting from the end of 1944 up to the day of liberation, 15,000 people died, about half of all victims in KZ Dachau. Five hundred Soviet POWs were executed by firing squad.
In the summer and fall of 1944, to increase war production, satellite camps under the administration of Dachau were established near armaments factories throughout southern Germany. Dachau alone had more than 30 large subcamps in which over 30,000 prisoners worked almost exclusively on armaments. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death.
SS-Oberführer Heinrich Deubel (01/12/1934 - 03/31/1936)
SS-Oberführer Hans Loritz (03/31/1936 - 01/07/1939)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Alex Piorkowski (01/07/1939 - 01/02/1942)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (01/03/1942 - 09/30/1943)
SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Weiter (09/30/1943 - 04/26/1945)
SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiss (04/26/1945 - 04/28/1945)
SS-Untersturmführer Johannes Otto (04/28/1945 - 04/28/1945)
SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker (04/28/1945 - 04/29/1945)
The Liberation of Dachau
As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to more prisoners from concentration camps near the front to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of conditions. After days of travel, with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.
On April 26, 1945, as American forces approached, there were 67,665 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps. Of these, 43,350 were categorized as political prisoners, while 22,100 were Jews, with the remainder falling into various other categories. Starting that day, the Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee far to the south. During the death march, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion.
On April 29, 1945 KZ Dachau was surrendered to the American Army by SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker. A vivid description of the surrender appears in Brig. Gen. Henning Linden’s official “Report on Surrender of Dachau Concentration Camp”:
As we moved down along the west side of the concentration camp and approached the southwest corner, three people approached down the road under a flag of truce. We met these people about 75 yards north of the southwest entrance to the camp. These three people were a Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander and assistant camp commander and that they had come into the camp on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular camp personnel for the purpose of turning the camp over to the advancing Americans. The Swiss Red Cross representative acted as interpreter and stated that there were about 100 SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked except for the people in the tower. He said he had given instructions that there would be no shots fired and it would take about 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 half-crazed prisoners of war in the camp, many of them typhus infected. He asked if I were an officer of the American army, to which I replied, “Yes, I am Assistant Division Commander of the 42d Division and will accept the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the American army.”
Liberated Dachau camp prisoners cheer U.S. troops.
As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 railroad cars filled with bodies brought to Dachau, all in an advanced state of decomposition. In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a communique over the capture of Dachau concentration camp: “Our forces liberated and mopped up the infamous concentration camp at Dachau. Approximately 32,000 prisoners were liberated; 300 SS camp guards were quickly neutralized.”
A tablet at the camp commemorates the liberation of Dachau by the 42nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army on 29 April 1945. Other claim that the first forces to enter the main camp were a battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division commanded by Felix L. Sparks. There is an on-going disagreement as to which division, the 42nd or the 45th, actually liberated Dachau because they seem to have approached by different routes and by the American Army’s definition, anyone arriving at such a camp within 48 hours was a liberator. General Patton visited the Buchenwald camp after it was liberated, but not Dachau.
The Americans found approximately 32,000 prisoners, crammed 1,600 to each of 20 barracks, which had been designed to house 250 people each.
The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000. The number of prisoners who died in the camp and the subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000, to which must be added those who perished there between 1933 and the end of 1939. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known.
Starting in May 1944, thousands of Hungarian Jewish women were transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, but were then transferred to one of the eleven Kaufering sub-camps of Dachau, which were located near Landsberg am Lech in Germany. Seven of the Hungarian women who became pregnant were put into the "Schwanger Kommando," in one of the eleven Kaufering sub-camps in December 1944. All seven of the mothers gave birth to healthy babies between February and March 1945. Just before Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, the women and their babies were evacuated from the Kaufering camp and put on a train bound for the main camp. On the way, the train was hit by Allied bombs, but the women and their babies survived; they arrived at Dachau shortly after the liberation.
Hungarian Jewish women with their babies at Dachau, May 1945
Shown from left to right in the photo above are: Iboyla Kovacs with her daughter Agnes; Suri Hirsch with her son Yossi; Eva Schwartz with her daughter Maria; Magda with her daughter; and Boeszi Legmann with her son Gyuri.
The women are sitting on a bunk bed in a hospital barrack. It was very cold in Germany in the Spring of 1945 and it snowed on May 1st. Notice that the women are wearing knee socks that are rolled down, so it must have been warm in the barrack. The mothers and the babies look remarkably healthy considering that the prisoners at Dachau were sick and starving, according to the accounts of the American liberators.
Gyuri Legmann, son of Boeszi Legmann
The photo above shows Gyuri Legmann, one of the babies born in the Schwanger (pregnant) Kommando at a Kaufering sub-camp of Dachau.
A few other babies and small children survived the Nazi death camps. The photo below shows infants and small children coming out of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp after it was liberated by Soviet troops.
Child survivors of Birkenau death campJewish mothers with their babies in hospital barrack at Dachau, May 1945
Shown from the left in the photo above are Iboyla Kovacs with her daughter Agnes; Suri Hirsch with her son Yossi; Eva Schwartz with her daughter Maria; Magda with her daughter; Boeszi Legmann with her son Gyuri; Dora Loewy and her daughter Szuszi; and Miriam Schwarcz Rosenthal with her son Laci (Leslie).
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, babies were normally killed in all the Nazi concentration camps, but the babies shown in the photo above were allowed to live because the war would soon be over and the Nazis wanted to use these babies as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Allies.
Demonstration at Dachau after the camp was liberated, May 1945
Shown in the photo above are two Jewish mothers with their babies at a demonstration in the Dachau main camp after the camp was liberated.
Miriam Schwarcz Rosenthal was the last of the mothers to give birth at Kaufering. Miriam was one of the 14 children of Jeno and Laura Schwarcz of Komarno, Czechoslovakia. After Czechoslovakia was jointly invaded by Germany, Hungary and Poland in 1938, the section of Czechoslovakia where the Schwarcz family lived was taken over by Hungary. On April 5, 1944, Marian was married to William Rosenthal, and two weeks later, she became separated from her husband when she was sent to a ghetto. Miriam was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with her husband's family, in the middle of May 1944.
Miriam survived the first selection for the gas chamer upon her arrival at Birkenau and was assigned to the women's barracks where, after several weeks, she realized she was pregnant. In order to get out of Birkenau, she volunteered for a transport to the Plaszow concentration camp in Krakow. After only a few weeks of working at Plaszow, the camp that is shown in the movie Schindler's List, she was sent back to Auschwitz-Birkeanu.
Upon her arrival at Birkenau, Miriam survived another selection for the gas chamber, although she was six months pregnant. According to Miriam, the SS guards would ask the women who were pregnant at Auschwitz-Birkenau to step forward to receive extra rations, but the women thought that this was a trick to get them to identify themselves so that they could be sent to the gas chamber.
Miriam was soon transferred again, this time to a sub-camp of Dachau in Augsburg, Germany where she was assigned to work in a Messerschmitt airplane factory. One day in December 1944, while at work in the factory, two SS men saw that she was pregnant; they escorted her on a passenger train to one of the Kaufering sub-camps of Dachau near Landsberg am Lech, where she was placed in a barrack with six other pregnant women who would soon be ready to give birth. Even though they were pregnant, the women were forced to work in the camp laundry.
In February 1945, the women at Kaufering started to give birth. A Hungarian Jewish gynecologist was assigned to help them through, even though he was too weak to stand. A Jewish kapo working in the kitchen had kept the women alive during their pregnancy by sneaking them extra rations.
In March 1945, Miriam was the last to give birth and became very ill afterwards. Boeszi Legmann nursed Miriam's baby until Miriam recovered.
More information about Miriam Rosenthal's ordeal in the camps can be found on these two web sites:
The photograph above shows six of the SS men on the staff at Dachau in 1934. Theodor Eicke, who became the second Commandant at Dachau in 1933 is the second man from the left in the back row.
When the Dachau camp was first opened on March 22, 1933, the guards were police officers with the Munich police, but after only a few weeks, SS soldiers were assigned to guard duty in the camp.
The first Commandant of Dachau was SS Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle, who began using that title on April 19, 1933. Wäckerle was instructed by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the acting Police Chief of Munich, to draw up a set of rules for discipline in the camp. His rules were extremely harsh and a number of prisoners died after being punished.
The deaths in the Dachau camp came to the attention of the Munich prosecutor after Sophie Handschuch made a formal complaint in 1933, demanding to know the true cause of death of her son who had been an inmate at Dachau. Other prisoners who died in the early days of the camp were Dr. Rudolf Benario, Fritz Dressel, Sepp Götz, Ernst Goldmann, Arthur Kahn, and Erwin Kahn. Karl Lehrburger and Wilhelm Aron, both Jewish, also died as a result of harsh treatment in the Dachau camp. Herbert Hunglinge committed suicide to escape the unbearable conditions in the camp.
After an investigation by the Munich police, Wäckerle was charged with murder for the deaths of Louis Schloss on May 16, Leonard Hausmann on May 17, Dr. Alfred Strauss on May 24 and Sebastian Nefzger on May 25. Dr. Strauss and Louis Schloss were both Jewish. Because of the criminal charges, Himmler was forced to relieve Wäckerle of his command, as of June 25, 1933. The charges against Wäckerle were later dropped, but he was dismissed from his job as Commandant and sent to fight on the Eastern front, where he was killed in action. Wäckerle was replaced by Theodor Eicke who became the new Commandant. Eicke was also killed in action after he was transferred to the Eastern front.
In June 1934, Eicke was given the title of Inspector General and the authority to approve all punishments in all the camps. His promotion was a reward for accepting the assignment to execute Ernst Röhm, the Commander of the Storm Troopers, after Röhm refused Hitler's order to kill himself. Röhm was openly homosexual and Eicke was also rumored to be a homosexual.
SS Oberführer Heinrich Deubel replaced Eicke as the Commandant of Dachau, but was dismissed after a few months for being too lenient with the prisoners. Deubel was replaced by SS Standartenführer Hermann Baranowski.
SS Oberführer Hans Loritz was the 5th Commandant of Dachau, replacing Baranowski. Loritz is shown below in a photo of a poster in the Dachau Museum. After he was captured by the Allies, he committed suicide before he could be put on trial.
Photo of Hans Loritz in Dachau Museum
SS Hauptsturmführer Alexander Piorkowski was the 6th Commandant of Dachau, replacing Hans Loritz. Piorkowski was dismissed for being too harsh and was expelled from the Nazi party because of his cruelty to the prisoners. Piorkowski was executed by the Allies after being convicted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau.
Dachau Administraton building is on the right
The photo above shows the Administration Building at Dachau, where the Commandant and his staff had their offices. The Commandant's house was torn down in 1985.
SS Obersturmbannführer Martin Gottfried Weiss replaced Piorkowski; he was the 7th Commandant of Dachau. Weiss was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in November 1945; he was convicted and was later hanged at the Landsberg am Lech prison. Many of the prisoners testified on his behalf; although Weiss was not charged with any specific atrocity, he was convicted of participating in a "common plan" to commit war crimes.
The photo below shows Martin Gottfried Weiss standing in the courtroom at Dachau as he is identified by Dr. Franz Blaha, a Czech political prisoner who made a sworn affidavit on May 3, 1945 in which he accused the Dachau staff of killing prisoners in the gas chamber at Dachau.
Martin Weiss is the man standing on the rightMartin Weiss was hanged at Landsberg am Lech prison
The last of the 8 Commandants of Dachau was Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, who replaced Martin Gottfried Weiss on November 1, 1943.
On April 26, 1945, Weiter left the Dachau camp with a transport of prisoners. Martin Gottfried Weiss had been brought back to the Dachau camp in March 1945 when the Mühldorf sub camp, where he was the commander, was evacuated. As the highest ranking SS officer at Dachau, Weiss took over as Commandant after Weiter left the camp. Weiter committed suicide on May 6, 1945 at Schloss Itter, a subcamp of Dachau, according to the Dachau Museum.
Egon Zill had the title of Lagerführer in the Dachau camp, before being assigned to the job of Commandant of the Natzweiler camp; later he became the Commandant of Flossenbürg. He was put on trial by a German court in 1950 and sentenced to 15 years in prison; he returned to the town of Dachau to live after he completed his prison term and died there in 1974, according David L. Israel, author of the book "The Day the Thunderbird Cried, published by emek press in 2005.
The following quote is from "The Day the Thunderbird Cried":
Egon Zill, by now a member of the Death's Head formation was the Commandant of Dachau Concentration Camp in 1941. Having received his Death's Head unit training in Dachau, he was familiar with all the terrors the camp had to offer its inmates. Egon Zill became one of the most sadistic commandants in the history of concentration camps. Not only did he devise new and organized methods of torture for the unfortunate prisoners, he took joy in taking part in the punishment personally, or else watching from the sidelines as the prisoners died at the hands of equally sadistic guards. Zill thrived on watching men beaten, drowned, hung, and broken until their bodies were unrecognizable masses of bone and skin. A tag attached to their toes listed an identification number so they could be properly recorded in the record books as having died from a heart attack or some other medical ailment.
David L. Israel was a soldier in the U.S. Army in 1945, assigned to an intelligence group which investigated the Dachau camp for war crimes after it was liberated. As part of his duties, Israel interviewed the survivors of Dachau. About half of the survivors of Dachau had only been in the camp for two weeks or less. They had been brought to the main Dachau camp from the sub-camps and before that, they had been in other Nazi concentration camps; many of the prisoners at Dachau when it was liberated had previously been evacuated from Auschwitz when it was abandoned in January 1945. They were eager to tell the American liberators about the years of abuse that they had endured.
The following quote is also from the book "The Day the Thunderbird Cried":
Egon Zill had his dogs trained to react to the raising of his arm. On special amusement days, Zill would have a table of food placed in front of the starving prisoners who stood at attention. Should a person relax his body, the dogs would react automatically. As time went by and Zill became impatient, he raised his arm signaling the dogs into action. They attacked the genital areas of the prisoners until they were dead. At this point the bored commandant would leave the scene.
Having the prisoners sing anti-Semitic songs as they dug pits to be filled with stones, only to have the stones dug up and used to fill other pits, was a common pastime for the guards. At other times, they would bind the prisoners' hands and feet and have them crawl on the ground grunting like pigs. As the prisoners approached the pigsty, food was put out for their meal to be eaten by the pigs. The SS men stood watching as the bound prisoners fought with the pigs for the food. This type of torture was used with Jews, priests, Jehovah's Witnesses and Poles.
"Three hours later, (General) Delestraint was shot together with three other French prisoners and eleven Czechoslovakian officers. As Joos "Leben auf Widerruf," (page 156) says, he walked towards the wall, naked, his head held high. Before he reached it, two pistol shots had laid him low. He died as a soldier and as a pious Christian." Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, What Was it Like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?
Stone designates location of "pistol range for execution"
A traditional method of execution was a shot in the neck at close range (Genickschuss), which was the method used by the Nazis to kill traitors, spies, saboteurs and resistance fighters at a pistol range in front of a wall north of the new crematorium, called Baracke X. The photograph above shows the marker at the spot where the pistol range was located. It is in the same area as where the ashes were dumped after the bodies of the victims were cremated.
The photographs below shows the execution wall.
Wall where prisoners were executed by a shot in the neck
The photo below shows the blood ditch which was designed to catch the flow of blood when prisoners were executed with a shot in the neck at the execution wall.
Marker designates the blood ditch at the execution site
General Charles Delestraint was allegedly shot at this spot on April 19, 1945. Four women in the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) were also allegedly executed here on the morning of September 12, 1944. A plaque on the wall of the crematorium gives their names: Mrs. Yolande Beekman, Miss Madeleine Damerment, Miss Noorunisa Inayat Khan and Mrs. Elaine Plewman.
Another prisoner who was executed here was Enzo Sereni, who was shot on November 18, 1944. He was one of the Jews from Palestine who had parachuted into Germany behind enemy lines for the purpose of carrying out guerrilla warfare during World War II.
After October 1941, captured Soviet soldiers were brought to Dachau. They were interrogated and 90 Russian officers, who were believed to be Communist Commissars, were executed on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler. This order was a violation of the Geneva Convention which set rules for the treatment of enemy POWs. Germany had signed the Convention but the Russians had declined to be a party to it.
During the American Military Tribunal for the staff members of the Dachau concentration camp, which was held in the Dachau complex in November 1945, the American prosecutor charged that several of the accused were guilty of "a common plan to violate the Laws and Usages of War" because they were present when 90 alleged Communist Commissars were executed at Dachau and did not try to stop the execution.
According to the American prosecutors at the American Military Tribunals held at Dachau, thousands of Russian POWs were taken to the SS shooting range at Herbertshausen, which was located in the Dachau suburb of Etzenhausen, where they were executed by a firing squad. The American defense attorneys at the American Military Tribunal for 40 Dachau staff members claimed that there was no proof that 5,000 Russian POWs were shot for target practice at Herbertshausen, as alleged by the prosecution.
The photograph below shows the rifle range at Herbertshausen.
Rifle range where Russian POWs were shotPhoto taken by Donald E. Jackson, 40th Combat Engineer Regiment
Abbe Smith, New Haven Register, Conn. Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 26--WEST HAVEN -- At the age most kids enter high school, Polish-born Sidney Glucksman instead witnessed unspeakable atrocities from within the walls of a Nazi death camp.
One of the few Holocaust survivors left to tell firsthand the story of the extermination of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II, Glucksman lives by the mantra: "Never forget."
At Notre Dame High School Wednesday, Glucksman shared horrific tales of watching women and children marched off to gas chambers, never to be seen again, and babies stuffed in bags and brutally murdered.
He survived typhoid, near starvation and brushes with death in two concentration camps.
While Notre Dame High School can't give Glucksman back his teenage years, on Wednesday, they gave him a symbol of the years he lost.
"If we could only have been at that school door to take you with us and save you, we would have," said Notre Dame President Brother James Branigan. "You are a brother to us and I want to honor you with a diploma from our high school."
And a little something extra from his friend, New Haven police Lt. Leo Bombalicki, a Notre Dame alumnus.
"Sidney never had a chance to go to high school, so I think he should have a varsity jacket from Notre Dame High School," Bombalicki said.
Glucksman beamed as he took the jacket and tried it on. "That's really worth more than a hundred million dollars. Thank you so much," he said.
The entire Notre Dame student body rose for a standing ovation and rolling applause.
The presentation of the diploma and varsity jacket were a surprise.
When he was invited to speak at Notre Dame, Glucksman did not hesitate before answering "yes."
"Whenever a school or university calls, I drop everything at my business and leave just to tell the story that other generations should never forget about," he said.
That story, for Glucksman, is a very personal one.
At 12 years old, Glucksman was a student at a school in Chrzanow, Poland, when Nazi soldiers invaded his school and rounded up the Jewish children. The year was 1940. The students were loaded onto trucks and taken away.
"They told us we would be back with our parents in the evening. That evening never came," he said.
The children slept outside and ate soup that consisted of slivers of potato floating in warm water.
He and the others were taken to Gross Rosen concentration camp where he was forced into labor and later transferred to Dachau concentration camp.
A young Glucksman watched as trains rolled in with box cars full of women and children packed tight as sardines.
"If you had to go to the bathroom, you did it standing up. If people died, they died standing up," he said.
He described for the students what he considers the worst scene he has witnessed in his lifetime. Nazi soldiers shaved the heads of women and children and told them they were going to take a shower. They were led to a gray building with two large doors. Brushes and soap sat on a shelf.
"We were waiting 15 minutes and they never came out. That's when we knew that was the first batch of the dead gassed people," he recalled.
The crematorium went day and night without interruption. Smoke came out of it all the time and the camp stunk of burning human bones and flesh.
Glucksman saw babies stuffed into bags and soldiers swinging the bags against concrete walls, killing the babies.
"They were crying. Many times, I still hear them cry," he said.
The gymnasium was silent at Glucksman told his story.
"Just monsters could do something I saw with my own eyes," he said.
Despite the horrific images etched into Glucksman's memory, he managed to make a happy life with wife, Libby, who he met after being liberated from Dachau in 1945.
Four years later, he and Libby moved to New Haven where Glucksman opened Sidney's Tailoring & Cleaning on Chapel Street in New Haven. The couple raised two daughters.
Then in 2000, Glucksman helped the United States testify against one of his former prison guards Theodor Szehinskyj, a retired machinist in Philadelphia, who the U.S. Department of Justice said worked as a former SS guard at the Gross Rosen concentration camp.
Now Glucksman is recording his life history in a documentary called "Threads" by James Campbell.
As the last generation of Holocaust survivors begins to fade, Glucksman wants to ensure his story and the stories of millions of Jews who lived through or died during history's worst genocide are remembered forever.
"You just never forget. I'd like to say to all the children, all the people, they should never forget. There are less and less of us alive," he said.
Notre Dame history teacher Richard Antonetti is doing his part to keep the story alive. Antonetti teaches a Holocaust class that as many as 150 students take each year.
"We have to remember because what's happening today in parts of the world -- Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia -- the events that took place are forgotten unless we read and learn about them," he said.
To see more of New Haven Register, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.nhregister.com.
"During dinner, I inquired as to the reasoning behind it all. Why the terror, the killings, the cruelty? I was adequately informed by men who had been at Dachau for terms as long as twelve years. The gist of the reasoning was as follows: In Hitler's conception of conquering the whole world, he desired to enslave all peoples, not as mere slave labor, but, in addition, he tried to completely break the human mind; to put it on a level with common animals. By doing this, he could not only make the German a superman, but, in addition, he could raise the ego of the German to unheard of heights." Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, from his Report to the Commanding General, 6 May 1945
Mass grave with ashes of thousands of unknown victims
As you enter the tourist gate to the crematoria area, you will see straight ahead of you, behind the crematorium building, the location where the ashes of thousands of unknown victims at the Dachau camp were buried. A small monument stands at the back of the mass grave shown in the photograph above. It has three tiers with a star of David in the middle and a Menorah on top. The marker in the foreground says "Grave of thousands of unknown." A path to your right leads into the woods where there are other mass graves of the ashes of unknown prisoners.
Before October 1944, the bodies of prisoners who died in the Dachau concentration camp were either buried in the Old Cemetery in the town of Dachau or they were cremated in the double oven of the old crematorium or the four ovens of the new crematorium. When the American Seventh Army liberated Dachau, they found dozens of red clay pots which the inmates told them were used for the ashes of the victims to be sent to the relatives of the deceased. (The Buchenwald and Natzweiler Memorial Sites have some of these pots on display, but there are none to be seen at Dachau.)
Ashes of foreign prisoners were buried in mass graves in the woods just north of the new crematorium. Today there are monuments and plaques which mark the sites in the woods where the mass graves of ashes are located. After the Nazis ran out of coal for burning the bodies in 1944, they created a new burial ground on a hill called the Leitenberg, north of the camp in the district of the town of Dachau called Etzenhausen.
The photograph below shows the first grave site just as you enter the woods to the right of the mass grave shown above. A carved stone on the ground tells you that this is another grave of thousands of unknown victims.
Grave of ashes of thousands of unknown victims
The photograph directly below shows the third mass grave of unknown victims who died at Dachau. An urn on top of the Christian cross on the ground holds some of the ashes of the dead. Another cross stands in front of the wall which is behind a scraggly hedge. There is a nearby bench which is behind the camera in this photograph.
The third grave of thousands of unknown victims
A semi-circular path curves through the beautiful woods north of the crematorium. This is a sad but peaceful place where the only sounds are the songs of thousands of birds in the trees. (The whole town of Dachau is like a bird sanctuary.)
The photograph below shows the first grave site you will see if you enter the woods by the path to your right as you face the front of the crematorium building. If you enter this semi-circular path to the right of the Jewish monument behind the crematorium, this is the fourth mass grave you will see before you emerge again near the entrance to the crematorium.
The fourth spot in the woods where ashes were buried
BUCHENWALD, German concentration camp on the Ettersberg, near Weimar. Opened on July 19, 1937, it was one of the largest camps in Germany proper with 130 satellite camps and units. Buchenwald was considered the worst of the camps prior to World War II. Its first commander was the notorious Karl Koch, who remained in charge until his transfer to *Majdanek, Poland, on Jan. 22, 1942.
He was replaced by Hermann Pister. The camp was divided into three parts: the large camp, the small camp, and later a "tent camp" set up for Polish prisoners after September 1939. Originally erected to house prisoners from several smaller camps that were being disbanded, its first inmates were professional criminals. They were soon followed by political prisoners. When the criminals were found to be stealing, the political prisoners, among whom were several Jews, succeeded in appropriating for themselves such administrative posts as were available to prisoners. That facilitated the beginning of resistance cells.
The first whole group of Jews were political prisoners who arrived in June 1938 as a result of an action against "asocial" Jews. In the summer of 1938, 2,200 Austrian Jews were transferred from *Dachau. Later that year, the mass arrests of Jewish men aged 16–60 after the *Kristallnacht more than doubled the number of Jewish prisoners. The 10,000 new Jewish prisoners, quartered in recently built huts, suffered far more than the non-Jews, 244 dying during the first month of their imprisonment. Jews arrested on Kristallnacht could still leave the country if they had somewhere to go. Most of the Jewish prisoners were released by the spring of 1939, deprived of their property, and compelled to leave Germany. More than 600 were killed or died, some by their own hand before the war began.
The outbreak of World War II brought a new influx of prisoners, most of them stateless people from Poland. As Hitler's armies conquered further territory, the camp's population was swollen by prisoners from the occupied countries. Most Soviet prisoners of war were killed upon arrival, at least until their potential as workers was recognized. Hermann Pister, Koch's successor, remained commander until the camp's liberation in 1945. From the beginning of 1942, Buchenwald, in common with other camps in Germany, became a forced labor camp for war production.
The demands of German industry brought transport after transport from all over Europe. On Oct. 17, 1942, in keeping with a general order to transfer all Jewish prisoners in the Reich to Auschwitz, all Jewish prisoners, with the exception of 200 building masons, were transferred to *Auschwitz. After December 1942, the camp received German criminals who had been handed over to the *SS by the prison authorities. Most of them became the victims of the pseudo-medical experiments performed in the camp hospital. After May 1944 Hungarian Jews arrived from Auschwitz and were distributed among the various satellite camps, especially the infamous Dora. On Oct. 6, 1944, the number of prisoners reached a peak of 89,143. This increase in numbers diminished the food supplies, led to a further deterioration in the already dangerously unhygienic conditions, and increased the death rate.
From the winter of 1944, and especially after January 1945, the camps in the east were evacuated owing to the approach of the Soviet Army, and thousands of prisoners, among them many Jews, were transferred to Buchenwald. The mass arrival of prisoners, already weakened by what was known as the death marches, overwhelmed the camp, whose facilities could not handle the new prisoners. Among those who arrived were Shelomo Wiesel and his son Eliezer. Exhausted by the march, Shelomo died along with a great numbers of other Jews.
At the beginning of April 1945 the SS evacuated several thousand Jews. It is estimated that some 25,500 people were killed during the forced evacuation of Buchenwald and its satellite camps. During the last weeks of the camp's existence an armed underground movement came into being among the prisoners, which helped slow down the pace of evacuations. The Germans left before the American troops arrived on April 11, 1945, so members of this underground movement were in control and handed over the camp to them. Of the 238,380 prisoners the camp held since it was opened, 43,045 had died there or been murdered.
Around 21,000 Jews were liberated, 4,000 of them children. American troops entered Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. General George Patton, who was not known for his love of Jews, ordered the citizens of Weimar marched through the camp. Their visit was filmed. They entered as if they were on an excursion, a picnic. They left gasping for air.
Twenty-one Nazi leaders of Buchenwald were tried by an American court in 1947; two were sentenced to death, four were imprisoned for life.
The Dead of Buchenwald
1. Dead. In this number are included all those who died in camp, were beaten to death, or were shot from October 1, 1937, to April 10, 1945, in addition to the external work details (with the exception of women)..........................................................................................................34,566
Those who died in January 1945: 2,039 February 1945: 5,661 March 1945: 5,588 April 1-10, 1945: 913
2. Liquidations. Number of Russian prisoners of war murdered in the horse stable by a shot through the base of the skull estimated at .............................................................................7,200
Estimated number of executions based on the clothing of murder victims received in the Personal Property Room.......................................................................................................1,100
Precise figures are available only from the end of March 1944; before that there was no opportunity to gather information.
3. Liquidation Transports Gas transport to Sonneberg, July 1940 100 Gas transport of Jews to Bernburg, [February] 1942 500 Gas transport of Jews to Bernburg, [March] 1942 200 Transport of Dutch Jews to Mauthausen, 1941 341 Various transports to Auschwitz in the year 1943 1,180 Transport of children to Auschwitz, 1943 200 Transport of Jews to Auschwitz, 1944 2,101 Deaths in Dora, disguised as liquidation transport to Auschwitz 3,000 Transports to Bergen-Belsen, 1944 3,438 11,060 TOTAL DEATH TOLL 53,926
This number must be regarded as the minimum number of deaths brought about by Nazi barbarism in Buchenwald. Not included in these numbers are the many hundreds who froze or starved to death on transports to and from Buchenwald. Not Included in these numbers are the numbers of dead from transports to liquidation camps that did not leave Buchenwald solely as liquidation transports. That, too, would amount to several hundred victims. It is therefore certainly still too conservative to set the number of those who died or were murdered under the immediate influence of Buchenwald at 55,000 victims.*
*Leni Yahil estimates the actual number of deaths in Buchenwald at 70,000, or 30 percent of the total of all prisoners admitted there. She includes in this number the figures given here, plus the number of prisoners evacuated in the week before liberation in April 1945. Leni Yahil, The Holocaust: The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 536.
Block 66 at Buchenwald: The Clandestine Barracks to Save Children by Kenneth Waltzer*
During the final months at Buchenwald, 15-year old Elie Wiesel was assigned to a special barracks that was created and maintained by the clandestine underground resistance in the camp as part of a strategy of saving youth. This block, block 66, was located in the deepest part of the disease-infested little camp, a separate space below the main camp at Buchenwald, that was beyond the normal NaziSS gaze (the local SS officer actively cooperated and conducted appels inside the barrack).
The barracks was overseen by block elder Antonin Kalina, a Czech Communist from Prague, and his deputy, Gustav Schiller, a Polish Jewish Communist originally from Lvov Schiller, who was a rough father figure and mentor, especially for the Polish-Jewish boys and many Czech-Jewish boys; but he was less liked, and even feared, by Hungarian- and Rumanian-Jewish boys, especially religious boys.
After January 1945, the underground concentrated all children and youth that could be fit in this windowless barracks — more than 600 children and youth, mostly Jews — and sheltered and protected them. Younger children, like Israel Meir Lau (Lulek) from Piotrkow, later the Chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, not yet 8 years old, and several others were secreted in block 8 in the main camp and watched by prisoners there, still others, as young as 4 years old, including Josef Shleifstein of Sandomierz, and Stefan Jerzy Zweig (Juschu) ofCracow, were hidden elsewhere throughout the camp. When General George Patton’s Third Army arrived on April 11, 1945, more than 900 children and youth — mostly teenagers, but also younger boys — were discovered among the 21,000 emaciated prisoners. They were alive in part due to a remarkable effort by key elements in the Communist-led underground to assist them to survive until liberation.
In this barrack, young Jews were protected and sheltered from work, save for occasional forays to clean up after bombing raids in nearby Weimar, where they scavenged for food. Survivors recall extra food in Red Cross packages distributed to them from Danish and other political prisoners in the main camp. They recall efforts by their mentors to raise their horizons in the barracks, songs, stories, even history and math lessons, to convince them there was another world awaiting them. And they recall heroic intervention by Kalina or Schiller during the final days to protect them from being led out when the Nazis sought to clear Jews from the camp.
Many of the boys, despite all that was done for them, were nonetheless marched to the main gate on April 10 and lined up to be marched out. Wiesel says this in _Night. “So we were massed in the huge assembly square in rows of five, waiting to see the gate open.”_However, American airplanes flew overhead, sirens sounded, the guards ran to the shelters, and Kalina, who marched with them, ordered the boys back to the barracks. They were still there the next afternoon when advanced armored units of the American Third Army droveSS guards from the camp and broke through the barbed wire fences.
<a></a>*Waltzer is Professor and Director, Jewish Studies, Michigan State University
Karl Koch was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1897. He was a bank clerk before joining the German Army during the First World War. He was captured by the British army and was held as a prisoner-of-war until October, 1919.
Koch joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1930. Later he became a member of the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). In 1934, Koch became a senior official in Lichtenburg Concentration Camp. Two years later he became the commandant ofSachsenhausen Concentration Camp.
In May 1937, Koch married Ilse Koch, one of the female guards at the camp. Later that year, Koch was appointed commandant ofBuchenwald, and his wife became a SS-Aufseherin (overseer) at the camp.
Karl Otto Koch, a colonel of German Schutzstaffel (SS), was the first commandant of Buchenwald (from 1937 to 1941). In 1942, Otto and his wife Ilse received a punative transfer to Majdanek. In August 1943, Karl Koch was arrested by the Gestapo at the request of SSjudge Josias Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Karl Otto was charged with the unauthorized murder of three prisoners, while Ilse was accused of the embezzlement of more than 700,000RM. Though Ilse was acquitted, Karl Otto was convicted and shot in April 1945.
Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont: Life Imprisonment (Commutted to 20 Years Imprisonment) Ilse Koch: Life Imprisonment (Commutted to 4 Years Imprisonment) Hermann Pister: The Death Sentence (Died In Prison on the 28th September 1948) SS Dr Hans Eisele: The Death Sentence (Sentenced in Absentia) August Bender: 10 Years Imprisonment (Commutted to 3 Years Imprisonment) Kapo Hans Wolf: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 19th Novermber 1948) Werner Greunuss: Life Imprisonment (Commutted to 20 Years Imprisonment) Helmut Roscher: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Franz Zinecker: Life Imprisonment Phillip Grimm: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Hubart Krautwurst: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 26th Novermber 1948) Emil Pleissner: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 26th Novermber 1948) Albert Schwartz: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Hans Merbach: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 14th January 1949) Friedrich Wilhelm: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 26th Novermber 1948) Hermann Hackmann: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Dr Edwin Katzenellenbogen: Life Imprisonment (Commutted to 12 Years Imprisonment) Wolfgang Otto: 15 Years Imprisonment Hans - Theodor Schmidt: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 7th June 1951) Gustav Heigel: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Quido Reimer: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Richard Köhler: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 26th Novermber 1948) Max Schobert: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 19th Novermber 1948) Kapo Dr Arthur Dietzsch: 15 Years Imprisonment Hermann Helbig: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 19th Novermber 1948) Walter Wendt: 15 Years Imprisonment (Commutted to 5 Years Imprisonment) Hermann Grossmann: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 19th Novermber 1948) Peter Merker: The Death Sentence (Commutted to 20 Years Imprisonment) Josef Kestel: The Death Sentence (Executed on the 19th Novermber 1948) Anton Bergmeier: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment) Otto Barnewald: The Death Sentence (Commutted to Life Imprisonment)
In this trial, before a U.S. military tribunal at Dachau, from the 11th April 1947 to the 14th August 1947, Thirty-one members of the staff of the Buchenwald camp were found guilty of atrocities and twenty-two were sentenced to death, eight being subsequently commutted, the rest to various terms of imprisonment. Twelve of the defendents were executed on various dates.
While Karl Otto was known for his personal greed in the camps he worked in, Ilse was known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald” for her bestial cruelty and sadistic behavior. She was especially fond of riding her horse through the camp, whipping any prisoner who attracted her attention. Her hobby was collecting lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skins of specially murdered concentration camp inmates, and shrunken human skulls.
Prisoners' Tattooed Skin
Ilse Koch would specially select prisoners with distinctive tattoos on her rides around the camp. These prisoners would be killed and their skin tanned and stored for later use by the SS guards.
Her taste for collecting lampshades made from the tattooed skins was described by a witness at The Nuremberg Trials after the war:
"The finished products (i.e. tattooed skin detached from corpses) were turned over to Koch's wife, who had them fashioned into lampshades and other ornamental household articles .."
In the book Sidelights on the Koch Affair by Stefan Heymann, the author pointed out that the fact that the Kochs had lamps made of human skin did not distinguish them from the other SS officers. They had the same artworks made for their family homes:
"It is more interesting that Frau Koch had a lady's handbag made out of the same material. She was just as proud of it as a South Sea island woman would have been about her cannibal trophies .. "
In 1942, the Kochs received a punative transfer to Majdanek. In August 1943, Karl Koch was arrested by the Gestapo at the request ofSS judge Josias Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Karl Otto was charged with the unauthorized murder of three prisoners, while Ilse was accused of the embezzlement of more than 700,000RM. Though Ilse was acquitted, Karl Otto was convicted and shot in April 1945.
At the end of the war, Koch was arrested and charged with "participating in a common criminal plan for encouraging, aiding, abetting and participating in the atrocities at Buchenwald." In 1947, an American military tribunal found Koch found guilty and sentenced her to life-imprisonment.
Ilse Koch takes the stand for her final statement at the trial of 31 former camp personnel and prisoners from Buchenwald. (German National Archives and U.S. National Archives)
After serving only two years, General Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of the American zone in Germany, pardoned her. As a result of the international condemnation this decision received, Koch was re-arrested in 1949 and tried before a West German court for instigation to murder in 135 cases. She was sentenced to life-imprisonment on January 15, 1951.
This was the first Camp found in Germany proper. It was found by members of Gen Patton's Third Army, and was photographed by his official photo unit the 166th Signal Photo Co. All of the bodies were exhumed by Germans and reburied under supervision of the U.S. Army.
The camp, which was operated by the SS and Eastern European Trawnikis, consisted of Treblinka I and II. The first camp was a forced-labour center and administrative complex which supported the death camp. Inmates worked in either the nearby gravel pit or irrigation area. Between June 1941 and July 23, 1944, more than half of its 20,000 inmates died from execution, exhaustion, or mistreatment.
Treblinka II was designed as a death factory. More than 99% of all arrivals at this site were immediately sent to its gas chambers where they were killed by exhaust fumes from capturedSoviet tank engines. The small number who were not killed immediately becameSonderkommandos. These slave labor groups were forced to bury the victims' bodies in mass graves. Later corpses were burned on massive open-air pyres.
Treblinka II ended operations on October 19, 1943 following a revolt by its Sonderkommandos. Several German guards were killed when 300 prisoners escaped. Beginning in March 1942, the SS implemented Sonderaktion 1005 to cover up the murder of millions of people during_Aktion Reinhard_. Prisoners at Treblinka were formed into Leichenkommandos ("corpse units") that exhumed and cremated the corpses buried in mass graves. Relatively little physical evidence of the camps remains today.
The gas chamber had portholes through which it was possible to view the death of the victims. The victims were gassed with carbon monoxide generated by diesel engines. There is some historical debate over whether these engines were diesel or petrol. The engines were those of Soviet Red Army tanks that had been captured during the war, and subsequently transported to Treblinka by the Nazis. Most Soviet Red Army tanks from this period in time had diesel engines.
This killing process differed significantly from the process at Auschwitz and Majdanek, where the poisonous gas Zyklon B was used. At Sobibor and Belzec, exhaust fumes from petrol engines was used. The victims died from suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning. This also means that, frequently, victims were not completely dead as a result of the exhaust. The few prisoners who had worked in the Sonderkommandos and survived the camp later testified that victims frequently let out a final gasp of breath from their lungs when they were extracted from the gas chambers.
After the suffocation of the victims in the gas chamber, when the doors of the gas chamber were opened, "the disfigured, bitten prisoners, with ears torn off, lay on top of each other in the most varied posture." The bodies were initially buried in large mass graves; in a later stage of the camp's operation, they were burned on open-air grids made of concrete pillars and railway tracks. Sometimes, the people were not dead and began to revive in the fresh air, especially pregnant women. They were shot by the guards and burned like the others. Some 800–1,000 bodies were burned at the same time, and would burn for 5 hours. The incinerator operated 24 hours a day.
The killing centres had no other function, unlike concentration camps, in which prisoners were used as forced labour for the German war effort. In order to prevent incoming victims from realising their fate, the camp was disguised as a railway station, complete with train schedules, posters of destinations, and what appeared to be a working clock (in reality, a prisoner would move the hands to the approximate time before each convoy arrived). The camp and the process of mass murder is described by Vasily Grossman, a Jewish correspondent serving in the Red Army, in his work A Hell Called Treblinka, which was used as evidence and distributed at the Nuremberg Trials.
A simulation of the cremation pits used during Treblinka extermination camp's operation. Cremation Pits
Within the compounds of the Treblinka extermination camp, there were two cremation pits used to incinerate bodies. The bodies were placed on grates and burned in whole within the wood and ash. These pits were roughly located just east of the new gas chambers. The camp memorial has recreated a simulation of the "extermination pits" using melted basalt and stone which is placed on a concrete fundamental plate. The bodies that were previously burned during the camp's operation were dug up and cremated pending the orders of Heinrich Himmler after he had visited the camp in 1943.
On August 2, 1943, the prisoners in the work details rebelled. They seized small arms, sprayed kerosene on all the buildings and set them ablaze. In the confusion, a number of guards were killed but many more prisoners perished. Of 1,500 prisoners, about 600 managed to escape the camp, but only 40 are known to have survived until the end of the war. There was also a revolt at Sobibor two months later.
After the revolt, Treblinka ceased operation. Camp commander Kurt Franz recalled during his testimonies: "After the uprising in August 1943 I ran the camp single-handedly for a month; however, during that period no gassings were undertaken. It was during that period that the original camp was levelled off and lupins were planted.":247 The camp had been badly damaged during the uprising, and the murder of the Polish Jews was also largely complete. It was decided to shoot the last of the Jewish prisoners and shut down the camp.:373 Odilo Globocnik wrote to Himmler: "I have (on October 19, 1943), completed Operation Reinhard, and have dissolved all the camps." The final group of about 30 Jewish girls at Treblinka was shot at the end of November.
Aftermath A mass grave in Treblinka opened in March 1943; the bodies were removed for burning. In the background, dark grey piles of ash from cremated bodies can be seen
In 1965, after a report by Dr. Helmut Krausnick, director of the Institute for Contemporary History inMunich, the Court of Assize in Düsseldorf concluded that the minimum number of people killed in Treblinka was 700,000. In 1969, the same court, after new evidence revealed in a report by expert Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler, reassessed the number to be 900,000. According to the Germans and the guards who were stationed in Treblinka, the figure ranges from 1 million to 1.4 million. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the death toll in the gas chambers of Treblinka II (not including the deaths from forced labor in Camp I) falls in the range of 870,000 to 925,000. It is somewhat difficult to assess exactly the number of those killed, but the approximate number can be established on the basis of the Höfle telegram (see next paragraph) and surviving transport documentation.
In 2001, a copy of a decrypted telegram sent by the deputy commander of Operation Reinhard was discovered among recently declassified information in Britain. The Höfle Telegram listed 713,555 Jews killed in Treblinka up to the end of December 1942. With the addition of the transports in 1943 listed in Yitzhak Arad's book, one may arrive at the figure 800,000. On the basis of the telegram and additional data for 1943, Jacek Andrzej M?ynarczyk estimates the minimum death toll as 780,863.
The Austrian Franz Stangl was the commandant at Treblinka from the summer of 1942. In 1951, Stangl escaped to Brazil, where he found work at a Volkswagen factory in São Paulo. His role in the mass murder of men, women, and children was known to the Austrian authorities, but Austria did not issue a warrant for Stangl's arrest until 1961. In spite of his registration under his real name at the Austrian consulate in Brazil, it took another six years before he was tracked down by Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and arrested in Brazil. After extradition toWest Germany he was tried for the deaths of around 900,000 people. He admitted to these killings but argued: "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty." Found guilty on 22 October 1970, Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of heart failure in prison in Düsseldorf on 28 June 1971.
In April 1943 the Nazis created Bergen-Belsen in Lower Saxony near the city of Celle as a transit center - Bergen-Belsen was never officially given formal concentration camp status. But the second commandant, SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, completed the transformation of Bergen-Belsen into a regular concentration camp.
By 1945 thousands of prisoners who had become too weak to work were shipped there, to die off slowly by starvation and typhoid. In the one month of March, more than 18,000 succumbed.
The first commandant in Bergen-Belsen was SS-Hauptsturmführer Adolf Haas. His previous assignment had been the concentration camp known as Niederhagen/Wewelsburg near Paderborn. In early 1944, Haas was replaced by SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer who had been working in concentration camps since 1934.
Josef Kramer`s most recent assignment had been at the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. His incumbency had earned him the nickname the_Beast of Belsen_.
His prescription for the uncontrollable epidemic of diarrhea was starvation. _'If you don't eat, you don't shit.' _When railroad cars and convoys were unavailable, he dispatched the prisoners on long marches. The weakest, unable to keep going, were left to die or were shot. The roads were littered with thousands who had succumbed ...
In her book _Five Chimneys the Holocaust survivor Olga Lengyel later recalled the SS troops in fits of destructive insanity, blindly beating the sick women, kicking the pregnant: 'Kramer himself had lost his calm. A strange gleam lurked in his small eyes, and he worked like a madman. I saw hin throw himself at one unfortunate woman and with a single stroke of his truncheon shatter her skull ..' _
A Bergen-Belsen survivor, Fania Fenelon, provides this grim vignette just prior to the discovery of the camp at Bergen-Belson, with the war nearly at an end:
The stench had become intolerable; wrapped in my cloak, a priceless possession, I went out in search of air, to stretch out, to sleep in the open. The ground was muddy and cold, so I kept walking. In front of me, a pile of corpses balanced carefully on one another, rose geometrically like a haystack. There was no more room in the crematoria so they piled up the corpses out here.
I climbed up them as one would a slope; at the top I stretched out and fell asleep. Sometimes an arm or leg slackened to take its final position. I slept on; in the morning, when I woke up, I thought I that I too must be losing my reason ...
Fania Fenelon weighed 65 pounds the day the British arrived...
Another prisoner, Moshe Peer, now 67, was held captive as a boy at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II. In 1942, at age 9, Peer and his younger brother and sister were arrested by police in their homeland of France.
His mother was sent to Auschwitz and never returned. Peer and his siblings were sent to Bergen-Belsen two years later.
Moshe Peer has spent many years writing a first-person account of the horror he witnessed at Bergen-Belsen. He recalls the separation from his parents as excruciating. But surviving the horrors of the camp quickly became a priority: There were pieces of corpses lying around and there were bodies lying there, some alive and some dead, Peer recalled, _ Bergen-Belsen was worse than Auschwitz because there people were gassed right away so they didn't suffer a long time ..._ Russian prisoners were kept in an open-air camp and were given no food or water. Some people went mad with hunger and turned to cannibalism.
MoshePeer and his siblings - who all survived - were cared for at the camp by two women, whom Peer unsuccessfully tried to find after the war. Peer was reunited with his father in Paris and the family moved to Israel. Peer's four children were born in Israel, but after serving in the Israeli army in a number of wars, Peer moved to Montreal in 1974. Even today 55 years later, Peer is still haunted by his concentration-camp experience and still finds his memories keep him awake at night.
Hitlers most famous victim Anne Frank ended up in Bergen-Belsen after being evacuated from Auschwitz in October, 1944. As starvation. cold and disease swept through the camp's population, Margot, Anne's sister, developed typhus and died. A few days later, Anne herself, in April, 1945, succumbed to the disease a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the British. She was 15 years old ...
At the same time this little boy miraculously survived the same camp, Bergen-Belsen! More than any other photos, this famous photograph captures the essence of the horrors of Holocaust: Warsaw 1943, a little Jewish boy dressed in short trousers and a cap, raises his arms in surrender with lowered eyes, as a Nazi soldier trains his machine gun on him.
The photograph goes right to the heart, and after the war millions of people were brought to believe that the frightened little boy was murdered like Anne Frank and millions of other Jews.
By a miracle the boy survived, and he was found after several decades - Tsvi C. Nussbaum, a physician living in Rockland County in upstate New York, USA.
Bergen-Belsen SS-women. On the right the notorious Herta Bothe, after the war charged with having committed war crimes. She had a good time shooting at weak female prisoners carrying food containers from the kitchen to the block with her pistol. And she often beat sick girls with a wooden stick. At the Bergen-Belsen Trial she got imprisonment for 10 years.
On April 15, 1945, the British army liberated Belsen. However, it was unable to rescue the inmates. On that liberation day the British found 10,000 unburied corpses and 40,000 sick and dying prisoners. Among the 40,000 living inmates, 28,000 died after the liberation. The inmates were abandoned in Bergen-Belsen by the Germans, left behind for death to come.
Between April 11 and 14, 1945, two thousand prisoners had to drag the dead to huge mass graves ...
Captured by the British after liberation, SS Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer was arrested, tried, and later executed.
"Forget You Not"™: Bergen-Belsen Death Camp Bergen Belsen was the first death camp entered by the Western allies and first-hand accounts of mass graves, piles of corpses and emaciated, diseased survivors spread quickly around the world.
About Bergen-Belsen Camp
Bergen-Belsen** began as a prison camp for captured prisoners of war. It was not like Auschwitz where numerous gas chambers killed thousands everyday. But Bergen-Belsen was no less cruel or horrifying. Most died at Bergen-Belsen from being shot, hung, starved to death, or killed by disease. This camp did not fit the standard organization of a concentration camp. It had several camps that segregated the prisoners. Camp officials even traded important prisoners, including Jews, in exchange for money from different governments. Bergen-Belsen was unique in many ways, but it was still a camp where thousands suffered and died under the harsh hand of Nazi leadership.**
Dr. Fritz Klein, a former camp doctor who conducted medical experiments on prisoners, stands among corpses in a mass grave. Bergen-Belsen, Germany, after April 15, 1945.[USHMM]
** Survivors queing up for rations provided by the British Army. (April 28, 1945) United States National Archives
From a 1995 Interview of a Survivor: Fela Warschau Describes the Liberation by British forces at Bergen-Belsen <ushmm.org/wlc/media_oi.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005224&MediaId=3281> **. **We got weaker every day because there was nothing to eat. Finally, the last day when we had nothing, I could barely drag myself. I said to my sister, "I'm going into the barrack, and I'm going to lie down and just die in there. I do not want to die and people should just step over me like others do." **. **They followed me. We all lie down there and just almost said goodbye to life. One of our friends --she was even younger than I was, the youngest --she was always searching, trying to find a way. So she said she has to take the last look outside and see what's going on. **. **When she came back she said to me, "There's something funny going out there. People are running all over the place" and it's, it's unusual. It's not what usually happen. And I told her to just lay down and die in peace. She must be hallucinating. She insisted, so my sister walked out with her. When my sister came back, I don't know with what strength she came back, grabbed me by my arm, and she says, "Get up, get up. Guess what, everybody's running, and the gates are open. **. There's a man sitting, is it a tank or whatever" --we couldn't distinguish at that time one thing from the other-- "he is speaking through a loudspeaker. His words are being translated. I think we were liberated." When I got up and walked outside, my eyes couldn't comprehend. It just didn't register. It's unbelievable. I couldn't believe this was really true, so I said to my sister that she has to grab me by my arm and do something physical so I realize I am really alive and we were liberated. It was the English army that liberated us..
.The Hell Descendent on Earth at Bergen-Belsen -- (April 15, 1945 Photo) <kz-zuege.de/kapitel_05.htm>
.Bergen-Belsen: In Memoriam From Earth to Heaven <sozialistische-gedenkstaetten.de/ns/Bergen-Belsen/Bergen-belsen.jpg>
Former SS guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial. 17-18 April 1945
The HELL descendent on Earth at Bergen-Belsen <go2war2.nl/artikel/1341/4>
The Crematorium at Bergen-Belsen <go2war2.nl/artikel/1341/4>
Barely alive at Bergen-Belsen liberation Photo credit: British Photo Archives R41/33 <www.wcml.org.uk/webgallery/photos/pages/belsen_liberation.htm>
Women survivors in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp peel potatoes on April 28, 1945. Photo credit: U.S. National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives <fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/gallery/10922.htm>.
Women survivors in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
For the living skeletons who survived the Nazi terror, the Displaced Persons Camp set up two miles (three kilometers) away offered little relief from misery. People still died at the rate of 1,000 to 1,500 a day ... <article.wn.com/view/2007/05/18/Nazi_archive_reveals_a_panorama_of_misery/>
Belsen as discovered by British Troops on April 20, 1945. churchill-society-london.org.uk/1945JFMA.html . A British soldier speaks with a Belsen survivor. [Courtesy of BBC ]
A group of survivors in Bergen-Belsen displaced person's camp in December 1945. After liberation, the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen became the site of a displaced persons' camp, the British army medical corps helping in the physical rehabilitation of the former prisoners. --Yad Vashem Archives 3815/23
Bergen-Belsen survivors clinging to life ... [United States National Archives] .
. In the winter of 1944-1945, the situation at Bergen-Belsen deteriorates. There is little or no food and the sanitary conditions are dreadful. Many of the prisoners become ill. . Margot and Anne Frank come down with typhus. They both die just a few weeks before the camp is liberated. .Janny Brilleslijper witnesses their deaths: "First Margot had fallen out of bed onto the stone floor. She couldn't get up anymore. Anne died a day later."
Photo taken c. April 1956 by Stanley Abramson
"The fact is that all these were once clean-living and sane and certainly not the type to do harm to the Nazis. They are Jews and are dying now at the rate of three hundred a day. They must die and nothing can save them --their end is inescapable, they are too far gone now to be brought back to life. I saw their corpses lying near their hovels, for they crawl or totter out into the sunlight to die. I watched them make their last feeble journeys, and even as I watched they died."
[Peter Coombs, British soldier, May 4, 1945 letter to his wife after liberation of Bergen-Belsen.]
Editor's Note: On January 17, 2009, we received an email from Chris Coombs --the son of the late Peter Coombs, who noted:
"My father Cap't Peter Coombs of 21st Army Group, originally of the Royal Welsh Fusilers and attached to the R.A. was, I believe, one of the first British officers to help liberate Belsen. He died this year aged 96 less three days, on Jan 14th in the UK."
1945 Photo by George Rodger: "It wasn't even a matter of what I was photographing, as what had happened to me in the process. When I discovered that I could look at the horror of Belsen --4000 dead and starving lying around-- and think only of a nice photographic composition, I knew something had happened to me and I had to stop. I felt I was like the people running the camp --it didn't mean a thing." George Rodger in "Dialogue with photography", Dewi Lewis Publishing.
Editor's Note: On January 31, 2009, we received an email from Guy Marlow whose grandfather, Charles Marlow, was part of the British liberating troops at Bergen-Belsen. In the received email, referring to his late grandfather (who originally was in the Kings 8th Royal Irish Hussars), Guy wrote:
"I know that what he saw at Bergen-Belsen troubled him throughout his life as he never mentioned the war and what happened. He only opened up and spoke to me about the war one day, this was when he told me that he was at Bergen Belsen and that he had to use tractors to push bodies into pits. My sister recently told me of a story I did not know where while at Bergen-Belsen, post liberation, a Jewish lady who was delerious came to my grandfather asking for food and/or cigarettes (we presume the cigarettes were a bartering tool) while holding onto the dead body of her child and that it was clear that her child had been dead for quite a while but that the woman still cared for it as if it was alive."
.**Brigadier-General H. L. Glyn Hughes, **Commanded the British unit that liberated the Belsen Camp.**Special Selected Links:
April 1945: A pile of shoes from the prisoners who perished in Bergen-Belsen.
This photo was taken in April 1945, after liberation. Originally designed as a prisoner of war and transit camp, Bergen-Belsen was to house 10,000 prisoners. From March 1944, Bergen-Belsen became a "regular concentration camp" with new prisoners arriving who were too sick to work at other camps. Some 35,000 to 40,000 inmates died of starvation, overcrowding, hard labor and disease or were killed.
-- Yad Vashem Archive #1201 -- <www1.yadvashem.org/this_month/april/this_month_12.html>
Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover in Germany, was the first concentration camp to be liberated by British troops, on 15 April 1945. When soldiers of the 2nd Army arrived they found the camp littered with dead and dying prisoners. Around 60,000 starving people, many suffering from typhus and dysentery, required immediate aid. Despite the best efforts of the medical services, hundreds died in the days after the liberation. In the weeks that followed, British troops buried 10,000 bodies in mass graves. An estimated 70,000 Jews, Slavs, Roma, political prisoners, gays, Jehovah's witnesses and criminals were killed at Belsen.
"... Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. .This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life."
* !(http://isurvived.org/Pictures_iSurvived-5/KramerArrest-Belsen.GIF) Commandant Josef Kramer's arrest by the British liberators
[**Excerpts from the Belsen Trial**](http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References-4/-BelsenTrail-excerpts.html)**of Josef Kramer and 44 others**
**"In a hut for 400 people, there was one toilet, and the toilet was always out of order. Everybody suffered from diarrhoea. If we wanted to walk, there were also toilets in the field, but people could not walk, since they were ill."**
From the Testimony of Joseph Melkman during the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
* [THE BELSEN TRIAL](http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References-3/-BelsenTrial.html)
BRITISH MILITARY COURT, LUNEBURG,
17TH SEPTEMBER -- 17TH NOVEMBER, 1945.
(TRIAL OF JOSEF KRAMER AND 44 OTHERS)
* !(http://isurvived.org/Pictures_iSurvived-5/Grese_Irma-BelsenTrial.GIF) Irma Grese (center) at the Belsen Trial
.SS officer Franz Hoessler at Belsen. Before Belsen, Hoessler was commandant of the women's camp at Birkenau. Source: "The Belsen Trial," edited by R. Phillips; William Hodge and Company, 1949, p. 225.
Irma Grese was born on the 7 October 1923 and in 1938 she left elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which she worked in a shop in Lychen for six months.
When she was fifteen she went to a hospital in Hohenlychen where she stayed for two years, she tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent her to work in a dairy in Furstenburg.
In July 1942 she tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent her to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, although she protested against it, she stayed there until March 1943, when she was transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
She remained in Auschwitz until January 1945.
After Auschwitz Irma Grese was sent to the Bergen – Belsen Concentration Camp where she was captured by the British Army when they liberated the camp on 15 April 945. She became known as the “Bitch of Belsen” as the details of her crime became known.
Helene Grese testified:
“I am the sister of Irma Grese, 20 years old and live at Wrecken in Wreckensburg. My father was an agricultural worker, and I have two sisters and two brothers, my mother died in 1936. When she was 14 years old, my sister Irma worked on a farm of a peasant in a village near where we lived.
From the time she entered the Concentration Camp Service I saw her twice. In 1943 she came home on leave, and the only thing she told us about her work was that her duties consisted of supervising prisoners so that they would not escape.
I saw her when she left Auschwitz in 1945, and she told me that she had been working for a considerable period in a sort of a post office, receiving and distributing mail, and that some times she had been detailed to guard duties.
From your knowledge of your sister, do you think her a person likely to beat the prisoners under her charge?
In our schooldays when, as it sometimes happens, girls were quarrelling and fighting, my sister never had the courage to fight , but on the contrary she ran away.
When your sister went to work on the farm when she was 14, how long did she stay there?
About six months to a year.
Where did she go from there?
She went to Hohenlychen, as a sort of a nurse, and then to a small dairy in Furstenburg, where she worked, I believe twelve to eighteen months**.**
Did she go from there into the SS?
Yes in 1942 she went to Ravensbruck, which was very near us.
How long before 1943 was it since you had seen your sister?
In spring 1942 when she was working in the dairy.
When she came home in 1943, did your father give her a thrashing?
I did not see that, but he was quarrelling with her because she was in the SS.
Did he forbid her to come to the house again?
I do not know. She never came again.
**Was not that because she told you what she did at Ravensbruck? **
I do not know why.
You would be 16 at that time, you never asked what she was doing in the concentration camp, and she never told you?
She told us she was supervising the prisoners working inside the compound, and she had to see that they were doing their work well and that they did not escape.
We asked her, “What do the prisoners get for food, and why have they been sent to a concentration camp?” and she answered that she was not allowed to talk to the prisoners and did not know what sort of food they got.
Why did your father lose his temper with her?
Because he was very much against her being in the SS. We all wanted to belong to the Bund Deutscher Madchen but he never allowed us to do so. I have not seen my father since April 1945.
_Irma Grese questioned by her lawyer Major Cranfield. _
Did you carry a stick at Auschwitz?
Yes an ordinary walking stick
Did you carry a whip at Auschwitz?
Yes, made out of cellophane in the weaving factory in the camp. It was a very light whip, but if I hit somebody with it, it would hurt. After eight days Kommandant Kramer prohibited whips, but we nevertheless went on using them, I never carried a rubber truncheon.
Where did the order come from for what we call “selection parades”?
That came by telephone from a Rapport-Fuhrerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel.
When the order came were you told what the parade was for?
What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went?
Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp, my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book.
After the selection took place they were sent into “B” Camp, and Dreschel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber.
I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonderbehandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S.B. meant the gas chamber.
Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers?
No the prisoners told me about it.
You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that?
No: I knew that prisoners were gassed.
**Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections? **
I myself had only Jews in Camp C.
Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not?
As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
**When these people were parading they were often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not? **
Not like cattle.
**You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating? **
_Examination by her defence counsel _
**The witness Szafran has accused you of beating a girl at Belsen with a riding crop about a fortnight before the British troops arrived, and also that at Auschwitz during a selection two girls jumped out of a window and you shot them while they were lying on the ground. Is that true? **
I never shot at all at any prisoner.
Earlier the Prosecution had examined D. Szafran:
**Whilst you were at Auschwitz did you see any other persons beaten besides yourself? **
I saw it very often when I was working in Kommando 103 and we were carrying loads of earth and coal. I have seen Kramer beat a person so often that I cannot really say how many times. I have seen Grese do it in Auschwitz and about a fortnight before the British troops liberated Belsen I saw her beat a girl in the camp.
She had a pistol, but she was using a riding crop. The beatings were very severe. If they were not the cause of death, they were not called severe in the camp.
_Grese’s counsel had cross-examined D. Szafran: _
Do you remember telling us that you had seen Grese No 9, beating a girl in Belsen about a fortnight before the British troops arrived?
I remember it now, it was in the kitchen. Grese was not the kitchen Kommandant, she came in there with the Lager Kommandant on inspection.
She beat the girl with a riding whip made of leather.
If I tell you that at Auschwitz Grese carried a stick and sometimes a whip, but at Belsen she never carried either, are you sure that you are not confused over this incident?
In Auschwitz she wore a pistol and in Belsen she went about with a riding whip. She was one of the few SS women who had a permit to carry arms. I cannot say whether she was wearing a pistol at the time of this incident.
Perhaps it is possible that by that time members were not allowed to carry arms.
Then upon re-examination of this witness by the Prosecution
You said that you could tell us of a good many more instances of Grese’s conduct?
Yes. In Camp A, Block 9, Blockalteste Ria and Hoessler and Dr Enna, the prison doctor made a selection for the gas chamber, and two selected girls jumped out of the window and Grese approached them as they were lying on the ground and shot them twice.
She was always active in the camp gate making inspections and if any of the prisoners wore another sock or shoe or anything like that, he or she would be beaten up.
I cannot remember with what she used to beat them because I had to stand at attention.
You have been asked a good many questions about dates. Were you given calendars either at Auschwitz or Belsen?
No but I remember very well because they were so terrible and ghastly.
Irma Grese’s examination by her own counsel
The witness Stein told us that at selection in the summer of 1944 some prisoners tried to hide, but that you saw them, told somebody and a woman was shot. It was suggested that the woman was shot by an SS man or guard. Had you any authority to issue orders to an SS guard?
The same witness alleged there was an incident when a mother was talking to her daughter over the wire between two compounds, that you arrived on a bicycle and beat the mother so severely that she was lying on the ground where you kicked her?
I do not deny that I beat her, but I did not beat her until she fell to the ground, and I did not kick her either.
Ilona Stein’s earlier cross-examination by Grese’s counsel
With regard to the incident you described of a woman being shot when trying to escape from a selection parade in Auschwitz, was she Hungarian?
You described an incident when Grese arrived on a bicycle and beat another woman, did she beat her with her belt?
I do not know exactly what was in her hands, but I did see that she had something in them. I do remember, however, that I have seen Grese taking off her belt and beating prisoners with it.
Was the body taken away on a stretcher by hand or was it taken away by something on wheels?
When somebody died, which happened in very many cases, he was simply put into a blanket and dragged away.
But once when I was out on a working party, Grese saw me talking to somebody through the barbed wire and she immediately started beating me.
Did you see Grese beating a great many people a great many times at both camps?
I saw her more frequently doing this in Auschwitz than in Belsen
Was the reason you only had this one beating from her because you behaved yourself well?
I had not very great contact with her because working in the kitchen we were rather separated.
_Ilona Stein deposition reads in part _
Whilst I was at Birkenau an SS woman named Irma Grese was responsible for many beatings, one murder and sending people to the gas chamber. I identify No 2 on photograph Z/4/2 as Irma Grese.
What I speak of I speak of to my own knowledge.
In July 1944 I was working in the kitchen at Birkenau when I saw a woman, whose daughter was in an adjoining camp, go to the dividing wire in order to speak to her daughter. Grese who was passing on a bicycle, immediately got off, took off her leather belt and beat the woman with it.
She also beat her on the face and head with her fists, and when the woman fell to the ground she trampled on her. The woman’s face became swollen and blue. A friend of the woman’s daughter took her away and the woman was in the hospital for three weeks suffering from the effects of the beating.
I saw everything myself that Grese did to this victim.
Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way.
In one selection about August 1944, there were between 2,000 and 3,000 selected. At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber.
People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again.
I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber.
Sometime in August or September 1944, at one of these selection parades, one Hungarian woman who had been selected tried to escape from the line and join her daughter in another line which was for those not chosen.
Grese noticed this and ordered one of the SS guards to shoot the woman, which he did. I did not hear the order, but saw Grese speak to the guard and she was shot at once. In the company of some nurses from the hospital I took the dead body to the mortuary.
Irma Grese under Prosecution questioning by Colonel Backhouse:
You affected heavy top-boots and you liked to walk around with a revolver strapped on your waist and a whip in your hand, did you not?
I did not like it.
You thought it very clever to have a whip made in the factory and even when the Commandant told you to stop using it you went on, did you not?
What was this whip really made of?
Cellophane paper plaited like a pigtail. It was translucent like white glass
Did you give orders to other Aufseherinnen working under you to beat prisoners?
Had you the right to give such authorisation?
Irma Grese left Auschwitz in January 1945 and returned to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, before being transferred to the Concentration Camp of Bergen –Belsen in March 1945.
Bergen –Belsen was liberated by British troops on the 15 April 1945, amidst indescribable scenes of horror. The Commandant Josef Kramer along with forty-four others including Irma Grese were indicted before a British Military Court under Royal Warrant dated 14 June 1945.
The trial was held between the 17 September 1945 until the 17 November of the same year, Grese was convicted and sentenced to be hanged, along with two other female guards Elizabeth Voilkenrath and Joanna Bormann.
She was executed on the morning of the 13 December 1945 in Hamelin prison.
The Complete Transcripts of the Belsen Trial - Wiener Library
US National Archives
Hitler’s Death Camps by Konnilyn Feig, published by Holmes and Meyer New York 1981
Bergen-Belsen was built near the city of Celle in Lower Saxony. To begin with it was officially a transit camp and it was only later that it got the official transformation to a concentration camp. Its first commandant was SS-Hauptsturmf?hrer Adolf Hass.
In 1944 Hass was replaced by SS- Hauptsturmf?hrer Josef Kramer who had worked in concentration camps since 1934. Prior to Bergen-Belsen, Kramer had worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau. While at Bergen-Belsen, Kramer got the nickname ‘Beast’. Many thousands died while he was in command of Bergen-Belsen. His solution for outbreaks of dysentery was not to feed the prisoners. A prisoner who survived Bergen-Belsen wrote later: “Kramer lost his calm. A strange gleam lurked in his small eyes, and he worked like a madman. I saw him throw himself at one unfortunate woman and with a single stroke of his truncheon shatter her skull.”
The most notorious female guard at Bergen-Belsen was Herta Bothe. After the war she was charged with war crimes. Bothe would shot at female prisoners and beat them with wooden sticks. She was sent to prison for ten years after the war.
As the German Army collapsed on both war fronts, many prisoners were sent to Bergen-Belsen. By 1945, thousands of prisoners were too ill to work and weakened by starvation, they easily succumbed to typhoid and typhus. In March 1945 alone, more than 18,000 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen. The chronic overcrowding ensured that epidemics spread at a fearsome speed.
The first to the camp were men from the British Army. The camp was officially handed over to the British on April 13th but a group of 120 soldiers went in on April 15th 1945. What they found shocked many. Knowing that few would believe any verbal description, the British filmed what they found. The black and white film could not depict the stench from dead bodies that surrounded the camp.
As the men toured the camp, they found an estimated 10,000 unburied bodies (the crematorium had broken down) together with about 40,000 barely living prisoners. Of these 40,000, 28,000 died after liberation - there was little that could be done to help those who were severely ill.
Between 400 to 500 died each day after liberation – the task faced by the British simply overwhelmed them. Legend has it that some were killed by kindness – that British soldiers gave their chocolate ration to the prisoners and this accounted for about 1000 deaths. However, very many of those who received their gift were seriously ill. RAMC officers at the camp believed that most died of their condition prior to liberation not from chocolate.
Joseph Kramer remained at the camp even while the British were approaching. He had burnt as many documents as was possible and what struck the RAMC Brigadier who had entered the camp, Glyn Hughes, was his crass arrogance and seeming lack of any thought for his victims.
Colonel J A D Johnstone, RAMC, described what he saw at the camp when he arrived:
“I saw a very great number of dazed, apathetic, human scarecrows, wandering around the camp in an aimless fashion, dressed in rags and some even without rags. There were piles of dead everywhere – right up to the front gate.”
“I went to across to Hut 216 which was said to be the worst in the camp. George Woodwark was there and showed me round. It certainly was the worst. In many parts whole parts of the floor were missing and you squelched down onto the earth and God only knows what else. It was hopelessly overcrowded and feces were even more abundant than in the other huts. George said they had pulled several bodies out from under what floorboards were left, and I could well believe it. I was jolly glad to get out into the fresh air again.” (Michael Hargrave)
Food distribution within the camp was a major problem. The British could not allow the prisoners to distribute food themselves as it became very obvious very quickly that each nationality at the camp looked after itself. The German SS guards were still used by the British to guard the camp but this in itself led to problems. The SS guards were too keen to open fire on the inmates at the slightest sign of trouble. On the night of April 15th, the day the British first entered the camp, the SS shot dead a number of prisoners when potatoes were delivered to the camp. Brigadier Hughes told Kramer that for every one prisoner shot by he SS in future, he would order the execution of one SS guard.
A few days later ten SS guards who had typhus were sent to the camp. They were put into the largest male camp block. Whether these men survived is not known. Having been introduced to the occupants of the block as SS guards, it would seem highly unlikely that they did not.
Within two weeks of the liberation of the camp, all of the German troops who had been ordered by the British to remain there to guard the camp had disappeared. Joseph Kramer was later caught and put on trial for crimes against humanity. He was found guilty and executed.
This article about Rabbi Teitelbaum of Satmar was written in 1959 in the Yiddish publication called **Das Vort **by a Hungarian writer, Dr. Ferenz Kennedy, who was together with the rabbi in the famous train of Jewish Hungarian personalities who by virtue of Kastner's bribery were taken to an internment camp in Bergen-Belsen, and then later from there was saved by being taken to Switzerland. Dr. Kennedy was also together with the rabbi in Bergen-Belsen, and published this article in the Hungarian newspaper, Oj Kelet when the rabbi was visiting the Holy Land. It was written by an estranged Jew and is of particular interest.
I should start by noting that I am not one of Rabbi Teitelbaum's followers, but perhaps I can contribute to portraying this unusual person by describing my experiences with him over a period of several months in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where we were confined at a time and place that revealed a person's true personality.
Fifteen years ago, on July 2, 1944, I first met the Satmar Rebbe at the Hungarian-Slovakian border in Madiarovar, where our train was stopped for two days. A decision had to be made about whether our transport train should travel to Auschwitz, Poland or to Auschpitz, Austira. This was the most important decision for the transport director to make. Each of us understood the difference between Auschwitz and "Auschpitz"....
Someone in our group heard from the conductor that his directive was to travel to Auschwitz. This meant that the transport train was heading to the Auschwitz extermination camp. You can just imagine how desperate we were when we found out about this.
In the meantime the transport train cars moved over to the sidetracks, and we spent two full days inside those cars in an area of three meters on the sidetracks. Along the side of the tracks we noticed a Jew with a nearly gray beard whose face made an enormous impression upon me. Both of his alabaster-white pointer fingers were inside his white vest while he was pacing ack and forth, murmuring his prayers or melodies, moving around like a wounded lion. I do not know whether he was reciting psalms or was thinking about our awful fate. I just saw that he was very upset, moving a few steps among the others with his head bowed. When I asked one of my friends about this man, he replied with certainty, "He is the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Teitelbaum! And whoever is with him most certainly has a lot of worries."
I had never heard of a rabbi like him. The world of the Orthodox religious Jews was foreign to me, and I had never before heard of any Satmar rabbi. Therefore it was no surprise that as a skeptic I could not imagine how people could be so sure that because the rabbi was with us, we had every hope of surviving our Hell. However, I later realized that our hopes were totally justified.
The Hungarian police started approaching the train cars, but the S.S. ordered them away. During those dramatic hours, Dr. Kastner in Budapest intervened. Finally our train was redirected to "Auschpitz" instead of to the Auschwitz death camp. Auschwitz was supposedly filled, and therefore we were sent to Bergen-Belsen.
I lived with the Satmar Rebbe for five months in Men's Block E in Bergen-Belsen. I do not know how this happened, but it is a fact that the Germans themselves permitted him to keep his beard, which the rebbe concealed with a kerchief around his face, pretending to be suffering from a toothache.
The rebbe did not eat the camp food. He lived on water and cooked potatoes. As far as I know he fasted two or three days a week. You could hear his voice in the barracks almost all day lon. It was not talking we heard, but his prayers and studying. He had a mournful tune and sobbing gestures that kept many of us awake late into the night. I learned those gestures myself, and for years I could hear it in my head as a sad memento of those tragic times. The rebbe's mournful tune made many of those living in the barracks nervous, but not me. I knew that the rebbe was using that tune to pray to G-d for mercy; he fought against the decree and prayed for rescue.
The Satmar rebbe was crystal clean even in the dirty barracks -- dirt and vermin had no power over him. He used to lay on his bed, and his wife and his attendant, a young skinny man, devoted themselves to him, helping him to have something to eat so he could continue with his religious activities.
His majesty and wonderful appearance amazed everyone. I admit that I too was affected by his influence and appeal. There, among the barbwire, the shadow of the Angel of Death was greatly weakened, and I began believing in heavenly forces. I often noticed that whenever Rabbi Teitelbaum recited his prayers, or whenever he simply sang his wordless tune, all of our eyes were filled with bloody tears.
On one summer day, I asked the rabbi's young attendant to obtain an autograph from the rebbe. The answer came quickly: the rabbi did not consider my request to be appropriate. The weeks passed, and the Satmar Rebbe patiently and modestly suffered and got through the difficulties. However, I once saw him lose his patience. It was when on a Sabbath afternoon when he was deep in study together with Rabbi Shlomo Zvi STrasser of Debrecin. The Satmar Rebbe's eyes sparkled, and the 90 year-old Rabbi Strasser yielded to the strong will of the Satmar rebbe.
I subsequently became very close to the Satmar rebbe, and this happened as follows:
I had the opportunity to win the trust of a few S.S. men through some bribery and got along with them very well. In exchange for the bribes I gave them, I received newspapers, and the S.S. provided Goebbels' newspaper, Das Deutsche Reich, as well as the Völkischer Baobachter, the Pressburg newspaper Grenzbote, and other German newspapers. In addition, the German S.S. men would occasionally bring me bread and medicine. Howver, the newspapers were the most important item, and wre our intellectual food. In the camp the newspapers were very significant for us. We frequently derived encouragement from the various news reports, and awaited liberation.
We disseminated the news reports every evening in to barracks among the detainees, and for that purpose the famous Hungarian Jewish playwright, Bela Zholt provided his commentaries and opinions on the dry news that the camp consumed with great curiosity. This is how we found out about the Allied invasion of Normandy. We heard the news about the capture of Warsaw and Paris, and we also learned about hte unsuccessful assassination attempt on Hitler.
One night the Satmar Rebbe sent his attendant to me to ask a favor: since the Rebbe's bed was far from mine, he could not hear the news reports that were being read in low tones. In addition, the rebbe did not lie in bed at the same time as the other detainees, therefore he requested me to give him the news before I informed the rest of the barrack. I was more than happy to agree to his request, and each evening at 6:30 I would go over to the rebbe's bed and report to him the most important news and political events. The rebbe closely paid attention and heard the news about the Allied victories with cold indifference and apathy. He commented that "we still need great mercy from Heaven to be able to be liberated from here alive."
The High Holy Days were approaching, and soon it would be Yom Kippur. Several of the barracks held prayer services, and in our barrack the Satmar Rebbe led the Mussaf service of Yom Kippur. Bela Zholt and Aladar Komlosh (two famous Jewish Hungarian novelists who were also interned in Bergen-Belsen) passed by outside. I approached them and invited them to listen to the prayers of Rabbi Teitelbaum, which was a deeply touching experience to see the rebbe wrapped in his tallis [prayer shawl], rocking back and forth with all his limbs and pouring out his soul to his Creator.
A few meters away, S.S. men were standing outside guarding the camp prisoners in the camp surrounded by barbwire, while inside we could hear the heartbreaking prayerful voice of the Satmar rebbe who was expressing age-old laments of the ancient Jewish prayers.
When we left the barrack, the cynical and assimilated Bela Zholt, who despite being so assimilated had tears welling in his eyes, said to me, "This is quite traditional, but it's very nice!"
Aladar Komlosh replied that if any prayers existed in the world, it was this true prayer service of the Satmar rebbe. We all felt we were listening to a holy Jewish prayer, and we could not remain indifferent to it.
At the end of November we heard reports that we would be liberated, and would be taken to Switzerland. Our hearts were filled with nervousness, fear, and apprehension. Our minds were filled with doubts as to the veracity of the reports, and the entire camp was in a tense mood.
We got ready to pack our bags and waited for the moment liveration would arrive. On that very day, filled with physical and emotional stress, the rebbe's attendant approached me and asked whether I still wanted the rebbe's autograph. Some five months had already passed, and we have lived through many difficulties. I had already forgotten about the whole subject. "Of course I would like to have the rebbe's autograph," I replied with a restrained smile.
This is how I obtained the rebbe's autograph in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The rebbe had not forgotten about the subject of my request during all those months, and as soon as it became "appropriate" he fulfilled my request.
Afterwards, when we were actuaally released and in Switzerland on one cold December night, we marched along St. Galen Street to the barracks that had been prepared for us. On the corners of the street we were met by fellow Jews who were unable to approach us up close, but tossed apples and sweets our way, and we caught them with both hands. However, these Jews who threw us gifts had one question: "Where is the rebbe?" Bela Zholt strode along side me, excitedly observing, "You see, Ferenz, I am nothing! No one knows me even though hundreds of thousands of people have read my novels and poetry. No one is waiting for me; they only know the rebbe. They are only waiting for him!"
Our group comprised more than 1,300 people, including various famous personalities from the Hungarian Jewish community. The majority of our group was of course assimilated and modernized Jews. There were very few Orthodox Jews. The transport comprised professors, poets, artists, community activists and leaders of the Hungarian Zionist movement and their families. The Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Teitelbaum, did not at all fit in to our community, whose major leaders were intellecuals and academics who believed that as soon as liberation arrived, they would be greeted with great honor. Yet suddenly here they were so bitterly disappointed since here in Switzerland almost no one paid any attention to them. EVeryone was interested in the personality known as the Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. Everyone wanted to know where he was in the transport, and how he was feeling. Everyone asked the same question: Where is the rabbi?
So we all realized that it was not the professionals and academics who were indispensable, but rather the quiet and haggard holy man.
In Switzerland we all parted ways, but for a long time thereafter until today, I think a great deal about the fascinating personality of the Satmar rebbe. I frequently still remember the following little philosophical ideas:
When we consider the significance of religion, and the fact that the Torah and faith is what has preserved the Jewish People over thousands of years of Exile, we must also realize that the Satmar rebbe is without a doubt one of the holiest individuals produced by the Jewish People, and is the greatest guardian to assure that the Torah of Moses is not forgotten, G-d forbid. It may be possible that we perceive him as being too fastidious, too stubborn about following every point of the Torah, but without a doubt he is the real and most loyal defender of the Torah, a true leader of the Jewish People!
In 1943, Hanneli's family is sent to a labor camp and eventually to Bergen-Belsen, aconcentration camp in northern Germany. Just over one year later, in 1944, the Frank family's hiding place is discovered. Anne and her family are immediately arrested and sent to concentration camps.
In February 1945, Hanneli learns that there are Dutch people in a part of Bergen-Belsen that is separated by a barbed-wire fence filled with straw. Hanneli knows the punishment for speaking to the prisoners on the other side of the fence could be death, but she feels homesick and is desperate to speak to someone from home.
One cold evening, Hanneli creeps up to the barbed wire and timidly whispers into the fence. She hears a voice softly ask, "Who are you?" in Dutch. Hanneli responds with her name, and the woman — who turns out to be a friend of the Frank family — informs her that Anne is at the camp. She asks Hanneli if she wants to speak to Anne. Hardly able to contain her excitement, Hanneli says yes.
A Final Reunion A few moments later, Hanneli hears Anne's voice. It has been so long, and so much has happened to them. Standing on either side of the barbed wire, they both are overcome with emotion and begin to cry. Anne explains how her family was in hiding for two years. She is cold, tired, and hungry. She tells Hanneli that she thinks her parents have died and that her sister is very sick and dying too.
Hanneli knows she must try to help her friend. The next night she decides to take an even greater risk. She and some of the other women put together a small package of food rations. Then Hanneli goes back to the fence and throws the package over to Anne. Hanneli hears Anne scream. Another prisoner has grabbed the package and won't give it up.
Despite the danger, Hanneli once more returns to meet Anne several days later. Again, she throws a small package over the fence. This time Anne catches it and heads off into the darkness. This is the last time Hanneli sees her friend alive.
I TURNED 100 YEARS OLD IN APRIL AND HAD A BEAUTIFULbirthday party surrounded by my grandchildren, great grandchildren and other family members. I even danced a little. Willard Scott mentioned my name on television. But such a time is also for reflection. I decided to overcome my long reluctance to revisit terrible times. Older people must tell their stories. With the help of Jonathan Alter of NEWSWEEK, here's a bit of mine:
I was born in Germany in 1897, got married and had two children in the 1920s. Then Hitler came to power, and like many other Jews, we fled to Holland. As the Nazis closed in, we sent one daughter abroad with relatives and the other into hiding with my sister and her children in The Hague. My husband and I could not hide so easily, and in 1941 we were sent first to Westerbork, a transit camp where we stayed about a year, and later to Bergen-Belsen, a work and transit camp, from where thousands of innocent people were sent to extermination camps. There were no ovens at Bergen-Belsen; instead the Nazis killed us with starvation and disease. My husband and brother both died there. I stayed for about three years before it was liberated in the spring of 1945. When I went in, I weighed more than 125 pounds. When I left, I weighed 78.
After I arrived at the Bergen-Belsen barracks, I was told I was to be the barracks leader. I said, "I'm not strong enough to be barracks leader." They said that would be disobeying a command. I was terrified of this order, but had no choice. It turned out that the Nazi commandant of the camp was from my home town in Germany and had studied with my uncle in Strasbourg. This coincidence probably helped save my life. He asked to talk to me privately and wanted to know what I had heard of my uncle. I said I wanted to leave Bergen-Belsen, maybe go to Palestine. The commandant said, "If I could help you, I would, but I would lose my head." About once every three weeks, he would ask to see me. I was always afraid. It was very dangerous. Jews were often shot over nothing. After the war, I heard he had committed suicide.
There were about 500 women and girls in my barracks. Conditions were extremely crowded and unsanitary. No heat at all. Every morning, I had to get up at 5 and wake the rest. At 6 a.m., we went to roll call. Often we had to wait there for hours, no matter the weather. Most of the day, we worked as slave labor in the factory, making bullets for German soldiers. When we left Holland, I had taken only two changes of clothes, one toothbrush, no books or other possessions. Later I had a few more clothes, including a warm jacket, which came from someone who died. Men and women lined up for hours to wash their clothes in the few sinks. There were no showers in our barracks. And no bedding. The day was spent working and waiting. At 10 p.m., lights out. At midnight, the inspection came-three or four soldiers. I had to say everything was in good condition when, in fact, the conditions were beyond miserable. Then up again at 5 a.m.
One of the children in my barracks toward the end of the war was Anne Frank, whose diary became famous after her death. I didn't know her family beforehand, and I don't recall much about her, but I do remember her as a quiet child. When I heard later that she was 15 when she was in the camps, I was surprised. She seemed younger to me. Pen and paper were hard to find, but I have a memory of her writing a bit. Typhus was a terrible problem, especially for the children. Of 500 in my barracks, maybe 100 got it, and most of them died. Many others starved to death. When Anne Frank got sick with typhus, I remember telling her she could stay in the barracks - she didn't have to go to roll call.
There was so little to eat. In my early days there, we were each given one roll of bread for eight days, and we tore it up, piece by piece. One cup of black coffee a day and one cup of soup. And water. That was all. Later there was even less. When I asked the commandant for a little bit of gruel for the children's diet, he would sometimes give me some extra cereal. Anne Frank was among those who asked for cereal, but how could I find cereal for her? It was only for the little children, and only a little bit. The children died anyway. A couple of trained nurses were among the inmates, and they reported to me. In the evening, we tried to help the sickest. In the morning, it was part of my job to tell the soldiers how many had died the night before. Then they would throw the bodies on the fire.
I have a dim memory of Anne Frank speaking of her father. She was a nice, fine person. She would say to me, "Irma, I am very sick." I said, "No, you are not so sick." She wanted to be reassured that she wasn't. When she slipped into a coma, I took her in my arms. She didn't know that she was dying. She didn't know that she was so sick. You never know. At Bergen-Belsen, you did not have feelings anymore. You became paralyzed. In all the years since, I almost never talked about Bergen-Belsen. I couldn't. It was too much.
When the war was over, we went in a cattle truck to a place where we stole everything out of a house. I stole a pig, and we had a butcher who slaughtered it. Eating this-when we had eaten so little before -was bad for us. It made many even sicker. But you can't imagine how hungry we were. At the end, we had absolutely nothing to eat. I asked an American soldier holding a piece of bread if I could have a bite. He gave me the whole bread. That was really something for me.
When I got back to Holland, no one knew anything. I finally found a priest who had the address where my sister and daughter were. I didn't know if they were living or not. They were. They had been hidden by a man who worked for my brother. That was luck. I found them and began crying. I was so thin that at first they didn't recognize me.
There are many stories like mine, locked inside people for decades. Even my family heard only a little of this one until recently. Whatever stories you have in your family, tell them. It helps.
Author recounts experiences in Nazi concentration camp
ST. LAURENT -
As an 11 year-old boy held captive at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II, Moshe Peer was sent to the gas chamber at least six times. Each time he survived, watching with horrors as many of the women and children gassed with him collapsed and died. To this day, Peer doesn't know how he was able to survive. "Maybe children resist better, I don't know," he said in an interview last week.
Now 60, Peer has spent the last 19 years writing a first-person account of the horror he witnessed at Bergen Belsen. On Sunday, he spoke to about 300 young adults at the Petah Tikva Sephardic Congregation in St. Laurent about his book and his experience as a Holocaust survivor.
The gathering was part of the synagogue's Shabbaton 93, which brought together young adults from across North America for a cultural and social experience. Called Inoubliable Bergen-Belsen (Unforgettable Bergen-Belsen), Peer wrote the book to make the reader feel like a witness at the scene. But he admits he can never recreate for anyone the living hell he experienced. "The conditions in the camp is indescribable," Peer said. "You can't bring home the horror."
In 1942, at age 9, Peer and his younger brother and sister were arrested by police in their homeland of France. His mother was sent to Auschwitz and never returned.
Peer and his siblings were sent to Bergen-Belsen two years later. He recalls the separation from his parents as excruciating. But surviving the horrors of the camp quickly became a priority.
"There were pieces of corpses lying around and there were bodies lying there, some alive and some dead," Peer recalled. "Bergen-Belsen was worse than Auschwitz because there people were gassed right away so they didn't suffer a long time."
Peer said Russian prisoners were kept in an open-air camp "like stallions" and were given no food or water. "Some people went mad with hunger and turned to cannibalism," Peer said.
Peer's day began with a roll call of the numbered prisoners. This could last as long as five hours, while their captors calculated how many prisoners had died. Anyone who fell over during the roll call was beaten on the spot. After roll call, the prisoners returned to their barracks, where they were given a tiny piece of bread and some coloured water.
Peer and his siblings - who all survived - were cared for at the camp by two women, whom Peer has unsuccessfully tried to find.
Children being children, they did play, sometimes chasing each other around the barracks. But there would always be some who were too sick or weak to get up.
After the war, Peer was reunited with his father in Paris and the family moved to Israel. Peer's four children were born in Israel, but after serving in the Israeli army in a number of wars, Peer moved to Montreal in 1974. Even 49 years later, Peer is still haunted by his concentration-camp experience and still finds his memories keep him awake at night.
But what he is most bitter about is the way the rest of world stood by and let it happen.
"No one told the Germans not to do it. They had the permission of world," he said.
I am grateful to the KaliverRebbetzin for sharing her story with me.
It was the middle of January. World War II was coming to an end. I had lost everything and I was now holding onto my last vestiges of strength. The British and American armies were approaching the concentration camps from the west; the Russian troops were advancing from the east. The Germans were frazzled. Truth and justice were closing in on them and they felt trapped. They didn't want us, the witnesses of the horrific atrocities they had perpetuated, to be around to tell the story.
So they devised a new form of cruelty: the infamous death march. We were a group of six thousand women and girls driven out through the gates of Auschwitz, Poland. Weak, ill, broken in body and spirit, survivors of brutality, forced labor, illness, and starvation. Now the Nazis were yanking us, like dogs tied to chains, to Bergen-Belsen, Germany.
The roads were icy. We wore only the thin-striped prisoners' garb. We shivered in the cold, like laundry flapping in the wind. But the S.S. men pursued us at gunpoint, unrelentingly, without granting us even a morsel of bread.
It was one o'clock in the morning, when the Germans finally stopped the gruelling march for the day; We were weak, ill, broken in body and spirit, survivors of brutality, forced labor, illness, and starvation.not because they cared about us, but because they themselves were exhausted and wanted to rest. Under the open skies, shivering, on the ice-covered ground, we allowed blessed sleep to soothe our ravenous bodies until morning dawned. Then, without any prelude or preamble, they roused us from our slumber, and drove us on as we stumbled over our weakened legs, bleary-eyed and ever hungry with nothing else but the powerful will to live.
Even the animals were more fortunate than we. They received food -- food that in our eyes was fit for kings. They received warm shelter, although, admittedly, sometimes we would be lucky enough to spend the night with them in a stable or a pigsty. For six, agonizing weeks we were driven mercilessly. The gendarmes, walked on one side of the unpaved road, while we trudged on the other side.
I remember one time when we arrived at an abandoned concentration camp. Some of the girls prowled in the kitchen and found a treasure worth more than precious diamonds: potatoes cooked in their peels. Euphoria traveled like wildfire, hunger cried out in anticipation, and many managed to swoop down upon those potatoes before the Germans arrived and barred the rest of us from entering the kitchen.
I can vividly recall the two potatoes I had managed to procure that night. I was so proud. This time it would be I who had succeeded in bringing some food to my two nieces instead of the other way around. Suddenly, out of nowhere, two large hands appeared and snatched them right out of my hands. That night, it was sleep, once again, that helped me overcome my hunger pangs.
The next morning we were on the move again. My shoes that I had brought from home had long since been tattered and discarded. With the wooden clogs the Germans had provided us, it was impossible to walk in the snow. So with nothing but woolen socks on my feet, I marched along the snowy roads.
Alongside me walked my sister Rivkale's two daughters. Surale was eighteen -- only a year younger than I -- and Chayale, seventeen. We were famished, frostbitten and close to despair.
I could not walk anymore.
The frosty Polish winter, the terrible cold, the exhausting six-week march, were too much to bear. I felt that I simply could not place one foot in front of the other. All I wanted was to sit down and give up.
Gradually, I started lagging behind my nieces. Soon I was far away from the suffering column that was steadfastly moving further along.
Eventually, I sat down on a stone, forlorn and alone, in a frightening world. Even fear could no longer prod me on. Aside for some handfuls of snow, I had not eaten for days.
Suddenly, from the distance, I could make out two figures pressing their way back through the masses of inmates moving forward. As they came into view, I noticed that they were my own two nieces desperately attempting to emerge from the rows of six-thousand skeletal people.
"Auntie," Surale panted as she reached me. "You must not stay here."
"Please let me be."
"No. No!" she pleaded. You must come with us."
"My dear nieces, I am so sorry, I just cannot go on."
"But they will shoot you," Chayale cried, her charcoal eyes burning with fear. "Please don't do this to us."
I stared at them blankly. I didn't know from where to draw the strength to continue.
Chayale crouched low. "A miracle occurred," she whispered into my ear. "It was a gendarme himself who told me to run and get you. He said to us, 'Your sister remained sitting on a rock. If you do not get her now, I will shoot.'"
They didn't dally too long. They weren't going to let my apathy get in their way. Surale took hold of one arm, Chayale grasped my other arm, and they literally dragged me along.
After hundreds of kilometers, the S.S. men finally packed us into open wagons. These wagons were originally designed for cattle. We were squeezed together like sardines, one human pressing against the other. There was not an inch of space to move.
Quite unexpectedly, the S.S. guards tossed to each of us what seemed to be a black brick. Upon closer inspection I realized that it was a small piece of bread, black and hard. I savored each crumb. The taste was heavenly, and I could never know when this would happen again.
Suddenly one woman declared, "Make room for me!"
From her appearance and the way she spoke, it was clear to me that her mind could not take this anymore and she had apparently gone mad.
"Make room for me," she insisted. "I must go to sleep."
Make room for her? Where? How? What did she mean? My mind raced, trying to make sense of what the woman was saying. Suddenly, she grabbed my hand and dug into it with her teeth. Then she bit the hand of the women crammed to my right. I reeled in pain and nearly fainted. I saw stars and my head began to spin from the agony. But the poor woman was oblivious to all. She simply lay down at our feet. Instinctively I jumped, terrified that my foot would come next. But there was nowhere to escape.
My hand swelled up to the size of a football. In this manner I continued the horrific journey. The wound turned black and red and there was nothing I could do. Two days later, the woman to my right succumbed to blood poisoning and died. As for myself, I reckoned it was only a matter of a day or two. The pain was simply unbearable.
Five days later we arrived at Bergen-Belsen. I was still alive. This was the end of February 1945. After six harrowing weeks of marching, we had unbelievably reached our destination. From the original six thousand inmates who had left Auschwitz, four hundred girls entered the gates of Bergen-Belsen.
Even now on our arrival, no one deemed it necessary to grant us a bit of food or a sip of water.
I lay on the muddy, asphalt floor in a stupor. My red, swollen feet were frostbitten, numb, and bruised. My hand throbbed and ached. I was hanging on to a thin thread of life.
Suddenly the Blockelteste entered with a bucket filled with black coffee. I lay on the muddy, asphalt floor in a stupor, frostbitten, numb, and bruised. I was hanging on to a thin thread of life.A line of starving inmates formed. We all had a small metal cup attached to a thin rope around our bodies, and it was this cup that we held in front of us, waiting with bated breath for it to be filled.
Somehow I managed to get myself in line. I stood listlessly. I did not have the stamina to count the people in front of me. The cup I held out vibrated in my hands. My turn came and I gazed at the life-sustaining liquid being poured into my cup. I felt so weak. I was tottering from the fever and intense pain. I placed the cup close to my quivering lips.
Suddenly the clouds parted in my befuddled brain and a flash of clarity occurred to me.
Master of the Universe, I thought to myself. What am I doing now? So, I will drink one more little bit of black coffee in my life! Is this all there is to it? Is this the last thing I will do before I meet my Creator?"Master of the Universe," I cried silently. "Let me do one more mitzvah. Let me have the opportunity to sanctify Your name one last time."
Like a shadow, I hobbled over to the open window. I tried to steady my quaking body. I placed the cup of coffee in my left hand and I washed my right hand, then I switched to wash my left hand.
Negel vasser. How long haven't I washed my hands with the ritual washing? Father in Heaven, I want to arrive home to You as pure and untainted as You sent me down here.
I stared at my empty cup. There was not a single drop of liquid left.
I cannot explain to you what happened next. All of a sudden I felt a life-giving energy surging through my pain-wracked body. I felt revitalized, I felt invigorated.
I knew right there, standing by the open window, blinking into my bare cup, that I had received a new lease on life. From that moment on, the swelling on my hand went down, the redness diminished. There was not a doctor in sight. Without water to wash the ugly gash, without antibiotics, without any ointment, my wound disappeared.
A small, barely visible scar remained. A silent testimony -- a poignant reminder – to something that is beyond the realm of natural...
Transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp for execution, Magda Herzberger described how she collapsed and nearly died among the corpses on the day that liberators arrived
"And I felt a kinship, a friendship, towards a birch tree I had seen in the camp. And my eyes fell on it, and my goal was to reach that tree. I wanted to embrace that tree. And I could see that it was April, the first new buds [had appeared] on that [tree].
And I was dragging myself on all fours until finally I reached that tree. I can never forget that moment. I practically embraced [it]. I felt love for that tree, all the love it was in me I conveyed. And then I closed my eyes and I was really ready to die. I felt that this is it, the end of my rope. And I felt at that point, I felt an apathy, you know, from weakness.
I felt apathetic, I felt no joy, I felt no pain any more, I felt no hunger any more, nothing any more.
And I closed my eyes and I was thinking. I revised my life and I thought if I would have a second chance, I would do things maybe differently than I did. If I would have a second chance, I am going to live life fully and try to make the most of it.
And I looked back through most of my childhood, I followed my life, just like somebody who is going to part and looks at the house where you grew up and say goodbye, that's the way I felt.
And I felt such a sadness that we were sentenced to death only because we were a part of the Hebrew generation. What crime [did we commit]? We were innocent people.
And it horrified me, the fact that I am going to be put on that pile and maybe pushed into a mass grave or maybe cremated. And nothing is going to remain from me; even my dust is not going to be respected, because I knew what's going to happen with my dust. It was a horrible feeling.
And I was wondering what it is like to die. So, I closed my eyes and I sort of give myself to death. And believe me, Sara, there was a great miracle. I heard commotion, I didn't know from where it is coming. I thought I am hallucinating. Or sensing maybe that's the way death is coming.
And I opened my eyes and I have seen the big elevated [towers]. We had high elevated towers in Auschwitz [Bergen-Belsen] and in those elevated towers — See, I have lots of slides that I can show you now — there were guards with machine guns.
And I have seen the guards disappear, and I have seen the British tanks coming in to our camp, and I realized it is liberation day. I couldn't believe that's true. I felt so weak I couldn't even get up and run.
The people who came later than I, they could still walk, but I couldn't. And I just was lying there and I didn't feel any joy. I was frightened. For the first time I realized maybe, my parents didn't make it. What's going to happen?"
Magda Mozes Herzberger was born on February 20, 1926, in Cluj, Romania. On August 30, 1940, Romania was annexed by Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany. Life for Cluj's nearly 17,000 Jews grew steadily worse over the next four years. In March 1944, the Germans occupied Romania and took large-scale anti-Semitic measures. The Mozes family, along with thousands of other Jews, was forced into the Cluj Ghetto. It was liquidated only a month later. Magda and her family were sent to Auschwitz, where most of them perished.
After six weeks in Auschwitz, 18-year-old Magda was shipped to Bremen, Germany. She did forced labor as the city was bombed by Allied forces. In March 1945, Magda was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her job there was to dispose of thousands of bodies that had accumulated in and around the barracks. On April 15, 1945, she collapsed from exhaustion. Magda was near death when she was found among the corpses by a liberating British soldier.
Magda returned to Cluj late in 1945. In April 1946, she began medical school, where she met and married Eugene Herzberger. Fearing persecution under communism, the Herzbergers fled Romania for Israel in 1947. The British, who severely restricted immigration to Israel, captured her ship in the Aegean Sea and brought it to Cyprus. The Herzbergers were held in a makeshift prison camp until permitted to leave for Israel in January 1949.
In 1957, after nine years in Israel, the Herzbergers immigrated to the U.S. They and their two children settled in Monroe, Wisconsin, where Magda's husband practiced medicine for 20 years. The Herzbergers moved to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1976 and to Arizona in 1994.
Magda has spoken extensively about her experiences. She has published two memoirs (Eyewitness to Holocaust and Survival), and several volumes of poetry and fiction. They are available from her website. Magda is also a former mountain climber, skier and runner. She competed in a marathon the summer this interview was conducted.
German soldiers surrender to the Americans at Dachau.
The photograph above was taken on April 29, 1945, the day that the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army. There were 358 German soldiers taken prisoner, including around 200 who are shown in the photograph above. On the left is a German medic carrying a Red Cross flag. He was among the few who survived.
Another survivor was Hans Linberger, who was one of the German soldiers that were forced out of the SS hospital and lined up against a wall to be shot. In the photograph below, which shows the scene of the shooting, the hospital building is on the right.
Americans executing German soldiers who had been dragged out of a hospital
The following article about Hans Linberger was written by T. Pauli for Berkenkruis in October 1988. Berkenkruis is the magazine of the veterans of the Flemish SS volunteers in World War II; T. Pauli was the chairman of the group in 1988 when this article was published. Pauli quoted from the testimony given to the German Red Cross by Hans Linberger.
Begin quote from article in Berkenkruis, October 1988, by T. Pauli:
Hans LINBERGER was wounded east of Kiev when an AT-gun blew away his left arm and covered his body with shrapnel. It was his fourth wound. After a long stay in the hospital he was posted to the Reserve-Kompanie at Dachau, on the 9th of March 1945.
On the 9th of April, 1945, the heavily wounded laid down their weapons; they were no longer suited to be put into action. They reported themselves to the head of the hospital, Dr. SCHRÖDER, who sent them to the barracks. Evacuated women and children were present in barrack right next to it. Preparations to be evacuated were made, doctors, staff and caretaking personnel all wore white coats and the German Red Cross-armband.
Occasional battle noise was heard from SCHLEISSHEIM that day (April 29, 1945), but around 4:30 PM things got quiet again. When suddenly single gunshots were to be heard, LINBERGER went, holding a small Red Cross-flag, to the entrance (of the hospital). (This occurred around noon.) As could be seen from his empty left sleeve, he was badly injured. To the Americans, who were pushing forward in battle-like style, he declared that this was an unarmed hospital.
One Ami (sic) placed his MP against his chest and hit him in the face. Another one said "Youfight Ruski, you no good". The Ami (sic) who placed the MP (Machine Pistol) against his chest went into the hospital and immediately shot a wounded man, who fell down to the ground motionless. When SCHRÖDER wanted to surrender, he was beaten so hard that he received a skull fracture. (Ami was German slang for an American.)
The Americans drove everyone out to the main place and sorted out anyone who looked like SS. All of the SS men were then taken to the back of the central heating building and placed against the wall. A MG (Machine gun) was posted and war correspondents came to film and photograph the lined up men.
Here begins SS-Oberscharführer Hans Linberger's testimony, under oath to the DRK (German Red Cross), about the following events:
The comrade who was standing right beside me fell on top of me with a last cry - "Aww, the pigs are shooting at my stomach" - as I let myself fall immediately. To me it didn't matter if they would hit me standing or lying down. As such I only got the blood of the dead one, who was bleeding badly from the stomach, across my head and face, so I looked badly wounded. During the pause in the shooting, which can only be explained by the arrival of drunken KZ-prisoners, who, armed with spades, came looking for a man named WEISS. Several of them (the wounded soldiers) crawled forward to the Americans and tried to tell them that they were foreigners, others tried to say that they never had anything to do with the camps. Yet this man WEISS said: "Stay calm, we die for Germany". Oscha. (Oberscharführer) JÄGER asked me, while lying down, if I had been hit, which I had to deny. He was shot through the lower right arm. I quickly gave him a piece of chocolate, as we were awaiting a shot in the neck. A man wearing a Red Cross armband came to us, threw us some razor blades and said "There, finish it yourself". JÄGER cut the wrist of his shot arm, I cut the left one, and when he wanted to use the blade on me, an American officer arrived with Dr. SCHRÖDER, who could barely keep himself standing, and the shooting was stopped. This allowed us to drag away the wounded. I remember a comrade with a shot in the stomach, who came to us at Dachau, in a room of café Hörhammer, where all possible troops were mixed together. On the road, we were spit upon and cursed at by looters from the troop barracks who wished we would all be hung. During this action (sic) 12 dead were left nameless. As I later found out, documents and name tags had been removed on American orders, and a commando (work party) of German soldiers were supposed to have buried these dead in an unknown location. During the shooting, the wife of a Dr. MÜLLER, with whom I had been in correspondencer years before, had poisoned herself and her two children. I was able to find the grave of these persons. In this grave supposedly are buried 8 more SS-members, including an Oscha. MAIER. MAIER had an amputated leg and was shot in another area of the hospital terrain adjacent to the hospital wall. He lay there with a shot in his stomach and asked Miss STEINMANN to kill him, since he could not bear the pain any longer. His dying relieved Miss STEINMANN from completing the last wish of this comrade. In the proximity of the hospital/mortuary were probably other comrades executed at the walls, as I later found traces of gunfire there.
Later, as a prisoner of war, I was pointed to a grave in the same hospital terrain, by the wife of a former KZ-prisoner, who on All Saints Day in 1946 (November 1st) came near the fence and, while crying, remembered some children buried in the grave. The children must have died after the collapse (Zusammenbruch) when the Americans took over the camp. Further, comrades from the Waffen-SS are buried in the same grave, as could be concluded from a message of the Suchdienst (the German MIA tracing service).
Photo of dead prisoners with the body of an SS officer on the top"This is the pile of dead prisoners awaiting to be burned in the crematorium. There were rooms filled like this. They died in the gas chamber. The fully clothed one on top was killed by the prisoners. He was an executive in the camp."
The two photographs above are from the G.J. Dettore Collection. The photo immediately above shows the caption written on the back of the top photo by the American soldier who took the picture. It shows a pile of naked corpses in the morgue next to the crematorium at Dachau. The soldier who took the picture made a notation on the back that the fully-clothed body on the top of the pile was that of an SS "camp executive" who had been killed by the inmates and then thrown on the pile in the morgue. Note the white card placed on the body of the SS man. The collar tab taken from the uniform of the dead SS man is a vertical silver bullion death's head.
G.J. Dettore, who contributed this photo, believes that the dead SS man is 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, who surrendered the concentration camp to the American liberators. No other "camp executive" was in the camp on the day it was liberated, since they had all fled the day before.
Shown below is the photo taken in the morgue, side by side with a photo contributed by Don Jackson of the 40th Engineers, who were among the American Liberators. Jackson identified the body in the photo on the right as that of the "camp commander." Dachau Commandant Eduard Weiter had left the camp on April 26th, and 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker had been recruited by Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative, to surrender the camp to the Americans.
Body of "camp executive" looks like body of "camp commander"
The Rauffer House, where Ludwig Thoma had his office, stands across from the Wittmann Bookstore at Augsburgerstrasse 13. In October 1894, Ludwig Thoma opened a law office here, becoming Dachau's first attorney. His office was on the third floor. At that time this location was occupied by a haberdashery owned by Max Rauffer, who had the building built in 1892 on land where a grain storage barn formerly stood. Today this building has a Hugo Boss clothing store for men on the ground floor. In an inside hallway, there is a copper door that is engraved with quotes from Thoma's books. This door, designed by Reinhard Grübl, was installed in 1971. It is shown in the photograph below. The second photograph below is a portrait of Ludwig Thoma.
Copper door engraved with quotes from Ludwig ThomaLudwig Thoma, famous writer and poet, lived in Dachau
US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont The Trial of Ilse Koch
Ilse Koch leaves the courtroom at Dachau, April 1947Army Signal Corps photoIlse Koch, August 19, 1947Photo Credit: INP Soundphoto
The most notorious German war criminal, of all those who were brought before the American Military Tribunals at Dachau, was unquestionably Ilse Koch, the wife of Karl Otto Koch, the infamous former Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Karl Otto Koch had already been put on trial by the Nazis themselves and executed before the war ended. Ilse Koch was among the 31 accused war criminals from Buchenwald who were brought before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau on April 11, 1947.
Ilse Koch became pregnant while she was held in prison at the former Dachau concentration camp. The two photos above show how she lost weight during the trial; her baby was born in September 1947.
Frau Koch had been previously investigated for 8 months by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, an SS officer who had been assigned in 1943 to look into accusations of corruption and murder in the Buchenwald camp. She had already been put on trial in December 1943 in a special Nazi Court where Konrad Morgan was the judge. The rumor, circulated by the inmates at Buchenwald, that lamp shades had been made out of human skin, was thoroughly investigated, but no evidence was found and this charge against Frau Koch had been dismissed by Morgen.
Even though Ilse Koch had been acquitted in Morgen's court, the former inmates at Buchenwald were convinced that she had ordered prisoners to be killed, so that their tattooed skin could be made into lamp shades. When the American liberators arrived, they were told about the gory accessories in Frau Koch's home. A display table was set up and a film, directed by Billy Wilder, was made to document the atrocities in the camp.
The photograph below is a still shot from the film. It shows preserved pieces of tattooed skin laid out on a table, and a table lamp with a shade allegedly made from human skin.
Display table at Buchenwald was part of the grand tour of the camp
The story of the making of human lampshades at Buchenwald received a great deal of attention by the American press, and in the two years between the liberation of the camp and the start of the Buchenwald trial at Dachau, there had been considerable coverage in American newspapers.
American soldiers who participated in the liberation of Buchenwald, including Harry Herder and Sgt. Blowers, had told horrible stories about the camp which they had learned from the prisoners. By the time the trial got underway, there was not the slightest doubt in the minds of most Americans that Ilse Koch was indeed guilty of this despicable crime.
Sergeant Blowers told us some things about the Commandant of Buchenwald and his wife. We could see their house down the hill through the leafless trees from our seats on the front steps (of the barracks). Blowers painted a picture of truly despicable human beings. The wife, Ilse Koch, favored jodhpurs, boots, and a riding crop. He told us this story about her: Once, she ordered all of the Jewish prisoners in the camp stripped and lined up; she then marched down the rows of them, and, as she saw a tattoo she liked, she would touch that tattoo with her riding crop; the guards would take the man away immediately to the camp hospital where the doctors would remove the patch of skin with the tattoo, have it tanned, and patch it together with others to make lamp shades. There were three of those lamp shades--the history books say there were two, but there were three. One of them disappeared shortly after we arrived. This may give you a glimmer of an idea of what Ilse Koch was like--and her husband--and the camp "doctors."
Ilse Koch points to the location of her home near the camp zoo
In the photograph above, taken on July 8, 1947, Ilse Koch points out the location of her home in the Commandant's house. In the lower left-hand corner of the map, the buildings shown in a semi-circle are the barracks of the SS soldiers. To the right, down the hill from her home, are the barracks for the prisoners. Lt. Col. Denson, the chief prosecutor, is standing to her left, with his back to the camera. Members of the press are sitting at a table on the left. An interpreter is standing to the right of Frau Koch.
The courtroom had a capacity of 300 spectators, but as many as 400 people crowed into the room to hear the testimony in the Buchenwald case. The photograph below shows a group of American clergymen, who journeyed to the Dachau courtroom to witness the trial of "the Bitch of Buchenwald."
14 American clergymen attended the trial of Ilse Koch
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which began on November 20, 1945 was based on Control Council Law No. 10 which included all war crimes committed by the Nazi regime against any and all nations and individuals between January 30, 1933, when Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, and July 1, 1945.
However, the American Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff at Buchenwald included only crimes committed against Allied nationals between January 1, 1942 and April 11, 1945, the day that Buchenwald was liberated. This was roughly the period of time during which America was at war with Germany. The charges against the accused in the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal did not include Crimes against Humanity, Crimes against Peace, nor War Crimes, as defined in Control Council Law No. 10 at the Nuremberg IMT.
The Buchenwald camp had been in existence since July 1937, and Ilse Koch had been at the camp since August 1937, but there were no charges that involved crimes committed in the camp before January 1, 1942, nor were there any charges involving crimes committed against German citizens at Buchenwald. Any lamp shades made from human skin that came from prisoners killed at Buchenwald before January 1, 1942, if any existed, could not be included in the evidence against Ilse Koch at Buchenwald.
Ilse Koch had previously been a secretary in Dresden until she became a female guard in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin when it opened in 1936. Her future husband, Karl Otto Koch, was an SS officer who had been assigned to be the first Commandant of Sachsenhausen. In May 1937, Ilse became the second wife of Otto Koch, whose first marriage had failed. When Koch was transferred to Buchenwald to become the first Commandant there in August 1937, she accompanied him.
Ilse Koch was born in 1906 and was nine years younger than her husband. Although the prisoners at Buchenwald had given her the title of Commandeuse, Ilse was nothing more than a housewife and mother of three children; she lived in the Commandant's house just outside the prison compound until she was arrested by the Nazis in August 1943 and taken to the jail in the nearby city of Weimar to await trial on charges of embezzlement and incitement to murder.
After the war, Ilse Koch did not go into hiding, and after former prisoners in the camp told stories about her behavior to the American military, it was easy to track her down and arrest her as a war criminal. She was charged with participating in the "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of war, but the specific charge against her was the horrific crime of selecting Buchenwald prisoners to be killed by her alleged lover, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, in order to have lamp shades made from their tattooed skin.
Prosecution witness Dr. Kurte Sitte identifies 3 pieces of tattooed skin
Three pieces of tattooed skin and a shrunken head were exhibited in the courtroom at Dachau as evidence of the ghastly crimes committed by the staff at Buchenwald. The photograph above shows Dr. Kurte Sitte, on the far right, who is identifying the three pieces of tattooed skin, found in the pathology department at Buchenwald. This same exhibit was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on December 13, 1945 as evidence of Crimes against Humanity.
According to the forensic report prepared for the trial, the three pieces of skin were determined to be human. Joseph Halow, a court reporter for some of the other Dachau trials, claims that he saw a lamp shade that was part of the evidence at the proceedings against Ilse Koch, but if this lamp shade was tested, the results were not included in the forensic report. No one else, that I know of, ever mentioned seeing a lamp shade in the Dachau courtroom.
In the testimony given at Dachau, there was no reference by any of the attorneys to a lamp being on display in the courtroom during the proceedings. Dr. Sitte identified the shrunken head that was exhibited in the courtroom, but he did not mention a lamp being in the courtroom during his testimony.
Dr. Sitte, who had a Ph.D. in physics, was one of the star witnesses against Ilse Koch. He had been a prisoner at Buchenwald from September 1939 until the liberation. He testified that tattooed skin was stripped from the bodies of dead prisoners and "was often used to create lampshades, knife cases, and similar items for the SS." He told the court that it was "common knowledge" that tattooed prisoners were sent to the hospital after Ilse Koch had passed by them on work details. Dr. Sitte's testimony of "common knowledge" was just another word for hearsay testimony, which was allowed by the American Military Tribunal.
According to Joshua M. Greene, author of "Justice at Dachau," Dr. Sitte testified that "These prisoners were killed in the hospital and the tattooing stripped off."
Under cross-examination, Dr. Sitte was forced to admit that he had never seen any of the lampshades allegedly made of human skin and that he had no personal knowledge of any prisoner who had been reported by Frau Koch and was then killed so that his tattooed skin could be made into a lampshade. He also admitted that the lampshade that was on the display table in the film was not the lampshade made from human skin that was allegedly delivered to Frau Koch. Apparently the most important piece of evidence, the lampshade made from human skin, was nowhere in sight during the trial.
During his cross examination of Dr. Sitte, defense attorney Captain Emanuel Lewis tried to introduce a plausible explanation for the removal of tattoos at Buchenwald when he asked:
"Is it not a fact that skin was taken from habitual criminals and was part of scientific research done by Dr. Wagner and into the connection between criminals and tattoos on their bodies?"
Dr. Sitte answered:
"In my time, skin was taken off prisoners whether they were criminal or not. I don't think that a responsible scientist would ever call this kind of work scientific."
According to Joshua M. Greene, author of "Justice at Dachau," the prosecution introduced ten witnesses who testified against Ilse Koch. One of these witnesses, Kurt Froboess, testified that he had seen Frau Koch's photo album, which he said had a tattoo on the cover. He said that he had seen this tattoo on a piece of preserved human skin, which he said had been removed from a fellow prisoner, in the pathology department at Buchenwald, and he later recognized this same tattoo on the cover of the photo album.
Apparently this photo album was confiscated by the American liberators, but it was not introduced into evidence in the courtroom. In her plea for mercy from the court, Ilse Koch pointed out that Newsweek magazine had published an article in which it was stated that the US military government in Germany was in possession of her photo album. Frau Koch claimed that the album contained several photos of her home which showed lampshades made from dark leather; Frau Koch said the photos showed that the lampshades were clearly not made from human skin.
At least two witnesses testified about a lamp with a shade fashioned out of human skin and a base made from a human leg bone, which they claimed had been delivered to Frau Koch. One of these witnesses, Kurt Wilhelm Leeser, testified that he had previously seen the tattoos on this lamp shade on the arms of a fellow prisoner, Josef Collinette, before he died. This lamp was not introduced into evidence in the courtroom and there were no witnesses from the American military who testified about its existence.
The Jewish religion frowns upon tattoos and a Jew who is tattooed cannot be buried in consecrated ground, so it would have been unusual for a Jewish prisoner at Buchenwald to have had a tattoo. It was pointed out by defense counsel that Dr. Wagner was doing a study of tattoos and criminal behavior at Buchenwald. Tattooed skin had been removed from dead criminals and preserved at the pathology department where autopsies were done.
The recent photograph below shows the crematorium at Buchenwald. The pathology department was located in the annex of this building. The black rocks in the foreground outline where a barracks building once stood. The Buchenwald concentration camp was built on the slope of a gentle hill and all the prisoners could see the crematorium, with its tall smoke stack, at the top of the hill. Unlike the layout of other camps, such as Dachau and Sachsenhausen, the pathology department building at Buchenwald was within plain sight of all the prisoners.
Crematorium and pathology department at Buchenwald
Dachau Trials Gustav Petrat - Accusations of Torture
Gustav Petrat appears calm just before his execution
Gustav Petrat was a 19-year-old dog handler in the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp. He was assigned to the camp as a guard with a leashed dog, after being wounded in battle as a soldier in the Waffen-SS. He was brought before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau in a subsidiary case of the Mauthausen trial, and was charged with being a war criminal because he allegedly beat and killed prisoners in the camp, a charge which he denied. He was convicted and hanged in November 1948 when he was just short of his 24th birthday. All of the accused in the Dachau proceedings were first interrogated in order to obtain confessions from them. Petrat accused the American interrogators of beating him to get him to sign a confession.
Quoted below in its entirety is Gustav's last statement to the court, written while he was in Landsberg/Lech prison, awaiting his execution.
I, Gustav PETRAT, born 12 November 1924 in Wirballen/Litauen [Lithuania], presently in Landsberg/Lech, make the following sworn statement after I have been informed that this statement is to be submitted to the Military Governor of the U.S. Zone and that any false statement may be severely punished.
1. In May 1944, on account of my wound, I was transferred to the guard personnel of the Mauthausen concentration camp and served there as dog leader with the 16th Guard Company. My rank was Corporal (Rotten Führer) in the Armed (Waffen) SS.
2. On 10 May 1945, I was taken prisoner by American soldiers in Ried near Mauthausen and taken to the Tittling camp. When I got there I was mistreated with whips, fists and feet, as was the general custom at that time for newly arrived prisoners.
3. Like many others I was quartered in a potato patch in the open air, so that we all were exposed to the weather.
4. On 26 May 1945 I had my first interrogation there, which was one of the most memorable of my entire captivity. Even before they asked me the first question, they struck me so that I collapsed. After I had managed to stagger upright again in spite of my weak condition and aided by the necessary kicks from the interrogator, the real interrogation began. They asked me questions that I could not have answered if I had had the best will in the world to do so. I was to state where the leader of the Mauthausen concentration camp was. It was impossible for me to give the information, since I really didn't know, and as a little corporal I couldn't know. My reply loosed a hail of blows.
The second question concerned myself. They asked me how many prisoners I had shot and beaten, to which I replied truthfully and with a clean conscience, "Not one."
The interrogator drew a pistol and threatened to kill me if I did not tell the truth immediately. He meant, however, that I should be hanged. I told him again that I only spoke the truth and he could kill me if he wanted to, that at least I would be freed from the whole mess. Then more blows, and with a push in the small of the back I fled.
5. On 9 May [sic] 1945 I was taken to the Moosburg internment camp with about 80 other prisoners. On 7 September 1945 I had my second interrogation, in Moosburg, at which they asked me the same questions they asked in the Tittling camp. There too, I received blows from a whip. This consisted of a wooden handle about 30 cm. long to which leather straps had been fastened. Since I had to answer the questions in the negative, they told me that there were other ways and means to force me to tell the truth. Then the interrogator left the room for a few minutes, and returned with a second interrogator. Since I had to reply to this man's questions in the negative also because I did not know of any killing, he struck me with his fists and threatened to "hang" and "shoot" me. After I stuck to my guns, I was taken back to my quarters.
On 10 February 1946 I was transferred to the Dachau internment camp.
6. There I was interrogated two times. At the interrogation on 21 June 1946 they read statements to me that said that I had shot eight prisoners in the Mauthausen concentration camp. I was to sign this, but I vigorously refused because I never shot a prisoner. After repeated requests to sign, I was struck with fists and kicked with feet. They put a paper in front of me to sign in which it said that I had never been beaten by American interrogators and soldiers. I refused, and only after repeated blows with the threat that I would never leave the room alive until I had signed, and that they would know how to break down my obstinacy, did I put my name to it.
I had never had anything to do with the court in my life and I was afraid that they would make my life even more difficult.
7. In January 1947 the so-called "line-ups" commenced in the Dachau Special Camp. I was confronted with prisoners three times, yet, no one accused me of the least thing. The man in charge of the line-up, Mr. ENTRESS, told the prisoners that I was said to have shot many prisoners and beaten them to death, whereat only a burst of laughter arose. At that time I was 22 years old. When I was 19 I came to Mauthausen as dog-leader. A former prominent prisoner, Dr. SANNER, asserted he did not know me, but if a dog leader had beaten prisoners to death or shot them that would certainly have become known in the camp. Many other former long-term prisoners joined in this exonerating testimony.
8. At mid-July 1947 I and my seven co-accused were presented for the first time to our official defense lawyer, Major William A. OATES. To his question whether I knew what I was accused of, and by whom, I could only reply that I was not conscious of any guilt and also had never counted on being brought to trial, since I had never mistreated or killed anyone.
Major OATES told me that he too, knew nothing, that he could not get a glimpse of the incriminating papers of the prosecution, and therefore he would have to go by my statements, the general charge sheet, and the testimony of the prosecution witnesses at the trial.
Since only the prosecution had access to the records, my lawyer did not see them, and so naturally it was very difficult for him to prepare a defense. Major OATES promised to do everything he could. Also I gave him the names of the witnesses who were important for me, and who themselves were interned in Dachau.
9. On 15 July 1947 I received a general charge sheet and was transferred with my co-accused to the Bunker I, Camp Dachau. It was impossible for me to procure any exonerating material there. One was cut off from the outside world. Letters to relatives or acquaintances in which something was said about witnesses or the approaching trial were so cut up that the receiver received only scraps from which he could glean nothing. For that reason it was made impossible for me to procure any defense material. Requests for special letters to witnesses or prior reports to the defense lawyer were fruitless.
Already in little things they were making the procuring of exonerating material impossible. Also the time before the beginning of the trial was far too short to obtain any material
10. On 6 August 1947 the trial began, and lasted until 21 August.
11. The prosecution witnesses had every support of the prosecuting authorities. When they were shown to be lying, up jumped the prosecutor, Mr. Lundberg, and accused the defense lawyer of intimidating the witnesses and trying to make out that they were liars.
12. In reality, the opposite was the truth. Defense witnesses were intimidated by the braying of the prosecutor or were branded as false. It happened that defense witnesses were threatened and beaten by foreign former prisoners so that the former had no more interest in appearing for the defense. They were afraid that they too would be accused of something, which the foreign prisoners were quite capable of, as they hated everything German and were out for revenge.
13. In the courtroom were Polish, Jugoslav and Jewish prisoners as spectators who served as an information bureau, that is, during the court recesses they told their comrades, who were still waiting for their interrogation, everything that had been discussed during the course of the trial. On the basis of this information the latter were then able to reinforce the accusations and bring to naught the exoneration, which was scanty enough anyway.
For this reason it was also possible to always bring out the same points in the accusations.
14. The questionnaires we had filled out were handed to the prosecution witnesses by the prosecutor or by his interpreter. In this way each exact date could be looked up in order to incriminate the accused without having to fear that a false statement was being made. In spite of this, it happened that they contradicted themselves in cross-examination. However, because the witnesses were under the protection of the American court, they had nothing to fear from perjury, which they committed repeatedly.
15. We, as accused, had no right to give our opinion. At the beginning of the trial the defense lawyer told us that we had to keep quite still and the questions we wanted to have put to the witnesses we were to write on a slip of paper and give to his interpreter, Mr. BARR. I did not understand most of the trial, since I am a Lithuanian and only know a little German. I had to find out during the court recesses, from my comrades, of what I was accused.
17. [Sic. The paragraph is misnumbered in the original document.] There was no final argument by the defense lawyer. I was sentenced to death on 21 August 1947. The sentence was approved on 26 June 1948.
Landsberg/Lech, 10 September 1948 /s/ Gustav PETRAT.
The proceedings of an American Military Tribunal against Alex Piorkowski, a former Commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp, started in early January 1947 and Piorkowski was sentenced to death by hanging on January 17, 1947. This was a subsidiary case conducted after the main proceedings against Martin Gottfried Weiss, and 39 others on the Dachau concentration camp staff, which began in November 1945.
Alex Piorkowski after he was captured by the British in 1945
The photo above supposedly shows Alex Piorkowski, but there is a remarkable resemblance to another Dachau Commandant, Hans Lortiz, whose photo is shown at the Dachau Museum.
Like all the other Dachau accused, Piorkowski was convicted of participating in a "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929. His alleged crimes included acts of brutality against concentration camp prisoners who were civilians, or members of the armed forces, in countries that were allied with America in World War II.
The Piorkowski case was unremarkable and would have been quickly swept into the dust bin of history, had it not been for the vigorous protest of his sentence by the chief defense council, Major Bigelow Boysen of the US Army. Boysen believed so strongly in Piorkowski's innocence that he even tried to bring the case before the Supreme Court of the United States, but it was rejected. After Boysen was discharged from the Army, he continued to fight for the release of Piorkowski, although he was no longer responsible for his defense.
Alex Bernhard Piorkowski was the Commandant at Dachau in 1941 and 1942, but during the winter of 1941 and 1942, he was away from the camp for extended periods due to illness.
According to Harold Marcuse in his book, "Legacies of Dachau," Heinrich Himmler "punished several of the sadistic and corrupt concentration camp commandants" including Piorkowski who was fired from his position as Commandant of Dachau, as of September 1, 1942 when Martin Gottfried Weiss replaced him. However, it was brought out during his trial that Piorkowski was transferred out of Dachau in June 1942.
According to Paul Berben in his book "Dachau 1933 - 1945, The Official History," Piorkowski was later kicked out of the Nazi party. Berben wrote that Piorkowski "rarely entered the prisoners' camp. He was not active, and left most things in the hands of his subordinates. They were given a free reign and could treat prisoners as they wished."
Heinz Höhne mentions in his book, "The Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS," that Piorkowski was indicted for murder, but not convicted, by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, who was an investigator and the judge of an SS special court.
As a defense witness for the SS, Morgen testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on 7 August 1946 that he had looked at 800 documents that pertained to the concentration camp cases of corruption and murder. His investigations began in 1943 at the Buchenwald camp and eventually resulted in 200 indictments including 5 concentration camp commandants who were arrested and put on trial. Dr. Morgen mentioned in his Nuremberg testimony that he was imprisoned in the bunker at the Dachau camp while the Military Tribunals were in progress and his cell mates included some of the people that he had arrested and investigated, which might have included Piorkowski.
Berben mentioned in his official history of Dachau that investigations of camp conditions at Dachau were conducted by Morgen between May and July of 1943. However, by that time, the Commandant of Dachau was Martin Weiss, the successor of Piorkowski.
The crimes which were charged against the accused at the Dachau trials were only those committed between January 1, 1942 and May 8, 1945 during the time that Germany was engaged in a war against America and its allies. This meant that any atrocities committed in the Dachau concentration camp before January 1, 1942 would not count. Piorkowski had only been present in the Dachau camp for approximately 6 months during this period. Under the "common design" concept of co-responsibility, Piorkowski was guilty of any violations of the Laws and Usages of War while he was the Commandant, regardless of his personal conduct toward the prisoners.
During the proceedings in the Piorkowski case, he was accused of working with an SS man named Sitte on the medical experiments at Dachau in 1942. Major Boysen checked the SS records and learned that Piorkowski and Sitte had not served at Dachau during the same time period.
As in all the Dachau cases, Piorkowski's trial was reviewed by the US Military after sentencing. The lawyer who reviewed the Piorkowski case was First Lieutenant Elmer Moody. At the end of his report, Moody wrote, regarding Piorkowski: "He participated in the common design to a very substantial degree. The evidence is sufficient to support the findings and sentence of the Court."
Major Boysen tried to get clemency for Piorkowski by pointing out letters that had been sent to the War Crimes Group by former inmates who claimed that Piorkowski had not committed any atrocities. These letters, which were probably sent at the suggestion of Boysen himself, were dismissed by the War Crimes Group because it didn't matter what Piorkowski did personally in the camp; he was the Commandant of the camp and as such was a participant in the common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War.
According to Joseph Halow's book, entitled "Innocent at Dachau," one of the letter writers was Lt. Col. R.H. Stevens, a Prisoner of War at Dachau. Stevens was a spy in the British Secret Intelligence Service in Holland, who was arrested as a conspirator in the failed plot to kill Hitler with a bomb placed in a Munich beer hall by Georg Elser, a former prisoner at Dachau who had recently been released. In his letter, Stevens described his treatment at Dachau: he was given a private room, not a cell. His room was furnished with a good bed, a desk and a chair. Piorkowski had brought him occasional gifts of flowers or wine or real coffee. He even permitted Stevens to swim in the SS officer's swimming pool when no one else was around.
Another letter writer, Dr. Konrad Stromenger, a Protestant religious dissident who spent seven years at Dachau, said that the inmates at Dachau were well-fed and rested. He maintained that Dachau, under Piorkowski's administration, had the best reputation of all the German camps.
As quoted in Halow's book "Innocent at Dachau," the review board, after reading the letters, wrote the following report:
It must be presumed that these statements are as favorable as anything they would have said in court. These two statements were accompanied by others from members of the clergy and from lay persons, all Germans. All of them were found to be without merit by a War Crimes Board of Review on the ground "they testify to individual acts of kindness to individuals, and in no way negative (sic) the atrocious treatment meted out to the vast majority of non-German nationals."
The prosecution's case against Piorkowski was based on the testimony of 34 paid witnesses who were former prisoners at Dachau. The defense produced a witness who testified that Piorkowski was bedridden at his home for two months during the winter of 1941-1942 during the time that prosecution witnesses testified that Piorkowski had beaten prisoners in the camp.
Another innovative idea used by the America prosecutors in the war crimes proceedings was that any findings and sentences in the main trials would become matters of judicial notice at subsequent subsidiary trials. In other words, any atrocities proven in a prior trial could be used as proof of guilt against future defendants since they were all being tried under the common design concept.
Major Boysen pointed out that the prosecution's allegation that 6,000 to 8,000 Soviet POWs had been executed at Dachau in the spring of 1942 had not been proved in the main trial of Dachau camp personnel, yet it was put into evidence in the Piorkowski trial, along with other atrocities that had become matters of judicial notice and did not have to be proved again. According to Joseph Halow, Major Boysen concluded that he was of the "definite opinion that no such massacre occurred at Dachau as is factually stated to have taken place there in Prosecution Exhibit 1." The Dachau Memorial Site currently maintains that 4,000 Soviet POWs were executed at Dachau.
The Soviet POWs at Dachau were allegedly shot for target practice at a firing range, but the POWs were given a more humane execution at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen where the POWs were shot through a slot in a measuring device.
After the main Dachau trial had been concluded, Major Boysen learned that the Dachau railroad station commander, a man named Rohrmuehler, had been a witness to the arrival of the trains bringing Soviet Prisoners of War to Dachau. Rohrmuehler said that no more than 500 Russians had ever passed through the Dachau camp, and that the claim that 6,000 to 8,000 Soviet POWs had been massacred at Dachau was absurd. The testimony about the killing of Soviet POWs had not been subjected to cross-examination in the courtroom, according to Joseph Halow.
Major Boysen also objected to the inclusion of events that had happened outside the time frame of the period covered by the charges against Piorkowski, which was from January 1, 1942 up to June, 1942 when he had been transferred.
The following quote is from Joseph Halow's book entitled Innocent at Dachau:
Boysen recalled that the prosecution had spoken with him before the trial, asking him if he would agree to the prosecution's including in the charges an incident which he indicated had taken place before the period January-June, 1942. This involved the notorious "Christmas tree whippings," which supposedly took place in Dachau in 1939, when Piorkowski, who was alleged to have been present, was camp custody leader. Boysen had refused, stating that if the prosecution were to include this incident in the dossiers, he would tell the court not to read the dossiers until it made a ruling on the matter.
Major Boysen's request was denied and the court members did read the dossier. Major Boysen said that this should not have been permitted because it colored the court's thinking.
In spite of all of Boysen's efforts to obtain clemency for Alex Piorkowski, he was hanged at Landsberg am Lech prison on October 22, 1948.
Dachau Trials US vs. Josias Erbprinz zu Waldeck-Pyrmont The Trial of Hans Merbach
Hans Erich Merbach
One of the most horrific war crimes committed by the 31 Buchenwald war criminals was perpetrated by Hans Merbach, who was the 35-year-old SS man assigned to supervise the evacuation of Buchenwald prisoners to Dachau to prevent them from being released by the American liberators. The train had left the Weimar station near Buchenwald on April 8, 1945 and didn't arrive at Dachau until almost three weeks later. By that time, many of the prisoners were dead.
Dead prisoner on train from Buchenwald that was delayed for 3 weeks
One of the Jewish prisoners who survived the evacuation transport from Buchenwald to Dachau was Martin Rosenfeld, who testified for the prosecution at the proceedings against the Buchenwald staff members by an American Military Tribunal held at Dachau, which began on April 11, 1947. On the witness stand, Rosenfeld claimed that 350 of the Buchenwald prisoners were shot as they walked the 5 miles from the concentration camp down to the train station at Weimar; he testified that he personally saw Merbach shoot ten of the prisoners.
Rosenfeld also testified that Merbach used a Machine Pistol to kill civilians in the Czechoslovakian town of Pilsen because they had heard about the train on the radio and had brought food for the prisoners when the train stopped. He claimed that when the train made another stop along the way, Merbach went from one boxcar to another, shooting the prisoners, including 20 in the boxcar that Rosenfeld was riding in.
According to Rosenfeld, Merbach ordered all of the French prisoners out of the boxcars and then mercilessly gunned them down. The remaining prisoners were forced to bury the bodies and those who were too weak for the task were shot.
The train was strafed by Allied planes on the way and the prisoners were forced to stay in the open boxcars, while the SS men took cover in the woods, according to Rosenfeld's testimony, as quoted by Joshua M. Greene in his book "Justice at Dachau." Other survivors of the Death Train testified that Merbach had shot dying prisoners and prisoners who had been wounded by American bullets.
During direct examination by his defense attorney, Merbach testified that there were already dead bodies lying beside the road from Buchenwald to Weimar before the prisoners were marched to the train station on April 7, 1945. These prisoners had died on an earlier evacuation march out of Buchenwald to the Flossenbürg camp, or on the April 2nd evacuation march from the Ohrdruf sub-camp to the main camp at Buchenwald.
Merbach claimed that he had gone out of his way to get additional food for the prisoners after he realized that the train would be delayed because the tracks had been bombed by Allied planes. He said that when he tried to get more food, he was told that there was "barely any bread left" at Buchenwald.
When the train stopped at Dresden, the captain of the police there told Merbach that "it was impossible to get a piece of bread because the city was overrun with refugees." The refugees were German women and children who were trying to escape from the advancing Russian soldiers. Dresden had been fire bombed by American and British planes, only 8 week before, and thousands of civilians had been killed.
Merbach testified that at every stop, he sent four prisoners to the National Socialist Welfare Association to get buckets of water for the other prisoners. The photo below shows one of the box cars with a bucket in it.
Prisoners on death train were given buckets of water on the way
In his defense, Merbach testified that the citizens of Pilsen in Czechoslovakia had not brought food to the train and he cast doubt on Rosenfeld's claim that the residents had heard about the train's arrival from a Czech radio station. The next stop was Namering, a town in Upper Bavaria. There the prisoners did receive rations from the people in the town, according to Merbach. This was confirmed by the mayor of Namering.
Merbach said that some of the prisoners had escaped from the train, which sounds plausible since they were riding in open boxcars. Merbach's crime was that he was part of the "common plan" to kill the Buchenwald prisoners because he had prevented the escape of most of the prisoners from the train. Merbach said that he could not release the prisoners because "every time a prisoner escaped the most incredible things were happening among the civilian population."
The purpose of evacuating these prisoners had been to keep them from being released by American troops who were nearing Buchenwald. After Buchenwald was liberated, the Americans did release some of the prisoners and provided them with guns and American jeeps. The prisoners went down to Weimar where they engaged in an orgy of raping, looting and killing innocent German civilians.
Due to the Allied bombing of the German railroad tracks, the trip to Dachau took almost three weeks instead of the originally estimated 24 hours to travel 220 miles from Buchenwald to Dachau.
In the proceedings of the American Military Tribunals at Dachau, the accused were considered guilty until proven innocent. Their guilt had already been established by interrogations beforehand.
The interrogation of Hans Merbach took place at Freising on July 11, 1945 at which time Merbach testified that "Officers were beaten with a piece of cable in the face. And that, I suppose, is why the most incredible stories came out, particularly concerning this transport."
When Merbach was asked by the prosecuting attorney if he wanted to change his sworn statement, made in Freising when his memory was fresher, Merbach addressed the tribunal directly with the following statement, as quoted by Joshau M. Greene in his book "Justice at Dachau":
Yes, my memory in Freising was better, but the methods of interrogation caused me to say crazy things. Among the accused here are other officers who were beaten at that time. May it please the court, I was raised by decent parents. In 1917, when I was only seven, my mother got sick and a Jewish physician named Falkenstein treated her every day. I was very much grateful to him, although I knew he was Jewish. Even during my maneuvers with the Wehrmacht in 1936 and 1937 I didn't make any difference between Aryans and half-Jewish soldiers. I hated to participate in this fight of the government against religion. For me existed only one thing, love of my country and my people. It was not in me to participate in cruelties against unarmed people, to mistreat them or kill them. I am horrified about the accusations that are made here in court against me. About the transport, I have told you everything I know. I am imprisoned now for the past two years, and every day I search myself and weigh the good and the bad. I got food for prisoners, helped wherever I could and had deepest feelings for these poor people. If you members of the high court find me criminal in this transport, I have confidence you will at least not put me on the level of men who had bad intentions. Judge me as a man who tried to do his best. I had to obey crazy orders. Until the end I always tried the best. I await your judgment.
On August 14, 1947, Hans Merbach was convicted by the Tribunal at Dachau and sentenced to death. He was the last of the war criminals in the main Buchenwald trial to be hanged; the date of his execution was January 14, 1949.
Not to have convicted Hans Merbach would have been a great miscarriage of justice since he was indirectly responsible for the massacre of Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered at Dachau. The American liberators justified the killing of unarmed POWs by claiming that they had been enraged by the sight the dead bodies on the Death Train.
"A physician, Dr. Klaus Sch. (sentenced to death by the Allied court), wanted to test a remedy for malaria. Malaria, a tropical disease, did not prevail in Dachau. He could have gone to the tropics to make his tests there. But why go to such trouble? One could make everything more convenient in the concentration camp." Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, What Was It Like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?
Dr. Klaus Schilling on the witness stand, 7 December 1945
Dr. Klaus Schilling was one of the world's foremost experts on tropical diseases when he was ordered by Heinrich Himmler, the head of all the Nazi concentration camps, to come out of retirement to work on a cure for malaria after German soldiers began dying of the disease in North Africa. Before his retirement, Dr. Schilling had worked at the prestigious Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. He began specializing in tropical diseases after he himself contracted malaria.
After the war, Dr. Schilling was arrested by the American Army and charged with participating in a "common plan" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because he conducted experiments on Dachau prisoners, using various drugs in an effort to find a cure for malaria. Most of his subjects were young Polish priests whom Dr. Schilling infected by means of mosquitoes from the marshes of Italy and the Crimea, according to author Peter Padfield in his book entitled "Himmler." The priests were chosen for the experiments because they were not required to work, as were the ordinary prisoners at Dachau.
Johann Maria Lenz, a Catholic priest, testifies at Dachau
One of the prosecution witnesses at the trial of the German Major War Criminals at Nuremberg was Dr. Franz Blaha, a Czech medical doctor who was a Communist political prisoner at Dachau. An affidavit signed by Dr. Blaha was entered into the main Nuremberg trial. It was marked Document Number 3249-PS, Exhibit USA-663. His comments in this affidavit about Dr. Schilling are quoted below from the transcript of the Nuremberg trial for January 11, 1946
"3. During my time at Dachau I was familiar with many kinds of medical experiments carried on there on human victims. These persons were never volunteers but were forced to submit to such acts. Malaria experiments on about 1,200 people were conducted by Dr. Klaus Schilling between 1941 and 1945. Schilling was personally ordered by Himmler to conduct these experiments. The victims were either bitten by mosquitoes or given injections of malaria sporozoites taken from mosquitoes. Different kinds of treatment were applied including quinine, pyrifer, neosalvarsan, antipyrin, pyramidon, and a drug called 2516 Behring. I performed autopsies on the bodies of people who died from these malaria experiments. Thirty to 40 died from the malaria itself. Three hundred to four hundred died later from diseases which were fatal because of the physical condition resulting from the malaria attacks. In addition there were deaths resulting from poisoning due to overdoses of neosalvarsan and pyramidon. Dr. Schilling was present at my autopsies on the bodies of his patients."
The 74-year-old Dr. Schilling was convicted at Dachau and hanged. In his final statement to the court, Dr. Schilling pleaded to have the results of his experiments returned to him so they could be published. During his trial, he tried to justify his crime by saying that his experiments were for the good of mankind.
The accused in the Nordhausen proceedings stand in the Dachau courtroom
After World War II ended, hundreds of the concentration camp guards and staff members were brought before the Military Tribunals conducted by the American military occupation at Dachau. The photograph above shows the accused in the 1947 proceedings against the staff members of the Nordhausen concentration camp. Erhart Brauny is the second man from the left; he appears to be wearing a light-colored women's suit jacket that is too small for him.
As far as I know, there was no special trial or American Military Tribunal at Dachau for the men responsible for the Gardelegen massacre where prisoners, who had been evacuated from several concentration camps, were herded into a barn that was then set on fire. According to a booklet, which I purchased in Gardelegen, entitled "Die Todesmärche and das Massaker von Gardelegen" by Diana Gring, the man who gave the order to burn the prisoners, Gerhard Thiele, escaped by disguising himself in the uniform of a German soldier and traveling with false papers. He lived in the Western zone of occupation and later in West Germany under a false name. He was never brought to justice.
However, at least one of the SS men involved in the Gardelegen massacre was put on trial in 1947, according to Gring. She states on page 34 that SS-Untersturmführer Erhart Brauny was sentenced to life in prison. According to Gring, Brauny had been assigned to the Rottleberode sub-camp in 1944 and he was the transport leader for the prisoners evacuated from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp who subsequently wound up in Gardelegen and were herded into the barn which was set on fire.
Brauny, who was born in 1913, had served as a guard at the Buchenwald camp, starting in 1939, according to Gring's booklet. Gring wrote that Brauny died in 1950, but she did not give his cause of death. Presumably, he died a natural death while in prison. The photograph below shows Erhart Brauny standing before the three-judge panel which sentenced him to life in prison.
Erhart Brauny was sentenced to life in prison in Dachau courtroom
The prisoners who were burned in the barn at Gardelegen had been previously evacuated from several forced labor camps; they were put on a transport train which left on April 4, 1945, carrying prisoners from the Nordhausen, Rottleberode, Wieda and Ilfeld camps. The prisoners had been workers in the underground factories which produced airplane parts and V-2 rockets. The train was headed northwest; its destination was probably the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwestern Germany.
The transport train was forced to stop in the village of Mieste, near Gardelegen, because Allied bombs had destroyed the tracks. The prisoners were then forced to march to Gardelegen where they were temporarily housed in the stables of the Remonteschool Garrison, which was a Cavalry School for German soldiers. Another transport train had stopped in the village of Letzlingen on April 11, 1945 and there was a mass escape of the prisoners, who proceeded to rape, loot and kill German civilians. A few of these escaped prisoners were shot in the town of Gardelegen.
According to Joseph Halow, in his book "Innocent at Dachau," Erhart Brauny "had risen to commander of the subcamp Rottleberode, a part of the Dora/Nordhausen complex." Regarding the Dora/Nordhausen cases before the American Military Tribunal held at Dachau in 1947, Halow wrote: "The prosecution referred to him (Brauny) scornfully as "the handsome 'innocent' who cannot remember anymore." According to Halow, Brauny was accused of "numerous and terrible beatings, mistreatment of prisoners and acts of personal sadism against inmates of Rottleberode" in addition to being charged with responsibility for the Gardelegen massacre because he was the leader of the evacuation from Rottleberode to Gardelegen.
Regarding the Gardelegen massacre, Halow wrote the following in his book "Innocent at Dachau":
"The prosecution attempted to present a strong case for Brauny's responsibility for the illegal execution of approximately one thousand inmates, during an evacuation march from Nordhausen. The march, projected for about four days, was slowed by the rapid American advance. It was impossible to move the inmates by train, since by April, 1945, the time of the evacuation, the American planes had complete aerial superiority and much of the transportation system had been destroyed.
The evacuation march got only as far as a small town called Gardelegen. There, according to testimony, the Kreisleiter of Gardelegen had recommended to Erhart Brauny that the inmates be shot, in accordance with a cabled order from Himmler, by which no inmate was to be taken alive by the Allies. After several proposals for disposing of the inmates were entertained, the inmates were locked in a barn and the barn was set on fire.
The entrapped inmates were able twice to extinguish the fires, which were set by the Volkssturm (a replacement army, largely of boys and old men, and usually headed by Nazi Party officials). The third time, the barn went up, and the screaming victims inside were burned to death. Several who tried to escape were shot. Only two or three seem to have survived. When the Americans arrived the next day they found the bodies of the dead inmates, many of them still in the barn, while other corpses had been transported to a nearby mass grave.
Erhart Brauny, who commanded the evacuation march, testified that he had no role whatsoever in the killing of the prisoners. Not only had he not approved the action, but he had left Gardelegen well before then. The Kreisleiter had acted entirely on his own, Brauny said."
Halow points out in his book that the order from Himmler was allegedly sent by cable but no record of it has ever been found. Himmler was in charge of all the concentration camps and, as Halow points out, he would have had to have cabled at least 1,000 orders to the various commanders of all the concentration camps, but none of these cables have ever been found. Himmler's cable was allegedly sent to the Kreisleiter of Gardelegen, Gerhard Thiele, who was a civilian Nazi official, not a person in authority in the concentration camp system. Halow wrote that it would have been unusual for Himmler to have cabled an order, to kill concentration camp prisoners, to someone who was not connected to the concentration camp system.
In her booklet about the Gardelegen massacre, Diana Gring wrote: "Ungefähr zwanzig SS-Leute sollen nach Augenzeugenberichten sofort in Gardelegen von den Amerikanern erschossen worden sein." My translation of this sentence is as follows: "Approximately twenty SS people, after an eyewitness report, should have been shot immediately." It is not clear to me, after reading this booklet, whether any SS men were actually executed or not by the American soldiers.
In the booklet, Diana Gring also wrote: "Inwieweit sie sich in Prozessen für ihre Taten versantworten mußten, is zur Zeit erst unzulänglich bekannt." My translation of this is as follows: To what extent they had to answer for themselves in court proceedings for their deeds, is at the present time only insufficiently known.
The barn at Gardelegen was made of stone and brick, with sliding wooden doors that had no lock. The prisoners were herded into a grain storage barn which was about 3 miles from the town of Gardelegen, in order to prevent looting and attacks on German civilians. There is evidence that some of the prisoners were shot as they tried to escape from the barn, as the photograph below shows.
Victim with bullet hole in his coat lies on unburned straw in barn doorway
Dachau Trials US vs. Martin Gottfried Weiss, et al
Dr. Franz Blaha identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss
In the courtroom of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss wore a card with the number 1 around his neck. He was the main one of the accused by virtue of having been the highest ranking SS officer and the acting Commandant for two days before the camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945.
In the photograph above, the man on the right is Martin Gottfried Weiss. The star witness for the prosecution at Dachau was Dr. Franz Blaha, who is shown on the left in the photo above.
Dr. Blaha was a 50-year-old Czech surgeon who had been imprisoned by the Gestapo for two years before being brought to Dachau in 1941. He was a member of the International Committee at Dachau which consisted of prominent and privileged Communist prisoners. The Committee had taken charge of the concentration camp just before the liberation and afterwards, they were the administrators of the camp under the authority of the US Army. The original Museum at Dachau was set up in 1965 under the direction and control of the Committee. It was the Committee that was credited with bringing the Dachau atrocities, including the gas chamber, to the attention of the American liberators.
In his direct testimony, Dr. Blaha described the "air pressure" and "cold water" experiments that had been conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau. Dr. Rascher was not on trial, but Martin Gottfried Weiss was held to be responsible for the experiments because he was the Commandant of the camp during the time that the experiments were done.
Dr. Blaha identified Martin Gottfried Weiss in the courtroom after he testified that Weiss was the Commandant at Dachau during the time that Dr. Sigmund Rascher and Dr. Klaus Karl Schilling had conducted medical experiments there. He also testified that Dr. Walter and Dr. Brachtel had been the chief doctors who were in charge of all the medical experiments at Dachau. Because neither of them was on trial, the defense moved to strike this testimony from the record, but Lt. Col. Denson argued that the testimony should stand and the court agreed.
The prosecution argument was that Weiss was equally guilty for the alleged crimes committed by Dr. Walter and Dr. Brachtel, which had not been proved in a court of law, because he had been the Commandant in the camp during the time that the alleged crimes had taken place.
According to Martin Weiss's testimony at Dachau, the subjects used in the medical experiments were German "professional criminals" and Russian Commissars who had been condemned to death by order of Adolf Hitler.
Below is an excerpt quoted from an account in a German newspaper called the Suddeutsche Zeitung, dated December 1,1945, in which Weiss tries to explain to the court that he was not involved in the medical experiments carried out at Dachau:
"I was absolutely powerless in the face of experiments of Dr. Rascher and Prof. Dr. Schilling. I had already heard in Berlin of Prof. Dr. Schilling's malaria department and the cold water experiments for the air force led by Dr. Rascher. I was told in Berlin that Reichsführer SS Himmler was personally responsible for these two experimental departments and that I should not interfere. On Nov 10, 1942, Himmler made a personal appearance in Dachau and visited the Rascher department. He sent for me and I was made to attend an experiment which had already begun. Afterwards Himmler said: Rascher and Shilling are responsible to me personally for their experiments and you must obey their orders."
Dr. Blaha's testimony that Martin Weiss was the Commandant at Dachau when these experiments were conducted was enough to convict Weiss of participating in a "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of War because the Russian Commissars, used as subjects, were POWs who came under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929, even though the Soviet Union had not signed the convention and was not following it with regard to German POWs.
Weiss had previously been the Commandant of the Neuengamme concentration camp from 1940 to 1942. From September 1942 until the end of October 1943, Weiss was the Commandant of Dachau until he was transferred to the Majdanek camp in Lublin on November 1, 1943. During his time as the Commandant of Dachau, some of the worst atrocities had occurred, including the building of the gas chamber and the medical experiments conducted for the German air force.
Martin Gottfried Weiss should not be confused with another man named Martin Weiss, who was named by one of the prosecution witnesses at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as the man that he saw killing Jews in Vilna, Lithuania in 1941. Martin Gottfried Weiss was the Commandant at Neuengamme during that time.
The last Commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp was Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, who replaced Martin Weiss on November 1, 1943. Weiter left the Dachau camp on April 26, 1945 with a prisoner transport to the Schloss Itter, a subcamp of Dachau in Austria. Weiter shot himself at Schloss Itter on May 6, 1945, according to Johannes Tuchel who wrote about The Commandants of the Dachau Concentration Camp in his book: Dachau and the Nazi Terror II, 1933-1945.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler testifies against Dachau staff members
In the photograph above, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Munich bishop who was a former prisoner at Dachau, testifies for the prosecution. Dr. Neuhäusler was one of the VIP prisoners who had a private cell in the bunker and was allowed to receive visitors; he did not have to work and was allowed the freedom to walk around the camp. He wrote a book about Dachau called "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau?" in which he described the harsh treatment suffered by the other prisoners.
In his book, Neuhäusler wrote the following about Martin Gottfried Weiss, who was the camp commandant from September 1, 1942 until he was replaced by Wilhelm Eduard Weiter at the end of October 1943:
Some of the commandants were not a (sic) all interested in the affairs of the prisoners and gave full power to their deputies, the camp leaders. I mention the commandant Weiss out of gratitude and as a proof that among the despots of the concentration camp there were also some with human feelings. He introduced many pleasant changes in the camp and checked personally if his regulations and orders were observed. He forbade the deliberate beating of the prisoners by the Capos and camp seniors, he personally inspected criminal reports, he himself determined the punishment and was present when it was carried out, lest abuses were introduced. He also removed an abuse, namely that the prisoners had to be close-cropped and had to have a still shorter strip, the so-called "path" in the middle of the head. To preserve the prisoners strength for the armaments industry, Weiss permitted them to receive food parcels which made it possible for a large number of prisoners to keep alive in the camp until the end. Often he also showed a fundamentally good heart to us "special prisoners" and procured manifold facilities for us. In the last phase he became inspector of the concentration camps.
A book by former Dachau prisoner Paul Berben, which was commissioned by the International Committee of Dachau for sale at the Dachau Museum, entitled "Dachau: 1933-45, The Official History" describes Weiss in the following quote from page 49:
S_ome people emphasized that he introduced a number of humane changes in camp administration and that he took a personal interest in seeing that his orders were carried out. He forbade Kapos and Seniors to strike other prisoners arbitrarily; he personally inspected reports of punishments; he decided the level of these sanctions and was present when they were administered so as to prevent abuses. According to "privileged" prisoners, he often showed consideration and obtained a good deal of relief for them._
In his book, Berben wrote that:
In spite of the great number of witnesses who spoke for him during the postwar Dachau trial, Weiss was condemned to death and executed.
Martin Gottfried Weiss was given the job of the Commandant of Dachau after Alex Piorkowski had been dismissed by Heinrich Himmler for alleged mistreatment of the prisoners. Alex Piorkowski was tried and convicted in another American Military Tribunal proceeding at Dachau.
On November 1, 1943, Weiss became the Commandant of the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, replacing Karl Otto Koch, who was put on trial in 1943 in an SS court for crimes he had committed while serving as the Commandant of Buchenwald. Wilhelm Eduard Weiter became the new Commandant of Dachau. In May 1944, Martin Weiss was appointed department head of the Office Group D in the SS Main Office of Economic Administration (WVHA) and in the same year, he was ordered to supervise the Dachau subcamp complex at Mühldorf. Wilhelm Eduard Weiter was still serving as the Commandant of Dachau in the Spring of 1945 when Weiss came back to the main camp along with a transport of Mühldorf prisoners who had been evacuated.
Fourteen members of the staff at Mühldorf were put on trial at Dachau from April 1 through May 13, 1947 in the case of US vs. Franz Auer et al.
Martin Gottfried Weiss on the witness stand at Dachau
Martin Gottfried Weiss was finally called to the witness stand to defend himself on December 10, 1945, almost a month after the trial began. The photograph above shows him sitting on a chair on a raised platform, facing the 8-man tribunal that served as both judge and jury.
Under direct examination by defense attorney Douglas T. Bates, Weiss said that he was born in 1905 and had worked as an electrical engineer before joining the German army in 1933. Weiss told about how he had improved conditions at the Dachau concentration camp when he became the Commandant in 1942. He said that he had abolished the cruel punishment where prisoners were hung up by their arms, and also the standing punishment where prisoners had to stand outside for days without food.
The photograph below, taken in the Dachau Museum in May 2001, shows a scene that was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film. (Source: H. Obenaus, "Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt," in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8) This photo was removed from the Dachau Museum because it is a recreation, not an authentic photo.
Photo in Dachau Museum, May 2001, shows hanging punishment
Martin Sommer, the alleged innovator of this punishment, was one of the men indicted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen after an investigation of the Buchenwald camp in 1943. After being acquitted in Morgen's court, Sommer was sent to the Russian front where he was wounded in battle. After the war he was imprisoned for years by the Russians; he was finally brought to trial by the West German government in 1958 and convicted of killing 25 prisoners by lethal injection at Buchenwald.
At Dachau, prisoners were hung up on a tree near the crematorium, and sometimes in the shower room, or on a pole set up in the courtyard between the administration building and the camp prison, called the bunker. Dr. Blaha testified that he was punished by being hung up by a chain for an hour. He said that the prisoners who were punished in this manner couldn't move their hands for at least three days, and couldn't work. Dr. Blaha said that after he was punished in this way, he had blood clots on his hands, and swollen feet which caused him great pain.
An SS man, Josef Jarolin, was charged with the crime of punishing Dr. Blaha because he was present when the punishment was carried out, and he had adjusted the ropes when Dr. Blaha's feet touched the ground. That was enough to convict him, although he had not ordered this punishment for Dr. Blaha.
Weiss testified that there were no executions of any of the inmates while he was the Commandant from September 1942 until November 1, 1943 when he was replaced by Eduard Weiter. According to Weiss, the only prisoners who were executed at Dachau were condemned prisoners that were brought in by the State Police. Weiss claimed that no prisoners were shot while he was the Commandant, except for four or five who were shot "while trying to escape."
In his direct testimony, Weiss said that many of the prisoners who died from disease at Dachau had been brought to the camp already sick, and some were dead upon arrival. He claimed that he had stopped "invalid transports" from being sent out of the Dachau camp after he complained to headquarters in Oranienburg that "it made no sense for such transports to be sent from Dachau when we were expected to receive other invalid transports coming in."
Regarding transports from Dachau, Weiss addressed the tribunal with the following statement, as quoted in "Justice at Dachau":
There seems to be a mistaken idea among the prisoners who have appeared before this court that any transports which left for other work camps were so-called liquidation transports. The fact is that small and big transports left Dachau all the time for Augsberg, Haunstetten, Kempten, Kotteren, different by-camps, delivering workers. And these were supplemented with invalid prisoners only after those prisoners had been nursed back to health.
Dr. Franz Blaha testified at the trial about the standing bunker inside the camp prison. Dr. Blaha said that the standing bunker was so small that one could not sit down in it, but could only stand up, and possibly just bend the knees a little. Dr. Blaha testified that he himself had never been punished in the standing bunker, but he had brought the dead bodies of Russians and Poles out of the standing bunker several times during 1944 and 1945.
In a pretrial hand written statement, Emil Mahl, one of the accused at the trial, corroborated Dr. Blaha's testimony. According to Mahl's statement, imprisonment in the standing cell meant eight to ten hours during the night, and in some cases, two to three nights without food or drink.
The standing bunker consisted of prison cells that were 2 ft. 6 inches square, just big enough for a prisoner to stand, but not big enough for him to sit or lie down.
In his testimony, Weiss claimed that he was not responsible for the "standing bunker" and that he had heard this term used for the first time at the trial. According to the Dachau Museum, the walls of the standing cells were made of wood; they were torn down by the American liberators in 1945. The bunker was used to imprison suspected German war criminals between June 1945 and August 1948; as many as five prisoners were put into each cell.
According to an exhibit in the bunker which opened in the year 2000, this punishment was devised in 1944. Weiss was transferred to the Majdanek camp on November 1, 1943 to replace Karl Otto Koch who had been arrested and brought back to Buchenwald to stand trial in a special court run by SS officer Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen. Morgen did an investigation of the Dachau camp in May 1944 and found everything in order, according to Paul Berben, a prisoner in the camp who wrote the Official History of Dachau. The standing cells must have been built some time after this inspection, as Morgen would not have tolerated such abuse of prisoners.
The photograph below was taken in the bunker in May 2001. It shows one of the regular cells and a poster which shows how one regular cell was divided into standing cells. The red color on the walls is paint.
Poster in cell shows how standing cells were created
According to Dr. Neuhäusler, who was a "special prisoner" with a private cell in the bunker, "the prisoner was compelled to stand for three days and three nights and was given only bread and water; every fourth day he came into a normal cell, ate prisoner's fare and was allowed to sleep for one night on a plank bed. Then three days' standing began again. Such were the abominations which the prisoners had to bear from the sadistic Nazis."
Johann Kick, who was the chief of the political department at Dachau, beginning in May 1937, was in charge of registering prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and notification of relatives. It was also his job to see that executions ordered by the Reich Security Main Office were carried out at Dachau. Rudolf Wolf, a prominent witness for the prosecution, testified that, after being interrogated by Kick, prisoners were sent to the standing bunker. In answer to a question put to him by Lt. Col. Denson, Kick testified that he "never knew such a thing existed. I found out about it only here."
The infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did have standing cells in the basement of the prison building called Block 11. They were removed after a short time by Arthur Liebehenschel, who was the Auschwitz Commandant from November 10, 1943 to May 19, 1944, but have been reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. The standing cells at Dachau, if they ever existed, were not reconstructed.
The photo below shows a punishment cell at the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. This cell was big enough for a prisoner to sit in, but not big enough for a prisoner to stand up or lie down. Prisoners who broke the rules in the camp were put into these cells for three days with nothing but bread and water. After the Natzweiler camp was closed, some of the political prisoners were brought to Dachau, including some of the privileged prisoners, and Dr. Neuhäusler may have heard about the punishment cells from them.
Punishment cell at Natzweiler
The "standing punishment," in which a prisoner had to stand for hours on the roll call square was abolished by Weiss when he was the Commandant of Dachau.
On the night of April 28, 1945, just hours before the Dachau complex was liberated by American troops on April 29th, Weiss left the camp along with most of the regular guards. Weiss and his henchmen were dressed in civilian clothes and carried false identification papers.
Neuhäusler credits Weiss with saving the prisoners at Dachau by refusing to carry out the command to kill all the prisoners and destroy the camp. In his book, Neuhäusler wrote the following:
Because (Weiss) foresaw the complete collapse of Hitler's power, he did not permit the carrying out of Himmler's command to shell and burn the camp at Dachau together with all its inmates on the night of 28/29 April 1945.
The next day, on April 29, 1945, Waffen-SS soldiers, who had been recently brought from the front, surrendered the SS training camp and garrison to the US Seventh Army and 520 of them were then summarily executed, according to Col. Howard Buechner, an American medical officer, who was there.
The Dachau concentration camp was surrendered by 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, who was later reported missing by his family and is presumed to have been murdered after the surrender. Weiss had escaped summary execution by the liberators, but on May 2, 1945 he was arrested and charged with being a war criminal because of his position as the former Commandant of Dachau and the commander of the Mühldorf sub camp.
Wilhelm Eduard Weiter had left the Dachau camp on April 26th, along with a transport of prisoners. Weiter escaped justice by committing suicide; he shot himself at the Schloss Itter, a sub camp of Dachau in Austria on 6 May 1945, according to Johannes Tuchel who wrote about The Commandants of the Dachau Concentration Camp in his book: Dachau and the Nazi Terror II, 1933-1945.
Martin Gottfried Weiss might have eluded justice altogether if it had not been for two escaped Dachau prisoners, who had made their way to Munich, 18 kilometers south of the camp. These two prisoners had made contact with American soldiers of the 292nd Field Artillery Observation Battalion in Munich and they pointed out Weiss and his adjutant, Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop, to Henry Senger, a 19-year-old Corporal from Brooklyn, who captured them.
Sixteen-year-old Rudolf Merkel was the youngest war criminal in the Dachau trials and, at 19, the youngest inmate of Landsberg prison. He was tried before the US military tribunal at Dachau in 1947, along with 14 other German civilians, for the murder of three American flyers whose planes were shot down in August 1944 in the vicinity of Gernsbach, a German village near the French border. All of the flyers had surrendered, and according to international law, should have been treated as Prisoners of War by the civilians who were at the scene. But these German villagers were seeking vengeance because American and British planes had been bombing civilian targets and killing innocent people. The British and American policy of deliberately bombing civilians was designed to destroy the morale of the German people and force them to surrender. An estimated 600,000 German civilians were killed in the Allied bombing and virtually every city in Germany suffered bomb damage.
In three separate incidents near Gernsbach in August 1944, a group of local men brutally beat a downed American flyer, then deliberately killed him, and buried the body in the local cemetery. Merkel was a 16-year-old farm boy at the time, and like all German boys his age, a member of the Hitler Youth. He was 6 months too young to be in the German Army, and all the others in the case were too old to fight on the battlefield. One of the downed pilots had parachuted to earth and landed on a hill near Merkel's home in the village of Weisenbach. Merkel was one of three villagers who found the wounded pilot under a bush and started to carry him down the hill. They were interrupted by another villager, Adolf Eiermann, who ordered them to beat the pilot, later identified as Sgt. Robert A. McDonough. According to testimony at the trial, Merkel was urged by one of the participants, Hermann Krieg, to strike the flyer twice with a stick after the man was most likely already dead. For their crimes, Merkel was sentenced by the American military tribunal to hard labor at Landsberg prison for life, and Krieg received the death sentence.
In his final statement to the court, before the verdict was handed down, Merkel indicated that he had not known that he was participating in a "common design" to commit war crimes, the first charge in the Charge Sheet. As quoted by Joseph Halow in "Innocent at Dachau," his statement was as follows:
Yes. I must tell the High Court here that I didn't know anything about the first charge as it is in the Charge Sheet. The first charge accuses me, but I must say that at that time I was only 16 years old and I didn't know anything about that; I didn't know what was being done, and later on, in order to prevent anything like that from happening, I carried the flyer down there; and I must mention here I never have had any previous conviction and my parents never had any, either. And I would like to say also, that we have a small farm at home. My mother and father live there alone with two small children, the house is broken down and everything has gone to the dogs, and I beg the High Court to pass a just verdict.
When the Gernsbach case came up for review, three of the 14 convictions were overturned, and 2 of the death sentences were reduced, including Krieg's sentence which was reduced to 10 years. The guilty verdict for Rudolf Merkel was upheld, but his sentence was reduced to 15 years at hard labor. In the opinion of the review counsel, the evidence against Merkel was sufficient to establish that "he participated in and acted in furtherance of the common design embraced in the particulars of Charge I." However, the review counsel also said that "Notice should be taken of this accused's tender years at the time he committed these offenses."
Note the use of the word "accused," rather than the usual term "defendant." All the German war criminals were called "the accused" because they were presumed guilty and the burden of proof was upon them. Note also the use of the plural "offenses" although Merkel had only struck one of the flyers and was not even present when the other two were killed. Under the "common design" of the charges, all the accused were guilty in all three incidents because they were carrying out a common plan to deliberately kill downed American pilots. Nevertheless, because of his young age at the time of his crime, the review board considered his life sentence at hard labor to be too harsh.
Merkel hired a German lawyer and petitioned for clemency. The man who had urged Merkel to participate in beating the downed flyer, Hermann Krieg, had been originally sentenced to death by hanging, but the review board had reduced his sentence to 10 years in prison. For some inexplicable reason, the review board had ruled that Merkel's punishment should be more severe than Krieg's. Because of this, Merkel's German lawyer asked for his client's sentence to be further reduced.
According to court reporter Joseph Halow, in his book "Innocent at Dachau," Merkel's petition for clemency contained an accusation against Harry Thon, a Jewish interrogator for the Dachau trials. He quotes Merkel's statement to the court as follows:
"During the interrogation on August 1946, the interrogator, allegedly Mr. THOM (sic), who spoke German well, laid a pistol on the table and said to me I could choose now; if I told the truth they would turn me loose, otherwise there would be the pistol. I understood this to mean that he would shoot me if I did not testify how he wanted me to. I kept stating what is true."
Rudolf Merkel was finally released from Landsberg prison on September 18, 1951 after his sentence was commuted. He was 23 years old. Krieg was released 5 months later. Four of the other accused civilians in the Gernsbach downed flyers case were executed by hanging, including Adolf Eiermann, the instigator in the beating of McDonough. All the others were released from prison within ten years.
After entry into the camp, personnel of the 42nd Division discovered the presence of guards, presumed to be SS men, in a tower to the left of the main gate of the inmate stockade. This tower was attacked by Tec 3 Henry J. Wells 39271327, Headquarters Military Intelligence Service, ETO, covered and aided by a party under Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, 0-23055, 222 Infantry. No fire was delivered against them by the guards in the tower. A number of Germans were taken prisoner; after they were taken, and within a few feet of the tower, from which they were taken, they were shot and killed. Quoted from the IG Report of the U.S. Seventh Army
US Army photograph shows 6 dead German soldiers at Tower BReconstructed Tower B now has door inside the prison compound
The photograph at the top of the page shows the bodies of six SS soldiers at the base of Tower B in the Dachau concentration camp after they were gunned downed by American soldiers. The bodies of two other SS men from Tower B had fallen into the Würm canal beside the tower.
The second photograph above shows how the restored guard tower B looks today. When the camp was in operation, the door into the tower was outside the fence. During the reconstruction, the door was put inside the prison enclosure.
On April 29, 1945, the day that the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by American troops, white flags had been flying from all seven of the Dachau guard towers since 7 o'clock in the morning. When American soldiers first entered the camp, eight SS men descended from Tower G, the one closest to the gatehouse, and then surrendered with their hands in the air. One of the guards in Tower G was an SS man named Stahl, who survived to tell the story.
Eight guards from Tower A, which is on top of the gatehouse, then came down the stairs and surrendered to the Americans. The guards in Tower B also surrendered to the American liberators, but were gunned down.
Waffen-SS soldiers surrendering to American soldiers
The photograph above shows Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent to Dachau to surrender the camp to the Americans. All of the regular guards had escaped from the camp the night before. There were 128 SS men in the camp prison who were released and ordered to guard the camp after the regular guards left.
The view in the photo above is looking north. On the right side of the photo is the road that ran alongside the prison compound on the west side. Tower B is located midway down this road, but not shown in the picture. The building in the upper left corner of the photo has since been torn down and there is now a wall in the location where the line of poplar trees is shown in the photo. Another wall and an iron gate now separate this part of the prison camp from the gatehouse, which is behind the camera in this photo. The crematorium building where the gas chamber is located is at the end of the road alongside the prison enclosure, on the west side of the Würm river which is shown in the photo below.
The photograph below shows two soldiers from the 42nd Rainbow Division and one of the released prisoners pulling the body of a dead Waffen-SS soldier from the Würm river which flows in a concrete-lined canal along the west side of the camp. The American soldier on the far right is 19-year-old Richard F. Dutro of 232 Infantry, E Company from Zanesville, Ohio.
A prisoner and two 42nd Div. soldiers pull body of guard from moat
Dr. Victor Maurer, a Red Cross representative from Switzerland, had arrived at the Dachau prison compound on April 27, 1945, two days before the liberation. Maurer had tried to persuade Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the Adjutant to the last Commandant, Edward Weiter, to leave guards in the towers in order to secure the camp until the Americans arrived, but most of the regular guards left on April 28th, along with Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant. The Commandant of the camp, Eduard Weiter, had already left on April 26th with a transport of prisoners headed toward Austria. Finally, Maurer convinced SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker not to abandon the camp, but to leave guards posted in the towers to keep order until the prisoners could be turned over to armed American soldiers. Wicker was in charge of a group of SS men who had recently arrived at Dachau; they were former guards in three sub-camps of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. The guards who were gunned down by Wells and the other American soldiers had only been at Dachau for a few weeks and they were, in no way, responsible for the conditions in the camp.
Maurer knew that there were around 800 common criminals, including convicted murderers, who had been imprisoned at Dachau. He was fearful that an estimated 40,000 vengeful Dachau inmates would be released to wreak havoc in the surrounding area which was still a battle zone. There was also a typhus epidemic in the camp and Maurer did not want the prisoners to be released until the epidemic could be brought under control.
When an advance party from the 42nd Division arrived in a jeep on the street that borders the south side of the SS complex, they saw Maurer and Wicker waiting to surrender the camp under a white flag of truce. At the same time, I Company of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division was arriving at the railroad gate into the SS camp, on the west side of the complex, almost a mile from the prison enclosure.
After Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered to I Company were gunned down in the coal yard of the SS camp, Lt. William Walsh led his men toward the prison enclosure east of the SS camp. There they met some of the soldiers of the 42nd Division along the barbed wire fence on the west side of the concentration camp.
The shooting of disarmed German soldiers during the Dachau liberation was investigated by the Office of the Inspector General of the Seventh Army. Their report was finished on June 8, 1945 but was marked Secret. The report has since been made public and a copy of it was reproduced in Col. John H. Linden's book entitled "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945." Here are four paragraphs from the report which pertain to the shooting of the guards at Tower B.
11. After entry into the camp, personnel of the 42nd Division discovered the presence of guards, presumed to be SS men, in a tower to the left of the main gate of the inmate stockade. This tower was attacked by Tec 3 Henry J. Wells 39271327, Headquarters Military Intelligence Service, ETO, covered and aided by a party under Lt. Col. Walter J. Fellenz, 0-23055, 222 Infantry. No fire was delivered against them by the guards in the tower. A number of Germans were taken prisoner; after they were taken, and within a few feet of the tower, from which they were taken, they were shot and killed.
12. Considerable confusion exists in the testimony as to the particulars of this shooting; however Wells, German interrogator for the 222 Infantry, states that he had lined these Germans up in double rank, preparatory to moving them out; that he saw no threatening gesture; but that he shot into them after some other American soldiers, whose identities are unknown, started shooting them.
13. Lt. Colonel Fellenz was entering the door of the tower at the time of this shooting, took no part in it and testified that he could not have stopped it.
18. It is obvious that the Americans present when the guards were shot at the tower labored under much excitement. However Wells could speak German fluently, he knew no shots had been fired at him in his attack on the tower, he had these prisoners lined up, he saw no threatening gesture or act. It is felt that his shooting into them was entirely unwarranted; the whole incident smacks of execution similar to the other incidents described in this report.
None of the American soldiers who killed the guards who surrendered at Dachau were ever put on trial for violating the Geneva Convention. The guards and staff members who survived the massacre at the liberation of Dachau were put on trial by an American Military Tribunal conducted at Dachau and all were convicted of participating in a common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929.
"I realized that they were prisoners and not workers so I called out, "You are free, come out!" – Vasily Gromadsky, Russian officer, 60th Army, liberating Auschwitz
As the Soviet army approached and the end of the war came closer the vast majority of Auschwitz prisoners were marched west by the Nazis, into Germany. Those few thousand remaining were thought too ill to travel, and were left behind to be shot by the SS. In the confusion that followed the abandonment of the camp, the SS left them alive. The prisoners were found by Soviet forces when they liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
Vasily Gromadsky, a Russian officer with the 60th Army liberating Auschwitz recalls what happened.
"They [the prisoners] began rushing towards us, in a big crowd. They were weeping, embracing us and kissing us. I felt a grievance on behalf of mankind that these fascists had made such a mockery of us. It roused me and all the soldiers to go and quickly destroy them and send them to hell."
“We ran up to them and they gave us hugs, cookies, and chocolate. Being so alone a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human worth that we were starving for. We were not only starved for food but we were starved for human kindness. And the Soviet Army did provide some of that.”
– Eva Mozes Kor, age 10, child survivor of Auschwitz
Child survivors of Auschwitz, wearing adult-size prisoner jackets. Eva Mosez Kor (right) and her sister
Eva Mozes Kor, age 10, was one of several hundred children, many of them twins, who were left behind. She and her twin sister Miriam had been subjects in Dr. Josef Mengele’s medical experiments. She describes what it was like to see the liberating Russians.
In the days before the Russians arrived at Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, and his men tried to conceal the mass murders that had taken place at the camp. Files were removed or destroyed and gas chambers blown up, but their rushed efforts could not hide from the Russians and the world the fact that terrible crimes had been committed here.
Soldier raising the Russian flag on the reichstag in Berlin, April 30, 1945
Within 84 days of liberating Auschwitz, Soviet forces were in Berlin. With Russian soldiers only blocks away, Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in his fuehrer-bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery.
Shortly before the end of the war, Commandant Höss was told by his boss Heinrich Himmler to disappear into the navy to avoid capture. Höss disguised himself as a petty officer and hid among the sailors at the German navy base on the holiday island of Sylt. His disguise worked perfectly. Höss was briefly detained by the British and then released to work on a farm as a field hand. Himmler, however, was captured. But he committed suicide before he could be put on trial.
As the Allies learned more about the severity of the Nazis’ crimes at Auschwitz, they realized that Rudolf Höss was still alive and hiding in Germany. British Intelligence discovered Höss’s wife and family living north of Hanover. She was arrested and interrogated. At first she said her husband was dead, but at the threat of having her son turned over to the Russians, she revealed her husband’s whereabouts, and British soldiers captured him on the farm where he was hiding. Höss was incarcerated locally and then moved to Nuremberg as part of the war crimes trial.
Whitney Harris, a member of the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg trials, recalls what Rudolf Höss was like.
“He struck me as a normal person, that was the horrible thing about it. He was cool, objective, matter of fact. ‘This is my war duty. I did my war duty.’ It was like I had to go out and cut down so many trees. So I went out and took my saw and cut the trees down. He was just acting like a normal, unimportant individual.
“He simply answered the questions, and as far as I could tell, told what happened without emotion. Without emotion. Without a sense of guilt. Not in the slightest apologetic, not in the remotest degree was he apologetic. In a sense, I think he showed a certain pride in accomplishment.”
– Whitney Harris, Member of the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg trials
While Höss waited in prison for trial, much of the Nazi empire was now in the hands of the Russian Army. The Soviets treated not only their German prisoners more harshly than did the British, they were also brutal with many Soviet prisoners who returned from Nazi camps. Often Soviet POWs were accused of having been turned into German spies and, after their release from German captivity, the Soviets severely punished them. Refugees who tried to return home to Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe often faced brutal treatment from Soviet soldiers, who sometimes raped and killed them.
In 1947 Rudolf Höss was returned to Poland, tried for his crimes, and sentenced to death. During his time in prison he wrote his memoirs, which revealed much about the running of the camp and the mind of its commandant.
Execution of Rudolf Höss
“One woman approached me as she walked past and pointed to her four children who were manfully helping the smallest ones over the rough ground and whispered, ‘How can you bring yourself to kill such beautiful darling children? Have you no heart at all?”
– Memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz
Höss wrote that the reasons behind the Nazi extermination program seemed right to him, and he described watching women and children being taken to the gas chambers.
The only regret he expressed was that he did not spend more time with his family. On April 16, 1947, he was hanged on a specially constructed gallows in Auschwitz, the site of his crimes.
Stanislaw Hantz, a guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau, recalls Höss’s execution.
“When they were leading him to the gallows, Höss looked calm. I thought as he climbed to the gallows, up the steps—knowing him to be a Nazi, a hardened party member—that he would say something. Like make a statement to the glory of the Nazi ideology that he was dying for. But no. He didn’t say a word. And during the execution you thought: One life for so many millions of people, is that not too little?”
Rudolf Höss before his execution on a specially constructed gallows in Auschwitz
After the war, many Nazis successfully returned to a normal life, although they often tried to hide their past from their neighbors as well as their families. Years after his escape Adolf Eichmann was discovered in Argentina, captured, sent to Israel for trial, convicted, and executed. Of the roughly seven thousand SS troops who served at Auschwitz and who survived the war, most were not arrested or tried for their crimes. Many lived productive lives. The inmate survivors of the camps were less able to resume their prewar lives. They had lost their families as well as their property. There was no compensation for their losses.
In four years, some 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz, and at least 1.1 million died there, all so-called enemies of the Nazi state and the vast majority of them Jews. The grounds of the death camp continue to serve as a reminder of the past and a warning to the future.
Pavel Stenkin: Soviet POW, Auschwitz
Pavel Stenkin, former Soviet POW, Auschwitz
Pavel Stenkin was a Red Army prisoner at Auschwitz. One of the Russian POWs forced to build the camp at Birkenau, he was among the few who survived that hard labor. Upon liberation from Auschwitz by his Russian comrades in 1945, Stenkin was exiled to the Ural mountains, a victim of Stalin's policy that all surviving POWs should be treated as suspected traitors. His eventual destination was a labor camp within the Soviet Gulag system. Only after Stalin's death, and twelve years after his capture by the Germans in 1941, was Stenkin finally released in 1953.
Pavel Stenkin:They invented that at Auschwitz—this Camp of Death, they were training spies. So somebody got this idea in his head—what if they had turned me into a spy?
When I arrived in Perm [in the Urals] to work I was called in every 2nd night—"admit this, agree to that, we know everything, we only don't know the purpose you were sent here for. But we will find out with or without your help. Come on, admit that you are a spy."
And I would say—"I am not a spy, I'm an honest Soviet man."
And the interrogator smiled ironically—"Soviet man." And he smiled again. "Just confess and it'll all be over."
They were tormenting and tormenting me. And then they decided to get rid of me. They sent me to prison. And the details of my sentence—do you think I heard anything or I read anything about it? I heard nothing and read nothing. Judges were in a rush, they had theatre tickets so they were in hurry to leave the court.
_It was not until I was released from prison, in 1953 that I started to eat my fill. _It was not until I was released from prison, in 1953 that I started to eat my fill.
In scenes repeated across the area of the Soviet Union occupied by the Nazis in 1941, men, women and children were ordered to strip and prepare to die
From the moment the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nazi special units operating throughout the countryside and towns shot many male Jews including Communists, civic leaders and even those just of military age. After a series of meetings between Hitler and Himmler in the summer of 1941, there was an escalation in the persecution of the Soviet Jews. New units were committed to special duties in the East, among them the 1st SS Infantry Brigade, which began to target Jewish women and children as well as men.
Hans Friedrich was a member of the 1st Infantry Brigade. He claims not to recall exactly the actions in which he took part that summer, but he does admit that he participated in the killing of Jews.
Hans Friedrich: Try to imagine there is a ditch, with people on one side, and behind them soldiers. That was us and we were shooting. And those who were hit fell down into the ditch. …
They were so utterly shocked and frightened, you could do with them what you wanted.
Interviewer: Could you tell me what you were thinking and feeling when you were shooting?
Hans Friedrich, 1st SS Infantry Brigade
Hans Friedrich: Nothing. I only thought, 'Aim carefully' so that you hit properly. That was my thought.
Interviewer: This was your only thought? During all that time you had no feelings for the people, the Jewish civilians that you shot?
Hans Friedrich: No.
Interviewer: And why not?
Hans Friedrich: Because my hatred towards the Jews is too great. … And I admit my thinking on this point is unjust, I admit this. But what I experienced from my earliest youth when I was living on a farm, what the Jews were doing to us—well that will never change. That is my unshakeable conviction.
Interviewer: What in God's name did the people you shot have to do with those people who supposedly treated you badly at home? They simply belonged to the same group! What else? What else did they have to do with it?
Hans Friedrich: Nothing, but to us they were Jews!
<a></a>Michal Kabác: Slovak Hlinka Guard
Slovakian propaganda anti-Semitic poster
Some 90,000 Jews lived in Slovakia, a Nazi satellite state after the Germans partitioned Czechoslovakia in 1939. One of the first German-allied countries to agree to the deportation of Jews as part of the "Final Solution," Slovakia signed an agreement with Nazi Germany in March 1942. Between March and October of that year, approximately 60,000 Slovakian Jews were sent to their deaths in German-occupied Poland.
For most of the Slovakian Jews, deportation began with imprisonment at a holding camp outside the city of Bratislava. During the roundups as well as in such camps, the Slovakian Jews were under the control of the Hlinka Guard, Slovakia's pro-Nazi militia. Michal Kabác belonged to this unit. Soon after the deportations began, he became aware of the Jews' likely fate.
Michal Kabác: A Jew would never go to work. None of them work; they only wanted to have an easy life. Our people were happy to receive their stores. We called it aryanising them. And that's how they become rich. …
Later when the Jews were coming to the camps, we used to take their belongings and clothes.
The deputy commander came and said to us to go and choose from the clothes. I took some clothes, others did as well. Then I took 3 pairs of shoes. Everyone took what he could. I wrapped it all with a rope and brought it back home.
We, the guards, were doing quite well.
Interviewer: How could you personally participate in the deportation knowing those people were certainly going to die?
Michal Kabác: What could I have done? I was thinking both ways. I thought it will be peace and quiet here, you deserved it. But on the other hand, there were innocent people among them as well.
I was thinking both ways.
<a></a>Oskar Gröning: SS Garrison, Auschwitz
Luggage being collected from an arriving train at Auschwitz
In the fall of 1941, SS private Oskar Gröning began work at Auschwitz. His jobs eventually included supervision of the collection of luggage taken from Jews as the deportation trains arrived. He was also put in charge of counting the money stolen from the Jews at Auschwitz and organizing its transfer to Berlin.
At the time, Gröning agreed with Nazi ideology, which falsely affirmed that there was a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, but the available evidence does not indicate that he took part directly in killing Jews at Auschwitz. Nor did he wish to remain at Auschwitz. Documents confirm that he applied for a transfer to the front, but his request was refused.
Oskar Gröning: It was not long before I was assigned to supervise the luggage collection of an incoming transport.
When this was over, it was just like a fairground, there was lots of rubbish left and amongst this rubbish were ill people, those unable to walk. And the way these people were treated really horrified me. For example, a child who was lying there naked was simply pulled by the legs and chucked into a lorry to be driven away, and when it screamed like a sick chicken, then they bashed it against the edge of the lorry, so it shut up.
SS private Oskar Gröning
We were convinced by our world view that we had been betrayed by the entire world, and that there was a great conspiracy of the Jews against us.
Interviewer: But surely, when it comes to children you must realise that they cannot possibly have done anything to you?
Oskar Gröning: The children, they're not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.
Interviewer: But … aren't you sorry that you made your own life more comfortable while millions actually died?
Oskar Gröning: Absolutely not. Everybody is looking out for them selves. So many people died in the war, not only Jews.
So many things happened, so many were shot, so many snuffed it. People burnt to death, so many were burnt, if I thought about all of that I wouldn't be able to live one minute longer.
… The special situation at Auschwitz led to friendships of which I'm still saying today I like to look back on with joy.
There are many in the world today who deny the reality of the atrocities committed by the Nazis. And it is to confront those who disbelieve that Oskar Gröning broke his silence and testified about what he saw at Auschwitz.
Oskar Gröning: I see it as my task, now at my age, to face up to these things that I experienced and to oppose the Holocaust deniers who claim that Auschwitz never happened.
And that's why I am here today.
Because I want to tell those deniers: I have seen the gas chambers, I have seen the crematoria, I have seen the burning pits - and I want you to believe me that these atrocities happened.
The Auschwitz camp remains a reminder of the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.
Ivan Martynushkin is a rare surviving witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, and only one of a handful still living who liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
But the 86-year-old remembers the events of January 27, 1945 with great clarity. As the former lieutenant in the Soviet army told me about the atrocities he witnessed, it was clear how precious his memories were.
"We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people," he recalled. "Those were the people I first encountered... We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell. Happy that now they weren't threatened by death in a crematorium. Happy to be freed. And we had the feeling of doing a good deed -- liberating these people from this hell."
As the Soviets approached the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, in occupied Poland, in mid-January 1945, Nazi SS officers forced nearly 60,000 prisoners to march west.
About 7,000 too weak or sick to move stayed behind. In total, historians say more than 1 million Jews, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles were murdered there.
Russian Federal Security Services archives place the figure even higher, saying Nazis killed more than 4 million at Auschwitz.
Despite the hardships and horrors he experienced, Martynushkin was matter of fact as he spoke.
He said he got used to it. Auschwitz was just one of many prison camps he liberated as the Soviet army marched through Ukraine and Poland, pushing back Nazi forces.
Martynushkin was just focused on fighting the war. "No matter how miserable and tragic it all was, we are a fighting military troop. I am a soldier! I can't give in to feelings every single time," he said, emphatically.
"But what did I feel when I saw these people in the camp? I felt compassion and pity understanding how these people's fate unfolded. Because I could have ended up in the same situation. I fought in the Soviet army. I could have been taken prisoner and they could have also thrown me into the camp."
About 15,000 Soviet army POWs were murdered at Auschwitz, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Martynushkin says in the days leading up to the liberation, several hundred of his comrades died.
In all, about 600,000 Soviet soldiers died liberating Poland from the Nazis, according to Kremlin figures.
As he stood near the entrance of Auschwitz in 1944, Sam Spiegel already knew that his father, mother and younger siblings had been killed.
Next to Spiegel stood his girlfriend, Regina Gutman, whom he had met two years before in another Nazi camp in Poland.
She was all the family he had left.
"If we live through this, we will meet in my town," Spiegel told Gutman.
"Why not my town?" Gutman asked.
Then Nazi guards separated the couple, herding them in opposite directions. The two -- from different hometowns in Poland -- wondered whether they would ever see each other again.
They were among the 1.3 million Jews and other enemies of the state who were deported to the infamous Nazi death camp of Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Only about 200,000 survived.
Few, if any, immigrated to the United States.
When the Soviets liberated Auschwitz 60 years ago today, only 7,000 inmates remained, many of them too ill to move. The other 193,000 had been sent to other camps, many on death marches.
Most of those who were liberated from Auschwitz returned to their eastern European towns or moved to western Europe.
"I'm sure there were some," said Peter Black, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "I can't recall having met anyone who was there [at Auschwitz] when it was liberated."
But many of those who spent time in Auschwitz eventually found their way to America. Several dozen live in Florida, from Longwood to Orlando, Clearwater to Fort Myers, Miami to Naples.
Survivors recall their days and nights at Auschwitz, remembering the cold, the hunger, the desperation. And their own hope for liberation.
The largest of nearly 100 Nazi camps, the compound was situated in southwest Poland in the suburbs of the German-occupied city of Auschwitz. The site was almost in the center of German-occupied Europe, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
In the ensuing five years, the Nazis expanded the sprawling compound, dividing it into three main camps and at least 40 additional sub-camps, where prisoners performed slave labor on farms and in coal mines, stone quarries, fisheries and armaments industries.
Now, Auschwitz draws thousands of visitors each year. It is left largely as it was, with the wrought-iron gate bearing the inscription: Arbeit Macht Frei.
Prisoners of Auschwitz greet their Soviet liberators.
The entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz (Auschwitz I). The gate bears the cynical Nazi motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes one free).
The lane separating the first and the second row of barracks in the main camp. On the left in the distance is crematorium #1.
Jewish children, kept alive in Auschwitz II (Birkenau) extermination camp. Among those pictured are: Tomasz Szwarz; Alicja Gruenbaum; Salomea Rozalin; Gita Sztrauss; Wiera Sadler; Marta Wiess; Word Eksztein; Josef Rozenwaser; Rafael Szlezinger; Gabriel Nejman; Gugiel Appelbaum. Pesa Balter (second from the left), arrived in Auschwitz in August 1944 at the age of 11.
Liberated inmates behind the barbed wire fence.
Interior of the stable barracks.
A mass funeral of inmates who could not be saved or who were killed by the SS before liberation.
View of the execution wall next to Block 11 in Auschwitz I.
A warehouse full of shoes and clothing confiscated from the prisoners and deportees gassed upon their arrival. The Nazis shipped these goods to Germany.
A large pile of Jewish prayer shawls (tallesim, tallitot) confiscated from arriving prisoners and stored in one of the warehouses in Auschwitz.
View of one of the warehouses in Auschwitz, overflowing with clothes confiscated from prisoners.
Six-year old Anna Klein and three-year old brother Jon. Both perished in Auschwitz.
Soviet soldiers escort two prisoners on the day of their liberation from Auschwitz
On the Eastern front, the Soviets have amassed more than 2.5 million troops along a line thinly defended by Germans, who are more attentive to the Western front. Churchill prevails on Stalin to attack in the east, in part to draw Germans away from the west and relieve some pressure there. The Soviets attack on several fronts, pushing German troops back. They fight through Poland, liberating Warsaw on January 17, and by the end of January, they are within 50 miles of Berlin.
At the Chelmno camp, the SS begins killing the group of Jewish prisoners they had forced to help dismantle the camp.
January 18: The Nazis begin removing prisoners from Auschwitz. As Allied troops approach, tens of thousands of prisoners from several concentration camps are forced to march on foot to other camps in Germany. Thousands who are too weak to march or who commit any infraction during the march are shot.
January 27: Soviet troops liberate Auschwitz. Only a few thousand prisoners remain.
January - August: In the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur directs an invasion to liberate the Philippines. The battle to take Manila is fierce: the Japanese burn parts of the city and massacre many citizens. The fierce Japanese resistance draws in American artillery, which further destroys the city and kills more civilians. In early March the Americans finally control the city, after more than 100,000 Filipinos have been killed. In the countryside, the Japanese commander fights a bitter drawn-out battle in the mountains. In fact, these battles do not cease until after the war ends, when the emperor orders the Japanese forces in the Philippines to surrender.
February 1: The U.S. State Department announces that perpetrators of crimes against Jews will be punished.
February 7-11: Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin meet at Yalta in the Crimea to discuss plans for postwar Germany, the entry of the Soviets in the war against Japan, and the formation of the United Nations.
February-March: British, Canadian, and U.S. troops launch a multipronged attack to reach the Rhine River, from which they would begin a final campaign. The Allies encounter moderate resistance as German troops largely retreat. By the end of March, the Allied troops reach the Rhine.
March-April: Allied troops launch an intense effort to cross the Rhine, led by British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Within a week, Montgomery has moved thousands of troops and tanks across the river. Rather than allowing Montgomery to move toward Berlin, however, U.S. General Dwight David Eisenhower orders him to northern Germany. Agreements made by political leaders at Yalta had given the Soviets the right to capture Berlin.
During their advance into Germany, Allied troops liberate Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and other concentration camps.
March-August: The effectiveness of U.S. bombing of Japan improves over the course of the war as the Americans are able to establish airbases closer to the country. In early 1945 they begin to use napalm, and on March 9-10 U.S. bombers cause a firestorm in Tokyo that kills 84,000 people. U.S. bombing continues to destroy major cities, killing more than 100,000 additional civilians, but Japan does not surrender.
A soldier raising the Russian flag on the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, April 30, 1945
The final Soviet offensive on Berlin begins on April 16. The Germans reinforce the Berlin area, and although outnumbered by Soviet troops, many Germans fight fanatically—many in fear of the Nazis among them or of the Soviet soldiers—and slow the Soviet advance. Within two weeks, however, the Soviets reach the city and take the Reichstag on April 30. The Soviets lose 100,000 men in the battle. The Germans lose thousands also, including Adolf Hitler, who commits suicide on April 30.
April-May: Allied troops move into both northern and southern Germany. By the end of April, U.S. troops have pushed far enough across Germany that they make contact with Soviet troops southwest of Berlin.
April 12: U.S. President Roosevelt dies. Vice President Harry Truman becomes president.
April 25: The United Nations meets in San Francisco.
April 27: Former Italian dictator Mussolini and his wife are captured by Italian opponents, who execute them and hang their bodies by their heels from lampposts in Milan. Later, the bodies are cut down and mutilated.
In early May Rudolf Höss meets with Heinrich Himmler, who tells Höss to flee capture by disappearing into the army.
May 2: German forces in Berlin and Italy surrender, followed soon after by Germans in Denmark, Holland, and northern Germany.
May 7: Germany surrenders unconditionally.
May 9: U.S. troops capture Hermann Göring.
May 23: Heinrich Himmler commits suicide.
June 26: Fifty nations sign the United Nations Charter.
July 17-August 2: Truman, Churchill, and Stalin meet at Potsdam, Germany, to discuss how postwar Germany will be governed. During the meeting, British elections remove Prime Minister Churchill from office and Clement Attlee is voted in as the new prime minister.
August 6: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing more than 80,000 people.
August 8: The Soviet Union declares war on Japan.
August 9: The United States drops an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing about 35,000 people.
September 2: Japan surrenders unconditionally.
September 20: The Jewish Agency for Palestine makes its first formal claim for reparations to Jewish victims of the Nazis.
Nuremberg Trials defendants in their dock: Goering, Hess, von Ribbentrop, and Keitel in front row
November 20: The Nuremberg International Military Tribunal opens to conduct trials of Nazi war criminals.
December 20: The military governors of the four occupation zones of Germany agree that individual zones can establish courts to try Nazi war criminals.
Russian exhibition — The liberation of Auschwitz camp
The exhibition covers 212 square meters on the ground floor of block 14 at the Auschwitz I site and tells the story of the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945 by soldiers of the 60 Army of the First Ukrainian Front. The exhibition is divided into three parts.
The First Part recounts the moment of liberation by Red Army soldiers. The first to enter the camp were storm detachments of the 106 Rifle Corps under the command of Major Anatoliy Shapiro. The following day, a division of riflemen commanded by Col. Petrenko liberated the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. Visitors can see excerpts from the liberation chronicles, battlefield maps, and army staff documents. A separate section tells the story of the soldiers who fought to liberate Auschwitz.
The Second Part is dedicated to the rescue of Auschwitz prisoners and illustrates events immediately after liberation. We see the situation that the soldiers found in the camp. The exhibition also recounts the self-sacrificing efforts by doctors and local civilians who helped save the prisoners. A special installation replicates part of an army field hospital.
Russian exhibition. Photo. Pawe? Sawicki The Third Part covers the effort to document the crimes committed in Auschwitz. There are working documents from the Extraordinary State Commission of the USSR, and accounts and memoirs by former prisoners including testimony about genocide, medical experiments, and camp conditions. A major part of this segment of the exhibition is a symbolically bounded-off place for German war criminals at the Nuremberg Trial.
he Exhibition The Struggle and Martyrdom of the Polish Nation 1939-1945
Opened in 1985, the exhibition begins with the start of the Second World War. Events associated with the September campaign, the cruelty of the invaders, and the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact are shown in a highly concise way. Next comes the division of Polish land by the German occupation regime into the General Government and the areas incorporated into the Third Reich, and the imposition of the occupation legal regime.
The creation of the Polish underground state and the struggle against the occupier are also shown. The following sequences present the German occupation policy towards the conquered Polish people: terror, repression, the liquidation of the intelligentsia, expulsions, pacification, deportation to camps, the exploitation and destruction of the economy and culture, and germanization. The repression and persecution of Poles in the land occupied by the USSR is also shown.
The role of the Polish armed forces in the Allied war effort and the international resistance movement, and combat by Poles on all fronts in the Second World War is the next subject. The final theme is “Poles in Auschwitz.” The exhibition also includes lists of names, as established on the basis of archival records.
The Exhibition The Tragedy of the Slovakian Jews
The first part of the exhibition, opened in 2002, presents the origins and story of the Holocaust in Slovakia, which was one of the main goals in the domestic policy of the regime that ruled the country at the time. Particular attention is paid to the turning points in the destruction of the Jews of Slovakia, such as the passage of Jewish laws, the first deportation, labor and internment camps, and the succeeding phases of deportation and repression. The "solution of the Jewish question" in the Hungarian-occupied southern part of Slovakia is also shown.
The exhibition also covers the attitudes of the Slovaks towards the persecution of the Jews. A separate theme is the story of the Jews who were deported from Slovakia to Auschwitz. This section presents, among other things, the successful escapes by Slovakian Jews and the significance of their eyewitness accounts in informing the world about the killing of the Jews in Auschwitz.
The exhibition displays about 700 photographs of Jews, copied from identity cards issued by the Jewish Center in Bratislava. Visitors can also use audiovisual equipment to watch and listen to accounts by ex-prisoners.
The exhibition Prisoners from the Czech Lands in Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Opened in 2002, it presents the mechanism of deportation from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia to Auschwitz, against the background of the situation in the country under occupation by the Third Reich.
Art works and a map showing the principal killing centers and concentration camps where people from the Protectorate were imprisoned and died serve as the introduction.
The historical documentation begins with a concise recapitulation of facts connected with the breaking up of Czechoslovakia and the Nazi policies in the country.
The most important centers of repression are shown and described. Also shown are Czech resistance to the German occupation and the system of repression, which included deportation to camps, including Auschwitz. There is information about the largest transports and the largest groups of political prisoners deported to Auschwitz from the Protectorate.
Another subject presented at length is the fate of Jews, the largest group of deportees from the Czech lands to Auschwitz, and the role of the ghetto in Terezin. The story of the "family camp" presented in Auschwitz for Jews from the ghetto in Terezin, and the tragic fate of the people imprisoned there, are related.
Stories of children and individual biographies of deportees are an important part of the exhibition. The exhibition also recounts the persecution and extermination of the Roma who lived in the Czech lands, the majority of whom died in Auschwitz.
The exhibition March 11, 1938: Austria — The First Victim of National Socialism
The exhibition opened in 1978. The authors begin their narrative with the proclamation of the Republic of Austria in 1918. This is followed by these thematic sections:
Preparations for the occupation of Austria 1918-1933 and 1933-1938.
The introduction of terror from 1938: the increasingly fascistic nature of political, social, and economic life.
Austrian resistance—the movement in opposition to National Socialism. This is followed by discussion of the contribution of the workers' movement to the struggle against Nazism, the most important problems of the organized resistance movement, and individual initiatives.
The fate of Jewish Austrians, Gypsies, and victims of political persecution in the concentration camps, and especially in Auschwitz, is shown. The exhibition devotes special attention to the Austrians who belonged to the leadership of the Auschwitz Combat Group (Kampfgruppe Auschwitz).
An important part of the exhibition comprises the stained-glass windows that symbolize the martyrdom of the Auschwitz victims. The main window, The Gas Chamber, is surrounded by 4 side windows: The Heavens Full of Smoke and Flames, The Praying Jew in the Flames; Crying Misery, and The Bitter End.
The exhibition The Citizen Betrayed: A Remembrance of Holocaust Victims from Hungary
Opened in 2004, it shows the situation of Jews in Hungary during the Second World War and the changes that took place when the Nazis occupied the country in March 1944.
The themes are the labor service, before and after German occupation; the deprivation of rights from the 1920 numerus clausus to the Jewish laws and their consequences for Jews before the German occupation; the plunder of Jewish-owned property; the German occupation; the ghettos and deportation; Jews from Hungary in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi camps; the holocaust of the Roma; the Arrow Cross regime; rescue; and resistance and rescue through diplomatic channels.The exhibition Deportees from France to Auschwitz Concentration Camp: March 27 1942-January 27, 1945
Opened in 2005, the exhibition presents the fates of individuals in connection with the fates of France and the Jews who lived there.
In the first room, visitors learn about the biographies of the people whose fates will be the subject of the exhibition. Their fates are presented in the following rooms against the background of the occupation. Recordings of accounts by survivors are included in the exhibition and are available for listening.
The exhibition ends with photographs of Jewish children who were deported to Auschwitz.
The exhibition Belgium 1940-1945: The Occupation and Deportation to Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Opened in 2006, the exhibition begins with general information on the situation in Belgium from 1940 to 1945, including the political system, the occupation of Belgium by the Germans, the introduction of military rule, the resistance movement, and collaboration.
The next part presents the persecution of the Jews. At the end, there is information about the Breendonk and Malines (Mechelen) camps. This is an introduction to the main part of the exhibition, which covers deportation to Auschwitz.
Next to prewar photographs of the future victims, there is information for each transport about its identifying number, the number of people deported, the number murdered in the gas chambers immediately after arrival and the number sent to the camp, and the number of people who survived. Each transport is described in a separate information panel, which also contains additional information about the deportees.
The exhibition The Persecution and Deportation of Jews from The Netherlands in the Years 1940-1945
Opened in 2005, it starts with photographs depicting scenes from Jewish community life in the years before the Holocaust. This part tells the story of the Westerbork camp, which was built for Jews fleeing persecution in Germany. The German invasion changed that situation—from a camp for refugees from Germany, it became a place where Jews were assembled before being deported to be killed.
The exhibition includes a documentary film shot during the loading and departure of one of the transports. Gypsies were also sent from this camp to be killed.
The fate of Dutch citizens deported to Auschwitz is shown in the final room. One part of the exhibition is a wall bearing thousands of names of deportees, behind which visitors can learn about the biographies of some of the victims.
_Whatever we think of Stalin and the awful brutalities of soviet communism, we should not forget it was the epic battles and sacrifice on the eastern front that truly decided the Nazis fate. On this 60th anniversary of the holocaust, an interesting article on the soviet liberation of Auschwitz including the little known relevation it was heavily defended. Very little is published in the western media about the soviet war effort, well done the Guardian for doing so. _
Yakov Vinnichenko Tuesday January 25, 2005 The Guardian
Just five survivors remain today from the three Soviet divisions which liberated Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945. I am the youngest - I was only 19 when the war ended. But the events of 60 years ago are as fresh in my memory as if they happened yesterday.
I come from Vinnitsa in Ukraine. But my mother took me to Moscow in 1934 because of famine. In the summer of 1941 I went to help my grandad in Ukraine with his vegetable garden. I arrived on Saturday June 21, and the next day we took his cow to the market. At noon, we heard on the loudspeaker that war had begun. Money became worthless immediately. We could have got twice as much for the cow, but it was too late.
Although I was just 15 years old, I was immediately conscripted. We were kept in reserve, but when I turned 17 I was sent to the front. I had my baptism of fire in January 1943, when we kicked the Germans out of Voronezh. The following month, we liberated Kursk. It was a bloodbath: a whole regiment was killed in three hours. Later, I was badly wounded in the chest in the battle of Kursk. On recovery, I caught up with my regiment, under the command of General Vasily Petrenko, who died not long ago. He was a great commander. Under him we liberated Lvov in the summer of 1944, and on January 19 1945 we freed Krakow, a beautiful ancient city
At about 4am on January 27 we approached Oswiecim (Auschwitz). It is a small town on the Sola river. We didn't even know there was a concentration camp there.
The Germans had far better weapons than us, and their rations were excellent, not like the gruel we had. Sometimes we didn't even get that and went hungry for days. The Germans also had warm clothing, but we looked like riffraff by 1945: our clothes were threadbare, and we had no decent boots or blankets. It was mild for January. There was no snow, which we needed to melt in our pots to get water.
We won that war with our bodies. We would lose seven of our men for each German. It was tough in Auschwitz, too. The Germans deployed artillery and submachine guns outside the camp. They shot at us from the watchtowers and barracks. The fight raged for about five hours, and we lost many men. Then they pulled back.
When we entered the camp, we gasped: barbed wire everywhere, everyone in striped clothes and caps. The prisoners could barely walk: they looked like shadows or ghosts, they were so skinny. Some could not even move, others were supported by friends. They tried to talk to us, but we could not understand them: there were people from different countries, including many Jews from France, Poland and even Palestine. At the time of our assault there were 7-10,000 people in the camp - I learned after the war that the Germans had earlier shipped hundreds of thousands of prisoners to Germany and continued to use them for forced labour. But those left behind were barely alive.
At first, when they saw us, they could not believe they were free. But when they understood, some began to laugh, others broke down crying. Many tried to kiss us, but they looked so horrible that we kept away so as not to catch some bug. Many asked for food, but we didn't have any. Our support units arrived the next day and got busy with the prisoners, feeding and washing them. But we only stayed for a couple of hours. It was a horrible scene. We went into a filthy women's barrack, with bunks in tiers and bloodstains on some of them.
The Germans had not expected everything would move so fast: we carried out the operation very quickly. They hadn't had time to blow up anything or plant mines. There was a huge construction site next to the camp: prisoners were building a chemicals plant. There were not just camp inmates working there, but also tens of thousands of civilians shipped from the USSR.
The grim barracks stood in rows and, from a distance, looked like a factory - and it was a real factory of death. I saw a great deal in the war, but nothing so horrible or awesome as that camp. The experience gave us a new energy and determination to put an end to the abomination of nazism. Our men did not spare their lives - we knew our cause was just. In a few days we moved on to the west, and I was again gravely wounded, now on German territory, at a place called Lonau.
I did not visit Auschwitz again until 2000, at the invitation of President Kwasniewski of Poland. This week I am returning for the third time. I do not believe humanity will forget the suffering of the victims of Auschwitz, nor the blood shed by their liberators. Anyone who witnessed such a nightmare would do anything possible to prevent it happening again.
· Sergeant Yakov Vinnichenko took part in the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on January 27 1945. He was interviewed by Ruben Sergeyev
Maurice Shainberg held positions in Polish, Soviet armies BY DAVE BENJAMIN Staff Writer
BY DAVE BENJAMIN Staff Writer
A major contributor to and founding member of the Jewish War Veterans Post 972 of Manalapan-Marlboro will be remembered for the key roles he played during World War II.
Maurice Shainberg, 84, of Manalapan, a former colonel in the Polish army, died Dec. 5 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick.
“He was from a family of famous rabbis in Warsaw, Poland,” said Julian Batlan, of Manalapan, public information officer of JWV Lt. Seth Dvorin Post 972. “He was imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi period and escaped on the way to [a prison] camp.”
Batlan said Shainberg’s father was wealthy and was able to arrange for one of his employees to provide his son with false papers that gave him a new Polish name, Mieczyslaw Pruzanski.
Shainberg joined the Polish partisans and fought the Nazis using his new name because Jews were not accepted in the Polish partisans.
“In fact, [Maurice said] they would have killed him,” Batlan said.
With the Soviet army overcoming the area where the Polish partisans were, Shainberg became part of the Soviet army.
As a Soviet army captain, he was a liberator of the Auschwitz death camp. As a major in the Polish army, he served as part of the official Polish military delegation to the surrender ceremony of the German army to the commander of the Allied Armed Forces, U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, at Rheims, France.
Shainberg later received training with the Soviet secret police, the KGB. As a Soviet KGB colonel, he secretly arranged for shipments of Soviet military arms and equipment to the new state of Israel during its 1948 War of Independence. When his true identity was discovered, he was jailed by the Soviets as an American and Israeli spy.
“He had a lot of secret Russian papers that the Russians didn’t know about,” Batlan said. “He worked with the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) at that time, along with United States intelligence. Eventually, the KGB found out and he was imprisoned.”
Shainberg’s escape to the West after being incarcerated for almost a year in a Soviet prison was secretly facilitated by the actions of President Eisenhower and Israel. He eventually came to the United States.
He went on to write “The KGB Solution at Katyn” and “Breaking From the KGB.”
“He was a diehard Republican,” said Batlan. “He had his own business here and became very successful. He was a lecturer and was on various radio shows. A very unusual and interesting man.”
Shainberg is survived by his wife, Sabina, and daughters, Dina and Elizabeth.
This railroad switch inside Extermination Camp Birkenau literally meant the switch from life to death for the victims Photo courtesy: Private collection
Some people still refuse to accept the fact that the Holocaust really happened. For them, the concept of Auschwitz/Birkenau is nothing more and nothing less than a wildly exaggerated, freely invented horror story used by the victorious Allies to saddle future German people with a burdened conscience for all eternity. Psychologically such reaction and attitude is quite understandable. There always will be people who assert the opposite of what others say even though it is a proven fact that extermination camps were a reality located in Poland under Nazi control. The shocking truth about the extermination camps, or rather the death factories of Auschwitz/Birkenau, Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Chelmno exceeds the average person's imagination by far.
Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. In Auschwitz II, a.k.a. Birkenau and one of 45 sub-camps of Auschwitz I, five gas chambers and crematoria were in operation at one time or another using poisonous cyanide gas pellets called Zyklon-B which were manufactured by a pest-control company in Germany. Approximately five to six thousand people died daily. Those who were not gassed and cremated upon arrival, died from cruel labor and starvation.
The Auschwitz complex was the site of scientifically planned and efficiently executed genocide during World War II. Accurate statistics were not kept, but the estimated death toll at the total camp complex ranges from one and one half to as many as four million people. The latter figure, made up predominately of Jews, also includes a large number of Poles, Russian POWs, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, the physically and mentally handicapped, and other minority groups considered to be a 'threat' to the Reich - Empire.
Danuta Czech, authoress of the book "Auschwitz Chronicle, 1939-1945" writes: "Historical study of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp is virtually dependent on the sources available. A historian who wishes to reconstruct the history of the concentration camp encounters serious problems, since most of the sources necessary for such a reconstruction were deliberately destroyed by the Third Reich to get rid of incriminating evidence of their crimes."
Danuta Chech is the former head of the research department of the Official Auschwitz Memorial Museum where, in 1955, she began the work which culminated with the publishing of the Auschwitz Chronicle. Born in Poland in 1922, she was an active member of the resistance in the Tarnow region during World War II.
When Danuta Czech wrote her valuable book, she drew from materials which were at her disposal from the official archives of the Auschwitz Memorial Museum and from the German Bundes Archives. She has provided us with a most acurate document. She has left us with an accurate account of daily life in Auschwitz and Birkenau. It has all the appearances of a daily kept dairy, describing the events which took place in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Furthermore, the book provides an accurate description of life and death of an untold number of prisoners in both camps
The Perpetrators of Auschwitz Rudolf Höss SS-Obersturmbannführer Holocaust Research project
Artur Liebenhenschel SS-Obersturmbannführer www.auschwitz.org.pl
Richard Bär SS-Sturmbannführer WikipediA the Free Encyclopaedia
Karl Höcker SS-Obersturmführer USHMM Photo Archives
Without question, it can be said that SS-Obersturmbannführer - SS-Luitenant Colonel Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss, was the Nazis' greatest mass murderer in modern times. He was the architect as well as the first SS commandant of the largest killing center ever created in modern times, death camp Auschwitz, whose name has come to symbolize humanity's ultimate descent into evil. Höss was the first commandant of Auschwitz I. He was responsible for the customary daily routines in Auschwitz from May 1940 to November 1943. Rudolf Höss was followed by SS-Obersturmbannführer - SS-Lieutenant Colonel Artur Liebenhenschel who was in charge from November 1943 to May 1944. Liebenhenschel was sentenced to death by the Supreme People's court in Cracow, Poland. The sentence was executed. The third and last commandant was SS-Sturmbannführer - SS-Major Richard Bär who was in charge from May 1944 to the end of January in 1945 when the camp was liberated by the Russian army. When Sturmbannführer Bär was assigned the position of commandant of Auschwitz in May 1944, he brought Obersturmführer Karl Höcker with him from Majdanek to the Auschwitz extermination camp. Höcker had served as Adjudant to Bär in Majdanek and again in Auschwitz he would serve him as Adjudant. After the war Bär went into hiding and lived im Hamburg using the false name of Karl Neuman. He was arrested in 1960, tried, and sentenced to imprisonment. He died in jail in 1963.
During his trial, Höss admitted to a minimum figure of two and a half million deaths at Auschwitz. His trial took place a few years after the war. Just prior to his own execution by hanging in April 1947, he reflected back on his active part in the genocide. Perhaps with his written statement he had hoped to change the outcome of the trial. Referring to the experiments in the basement of Block 11 and to the initial use of the gas chamber and crematorium 1, Höss wrote:
"At the time I did not think about the problem of killing Soviet prisoners of war. It was an order and I had to execute it. However, I will say frankly that killing that group of people by gas relieved my anxieties. It would soon be necessary to start the mass extermination of the Jews, and until that moment neither I nor Adolf Eichmann had known how to conduct a mass killing. A sort of gas was to be used, but it was not known what kind of gas was meant and how to use it. Now we had both the gas and the way of using it. I had always been concerned at the thought of mass shootings, particularly of women and children. I was already sick of all the executions. Now my mind was at ease."
Auschwitz II, a.k.a. Birkenau, seen from outside the fence. There was no return from this forbidding place for the hapless victims! Photo courtesy: Private collection
The largest number of Holocaust victims were Jews from Europe who lived in Nazi occupied territory. Auschwitz II, a.k.a Birkenau, has become the primary symbol of what is now understood by the phrase, the Holocaust. At least one-third of the estimated six million Jews killed by the Nazis in extermination camps and by death-squads during World War II perished at this place.
The Nazis established Auschwitz in April 1940 under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, chief of two Nazi organizations, - the Schutzstaffel or SS - SS Nazi guards, and the Gestapo - Secret State Police. The camp at Auschwitz originally housed political prisoners from occupied Poland and from concentration camps within Germany. Construction of nearby Brzezinka - Birkenau, a.k.a. Auschwitz II, began in October 1941 and after August 1942 the camp also included a women's section. Birkenau had five gas chambers, which were designed to resemble crude showers, and five crematoria used to incinerate the bodies of the, for the most part, unsuspecting victims.
Approximately 40 more satellite camps were established around Auschwitz. These were forced labour camps and were known collectively as Auschwitz III. The first which was built at Monowitz held Polish political prisoners who had been forcibly evacuated from their hometowns by the Nazis. Jewish victims, deported by rail from all over Nazi-occupied Europe, arrived at Auschwitz/Birkenau in daily convoys. Arrivals at the Birkenau complex were separated into three groups. The first group went to the gas chambers within a few hours. More than twenty thousand people could be gassed and cremated each day. Prisoners of the second group were spared this initial indignity and forced to perform slave labor in one of the satellite camps belonging to Auschwitz in industrial factories for companies such as I. G. Farben and Krupp until they too were worked to death.
Between 1940 and 1945 four hundred and five thousand prisoners were recorded as labourers. Of these about three hundred and forty thousand perished through executions, beatings, starvation, and sickness. Some prisoners survived through the help of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved about 1000 Polish Jews by diverting them from Auschwitz to work for him, first in his factory near Krakow and later at a factory in what is today known as the Czech Republic. A third group, mostly twins and dwarfs underwent medical experiments at the hands of doctors of which Josef Mengele was chief. He was known among the inmates as the 'Angel of Death.' The camp was staffed in part by prisoners, some of whom were selected to be Kapos - Orderlies, others had the misfortune to be sought out as_Sonderkommandos_ - Special Commandos at the crematoria.
Most members of these groups were killed periodically to maintain secrecy. Kapos and Sonderkommandos were supervised by members of the SS; altogether six thousand SS members were deployed at Auschwitz. By the year 1943 resistance organizations had developed in Auschwitz. These organizations managed to assist a few prisoners in their escape plans; these escapees took with them news of exterminations, such as the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Hungary between May and July 1944. In October 1944 a group of_Sonderkommandos_ destroyed one of the gas chambers at Birkenau. They and their accomplices, a group of women from the Monowitz labor camp, were all put to death. When the Soviet army marched into Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 liberating the camp, they found about seven thousand six hundred survivors, barely alive, abandoned there. More than fifty-eight thousand prisoners had already been forcefully evacuated by the Nazis and sent to the West on a final death march to German concentration camps. The government of Poland founded a museum at the site of the main Auschwitz concentration camp in 1946 in remembrance of its victims. By 1994, about twenty-two million visitors, or about half a million annually, had passed through the wrought iron gate at Auschwitz I that to this day bears the cynical motto: ARBEIT MACHT FREI - WORK LIBERATES.
German war interests required the maximization of economic benefits from this cold-blooded murder. Before the bodies of the victims were burned their hair was cut off and fillings and false teeth made of precious metals were removed by prisoner dentists and dental technicians. The hair was used for making hair-cloth, and the metals were melted into bars and sent to Berlin and from there they were deposited in secret Swiss bank accounts. After the liberation tons of hair was found in camp warehouses; the Nazis had not had time to process it all. Proof that this hair came from victims of gassing was provided by The Krakow Institute of Judicial Expertise, whose analyses showed that traces of prussic acid, a poisonous component typical of Zyklon-B compounds, were present in the hair.
Sceptics of the Holocaust and revisionists of history acknowledge that some Jews were incarcerated in places such as Auschwitz. But they maintain, as was done at the trial of a Holocaust denier in Canada, that these places were equipped with all the luxuries of a country club, including a swimming pool, a dance hall, synagogue, and recreational facilities. Some Jews may have died, they agreed, but this was the natural consequence of wartime deprivations. Some of these assumptions are based on detailed information that is available from camp Westerbork in the Netherlands and to a certain extent from ghetto Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic. Stories and pictures from these two camps show that inmates 'indulged' in shows and other entertainment and that the camps were equipped with the finest of medical care. Whereas, to a certain extent, this was true, the circumstances under which these so-called luxuries could be indulged in were criminally deceptive and far removed from reality. Ultimate death by gassing in places like Auschwitz/Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, that was reality.
At this precise moment in time, as we have entered the twenty-first century, we continue to confront the consequences of individual choices in our world. Whether it is the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, or the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the 20th Century. The slaughter in Cambodia and Laos by the Khmer Rouge, or the ongoing oppression, slavery, and death of black Christians in the Sudan. The Chinese suppression of the Tibetans, or the conflict as we have witnessed recently between the Tutsis and Hutus in Berundi and Rwanda. I now can add the people of West Papua and the Molukken to this sad list as well. They are cruelly persecuted by Indonesia.
I understand it is painfully present within the capability of each one of us to destroy lives and commit the most evil of deeds, then turn the table around and seek absolution. Often denying having committed crimes against humanity. May we always champion those who stand for, fight for, and give their lives for the liberty of mankind no matter where they live.
My great-uncle, Elmer Lancaster, fought in the front lines in Germany. He actually was one of the men who liberated Auschwitz. Even to this day, he cannot talk about what happened. This story has been passed down to me through my mom and my grandparents.
The day was cold and dreary; smoke from all of the bombings was still hovering over the city. I was about to take part in a vital day in world history. My commanding officer had been given orders to liberate the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. Auschwitz had the reputation of being the worst concentration camp in Germany. I was scared. Scared because of what I was about to see. Sure, I had seen death. I just got done fighting on the front lines in Germany. Men in my troop had been killed right beside me. I had seen my fellow soldiers blown to bits, but this was different. The closer we got to Auschwitz, the more frightened I became. I could smell death in the air. As we stood in front of the massive iron gate, I cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt. Slowly the gates opened . . .
The dirt road leading to the actual housing quarters was only 100 feet long, but to me it felt like getting from North Carolina to California. We went inside and for the first time I saw the people we were setting free. They were so thin, they looked like skeletons. They were so weak, they could not move. They were so sick, they could not live. We spoke to them in German saying, "You’re free . . .you’re free!!!" The ones that were even a little bit healthy understood and helped us explain to the others. There were many doctors around to help with the sick.
My troop continued through the camp. As we went down one hallway, the smell was unbearable. We noticed a large door at the end of the hallway, so we went in. There were large ovens, and we opened them. There were bodies in the ovens. The Nazi soldiers would pile people into them and burn them alive. The sight I saw that day is not fit to be seen by human eyes.
We went down another hallway, and once again we noticed a distinct smell. It smelled of carbon monoxide. We saw a door, and we carefully went in. There were hundreds of bodies stacked on top of each other. We found out that this was the shower room. The Nazi soldiers would fill the room, turn the showers on, lock the doors, and wait for the Jews to die.
Finally, we made it to the other end, and we had to go outside for some fresh air. What we saw out there, was the worst sight yet. We saw huge holes dug in the ground. These holes were filled with dead Jews. We named it "The Cemetery." The Nazi soldiers did not want the dead to start rotting inside the camp, so they would bury them in these big holes in the ground.
As we left Auschwitz that day, I knew that I would never forget this day for the rest of my life. It’s still hard for me to talk about. I know the importance of what I did that day, and I want you to know the horrible things that happened as the result of hatred and pride. Do not let hatred make you destroy other people. Do not let your pride make you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Life is sacred, remember that.