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The first prisoners to be registered in the Mauthausen concentration camp were 300 German criminals who arrived on August 8, 1938 after being transferred from the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. By the end of the year, 780 more prisoners had been transferred to Mauthausen from the Dachau and Sachsenhausen camps. Many of these early prisoners had been sentenced by the German courts to hard labor after being convicted of committing a violent crime.
According to Christian Bernadac, a former inmate of the camp, who wrote a book called "The 186 Steps," the first prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen was Wilhelm Baier who was assigned the number 3. The numbers 1 and 2 were not used. Baier had been sentenced to 30 years hard labor in 1920 after committing what Bernadac called a "blood crime." Prisoner number 4 was Joseph Wboblowski. The next three prisoners to be registered were Baum, Bartel and Bartosch, all convicted German criminals who had been sentenced to hard labor.
Another category of prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were the so-called "career criminals." On June 17, 1936, Adolf Hitler had signed a decree which made Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler the new Chief of the German Police within the Reich Ministry of Interior. According to Peter Padfield, author of the book "Himmler," the new Police Chief "saw his task as preventing crime before it happened by shutting away habitual criminals, preserving the Volk from contamination by shutting away subversives who might corrupt them, picking up vagrants, the 'work shy' and 'anti-socials' and putting them to work in his camps, and in addition supervising public morals."
Padfield wrote that Himmler's first large-scale action as Police Chief was the "nationwide round-up of professional criminals." On March 9, 1937, Himmler gave the order to arrest around 2,000 "professional criminals" who had committed two or more crimes, but were now free after having served their sentences. They were arrested without charges and sent to a concentration camp for an indeterminate time.
A large number of the prisoners who were transferred to Mauthausen from Dachau and Sachsenhausen were in the category called Schutzhäftling or prisoners in "protective custody." These prisoners were political dissidents who were arrested, but not charged with any crime. They were sent to the camps for the purpose of political indoctrination. According to Bernadac, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler "wanted the concentration camps to be primarily re-education centers, genuine courses that should result in lasting conversions."
The first of more than a thousand Schutzhäftling prisoners to be transferred to Mauthausen were Kurt Khunert and Johann Werber. Before Mauthausen became a Class III camp in 1941, there were a few prisoners who were released after being politically re-educated. Bernadac wrote that the protective custody prisoners were excused from work in the quarry for one hour each day to attend "political initiation courses" and to "listen to lectures by Party functionaries." Those who were rehabilitated were set free, but had to continue their training on a regular basis to prove that "the brain-washing had been genuinely effective."
The first Polish prisoners arrived on March 9, 1940 and another 9 transports of Poles arrived before the end of the year. Like the first inmates to arrive at the Auschwitz main camp in June 1940, these prisoners were captured Polish partisans and members of the Polish underground resistance. The Polish Army never surrendered after Poland was conquered in 1939 by Germany and the Soviet Union and the Poles continued to fight as illegal combatants in the Polish Home Army until the Soviet Army entered Poland in July 1944, at which time, the Poles joined the Allies.
In 1937, there were only 7,500 prisoners in the four main Nazi concentration camps: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Lichtenberg. By that time, Lichtenberg was being used exclusively for women prisoners. According to Himmler's biographer, Padfield, the new Chief of Police wanted to increase the number of inmates in the concentration camps because he desired a large labor force for the factories owned by SS. For this reason, he broadened the category of asocials to include "tramps and vagabonds, beggars - even those with a fixed address - gypsies and people who traveled from place to place like gypsies if they showed no will to work regularly, pimps who had been involved in legal proceedings even if not convicted and who still associated with procurers and prostitutes, or people under strong suspicion of procuring and finally people who had demonstrated by numerous previous convictions for resistance, causing bodily injury, brawling, trespass and similar that they do not want to adapt themselves to the orderly Volk community."
Another category of German citizens, who were persecuted by Himmler, in his capacity as Chief of the German Police, was homosexuals. Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, which had been in effect since 1871, made it a crime for men to publicly engage in gay sex or for male prostitutes to solicit men for sex. Himmler began enforcing this law and a total of about 10,000 homosexuals were eventually sent to concentration camps such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen for at least 6 months of "rehabilitation." According to Bernadac, they "received regular visits from the medical commissions" who attempted to change their sexual orientation because the Nazis believed that these prisoners were gay by choice.
The first homosexual prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen was Georg Bautler, Prisoner No. 130. The first Jew to be sent to Mauthausen was also incarcerated because he had broken the German law under Paragraph 175.
Another category of German criminals at Mauthausen was the common criminals who had been condemned to death by the German courts, but they had to be kept alive until the appeal process was finished. The first prisoner in this category was Magenauer Ottekar, who was assigned Prisoner number 27342. Some of the condemned prisoners remained in the camp until the liberation because their cases had never been legally closed. They were released, along with the other prisoners, by the American liberators, who considered all concentration camp prisoners to be innocent people who had been unjustly incarcerated.
In August 1939, a year after the Mauthausen main camp opened, the SS statistics for the camp showed that the prison population consisted of "946 German criminals, 930 asocials, 688 political prisoners, 143 Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious objectors, and 51 homosexuals."
The asocials were a diverse group of alcoholics, hobos, street people and social misfits. Prostitutes were also in the asocial category; they were sent to the women's camps. The first Gypsy to be registered at Mauthausen was Johan Horvath, who was counted as an asocial. The political prisoners consisted of Social Democrats, Communists, anarchists and assorted anti-Fascists. Prisoner number 7 was Alois Brasda, the first political prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen.
The Jehovah's Witnesses, or Bible students, were sent to concentration camps because they refused to serve in the German Army or because they distributed pamphlets discouraging others from joining the Army. The first Jehovah's Witness to be registered at Mauthausen was Franz Bräuchle, who was Prisoner No. 337. The Nazis referred to the Jehovah's Witnesses as "volunteer" prisoners because they could leave at any time if only they would change their minds about serving in the Army or stop distributing pamphlets against the German government. According to Bernadac, none of them ever recanted.
The largest ethnic group at Mauthausen was the Poles. During the time that the Mauthausen camp was in operation, there were nearly 50,000 Poles incarcerated in the main camp and the subcamps. Mauthausen records list the death of 30,203 Poles, including many Polish Jews.
Newly arrived prisoners line up at the "wailing wall"
Prisoners at the Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps in Austria were treated more harshly than at any other camp in the Nazi system. These two camps were the only ones that were classified as Class III camps which were "punishment camps." The day-to-day life in the two camps was supervised by common criminals who had been sentenced by a German court to hard labor. However, the German criminals were given easy jobs as privileged Kapos at Mauthausen. They were the slave drivers who beat the other prisoners unmercifully and forced them to work beyond their endurance, lifting heavy stones in the quarry.
The Mauthausen victims were the innocent Jews who were typically given the hardest jobs, such as cleaning the latrines or working in the crematorium. They were the lucky ones; most of the Jews were worked to death in the quarries. They died within days or weeks of their arrival, after being forced to carry heavy granite stones from the quarry up the 186 "stairs of death" at a fast pace.
Stories of atrocities told by the prisoners at Mauthausen indicate that the inmates were treated worse than at Auschwitz, if that's possible. For example, an American POW, identified only as Herbert J., who was a prisoner at Mauthausen, told the following story, which was published in a book entitled "Witness: Voices from the Holocaust":
"I worked in, I suppose you would call it like a carpenter shop where they were working with wood. But I was anxious to get out of there because one of the men made a mistake cutting a piece of wood. And he tried to hide it, but he was seen. And the officer that was in charge there walked up, and he picked up the piece of wood and he looked at it and he looked at this guy. Then he grabbed him by the arm, and run his arm into the band saw and threw the hand over in the corner. Of course, the man run over and he picked up his arm and he's trying to put his arm back on. He died because - bled to death. You know, nobody helped him. Just bled to death.
Herbert J. was with the Eleventh Armored Infantry Division of the US Army when he was captured by the Germans in 1945 and sent first to the Gusen concentration camp and then to Mauthausen. His story is unique because captured American Prisoners of War were typically sent to POW camps, as required by the Geneva Convention.
According to Herbert J.'s account, which he gave to the authors of "Witness: Voices from the Holocaust," he was forced to work in the quarry at Mauthausen and his duties also included the care and feeding of the guard dogs. By 1945, the quarry at Mauthausen was no longer being worked and there was a Messerschmitt jet airplane factory in the quarry. All the Nazi concentration camps had a "dog handler" whose job it was to care for the guard dogs.
The following is another story about Mauthausen, told by Herbert J. and quoted in "Witness: Voices from the Holocaust."
"And this one American, we kept telling him, "Be quiet! Be quiet!" But he was very insolent and he was giving the Germans a lot of talk, a lot of language and whatnot. And he could speak a few words of German. And so I didn't speak any German at the time, so I didn't really understand what was going on. But the Germans were talking among themselves and pointing to him and laughing. They took us to Mauthausen and they staked him out, they stripped him and staked him out on the ground, just his arms outstretched, and his feet outstretched. But they didn't put any pressure on him or anything to hurt him, but they staked him down good and tight. So we went out and we asked him if he was cold, and he said he was. And so we got some old clothes and whatnot off some dead bodies and we come over and covered him over to try to keep him warm a little. But other than that, he wasn't in any pain. We didn't think much about it. If this is the kind of punishment you get, it wasn't so bad, you know. We went back inside, and come nighttime of course we went to sleep. And all of a sudden we hear screech, screaming and yelling and whatnot. We jumped up and we go rushing out. It's dark, and we're bumping into each other. We went over -- and a lot of the Russians had been there, like I say, for a number of years and had turned to cannibalism. We didn't realize it then, but they had so badly torn at his body that he died from the effects. He was bleeding to death, and nothing much we could do. This was why the Germans were laughing, because staking him out just left him available. After that, we used to watch each other's back."
Two Czech prisoners shot in the quarry at Mauthausen
The photo above shows two prisoners who were shot "while trying to escape." Note the position of the bodies near a barbed wire fence. This was a favorite way for the guards to kill the prisoners, according to the survivors. Sometimes the guards would entice the prisoners to leave the work site by telling them to pick strawberries and then shoot them when they got near the fence. Or a guard would throw a prisoner's cap near the fence and when the prisoner tried to retrieve it, he would be shot.
Prisoners forced to stand naked in garage yard, July 1941
In the photograph above, six thousand prisoners are standing naked in the garage yard while their clothes are being disinfected in an effort to control the lice which spreads typhus. After being forced to stand there for 24 hours, 140 had dropped dead. Prisoners were routinely forced to take cold showers and then return naked to the courtyard where many died from exposure. A typical punishment was forcing a prisoner to stand in a cold shower for a half hour, according to the stories told by the survivors.
In the last weeks before the camp was liberated, up to 400 prisoners were dying each day from typhus. Besides that, the gas chamber at Mauthausen was being used to murder prisoners right up until the night of April 28-29, 1945, according to Pierre-Serge Choumoff, a Gusen prisoner who wrote several books about Mauthausen. There was a shortage of coal to burn the bodies and when the American liberators arrived, there were bodies piled up outside the barracks, as shown the the first photograph below.
Corpses piled up beside the barracks
In the photograph below, two prisoners count the bodies piled up against a wall. The privileged prisoners in the camp were required to wear at least some part of the striped prison uniform. Note that these two prisoners are dressed in civilian jackets and hats, but have met the requirement by sewing a square of striped material onto their pants. On their jackets, they are wearing a triangle and a number which identifies them as prisoners. Their caps are the blue worker's caps worn by the Communists.
Two prisoners count the dead bodies at Mauthausen
The prisoners were given a minimum amount of food, not enough to sustain a man doing heavy work. Breakfast was a cup of ersatz (substitute) coffee and a chunk of whole grain bread. At noon, the prisoners had a 45-minute break while they ate a large bowl of thin vegetable soup made from turnips or potatoes. The evening meal was more soup and bread. The prison diet was lacking in fat because only a small amount of margarine was served and rarely any meat. However, the Kapos lived high on the hog, cooking their own food in the barracks. They consumed large meals of luxury foods and even stole some of the goodies, like chocolate or canned sardines, out of the Red Cross packages, while the ordinary prisoners starved.
Lubertus Schapelhouman, a Dutch Resistance fighter, was 19 years old when he was liberated from the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. He had entered the camp in November 1944 weighing 160 pounds but had wasted away to 78 pounds in only six months and was near death. In an article in the Sacramento News & Review, reporter Jaime O'Neill gave the date of Schapelhouman's liberation as May 11, 1945, three days after World War II ended, although the official date for the liberation of Mauthausenis May 5, 1945.
After an interview with the 81-year-old Schapelhouman, Jaime O'Neill wrote the following regarding Schapelhouman's liberation in his article, dated August 2, 2007:
There were others near him, all filthy, all emaciated, all confused. An American soldier approached him and the cluster of wretches nearby. He was the first black man any of them had ever seen. The soldier said something unintelligible. Next to Lubertus, two Hungarian Jews began to shout and gesticulate toward a guard tower. The American soldier took out his pistol and fired several rounds. A German guard who had been hiding in the tower tumbled to the ground.
"I can still see him falling through the air," Bert says, and then he chuckles. "That's terrible," he says, "I shouldn't laugh. It was a human life." He shakes his head. And then he chuckles again. According to Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the Mauthausen camp, most of the regular SS guards had left before the Americans arrived and Captain Kern of the Schutzpolizei (protection police) of Vienna had replaced Commandant Franz Ziereis on the night of May 2-3, 1945. The Vienna police occupied the guard posts, assisted by a few old men and young boys of the Volksstrum; most of the SS men had escaped to an island on the Danube river and only a few of them remained to help in guarding the camp.
The US Army was segregated during World War II with African-American and Japanese-American soldiers fighting in separate units, not alongside the white soldiers. Mauthausen was liberated by white soldiers in the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, who arrived on May 5, 1945. However, Schapelhouman was not the only survivor of Mauthausen who claimed to have been liberated by black soldiers.
Roman Frister, a young Jew who had just arrived at the main camp a few days before the liberation, on a death march from a work camp in Vienna, wrote in his book, "The Cap: The Price of a Life," that one of the liberators who emerged from an American tank was a black soldier. According to Frister's account, the black soldier called to the armed guards in the watch tower "Hitler kaput," and signaled them to come down from the tower.
According to Frister's account of the liberation, the black soldier ordered the guards to throw down their tommy guns and form a line; then "a group of prisoners darted forward and snatched the guns." In Frister's version of the liberation of Mauthausen, the black soldier did not shoot a guard in the tower.
In his August 2007 article, Jaime O'Neill wrote the following story about a Mauthausen inmate who died on Christmas Day in 1944, as told to him by Schapelhouman:
He was a Hungarian Jew, and both of his parents had been executed in the months preceding his own death. He was in bad shape. A Belgian priest, also an inmate at the camp, took pity on him because his suffering was notable even in this place of great suffering. Seeking solace, the boy told the priest he wanted to convert to Catholicism and so, secretly, the priest nurtured the boy in his faith, though all religious practices were forbidden in that camp. The inmates-political prisoners, gypsies, and Jews-were referred to by their keepers as nacht und nebel, "night and fog," the forces of darkness and the underworld, and because they were seen as subhuman in all respects-the enemies of the Aryan light-they were not worthy of religious practices.
On Christmas Eve 1944, at this place of horror, while the German guards partied with girls from the nearby town, the priest held a clandestine baptismal mass for the boy, and for 28 other camp prisoners. Lubertus Schapelhouman was in that number.
The boy was weak, but he spoke of his desire to go to heaven. At the moment the boy was baptized, the Germans and their camp Kapos burst into the room and began to beat everyone, a storm of blows and curses, a pandemonium of pummeling and kicking and the heavy thudding of rubber-sheathed truncheons breaking bones. A kick or a punch-he would never know the source-threw Schapelhouman's hip out of joint.
They were taken outside-the priest, the boy, and all the attendees of the forbidden Mass. It was 14 degrees below zero. The priest and the boy were made to strip naked and told to embrace, and then the guards drenched them with a hose. They froze in that position, died in that position, and the next day-Christmas-the entire camp was marched out to look at them-the frozen statuary of blasphemous baptism. "Augen raus." Eyes right (sic). That was the command the Germans shouted as they marched the prisoners past the boy and the priest.
"Eyes right" would be "Augen Recht" in German.
After the Catholic Church complained about the treatment of priests in the concentration camps, Hitler ordered that all priests should be sent to Dachau, which was considered the mildest camp. Mauthausen was a Class III camp where prisoners who were considered dangerous and beyond rehabilitation were treated more severely. At Dachau, the priests were allowed to say Mass every day and to baptize anyone who wanted to be baptized.
There is no such thing as a "baptismal Mass" in the Catholic church. Any Catholic can baptize someone just by saying "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
The Nacht und Nebel prisoners at Mauthausen and other camps were resistance fighters who had been condemned to death for acts of sabotage, but were allowed to live; they disappeared into the "night and fog" and their relatives were made to believe that they had been executed. There were no Jews or Gypsies among the N.N. prisoners and the N.N. prisoners were not considered "subhuman." All of the Nacht und Nebel prisoners in the concentration camps were illegal combatants, or spies who had been caught behind enemy lines in civilian clothes; they had violated the Geneva Convention and could have been legally shot.
A similar story of prisoners at Mauthausen being sprayed with water and frozen into a block of ice is the saga of Lt. General Dmitry Mikhaelovich Karbyshev. The genesis of these stories of prisoners being frozen into blocks of ice might have been the practice of forcing prisoners to stand naked in the garage yard after having a shower, while they waited for clean clothes.
Mauthausen prisoners stand naked in garage yard after a shower
Jaime O'Neill's article continues with the following words:
Then, the following spring, when the war was nearly over, new prisoners arrived at Mauthausen each day, driven there in forced marches from other concentration camps as allied forces closed in. On one such day, 600 women straggled into the camp, stumbling before the guns of the SS, a pitiful remnant of a group that had numbered 4,800 when their march began. The inmates of Mauthausen were assembled to greet them, to witness their degradation as the new arrivals were made to strip before the assemblage, were told that 200 of them would be chosen to serve as prostitutes to the Kapos, the camp guards. SS officers moved among the huddled women, using swagger sticks to lift a breast here, or stroke a thigh, gesturing to the slavering Kapos who were to make the selections. "What do you think of this?" in German, or "how about this one?"
Tears well up in Schapelhouman's eyes as he stands to continue his story. "And then," he says, "I heard a sound, a guttural growl of uncontainable rage, and a man charged out of our midst, ran toward the SS in a fury." Bert tries to reproduce the sound the man made in his last moments on earth, the inchoate rage that drove him, and though the sound he makes is frightening as he tells the tale more than 60 years on, it is clearly restrained, a facsimile of hell itself, brought to life in a tidy suburban home far from where it happened.
They shot him, that berserk and enraged man, as he charged forward, and the story later went around the camp that he had become unhinged at the sight of his own daughter among the women.
Their fun over, the SS marched the women into the gas chambers, gassed all of them, and then cremated them. That 200 of them would be "spared" to become prostitutes had just been a joke, a way of taunting the Kapos.
Smoke from their cremation hung in the air for days. "I smell them all the time," Bert says, "to this very day." And sometimes, deep in the night, he smells them on his own flesh and goes from his bed to shower the phantom odor from his aging body before returning to his clean sheets and tortured sleep.
The Kapos were not "the most swinish and brutal of the camp guards," but rather German criminals who were prisoners assigned to assist the guards in the camp. Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter, arrived at Mauthausen, after being marched from another camp, around the same time as the alleged arrival of the 600 women in Schapelhouman's story. He claims that there was no gas chamber at Mauthausen.
All of the Nazi concentration camps had brothels for the use of the non-Jewish prisoners. In the fall of 1942, around ten women were brought from the Ravensbrück camp to staff a brothel at Mauthausen.
Even before he was sent to Mauthausen, Schapelhouman was subjected to the most brutal torture by the German Gestapo. The following quote is from Jaime O'Neill's article:
When he was 18, in 1944, the SS came to the family farm and took Lubertus and his brother away for interrogation. On the first day, the interrogators feigned kindness, offered him a cigarette, spoke in soft tones. But the second day, different men came into the room, and the soft interrogation was over.
On the second day of interrogation, they put his left hand in a vise and pulled out all of his fingernails. On the third day, they did the same to his right hand, and on the fourth day to his right foot, and on the fifth day, his left foot. On the sixth day, they knocked out all of his upper teeth.
"And you know what?" he asks, rhetorically; "they were drunk, those men. Always drunk. I could smell it on them."
They wanted names of people in the Dutch resistance. They wanted to know who was hiding Jews. Lubertus had such information, but he gave them none of it.
Most interrogators would have given up after pulling out two or three fingernails and toenails, but not the Gestapo. They kept on, until the last toenail was removed and then knocked out all his upper teeth for good measure. But still the drunken Gestapo men continued to interrogate Schapelhouman. O'Neill wrote the following information that he got from his interview with Schapelhouman:
"After those days," he says, "I have no idea how long I was there. They would bring me back for interrogation and I would faint before they ever struck a blow." He shakes his head in puzzlement. "Isn't that something? That we have such a saving mechanism built into us."
Back in his cell, his body trembled all over with shock and pain. He couldn't eat. "There are millions of nerves that jump, all over your body." He couldn't hold things, and he couldn't walk. Not long after that, he was transferred to Mauthausen, a politische haftlung (sic), or political prisoner.
The story of how the Mauthausen Commandant, Franz Ziereis, allowed his son to kill 50 prisoners on his birthday has been told many times, and there are several variations of the story.
Bert Schapelhouman told the story to O'Neill, who wrote the following in his August 2, 2007 article in the SN&R:
The Kommandant at Mauthausen was a man named Ziereis. Bert spells the name carefully-"Z-I-E-R-E-I-S," then pronounces it again. "When his son turned 14, Ziereis brought him into the camp, down among the prisoners. He told the boy to pick out 50 of the inmates, then handed him his long-barreled Luger and told him to kill those he'd chosen, those he'd counted off. The first time the boy tried, he flinched, and only managed to blow off a man's ear, but soon he was proficient in the killing, and in 3 1/2 hours, he had killed all 50. His father hugged his son then and said for all to hear: 'Now I know he is a man.' "
Franz Ziereis was a mild-mannered man whose nickname among the prisoners was "Baby face."
In a previous article in the SN&R weekly paper in 2006, Jaime O'Neill wrote the following information which he got from Bert Schapelhouman:
Each day the prisoners would walk 4 kilometers to a sub camp known as Gusen Zwei where they were made to work each day. They worked through that winter of 1944-45 in bitter cold, and dozens died each day, of exposure, exhaustion, malnutrition or brutalization. At the end of those work days--from dark to dark--the survivors would carry their dead back to the camp for cremation. Exhausted, stumbling in darkness, with the dead weight of a corpse on his back, Bert carried dead men from that Gusen Zwei sub camp back to the main camps (sic) on seven or eight occasions. Other nights he was luckier and all the corpses had been taken by prisoners ahead of him.
The Gusen II camp had 19 barracks buildings and the prisoners did not walk to the "Gusen Zwei" sub-camp from the main camp. For the Gusen II camp, the closest cremation ovens were at the nearby Gusen I sub-camp. The Gusen prisoners were not evacuated to the main Mauthausen camp before the American liberators arrived. The Gusen camps and the main camp were all liberated on the same day, May 5, 1945.
In his 2006 article, Jaime O'Neill wrote the following:
Bert remembers one German officer, a remarkable specimen--handsome, tall, radiant with good health. The first time Bert saw him, he thought he'd never seen a more perfect man, and something in the man's appearance and demeanor gave Bert a faint hope of kindness or mercy. The officer walked past the assembled inmates, smiling, chatting with an aide. Then he singled out a prisoner, took out his Luger and shot the man dead. He did this each day for two months, picking a man at random and shooting him, the assembled prisoners shuddering fearfully before him waiting to see which of them he'd choose.
There were 200 cases of cruelty and corruption in the concentration camps which were tried by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, a German judge who was a member of the SS. Morgen testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal that he had examined 800 documents which resulted in 200 indictments of SS men who were staff members of the concentration camps. Dr. Morgen put five camp Commandants on trial, including Hermann Florstedt and Karl Otto Koch, both of whom were executed by the Nazis after being convicted in Morgen's court.
The Commandant of a Nazi concentration camp could not order the death of a prisoner on his own authority. All execution orders had to come from the main office in Oranienburg which controlled everything that was done in the camps. If a German officer had selected a prisoner at random to shoot each day for two months, he would have been put on trial in Morgen's court and sentenced to death if convicted.
Schapelhouman's story of the handsome German officer shooting prisoners at random is reminiscent of Amon Goeth, the Commandant of the Plaszow camp, who is shown in the movie Schindler's List shooting prisoners at random from the balcony of his house. Amon Goeth was awaiting trial in Morgen's court when the war ended.
Every survivor's story has one "good German." He is the exception that proves the rule. In Jaime O'Neill's 2006 article in the SN&R, he tells the following anecdote, as related to him by Bert Schapelhouman:
In fact, the first German soldier he ever saw saved his life. He and two of his brothers were at a soccer game. It was 1943, three years after the occupation of his country had begun, more than a year since he'd become an onderduicker, but no Germans had yet found their way to Bert's remote village. It was a Sunday afternoon when the rumor went through the spectators that the Germans were coming. And then they heard the sound of the vehicles approaching. Bert and his brothers took off running. Bert hid in a dry ditch thinking he'd keep quiet and wait until everyone went away. "All of a sudden," he says, "there was a German with his rifle. Our eyes met, but he pretended he didn't see me and just kept on walking."
As Schapelhouman explained to Jaime O'Neill in a 2006 interview, "onderduicker" was a Dutch word which was used to describe a young person who had gone into hiding after being ordered to report for conscripted labor by the Nazis during the war time occupation of Holland. Anne Frank's sister Margo also received a notice to report to a labor camp, and that is the reason that the Frank family went into hiding. Schapelhouman was able to hide until October 1944 when he was arrested by the Gestapo.
Mauthausen concentration camp survivors, May 6, 1945Photo Credit: USHMM
On May 5, 1945, the day of the official liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp by American troops, there were approximately 60,000 survivors in the main camp and all the sub-camps, according to Christian Bernadac, one of the prisoners in the camp. This was approximately half as many prisoners as had been registered during the period that the camp was in existence from August 1938 to May 1945.
In the photo above, crippled survivors of the main camp at Mauthausen pose in front of an M8 Greyhound armored car of the US Army 41st Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron of the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army. The crippled prisoners had had their feet amputated after suffering severe frostbite. This photo was a reenactment, taken on May 6, 1945, of the liberation the day before. Note the warm coats they are wearing; Mauthausen is located in the mountains of Austria where it can still be cold in the first week of May.
Survivors in the Mauthausen women's camp line up for soup
On February 19, 1945, Count Folke-Bernadotte of Sweden met with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the man responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps, and got his authorization to transfer all the Scandinavian prisoners to the Neuengamme concentration camp which would then be administered by the Red Cross.
On March 16, 1945, a Swedish doctor named Hans Arnoldson and a nurse, Sister Birgit, came to Mauthausen to take 54 Scandinavian prisoners out of the Mauthausen camp. They were the first survivors to be rescued from Mauthausen. A few days later, Arnoldson and Sister Birgit returned to rescue 16 Norwegian women who had recently been sent to Mauthausen from the women's camp at Ravensbrück.
A Red Cross representative arrived again in the camp on April 21, 1945 and several convoys of French, Belgian and Dutch prisoners were taken out of the camp. Commandant Franz Ziereis cooperated with the Red Cross and entertained them royally at dinner, while at the same time he continued to order the gassing of prisoners at Mauthausen until April 28, 1945, according to the survivors.
Martin Gilbert wrote in his book entitled "Holocaust," that there was a total of 110,000 survivors in the whole Mauthausen complex, including thousands who had just arrived in the last week of the war after being evacuated from other camps and had not been registered. In 1947, the Soviet Union released the records from Mauthausen, which showed that there were 122,767 prisoners registered in the main camp and all the sub-camps. This did not include prisoners who arrived from other camps in the last two weeks before Mauthausen was liberated.
One of the liberators of Mauthausen was a First Lieutenant in the 65th Infantry Division of the US Third Army. Identified only as Col. Edmund M., he stated the following in an interview, which is quoted in the book "Witness, Voices from the Holocaust":
"The thing that impressed I think all of us almost immediately was the horrible physical condition of most of the inmates whom we saw. Some of them undoubtedly looked in fairly good health, but these were in the minority. Most of them were in very, very bad shape. Some of them actually looked almost like living skeletons. I took a look at some, and I would estimate the average weight probably might have been eighty, ninety pounds or so.
"Many inmates, including some whom I met later, were in very bad situations physically from diseases. Typhus, for example. I would estimate that the majority of the inmates within this camp had typhus. In addition to typhus there was diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria - you have, any - almost any disease mentionable."
Mauthausen prisoners in the barracks after liberation, May 6, 1945
According to Martin Gilbert, one of the survivors of the main camp was Sidney Fahn from Bratislava who had been brought to Mauthausen from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Fahn weighed only 80 pounds and was too weak to stagger from his hospital bed to greet the American liberators who handed out chocolate and other rich food to the survivors.
These emaciated men and women, here, as in other camps, were no longer used to such food, nor could their digestive systems cope with it. It was too rich, too fatty, too filling, and it killed, in the first hectic day of liberation, as surely as the bullets and the rifle butts of the day before.
One of the prisoners at Mauthausen, who survived Auschwitz, only to die on May 5, 1945, the day of liberation, was Peter van Pels, the boy who hid in the annex with Anne Frank in Amsterdam. No one knows the cause of his death.
Survivors in the Hospital camp talk with US Soldiers
Only a few of the survivors were still in good health. Note the child shown in the photograph above, who is in remarkably good condition. The Communist prisoners in the camp were well organized, so they were able to take care of the children and make sure that they were well fed.
One of the Jewish survivors of the Mauthausen main camp was Mike Jacobs (Mendel Jakubowicz) from Konin, Poland, who emigrated to Dallas, TX in 1951 at the age of 26. He founded the Dallas Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies which features exhibits from Mauthausen including his own striped cap which he says is "soaked with blood and sweat where I used to be beaten..." While he was a prisoner at Mauthausen, Mike says that he made a fake watch from parts stolen from the Messerschmitt jet airplane factory there. He told Theo Richmond, the author of the book "Konin, One Man's Quest for a Vanished Jewish Community" that this fake watch helped him to survive because he felt less dehumanized with a watch on his arm, just like the SS guards wore, although he had to keep it hidden under his sleeve. He was 19 and a half when the Americans arrived to save him.
Jack Sittsamer, an Orthodox Jew, was 20 years old and weighed 72 pounds when he was liberated by American troops at Mauthausen. He had survived six concentration camps after being arrested by the Nazis in March 1942 in his home town of Mielec, Poland and marched 7 miles to an airplane hangar. His father was shot on the march because he couldn't keep up.
Jack was separated from his family and sent to the first of six concentration camps. His whole family was killed in the Holocaust, including his parents, two brothers and two sisters. After he was liberated, he lived in a refugee camp in Eggenfelden, Germany until the United Jewish Federation helped him to moved to America in July 1949. Jack Sittsamer died in October, 2008.
One of the most noteworthy survivors of Mauthausen was Leopold Figl, a politician who was the co-founder of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) in 1945. He was the Federal Chancellor of Austria from 1945 to 1953 and the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1953 to 1959. In 1959 he became the First President of the Nationalrat (1st chamber of the Austrian Parliament). From 1962 to 1965 he was the Governor of Lower Austria.
Another well known survivor of Mauthausen is Leon Zelman, a journalist who was born in 1928. He was the co-founder in 1978 of the Jewish Welcome Service in Vienna which helps Jews to return to Austria after they were forced to leave in 1938 by the Nazis.
Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian Jew born in 1908, is perhaps the most well-known survivor of Mauthausen. He arrived at Mauthausen in February 1945, after being evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Wiesenthal is one of the few survivors of Mauthausen who claims that there was no gas chamber there. He worked for the US War Crimes Office from 1945 to 1947 and founded the Jewish Documentation Centre in Linz in 1947. He made his home in Vienna in 1961 and worked tirelessly in hunting down Nazi war criminals until his death. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles is named after him.
According to the story that he told reporters on May 11, 2009, Edward Mosberg was one of the survivors of Mauthausen, who "cannot forget certain images: A Nazi soldier ripping a baby from his mother's arms and smashing the baby's head against a wall; another soldier shooting through a rucksack to kill a hidden child."
As a prisoner at Mauthausen, Mosberg had been "forced to carry heavy stones on his back up and down 186 steps all day." Mosberg said: "If you stopped for a moment, they either shot you or they pushed you off the cliff to your death."
Not only was Mosberg forced to carry stones up the 186 steps all day, he also had to carry the stones back down the steps to the quarry.
Other prisoners at Mauthausen worked in the Messerschmitt ME262 fighter plane factories that were built inside the quarry in 1943 after the work of taking stones out of the quarry had stopped. The prisoners in the punishment company had to carry one load of heavy stones up the 186 steps each day.
The photo below shows the "Stairs of Death" at Mauthausen. A Soviet soldier stands as an honor guard after the camp was turned into a Memorial Site by the Communist Soviet Union.
186 steps known as the Stairway of Death
Mosberg was among six Holocaust survivors who met Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrance in Jerusalem on May 11, 2009. Born in 1926, Mosberg was 13 in 1939 when his family was put into the Krakow Ghetto, which was shown in the early scenes of the movie Schindler's List.
Mosberg told reporters that his "father was soon killed and one by one, his grandparents were taken to the gas chambers." When the Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 13, 1943, Mosberg's remaining family was sent to the Plaszow camp, where Oskar Schindler saved more than 1,000 Jews by putting their names on a list to be sent to his new factory in what is now the Czech Republic. Mosberg and his family were not on the list. They were sent instead to Auschwitz where his mother was killed in the gas chamber. His two sisters were transferred from Auschwitz to the Stutthof camp near Gdansk. The night before the camp was liberated, according to Mosberg, his sisters were among the 7,000 young women who were shot by the Nazis and thrown into the Baltic sea.
Mosberg told reporters that the Nazis had made one last attempt to kill the group of men that he was working with at Mauthausen. According to Mosberg, the Nazis told the men that the Americans were coming and that they wanted to save them from the soldiers, so the Nazi guards rounded up the prisoners and put them into a cave that had been rigged with dynamite. Mosberg said that it was a miracle that the dynamite did not go off, and he was saved by the Americans who liberated Mauthausen on May 5, 1945
The death of Franz Ziereis, Commandant of the Mauthausen concentration camp
Photo in Mauthausen Museum - Franz Ziereis at Gusen, 24.5.1945
This photo of a display board in the Museum at the former Mauthausen concentration camp shows Mauthausen Commandant Franz Ziereis as he allegedly gave his deathbed confession at the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen on May 24, 1945. His confession was written up from memory, ten months later, by one of the prisoners at Mauthausen and entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as proof that Jews were killed in gas chambers at Mauthausen and at Hartheim Castle.
Note that Ziereis has been propped up for the photo, and a harness around his chest, with straps over his shoulders, appears to be holding his body upright. An unidentified man wearing an American Army cap is sitting very close to Ziereis while the arm and hand of another man can be seen in the upper left hand corner. Everything has been carefully posed to show Ziereis as he allegedly makes his death-bed confession, but notice that the three elements of the photo do not match; it looks like three separate photos that have been put together. This is a flash photo but there is more light on the arm in the background than on the soldier in the foreground. Was Ziereis really still alive when this photo was taken?
Deathbed confession of Mauthausen Commandant displayed in Museum
The photo above, taken in the Mauthausen Museum, shows a display board right next to the photo of Franz Ziereis, which is shown at the top of this page. The first paragraph on the sign in the photo states that Ziereis was shot on 23.5.1945 and that he died several days later in a U.S. Field Hospital in Gusen.
The second paragraph on the display board shown in the photo above is a quote from the alleged confession of Franz Ziereis in which he said that a gas chamber, disguised as a bathroom, was built at Mauthausen on the order of Dr. Krebsbach; the prisoners were gassed with Cyklon-B. Besides this, there was a special vehicle which traveled between the Mauthausen main camp and the Gusen sub-camp, in which prisoners were gassed along the way.
In the official version of the story, Ziereis died in an Army field hospital at the Gusen 1 sub-camp, 6 kilometers west of the Mauthausen main camp, but not before he talked for 6 to 8 hours, confessing to the deaths of millions of prisoners, including the killing of prisoners in the gas chamber at Mauthausen and the castle at Hartheim.
In a sworn affidavit, dated April 8, 1946, that was entered into the Nuremberg IMT as document 3870-PS, Hans Marsalek, a prisoner who worked as a clerk at the Mauthausen concentration camp, wrote the following:
On 22 May 1945, the Commandant of the Concentration Camp Mauthausen, Franz Ziereis, was shot while escaping by American soldiers and was taken to the branch camp of Gusen. Franz Ziereis was interrogated by me in the presence of the Commander of the 11th Armored Division Seibel; the former prisoner and physician Dr. Koszeinski; and in the presence of another Polish citizen, name unknown, for a period of six to eight hours. The interrogation was effected in the night from 22 May to 23 May 1945.
Marsalek gave the date of Ziereis's death as May 23, the morning after his interrogation. According to Marsalek, Ziereis freely confessed because he knew he was dying.
U.S. Associate Trial Counsel Col. John Harlen Amen read parts of the Marsalek affidavit on April 12, 1946 at the Nuremberg IMT, including the part pertaining to an order allegedly given by Ernst Kaltenbrunner to blow up all the prisoners at the Gusen camp. Ernst Kaltenbrunner was on trial at Nuremberg, charged with Crimes against Humanity which included the gassing of prisoners, to which Ziereis had confessed, according to Marsalek's affidavit.
Kaltenbrunner objected to the reading of the affidavit, saying:
This Hans Marsalek whom, of course, I have never seen in my life, had been an internee in Mauthausen as were the two other witnesses. I have briefly expressed my views as to the value of a statement concerning me from a former concentration camp internee and my inability to speak face to face with this witness who now confronts me, and my application will be made through my counsel. I must ask here to be confronted with Marsalek. Marsalek cannot know of any such order. In spite of that he states that he did.
The "order" that Kaltenbrunner referred to was the alleged order to kill all the prisoners just before the Americans arrived. Kaltenbrunner's request to be confronted with Marsalek was denied and Marsalek never took the witness stand at Nuremberg.
The Commander of the 11th Armored Division was Richard R. Seibel, who arrived at Mauthausen some time in April 1945, before the camp was officially liberated, and stayed there for 35 days before being assigned to duty in the Austrian Alps, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Two American field hospitals were brought in, according to the USHMM.
The caption on the photo at the top of this page says that the photo on display was taken on May 24, 1945 at the Gusen camp. The soldier in the photo is not identified, but allegedly Col. Richard R. Seibel, the commander of the 11th Armored Division was present when Commandant Franz Ziereis was questioned by Hans Marsalek. Col. Seibel did not testify at the Nuremberg IMT, nor did he sign his name as a witness to the confession of Ziereis.
In the upper left hand corner of the photo at the top of this page can be seen what looks like the sleeve of a striped prison uniform on the arm of a person who is taking notes, possibly Dr. Koszeinski, a prisoner whom Marsalek alleges was present, or Marsalek himself.
The name of the photographer is not mentioned on the display, but Francois Boix, a prisoner who worked in the photography department at the main Mauthausen camp, was allegedly present when Ziereis made his confession. Boix worked in the darkroom at Mauthausen and had the means and the opportunity to put three photographs together to make a fake photo.
Boix testified at the Nuremberg IMT that Mauthausen was an extermination camp where the only way out was through the chimney, and that there were gas chambers there, but he was not asked about the confession of Franz Ziereis.
The Army Signal Corp photo below shows Boix at the main Mauthausen camp with a camera around his neck. At the Nuremberg IMT, Boix identified a photo of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, which proved that Kaltenbrunner had visited the camp.
Francois Boix is on the far left with a camera hanging around his neck
In his alleged 6-to-8-hour confession, which was written up from memory ten months later by Hans Marsalek, Ziereis named Dr. Krebsbach as the man who was responsible for setting up the gas chamber at Mauthausen. Ziereis also allegedly confessed that he personally drove a gas van between Mauthausen and Gusen, killing prisoners with carbon monoxide on the way, and that between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners were gassed in the 192-square-foot gas chamber at Hartheim Castle.
In the photo below, taken in the camp at Mauthausen, Commandant Franz Ziereis is the third man from the left. Sturmbannführer Eduard Krebsbach, the camp doctor at Mauthausen until June 1943, is the man standing to the left of Ziereis in the group photo.
Staff officers at Mauthausen concentration camp
In his book entitled "The 186 Steps," Christian Bernadac gives information which disputes the official version; Bernadac indicates that Ziereis was taken prisoner and interrogated by two prisoners before he was shot.
Bernadac quotes the following information given by Razola and Constante, two Spanish prisoners at Mauthausen, regarding the death of Ziereis:
Commander Ziereis, recognized in spite of the fact that he was wearing civilian clothing, was taken prisoner and led to the camp where his interrogatory was conducted by (Hans) Marsalek and (Francisco) Boix. There was nothing courageous in his attitude. He was quibbling and sniffing, and argued that he was not responsible, and that all he did was carry out the orders of his government. He was executed by an American officer of Cuban origin who took the responsibility of seeing that justice was done and in this way made it impossible for the American authorities to intervene against the deportees (prisoners).
A variation in the story of the death of Franz Ziereis, quoted below, was written by Robert Whealey in a recent article entitled "The Spanish Holocaust and the Cover-Up that Lasted a Generation" which was published in 2008 on the History News Network web site:
The last days of SS Colonel Ziereis may be typical. On the evening of 23 May in the village of Spital, Chief Warrant Officer Walter S. Kobus (US Army) with three G.I.s and two ex-prisoners, a Spaniard and a Czech, captured Ziereis as he was preparing for suicide with a pistol. He bungled the attempt. Taken back to KL (Konzentrations Lager) Mauthausen, he was interrogated by three other ex-prisoners. Ziereis blamed his actions on his superiors: Obergruppenfuehrer (Four Star General) Oswald Pohl, Himmler and Hitler. The Czechs and Spaniards thought the US 11th Armored Division, then in charge of the stinking camp, would somehow allow Ziereis to go free, so they shot him in a trap which would allow him to believe that he could escape. The wounded Ziereis was taken by the U.S. Lt. Colonel in charge to a US field hospital where he died the next day. Ziereis's son witnessed the final hours and spat on his dying father.
The reason that the son of Ziereis allegedly spat on his dying father might have been because his father had given him a rifle for his tenth birthday. Richard Sonnenfeldt, a 22-year-old Jew, who was the chief American interpreter at the Nuremberg IMT, wrote the following in his book entitled "Witness to Nuremberg: The Chief American Interpreter at the War Crimes Trial":
One visit to Austria took us to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. We were seeking witnesses to prove that Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the senior surviving SS officer who was likely to be a defendant at Nuremberg, had personally observed the butchery going on at Mauthausen during repeated visits. Though "only" a few hundred thousand had been killed at Mauthausen, as compared to millions at Auschwitz, this concentration camp was not just an ordinary death factory. Mauthausen was infamous for the extreme cruelties and satanic tortures invented and practiced by Franz Ziereis, it's commandant. Ziereis himself had died before we arrived, wounded mortally while trying to escape. But we did talk to Ziereis's wife and teenage son.
Although I have forgotten the son's name, my conversation with him is burned in my memory. He was a fresh-faced towhead, who could have been an American kid by his looks, but not by his words or experiences. I asked him, "How did you get along with your dad?"
"My father was okay," he said. "The only thing I have against him is that he gave me a rife as a present on my tenth birthday, then had six prisoners lined up, and I had to shoot until they were dead. That took a long time and it was very hard and I did not like it."
I later found out that the gun was of very small caliber and that Commandant Ziereis had invented this particular pastime because he knew it took dozens of shots to kill prisoners this way.
Another version of this story is that Ziereis gave his son 50 prisoners to shoot as a present for his eleventh birthday. An unsubstantiated rumour is that Ziereis allowed his son to shoot prisoners from the "front porch" of his house in Austria.
Regarding the death of Ziereis, Abram L. Sachar wrote the following in his book entitled "The Redemption of the Unwanted":
On May 23, U.S. intelligence learned he was hiding in nearby Spital. Ziereis opened fire on the squad sent to arrest him and was seriously wounded in the exchange of shots. Taken to a hospital in one of the subcamps, he was put into the care of a Jewish prisoner who had been spared only because his medical skills were indispensable. The physician felt obliged by his Hippocratic oath, and his own integrity, to do his best for Ziereis. As the former commandant babbled in self-justification, hundreds of orders and records were retrieved. These, along with instruments of torture, were assembled to serve as evidence in the later trials of the war criminals. Even a cursory review of the documents indicated that between one and a half and two million prisoners had been starved or worked to death in Mauthausen and its subcamps. Ziereis himself died in the hospital before he could be condemned and probably executed.
Eye witness account of the last days of Commandant Franz Ziereis
Cpl. Donald Leake was a 21-year-old soldier with the 11th Armored Division, 21AIB, of General Patton's Third Army; he was among the first soldiers that liberated Mauthausen on May 5, 1945. Along with other U.S. soldiers, Leake was assigned to live inside the Mauthausen concentration camp and guard the prisoners in order to prevent them from killing each other and to keep them inside until the typhus epidemic could be brought under control.
In an e-mail to me on July 6, 2008, 84-year-old Donald Leake described his first day at Mauthausen when he saw the dead bodies of three guards before rigor mortis had set in:
When we arrived at the camp we found a guardhouse with 3 bodies. Apparently they thought suicide was better than the prisoners getting hold of them. They had tried glass to cut their arms and when that didn't work they wrapped their belts around their necks and fastened them to a heater radiator and slumped down so they would choke to death.
Leake was first assigned to guard a pit where potatoes were being stored. The sick prisoners at Mauthausen were being fed a thin potato soup by the Americans and Leake's job was to prevent the prisoners from stealing the potatoes and killing themselves by over eating.
After the Mauthausen camp was liberated, 3000 prisoners allegedly died from disease or from eating too much of the rich food that the Americans gave them. Leake told how he had to fire a few shots into the potato pit to ward off three starving prisoners who were trying to steal potatoes.
In one of a series of e-mails, Donald Leake wrote the following, regarding what happened to the guards at the camp:
The only one I saw had a rope around his neck and was being led around the camp by prisoners, and appeared to have his tongue cut out. He was asking for help, but could not speak well. I told an officer and he said "tough, let it be." It is difficult not to help anyone being tortured.
Donald Leake wrote in another e-mail to me that, on May 23, 1945, the U.S. soldiers at Mauthausen were alerted that there was a "disturbance" going on at a nearby village. According to Leake, several soldiers were sent to the village to take care of the problem, and Ziereis was shot 3 times in the back with a 30 cal. rifle by an American soldier with the rank of private.
Leake did not witness the shooting, but he wrote that the death of Ziereis
...was of such interest to me that I asked around and found the soldier who shot him encamped with his company nearby, and asked him the circumstances of the shooting. His squad was walking toward a house where there was a disturbance and he (Ziereis) came running out, and that was when he was told to halt 3 times, then he (the soldier) fired.
Leake saw Ziereis when he was brought into the Mauthausen main camp, and put into the room where the SS guards spent time when they were not on duty.
Donald Leake wrote the following regarding the last days of Ziereis's life:
I was told to stay in his room to guard him from the prisoners who would like to get hold of him. I heard no confession or any threats to him while I was on duty. About 2 or 3 days later the Doctor said to me "he is dying but I have many other patients to take care of. Call me if you see any change in him." After about 20 minutes he (Ziereis) began gasping and breathing heavy, so I sent a soldier to get the Dr. He came and said "since he's dying this is a last resort" and he gave him a shot directly into his heart [adrenaline?] but he died soon after.
According to Leake, the Doctor who took care of Ziereis was an American wearing civilian clothes who had only recently arrived; he was not a prisoner in the camp.
Donald Leake wrote that Commandant Franz Ziereis was unconscious when he was brought to Mauthausen and that **he never recovered consciousness while Leake was on duty.**Leake's job was to guard Ziereis to keep the prisoners from getting to him to exact revenge.
In answer to my question about whether Hans Marsalek could have heard a confession from Ziereis, Donald Leake wrote the following in an e-mail on July 6, 2008:
He (Ziereis) was in a room the guards of the camp used for down time. No one questioned him while I was on duty. I would have seen anyone had they come into the room. I never saw him conscious or speak on my guard time. Anything could have happened on my off time but I doubt he could have conversed with anyone. My orders were "shoot to kill if any prisoner tried to get to him." I thought they just wanted to patch him up for a war trial. No one seemed excited that they had the commandant there. I thought it was very important. I also thought that 2 or 3 30 cal shots were excessive to bring a man down. One of the holes seemed to go into his armpit and possibly lodge in his lung. I certainly would have seen Marsalek if he had entered while I was on duty.
According to Donald Leake, Ziereis did not die immediately after he was shot, but lingered in an unconscious state for a couple of days before he died. Ziereis was never taken to a hospital, according to Leake. Leake believes that the photo of Franz Ziereis on his death bed was taken after he was already dead.
The official version of the death of Ziereis is that he died in a hospital in Gusen and his body was hung on the fence at Gusen by the prisoners and left there for a couple of weeks. However, Donald Leake saw the body of Ziereis hanging on a fence in the Mauthausen main camp after his death.
Regarding what happened after the death of Ziereis, Donald Leake wrote the following to me in an e-mail:
The Doctor said I could leave, and someone would take care of the body. I wasn't comfortable with this so I sent someone to my squad leader and he said to leave for other duties. I don't know how, but I later saw his body hanging on the fence with swastikas painted all over him. What else the prisoners did, I didn't see, but after a few days the odor was bad. I told an officer it was growing rank and he said he would take care of it which he did.
I, Hans Marsalek, after first being duly sworn, declare as follows:
1. I was born on 19 July 1914 in Vienna, and was in Concentration Camp Mauthausen from 29 September 1942 until my liberation. I had the function of second clerk in this camp. My present occupation is with the Directorate of Police in Vienna as the Director of Department IV. Counter-Intelligence Service of the State Police [Staatspolizeilicher Abwehrdienst], and my present address is: Vienna 19, Grinzingerstrasse 12. 2.
On 22 May 1945, the Commandant of the Concentration Camp Mauthausen, Franz Ziereis, was shot while escaping by American soldiers and was taken to the branch camp of Gusen. Franz Ziereis was interrogated by me in the presence of the Commander of the 11th Armored Division (American Armored Division) Seibel; the former prisoner and physician Dr. Koszeinski; and in the presence of another Polish citizen, name unknown, for a period of six to eight hours.
The interrogation was effected in the night from 22 May to 23 May 1945. Franz Ziereis was seriously wounded -- his body had been penetrated by three bullets -- and knew that he would die shortly and told me the following:
"I joined the SS on 30 September 1936 as a training specialist with the rank of Obersturmfuehrer (Lieutenant). I was assigned to the 4th SS Regt at Oranienburg and was transferred to Mauthausen on 17 February 1939, with the rank of Hauptsturmfuehrer (Captain) and as successor to the former Commandant of the camp. SS Fuehrer Saurer. My [Page 791] rapid and extraordinary career is due to the fact that 1 volun teered .frequently for the Front.
By orders of the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler I was forced to remain in Mauthausen. The SS complement in Mauthausen had the following organization: There was one SS man for ten prisoners. The highest number of prisoners was about 17,000 (seventeen thousand), with the exception of the branch camps. The highest number in Camp 1Mauthausen, the branch camps included, was about 90,000 (ninety thousand). The total number of prisoners who died was 65,000 (sixtyfive thousand).
The complement was made up of Totenkopf units, strength of 5,000 (five thousand) men, which were made up of guards and the command staff. Later, 6,000 (six thousand) men came from the Army and the Air Forces [Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe] for guard duty and they were put into SS uniforms. Moreover, there were many "Racial Germans" [Volks Deutsche] who had been conscripted into the Wehrmacht. The recruitment of former prisoners into the SS was done on orders of Himmler. These were to fight against the enemy, particularly the Bolsheviks. For the greater part they were to be recruited as volunteers.
I have personally killed about 4,000 (four thousand) prisoners by assigning them to the Penal Company. The formation of Penal Companies was done by order of Berlin to effect a more rapid extermination of prisoners through hard labor. I always took part personally in the executions.
By order of Dr. Lohnauer, incorrigible professional criminals were transferred to Hartheim near Linz as mentally deficient, where they were exterminated by a special system of SS Captain Krebsbach. The greatest number of murdered prisoners goes to the account of Bachmeyer. Chemielskwy and Seidler in Gusen had human skin specially tanned on which there were tattoos. From this leather they had books bound, and they had lampshades and leather cases made.
According to an order by Himmler, I was to liquidate all prisoners on behalf of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Dr. Kaltenbrunner ; the prisoners were to be led into the tunnels of the factory Bergkristall and only one entrance was to be left open. Then this entrance was to be blown up by the use of explosives and the death of the prisoners was to be effected in this manner. I refused to carry out this order. This matter was the extermination of the prisoners of the so-called Mother [Page 792] camp, Mauthausen, and of the camps Gusen I and Gusen II. Details of this are known to Herr Wolfram and SS Obersturmfuehrer Eckermann.
A gassing plant was built in Concentration Camp Mauthausen by order of the former garrison doctor, Dr. Krebsbach, camouflaged as a bathroom. Prisoners were gassed in this camouflaged bathroom. Apart from that a specially built automobile commuted between Mauthausen and Gusen, in which prisoners were gassed while travelling. The idea for the construction of this automobile was Dr. Wasicki's, SS Untersturmfuehrer and pharmacist. I, myself, never put any gas into this automobile, I only drove it, but I knew that prisoners were being gassed. The gassing of the prisoners was done on the urging of SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Krebsbach. Everything that we carried out was ordered by the Reich Security Main Office [Reichssicherheitshauptamt], furthermore, by SS Obergruppenfuehrer Mueller or Dr. Kaltenbrunner, the latter being Chief of the Security Police.
SS Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl gave the order that prisoners were to be driven into the woods because they were weak and had had no food, in order to pick berries there and to eat buds. The above-mentioned shortened the daily ration from 750 grms per day to 350 grms per day through the administration. SS Gruppenfuehrer Gluecks gave the order to classify weak prisoners as mentally deranged and to kill them by a gas plant which existed in the Castle Hartheim near Linz. There, about a million or a million and a half human beings were killed. Those prisoners were reported as having died from natural causes [Normal Verstorbene]
The death reports of prisoners still alive, who were to be transported, were sent to the political department concerned previous to their transport. The number of prisoners who were murdered in Hartheim is not known to me, but the number of victims at Hartheim is about one million or a million and a half, including the civilians who were sent to Hartheim. The gassing plant in Mauthausen was really built by order of SS Obergruppenfuehrer Gluecks, since he was of the opinion that it was more humane to gas the prisoners than to shoot them.
One day Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl sent me about 3,000 women and children without prior notice, who were without food for ten days. In December 1944, they were transported in open coal cars without blankets. The children of these transports had [Page 793] to be put on the march to Bergen Belsen by order from Berlin and I suppose that all of them died. The Gauleiter Eigruber denied me food for new arrivals and all weak prisoners. He ordered that I was to turn over 50% of the potatoes which had been stored for the winter to the Gau (District). SS Obergruppenfuehrer Gluecks was the one who gave the order to transfer those prisoners who were working in the Crematorium of Mauthausen Concentration Camp to Gusen and to have them killed by shooting them in the neck.
There was a secret order whereby the Crematorium Kommando was to be killed every three weeks. In the presence of Baldur von Schirach, Gauleiter Refiner, Dr. Ueberreiter, Dr. Juri, I received the following order from Reichsfuehrer Himmler : The Jews who were working on the South East Wall fortifications must be put on the march from all places of the South East Border of the Ostmark after finishing their work; their destination was to be Mauthausen. According to Himmler's order, 60,000 Jews were to come to Mauthausen. In point of fact only a fraction of this number arrived.
As an example I mention a transport which left with 4,500 Jews but which arrived with 180. It is unknown to me from which place the transport originated. Women and children had no shoes -- they were covered with rags and had lice. In this transport there were whole families and innumerable persons were shot on the way because of general bodily weakness. Under my administration, as Commandant, there were the following camps:
Mauthausen with about 12 prisoners Gusen I and II with about 24,000 prisoners Linz I with about 5,000 prisoners Gusen III with about 300 prisoners Linz II with about 500 prisoners Linz III with about 300 prisoners Ebensee with about 12,000 prisoners Passau I with about 600 prisoners Passau II with about 150 prisoners Passau III with about 60 prisoners Ternberg with about 500 prisoners Grossramming with about 3,000 prisoners Melk with about 10,000 prisoners Eisenerz with about 500 prisoners St. Lambrecht with about 350 prisoners [Page 794] Schloss Lindt with about 20 prisoners Peggau with about 500 prisoners Klagenfurt- with about 70 prisoners Junkerschule Laibach with about 500 prisoners Loiblpass with about 3,000 prisoners Schechart- with about 4,000 prisoners Henkelwerke Wiener-Neustadt with about 1,500 prisoners Mistelbach with about 1,000 prisoners Wiener-Neudorf with about 3,000 prisoners Florisdorf with about 1,000 prisoners Florisdorf with about 800 prisoners Henkelwerke Sauerwerke Wein with about 2,000 prisoners Steyer-Muenichholz with about 3,000 prisoners St. Valentin with about 1,500 prisoners Wels with about 2,000 prisoners Amstetten with about 3,000 prisoners Gunskirchen with about 450 prisoners Schlier with about 1,000 prisoners There were still several other camps, the total being about 45 (forty-five). However. I cannot remember anymore exactly now. During the last month, or month and a half before the end, there was a Kommando of Lithographs and Graphic experts in Camp Schlier. They were exclusively occupied in printing false Pound Sterling notes, as well as with the falsification of identification papers and stamps from all over the world. As far as I was informed, this Kommando made a total of 750,000,000. Pound notes and this Kommando was founded at the time by order of Dr. Kaltenbrunner, at Orani enburg, in the Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen. In order to stop sexual intercourse between prisoners of the same sex, as far as possible, in the year 1942 a bordello for prisoners was opened. The visitors were asked two marks as payment -- the prostitute received fifty Pfennings [Translator's note: 1/2 mark] and the remaining 1 1/2 Mk went to the central Concentration Camp Office at Oranienburg.
The reason for the execution of the Austrians who had been in Mauthausen Concentration Camp for almost a year is the following: On the suggestion of the Gauleiter Eigruber, Dr. Pipprater, and also the Director of the Linz Gestapo Office, Spann, the execution was carried out. A certain agent of the Gestapo, Prohaska, was put in charge of the execution. The son of Regent [Reichsverweser] Horthy lived in ar- [Page 795] rest at Mauthausen under the covername "Maus" (Mouse), Badoglio, under the name "Brausewetter." All prominent prisoners in the arrest building at Mauthausen received these covernames.
On order of the Gauleiter Eigruber, the above-mentioned were to be killed, but after further discussion with Col. Kuppert I refused to carry out this order. I sent these people to Dachau with the exception of Horthy who hid himself among the cells." 3. I, Hans Marsalek, declare in addition, as follows: With reference to the number of one million to one and a half million murdered human beings in Hartheim, which was the number given by Franz Ziereis, it is pointed out to him by me that this number was too high. He however insisted on this number and explained to me that actually a great number of mentally deranged from the entire Southern Area of Germany were shipped there and liquidated. This accounts for the high number of victims. In spite of his serious injury and his knowledge that he would probably die soon, Franz Ziereis tried to put the greater part of the guilt on his subordinates.
In early summer of 1943, SS-Obergruppenfuehrer Dr. Kaltenbrunner visited the Concentration Camp Mauthausen. The Camp Commandant Ziereis, Gauleiter Eigruber, first leader of the Protective Custody camp Bachmeyer and several others accompanied Kaltenbrunner. I saw Dr. Kaltenbrunner and the people who accompanied him with my own eyes. According to the testimony of the "Corpse Carriers" of that time, the former prisoners Albert Tiefenbacher, present address Salzburg; and Johann Polster, present address Pottendorf near Wiener Neustadt, Austria; about fifteen prisoners of the arrest class were selected by Unterscharfuehrer Winkler, in order to show Dr. Kaltenbrunner three ways of extermination, by a shot in the neck, hanging, and gassing.
Women whose hair had been cut were among the executed and they were killed by shots in the neck. Above-mentioned "Corpse Carriers" were present at the execution and had to carry the corpses to the Crematorium. Dr. Kaltenbrunner went to the Crematorium after the execution and later went into the quarry.
Baldur yon Schirach visited the camp in fall of 1944. He, too. went to the arrest building and also to the Crematorium. Eight or nine "political" Austrians were shown to him at the time, and he promised to discharge them soon. As a matter of fact, actually one of these men, whose name I have forgotten, was discharged soon thereafter.
4. I declare that the above testimony was given by me voluntarily and that no compulsion was exerted on me. [Page 796] It conforms to the truth, to the best of my knowledge and to the best of my conscience, and I swear to it. Nurnberg, 8 April 1946. /s/ Marsalek, Hans /t/ Hans Marsalek Subscribed and sworn to before me today this 8th day of the month of April 1946. /s/ Smith W. Brookhart Jr. /t/ Smith W. Brookhart Jr. Lt. Col Executive Officer, Interrogation Division OUSCC APO 124A US Army.
The Mauthausen concentration camp was located on a leveled hilltop along the Danube river. At the edge of the camp was a granite quarry that was owned by the city of Vienna (Wien). Granite from this quarry had been used for years to pave the streets of Vienna. The site for the camp was chosen because granite was needed for the buildings that Hitler was planning to build in Linz, a city that is close to Mauthausen. After the city of Vienna leased the quarry to the SS, paving stones continued to be sent to Vienna. Granite from the quarry was also used to build the prison, which was like a stone fortress. Because of the war, none of the grandiose buildings that Hitler had planned for Linz and Berlin were ever built.
The photo above was taken after the camp was liberated. Note the narrow gauge railroad tracks and part of a railroad cart that you can see in the lower right-hand corner. Granite rocks were hauled by rail to the Danube river and put on barges.
Mauthausen and the nearby Gusen camp, which also had a quarry, were the only Class III camps in the Nazi concentration camp system. This designation meant a punishment camp where prisoners were sentenced to hard labor. In addition, there was a "punishment kommando" in which prisoners had to carry heavy granite boulders up a steep flight of stairs which are shown in the photograph below.
186 steps known as the Stairway of Death
In the photograph above, a Soviet soldier stands as an honor guard at the "Stairway of Death" (Todesstiege). After the war Austria was divided into zones of occupation and the former Mauthausen camp was in the Soviet zone. This photo appears to have been taken after the steps were redone when the former Mauthausen concentration camp was turned into a Memorial Site in 1949.
According to Christian Bernadac, who wrote a book called "The 186 Steps," the original staircase had steps that were "badly cut and uneven." The original height of each step was 8 to 12 inches.
In his book, Bernadac quoted the following from the unpublished manuscript of Lt. Col. Monin written in January 1974:
That was the quarry, as we knew it, with its 186 slippery, rocky, tilting steps. Those who visit the Mauthausen quarry today, don't see the same thing, for since then, the steps have been redone - a real stairway, cemented, and regular. At that time, they were simply cut with a pick into the clay and rock, held in place by logs, unequal in height and tread, and therefore extremely difficult, not only for climbing but also for the descent. Stones rolled under our wooden-soled sandals, and we were forced to keep moving at a very rapid pace.
The work consisted of carrying up a stone of considerable size and weight, along the 186 steps, after which there was still a considerable distance to cover. The man who chose a stone found to be too small was out of luck. And all of this went on at the rate of eight to ten trips per day. The pace was infernal, without a second's rest.
The photograph below shows the prisoners, in groups of five, climbing the stairs with a wooden carrier, holding a granite stone, strapped to their back.
Prisoners were forced to carry stones up the stairs
The photograph below shows a view of the quarry, taken from the top, where monuments to the victims now stand. After the prisoners had climbed the stairs, there was still a long steep road, about one kilometer long (5/8 of a mile). The road was strewn with rocks and had never been rolled smooth. Note the buildings inside the quarry. By 1943, the quarry had factories where Messerschmitt airplanes were being built.
Note two buildings inside the quarry on the left sidePhoto take by the American liberators May 5, 1945
According to Christian Bernadac, a French resistance fighter who was imprisoned at Mauthausen, "suicides by jumping off the cliff were very frequent" in the first years that the camp was in operation. Bernadac wrote the following in his book called "The 186 Steps":
In one single day, fifty-five Jews were shown as having leaped off the cliff of the quarry, one after the other. Obviously, they were thrown into the quarry. There is nothing in criminal psychology that accepts the possibility of such mass suicides.
At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, an SS man named Alois Höllriegl testified with regard to the alleged suicides as follows:
Witness:I saw that they were approaching the cliff near the Wienergraben quarry. From the guard watchtower I saw two S.S. who were striking the prisoners, and was able to note that they wanted to force them to leap off the cliff, or else they pushed them. I saw one prisoner, lying on the ground, who was stomped on. Their gestures showed that they were ordering him to jump because of all the blows he had already received.
Colonel Amen: How high was the cliff over the quarry?
Witness: Roughly, thirty to forty meters.
Col. Amen: Was there an expression used among the guards in the camp in referring to the prisoners intended for the precipice?
Witness: Yes. In the camp, they called them the "parachutists."
Photo of quarry taken by the Nazis in 1942Photo taken by the Nazis shows narrow gauge railroad tracks
According to Robert Abzug, author of "Inside the Vicious Heart," the Gusen 1 camp was originally set up in 1940 as an independent camp where prisoners labored in a quarry, and it was not until 1944 that it became a sub-camp of Mauthausen.
On March 9, 1944, a second Gusen camp, called Gusen II, was set up in nearby St. Georgen as another sub-camp of Mauthausen. Prisoners at Gusen II worked on the construction of underground factories. Around 16,000 prisoners lived in 19 barracks near Gusen I and were transported each day by special trains to Gusen II at St. Georgen.
The first Gusen camp was located 6 kilometers west of Mauthausen. It was initially established to provide a source of granite for Hitler's grandiose plans to rebuild the cities of Berlin and Linz. Later, underground factories were built there for the manufacture of machine guns and fuselages for Messerschmitt aircraft. The factories were located underground to protect them from Allied bombing.
Abzug wrote that there were 38,000 deaths at Gusen 1 and that the high death rate was partly because Gusen was an "end destination" for the death marches from other camps that were evacuated as the Allied armies advanced into Austria in the Spring of 1945. Ebensee, another sub-camp which opened in 1943, was also an end destination for dying prisoners on the transports from other camps that had been evacuated.
Gusen I was the first camp to be liberated by the Americans, even before the main camp at Mauthausen. Louis Haefliger, a representative of the International Red Cross, had visited the main camp at Mauthausen in late April 1945 and had demanded that Commandant Ziereis allow him to enter the camp to distribute food packages. Ziereis told him that he would have to send a telegram to Ernst Kaltenbrunner to get permission for him to stay in the camp. Haefliger waited a few days, but when no answer was received from Kaltenbrunner, he returned and demanded to be allowed to stay inside the camp. Ziereis then permitted him to share a room with SS Obersturmführer Reiner.
Haefliger wrote the following in his report to the IRC, as quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book "The 186 Steps":
During the night, May 2-3, I pressured my bed mate, Reiner to reveal to me the orders that had been given for the destruction of Gusen camps I and II and Mauthausen. Reiner - a former bank employee - confided in me, and didn't hide the fact that if his confidence was betrayed, we'd both end up with a bullet in the back of our necks.
I ordered him to call the commander of the airplane factory at Gusen to come to see Ziereis. During the meeting which took place I demanded, in the presence of Reiner, that Ziereis immediately annul the order to blow up the plane factory. Ziereis refused, stating that it was not he who had given the order, and that it wasn't possible for him to annul the orders of his superiors. I appealed to his rank, and to his humanitarian sentiments. The commander of the airplane factory explained the plan to be put into effect if the Americans or the Russians got close. There was an alert signal to assemble all of the prisoners of Gusen I and II, about forty thousand human beings, in the workshops of the underground plant, which covered about 50,000 square meters. The citizens of Gusen and Saint Georgen were also intended to respond to this signal. Twenty-four and a half tons of dynamite, previously placed in the corridors, would blow up the plant, the prisoners and the population. The plan was to be implemented during the night of May 5-6.
However, I did succeed in getting Ziereis, at least verbally, to withdraw the order for blowing up the factory, and to see to it that this annullation was communicated to the commandants of the factory. He thought that this verbal extinction of order, in my presence was sufficient.
Haefliger then conceived of a plan to bring American troops to liberate the Gusen camp on May 5th before the factories were scheduled to be blown up that night. He had a white flag made in the tailor's workshop of the Mauthausen main camp and then had an Opel automobile, that Ziereis had placed at his disposal, painted white so that it would pass as a Red Cross vehicle. Ziereis left the camp, after giving Haefliger a key to his house and inviting him to stay there. During the night of May 2-3, according to Haefliger, Captain Kern of the Schutzpolizei of Vienna replaced Commandant Ziereis and the Vienna police occupied the guard posts from then on. Other sources say that the Vienna police took over the main camp on April 29, 1945.
On May 5, 1945, Haefliger persuaded Reiner to accompany him into the American combat zone. They took along a lieutenant of the Viennese fire brigade as their chauffeur. When they reached the American lines they asked American soldiers to come with them to liberate the camp. Haefliger wrote the following in his report:
My proposition was clear: an advance force of two or three heavy tanks and an equal number of light tanks, with their crews, amounting to some thirty American soldiers, and five hundred additional soldiers should come immediately and assume the guarding of the camp. They would have to disarm about five hundred S.S. troops who were still there, as well as the members of the Volkssturm (people's militia) and the reinforcement troops of the Viennese police. I guaranteed the American commander that no resistance was to be feared on the part of the civilian population. The commander radioed his consent, warning me that I was responsible for every American life. My two companions took their places in a tank, and an American sat with me in the Opel, as we drove back to Saint Georgen, followed by the tanks. A happy surprise welcomed us in this commune. The authorities and the population showered us with thanks and the Americans were greeted as liberators.
Our arrival caused the same joy in Gusen. I went to the commander of Gusen II and obtained his word that no shot would be fired and that order would be maintained. But it was increasingly urgent to get to Mauthausen where the S.S. were intensifying their defense work, according to the messages I had been given. However, we still took the time to go by the aviation factory at Gusen where I showed the Americans the underground workshops and the corridors loaded with dynamite. Then we headed toward Mauthausen.
Soldiers & Gusen survivors view body of a man beaten to deathPhoto Credit: USHMM
After liberating the Mauthausen camp, the American soldiers went back to the Gusen camps. According to Louis Haefliger:
The Americans tried, in vain, to stop the exodus from the camp, as they had been able to do at Mauthausen. The guard, composed of prisoners, was too weak. The prisoners, feeling themselves free, hurtled over the fields, toward the villages and farms to find food and clothing. Days and nights of terror followed. But the camps of Gusen and Mauthausen were freed. The greatest airplane factory in Austria had not been blown up. Machines worth from ten to twenty million francs were saved. The communes (communities) of Saint Georgen, Gusen and Mauthausen were spared by the war. The problem I had set for himself was solved. The camps were not exterminated. Sixty thousand human beings were liberated, while the Americans still hadn't taken Linz, where the battle continued to rage.
The following is from the unpublished statement of Marcel Billon, as quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book "The 186 Steps":
The justice of the deportees ruled over the death camp. Some assassins were executed. The body of the sadistic Lagerführer of Gusen was paraded about in a light carriage drawn by two horses.
Dead bodies at the Gusen sub-campAustrian civilians load Gusen bodies onto cart for burialCrematorium at the Gusen I sub-campTwo Italian sisters who survived in Gusen for two years
The photograph above was taken on May 6, 1945, after Ebensee, a sub-camp of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, was liberated by soldiers in the 80th Division of the US Third Army on May 4th and 5th. The banner, written in French, reads "The French prisoners Salute the Allies." It was erected by the anti-Nazi resistance fighters who were imprisoned here after being captured and accused of doing acts of sabotage during the Nazi occupation of France.
The photograph below was erected by the German prisoners. It reads "We welcome our liberators." Among the German prisoners were some who were condemned criminals.
German prisoners at Ebensee were liberated by American soldiers
The prisoners at Ebensee worked in underground factories which manufactured Messerschmitt airplanes. German engineers and civilians also worked in these factories. The site was chosen because there were natural caves which could be enlarged into tunnels so that the munitions factories could be protected from Allied bombing raids.
American soldier Al Winters posed on May 8, 1945 at Ebensee
According to Martin Gilbert, the author of a book entitled "Holocaust," Ebensee was an "end destination" for Jewish prisoners who were evacuated from camps farther east as the Soviet Army advanced toward Germany. In the last months of the war, the Ebensee camp was seriously over-crowded with these exhausted prisoners, many of whom had just arrived in the weeks prior to the liberation. Gilbert wrote the following regarding the evacuations and the death marches:
Jews who had already survived the 'selections' in Birkenau, and work as slave laborers in factories, had now to survive the death marches. Throughout February and March  columns of men, and crowded cattle trucks, converged on the long-existing concentration camps, now given a new task. These camps had been transformed into holding camps for the remnant of a destroyed people, men and women whose labor was still of some last-minute utility for a dying Reich, or whose emaciated bodies were to be left to languish in agony in one final camp.
According to Gilbert's book, a train loaded with 2,059 Jews arrived at Ebensee on March 3, 1945. They had survived the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau and had first been sent to the Gross Rosen concentration camp, then on to Ebensee. Forty-nine of the Jewish prisoners died on the train, and on their first day in the camp, 182 died during the disinfection procedure. New arrivals had to be disinfected to kill the body lice which spreads typhus. There was a typhus epidemic in Mauthausen and the sub-camps and, according to Martin Gilbert, 30,000 prisoners died in these camps in the last four months of the war.
Child survivors of EbenseeEbensee prisoners after the liberation of the campPrisoners too weak to eat were given sugar cubes
In the photograph of three Ebensee survivors above, note the shirt of another man in the background on the right. In place of buttons, his shirt is held together with ties. This shows how much the Nazi concentration camps had deteriorated as the war progressed. During the early days of the camps, strict discipline was enforced and prisoners were punished for having a button missing. By the time the American liberators arrived, the prisoners were lucky to even have a shirt on their backs.
According to Martin Gilbert, the last death marches of the war began on May 1, 1945 as the American Army approached; prisoners from the main camp at Mauthausen and the sub-camps at Gusen and St. Valentin were marched to Gunskirchen and Ebensee. Hundreds of them died from exhaustion, or were shot because they couldn't keep up, or as they attempted to escape. When American troops in the 80th Infantry Division arrived on May 4, 1945, there were around 60,000 prisoners from 25 different countries at Ebensee.
Ebensee survivors pose for photo on May 7, 1945
In the photograph above, the prisoners all have shaved heads, a procedure which was used in all the Nazi concentration camps in an effort to control the lice which spreads typhus. Their heads were shaved first on the sides and the next time on the top. These prisoners have a regrowth of hair on the top, but have recently been shaved on the sides of their heads. The privileged Kapos were allowed to have a full growth of hair or a beard if they were bald.
Double Crematory oven near the gas chamber at Mauthausen
The photo above shows the double crematory oven in the underground area between the hospital building and the bunker. This oven was installed just a few weeks before the camp was liberated, according to the testimony of Lt. Jack Taylor who was an American prisoner at Mauthausen. Note the door into the underground Museum exhibits on the extreme left-hand side. To the right of the ovens, but not shown in the photo, is another doorway which leads to a large unidentified room with brick walls, which was probably a morgue.
Rear view of the oven shown in the top photo
The photo above shows the rear of the crematory oven that is in the photo at the top of the page. This is the first sight that one sees after exiting the door from the Museum exhibits in the basement of the hospital building; this photo was taken from the doorway of the Museum.
From the Museum, one must go past the oven to get to the door on the south wall of the gas chamber. Another single oven and the empty room where an oven was removed can then be reached by exiting from the other door on the west wall of the gas chamber.
Original crematory oven at Mauthausen
This is the single crematory oven near the door on the west wall of the gas chamber. It is not in the same room as the double oven shown at the top of this page. The fully functioning shower room, which was also a gas chamber, would have been a convenient place for the crematory workers to wash up, except that the shower room was kept closed between gassings, according to one of the crematory workers.
Morgue room near the Mauthausen gas chamber
This creepy room is across the hallway from the double crematory oven at Mauthausen. The room has a very bad odor that still lingers because the room was used to store corpses before they were cremated. The doorway at the rear of the morgue room leads to the hallway in front of the door on the south wall of the gas chamber.
Visitors must go through this room to get to the door on the south wall of the gas chamber from the Museum exhibits. The gas chamber can also be reached by going down the outside stairs to the basement and then entering the door on the west wall of the gas chamber from the execution room.
This is the spot where condemned prisoners were executed by a shot in the neck. The sign on the wall says that prisoners had to stand in front of a fake measuring device and were shot from behind after they were fooled into thinking that their height was being measured. There does not seem to be a hole in the wall through which the shooter could point his gun.
On the left in the photo above is the door to the outside stairs which lead to the area between the bunker and the hospital building. To the right is the doorway to the hall leading to a door on the west wall of the gas chamber.
The photograph below shows the metal bar under the skylight where condemned prisoners were hanged. The skylight is to the left of the stairs shown in the photo above.
Condemned prisoners were hanged from this barSpot where a crematory oven was removed
A third crematory oven formerly stood in this spot in the underground area beneath the space between the hospital building and the bunker. Behind the camera is the wood-paneled execution spot, shown in the first photo on this page. Prisoners were executed in front of the oven and their bodies were then cremated. On the right side of the photo above, one can see part of a porthole window opening to the outside courtyard behind the bunker. An exit door to the courtyard is to the right; it is shown in the photo below.
Exit door from the execution room
This is the exit door from the empty crematorium room shown in the photo above. The area in the foreground is the narrow courtyard behind the bunker building.
Gassing Apparatus Room on the right, gas chamber door on the left
The photo above shows the door on the south wall into the Mauthausen gas chamber on the left and the small gassing apparatus room next to it on the right. There is a wide doorway into the gassing apparatus room which has no door. Note the tile on the walls of the adjoining room which is the same as the tile in the gas chamber.
Electrical wiring on the wall of the gassing apparatus room
The photo above shows what appears to be electrical wiring on the wall of the small room next to the gas chamber. Former prisoners at Mauthausen testified that the "gassing apparatus" was located in an adjoining room, which is probably the room shown above; the apparatus was removed by the SS guards on April 29, 1945, according to survivors of the camp.
Opening for ceiling fixture
The photo above shows the remains of a ceiling fixture connected to the electrical wires on the wall of the small room next to the gas chamber. There is no evidence of any "gassing apparatus" in this room today.
Prisoners cheer 11th Armored Division on May 6, 1945
The photograph above was taken on May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. It shows prisoners surrounding an M8 Greyhound armored car. According to Pierre Serge Choumoff, the liberation of Mauthausen, as shown in the photo above, was reenacted for photographers at the request of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and a banner, written in Spanish, had been put up by the Spanish political prisoners. The English translation reads "The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces."
These prisoners were Spanish Republicans who had fought against General Francisco Franco's Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and had escaped to France when the Republicans lost the war. The Spanish Republicans were interned by the French and later, when the Germans defeated France in 1940, they were incarcerated as political prisoners because they were opposed to the Nazis. Germany had fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which was a war between the Fascists and the Communists. For the anti-Fascist Spanish Republicans, Mauthausen has the same significance as Auschwitz does for the Jews.
On May 5, 1945, the date usually given for the official liberation of the Mauthausen main concentration camp, a platoon of 23 men from the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, arrived at the main camp near the town of Mauthausen. They were guided there by Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the camp, and two German soldiers, after first liberating the Gusen sub-camp, 6 kilometers to the west.
Haefliger had taken it upon himself to go out and find American soldiers fighting in the area. He brought them first to the Gusen sub-camp because of the rumors that Hitler had instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner to give the order to kill all the prisoners by blowing them up in the underground tunnels of the munitions factories there.
After the prisoners in the Gusen sub-camp were released by the American liberators, fighting broke out among the inmates and over 500 of the prisoners were brutally killed by their fellow inmates, according to Sgt. Kosiek. The platoon of American soldiers was unable to control the released prisoners, so they left the Gusen camp and proceeded to the main camp, where the Communist prisoners were already organized into an International Committee that was ready to take control.
According to Manuel Razola and Mariano Constante, two Spanish inmates at Mauthausen who wrote a book called "Triangle Blue," in the last days of the war, the prisoners had formed an International Committee, which took over the camp as soon as the American liberators arrived on May 5, 1945. Razola and Constante are quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book "The 186 Steps." According to their story, "The international committee had taken the decision to execute the most criminal SS and common-law elements." On the night that the camp was liberated, the international committee killed 8 of the Kapos in the camp and 6 of the SS officers.
The photograph below shows the anti-Fascist political prisoners pulling down the hated Nazi symbol on May 6, 1945. The privileged political prisoners at Mauthausen and the other camps were allowed to wear civilian clothes and "workers' caps" which identified them as Communists. This photo was also a reenactment.
Nazi eagle being pulled down by Mauthausen survivors, May 6, 1945
According to Louis Haefliger, most of the regular SS guards had left before the Americans arrived and Captain Kern of the Schutzpolizei (protection police) of Vienna had replaced Commandant Franz Ziereis on the night of May 2-3, 1945. The Vienna police occupied the guard posts, assisted by a few old men and young boys of the Volksstrum; most of the SS men had escaped to an island on the Danube river and only a few of them had remained to help in guarding the camp.
The following account, written by Louis Haefliger, the Red Cross representative, is quoted in a book entitled "The 186 Steps," by Christian Bernadac:
During the following days I talked with Ziereis about the exact situation prevailing in the camp: lack of bread, clothing, shoes and a dreadful shortage of linens. The camp at Mauthausen was overcrowded, and the camps of Gusen I and II filled beyond human limits. There were as many as five sick men to a narrow camp bed. There were sixty thousand human beings - men, women and children. Ziereis no longer knew where to turn...He speeded up the work of annihilation as much as he could. The Krematorium chimney smoked day and night. The sanitary conditions were at the lowest imaginable level. They were dying of hunger. Ziereis made believe that he was touched by this himself. He put on a self-pitying air, this man with whom I had to take my meals, this monster who once had a truck full of cadavers driven in front of his wife's window, to boast about his work.
At the stroke of noon, May 5, 1945, all the SS had been disarmed, as well as the Volksstrum militia and the reinforcements of Vienna firemen. Chaos prevailed in the camp. The prisoners invaded the kitchens and pillaged the Kommandantur. The men rigged themselves out in several pairs of pants and fought over the tins of food. There was an unimaginable turbulence. Suddenly freed, these prisoners behaved like a horde of savages. It took some time to get the camp to calm down a bit. I thought about my own belongings in my room. Everything had disappeared: trunk, clothing, linens.
Robert Abzug wrote in his book, "Inside the Vicious Heart," that after Commandant Franz Ziereis handed over the administration of the camp on May 2, 1945 to a captain in the Vienna Police, leaving only a small group of SS men to help guard the camp, the prisoners organized resistance operations and began to sabotage the factories. But there was nothing the resistance movement in Mauthausen and the Gusen sub-camp could do about the lack of food, medicine and clothing in the camps. In the chaos of the final days of the war, the transportation system had broken down and everything was in short supply.
Abzug wrote that, until the American liberators arrived, "the camps festered in dirt and disease. Thousands of prisoners died. Conditions were especially appalling among the latest transported prisoners. These men and women had survived Auschwitz, Dachau and forced marches - only to perish at Mauthausen in the final week of the war."
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Mauthausen main camp, and a few of its largest sub-camps, were actually liberated in several stages by the US Third Army in late April and early May, 1945. Col. Richard R. Seibel was appointed to take command of the Mauthausen camp for 35 days, after an American patrol found the camp in April 1945, before the official liberation of the camp on May 5, 1945. In an interview in 1990, Seibel described how the Americans found some stored potatoes and began feeding the starved prisoners a very thin potato soup. There was no wheat flour or yeast in the camp kitchens, so the Americans made unleavened bread out of oats and dried it before giving it to the starving prisoners.
In the weeks just before the official liberation, most of the smaller sub-camps had been evacuated and the prisoners brought to the larger camps. 20,000 prisoners were crowded into the Mauthausen main camp which had a normal capacity of 12,000. Food was scarce and there were typhus epidemics in all the camps; around 300 prisoners were dying from typhus each day in the main Mauthausen camp shortly before the Americans arrived.
A movie that was being shown in the Museum at the Mauthausen Memorial Site in May 2003 featured an American soldier who was among the liberators of the camp. He became very emotional as he said that "we must have buried 12,000 bodies." He explained that 1,200 bodies had been buried in mass graves the first day and 300 per day thereafter, as a film clip of Austrian civilians loading naked bodies onto carts was shown.
In the last week of World War II, before the German Army surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 7th and the war ended on May 8th, 1945, there was heavy fighting in the area near the city of Linz in Upper Austria where the Mauthausen main camp and the sub-camps of Gusen, Ebensee and Gunskirchen were located. The Soviet forces, advancing from the east, and the American Third Army, coming from the west, were closing in on the Germans.
By this time, Hitler was dead and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and all the concentration camps, was frantically trying to negotiate a surrender to the Americans, but not to the Soviet Union, so that Germany could be saved from Communism. Linz was being bombed daily by the Americans and there was chaos everywhere as the infrastructure of the country collapsed. Thousands of German Wehrmacht soldiers were trying to surrender to the Americans in order to escape capture by the brutal Russians.
The elite forces of the Waffen-SS were still fanatically fighting to the last man; SS men were shooting the German regular Army soldiers who were deserting and trying to reach the Americans to surrender. Boys as young as 14 and men as old as 60 had been pressed into service in the Volksstrum, as the Nazis prepared to fight to the last man to save "the Fatherland" from Communism.
The highways in Germany and Austria were clogged by thousands of civilian women and children trying to escape the Russians who had a reputation for raping every woman from 8 to 80; bodies of dead and dying Jews filled the ditches along the roads after they were shot because they couldn't keep up on the marches as prisoners were evacuated from the war zone.
There were rumors circulating among the prisoners in the Mauthausen camp that Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had the supreme authority over all the Nazi camps, had issued orders that all the prisoners should be killed before they could be liberated. This order had supposedly come from Hitler himself before he committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Patton's Third Army had liberated the Buchenwaldconcentration camp on April 11, 1945 and Hitler had reportedly become enraged when he heard about how the Americans had given guns and jeeps to the liberated prisoners so that they could go to the nearby city of Weimar and randomly attack civilians.
Mauthausen survivors reenact the liberation, May 6, 1945Photo Credit: USHMMAnti-Fascist Resistance fighters greet US liberators, May 5, 1945Photo Credit: USHMM
Mauthausen was primarily a concentration camp for Communist political prisoners and German criminals, but near the end of the war, it was also an "end destination" for Jews who had been evacuated from the death camps in what is now Poland. According to Yehuda Bauer, the author of "The Death Marches, January - May 1945," there were 700,000 prisoners of all categories in all the Nazi concentration camps in January 1945, and between 250,000 and 350,000 of them died on the death marches in the last weeks of the war, or after their arrival in the German camps, or after the liberation. At least half of those that died after January 1945 were Jews, according to Bauer.
At the time of the liberation there were also Hungarian Jews in Mauthausen who had been sent directly from Auschwitz to Mauthausen and the Gusen sub-camp in 1944 to work in the munitions factories.
On March 30, 1945, there was a total of 78,754 men and 2,252 women in the Mauthausen main camp and all its sub-camps, according to a display in the Mauthausen Museum, which I visited in May 2003. Included among the men were 13,701 Jews, and among the women, there were 611 Jews. This was the last census taken by the Nazis in the final chaotic days of the war. The total included 13,852 men and 1,238 women at the main camp at Mauthausen, according to the Museum display. There were 91 Jewish women and 2,257 Jewish men at the main camp on this date.
One of the Jewish survivors of Mauthausen was Meir Pesker from Bielsk, Poland. He had been deported first to the death camp at Majdanek, then transferred to the Plaszow camp, which is shown in the film Schindler's List, and finally sent to Mauthausen. Pesker related the following story which was printed in a memorial book entitled "Bielsk Podliask," as quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book "Holocaust":
We saw that the Americans were coming, and so did the Germans. Suddenly a German Kapo appeared, a bloated primeval beast whose cruelty included the bare-handed murder of dozens of Jews. Suddenly he had become weak and emotional and he began to plead with us not to turn him in because he had "done many favors for the Jews to whom that madman Hitler had sought to do evil." As he finished his pleading three boys overpowered and killed him, there in the same camp where he had been sole ruler.
We killed every one of the German oppressors who fell into our hands, before the arrival of the Americans in the enclosure of the camp. This was our revenge for our loved ones whose blood had been spilled at the hands of these heathen German beasts.
It was only by a stroke of luck - even if tainted luck - that I had survived.
Mike Jacobs, a Jew who now lives in Dallas, Texas, gave a description of the liberation of Mauthausen to Theo Richmond, the author of the book "Konin, One Man's Quest For a Vanished Jewish Community." Mike was born in Konin, Poland and his name was originally Mendel Jakubowicz. He was 19 and a half years old and weighed 70 pounds when the Mauthausen camp was liberated. He had survived the death camp at Auschwitz and had been sent to Mauthausen when Auschwitz was evacuated. Here is his story of the liberation, as quoted in Richmond's book:
I looked out from the barracks and I see tanks coming with white stars. At first I think they are German tanks. I say to my friends, "Hey, look, the Germans have changed from a swastika to a white star. Two hours later I see some more tanks coming. I walk out and I start waving. The guy comes out of the turret. He waves back and throws me something. It was a bar of chocolate. I grabbed it and run into the barracks and say, "Hey, guys, look - I got a bar of chocolate. And can you imagine! The name of the chocolate is Hershel! [Hershel is a common Yiddish name.] I didn't read the wrapper properly, so the first American food I eat is a Hershel bar."
The following account was written by Maurice Lambert and quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book:
From one o'clock in the afternoon on, we knew that the Americans were at the gates of the camp, and we had begun our purging process. It was relatively simple. Ten, fifteen, or sometimes twenty of us went to blocks 6 and 7 (I think), where all of the German scum had taken refuge, those who were Kapos just yesterday, block bosses, room chiefs, etc., who had, over the years been responsible for 150,000 deaths of men of all nationalities. This figure was established after Liberation, for the camp of Mauthausen and its many kommandos (sub-camps) working throughout Austria. Every German brute discovered in one of these blocks was hauled into the roll call yard. They were going to suffer when they died, in the way they had made our comrades suffer and die. Our only weapons were our wooden-soled shoes, but we more than made up in numbers and rage for this rudimentary equipment. Every minute a new group of deportees arrived in the roll call yard, dragging a former torturer. He was stunned and knocked down. Everyone who had a sabot on his foot, or in his hand, leaped on the body and face and stamped and struck until the guts came spilling out, and the head was a flattened shapeless mass of flesh...
Roman Frister, a young Jew who had just arrived at the main camp a few days before the liberation, on a death march from a work camp in Vienna, wrote in his book, "The Cap: The Price of a Life," that one of the liberators who emerged from an American tank was a black soldier. According to Frister's account, the black soldier called to the armed guards in the watch tower "Hitler kaput," and signaled them to come down from the tower.
The American Army was segregated during World War II, so Frister may have been mistaken about the black soldier, although another survivor, Bert Schapelhouman, told a similar story.
According to Frister's account of the liberation, the black soldier ordered the guards to throw down their tommy guns and form a line; then "a group of prisoners darted forward and snatched the guns." The Spanish prisoners shouted "Viva Espana!" as French and Polish prisoners were waving their country's flags and the Soviet POWs sang the Communist anthem, "Internationale."
Frister was in the "Sanitary Camp" as the quarantine camp outside the main camp was called. He wrote that he went back to his barracks after cheering the liberators and saw a naked German soldier hanging from the rafters, wearing the cap of an SS corporal. Soviet POWs were using the soldier for target practice, taking turns throwing a long kitchen knife. Frister wrote that the corpse of the German soldier was left hanging for two days before it was cut down by the Americans. According to Frister, after the liberation, Russian POWs who were mostly political Commissars in the Red Army, "roamed the countryside, terrorizing the local Austrians."
Citizens of Linz, Austria view photos of Nazi atrocities
After the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp and its sub-camps, the Allies had the task of politically rehabilitating the Austrian people by informing them of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their hero, Adolf Hitler. The following quote is from Gordon J. Horwitz, who wrote a book entitled "In the Shadow of Death":
Many Austrians preferred to deflect responsibility for Nazi crimes onto their more powerful neighbor, Germany.
The photograph above shows citizens of Linz, Austria looking at a display of photographs taken by the Americans after the liberation of Mauthausen and its sub-camps. The photos show the starving prisoners and the emaciated bodies of the victims who had died from typhus.
Coal to fire the cremation ovens was in short supply, so the bodies had been stacked up outside the barracks. According to the survivors, the Soviet Prisoners of War were engaging in cannibalism, biting chucks of raw flesh out of the corpses. The survivors also described how rats were gnawing on the dead bodies, making them unrecognizable.
Austrian civilians forced to bury bodies, wearing their best clothesPhoto Credit: USHMM
The photograph above shows Austrian civilians who were brought to the camp to bury the bodies of prisoners who died in the Russian POW camp, which had been converted into a camp for sick prisoners. A typhus epidemic was raging in the camp and as many as 300 prisoners were dying each day. According to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert, there were 3,000 prisoners who died after the liberation, before the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. The American liberators used DDT to kill the lice in the camp; typhus is spread by body lice.
Austrian citizens carry bodies to mass graves
In the photograph above, an Austrian civilian (center) is dressed in lederhosen and Tyrolean jacket as he carries an emaciated body to a burial site at one of the sub-camps. Note that he is wearing gloves, something which was forbidden by the American liberators, since the purpose was to punish the Austrian civilians by forcing them to handle the diseased bodies without protection.
According to Raymond Buch, one of the American liberators of Mauthausen, the Austrian civilians from the nearby towns were ordered to come to the camp, wearing their Sunday best clothes. This policy was not unique to Mauthausen. General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that as many civilians as possible should be brought from the nearby towns to view the carnage in the Nazi concentration camps while the typhus epidemics were still going on, and that civilians should be forced to wear their best clothes to bury the bodies.
Graves were dug by the Austrian men on the main camp's soccer field, called the Sport Platz. The photograph below shows one of the mass graves where the 700 unidentified bodies found in the camp were buried.
700 unidentified bodies were buried in mass gravesPhoto Credit: USHMM
After the liberation of Mauthausen, the SS soldiers who had formerly guarded the camp were taken into custody; they were forced to work in the Mauthausen quarry, guarded by American soldiers, as shown in the photograph below. Some of the prisoners, who were Kapos or captains in charge of supervising other prisoners, were also arrested and charged with war crimes.
American soldier guards SS men as they work in the quarryPhoto Credit: USHMM
The photograph below shows former German prisoners and SS guards in the camp being forced to do deep knee bends for the amusement of the American liberators and the surviving Communist political prisoners. Note that three of the men have had a strip of hair shaved from the middle of their heads. This was done by the Nazis in the camps in an effort to control lice which spreads disease. Prisoners were customarily given haircuts in which the sides of the head were shaved, and for their next haircut, the middle of their head would be shaved. Note the survivors wearing dark caps or berets. Communist prisoners were allowed to wear civilian clothes and blue workers' caps to distinguish them from the other prisoners who wore striped caps to match their striped prison uniforms. The prisoners with the weird haircuts were probably German criminals who were Kapos, assigned to supervise the other prisoners. After the war, staff members of the Mauthausen camp, including two of the kapos, were brought before an American military tribunal at Dachau and convicted as war criminals.
US soldiers & survivors watch as Germans are forced to do knee bendsSS men forced to crawl as survivors and US soldiers watch
Note the position of the shadows in the two photographs above, which indicate that this humiliation of the former German guards and Kapos went on for several hours. None of the above photos is shown at the Mauthausen Museum, which tells nothing about what happened to the camp staff after the liberation, except for a display about the proceedings against selected members of the Mauthausen staff in an American Military Tribunal at Dachau.
After the Mauthausen main camp and the sub-camps were liberated, the American military had until July 1945 to illegally remove machinery from the underground munitions factories before the camps had to be turned over to the Soviet Union on July 28, 1945, by prior agreement. On September 10, 1945, the Soviets began taking equipment from the Gusen underground factory where the Nazis had been building Messerschmitt jet airplanes. The removal of the machinery was completed by December 21, 1946. In July 1947, the final transport of equipment from Gusen to the Soviet Union was completed. On November 15, 1947, the tunnels where the factories were located at Gusen were destroyed by the Soviets.
The former main camp at Mauthausen became a camp for Displaced Persons who were waiting to emigrate to other countries after the war.
The Soviet Union also took charge of the quarry at Gusen and continued to take stone from it, operating under a company called Granitewerke Gusen. In 1955, the Allied occupation of Austria ended and the Soviets moved out; the railroad and the station at Gusen were dismantled. The property that remained after the Soviets left was given to the Austrian people. In the late 1950ies, the land in the Gusen area was privatized and private homes were built where the camps used to be.
The accused in the Mauthausen case read the indictment
On March 7, 1946, charges of participating in a "common design" to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the 1929 Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention of 1907 were brought against a group of 61 men, associated with the infamous Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz, Austria. The charges, which did not include "Crimes Against Humanity," were related to the fact that the prisoners included Soviet Prisoners of War, captured civilian resistance fighters, and Allied nationals including a few Commandos and spies.
The American Military Tribunal proceedings in the Mauthausen case were conducted in a courtroom at the former Dachau concentration camp complex, starting on March 29, 1946.
The Mauthausen proceedings were officially known as US. vs. Hans Altfuldisch, et al because Altfuldisch was the first name on the alphabetical list of the accused. Although Mauthausen was in the Soviet zone of occupation in Austria, America had jurisdiction over the war criminals in the Mauthausen concentration camp by virtue of being the liberators of the camp on May 5, 1945.
The case of the 61 staff members of the Mauthausen concentration camp was the second proceeding of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau; the first one, the trial of 40 staff members of the Dachau concentration camp, ended in the conviction of all of the accused on the charge of participating in a common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War under the Geneva Convention of 1929.
The concept of the "common design" criminal charge was the innovative idea of Lt. Col. Murray C. Bernays, a Lithuanian Jew who had emigrated to the United States at the age of 6. The following words, written by Bernays before the end of the war, while the war crimes trials were still in the planning stage, are quoted by Robert E. Conot in his book "Judgment at Nuremberg":
The crimes and atrocities were not single or unconnected, but were the inevitable outcome of the basic criminal conspiracy of the Nazi party. This conspiracy, based on the Nazi doctrine of racism and totalitarianism, involved murder, terrorism, and the destruction of peaceful populations in violation of the laws of war. A conspiracy is criminal either because it aims at the accomplishment of lawful ends by unlawful means, or because it aims at the accomplishment of unlawful ends by lawful means. Therefore, such technicalities as the question whether the extermination of fellow Germans by Nazis perpetrated before there was a state of war, would be unimportant, if you recognize as the basic crime the Nazi conspiracy which required for success the killing of dissident liberal Germans and the extermination of German (and non-German) Jews before and after the war had begun.
Bernays was of the opinion that the German people should be made to feel a sense of their guilt and a realization of their responsibility for the crimes committed by the Nazis and the SS. The German people should come to understand the barbarism that they had supported and to realize the criminal nature of the Nazi regime. Bernays thought that it was necessary to prove the conspiracy of the Nazi leadership in the war crimes that were committed so that all the Nazi criminals, large and small, would be caught in the same web.
By January 1946, when preparations for the Mauthausen trial began, America's foreign policy was beginning to change; an Iron Curtain had descended over the continent of Europe, as Winston Churchill so eloquently characterized the takeover of the victorious Communist Soviet Union, according to the Allied agreement at Yalta. America was just beginning to see the former Nazi Germany as a future ally against Communism, but for now the war crimes trials continued unabated.
Lt. Col. William D. Denson was the chief prosecutor in the first four concentration camp cases brought before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. A German civilian, Baron Karl von Posern, a former Mauthausen prisoner who had been a defense attorney in the first Dachau trial, was recruited for the prosecution team in the Mauthausen case. Three other American lawyers also joined the Mauthausen prosecution team: Lt. Col Albert Barkin, Captain Charles Matthews, and Captain Myron N. Lane.
Mauthausen was considered to be the worst of the concentration camps in the Greater German Reich, even worse than Auschwitz. Along with Gusen, which later became one of the Mauthausen sub-camps, it had been designated on January 1, 1941 as one of only two Class III camps in the Nazi concentration camp system. Prisoners sent to Mauthausen were labeled "Return Unwanted." They were mainly condemned criminals, asocials considered to be incapable of rehabilitation, Russian Prisoners of War who were Communist Commissars, and hard-core Communists and anarchists who were regarded as dangerous "enemies of the state."
A large number of the prisoners were "Red Spaniards" or "Spanish Republicans," the soldiers who had fought on the side of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War. British SOE agents who aided the French resistance, and American OSS men, who were caught doing sabotage behind enemy lines, were also sent to Mauthausen.
The location of the Mauthausen camp, in a scenic spot on a hill above the Danube river, was chosen because it had a stone quarry. Condemned German criminals were put to work to provide the beautiful golden granite that Hitler needed for his building project in nearby Linz, his boyhood home, where he intended to retire some day. The start of World War II in 1939 interrupted his plans and nothing was ever built except a bridge in Linz and the Mauthausen camp itself.
The Mauthausen prison is a stone fortress built with granite from the quarry, as shown in the photo below. The site of the camp had previously been a POW camp in World War I. Mauthausen was the most beautiful of all the Nazi concentration camps, and at the same time, the most cruel.
Main gate into prison camp built of granite from the Mauthausen quarry
After the Allied victory in World War II, Benjamin B. Ferencz, a Jew born in Translyvania in 1920, who came to America as an infant, was put in charge of gathering evidence of Nazi war crimes in the concentration camps.
Benjamin B. Ferencz, on the left, General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the center
In the photo above, taken on April 12, 1945, the soldier on the far left is Benjamin B. Ferencz. In the center is General Eisenhower and behind him, wearing a helmet with four stars is General Omar Bradley. They are inside a salt mine near Ohrdruf, Germany where Nazi gold and art treasures were found and confiscated by the Americans. In 1945, Ferencz was transferred from General Patton's army to the newly created War Crimes Branch of the U.S. Army, where his job was to gather evidence for future trials of German war criminals.
Ferencz was with the US Troops when they entered Buchenwald, then Dachau and finally the Mauthausen and Gusen camps, the last to be liberated, just days before the war ended. In his book "Never Again," Gilbert quotes Ferencz as follows:
I had entered the concentration camp at Mauthausen/Gusen as a war crimes investigator for the United States army. Piles of corpses littered the area. Starving "Musselmänner," the inmates slang for walking skeletons, stared with vacant eyes at the liberating American troops. An inmate registrar embraced me joyfully. One of his jobs had been to type identification cards for the SS guards; when the guards were reassigned, the card was to be destroyed. The inmate, whose name I shall never know, had at great risk to his life, failed to burn the cards. Instead, he had buried them carefully in a field.
After he greeted me he left the barrack and, a few minutes later, returned, unwrapped a soiled box, and handed me a complete record and picture of every SS man who had ever been in the camp! It was invaluable evidence for a war crimes prosecutor. I was moved by the blind faith which inspired the unknown prisoner to risk his life in the conviction that there would come a day of reckoning.
With the help of this list, the perpetrators of war crimes in the Mauthausen concentration camp, that were still alive, were hunted down and 61 men were brought before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau in the initial case against the Mauthausen staff members.
The proceedings against the 61 Mauthausen accused began on March 29, 1946 and ended on May 13, 1946. The main trial was followed by other subsidiary trials. The list of the accused in the first Mauthausen proceeding is as follows:
Hans Altfuldisch : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Stefan Barczey : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Karl Billmann : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) August Blei : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Willy Brünning : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Michael Cserny : Life Imprisonment Hans Diehl : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Ludwig Dörr : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Otto Drabeck : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Willy Eckert : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) August Eigruber : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Heinrich Eocene : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947)
SS Dr Friedrich - Karl Entress : Death Sentence (Executed on 28th May 1947) Kapo Rudolf Fiegl : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Heinrich Fitschok : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Kapo Willy Frey : The Death Sentence (Executed on the 28th May 1947) Heinrich Giese : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Georg Gössl : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Werner Grahn : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Johannes Grimm : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Herbert Grzybowski : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Paul Gützlaff : Life Imprisonment
Heinrich Häger : Death Sentence (Executed on the 27th May 1947) Hans Hegenscheidt : Death Sentence (Executed on the 27th May 1947) Wilhelm Henkel : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Walter Höhler : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Franz Huber : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) SS Dr Willy Jobst : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Paul Kaiser : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Anton Kaufmann : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Franz Kautny : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Kurt Keilwitz : Death Sentence (Executed on 27th May 1947) Kaspar Klimowitsch : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Viktor Korger : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) SS Dr Eduard Krebsbach : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Gustav Kreindl : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947)
Ferdinand Lappert : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Josef Leeb : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Julius Ludolf : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Wilhelm Mack : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment) Josef Mayer : Life Imprisonment Erich Meissner : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Emil Müller : Death Sentence (Executed on 28th May 1947) Wilhelm Müller : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Rudolf Mynzak : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Josef Niedermayer : Death Sentence (Executed on the 28th May 1947) Vincenz Nohel : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Theophil Priebei : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Hermann Pribyll : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Josef Riedler : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Adolf Rutka : Death Sentence (Commuted to Life Imprisonment)
Thomas Sigmund : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Hans Spatzenneger : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Otto Striegel : Death Sentence (Executed on 20 June 1947) Karl Struller : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Leopold Trauner : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947) Andreas Trumm : Death Sentence (Executed on the 28 May 1947) SS Dr Erich Wasitzky (Wasicky) : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) SS Dr Waldemar Wolter : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Viktor Zoller : Death Sentence (Executed on 28 May 1947) Adolf Zutter : Death Sentence (Executed on 27 May 1947)
August Eigruber is the man standing with No. 13 on his chest
The "big fish" among the accused in the Mauthausen case was August Eigruber, the former Gauleiter of Upper Austria. He was charged with participating in the common design to violate the Laws and Usages of War because, along with other alleged crimes, he had been involved in helping Heinrich Himmler to acquire the property where the Mauthausen camp was built. Hartheim Castle, near Linz, was also under Eigruber's jurisdiction and he had leased it to the Reich. Prisoners from Mauthausen had been taken to the castle to be gassed, according to confessions obtained by the American military interrogators from several of the accused men.
Eigruber was an associate of such top Nazis as Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Adolf Eichmann and Adolf Hitler, all of whom were from Austria. He was also a friend of Martin Bormann, who was Hitler's deputy. When he refused to talk after he was captured, Eigruber was sent to Washington, DC for questioning. Eigruber's importance was such that he was originally slated to be among the men who were tried at the Nuremberg IMT.
According to Joshua Greene, who wrote "Justice at Dachau," the chief prosecutor at Dachau, Lt. Col. William Denson, put in a call to Robert Jackson, the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg IMT and told him, "Send me Eigruber. I'll hang him high as Haman." Haman was the villain in the biblical story on which the Jewish holiday of Purim is based. Denson made good on his boast: Eigruber was hanged on May 28, 1947.
On February 18, 1946, August Eigruber was brought from Nuremberg to Dachau and turned over to Lt. Paul Guth for interrogation. Lt. Guth testified on the witness stand that he had not coerced or threatened Eigruber in any way. Although he had previously refused to talk, Eigruber voluntarily signed a statement for Lt. Guth the next day, in which he admitted that he was responsible for leasing Hartheim Castle to the Reich in 1939 for the killing of mental patients who were incurably ill or unable to work. He also admitted to inspecting the Mauthausen gas chamber once and to participating in the execution of ten prisoners of unknown nationality during the night in March or April 1945. Eigruber's statement ended with the following words:
This statement was made by me on three pages on the 19th of February 1946, in Dachau, Germany, of my own free will and without compulsion. To save time, a clerk wrote it down on a typewriter. I have read through it, and I have made corrections that appeared necessary to me. The above declaration contains my statements, and I swear before God that it is the entire truth. Signed, August Eigruber.
The attorney for the defense, Major Ernst Oeding, objected to the admission of Eigruber's statement into evidence because it had not been witnessed, but his motion was denied by A.H. Rosenfeld, a Jew who was serving as the "law member" on the panel of 8 judges. Normally, a confession must be witnessed to be admissible in a trial, but according to an Allied directive dated 25 August 1945, a military tribunal was not bound by general rules of evidence.
The photograph below shows August Eigruber on the far right in the front row, wearing a hat. This photo was taken just outside the Mauthausen camp, near the quarry. The man who is strutting on the far left is Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and head of all the concentration camps. Next to him, in the front row, is Franz Ziereis, the Commandant of Mauthausen. Ziereis was never brought to justice; he left the camp on the night of May 2, 1945, but was captured on May 23, 1945 and then "shot while attempting to escape."
Himmler, Ziereis and August Eigruber at Mauthausen
Lt. Col. William Denson became famous for his 100% conviction rate in the first four proceedings conducted by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau. He died in 1998 at the age of 85 and in his obituary, he was quoted as saying that August Eigruber was "one of the most arrogant defendants I have ever encountered." Eigruber was allegedly tortured to force him to confess, and there is even a rumor that he was "mutilated and castrated" after he was captured, but apparently even that didn't humble him.
In the photo below, Denson seems to be amused by Eigruber's testimony on the witness stand. Note that Eigruber is wearing an Austrian style gray jacket with green trim, rather than the pinstriped suit that he wore on the first day of the trial when he was photographed as he stood up to answer the charge against him.
August Eigruber on the left, Lt. Col. Denson on the right
August Eigruber was the Gauleiter of Upper Austria and according to Marie Vassiltchikov, a nurse who wrote a book entitled "Berlin Diaries 1940 - 1945," Eigruber was the "virtual king of this part of Austria." She wrote that, in the last days of the war, "Gauleiter Eigruber has been thundering over the radio that Oberdonau - the Nazi name for the province of Upper Austria - must stand to the last man; there is no escape now; women and children will not be evacuated, however tough things get, for there is nowhere for them to go. In his rhetoric he copies Adolf; but at least he is frank and does not try to hide the gravity of the situation. By way of compensation, he promised the population a special distribution of rice and sugar."
Sadly, the rice and sugar that was promised by Eigruber to the "starving population" was destroyed when several Red Cross trains on a siding at Attnang-Puchheim were bombed by the Allies, killing "all those pretty sunburnt young nurses," according to Vassiltchikov's book. She wrote that Eigruber "is a particularly obnoxious individual, who continues to make fiery speeches about 'resistance', 'honor', etc." Eigruber was a dedicated Nazi, loyal to the end; he died with the words "Heil Hitler" on his lips.
In the photo below, Lt. Col. Denson listens as an Army translator asks Eigruber a question in German. The proceedings were painfully slow since the testimony of the accused had to be translated into English for the prosecution team.
Lt. Col. William Denson in the center, Eigruber on the right
Hans Altfuldisch was the first name on the list of the accused at Mauthausen
Quoted in Christian Bernadac's book "The 186 Steps," is the following testimony of SS officer Hans Michael Altfuldisch, shown in the photo above, who was one of the 61 men accused in the Mauthausen case:
For the rapid extermination of prisoners, a gas chamber was available. I can remember having directed the execution by gas of two hundred fifty men and women, of Russian, Czech and Hungarian nationalities. Executions by gas were ordered by Ziereis or Zoller or Zutter, and in the case of certain sick prisoners, by Doctor Wolter, the chief doctor. The prisoners were first examined by S.S. Niedermayer, who removed their personal belongings. Then men and women were required to undress in the presence of the S.S. and enter the gas chamber. To make the work more rational, a cross was marked on the chest of those who had gold dental work.
Andreas Trumm stands in the courtroom at Dachau
Another SS officer, who was one of staff members of Mauthausen that were prosecuted at Dachau, was SS Oberscharführer Andreas Trumm, who is shown in the photo above. His testimony, as quoted in Bernadac's book is as follows:
Between 1943 and 1945, on several occasions I replaced the S.S. Niedermayer and conducted Russians, Poles and citizens of other nationalities to the gas chamber. After the prisoners had been locked into the chamber, the pharmacist E. Wasicky, gave a gas container to S.S. Roth. After the Spring of 1944, I saw the same operation handled by the pharmacist Gerber.
One of the defense attorneys in the Mauthausen case, Lt. McMahon, stated the following regarding these confessions:
Regarding the statements of the accused, there is grave doubt that they were freely given and, further, that they contained any language except that desired by the interrogator. Abundant proof is given by the striking similarity of language.
After citing several examples of similar language, Lt. McMahon went on to say:
And so it goes with Drabek, Entress, Feigl, with Trauner, Niedermayer, Haeger, Miessner, Riegler, Zoller, with Blei, with Eckert, with Striegel, with Eigruber, with Eisenhoefer, with Mack and Riegler. Let the court note the unbelievable accusations that the affiants make against themselves. It is contrary to normal human conduct. People just don't talk that way about themselves. Beyond any doubt, threats and duress were used to induce the signing of the untruthful statements in evidence.
Hans Eisenhoefer, one of the accused in Mauthausen case
In his closing argument, defense attorney Ernst Oeding, argued the following:
It is worth noting that the military rank of these sixty-one people is very low. To say that men of this rank established the policy for hundreds of thousands of people is beyond the realm of reasonable thinking.
All of the concentration camps were controlled by a central office in Oranienburg, which had to approve of all punishments and executions. A pharmacist or a doctor in a camp did not have the authority to kill prisoners in a gas chamber, nor by any other means. In the Buchenwald case, which was the next trial to be held at Dachau, one of the witnesses was SS officer Konrad Morgan who had conducted investigations into the unauthorized killing of prisoners. The Commandant of Buchenwald, Karl Otto Koch, was tried, convicted and executed by a special Nazi court for the unauthorized murder of two Buchenwald prisoners.
One might ask why Konrad Morgen never investigated the Mauthausen camp. According to Christian Bernadac, in his book entitled "The 186 Steps," Morgan did pay a visit to Mauthausen, but was prevented from doing an investigation by Commandant Frank Ziereis. In his testimony, as a defense witness at Dachau and at the Nuremberg IMT, Morgen did not list Mauthausen as one of the camps that he had visited.
Gustav Kreindl was executed on May 27, 1947Theophil Priebel was executed on May 27, 1947
The youngest defendant in the Mauthausen concentration camp case, prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1947, was a 22-year-old German prisoner named Willy Frey. He had been a prisoner of the Nazis for four years, first at Sachsenhausen, then Auschwitz and finally Mauthausen. He had only been at Mauthausen for a few days before the camp was liberated.
Willy Frey was charged with participating in a "common design" to violate the Usages of War according to the Geneva Convention of 1929 and the Hague Convention of 1907 by virtue of allegedly having been a Kapo at Mauthausen. In concentration camp lingo, a Kapo was a prisoner in charge of other prisoners. Frey was convicted and sentenced to death; he was hanged at Landsberg am Lech on 28 May, 1947.
The first question that Ernst Oeding, his American defense lawyer, asked Frey when he took the witness stand was "How old are you?" The next question was "Why were you in prison?" Frey answered that he had been declared an enemy of the state at the age of seventeen.
When asked what he had done to be arrested, Frey said the following, as quoted in the book entitled "Justice at Dachau," by Joshua M. Greene:
I had friends in the Socialist Democratic movement. A month before I was to be drafted into the SS, I tried to get away because my friends said that National Socialism was planning for war and that would throw Germany into the abyss. I cut open the vein in my left hand.
Frey was asked if he remembered the testimony of Hans Marsalek, an Austrian of Czech descent, who was one of the most prominent prisoners at Mauthausen.
To this question, Frey answered: "Marsalek said that I was room eldest in block twenty-four and that I quieted people down in the evening by beating them."
Oeding then asked: "What do you have to say about that?"
Frey answered: "It's true that I was in block twenty-four, but he wants to make me responsible for the things he did."
Hans Schmeling, a Kapo at Mauthausen, was a prosecution witness who testified that Frey had beaten prisoners to death in the "tent camp" in April 1945. Frey's defense was that he was not at Mauthausen in April 1945 and he didn't know where the tent camp was located. The tent camp was set up outside the walls of the main Mauthausen camp in 1944 for the Hungarian Jews who had been transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Frey denied on the witness stand that he was a Kapo at Mauthausen, claiming that he was just a "regular prisoner," and that the Kapos were "older people who had been in that camp longer." Frey admitted that he beat prisoners that tried to steal his bread; he testified that the prisoners fought among themselves and "stole food, clothing and shoes, anything they could get hold of."
When asked about the testimony of the witness Lefkowitz, Fry answered as follows:
I remember. He said I made a head count in the forest camp and put people in groups of five, and a young girl wasn't standing properly so I beat her until the blood was running down her head and she fell down.
Oeding asked: "What do you have to say to that?"
Frey answered as follows:
Prisoners had nothing to do with the head count. That was a matter for the block leaders. And I'll tell you now that if I didn't have this number hanging around my neck, these witnesses wouldn't identify me because they have never seen me before. They were told my number before they came into court. They didn't look at my face. They only looked at my number. It's a funny thing, too, that when we first got our charge sheets, not a single one of the prosecution witnesses knew me. No one ever stopped me or called me over. But after Lieutenant Guth put us together in the bunker, all of a sudden everyone calls me "The Kapo."
The photo below shows some of the accused at Mauthausen wearing large numbers hung around their necks. Willie Frey appears to be in the background of this photo, directly behind the man wearing the number 16. Many other photos taken at the trial show the men not wearing identification numbers.
The accused in the Mauthausen case wearing identification numbers
The testimony of Willy Frey continues, as quoted by Joshua M. Greene in his book:
"Willy, I hand you prosecution's exhibit 133. Why did you put these things down if they were not true?"
"I was afraid that if I said no, I would be beaten again."
"Had you been beaten before?"
"Yes, in Mossburg. Severely. An American officer put a pistol on my chest and said he would shoot me."
Lt. Col. Denson interrupted at this point to "object to any further testimony along this line unless it has some connection to this case." The objection was sustained.
Lt. Col. Denson then began his cross examination of Frey, as quoted in Joshua M. Greene's book:
"What is the name of the officer who interrogated you here in Dachau?"
"Lieutenant Conn," replied Frey, pointing to an officer seated in the courtroom.
"You received no mistreatment here at the hands of Lieutenant Conn, did you?"
"No, but the court really cannot have any impression of what spiritual condition I was in at that time."
"We are not asking you at this time about your 'spiritual condition,' Willy. At the time you signed the statement, you knew the difference between true and not true, did you not?"
"I didn't know anything."
When asked "Did you ever engage in any kind of business before joining the SS?" Willy answered as follows:
No. I was a laborer. My parents were dead, and the mayor of our town forced me to join the SS because he said the community had no money to support me.
Then Frey turned to A.H. Rosenfeld, the Law Member of the court and asked if he could say something else. When given permission to speak freely, he said the following:
I was imprisoned by the Nazis and the SS when I was seventeen for sabotage to the state. I don't understand how I can be accused of being one of them in any common design. I wouldn't kill any prisoners. Witness Schmeling was a worse beater. He was the worst Kapo in the camp. And he wants to make prisoners who were in the camp only a few days responsible for the evil things he did. As soon as the Americans came in, Schmeling hid at once so the prisoners wouldn't catch him because they would have killed him, too.
And the witness Marsalek? I hold him responsible for German prisoners who were killed after the liberation. He went through the barracks with the first camp clerk and picked out prisoners and kapos and block eldests who behaved badly toward the prisoners-and he had them killed either through shooting or beating to death. But he knew I wasn't bad and he told the Russians who wanted to pick me up, 'Leave Frey alone. He came from Auschwitz. He hasn't got anything to do with Mauthausen.' Those two Jews, Ziegelmann and Lefkowitz? I never saw them in my life, and they were probably in the same position as I was. And they probably had very little school too, because they couldn't even spell their names when the defense counsel asked them to. It's a funny thing when bums like that can say, 'Yes, this guy beat this other guy to death,' and they don't even know me. I will say again, if the court would have left out the numbers, I wouldn't have been recognized and I wouldn't have been identified. To make me out as if I was worse than the Gauleiter - it's not true. I never beat a prisoner, and I never beat a prisoner to death. I ran away from a dead body when I saw one. That is all."
The Gauleiter referred to in Frey's testimony was August Eigruber.
Hans Karl von Posern was an attorney who had been a prisoner in Mauthausen from July 1941 until the liberation of the camp. During the trial of the Dachau staff members, he worked as a defense lawyer by request of the accused. In the Mauthausen case, he was a member of the prosecution team and also a witness for the prosecution.
Von Posern testified that Werner Grahn, shown in the photo above, was with the SD (Sicherheitdienst) before being transferred to Mauthausen. On direct examination, von Posern testified as follows, regarding Grahn:
Grahn arrived in the morning, disappeared into the bunker (camp prison) and left again in the evening. He made some comment about setting up a translation office there. What made us distrust him was that his work was always accompanied by the screaming of women. A friend of mine who worked in the crematorium showed me bodies of women whose breasts and thighs had been whipped and their eyebrows beaten open. "These are translations," he (the friend) said. We estimated the number of Grahn's victims at approximately seven hundred."
__Willi Eckert in the courtroom at Dachau
With regard to Willi Eckert, shown in the photo above, von Posern testified as follows, _a_s quoted in Joshua M. Greene's book "Justice at Dachau":
Willi Eckert was Hauptschafüher - an SS master sargeant - and work detail leader of the laundry in Mauthausen.
When asked if he had ever seen Eckert kill a man, von Posern testified as follows:
A Russian Prisoner of War, an invalid, who had arrived on a sick transport. Both his legs were missing up to here, and he moved around on two boards strapped down there. One arm was missing from about here, the other arm was entirely missing. Actually, there was only the torso of this man. Eckert kicked him with his feet and rolled him along in front of himself like a football, then he picked up the handle of a shovel and beat him to death. When he saw that I had been watching, he came past me and said, as if to excuse himself, "Terrible, such things without any members."
__Hans Riegler stands in the courtroom at Dachau
A prosecution witness named Wilhelm Ornstein, who was a prisoner at Mauthausen from 10 August 1944 until the camp was liberated, testified that Hans Riegler, shown in the photo above, was one of several prisoners who took part in executions at Mauthausen. According to Ornstein's testimony, a man named Nelson Bernard Paris was executed on 26 January 1945 in a group of fourteen men that included American officers. Altfuldisch, Niedermayer, Riegler and Eigruber took part in the executions, according to Ornstein's testimony.
There was some excitement in the courtroom on April 12, 1946 when a prosecution witness named Efraim Sternberg took the stand. When asked to identify Paul Gützlaff in the dock, Sternberg ran over to the accused man and began beating him. After Sternberg had been subdued, Defense Attorney Ernst Oeding asked Sternberg, an Orthodox Jew, if he understood that he had taken an oath to tell the truth. When Sternberg replied that he was telling the truth, Oeding asked him: "What would you say if you were told that Guestlaff was not in Mauthausen during 1944 and 1945?" To which Sternberg replied, "He was in Mauthausen."
Paul Gützberg was one of only three of the 61 accused who did not receive the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Efraim Sternberg was also a prosecution witness against Kurt Keilwitz. Regarding Keilwitz, Sternberg testified as follows, as quoted in "Justice at Dachau":
The older people, Spaniards and others who had been there for some time, told us that Keilwitz was a very cruel man. He received a group of our people who came in a transport. There were several thousand. When they had to undress, he practiced boxing on them, hitting them in the stomach. Those who fell down, he immediately kicked with his feet or else hit with an oxtail whip until they were dead.
Kurt Keilwitz was executed on May 27, 1947.
On May 11, 1946, the court recessed at 2:30 p.m. and 90 minutes later, the tribunal returned with a verdict. It came as no surprise that all 61 of the accused were found guilty of participating in a common plan to violate the Laws and Usages of war under the 1929 Geneva Convention and to subject foreign nationals to killing, beating, torture, gassing and starvation.
A Special Finding, made by the president of the court, Maj. Gen. Fay B. Prickett, declared that there was enough evidence of death by shootings, gassings, hangings and starvation to find every member of the Mauthausen camp personnel guilty of war crimes, including Kapos, who were prisoners that had authority over other prisoners. This Special Finding in the main Mauthausen proceeding was later used to establish guilt in subsequent proceedings against the staff and Kapos at Mauthausen. In later trials, the guilt of the accused had already been established by the Special Finding, so it didn't matter what defense was offered by the accused.
The war crimes proceedings at Dachau ended in 1948 when America became allies with Germany. Many guards and other staff members were not prosecuted in the subsidiary trials, following the main trial, because of this.
Of the 61 men who were convicted, 58 were sentenced to death by hanging on May 13, 1946 and the other three were sentenced to life in prison. Nine of the death sentences were later reduced to life in prison.
On May 27 and 28, 1947, the men whose death sentences had been upheld were hanged in the yard of the Landsberg am Lech prison near Munich. Landsberg is the prison where Adolf Hitler was incarcerated after his failed "Putsch" when the Nazis attempted to take over the German government in 1923. The gallows faced his former prison cell. All those whose sentences had been commuted to life were released from Landsberg prison by 1958.
Mauthausen concentration camp, a Class III camp in Austria for "Return Unwanted" prisoners, was liberated on May 5, 1945; it was the last of the Nazi camps to be liberated by American troops, just three days before World War II ended on May 8, 1945. The American soldiers were greeted by 37-year-old Lt. Jack H. Taylor, a Commando in the United States Navy, who had been captured after leading a sabotage mission behind enemy lines. Lt. Taylor had been a prisoner at Mauthausen for only 35 days; he had arrived in the camp on April 1, 1945, after being transferred from a Gestapo prison in Vienna because Soviet troops were 50 kilometers from the city and advancing rapidly.
Lt. Jack Taylor, US Navy commando, after his liberation
The photograph above shows Lt. Jack Taylor, taken shortly after his liberation from Mauthausen. On his jacket, Lt. Taylor was required to wear a red triangle, pointing downward, which meant that he was classified as a non-German political prisoner. Because he was fighting with a group of partisans, Lt. Jack Taylor was an illegal combatant under the Geneva Convention of 1929, and was not entitled to the rights of a Prisoner of War. Lt. Taylor was imprisoned at the main camp at Mauthausen, but the mountains in the background indicate that this photo was taken at one of the sub-camps of Mauthausen.
Only hours after the liberation of the Mauthausen camp, Lt. Col. George C. Stevens, the famed Hollywood director, arrived to shoot some footage of Lt. Taylor for his film entitled "Nazi Concentration Camps," which was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on November 29, 1945. Lt. Taylor was a former dentist from Hollywood, California and he started off by saying that this was the first time he had ever been in a movie.
According to Lt. Taylor's debriefing statement, there were two other American men at Mauthausen and two British citizens, one a pilot and one a spy in the SOE, when the camp was liberated, but none of them testified at Nuremberg or Dachau. Lt. Taylor was the only American ever to testify for the prosecution in the Dachau trials and his testimony was considered to be more credible than that of the other former prisoners who might have been seeking revenge, more than justice.
After he was liberated from Mauthausen, Jack Taylor was promoted to Lt. Commander and he stayed in Europe to testify in the war crimes trials.
The photo below shows Lt. Cmdr. Jack H. Taylor on the witness stand at Dachau, looking much the same as he did in the photo taken after he was liberated from Mauthausen.
Lt. Cmdr. Jack Taylor on the witness stand during the Mauthausen case
Lt. Cmdr. Taylor was a key witness at the Trial of the 61 accused men from the Mauthausen concentration camp. The prosecution had only to prove that there was a "common design" to commit war crimes at Mauthausen and that each of the accused had participated in that plan because he was associated with the camp in some capacity. Taylor's testimony proved that there was a "common design" and all 61 of the accused were convicted.
"In October '44, I was the first Allied officer to drop onto Austria. I was captured December 1st, by the Gestapo, severely beaten, ah, even though I was in uniform, severely beaten, and, and, considered as a non-prisoner of war. I was taken to Vienna prison where I was held for four months. When the Russians neared Vienna, I was taken to this Mauthausen concentration lager [camp], an extermination camp, the worst in Germany, where we have been starving and, and beaten and killed, ah, fortunately, my turn hadn't come. Ah, two American officers at least have been executed here. Here is the insignia of one, a U.S. naval officer, and here is his dog tag. Here is the army officer, executed by gas in this lager [camp]. Ah...there were...
[Question: "How many ways did they execute them?"]
Five or six ways: by gas, by shooting, by beating, that is beating with clubs, ah, by exposure, that is standing out in the snow, naked, for 48 hours and having cold water put on them, thrown on them in the middle of winter, starvation, dogs, and pushing over a hundred-foot cliff."
After only 35 days in the notorious Mauthausen camp, Jack Taylor knew all about the crimes committed there: torture, hangings, shootings, beatings, and the execution of an unnamed American army officer in the gas chamber.
A Special Finding, made by the president of the court, Maj. Gen. Fay B. Prickett, declared that there was enough evidence of death by shootings, gassings, hangings and starvation to find every member of the Mauthausen camp personnel guilty of war crimes, including Kapos, who were prisoners that had authority over other prisoners. This Special Finding in the main Mauthausen proceeding was later used to establish guilt in subsequent proceedings against the staff and Kapos at Mauthausen. The "evidence" presented at the Mauthausen trial was mainly hearsay testimony by witnesses such as Jack Taylor.
The photograph below shows the "hundred-foot cliff" where SS soldiers at Mauthausen allegedly forced Dutch Jews to leap from a ledge into the quarry. The narrow ledge is in the center of the photo, a short distance from the top of the quarry. Notice the pool of water below the cliff.
__The "parachute jump" where Dutch prisoners were forced to jump
Lt. Cmdr. Taylor was the first witness for the prosecution in the Mauthausen case, which was brought before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau. By now, he was an experienced prosecution witness and he elaborated on his Nuremberg testimony.
When asked by prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson, on direct examination, how many different forms of killing that he had come in contact with in Mauthausen, Taylor testified as follows:
Gassing, hanging, shooting, beating. There was one particular group of Dutch Jews who were beaten until they jumped over the cliff into the stone quarry. Some that were not killed on the first fall were taken back up and thrown over to be sure. Then there was exposure. Any new transport coming in was forced to stand out in the open, regardless of the time of the year, practically naked. Other forms of killing included clubbing to death with axes or hammers and so forth, tearing to pieces by dogs specially trained for the purpose, injections into the heart and veins with magnesium chloride or benzene, whippings with a cow-tail to tear the flesh away, mashing in a concrete mixer, forcing them to drink a great quantity of water and jumping on the stomach while the prisoner was lying on his back, freezing half-naked in subzero temperatures, buried alive, red-hot poker down the throat. I remember a very prominent Czech general who was held down in the shower room and had a hose forced down his throat. He drowned that way.
Of course, Jack Taylor had never seen anyone carried back up to the top of a cliff and thrown off a second time, nor had he ever seen anyone mashed in a concrete mixer, nor buried alive, nor killed with a red-hot poker shoved down his throat. These were stories that he had heard from the other prisoners. This kind of hearsay testimony was common in all the Dachau proceedings. The purpose of reiterating these stories in sworn testimony on the witness stand was to get these atrocities entered into the record, so that these alleged crimes would go down in history for future generations to read as the gospel truth.
Lt. Cmdr. Taylor may have been confused about the nationality of the general. There were similar stories about a Russian general, Lt. Gen. Dmitry Mikhailovich Karbyshev, who was either drowned in the shower or forced to stand outside in freezing weather while water was poured over him on some unknown date in February 1945. A statue of Karbyshev encased in a block of ice stands near the gate into the Mauthausen camp. Taylor could not have "remembered" this incident because it had allegedly happened almost two months before he arrived at the camp.
The stories about dying from exposure were based on the fact that the prisoners had to take a shower and then stand naked outside while their clothes and barracks were disinfected in an effort to prevent typhus which is spread by body lice.
Under cross examination, the defense attorney established that Lt. Cmdr. Taylor had only seen "maybe five or six" of the 61 accused men while he was at Mauthausen, and that Taylor could not say for certain whether any of the accused had committed any of these alleged atrocities while he was at Mauthausen. That didn't matter since, under the common design charge, anyone who was a member of the camp staff where any crime was committed was guilty of that crime, even if he was not on the staff at the time of the crime. Hearsay evidence was allowed by the tribunal, so it didn't matter if Taylor had personally seen any of these alleged atrocities committed. It was enough that he had heard these stories from other inmates, who were not present in the courtroom and thus could not be cross-examined.
Lt. Comdr. Taylor testified during the trial that he had been scheduled to die in the Mauthausen gas chamber on May 6, 1945, but he was miraculously saved when American troops arrived the day before his planned execution.
In his debriefing statement, Jack Taylor told Dr. Stransky Milos, the Czech prisoner who wrote the statement, the following:
After the Americans had liberated us, I discovered that I should have been executed on 28 April 1945, along with 27 other prisoners from Block 13. A friendly Czech, Mylos [Milos], who worked in the political department had, unknown to me, removed my paper and destroyed it so that I was not included with the 27.
According to an addendum to the debriefing statement, written by Dr. Stransky Milos, an order was given to execute 27 prisoners who had been sent to Mauthausen on January 4, 1945. Lt. Jack Taylor, who had arrived on April 1, 1945, was included in this order.
Dr. Milos wrote the following in his addendum to the debriefing statement:
Execution ordered by Kommandeur der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdiestes in Wien based on martial law for 27 police-prisoners, many of the transport from 1.4.1945 took place on 28.4.1945 at Mauthausen afternoon. The execution of the Captain Taylor has not been carried out, because 3 days before I burnt his documents.
Keep in mind that the Germans were building Messerschmitt ME262 jet airplanes at Mauthausen and V-2 rockets at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, but they were allegedly too stupid to notice that the only copy of an execution order had been burned by an inmate.
In his direct testimony, Taylor was asked by prosecutor Lt. Col. William Denson to describe the gas chamber. As quoted by Joshua M. Greene in "Justice at Dachau," Taylor testified as follows:
Yes, sir. It was rigged up like a shower room with shower nozzles in the ceiling. New prisoners thought they were going in to have their bath. They were stripped and put in this room naked. Then gas came out of the shower nozzles.
The photo below, taken in May 2003, shows one of the shower nozzles, and water pipes coming through the wall into the Mauthausen gas chamber. The gas chamber was cleverly disguised as a real shower room with real water pipes, real shower heads and real floor drains. However, Jack Taylor was wrong about the gas coming through the shower heads. The gas was in the form of pellets, about the size of peas, which were usually heated so that the poisonous gas fumes would be released faster.
Shower head and water pipes in Mauthausen gas chamber
According to the testimony of another Mauthausen prisoner, the poison gas flowed through a tube placed low on the wall of the shower room. In his book entitled "The 186 Steps," Christian Bernadac quoted the testimony of Werner Reinsdorf, a prisoner who came to Mauthausen in 1941 and was assigned Prison Number 535 which had previously been assigned to another man who died. Reinsdorf "took part in the construction of the gas chamber," according to Bernadac.
The following quote from Bernadac's book is the words of Werner Reinsdorf:
There was a tube that led into the gas chamber, eighty centimeters above the floor, with its opening turned toward the wall so as to escape notice. The gas flowed through this tube...I, myself, saw Jews being led to the gas chamber....
According to stories told by former inmates at Mauthausen, there was a small metal box, near the floor on the other side of one of the shower room walls. An open can of Zyklon-B gas pellets was put into this box, along with a hot brick which heated the pellets to the proper temperature so that prussic acid could be released. An enameled tube, through which the gas flowed, led from the box into the shower room. Unknown to Lt. Taylor, who expected to be gassed on May 6, 1945, Commandant Franz Ziereis had allegedly removed the box and the tube just before he escaped from the camp on the night of May 2, 1945. The tile in the shower room was replaced, and the wall, where the box had been located, was so skillfully repaired that no evidence of how the gas entered the room can be seen today.
The photograph below shows a glass case in the Museum at Mauthausen in which an open can of Zyklon-B pellets is displayed. The Museum displays are in the basement of the former hospital building where the gas chamber is located. This type of poison gas was also used in all the concentration camps to disinfect the clothing by killing the body lice which spreads typhus.
Zyklon-B pellets on display at the Mauthausen museum
After Lt. Jack Taylor arrived at the Mauthausen camp on April 1, 1945, he was put to work "setting tile in the new crematorium," according to his trial testimony. He testified that the camp administrators "were very anxious to have it completed because all the bodies from hanging and beating had to be cremated to destroy the evidence." Taylor testified that "We knew that the only thing that kept the number of violent deaths down was the fact that the crematorium couldn't take care of any more. And we knew that as soon as we finished, the rate would accelerate tremendously because it was a more efficient oven." He stated that "the regular procedure for the gas chamber was twice a day, one hundred and twenty at a time. I would say that the new crematorium increased the facilities to two hundred and fifty a day."
According to Taylor's testimony, the new crematorium was first used on Sunday, April 10, 1945. The photograph below, taken in May 2003, shows the new crematorium, which is in the same building as the gas chamber. The flooring in front of the ovens is glazed brick, the same as that used for the floor of the gas chambers at both Mauthausen and Dachau. There is also what looks like floor tile, next to the bricks.
New Crematorium at Mauthausen concentration camp
In his direct testimony for the prosecution, Taylor described the burning of corpses on the first day that the new crematorium was put to use:
Three hundred and sixty-seven prisoners, including forty women, arrived from Czechoslovakia. They had been marched overland, straight through the gate to the crematorium. This particular group had so much more fat - so much more fat, than ordinary prisoners that the flames from the crematorium were going straight out the top of the smokestack. Ordinarily it was a pale brown smoke, heavy with the smell of burnt hair, and it wafted over the camp. It seemed to go up, then settle down. As hungry as we were, we had a hard time eating sometimes.
Taylor had previously described the colors of the smoke from the crematorium in his debriefing, as follows:
Black oily smoke and flames shot out the top of the stacks as healthy flesh and fat was burned as compared to the normal pale yellow smoke from old emaciated prisoners. This yellow smoke and heavy sickening smell of flesh and hair was blown over our barrack 24 hours a day and as hungry as we were, we could not always eat.
Jack Taylor was not the only person to notice that the color of the smoke from the crematoria in the Nazi camps varied according to characteristics of the bodies being burned. Some Jewish survivors of Auschwitz were able to discern the ethnicity of the prisoners from the color of the smoke.
There was a typhus epidemic at Mauthausen and 300 prisoners were dying each day, but according to Taylor's testimony, 367 prisoners were marched from Czechoslovakia to Mauthausen during the epidemic, and instead of being taken to the Quarantine camp which was directly across the street from the crematorium, they were immediately taken into the crematorium to be killed and then burned in the new oven.
The photo below shows the smoke stack for the underground crematorium at Mauthausen. The street in the foreground is the main camp road. On the left in the photo is the gate into the Quarantine camp where incoming prisoners were held for two weeks in order to prevent the spread of disease. The stairs down to the crematorium are next to the green building, and directly across from the Quarantine camp.
Smoke stack for underground cremation ovens at Mauthausen
In a debriefing session on May 30, 1945, that was written and witnessed by Dr. Stransky Milos, a Czech prisoner, Lt. Jack Taylor told the story of the Dupont mission in which he had participated. He also described the daily bombing of civilian targets in Vienna by American planes in the last days of the war, during which he was taken to an air raid shelter. The Gestapo had told him that, despite the fact that he was not wearing civilian clothes when he was captured, he was nevertheless charged with being a spy because he was leading a group of Austrian partisan traitors. The trial to decide his fate was soon due to take place in Berlin.
Lt. Taylor tried to save the lives of the three Austrian partisans on his mission by proposing that he would request the American Air Force not to continue bombing civilian targets, residential areas, and cultural sites such as the Opera house in Vienna in exchange for the lives of the Austrians, but the Gestapo flatly refused.
The following is a description of the Allied prisoners at Mauthausen, on May 5, 1945, from the debriefing statement of Lt. Jack Taylor:
Sgt. Louis Biagioni, ASN 12185480, OSS SI agent captured in northern Italy in summer 1944 and held for some months by Gestapo in Italy, then transferred to Mauthausen. On December 26th, he was taken to Linz, tried, condemned to death and returned to Mauthausen. He split wood in the garage while awaiting his execution.
Lionel Romney, Negro fireman, U.S. Merchant Marine, "S.S. Makis" sunk off Pantelleria 17 June 1940, captured by Italians and interned eventually in Mauthausen. He did lumberjack work in the forest for which he received extra food.
There were two British officers:
Captain John Starr, SOE, captured in France 1943 and through a series of remarkable circumstances eventually arrived at Mauthausen.
1st Lt. Toni Speare, RAF fighter pilot, downed in France, spring 1944, and captured in civilian clothes while trying to escape through the French underground. He was suffering from boils and temporary loss of sight and voice. Neither was forced to work. Both were fine types.
The following quote is from Lt. Cmdr. Jack H. Taylor's Citation for the Navy Cross:
For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States; as chief of the Maritime Unit, Office of Strategic Services Detachment, United States Armed Forces, in the Middle East, from September 1943 to March 1944, Lieutenant Jack Taylor, USNR, personally commanded fourteen separate sorties to the Greek and Balkan enemy-occupied coasts. This activity was carried out despite intense enemy efforts to prevent any kind of coastal traffic whatsoever. Lieutenant Taylor, through clandestine operations, deserving of the highest commendation and careful planning and skillful navigation effected numerous evacuations of intelligence agents, doctors, nurses, and downed airmen. Tons of arms, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies were delivered to Marshal Tito and other resistance forces through the efforts of Lieutenant Taylor. For three months, at all times surrounded by enemy forces, and on three occasions forced to flee from enemy searching parties, Lieutenant Taylor and his intelligence team operated in Central Albania and transmitted by clandestine radio important information regarding enemy troop movements, supply dumps, coastal fortifications, anti-aircraft installations and other military intelligence of great value to the Allied forces. Parachuting into enemy territory on the night of 13 October 1944, with a team of three Austrian deserter-volunteers, he had personally trained and briefed, he began a secret intelligence mission to Austria. Handicapped from the very start by failure of their plane to drop radio equipment, living in constant danger of capture, and the physical and mental strain on his men, the courage and energy of Lieutenant Taylor prevailed and throughout the remainder of October and November, the mission collected target intelligence of the highest value to the Allies. On 30 November, the eve of their departure for Italy, the party was captured by the Gestapo. Through four months of imprisonment in Vienna and one month in Mauthausen prison camp, he was subjected to the customary interrogation methods of the Gestapo. During his capture, Lieutenant Taylor injured his left arm seriously. With this handicap and also being forced to exist on starvation rations and work at hard labor, he resisted all attempts to force him to divulge security .... the brilliant results of his operations have been an essential aid to the victory of Allied Arms.
Poznan or Posen as it was known during the occupation is located in Western Poland and during the German occupation between 1939 and 1945, was incorporated into the Reich and became capital of the Wartheland.
Jewish refugees may have settled in Poznan after such upheavals as the Rhineland massacres of the First Crusade, the peasant riots of 1248 and the Black Death persecutions of 1348-49.
A Jewish was in existence in the second half of the 14th Century, with Jews engaging in money-lending and money-changing, mostly on a small scale under charters guaranteeing religious freedom and internal autonomy.
In 1399 Jews were murdered and their account books destroyed in one of the recurring anti-Jewish incidents that plagued the community over the centuries. Epidemics and fires also disturbed the community during its early existence.
During the 15th and 16th centuries Jews increasingly migrated to trade and crafts, although there were residence and trade restrictions at this time, by the mid-16th century Jews comprised half the cities population.
There was a general atmosphere of prosperity and the community was one of the most important in Greater Poland, with a much coveted rabbinical seat and a renowned yeshiva. Among the yeshiva heads were R.Shemuel Edels(Maharsha), David ha-Levi(the Taz), author of the well-known Turei Zahav on the Shulhan Arukh, and R. Moshe Lipschitz.
A period of crisis commenced in the mid- 17th century, only 300 of the city’s Jewish families survived the Swedish invasion of 1656 and in the Northern War of the early 18th century the Jews again suffered grievously.
Many Jews left the city during a plague in 1709 and eight years later the Jewish quarter of the city was destroyed by invaders from the so-called Tarnograd Confederation and a year later a great fire destroyed more Jewish homes along with the synagogue.
In 1736 Jews were arrested in a blood libel and held in prison for four years. Throughout the century the process of economic decline continued unabated. With the establishment of Prussian rule in 179, interrupted between 1807-15 when Poznan was included in the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and Jewish rights were suspended, Jews gradually achieved a measure of equality and with increasing education underwent a process of cultural and political Germanisation.
Active among the maskilim was the Hebrew writer and educator David Caro who opened the first modern Jewish school there in 1816. The Jewish population grew to a peak of 7,255 in 1871, but thereafter emigration substantially depleted the community, particularly among the educated class, whilst Jewish tradesmen continued to face strong competition from the city’s Germans and Poles.
In the late 19th century, the community was split in two between the followers of _Haskala _and religious conservative elements. A Hovevei Zion group was formed in 1895.
The community operated a hospital which was founded in 1887, public health services, an old –peoples home, orphanage and summer camps, most children studied in public schools.. The First World War accelerated the decline in the population as many settled in the interior of Germany, leaving 2,088 Jews in 1921.
Prominent among the Zionist youth movements was Hashomer Hatzair which sent many of its pioneers to Palestine in the 1930’s when the Jews were subjected to violent outbursts of anti-Semitism along with economic boycotts.
The Germans invaded Poland on the 31 August / 1 September 1939 and using blitzkrieg tactics quickly defeated the Polish forces, before the arrival of German troops in early September 1939, many Jews fled Poznan, seeking refuge with relatives in other parts of Poland.
The Germans marched into the city on the 10 September 1939 and five days later they confiscated thousands of books that were held in the Jewish library. They forbade Jewish schools to open on the 16 September and they closed Jewish shops on the 20 September 1939.
The Jewish shops were taken over by the NSV (National Socialist Social Welfare) organisation. On the 20 October 1939 the first Jewish victims Benno Rindfleisch and Julius Tychauer were shot at Fort VII. Several more Jews were shot in the same month, in Poznan and in nearby Buk and Kornik.
A resettlement camp for Poles was opened on Baltycka Street in the central district on the 5 November 1939. A week later SS- Obergruppenfuhrer Wilhem Koppe, the Higher SS and Police Leader Posen – Wartheland, issued instructions for the resettlement of all Jews and 35,000 Poles.
From the 29 November 1939 the Jews of Posen were ordered to wear the Star of David on their chests and a yellow armband on their sleeves. On the 11 December 1939 the Gestapo ordered the Jewish community to organise the assembly of all Posen’s Jews on Baltycka Street at eight o’clock the following morning.
They were placed in a barrack and had their baggage confiscated, the following day approximately 1,500 Jewish people were resettled in the_GeneralGouvernement._ The majority were deported to Ostrow Lubelski in the Lublin district, whilst others went to the larger cities of Warsaw and Lodz. Those who went to Ostrow Lubelski probably perished at the Belzec and Sobibor death camps.
Seven days after the deportation, the German Trust Office finished the work of confiscating Jewish shops and businesses and on the following morning on the 20 December 1939 Dr Friemart drove to Dziekanka near Gniezno, where he supervised the killing of the Jewish and Polish patients at the mental hospital.
Work began on the conversion of the Stawna Street synagogue into a swimming pool, on the 15 April 1940 the Germans ceremonially removed the last Star of David from the building. The Jewish district had ceased to exist.
It was in Posen, in the town hall, that Heinrich Himmler the Reichsfuhrer-SS made his infamous speech to the higher echelons of the SS on the 4 October 1943, where he talked publically about the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe and the transfer of their property.
One of the higher SS leaders not present was Odilo Globocnik as the intercepted German police decode message revealed.
After the war a Jewish community numbering 200 existed in 1946, but today there are very few Jews left in Poznan.
Labour Camps in Poznan Area
The majority of the Jewish population of Posen and its surrounding areas had been deported by the end of February 1940, but in March 1940 the Reich authorities suspended their deportation plans because of the needs of the German war effort.
The first Jewish labour camp in Posen was set up in the buildings attached to the Municipal Stadium on Dolna Wilda Street. It commenced its operation in the spring of 1941. At any given time, there were about a thousand Jews there. They had been arrested, expelled from their homes, or caught during street round-ups.
They were used as forced labourers in public works, construction, gardening and transport projects throughout the city. Most of them had to sleep outdoors in appalling conditions. There was terror, starvation and disease.
There were over twenty camps in the Posen area, Antoninek, Debiec, Franowo , Golecin, Kobylempole, Krzesiny- Piotrowo, Krzyzowniki, Malta, Smochowice, Strzeszyn and Zabikowo.
After the liquidation of the labour camp on Dolna Wilda Street in early 1943 the prisoners were transferred to the labour camp in Krzesiny- Piotrowo, and at the end of 1943 there were still some four to five thousand Jewish prisoners there.
A forced labour camp for Jews was established at Zabikowo, working on construction of the Reichsautobahn connecting Frankfurt am Oder to Posen and Lodz and eventually Warsaw.
On the 10 December 1940 the first transports of Jewish prisoners were sent to the autobahn construction site, in the beginning there were Jews from the Lodz ghetto, but by mid-1941 Jews from Zdunska Wola, Sieradz, Wielun, Pabiance, Gabin, Gostynin and other ghettos of the_Warthegau_ were sent to the site.
By the end of February 1941, 2,400 people came to the construction site from the Lodz ghetto, it is estimated that at least 10,000 people deported from Warthegau ghettos were sent to the twenty-four work camps established along the autobahn.
The Nazis established two labour camps one at Zabikowo located on the Lubon – Poznan border and the other in Kosciuszki Street, wooden barracks served as accommodation for about 300 prisoners deported from the ghettos of Wielun, Zdunska Wola and Sieradz.
A builder’s yard for the autobahn construction site stored stone, gravel and steel girders was established in Koscielna Street. One of the rooms of a neighbouring parish house also served as an auxiliary warehouse.
The prisoners at the two camps were employed for the construction of a narrow-gauge railway track to Komorniki, designed to aid the construction of the autobahn. The others worked on construction of embankments and excavations of the proposed motorway.
Living conditions created by the German administration in the camp included terror, hunger and exhausting work, flogging, and public executions became the norm in the camp, food was of poor quality, so was the clothing, which contributed to the high death rate in Zabikowo.
The Jewish labour was exploited by German private construction companies, acting as sub-contractors, the work of the prisoners provided huge financial benefits.
By mid-1942 the situation on the Eastern Front changed the German’s priorities, and work on the autobahn was ceased. The camps situated along the autobahn under construction were liquidated one after the other.
The prisoners were sent to other forced labour camps in the region, and thus unable to work were sent to the Chelmno death camp, some were retained in Zabikowo to prepare a camp for political prisoners. The Nazis established a Polizeigefangnis der Sicherheitspolizeiund Arbeiserziehungslager (Security Police Prison and Educational Labour Camp) in Zabikowo.
By the spring of 1944 the camp was active in parallel with the camp at Fort VII, for which it was an extension. When Fort Number VII was liquidated in April 1944 the commander Reinhold Hans Walter and the guard force of some 80 – 100 SS members moved to the camp at Zabikowo.
The Security Police camp was established at the area of a former brick-yard, it was surrounded with double row of barbed wire, electrically charged with high voltage and watch towers.
Between the wires some dense wire reels were placed, making escape from the camp very difficult indeed, a high wall separated the camp from the outside.
The camp was divided into women’s and men’s sections and political and criminal prisoners were also separated. The Security Police prison was for temporary incarceration, they were then moved to other camps, waiting for interrogations, sentences and executions.
From Zabikowo 28 transports were sent to Concentration Camps, the first transport was directed to Auschwitz, others went to the camps at Gross Rosen, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck.
The camp was chiefly designed for Polish political prisoners, but it held people from other countries and even deserters from the German Army, a separate group included the so-called “Sunday prisoners” who were sent to Zabikowo on Friday night following some minor infractions and after experiencing the usual torments, they were released on Monday mornings.
Some soldiers of Poznan and Pomerania Divisions of the Polish Home Army and Polish resistance were shot in Zabikowo, the bodies were transported to Posen and burned in the _Collegium Anatomicum_crematory.
Evacuation of the camp commenced at night on the 20 January 1945, with the men going to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp near Berlin and the women going to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck. The Nazis then set fire to the camp, and eliminated all traces of prisoners who had been shot, by burning the corpses.
The last murder at the camp was the group of 33 people from the Makow Podhalanski area who were shot by their guards, at the Zabikowo cemetery.
On the 26 January 1945 Russian troops of the 2nd Byelorussian Front entered Zabikowo, the German occupation had ended.
The Dora-Mittelbau camp was first mentioned on 27 August 1943 as an external unit of the Buchenwald concentration camp. On 28 October 1944 it became a major concentration camp in its own right, with twenty-three branches, most of them in the vicinity, inside a restricted military area.
Following Hitler's August 22 1943 order for SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler to use concentration camp workers for A-4 production, 107 inmates arrived at Nordhausen from Buchenwald on August 28, 1943, followed by 1,223 on September 2. Workers from Peenemünde departed on October 13, 1943.
Originally called Block 17/3 Buchenwald, the SS administration ordered Dora to be politically separated from Buchenwald at the end of September 1944 and to become the center of Konzentrationslager Mittelbau (Concentration Camp Central Construction). In effect, the camp became operational on November 1, 1944 with 32,471 Mittelbau prisoners of many nationalities.
The SS used the Boelcke Kaserne, a former barracks in Nordhausen city, as a dumping ground for hopeless prisoner cases. Thousands of prisoners were transferred to Dora-Mittelbau, mostly from Buchenwald and they were put to work excavating underground tunnels that were to serve as the site of a huge plant for the manufacture of V-2 missiles and other arms.
The original plan of excavation and tunnelling provided for two long tunnels that would parallel through the mountain from north to south and be connected by forty-six smaller tunnels. By 1943 the government research firm WIFO had completed Tunnel B and had partially finished the Tunnel A opening on the northern side of the hill.
The project yielded an excellent site for underground rocket production in the two main tunnels – each 1,800 meters long and 12 and a half meters wide – and twenty-three connecting tunnels. The Germans used the main tunnels for rocket testing. Railroad tracks ran the length of the tunnel, with sufficient space remaining at the side for huge pieces of machinery. The Junkers company used the small northern section to manufacture airplane engines.
Until the plant was put into operation, in the late spring of 1944, the ten thousand prisoners working on the site had no living quarters and were housed inside the tunnels, under unbearable conditions, deprived of daylight and fresh air for weeks at a time. They had to work at a murderous pace, in twelve-hour shifts, in very unsanitary conditions and lack of security precautions led to a mortality rate much higher than that in any other concentration camp in Germany.
Only after production began was a camp of wooden barracks constructed in Dora – Mittelbau, to which the prisoners were transferred in the summer of 1944. That autumn, when maximum production was attained in the camp, Dora-Mittelbau had a permanent prison population in the main camp of over twelve thousand, with another twenty thousand in the satellite camps.
When construction was completed and the plant went into operation, thousands of Jewish prisoners from various countries were brought to Dora-Mittelbau. They were treated with great brutality and were assigned the most physically exacting jobs, their mortality rate was higher than that of any other group of prisoners.
Jewish prisoners who were exhausted and could not keep pace with the work were sent to Auschwitz and Mauthausen, in special transports, to be killed there.
The first group of prisoners sent to Dora-Mittelbau from Buchenwald included several individuals who had been active in the underground organisation in that camp. Together with other groups of prisoners of various nationalities, they formed an underground while Dora-Mittelbau was still under construction, in order to sabotage the work and slow it down.
When production began in 1944, the sabotage operations were intensified, seriously damaging the manufacturing process and upsetting the timetable for the delivery of the weapons desperately needed by the Nazis, as the tide of war turned against them.
Although most of the prisoners were men, a few women were held in the Dora Mittelbau camp and in the Groß Werther subcamp. Only one woman guard is now known to have served in Dora, Lagerführerin Erna Petermann. Regardless of gender, all prisoners were treated with extreme cruelty, which caused illness, injuries and deaths.
Examples of the cruelty routinely inflicted on prisoners include: severe beatings that could permanently disable and/or disfigure the victims, deliberate and life-threatening starvation, physical and mental torture as well as summary execution under the smallest pretext.
Large numbers of prisoners were jailed on charges of sabotage; many were killed during their interrogations or were subsequently executed. More than two hundred prisoners, including several of the underground leaders were hanged in public.
On 1 April 1945 the Nazis began the evacuation of the camp, within several days most of the prisoners had been taken out, with the majority transferred to Bergen-Belsen.
Thousands were murdered en-route, at one point near the village of Gardelegen, several thousand prisoners – mostly Jews – were crowded into a barn that was set on fire, burning them all to death.
Others succumbed to disease after they reached Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on the very eve of liberation. On 25 March 1945 Dora-Mittelbau and its satellites contained 34,500 prisoners.
The camp was liberated on 9 April 1945 by the American forces, who found only a handful of prisoners there. Between 7 August and 31 December 1947, an American Military Tribunal, which was independent of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, tried nineteen former staff members of the Dora- Mittelbau, fifteen were found guilty.
The commandants of Dora – Mittelbau were SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Otto Foerschmer, and _SS-Sturmbannfuhrer _Richard Baer, who was also commandant at Auschwitz. Other notable camp personnel were Karl Fritzsch who also served at Auschwitz and Flossenburg, Karl Hoecker, who was at Majdanek and Auschwitz, Franz Hossler, who served at Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, Dr Karl Kahr, who also served Dachau and Buchenwald, Alois Kurz, who also served at Majdanek and Auschwitz, Max Sell who served at Ravensbruck and Auschwitz, Dr Eduard Wirths, who was in charge of all physicians at Auschwitz.
The protective-custody camp leader, SS-Obersturmfuhrer Hans Karl Moeser, was sentenced to death by hanging. In his trial statement said:
“The same way, with the same pleasure, as you shoot deer, I shoot a human being. When I came to the SS and had to shoot the first three persons, my food didn’t taste good for three days, but today it is a pleasure. It is a joy for me.”
The other defendants received sentences that ranged from five years to life imprisonment.
The village of Flossenbürg dated from the Middle Ages and was located in the Oberpfalz Mountains of Bavaria, 40 miles east of Nuremburg, near the Czech frontier and situated close to a number of rock quarries. The first granite quarry was established there in 1875 and soon became the center of the village economy.
In the late 1930's the owner of the quarry -- also mayor of the village and a loyal Nazi -- persuaded Heinrich Himmler to establish a major camp at the site.
KL Flossenbürg was established in May 1938, and began as a relatively small facility originally intended for criminals, "asocial" persons, and Jews, but it grew to include political prisoners and foreign prisoners of war.
Between 1938, when the camp was established, and April 1945, more than 96,000 prisoners passed through Flossenbürg. About 30,000 eventually died there.
Other notable SS men who served at Flossenburg were:
Hans Aumeier – also served at Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Vaivara
Ludwig Baumgartner – also served at Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz
Josef Becker – also served at Dachau
Herbert Czepiczka – also served at Buchenwald
Dr Oskar Dienstbach – also served at Mauthausen, Auschwitz, Dora
Eduard Drees – also served at Auschwitz
Dr Hermann Fischer – also served at Vught, Bergen-Belsen
Georg Guessregen – also served at Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and Gross Rosen
Dr Martin Helliger – also served at Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck
During the war, prisoner forced labor became increasingly important in German arms production. As a result, the Flossenbürg camp system expanded to include approximately 100 sub camps concentrated mainly around armaments industries in southern Germany and western Czechoslovakia.
In 1941-1942, about 1,500 Polish prisoners, mostly members of the Polish resistance, were deported to Flossenbürg. In July 1941, and more than 1,000 Soviet prisoners of war were executed there by the end of 1941.
With time the camp expanded, so that by war’s end approximately 94,200 prisoners, including 16,000 females, were imprisoned there or in its numerous sub camps. In addition to German prisoners, inmates included Russian, Polish, French,Czech, Italian, Greek, Danish, Norwegian, British, Canadian, and American nationals, as well as Jews of all nationalities, some Allied prisoners of war (POWs), deserters from the German Armed Forces, and common criminals.
Many of the prisoners at Flossenbürg were employed at the Messerschmitt factory that was established within the camp in 1942.
The Freiburg sub-camp
In Freiberg in December 1943, preparations began for a sub camp of KZ Flossenbürg to house an outside detail at the Arado-Flugzeugwerke (Arado Aircraft Factory). The planning and construction of this housing sub-camp is a clear example of the collaboration between the armaments industry, the SS, and the Ministry of Armaments.
The SS approved the application for the allocation of a prisoner work-detail that Arado had submitted within the context of the Jaegerstab's (Fighter Staff's) measures. In its building application, Arado was represented by a building commissioner of the Reich Ministry for Armaments and War Production (RMfRuK) based in Dresden.
When the first transport arrived on August 31, 1944, with 249 primarily Polish Jewish women and girls from Auschwitz -- whom the Flossenbürg commandant assigned prisoner numbers 53,423 through 53,671 -- the barracks were not yet complete and the prisoners had to be lodged in the empty halls of a former porcelain factory.
The second transport arrived on September 22, 1944, with 251 women from Auschwitz, also primarily Polish Jews, who were assigned prisoner numbers 53,672 through 53,922. The third transport was registered on October 12, 1944, delivering 512 Jewish women and girls -- assigned prisoner numbers 53,923 through 54,435 -- to Freiberg.
This transport included 180 Czechs, 127 Slovaks, 91 Germans, 28 Yugoslavs, 22 Dutch, 15 Hungarians, 6 Poles, 1 Italian, 1 Russian, and 1 American, as well as 21 stateless women and 9 whose nationalities have not yet been determined.
96 women were personally selected at Auschwitz by Dr. Josef Mengele for deportation to Freiberg. He decided who went on the transport, who stayed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, and who was to be murdered immediately.
When the female prisoners were transferred to the still unfinished barracks in December 1944, they faced considerably worse living conditions. With bare feet and inadequate clothing, they were forced daily to walk half an hour in deep snow to the factory. Some also had to go to the Hildebrand munitions factory.
The cold and wet concrete barracks, the brutality of the SS female guards, the physically draining work, and malnourishment soon claimed the lives of a number of prisoners.
Hana L., a Czech prisoner, reported:
“They always assembled in groups of five, followed by the high SS marching by in their perfect uniforms. It was Dr. Mengele personally who sorted the people into those capable of work and prisoners destined for gassing. As we were both dressed in a good coat and an anorak, he signaled my cousin Vera and me to the right and my mother to the left, which meant to the gas. …My mother said in good German, 'Please, these are my children.'
Mengele now also signaled my mother to the right. We did not suspect that to the right meant work and life and to the left meant gas and death. …
But the great miracles were still to come. They took all of our things away, shaved our hair, and everyone received a dress and wooden clogs or other shoes. …Until I die I will never forget the feeling of the cold on my shaved head. Without hair -- that is a complete degradation for a woman. We were so many that the SS did not manage to tattoo all of us. …Still in October we were put on a transport toward Germany.
That was like a prize. Thus we reached Freiberg in Saxony.”
Filth - no water - two days without heat - no bath - no underwear. There was twenty-five lashes for stealing potato peelings. They called us the race gang, communists, cadets, soap-bags, criminals and Bolsheviks.
Because things were so bad at the front, they hurried us and always beat us at the factory. To load bazookas we had to use picric acid and trotil. We worked without gas marks, and after a few weeks the lungs and feet would cave in.
The young were chosen for this task. SS men would kill them while they worked, so there was also a shortage of workers.”
Homosexuals at Flossenbürg
The SS considered it great sport to taunt and torture the homosexuals. The camp commander at Flossenbürg often ordered them flogged; as the victims were screaming, he was panting with excitement, and masturbated wildly in his trousers until he came,' unperturbed by the hundreds of onlookers.
A sixty-year-old homosexual priest was beaten over his sexual organs by the SS and suffered severe hemorrhaging, he died the next day. Eyewitnesses tell of homosexuals being tortured to death by tickling, by having their testicles immersed alternately into hot and icy water, by having a broomstick pushed into their anus.
Heinz Heger wrote:
"We homosexuals were assembled into work detachments ... to work in the granite quarry.... The work of quarrying, dynamiting, hewing and dressing was extremely arduous, and only Jews and homosexuals were assigned to it.... Just like the prison camp itself, the granite quarry was completely surrounded by barbed wire, and guarded outside and inside by SS sentries.
_No prisoner was permitted to get closer than five meters to the wire. Anyone who did so was shot by the S.S. guards without warning, since this transgression was already considered as attempted escape. For shooting a prisoner who "attempted escape," an S.S. man received three days' special leave...
One way of tormenting Jews and homosexuals that the S.S. in the quarry were very fond of was to drive crazy prisoners who were already physically at the end of their tether. A man who had not done anything in particular would have a metal bucket placed over his head. Two men held him down, while the S.S. men and Capos banged on the bucket with their sticks._
The terrible noise amplified through the bucket soon brought the victim to such a pitch of terror that he completely lost his mind and his sense of balance was destroyed. Then the bucket was suddenly removed and he was pushed towards the wire fence. He could seldom right himself in time. And if he staggered inside the 5 meter zone, he was fired on in the usual way. "Games" such as these were a favorite pastime for some of the S.S. guards."
On September 1, 1944, Flossenbürg became a training camp for extremely large numbers of female guards Aufseherin who were recruited by force from factories all over Germany and Poland. All together, over 500 women were trained in the camp and in time went on to its subcamps.
Women matrons staffed the Flossenburg sub camps, such as Dresden Ilke Werke, Freiberg, Helmbrechts, Holleischen, Leitmeritz, Mehltheur, Neustadt (near Coburg), Nürnberg-Siemens, Oederan, and Zwodau, and it is known that six SS women staffed the Gundelsdorf subcamp in Czechoslovakia.
Executions of Soviet prisoners of war continued sporadically through 1944. Soviet prisoners of war in Muelsen St. Micheln, a sub-camp of Flossenbürg, staged an uprising and mass escape attempt on May 1, 1944.
They set their bunks on fire and killed some of the camp's Kapos, prisoner trustees who carried out SS orders. SS guards crushed the revolt and none of the prisoners escaped. Almost 200 prisoners died from burns and wounds sustained in the uprising.
The SS transferred about 40 leaders of the revolt to Flossenbürg itself, where they were later murdered in the camp jail.
Among the prisoners sent westward to Flossenbürg in 1944 were inmates of the slave labor camp at Plaszow. Auschwitz also sent many prisoners to Flossenbürg, many of whom died on the deportation trains. One death march lasted 42 days.
On April 9, 1945, shortly before U.S. forces liberated Flossenbürg, the SS executed Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General Hans Oster, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and other persons associated with German resistance groups or implicated in the July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler.
The Gestapo arrested Bonhoeffer and Oster in April 1943, and Canaris in the aftermath of the failed attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944. All three were humiliated before the entire camp and then executed on April 9, 1945, a few weeks before the end of the war.
Beginning at the slave labor camp of Neusalz, on 26 January 1945, 1000 Jewish women were sent out toward Flossenbürg. Most died or were murdered along the way, and only 200 survived the march, arriving 11 March - to be promptly shipped on by train to Bergen Belsen.
On 8 April 1945 the remaining Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald were marched toward the camp. Occasionally, trainloads of newly apprehended prisoners also arrived. As late as 14 December 1944 a train departed northern Italy bearing Jews destined for Flossenbürg.
Towards the end of the war as U.S. forces approached the camp, on April 20, 1945, the SS began the forced evacuation of prisoners, except those unable to walk, from the Flossenbürg camp.
About 22,000 prisoners, including 1,700 Jews, were forced on a death march from the main camp toward Dachau in southern Germany. SS guards shot any prisoner too weak or ill to keep up. At least 7,000 prisoners died or were shot before reaching Dachau.
The trials began in Dachau, Germany, on June 12, 1946, and came to an end on January 22, 1947. Forty-six former staff from Flossenbürg concentration camp were tried by an American Military for crimes of murder, torturing, and starving the inmates in their custody.
All but five of the defendants were found guilty, fifteen of whom were condemned to death, eleven were given life sentences, and fourteen were jailed for terms of one to thirty years.
These crimes also included the executions of Allied Prisoners of War brought from Fresnes prison near Paris, a detailed statement by A. Mottet, a French Resistance member recalls this and his time in Flossenburg.
The Nazis established Gross-Rosen on the 2 August 1940 in Lower Silesia, as a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen, in the vicinity of the granite quarry of Gross-Rosen. On 1 May 1941 Gross-Rosen became an independent concentration camp; it remained in operation until mid-February 1945, the camps commandants were as follows:
SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Arthur Rodl 1941 -1942
SS- Haupsturmfuhrer Wilhelm Gideon 1942
SS – Sturmbannfuhrer Johannes Hassebroek 1943 – 1944
Other notable members of the camp staff were as follows:
Dr.. Karl Babor
Dr.. FrieDr.ich Entress, who served at Mauthausen and Auschwitz
Dr.. Erwin Herzum
Dr.. FrieDr.ich Honig
Dr.. Josef Mengele who also served at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Dr.. Heinrich Rindfleisch
Dr.. Karl Schmidt
Kuno Schramm who also served at Dachau, Majdanek and Neuengamme
Dr.. Heinz Thilo who also served at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1942 -1944
Anton Thumann who also served at Dachau, Majdanek, Auschwitz and Neuengamme
Karl Ulbrich who also served at Buchenwald and Majdanek
Dr. Karl Babor Camp doctor was an expert with the phenol syringe, he took care to always administer slightly more than the lethal dose – “just to make sure.”
After the war he was interned by the Allies, but as one of the “small fry” who had done “nothing serious” he was released. He resumed his studies in Vienna and qualified as a doctor.
Former inmates of Gross-Rosen tracked him down and he fled to Africa. At first, the camp prisoners were put to work in the quarry owned by the SS- Deutsche Erd –und Steinwerke GmbH (SS German Earth and Stone Works) and in the construction of the camp, which was speeded up in the summer of 1943.
This was followed by the building of a large number of sub-camps - the number of prisoners grew steadily from 1,487 in 1941 to 97,414 on the eve of the camp’s liquidation. A total of 125,000 prisoners of different nationalities passed through Gross-Rosen, the number of victims who perished in the camp and during the numerous evacuations is estimated at 40,000.
Jews represented the largest group among the victims in Gross-Rosen and their proportion in the camp population was considerable, particularly in late 1943 and early 1944. Beginning in late 1943, 57,000 Jews were brought there, including 26,000 women.
The assignment of Jews to the camp and their use as manpower for the German war effort resulted from a re-organisation of the SS methods for exploiting Jews and from the evacuation of the Plaszow labour camp and of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
The first Jewish prisoners to arrive in Gross-Rosen were sent there from Dachau, 48 Jews on 18 June 1941 and Sachsenhausen, 32 on 13 August 1941, 21 on 18 September 1941 and 94 on 20 September.
In 1942 small groups of Jews totalling 100 persons arrived from the Tarnow prison, in the Radom district, and from the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. They were housed in Block 4, which was run by German convicts, G. Prill, A. Radtke, and P. Alt. Prill and Radtke were particularly brutal sadists and murderers.
The living and working conditions of the Jewish prisoners were extraordinarily harsh and inhumane. In addition to the backbreaking work in the quarry and the construction of the camp, they were also exploited during what was supposed to be their rest periods.
The Jewish prisoners were not permitted to establish contact with one another, each prisoner being restricted to his own block, they were also denied medical attention. Before long their state of health had deteriorated and they were completely exhausted.
The mortality rate was high, and by the end of 1941, 84 had died, others became living skeletons, and in December 1941, 119 of these were victims of a Euthanasia programme selection.
The high mortality rate continued in 1942, prisoners classified as “disabled” were sent to Dachau, the last 37 Jewish prisoners were transferred to Auschwitz on 16 October of that year, in the course of an operation designed to remove Jews from all camps situated in the Reich. For a period of twelve months, Gross-Rosen was Juden-frei (free of Jews).
In October 1943 the influx of Jewish prisoners into Gross-Rosen was renewed, this time in substantial numbers, the first such group consisted of 600 prisoners transferred from the Markstadt labour camp, to Funfteischen, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen, where they were put to work in Krupp factories.
Another group of 600 Jewish prisoners was put at the disposal of I.G. Farben, to work in the factories at Dyhernfurth, where poison gas was produced. Most of the Jewish prisoners were from Poland and Hungary, but others were from Belgium, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Slovakia and Italy.
The Jewish prisoners of Gross-Rosen were distributed among over fifty sub-camps, designated as_Arbeitslager_, most of them were situated in Lower Silesia and the rest in Sudetenland and Luzyce. Some of these sub-camps were put up when Gross-Rosen took over a number of forced labour camps from the Organisation Schmelt.
Brunnlitz was the famous labour camp, that Schindler took his “Schindler’s Jews” to, after the evacuation of Plaszow forced labour camp, in Krakow. Before they went to Brunnlitz, they first went to Gross-Rosen, the journey took three days. “We arrived in the afternoon, we had to take off our clothes.
It was cold. We remained naked from six in the afternoon until about noon the following day. There was nowhere to sleep,” later recalled Moshe Bejski.
On 25 November 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau the demolition of Crematorium ll was commenced. “It is interesting,” a member of the_Sonderkommando _wrote, that first of all the ventilating motor and pipes were dismantled and sent to camps – some to Mauthausen, others to Gross-Rosen.
In the first phase of the evacuation – the last ten days of January 1945 – the sub-camps on the eastern bank of the Oder were liquidated. The men’s sub-camps located there with their Jewish prisoners were moved to the Gross-Rosen. The women prisoners, for the most part, were transferred to concentration camps deep inside the Reich.
The prisoners were evacuated by foot, in what came to be known as Death Marches, in the harsh cold of winter and without food. Many prisoners perished on those marches, but no accurate estimate can be made of their number. The ultimate fate of some columns of prisoners remains unknown.
The main camp, Gross-Rosen itself, was evacuated in early February 1945 and the sub-camps thereafter. Although the prisoners in the main camp were evacuated by rail, the condition of the cars that were used – they normally carried coal – and the lack of food caused the death of many prisoners after a few days in transit.
The satellite camps were liberated by the Red Army on 8 and 9 May 1945, with large numbers of survivors.
The Nazis established a concentration camp near the town of Natzweiler, 31 miles south of Strasbourg, on a hill in the Vosges Mountains. Natzweiler –Struthof was one of the smallest concentration camps.
It was apparently established after Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, who had been on an inspection tour of recently occupied France and had noticed the presence of granite deposits in the Natzweiler area.
The Deutsche Erd-und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone-Works Ltd) reacted to Speers’ promptings and by autumn 1940 had launched a project to quarry the granite, with the work to be done by prisoners.
Egon Zill also served at Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck, Flossenburg, Hans Huettig also served at Buchenwald, Flossenburg and Herzogenbusch, Freidrich Hartjenstein also served at Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz, Heinrich Schwarz also served at Mauthausen, Auschwitz, Josef Kramer who served at Dachau, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.
Other SS notables who served at Natzweiler- Struthof were:
Dr Max Blancke – also served at Dachau, Buchenwald, Majdanek
Dr Franz von Bodmann – also served at Majdanek and Auschwitz
Arnold Brendler – also served at Majdanek
Hermann Campe – also served at Sachsenhausen and Dachau
Herbert Dillmann – also served at Mauthausen and Gross Rosen
Dr Hans Eisele – also served at Mauthausen, Buchenwald and Dachau
Dr Herbert Graeff – also served at Majdanek
Dr Otto Heidl – also served at Auschwitz
**Franz Johann Hoffmann **– also served at Dachau and Auschwitz
**Dr Richard Krieger **– also served at Mauthausen, Auschwitz, Bergen –Belsen, Sachsenhausen and Dachau
The first batch of prisoners, 300 German nationals arrived on the site on 1 May 1941, although the construction of the camp had not yet been completed, and the prisoners were assigned temporary housing in the former Hotel Struthof.
The number of prisoners increased at a slow pace, compared to other concentration camps, but from 15 August 1942 it became available for routine RSHA prisoner transfers. Hence, by the end of 1943, the prisoners in the main camp numbered some 2,000.
Most were employed in arms production, and at no time were more than 500 prisoners put to work in the quarries, a project that turned out to be costly.
In the summer of 1943 several sheds were erected in the quarry area, serving as workshops in which prisoners were employed overhauling Junkers aircraft engines. In the same area, deep tunnels were made underground to provide space for subterranean factories that would be safe from bomb attacks from Allied air craft.
The Natzweiler camp was expanded in 1944 as part of the efforts made by Nazi leaders in charge of economic affairs to relocate vital armaments plants to underground facilities. New sub-camps were also established on Reich soil, mainly in Baden- Wurtemberg.
One of these camps was in Neckarelz where an existing gypsum mine was converted to an intricate tunnel system into which Daimler-Benz Aircraft moved its engine plant from the Berlin area, in a joint project, undertaken by Daimler-Benz, the Natzweiler camp, and the Ministry of Armaments.
Another sub-camp was located at Leonberg, near Stuttgart, where a disused autobahn tunnel was put at the disposal of the Messerschmidt Aircraft Company. When it went into operation in the spring of 1944, Leonberg started out with 1500 prisoners, their number rising to 3,000 within a year.
Yet another sub-camp was the Schorzingen camp, established in February 1944 for extracting crude oil from oil shale, one of the Nazi’s regime desperate last-minute efforts to recoup the losses of raw materials caused by the ongoing retreat from the east and by bombings by the American and British air -forces.
At the end of 1944, more than 1,000 prisoners were working in Schorzingens and the plan was to bring in another 4,000. The total number of prisoners in the Natzweiler sub-camps in October 1944 was 19,000. In Natzweiler itself the number had risen to between 7,000 and 8,000.
During the course of 1944, members of the French Resistance were among the prisoners brought to Natzweiler, most of them were killed on arrival. In a special category were the so-called Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) prisoners, selected by the SS for road construction and work in the quarries, where conditions were at their worst.
An RSHA order of 24 September 1944 had decreed that “all Germanic “NN prisoners” were to be transferred to Natzweiler. The mortality rate was exceptionally high, owing to the harsh working conditions and the ill-treatment of these prisoners.
In August 1943 a gas chamber was constructed in Natzweiler, in one of the buildings that had formed part of the hotel compound. The contractors for the project, Waffen –SS Natzweiler left behind a rare document in which, contrary to the coded terminology generally employed by the Nazis, specific mention was made of “the construction of a gas chamber at Struthof.”
This appeared in an invoice that the SS sent to the Strasbourg University Institute of Anatomy, charging it 236.08 Reichsmarks for the job. It was for the skeleton collection of the director of that institute, Professor August Hirt, that at least one hundred and thirty prisoners were transferred from Auschwitz to be killed in the Natzweiler gas chamber. Most of these prisoners were Jews.
Another member of the Strasbourg University faculty, Professor Otto Bickenbach, also availed himself of the Natzweiler gas chamber, to conduct experiments on prisoners with antidotes of phosgene, a poisonous gas.
The victims were Gypsies who had been transferred from Auschwitz, the previous year to serve as human guinea pigs for SS doctors experimenting with anti-typhus injections.
In August 1944 the camp was declared a zone of war, the first evacuation left on 31 August 1944, the convoy of 2,000 barefoot prisoners, SS men, soldiers and dogs struggled down the mountain. At the bottom the commandant drove up and ordered the convoy back up the mountain because the train had not yet arrived.
The prisoners dragged themselves back, at 5 A.M. the whistle blew and down the mountain they marched again to be loaded into the waiting cattle cars without water or food. At 10 A.M the train began to move – it reached Dachau concentration camp the next morning, with minimal loses.
The French First Army liberated an empty Natzweiler on 23 November 1944, the SS had removed all the prisoners by September 1944, the sub-camps were liberated in 1945.
Other noted SS that served at Neuengamme were; Hans Griem, , Hans Waldmann, Freidrich Walter, Dr Eduard Wirths, who was in charge of all physicians, dentists at Auschwitz, as well as Dachau and Bergen- Belsen.
The prisoners were housed in a disused brick factory, this factory’s very existence was the reason for the establishment of a concentration camp in Hamburg, which at the time had only temporary, small camps (Wittmoor and Fuhlsbuttel), the SS wanted to reactivate the brick factory and use its products primarily in the huge public structures that were being planned for the city.
In April 1940 the Deutsche- Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (German Earth and Stone Works Ltd), an SS economic enterprise, signed an agreement with the city of Hamburg that provided for a substantial expansion of the brick factory, the digging of a canal to connect the factory with a tributary of the Elbe River, and a siding linking it to the railway network.
The work was to be done by prisoners, barracks were put up and more prisoners were brought in, the total reaching 1,000. As of 4 June 1940, Neuengamme became an independent concentration camp.
Beginning in the fall of 1941, thousands of Soviet Prisoners of War were brought there as well, Soviet nationals eventually became the largest national group in the camp, numbering 34,500, including 5,900 women.
In 1942, private firms such as the well-known Walther weapons factory established branches at Neuengamme. Numerous annexes to the camp were set up at various centres of the armaments industry, especially the Bremen and Hamburg shipbuilding and machine works.
They were also established in Hannover and in the industrial area of Brunswick, which adjoined the Volkswagen Company (the present site at Wolfsburg) and the Hermann Goring Works.
Neuengamme became a centre for scientific medical research, the most important medical research carried out at Neuengamme focused on tuberculosis experiments. They paralleled a tragic accident in the city of Lubeck three years before Hitler seized power.
In the laboratory of the municipal hospital three researchers sifted the BCG vaccine for use with infants in the children’s clinic. After the vaccine was administered orally three times to 251 infants, it was discovered that it was contaminated with the virulent Koch bacillus.
Seventy-three of the babies died. That accident almost halted the use of the BCG vaccine for several years, even though it was the most effective method known at the time for the prevention of tuberculosis.
Fourteen years later at Neuengamme Nazi physicians repeated the Lubeck tragedy by experimenting with little children. In 1944 the SS brought a transport from Auschwitz to Neuengamme containing twenty –five children between six and twelve years of age. A Dr Heissmeyer in Berlin had previously selected those children for experiments for “the benefits of progress in medicine.”
The doctors placed the children in an isolated block under the care of prisoner professors and Dutch orderlies, all the children showed some evidence of tuberculosis.
The researchers started the experiment three weeks after the arrival of the children. The project’s originator, Dr Heissmeyer, came from Berlin every ten days to work with the children. He made incisions in the skin and rubbed cultures of tubercular bacilli into the skin of the left or right arm.
After a few days, redness and swelling appeared on the arm and the auxiliary glands enlarged, the child’s temperature rose sharply for a few days and then returned normal in a week.
The process was repeated several times. After administering a local anaesthetic such as novacaine, a doctor made a long incision under the armpit to remove the lymphatic nodes of each child, an operation lasting about fifteen minutes.
He then plugged and dressed the wound and sent the sterile test tubes, numbered and named to Berlin. There, technicians bred new cultures of tubercular bacilli, made an emulsion and sent the mixture back to the camp.
Every two weeks each child was given an injection of the vaccine from his own lymphatic node. After four or five months the majority of the children ran high temperatures. In the third month enlarged lymph nodes appeared in eighty percent of the children. The doctors noted serious lung changes by the fourth month. By the sixth month cavities had formed in the lungs of almost every child.
While secretly giving sweets and toys to the children, adult prisoners had an opportunity to observe the experiment. Dr Kowalski, one of those prisoners, provides us with descriptions of the disposition of the tubercular children.
In April 1945 when the Allies were nearly at the gates of Neuengamme, Dr Heissmeyer proposed that the children be transferred to a sub-camp of Neuengamme, called Bullenhuser Damm.
He wanted all traces of the experiment eliminated including the children. General Pohl gave the order and the doctors moved the children to Bullenhuser Damm, where they were taken into the basement.
After administering morphine, the doctors put ropes around the children’s necks and hanged them, as one prisoner observed, “like pictures hung up a wall on hooks.”
By 1945 the total number of annexes to Neuengamme reached seventy. Most of the new prisoners were put into these satellites. In 1944 the main camp had a prisoner population of 12,000, about twice that number were in the satellites.
Beginning in the summer of 1944, large transports of Jewish prisoners were brought in, mainly from Hungary and Poland. Some thirteen thousand Jewish prisoners passed through the main camp and its annexes, among them three thousand women, in 1944 and 1945.
It is estimated that the total number of prisoners sent to Neuengamme was one hundred and six thousand. The mortality rate was high, compared to that of other concentration camps, situated in the Reich, especially in the early years when the brick factory was being reactivated.
It is assumed that fifty-five thousand prisoners perished in Neuengamme and its annexes. The main camp was closed on 29 April 1945, following the evacuation of the annexes.
The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was built in the summer of 1936 by concentration camp prisoners from the Emsland camps. Just north of Berlin, Sachsenhausen was one of the most notorious death camps of the Nazi empire and was liberated by Allied troops in 1945.
The camp is sometimes referred to as Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. The name "Sachsen Hausen" means "Saxon's Houses" when translated to English.
Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 soon after Heinrich Himmler 'Reichsführer SS' was appointed to the post of 'head of the German police'.
The camp was located at the edge of Berlin, which gave it a position among the German concentration camps: the administrative centre of all concentration camps was located in Oranienburg, and Sachsenhausen became a training centre for SS officers (who would often be sent to oversee other camps afterwards).
The camp was commanded by a number of notable SS officers, some who later commanded Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland, and some who were some of the most brutal and infamous killers, such as Kramer, Palitzsch, Schwarzhuber who were at Auschwitz, Suhren atRavensbruck and Graetschus and Niemann who both served at both Belzec and Sobibor death camps:
Sachsenhausen concentration camp was built in the form of an equilateral triangle with its buildings grouped symmetrically around an axis. It was here that 'Tower A', the SS camp administration, was centrally housed. A semicircular roll-call area was located directly in front of this and was closed in by four barracks.
The SS had their barracks on a continuation of the middle axis which followed the camp street, passed 'Tower A' and accentuated both the axis and the symmetry of the camp.
The SS organized a prisoner detachment from Esterwegen concentration camp to construct the first few barracks of a concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. Himmler in 1937, said of the camp, that it was to be the prototype of a "modern, up-to-date, ideal and easily expandable concentration camp".
During the founding phases of the camp the vast majority of prisoners held were political opponents of the National Socialist regime.
After 1938 the camp was used far more as an instrument of the racist National Socialist population and social policies, that were directed against the Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, the so called 'asocial', 'work shy' and 'professional criminals' as well as other groups.
During the nationwide Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom of November 1938, SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the summary arrest of about 30,000 Jews and their incarceration in three concentration camps: Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald. Almost 6,000 Jews were deported to Sachsenhausen in the aftermath of the pogrom.
One of the Berlin Jews who was deported to Sachenhausen was Sigmund Weltlinger:
“They were very friendly gentlemen who said, “You are a Front Soldier, nothing much will happen to you. Perhaps you will be home again by this evening, but just in case take the most necessary things with you, your shaving things, washing things, whatever you need.”
So I went with them and believed it too. But when I came to Sachsenhausen – Orainienburg camp outside Berlin I was immediately taught different. We were all shoved together with clubs and blows and had to stand in even ranks to be counted.
Because I had been a soldier I didn’t find that all very difficult but the others who didn’t fall in quickly were beaten immediately. The most terrible thing was when somebody grabbed hold of a big strong man and he said “Don’t grab me.” The guard said “What I should not grab you?” and he gave him a blow and this man was immediately overpowered by three SS people.
A block was brought and he was bound fast to it, and the camp commandant said he was sentenced to twenty-five lashes. Then a giant man came, an SS man with a huge ox-whip and started to beat him. At first the man only groaned a bit but then he begged them to stop.
The commandant said, “What do you mean, stop?” We’ll start all over again from the beginning.” But after three more lashes the blood was spurting already and salt was rubbed in the wounds, or pepper – I don’t know any more. The man was dragged away, unconscious or dead. We never saw him again.”
Beginning in 1939 the populations of the occupied countries, foreign forced laborers and allied prisoners of war were also imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and by 1944 ninety percent of the prisoners were foreigners, the majority from the Soviet Union and Poland.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 people were imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp between 1936 and 1945. At first the prisoners were mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime. However, increasing numbers of members of groups defined by the National Socialists as racially or biologically inferior were later included.
By 1939 large numbers of citizens from the occupied European states arrived. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation, disease, forced labor and mistreatment, or were victims of the systematic extermination operations of the SS. Thousands of other prisoners died during the death marches following the evacuation of the camp at the end of April 1945.
Among the notable prisoners including members of the “Old Guard” of the Nazi party, such as Dr Martin Luther, the former Austrian chancellor Dr Kurt Schuschnigg, Dr Niemoller, George Elser who supposedly made and placed the bomb in the Munich beer cellar, aiming to assassinate Hitler. Both of the prisoners were transferred from Sachsenhausen to Dachau concentration camp.
Carl von Ossietzky the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize winner was detained in Sachenhausen as well as other high-ranking General Staff officers, who lived outside the prisoner compounds in isolated special barracks or small houses.
The first group of Soviet prisoners of war sent to Sachsenhausen arrived at the camp at the end of August 1941. By mid-November 1941, the SS deported about 18,000 Soviet prisoners of war to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In all, more than 13,000 Soviet prisoners of war were shot at Sachsenhausen.
As of mid-January 1945 there were more than 65,000 prisoners in Sachsenhausen, including more than 13,000 women. During the war, forced labor utilizing concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in German armaments production.
As a result, the Sachsenhausen camp system expanded to include more than 30 sub-camps concentrated mainly around armaments industries in the greater Berlin area in northern Germany. Prisoners in the Sachsenhausen camp were also subjected to medical experiments.
The prisoners worked not only in the SS's own workshops and small companies situated in the industry yard next to the camp, but also in various punishment units such as the 'shoe walking unit'.
Here the prisoners were forced to spend their entire day, walking along the shoe-testing tracks, testing shoes for local shoe manufactures. The tracks were built by a research institute with nine types of surfaces.
Each day guards forced prisoners to wear new shoes and march about 40 kilometres over a track of cement, cinders, broken stones, gravel and sand. In 1944 the SS devised a special torture – they made prisoners walk in shoes one or two sizes too small while carrying sacks filled with 20 kilograms of sand.
Another feared unit was that of the brickworks, built in 1938 by prisoners under huge sacrifice, the brickworks had its own harbor on the Lehnitz-Schleuse. It was here that materials were to be produced for Albert Speer's construction plans in Berlin.
Prisoners in the Sachsehausen were also subjected to medical experiments Dr Werner Fischer performed experiments on Gypsies in an attempt to show they had different blood from Germans.
When the Gypsies died, he widened the circle to include Jews. In another experiment projectiles containing aconitum nitrate were shot into the thigh of an inmate so that Dr Mugowsky could prove that after such a procedure death would occur in two hours.
In 1942 Sachsenhausen had more than 100 major & minor sub-camps and prisoner units attached to it, this was mainly due to the massive use of forced labor in concentration camps for the armaments industry and many of the sub-camps were situated near to weapons factories such as the one near the Heinkel airplane factory in Oranienburg or in the industrial centers of Siemens and AEG in Berlin.
Sachsenhausen was also the site of the largest counterfeiting operation ever. The Nazis forced Jewish artisans to produce forged American and British currency. Over one billion pounds in fake cash was recovered.
This project was led by SS- Sturmbannfuhrer Bernhard Krueger who selected 140 Jewish craftsmen to produce the forged notes, the Nazis used this money to pay their foreign spies, but they were unable to send the money to England, and they ran out of time and the plates and forgers were sent to Mauthausen.
Many women were among the inmates of Sachsenhausen and its sub-camps. According to SS files, more than 2,000 women lived in Sachsenhausen, guarded by female SS staff (Aufseherin).
Camp records show that there was one male SS soldier for every ten inmates and for every ten male SS there was a woman SS.
Several sub-camps for women were established in Berlin, including in Neukolln. On January 31st, 1942, the SS forced a team of inmates to build the so-called "Station Z". This new installation was built for the extermination of the prisoners.
On May 29th, 1942, the SS invited dozen of high ranked Nazi official for the inauguration of the new installation. In order to show them how the new installation was efficient, 96 Jews were killed by shooting. In March 1943, a gas chamber was added to the "Station Z".
This gas chamber was used until the end of the war. The number of gassed victims is unknown because the transports for gassings were not registered in the entry registers of the camp.
At the end of 1942 and early 1943 captured British and American airmen were sent to Sachsenhausen where many were tortured by the Gestapo, forced to endure long periods in the Sonderlager and subsequently summarily executed by machine gun fire in the "Industriehof" section of the camp.
Sztutowo is the name of a fisherman’s village, located 34 kilometers northeast of Gdansk / Danzig and 3 kilometers from the Baltic coast. With the German invasion of Poland, Sztutowo became Stutthof and entered the halls of history as the wartime site of an infamous concentration camp.
Before the war a wooden home for the elderly was situated in a forest near the village of Stutthof at the base of the Vistula Sandbank, belonging to the Free City of Danzig, now Gdansk.
The site was ideal, beautiful fir and pine forests spotted here and there with silver-birch and oak, together with extensive plains which gave the impression of a land of quiet and beauty. It was therefore not surprising that a home for the elderly was established in one of the most charming corners, a beautiful large house, not far away a glade and at arms length more forests.
In the middle of August 1939 a group of a dozen or so prisoners were brought to this area by SS-men from the Schiesstange prison in Danzig and they fenced in a small clearing and erected temporary wooden constructions.
The SS-men supervising the initial constructions belonged to the SS- Wachsturmbann Eimann, after their commander Kurt Eimann, a five-hundred strong detachment established to “solve the Polish question” in the Danzig area.
One group from this detachment under the command of SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Max Pauly were responsible for organising the camp at Stutthof. The site chosen was conveniently situated with good connections to Danzig and Nowy Dwor and also in the triangle of the Baltic Sea, and the Vistula and Nogat Rivers, which for all practical purposes prevented prisoners from escaping.
Other notable members of the SS staff at Stutthof were:
Returning to the location of the camp, the surrounding ground was wet, under the thin layer of sand were marshes and peat-bogs, the water of which lacked lime, which proved deadly to some prisoners.
Based on a list previously drawn up by the police and Selbstschutz, about 1,500 people, classed as “undesirable Polish element” – were arrested in Danzig on the night of 31 August – 1 September 1939. They were mostly socially and politically active Poles from the Free City of Danzig.
Those arrested were taken to such assembly points as the Emigration Barracks in Nowy Port, the Victoria Schule in the former Holzgasse in Danzig. The following day, after selecting the tradesmen and specialists from among the prisoners, the first transport of about 250 civil prisoners were transported to the area designated for the Stutthof camp on 2 September 1939.
Such was the beginning of Stutthof’s official existence, in view of the growing reach of Nazi policies the camp was rapidly expanded by using the prisoners as forced labourers.
According to the camps accounts, which were scrupulously maintained, by the end of March 1940, 299, 459_Reichsmarks_ had been invested in Stutthof, the camp had also been expanded to accommodate several thousands prisoners.
Wlodzimierz Wnuk recalled;
“To the sounds of striking axes and crashing trees, a huge encampment is taking shape in the forest near the coast. Columns of emaciated men sag under the weight of bricks and iron bars, huge pine trunks cut into their shoulders, crushing them down to the ground.
Encircled by barbed wire, a long row of barracks has grown out of the ground cleared by the sweat and toil of the prisoners. The barrels of machine-guns glitter where the frozen guards stand by, in the ice-bound world around even their breath forms icicles.
Hovering above the camp are pulsating columns of smoke – as yet, still that normal smoke from burning wood.”
Stutthof was the first Nazi concentration camp to be established on Polish soil, and the last to be dissolved, it grew from 4 to 120 hectares, from 250 prisoners to a maximum of 52,000 prisoners at one time, the SS staff and guards numbered 1,056 on 1 January 1945.
The organisation of Stutthof was generally similar to other camps:
Stores and Supplies Department
Camp Doctor – Hospital
Staff Training and Guards Detachment
Stutthof was not immediately granted the status of a state concentration camp, for three years it came under the Danzig / Gdansk police and initially was a camp for “civil prisoners,” later a labour camp, being called the Sonderlager Stutthof.
Despite all the efforts of the SS and Police in Gdansk Richard Hildebrandt, Heinrich Himmler,Reichsfuhrer –SS refused to give Stutthof official concentration camp status. It was only after Himmler’s visit on 23 November 1941 that this reluctance was overcome, and Stutthof became an official concentration camp from January 1942.
From January 1942 the camp which initially held a bare three to four thousand prisoners, expanded rapidly. Prior to the expansion, the camp – later called the “Old Camp” – had consisted of eight barracks for prisoners, a workshop, stores, baths and hospital.
The camp offices occupied two barracks, there was also a brick-built headquarters, kennels, the “Rabbit barrack,” a hothouse and to the west of the camp, the commandant’s villa and accommodation for the SS staff.
The plans for the “New Camp” foresaw the completion by 1944, of thirty larger barracks, twenty for prisoners and ten for armament workshops DAW (Deutsche Ausrustungswerk).
A special camp (Sonderlager) was built one and a half kilometres from the New Camp at the beginning of 1944. The prisoners incarcerated there were called “Haudegens.”
Many new, brick-built blocks were erected between the New Camp and the Sonderlager, many planned installations, such as kitchens, washrooms etc were planned but not completed.
Towards the end of 1944 huge transports of Jews were brought to Stutthof they were destined for extermination, also transports of Gypsies were sent to the camp, for the same end result.
The arrival of masses of Hungarian, Greek and Czech Jews compelled the camp authorities to build a further ten barracks to the north of the New Camp. East of the New Camp large factory sheds were erected, setting up branches of the Focke-Wulff plane parts – submarine parts were manufactured in the so-called Delta -Halle. Still further to the east was the so-called Germanenlager, which accommodated, among others, Norwegian policemen who had refused to co-operate with the Quisling government, and Finnish sailors.
The number of nationalities of the prisoners increased and the social structure of the camp changed with the influx of new transports. The first group of about 450 Jews from the Free City of Danzig arrived on 17 September 1939.
After the capture of Gydnia almost 6,000 Poles were temporarily rehoused in Stutthof in mid-October 1939 and from the autumn there were systematic influxes of prisoners from the Gestapo prisons in Gdansk, Torun, Bydgoszcz, Plock, Grudziadz, Elblag.
In addition small groups such as scouts from Gdynia, Polish social workers and those politically active, such as members of the underground resistance movements such as Gryf Pomorski and the Home Army, as well as pupils from the Polish grammar school in Kwidzyn.
They played an important role in the life of the camp struggling with the group of professional German criminals who had been brought in during 1941 to take on the role of functionary prisoners.
Russian prisoners began to arrive after the German invasion of Russia during 1941 and some former members of Lithuanian and Latvian governments were imprisoned in Block 11, as so-called honorary prisoners.
Shortly, afterwards these were joined by a dozen or so Lithuanian intellectuals, including Professor Balis Sruoga, and Dr Antanas Starkus. At the end of 1943 a group of one hundred and fifty Danish communists including Kaj Moltke, and Paul Nielsen were imprisoned in Stutthof. German communists were also incarcerated in Stutthof.
A unique page in the history of Stutthof was written in 1944, after the Red Army victory in Stalingrad and the relentless offensives the Germans were forced to evacuate their Eastern empire, and the camps in those regions.
Mass transports then began to arrive at Stutthof from Riga, Kaunas, Konigsberg, Bialystok and Lublin. The greatest number of transports to arrive in Stutthof came from Auschwitz, and also worthy of mention of the transports from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw, and following the Home Army uprising in 1944, from the evacuation camp at Pruszkow.
It was an accepted custom that when each group of new arrivals entered the camp through the main gate, the so-called “Death Gate,” the first formality completed by the political department was a brutal welcoming by the SS officer.
Zbigniew Raczkiewicz recalled what the SS officer said to new arrivals:
"From now on you are no longer a person, just a number. All your rights have been left outside the gate- you are left with only one and that you are free to do – leave through that chimney.”
Newly arrived prisoners were grouped in the “Old Camp” square - here they sometimes waited a whole day or even longer, irrespective of the weather or time of year. Prisoners were beaten before they were entered on the camp register. They were forced to strip on the camp square, and they had to hand over all personal possessions to the camp stores.
This was followed by the shaving of both men and women, then the body-search for hidden valuables, and then finally a bath, the prisoners were then issued with camp clothing and a number, and their personal details recorded.
This was followed by a period of quarantine in Blocks 17, 18, 19 of the “New Camp” which lasted 2 to 4 weeks. The prisoners did not work whilst in quarantine, in the morning they performed drill under the supervision of the block or barracks chief, whilst in the afternoon there were various records to be completed, particularly for the Arbeitseinsatz for the allocation of forced labour.
After quarantine the prisoner was assigned to a barrack where he or she was to sleep and also assigned to a particular work commando. The male prisoners lived in fifteen barracks in the “New Camp.” Each barrack was divided into two equal parts A and B. Each part had a vestibule, washroom, lavatory, day-room and sleeping quarters.
The latter was furnished with three-storey bunks which had paper mattresses filled with wood shavings, similar pillows and cotton blankets.
The living conditions in the barracks depended to a large extent on the barracks chief, and over-crowding that featured with there often being 3 or 4 times more prisoners living in these barracks than originally planned for.
Some prisoners did not enter the camp proper, they arrived with a death sentence for any number of offences against the Nazis, Krzysztof Dunin- Wasowicz recalled:
“In the afternoon, when Ludtke wearing his ironic smile arrived at the Rapportabteilung with a card in his hand, we all knew what was to come. The condemned who had been brought to the Rapportabteilung waited about half an hour, then just before the roll-call Chemnitz and Foth arrived and took them towards the crematorium. There they were either shot in the back of the head, or hanged.”
Sometimes transports arrived from Gdansk people were taken immediately and locked in underground window-less cells in a small building at the side of the “Old Camp.” These prisoners were usually executed by shooting before the evening roll-call.
Another killer was typhus; there were several epidemics in 1942, spring of 1943, then the most serious the end of summer and autumn of 1944. Even if the medical staff of the camp wanted to help the prisoners to regain their health, they were, to all intents and purposes helpless in the face of this disease and others.
Those who fell sick did not die just from the illness, the incurables or chronically, such as those with tuberculosis were murdered by means of injections of phenol or drowning in the bath, at night. The camp doctor had the right of selection to the gas chamber.
Tragic games were also organised, during which the SS butchers, dressed up as doctors, received the sick, keeping up appearances and formalities, then when measuring their height, the prisoners were shot in the back of the head from a specially constructed appliance. The corpses were taken outside, the blood wiped up and the next victim was politely requested to enter.
When the new hospital was opened the living conditions of the sick greatly improved, but on the other hand the mortality rates increased rapidly in 1943. The new hospital accommodated on average 600 to 1,000 sick, additionally the outpatients section treated 500 persons per day.
In 1944, a Jewish hospital (Judenkrankenbau) was isolated in barrack 30 for the mass transports of Jews, conditions were dreadful, Jewish doctors received neither medicines nor dressings.
The Camp authorities believed they were all destined for extermination therefore treatment was unnecessary. Barrack 30 became the “finishing off” barrack, where food was frequently not distributed, and prisoners died of famine fever.
Work was another method of extermination, the prisoners worked in groups called “kommando’s, “ each under the command of a Kapo, the prisoners were not only employed to cover the camp requirements, but also those of German firms, located inside and outside the camp. Sub-camps were established to supply cheap labour for various firms located some distance from the main camp.
As a rule the working day commenced about six or seven o’clock in the morning and finished between five and seven o’clock in the evening. The working day usually lasted around twelve hours, with an hours break for a meal. On Sunday, the prisoners worked till mid-day, when after that they were spared from work.
The lightest work included assisting in the camp administration, stores, repairing of clothes, in the kitchen. It was also considered to be of advantage to obtain employment in the camp carpentry, joinery, painting, shoemakers, saddlers, lock-smith and gun-smith workshops.
At least working inside the prisoners were spared from the worst of the brutal weather, but not of course from the brutal kapo’s. The workshops constituted branches of the DAW working for the needs of the German army.
Prisoners were also employed in the firms of Dehlert and Rommel which carried out building and road work in the Stutthof camp. There was also a branch of the Focke-Wulff works and naval armaments parts were produced in the so-called Delta-Halle
One of Stutthof’s most brutal working kommando’s was the “Waldkolonne,” which was employed in clearing the terrain for the camps installations. The name was later changed to SS und Polizei-Bauleitung,” which was divided into the following working groups:
To be allocated such work was as good as a death sentence, receiving only 1,000 calories per day, the only chance of survival lay in escaping. Hunger played a leading part in the extermination of prisoners, for dinner the prisoners hurriedly swallowed a bowl of soup made from turnip, carrot or cabbage scraps. For breakfast and supper the prisoners received a piece of bread with a tiny portion of margarine or jam, supplemented with a mug of ersatz black coffee.
Similar exhausting work was also applied in many of Stutthof’s sub-camps. The most severe was at Police near Szczecin, a synthetic petrol plant, where Kozlowski – first a room supervisor and later even Camp Elder – gained dishonourable fame.
The work was also very hard at Schichau in Elblag, the Danziger Werft shipyard at Przerobka in Gdansk, in the brick-works of Hoppehill, in Graniczna Wies (a quarry).
The Jewish sub-camps consisted of working on five airfields in East Prussia, in wagon factories, on the building of fortifications for the _Todt_organisation in Elblag and Torun, and thousands of Jews lost their lives, serving the Nazis. Altogether over 25,000 prisoners worked in approximately forty-plus sub-camps.
Returning to the main camp of Stutthof, those prisoners who managed to endure the starvation, excessive work, beatings, disease might still be killed either by a shot in the back of the head , or be gassed in the gas chamber.
On Good Friday 22 March 1940 67 members of the Gdansk intelligentsia were shot outside the camp. Those, who lost their lives in this mass shooting were post-office workers, businessmen, priests, printers, journalists, lawyers, among them was Anastazy Wika Czarnowski – the former director of the Polish Post-Office, Mr Pawel Rozankowski, an engineer from the Port of Gdansk Council, Franciszek Krecki – a Polish economic and social worker, Bronislaw Komorowski – rector of the Polish church of St. Stanislaus in Wrzeszcz, Wladyslaw Pniewski – Polish teacher at the Polish Grammar School, Antoni Lendzion – member of the opposition in the Free City of Danzig “Volkstag.”
Many prisoners were executed by hanging, in public, to serve as a warning to others on a scaffold, initially erected near the crematorium, later in the parade-ground in the “New Camp.”
Executions usually took place just before dinner, on a scaffold set up between barracks twelve and thirteen. The scaffold consisted of two vertical beams, connected by a cross-beam on which two rings were hung, through which nooses were pulled.
The condemned men had to climb up a small ladder onto a plank set one metre above the ground. This plank was snatched from under the victims by means of a rope. In the late autumn of 1944 two Poles aged 17 and 19 were hanged in public at 12 o’clock mid-day.
Particularly memorable were the hanging of a young Pole for alleged sabotage, at the side of the Christmas tree which had been provided by the SS as an exceptional gesture, on 28 December 1944, and the execution of two Russian boys, who were brothers. Both were very young, the younger one crying, the older brother consoling him and uttering loud threats of revenge against the Germans by the Red Army.
A gas chamber was built in the autumn of 1943, at first it was used to disinfect clothes but in June 1944 they started to murder prisoners in it using zyklon-B. In Stutthof’s small gas chamber Jewish transports of Hungarian, Greek and Czech Jews mostly transferred from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex.
Maria Suszynska witnessed the arrival of such a transport:
“They arrived in a horrifying physical state, usually from other camps mainly Auschwitz to die here. They plodded on and on fatigued, with black faces, hair growing from their skin in bristle.
They plodded on and on staring with their huge black eyes with what seemed to be an inhuman expression. They wore neither sweaters or jackets only torn summer dresses, through the tears in which their grey bodies could be seen. They were without vests, gaunt with their pointed shoulders, sunken chests – they were more like some weird ugly birds.
In their hands they gripped pieces of bread, but were unable to eat. Were they aware where they were once more being taken?”
The SS –men had to think up new tricks to deceive the Jews, they were also gassed in a special railway wagon, the SS men wore railway uniforms, carried flags and whistles.
A total of about 50,000 Jews from various European countries passed through Stutthof during 1944, some of them were immediately directed to the gas chamber. Some of the stronger prisoners were crammed into the sub-camps, and then sent to Germany as the Russians approached.
During the initial stages of the camps existence the bodies of prisoners who had died or had been murdered were transported to Gdansk and buried in common graves at the Zaspa Cemetery.
In September 1942 the Berlin firm Kori erected two brick stoves and raised an 18 metre high chimney, over the stoves a wooden roof was built, which quickly burnt down, and after that a brick structure was built.
A Red Army commission described the crematorium:
“The furnace is built of firebrick, with an opening at the front – through which the bodies were placed, also at the front, was an opening through which to remove the ashes, there are two hearths on the left of the furnace.
At the front there was also a small opening – 20cm in diameter – closed by means of a small door, with which to regulate the draught. All the openings were closed by means of iron doors 7-9 mm thick.”
During the typhus epidemic in 1944 the crematorium could not keep up with disposing of the corpses, a crematory pyre was set up north of the “New Camp.” The pyre was constructed so that there were alternate layers of corpses and logs or boards, then splashed with mazut to make sure it burned better.
There were very few successful escapes, in fact they were exceptional, but some prisoners managed it. These included Marcjan Czarnecki, Karol Viola, Wlodzimierz Steyer, Stanislaw Jankowski and two Englishmen whose names were not known.
On 12 January 1945 the Russian army started their Winter Offensive, the German camp authorities had already planned for an evacuation of Stutthof, and they doubled the guard detachment, burnt incriminating documents and transported equipment away from the camp.
During 23-24 January 1945 the Russian army advanced close to Elblag and Malbork some 40 -50 kilometres from Stutthof. In view of this_Gauleiter_ Albert Forster and the Higher – SS and Police Leader Fritz Katzmann decided to evacuate Stutthof, with the prisoners embarking on a “death march” to Lebork some 140 kilometres distant from Stutthof.
The formal order of evacuation was issued by Stutthof Camp commandant Paul Werner Hoppe, this order – Einsatzbefehl No 3 -was dated 25 January 1945, 0500 in the morning.
The evacuation which commenced at 0600 in the morning under the command of _SS-_Hauptsturmfuhrer Teodor Meyer, the march was expected to last seven days.
25,000 prisoners in nine columns started the march, the last two groups left on the 26 January 1945, in the morning, the conditions in which the evacuation took place has been described by prisoners who survived:
“How many of them fell down on the road, they were marching so long, until their legs could be pulled forward. When they fell down, a blow with the rifle butt tried to lift them up. They were too weak to continue the march, some of these falls were their last falls. An SS-man’s kick removed the body to the side of the road. Sometimes one kick was enough, or one knock with a rifle butt in the face, to finish the life.
We hardly passed Stegna, when one prisoner fell down, after that others were falling.”
The march actually lasted for ten days, not the seven days forecast, the Germans only issued food for two days, the sounds of artillery fire from the Red Army’s guns could be heard from the east and south. The columns marched on through snow drifts with the SS guards murdering anyone who fell behind.
After reaching Lebork the decimated columns of survivors dragged out a miserable existence till March 1945, when the Red Army liberated the survivors.
Those still left behind in the camp were evacuated on Himmler’s orders of the 14 April 1945, the only route open to the Germans was by sea. Many small scale evacuations by sea then took place.
The evacuation of the main camp together with the Gdynia sub-camps took place by sea to Hamburg, Flensburg and Neustadt on 25 April 1945, there were approximately 5,000 prisoners in five old barges, only about half this number survived the evacuations.
Following the main evacuations by sea, the camp practically ceased to exist, only about 100 -150 prisoners were left behind. The remaining SS-guards started the final liquidation of the camp.
The Jewish barracks were sent on fire, in which some sick prisoners were still inside, and so burnt alive, the SS men under the command of Paul Ehle left the camp, which was then taken over by the German army. Stutthof was liberated by Red Army soldiers of the 48th Army under the command of colonel S.C. Cyplenkow.
A number of war crimes trials were held after the war, the first commandant of Stutthof Max Pauly was tried by a British court for his crimes at Neuengamme concentration camp, and executed.
The second commandant of Stutthof Paul Werner Hoppe, who succeeded Max Pauly in September 1942, was initially given a sentence of 5 years and 3 months imprisonment, in Germany and this was increased to 9 years by a court of appeal.
In Poland during April and May 1946 more trials were held and death sentences were passed on 6 members of the camp personnel and 5 kapo’s, one caretaker received a five year prison sentence and a barrack supervisor a three year sentence. The death sentences were carried out on 4 June 1946.
The second trial in October 1947 saw death sentences passed on 9 members of the SS staff and one Kapo, including Jakob Meyer, Ewald Foth, Friedrich Rach, Paul Wellnitz. Other members of the camp’s staff received lesser sentences.
There were also several trials in Germany where a few of those found guilty were given small terms of imprisonment such as Fritz Selonke, the so-called “Butcher of Stutthof,” who received a two year prison sentence.
Otto Knott who had poured the zyklon B into the gas chamber was found not guilty in a trial in 1964 in Tubingen, Germany.
The foundation of the town of Terezin dates back to the late 18th century when Emperor Josef II drawing on his experience from several Prussian – Austrian wars decided to build a fortress at the confluence of the Labe and Ohre Rivers. The fortress –town was named after his mother Maria Theresa.
Its mission was to prevent any future penetration of enemy forces into the Bohemian interior along the Dresden – Lovosice – Prague route, as well as guard the Labe waterway.
The stronghold built over the period of ten years, consisted of the Main and Small Fortress, alongside a fortified area between the New and Old Ohre Rivers. The fortifications consisted of a number of elements – massive bastions, ravelins, lunettes, bulwarks, flood-moats and an extensive network of underground passages.
The basins occupying two-thirds of the surrounding belt of the fortress could also be flooded. The stronghold however, was never tested in battle and its fortifications, practically impregnable at the time of construction, gradually grew obsolete.
Finally the fortress was vacated and Terezin turned into a garrison town. It took little time in the 19th century for the penitentiary within the small prison to gain a notorious reputation. It functioned well into the 20th Century
During World War One the Small Fortress functioned as the Habsburg Monarchy prison, and amongst its inmates were the plotters of the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and Gavrilo Princip who carried out the attack. He died in the Small Fortress in 1918.
After the German occupation Terezin was renamed Theresienstadt. The Small Fortress became a police prison of the Prague Gestapo in June 1940 – mostly political prisoners were detained there.
The creation of a ghetto, in the town itself – the former Main Fortress was an ideal location for the Nazi plans and Reinhard Heydrich took immediate advantage of it when he became Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.
On 10 October 1941 he summoned Eichmann, Mauer and other SS personalities to meet him and his assistant Governor Karl Hermann Frank in Prague.
Heydrich had already picked out Theresienstadt among other fortified and enclosed sites. He used expressions like Zentralstelle und Sammellager to describe it, but he made it quite clear that the inmates already depleted by hunger and overwork would eventually be evacuated.
On 24 November 1941 a ghetto was established in the eighteenth –century fortress, built for the Emperor Josef II in 1780 -84.
The first Jewish construction workers arrived from Prague and Brno, to be followed by family transports. At the end of 1941 there were already 7365 Czech Jews in Theresienstadt. They lived in close confinement in the former Austrian barrack blocks and had no contact with the 7,000 civilian inhabitants, who did not leave until June 1942.
On 20 January 1942 Heydrich announced at the Wannsee conference that Theresienstadt was under consideration as a special ghetto for Jews over 65 years of age and Jews with serious wounds or high decorations from the First World War.
This was a change of policy for hitherto Jews of these categories had gone to Poland or Russia, as Hitler declared earlier “that the swine got their decorations fraudulently in any case.”
But if Theresienstadt remained throughout the war the privileged ghetto of the exempted classes, it never lost its original purpose, that of a transit camp for Jews, and the Jews of Bohemia – Moravia who from the start Heydrich intended to deport to the East.
With the departure of the Czech inhabitants in June 1942 the first of the privileged Jews from Germany and Austria, mainly war veterans and the very old.
Other categories included Jews married to Aryans, half Jews who professed the Jewish faith, senior civil servants and members of the_Reichsvereinigung._
Then there followed a flood of deportees, who had simply bought their exemptions. During the year 1942 Theresienstadt received 32,988 Jews from the “Old Reich”, 13,922 from Austria and 54,827 from the Protectorate.
One of those sent to Theresienstadt was Richard Goldshimdt better known as Richard Glazar describes his time at Theresienstadt:
“By the time I got to Prague it was already “Jew-free” as they called it. We stayed at the Mustermesse two or three days and waited. They distributed food and there were sinks to wash in.
We slept on the ground – of course there were a great many rumours of every kind and there was this fear of the uncertainty, but there was no physical fear.
One morning they counted us and we went to the nearby station and travelled to Theresienstadt, a village around the fortress north of Prague, built in the time of Maria Theresa, which had been turned into a huge internment camp.
I was assigned quarters in a stable – two cousins found me there – they were in an attic.”
Richard Glazar stayed in Theresienstadt for a month working in the garbage disposal unit – he found his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother – they had been there for several months.
His grandmother lived in a room with a dozen other old women, sleeping on blankets on the floor. Richard Glazar said “she seemed very small – I used to bring her chocolate whenever, I could scrounge some, but she always said “no thank you, keep it for yourself”. But then one day I brought her a pot of lard and she accepted that. My grandfather was in an old people’s ward that was really terrible. He was almost blind – he had tried to cut his veins.”
After a few days in the stable he was moved into a large hall where he met another Czech Jew Karel Unger, who was to become his closest friend.
“After a month in Theresienstadt I was notified that I was to leave the next day for another camp in the East. I ran to see my Hannah my cousin – she said grandfather had just died – it was that day too.
We our Czech transport travelled on a passenger train, leaving Theresienstadt on 8 October 1942 on transport BG 417 – destination the death camp Treblinka in Poland.
No phase in the deportations from Hitler’s Greater Reich was more murderous than the first year’s clear-out of Theresienstadt. Out of 43,879 deportees only 224 survived the war.
At the very moment Heydrich was telling the delegates about the privileged ghetto in January 1942 – there had already been a deportation from Theresienstadt to Riga.
Between March and July 1942 there were deportations to “Lublinland”, between July and September 17,004 Jews were deported to the Minsk region. Between 5 -26 October another 8,000 went straight to the Treblinka death camp (including Richard Glazar), and 4000 to Belzec death camp
On 26 October 1942 the last transport of 1942 left Theresienstadt for Auschwitz – since this transport included some young men, mixed in with the elderly, 28 managed to survive the war out of 1,866.
In the autumn of 1942 a crematorium was built to burn the corpses of all those Jews who had perished in the camp, due to sickness, starvation, overwork and ill-treatment by the SS guards.
Those who arrived before the summer of 1943 at Theresienstadt by train arrived at the country station of Bohusovice, walked the three kilometres to Theresienstadt.
The railway which was built with ghetto labour ran now from the ghetto to the station at Bohusvice. The railway line ran in front of the Hamburg Barracks, and a transport of Jews from Holland was filmed arriving at the Hamburg Barracks.
At the instigation of the German’s a Jewish Elder was appointed. He was Jakub Edelstein and he made particular efforts to try and improve the living conditions for the teenagers and children. In November 1943 he was deported to Auschwitz where he was later shot, together with his wife and son.
The work of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Magdeburg Barracks covered every branch of activity in the ghetto. The Secretariat maintained the statistical records. An economics department was in charge of labour details, nutrition, laundry and allocation of space. A financial department was responsible for the book-keeping side. A technical department supervised water and power supplies construction maintenance and the fire brigade. There was also a health and social welfare department in charge of the health centres, the youth homes, old people’s homes and burials.
At the Magdeburg Barracks there was also a hall in which theatrical performances were given such as the children’s opera Brundibar, which was performed more than fifty times. Its composer Hans Krasa, was a Jew, who was imprisoned in Theresienstadt, who later died in Auschwitz.
Some months before Edelstein’s deportation he was succeeded by Dr Paul Eppstein, who was also later taken to the Small Fort and shot. Eppstein had been a young official in Berlin in 1933, working for the representation of German Jewry, under Leo Baeck, a fellow prisoner in Theresienstadt.
On 24 August 1943 1260 children from the liquidated Bialystok ghetto arrived in Theresienstadt. They were kept in strict isolation, and then sent out with fifty- three volunteer doctors, nurses and attendants from Theresienstadt.
As they left on 5 October 1943 the Germans said they were going to be exchanged for German Prisoners of War in Allied hands. The exchange would take place in neutral Switzerland, some said Palestine – however, they were taken to Auschwitz and murdered.
From May 1943 the Market Square was covered with a circus tent divided into three parts, and used for slave labour. In one section, the inmates of the ghetto assembled wooden crates. In another they packed equipment, which had been made nearby, designed to protect motor engines from freezing, an essential component of army vehicles on the Eastern Front.
In all 1,000 prisoners worked there, the tented area was surrounded by a high fence, and closed to anyone, who did not work there. In the early months of 1944, when for the purpose of the Red Cross visit and propaganda film, the ghetto was transformed – for the so-called “Improvement Action.”
The tents were taken down and the square was turned into a park, with a music pavilion in front of the café at 18 Neue Gasse. Allotments were created across the moat, impressive gardening work was undertaken, and this was seen by the Red Cross delegation who visited the ghetto on 23 June 1944.
The “Improvement Action” ensured that everything looked just right – a band consisted of inmates played on the bandstand, children dressed in clean clothes, rode on a merry-go-round. The Ghetto Elder Dr. Paul Eppstein, was given a car and a chauffeur.
The Red Cross visitors saw the chauffeur open the door, bow and let him in. The day before, this same chauffeur – an SS- man- had beaten Eppstein without compunction and resumed with this treatment after the visitors had departed.
The Red Cross visitors were not shown the barracks crowded with the old, the sick and the dying – nor were they shown the storerooms filled with the belongings taken from their Jews on their arrival.
A film of Theresienstadt was made in 1944, filming commenced on 16 August and was completed on 11 September, the last commandant of Theresienstadt SS- Obersturmfuhrer_Karl Rahm, was ordered by his masters in Berlin, to commission a film called **“The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a Town.”_**
The film does not appear to have been shown during the war, it was made under the direction of German –Jewish actor and director Kurt Gerron, who had been deported from Westerbork in Holland, after he had fled from Germany, with a documentary film crew from Berlin.
Berlin decreed that only prisoners who looked like Jews could appear in the film – they had to be hook-nosed, dark hair, dark eyed and preferably furtive in manner, this created a problem Theresienstadt was filled with blond, blue-eyed Jews – the woman’s high –jump champion of Czechoslovakia, a Jew was forbidden to participate in the filming of an athletics event – she had blonde hair.
The ghetto’s bank was filmed, as was the Post Office where prisoners received fake packages. On the riverbank, a swimming event was held. The national high-diving champion performed for the cameras. Just out of range were boats filled with armed SS-men, just in case any of the contestants decided to swim to freedom.
For days the cameras whirred, the lights were focused on the stunned prisoners. A meeting of the Jewish Council was moved from a dingy room in the Magdeburg barracks to a bright room in the gymnasium. Dr. Eppstein addressed his colleagues, but no sound was recorded.
Gerron’s film took on a life of its own – firemen in new uniforms put out a fire, in the gym “The Tales of Hoffmann” was performed. In the VIP barracks a garden party was filmed including Rabbi Baeck, Field Marshal von Sommer, the Mayor of Lyons M. Meyer and several Czech ministers.
When a train bearing Jewish children from Holland arrived Rahm himself was there to welcome them, lifting the youngsters from the wagons, all dutifully recorded.
Then abruptly, the filming ended – the technicians were ordered back to Berlin, Gerron was discharged, band concerts were terminated, dancing was forbidden.
The camp slipped back into its cruel, starved routine – the old and ill died and the same children Rahm was seen welcoming were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Several still photographs made from the film still survive today, one shows Dr Eppstein addressing his colleagues. His faced is strained, his mouth is drawn, his eyes are frowning and a perplexed vertical crease separates his eyebrows. Dr Benjamin Murmelstein his aide and successor, sits by his side, staring gloomily ahead.
On Eppstein’s left breast pocket, is a cloth Jewish Star – the Nazis left a morsel of truth in the film. In the beginning of 1945 a gas chamber was built in an underground passageway, but it was not used.
In the last weeks of the war thousands of young Jews who had survived the death marches and death trains were brought to Theresienstadt, some lived in the Hamburg Barracks, Moniek Goldberg a Polish Jew recalled “whilst the Hamburg Barrack was an improvement on the journey – it soon turned into a nightmare.”
In the face of the advancing Russian forces the Germans started to liquidate camps in the East and transfer the prisoners to other camps, including Theresienstadt
These newcomers were infested with lice and in April 1945 a typhus epidemic broke out which soon claimed hundreds of victims. Shortly afterwards the SS tried to assemble two transports for an unknown destination. Fearing the Nazis intended to cover up their war crimes, by staging a massacre, the Jewish Council refused to co-operate and smuggled a warning to the Red Cross in Prague.
On 19 April 1945 Paul Dunant the Swiss Red Cross representative, who had visited Theresienstadt, on 6 April 1945 and had been personally escorted by Eichmann, approached Karl Hermann Frank and obtained his assurance that there would be no more deportations from Theresienstadt.
Anxious to open negotiations with the Americans, Frank was now posing as a moderate, using the surviving Jews as evidence of his goodwill. Under Red Cross supervision Jews were transferred from Theresienstadt to Switzerland and Danish Jews were sent to Sweden.
On 2 May 1945 the SS guards fled from Theresienstadt and two days later a group of Czech volunteers arrived to help the ghetto medical staff the typhus epidemic, which had already claimed the lives of 44 doctors and nurses.
On 8 May 1945 the first units of the Soviet Army appeared and placed Terezin under strict quarantine. By June the outbreak was over and the prisoners were able to leave. .
Theresienstadt came under the control of Eichmnann’s office in Prague, headed by Rolf Gunther, the commandants were all members of Eichmann’s staff. They were;
Siegfried Seidl – November 1941 – July 1943
Anton Burger – July 1943 – February 1944
Karl Rahm – February 1944 – May 1945
Seidl and Rahm were executed after the war, but Burger escaped and has never stood trial for his crimes. Heinrich Jockel the commandant of the Small Fortress was arrested, tried for war crimes, and executed after the war.
140, 000 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt, 75,500 from the Czech lands, 42,000 from Germany, 15,000 from Austria, 5000 from Holland, and the rest from Hungary, Denmark and Poland.
Today the Small Fortress and Ghetto can be visited as well as the Crematorium site and National Cemetery
The community of Westerbork is situated in the northeast of the Netherlands in the province of Drenthe, 11 kms from the province capital of Assen and about 130 km (80 miles) north of Amsterdam. In a resolution proposed by the Minister of Home Affairs and approved by the Dutch cabinet on 13 February 1939, it was determined to construct a camp "to house the refugees from Germany that live in this country". Opened on 9 October 1939, the costs of constructing the camp, amounting to 1.25 million gulden, were charged to the Jewish Refugee Committee in the Netherlands.
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, there were 750 refugees residing in the camp. Initially moved to Leeuwarden, capital of the province of Frisia, they were moved back to Westerbork following the Dutch surrender. The camp came under the control of the Ministry of Justice on 16 July 1940. Refugees from other camps were subsequently moved to Westerbork, which by 1941 had a population of 1,100 in 200 small wooden houses. In the words of one commentator, it was a site "about as inhospitable as could be, far from the civilized world in the isolation of the Drenthe moorland, difficult to reach, with unpaved roads where even the slightest shower would turn the sand to mud." The camp was also plagued by hosts of flies during the summer months.
At the end of 1941, the Germans decided that Westerbork would become a transit camp for Jews destined to be deported to the east. Measuring 500x500 m, the camp was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and 7 watchtowers. 24 large wooden barracks were constructed.
Eventually there were to be 107 such barracks, each designed to hold 300 people. The costs of this building work and of the camp's maintenance were to be financed from the proceeds of confiscated Jewish property, an amount that was to exceed 10 million guilders for 1942/43. During the first six months of 1942, 400 foreign Jews (mainly German and stateless), were transferred to Westerbork from the towns and villages in the Netherlands from which Dutch Jews had been evicted to Amsterdam.
On 1 July 1942, the Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des SD took control of the camp, and SS troops arrived to reinforce the Dutch military police guards. Philip Mechanicus stated that the majority of the latter were benevolent and mild in their treatment of the Jewish inmates. (This attitude may have been the reason for their substitution from 1 June 1944 by a company of the special Police Battalion Amsterdam, educated at the Nazi police academy in Schalkhaar.) Erich Deppner, a member of the German administration in the Netherlands was appointed camp commandant, to be succeeded by an SS officer, Josef Hugo Dischner on 1 September 1942. Both men having proved to be equally incompetent, Albert Konrad Gemmeker became commandant on 12 October 1942. Gemmeker left the day-to day operation of the camp in the hands of German Jews, as had been the case from inception, an arrangement which was not to change even when the majority of the inmates were Dutch.
The inmates rarely saw members of the SS other than Gemmeker. On 13 July 1942, most of the people who had lived in the camp, many of them for as long as two years, were dismissed from the camp administration. Those dismissed included virtually everybody who was not deemed purely Jewish by Nazi criteria. One day later all inmates born between 1902 and 1925 were examined on behalf of the Arbeitseinsatz (Work Allocation Department). Deppner explained: "Your labour is also needed for our victory."
The transfer of Jews from Amsterdam to Westerbork began on the night of 14/15 July 1942, and the first transport left for Auschwitz on the following day. In addition, on 15 July the Dutch railroad company Nederlandse Spoorwegen received an order for the construction of a 5 km railroad into Camp Westerbork. The timetable for the trains, their size and destination were determined by Adolf Eichmann's lVB4 office. Gemmeker left the composition of the transports to the Jewish camp leadership (Kampleiding). However, certain inmates, such as those of foreign nationality or veteran servicemen were exempt from transportation.
The Kampleiding consisted solely of German Jews, who had been in the camp from the very beginning and who were called “Alte Kamp-Insassen” (old camp inmates). From Gemmeker’s point of view they were easier to communicate with than the Jews from Holland. The official language in Camp Westerbork was German. Sometimes severe tensions occurred between the Dutch and the German Jews, as the former considered the latter to be rude in their behaviour, with some of them even collaborating with the SS. Beginning on 2 February 1943, deportation trains left Westerbork on Tuesdays, although there were periods in which no deportations took place. Initially transports were in passenger cars; later, cattle wagons were utilised.
Those Jews who had been caught in hiding within Holland were labelled "Convict Jews" and were placed in a punishment block, Barrack 67, in the north-eastern corner of the camp. Unlike other inmates, they were not allowed to keep their own clothes, but were forced to wear blue overalls and wooden clogs. Men and women in the punishment block had their hair shaved, received no soap, less food than other prisoners and were forced to work in the most arduous labour details. The Convict Jews (‘Strafgevallen’) were in general the first to be selected for transportation on the next train for Poland, leaving on the subsequent Tuesday.
Unlike other transit camps, Westerbork maintained a relatively small semi-permanent population who remained in the camp for a considerable time, ran their own affairs and maintained a near-normal life, especially in the periods when there were no deportations. Elie Cohen, a doctor, was in Westerbork for 8 months before being sent to Auschwitz. Whilst never pleasant, conditions in the camp were far more bearable than in the transit camps of eastern Europe, although the water supply was bad, and washing and sanitary facilities were inadequate.
Often the camp was very crowded, “like the last piece of driftwood to which too many drowning people try to hang on after the sinking of the ship” (as described in the famous diary of victim Etty Hillesum). But the great majority of those who passed through the camp only stayed for a few hours or days, or perhaps a week or two before boarding eastward bound trains, despite the Kampleiding's attempts to save people from deportation by providing them with jobs within the camp. For example, prisoners were enrolled in the Ordedienst (Jewish police), or in the Fliegende Kolonne (Flying Brigade), a section who were responsible for ensuring the transfer of deportees to the railway station in the nearby village of Hooghalen, used before the railroad into the camp became operational.
The camp administration consisted of twelve subdivisions. On 12 August 1943, one of the subdivision heads, Kurt Schlesinger, was appointed chief of the department dealing with the vital main card index, from which the list of deportees was compiled. A Joodsche Ordedienst (OD, Jewish Police Force), commanded by an Austrian, Arthur Pisk, was also created, with a maximum strength of 200 young men responsible for maintaining order within the camp and at the transports.
Westerbork took on many of the characteristics of a small town. There was a hospital headed by Dr F M Spanier, with 1,800 beds, a maternity ward, laboratories, pharmacies, 120 doctors and a further 1,000 employees. Other facilities included an old people's home, a huge modern kitchen, a school for children aged 6-14, an orphanage and religious services. Workshops existed for stocking repair, tailoring, furniture manufacturing, and bookbinding. There were divisions for locksmiths, decorators, bricklayers, carpenters, veterinarians, opticians and gardeners.
The camp included an electro-technical division, a garage and boiler room, a sewage works, and a telephone exchange. In 1943, when the "permanent" population was at its peak, 6,035 people were employed at the camp, not all of whom were Jewish.
Although men and women were segregated at night, there was no restriction on their movements during the day. Services within the camp included dental clinics, hairdressers, photographers and a postal system. Various sporting activities were available, including boxing, tug-of-war and gymnastics. Gemmeker encouraged entertainment activities – there was a cabaret, a choir and a ballet troupe. Toiletries, toys and plants could be purchased from the camp warehouse. There were no shortages in the camp, since it was regularly supplied by the Dutch administration and Gemmeker had a fund at his disposal appropriated from the Jewish property that had been confiscated. As with some other transit camps, Westerbork had its own currency.
In case it should be thought that this was an idyllic existence, it should be born in mind that every inmate had the spectre of imminent death hanging over them. The railway line into the camp had been completed in November 1942 and allowed trains into the centre of the compound. 101,525 of the 107,000 Dutch Jews deported to the east were interned at Westerbork – 41,156 men, 45,867 women and 14,502 children. More than 95% of those deported from the camp perished.
Fear of transport to the unknown east dominated Westerbork and defined the behaviour of many of its inmates. Although no detailed knowledge about the destination of the transports was known, the prisoners were only too aware that the Germans were not planning anything that would prove beneficial to the deportees. In order to keep their names off the transport lists, people would do anything – "sacrifice their last hoarded halfpenny, their jewels, their clothes, their food, or in the case of young girls, their bodies." Doctor Elie Cohen described his own role in this process of salvation:
“I had a rather great influence in Westerbork, having become a camp ‘prominent’, and I could keep people away from the transports when I choose to do so, for example my own family. As long as I was in power, to put it that way, I was able to protect my parents-in-law, who had arrived in Westerbork in April. I had a cousin in the OD and he warned me on Sunday or Monday: Elie, Mom and Dad are on the transport list.’ Then I answered,Well, let’s get them to the hospital.’ I had influence on the doctor at the Intake Department, and via that fellow one was taken in to the hospital so that their partner was also ‘gesperrt’.” (Dr. E.A. Cohen, De afgrond / The Abyss).
As each Tuesday approached, every inmate had to endure the trauma of possible deportation. A single example of the horrific nature of these transports will suffice. Eyewitness, Philip Mechanicus, a renowned journalist and author of a camp diary, recorded the following:
"The train, a long scabby snake that cuts the camp in two. The 'Boulevard des Misères' (the main street in Camp Westerbork) where it stands, blocked by O.D. men to keep out everyone who is not needed there, and then the people, packed with a bread-bag hanging from their shoulder, a rolled blanket bound to the other side with a piece of rope swinging on their back. Shabby vagabonds who own nothing but the clothes they wear and what's hanging from them. Men with silent, stiff faces, women often in tears. Older people, stumbling over the bad road, through pools of mud. Patients on stretchers, carried by O.D. men. At the platform the big chief Gemmeker himself, usually with his little dog, the green police, a number of prominent inmates among whom is Schlesinger, in riding-breeches and boots, with straw coloured hair and wearing a flat cap."
On 8 February 1944, a transport of more than 1,000 Jews was deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Among them were 268 of the camp's hospital patients, including children with scarlet fever and diphtheria. Many of the sick were brought to the train on stretchers. On arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau , 142 men and 73 women were admitted to the camp. The remaining 800 deportees, including all of the children, were gassed. Mechanicus wrote: "Of all these bestial transports, perhaps this was the most fiendish."
The final transport from the Netherlands to Auschwitz was on 3 September 1944. Two days later the camp was crowded with members of the NSB (Dutch Nazi Party), who tried to flee to Germany after false rumours of an invasion of the country by allied forces ("Mad Tuesday"). The 93rd and last transport from Westerbork, to Bergen-Belsen, left on 15 September 1944. After this deportation, less than 1,000 inmates remained in Westerbork.
Gemmeker's House at Westerbork
Gemmeker remains an enigmatic figure. He rarely raised his voice or dealt out punishments to the prisoners, and was said to be incorruptible. He took an interest in the camp's entertainments and afterwards joked with the performers. Jewish gardeners cultivated flowers for him and he was treated by Jewish doctors and dentists. Yet on Tuesdays he stood quietly watching the trains depart for the east. Gemmeker had a film made in Westerbork which was to show everything, good and bad, of the camp's daily life.
Scenes from the film appear frequently in Shoah-related documentaries. One particularly haunting image from the film, that of a 9 year-old girl staring from the doorway of a cattle wagon, has become synonymous with the Holocaust. The girl, who was in fact not Jewish, but Roma, was named Settela Steinbach. She perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
On 12 April 1945, as allied forces approached Westerbork, Gemmeker handed the camp over to Schlesinger. On that day, there were 876 prisoners in the camp, of whom 569 were Dutch. The remainder were of various nationalities, or stateless, the majority of them still members of the “Alte Kamp-Insassen”. Schlesinger proclaimed the camp renamed “Austausch-Internierungslager” and put it under the protection of the International Red Cross. He handed control of the camp to the Dutch civil authorities, i.e. a Mr Van As of the Community of Westerbork.
Gemmeker was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by a post-war Dutch court. Extenuating circumstances were taken into account in arriving at the sentence, in that "in general he had treated Jews decently during their stay in the camp."
After the war Camp Westerbork was used for the internment of members of the Dutch National Socialist party, NSB. Not all Jews had left the camp by then. Later, repatriates from Nederlandsch-Indië (now Indonesia) were housed in the barracks, especially people from the South Moluccas. In 1971 the last barrack was destroyed. On the spot where Camp Westerbork had been a monument was erected. It was only in 1983 that the Camp Memorial Museum was opened and parts of the former camp area were reconstructed.
In Memory of Sylvia Sztycer (1940-1943)
Sylvia Sztycer is born on New Year's Day, 1940, in a hospital in Voorburg in the Netherlands. She lives in The Hague, together with her father Max and mother Ilse, elder brother Sem (*1938), and baby brother Ruben (*1942).
Early 1943 the Sztycers were interned in KZ Herzogenbusch (Camp Vught).
Mother and children are on the infamous Children's Transport (6 June 1943) to Durchgangslager Westerbork, where they stay for 5 weeks. From the camp diary of Philip Mechanicus:
"In the infirmary barracks some 50 children who arrived from Vught, are suffering from scarlet fever, measles, pneumonia and mumps."
On 13 July 1943, Sylvia together with her mother and brothers were deported to Sobibór, where they were gassed on the 16th. Sylvia's father survived the war.
The camp was taken over by the WVHA in late 1942 and was re-designated Konzentrationlager Herzogenbusch, which now housed political prisoners and Jews, held in transit awaiting the deportations to Poland.
Karl Chmielewski who had served at several concentration camps such as Columbia Haus, Sachenhausen, Mauthausen / Gusen was appointed camp commandant in 1943 and on his appointment brought with 80 Kapos with him.
Vught however, was not as brutal as these concentration camps, there were strict regulations regarding the treatment of inmates, experience in Westerbork had shown that deportations proceeded more smoothly if cruelty was avoided.
The camp measured 500 by 200 meters and consisted of thirty –six living and twenty-three working barracks. A double barbed-wire fence with a ditch between them surrounded the camp.
Watchtowers were placed every 50 meters around the perimeter, situated outside the camp boundaries were the SS living quarters, an execution area and an industrial plant owned by the electrical giant Philips.
The first Jewish prisoners arrived in Vught during January 1943 and by May 1943 their numbers had increased to 8,684, conditions in the camp were very poor although some improvement occurred following a visit by David Cohen a member of the Jewish Council (Joodsche Raad).
Rita Boas Koupman recalled her time at Vught:
_“I stayed for a long time in Vught, till the last Jewish prisoners.
I stay in Vught, well you see Maurits the boy who tried to save us must leave me, which was terrible, my parents after four weeks, but he after nine months. We stayed together and he took care of me like my father should have done or my husband – I had not a husband at the time. _
_It was touching the way he tried to take care of his sister, he worked in the night, he was very left handed, he tried to sew things for other prisoners, used to get a little bit more food, dreadful food, for his sister.
And after nine months he had to go and I should have gone with him but it was not allowed because I had scarlet fever. It was one of the dirty things of the Germans, when you were sick you couldn’t go to the gas chambers.
No first you had to recover.
They gave you the illusion nothing happened because they didn’t send you on a transport when you are sick.
So I had to ………………….
My brother he came to say goodbye and I was looking at him and thinking for heavens sake he can’t go, not in these poor clothes. He was small you see and I gave him one of my jackets and I was thinking it is closing the other way round, but who cares! _
_And I gave him a pair of my boots then I looked at him when he walked away from the barrack – to his back and on his back he looked like me.
And I was sure I would never see him again. I was sure_."
From April 1943, a number of male prisoners were sent to work outside the camp, although most inmates were employed within the camp manufacturing clothing and furs. The most sought after employment was in the Philips Company where 1,200 prisoners were employed. The Philips Company insisted that its Jewish workers should enjoy decent conditions, including a cooked meal every day and to be spared from deportation.
Dr Arthur Lehmann was appointed head of the Jewish administration in the camp during October 1943 he did his best to care for the inmates and was very popular with them.
For a time religious and cultural activities had been permitted and a school had functioned, but this all changed for the worse with the appointment of Adam Grunewald in October 1943, who like his predecessor had served at a number of concentration camps including Lichtenburg, Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachenhausen.
Grunewald was a brutal commandant and he was removed for excessive ill-treatment of the prisoners to be replaced by Hans Huettig in January 1944. Huettig too had followed a similar path with concentration camp service in Lichtenburg, Sachenhausen, Buchenwald, Flossenberg, Natzweiler.
A proclamation was issued by the Vught Kampleidung on 5 June 1943, two transports were to be sent to a “special children’s camp.”
In accordance with the terms of the proclamation, all children up to the age of three were to be accompanied by their mothers and those aged between three and sixteen by one of their parents. The “special children’s camp” was Sobibor death camp in Poland.
The first train, containing 1,750 Jewish people many of them unaccompanied sick children arrived at another transit camp for Jews in Holland - Westerbork on 7 June 1943.
The second transport arrived a day later – 1,300 tired, filthy people were transferred amid much snarling, shouting and beatings from the freight cars that had taken them from Vught, to another set of dirty freight cars that would transport them to Sobibor death camp.
With the exception of two transports which went directly from Vught to Auschwitz, all transports from Vught were routed via Westerbork. The first of these transports to Westerbork left at the end of January 1943, shortly after the transit camp at Vught had been established.
The camp’s population peaked in May 1943 but this steadily declined until 3 June 1944, when the camp was liquidated. The last group to be transported from Vught on 3 June 1944 was made up of 517 Philips’ workers, the company having failed to save them, but even in Auschwitz this group received preferential treatment, being employed by Telefunken, under an agreement reached between Telefunken and Philips.
Nevertheless, most of the men in this group perished, only 160 survived, two thirds were women and nine were children. Today the former camp is part of the army barracks of the Dutch Royal Engineers.
_ Post Cards associated with the Vught Transit camp (click photo for larger view)_
"The killing of unarmed POWs did not trouble many of the men in I company that day for to them the SS guards did not deserve the same protected status as enemy soldiers who have been captured after a valiant fight. To many of the men in I company, the SS were nothing more than wild, vicious animals whose role in this war was to starve, brutalize, torment, torture and murder helpless civilians." Flint Whitlock, The Rock of Anzio, From Sicily to Dachau: A history of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division
Waffen-SS soldiers were executed by American liberators of Dachau
The photograph above is a still photo, taken by T/4 Arland B. Musser, 163rd Signal Photographic Company, US Seventh Army, on April 29, 1945, the day that the Dachau concentration camp was liberated. It shows 60 Waffen-SS soldiers on the ground, some wounded, some playing dead, and 17 dead, according to Flint Whitlock, historian for the 45th Thunderbird Division, who got this information from Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division of the US Seventh Army, the first unit to arrive at the Dachau camp.
In his book entitled "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945," Col. John H. Linden identified the men in the photo as follows: The second American soldier from the left is Bryant, whose first name is unknown, but whose nickname was "Bird Eye." The third soldier from the left is Martin J. Sedler, and the man who is kneeling is William C. Curtain. All three of these men were with M Company of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment. The soldier at the extreme right is Pfc. John Lee of I Company. The buildings in the background are inside the Dachau SS garrison where Waffen-SS troops were quartered; the building on the right is a hospital where a Reserve Company of crippled Waffen-SS soldiers, previously wounded in action, were quartered. The Waffen-SS was the elite volunteer Army which included many divisions from other countries, as well as German soldiers.
According to Col. John H. Linden's account of the liberation of Dachau, T/3 Henry F. Gerzen, 163 Signal Photographic Company, was filming the shooting with a movie camera. A few frames of this movie, which survived the cover-up of the Dachau massacre, show Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing his pistol in the air to stop the action shown in the photo above, which allegedly took place around noon. However, Col. Howard A. Buechner, a medical officer with the 45th Division, claims that the photo above shows a second incident when 346 Waffen-SS soldiers were executed on the orders of Lt. Jack Bushyhead, at around 2:45 p.m.
__Lt. Felix Sparks stops the killing of SS soldiers at the wall
The photograph above shows 27-year-old Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing a pistol into the air, while at the same time, he is holding up his left hand as a signal to the American soldiers to stop shooting.
In 1989, Lt. Col. Sparks wrote an account of the role of the 45th Infantry Division in the liberation of Dachau. His description of what happened at the wall is as follows:
As I watched, about fifty German troops were brought in from various directions. A machine gun squad from Company I was guarding the prisoners. After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area (the concentration camp), after taking directions from one of my soldiers. After I had walked away for a short distance, I heard the machine gun guarding the prisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the gun and kicked the gunner off the gun with my boot. I then grabbed him by the collar and said: "What the hell are you doing?" He was a young private about 19 years old (Private William C. Curtin) and was crying hysterically. His reply to me was: "Colonel, they were trying to get away." I doubt that they were, but in any event he killed about twelve of the prisoners and wounded several more. I placed a noncom on the gun and headed towards the confinement area.
In his 1989 account of the liberation of Dachau, Sparks wrote the following regarding the number of SS soldiers who were killed in the Dachau massacre:
It was the foregoing incident which has given rise to wild claims in various publications that most or all of the German prisoners captured at Dachau were executed. Nothing could be further from the truth, The total number of German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly did not exceed fifty, with thirty probably being a more accurate figure.
According to Whitlock, the men of the 45th Infantry Division had been warned about the danger posed by German POWs by General George S. Patton, Jr., the Commander of the US Seventh Army, on June 27, 1943 just before their invasion of Sicily. Whitlock wrote:
"Patton cautioned the men to watch out for dirty tricks when it seemed a group of enemy soldiers wanted to surrender. A favorite tactic, the general said, was for a small group to suddenly drop their weapons and raise their hands or wave a white flag. When unsuspecting Americans moved into the open to take the enemy prisoner, the 'surrendering' troops would hit the dirt and their comrades, lying in wait, would spring up and mow down the exposed Americans. Patton warned the Thunderbirds to be on their guard for this sort of treachery and to show no mercy if the Germans or Italians attempted this trick. His words would have fateful repercussions."
The "fateful repercussions," that Whitlock was referring to, was the incident that happened at the liberation of Dachau when a young soldier of the 45th Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army opened fire on a group of Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered. He claimed that the surrendered soldiers had moved forward.
As the 45th Infantry Division advanced toward Dachau, with orders to liberate the infamous Concentration Camp, where it was common knowledge that Jews were being exterminated in gas chambers by the Nazis, the American soldiers had no prior information about the existence of the SS-Übungslager, which was the equivalent of an Army post, located right next to the Dachau prison compound. The gas chambers were just outside the barbed wire fence that separated the prison compound from the SS training camp. The men of the 45th Division were not expecting to find a garrison of soldiers, much less Waffen-SS soldiers. For the Americans, the SS had a reputation as the most evil of the evil German soldiers. Part of the bad reputation of the Waffen-SS stemmed from the fact that the guards in all the Nazi concentration camps were soldiers in the infamous SS-Totenkopfverbände, or the "Death's Head" unit of the SS. The regular Germany Army was the Wehrmacht.
Before reaching the SS camp, the soldiers of Lt. Col. Felix Spark's 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, I company, under the command of Lt. William P. Walsh, had seen a long line of abandoned cars of a freight train, filled with emaciated corpses, on Friedenstrasse (Peace Street) just outside the SS garrison. The photograph below shows the "Death Train." The train was loaded with prisoners from the Buchenwald camp, who had been evacuated to Dachau, but the train had been delayed for three weeks because of American bombing of the railroad tracks; some of the dead prisoners on the train had been killed by American bullets when the train was strafed by American planes, as Pfc. John Lee noted in his description of the liberation. The Waffen-SS soldiers, including a unit of Hungarian soldiers, who surrendered to the 45th Infantry Division in good faith, had nothing whatsoever to do with the Death Train.
American soldiers inspect the dead bodies on an abandoned train
An advance party of soldiers of I Company followed the railroad tracks and entered the SS garrison through the railroad gate, some time before an advance party from the 42nd Division went directly to the southwest entrance into the Dachau complex, where an SS-Totenkopf officer, 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, was waiting to surrender the Concentration Camp. As quoted in Flint Whitlock's book "The Rock of Anzio," Lt. Col. Sparks said, "We went along the south side of the camp and I saw the main entrance and decided to avoid it; if the Germans were going to defend it [the camp], I figured that's where they'd do it."
According to Whitlock, "Spark's decision to avoid approaching the main gate would result in much confusion and controversy for decades to come, for inside that gate, the Germans were ready to surrender, not fight."
The gate shown in the photograph below is where "the Germans were ready to surrender, not fight." It was about 75 yards from this gate, located on the southwest side of the Dachau complex, that 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrendered the Dachau concentration camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Infantry Division. This photo was taken after the liberation; it shows two American soldiers guarding the gate.
Gate near where Lt. Heinrich Wicker was waiting to surrender at Dachau
Whitlock quotes Lt. Walsh as follows:
There's a big gate, and this German guy comes out of there. He must have been about six-four or six-five, and he's got beautiful blond hair. He's a handsome-looking bastard and he's got more Goddam Red Cross shields on and white flags....My first reaction is, "You son of a bitch, where in the hell were you five minutes ago before we got here, taking care of all these people? ....Well, everybody was very upset. Every guy in that company, including myself, was very upset over this thing, and then seeing this big, handsome, son of a bitch coming out with all this Red Cross shit on him.
The photograph below shows the "big gate" which Lt. Walsh described. This photo was taken on the day of the liberation; it shows Waffen-SS soldiers from the garrison surrendering to the Americans.
The "big gate" where Waffen-SS soldiers surrendered
What Lt. Walsh and the men of I company did not know was that the SS training camp and garrison was completely separate from the Dachau concentration camp, although the prison compound was inside the large SS complex, and only accessible by first going through the gates into the SS garrison. The gate into the Dachau concentration camp is shown in the photograph below.
Gate into Dachau concentration camp was inside the SS complex
In his book, "Surrender of the Dachau Concentration Camp 29 April 1945," Col. John H. Linden wrote that the night before, on April 28th, "A combat unit of the Waffen-SS was sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp to surrender the camp to the first U.S. Army unit to reach the camp."
According to Nerin E. Gun's book "The Day of the Americans," published in 1966, the Commander of the combat unit of Waffen-SS soldiers was Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky, although there are no SS records which mention his name. There is no mention of Skodzensky in the Dachau archives or in the Berlin Bundesarchiv.
Abram Sachar gave this account of the surrender of the concentration camp in his book entitled "The Redemption of the Unwanted" published in 1983:
Soon the advance scouts (of the 45th Division) were joined by other Allied soldiers and one of the German guards came forward to surrender with what he believed would be the usual military protocol. He emerged in full regalia, wearing all his decorations. He had only recently been billeted to Dachau from the Russian front. He saluted and barked "Heil Hitler". An American officer looked down and around at mounds of rotting corpses, at thousands of prisoners shrouded in their own filth. He hesitated only a moment, then spat in the Nazi's face, snapping "Schweinehund," before ordering him taken away. Moments later a shot rang out and the American officer was informed that there was no further need for protocol.
This account refers to the execution of Lt. Heinrich Skodzensky, who had allegedly been put in charge of the SS garrison only recently, according to Nerin E. Gun, a survivor of Dachau. Skodzensky was allegedly executed by soldiers of the 45th Thunderbird Division who had arrived at the Dachau complex before the 42nd Rainbow Division. Contrary to Sacher's description of Lt. Skodzensky's execution, the concentration camp where "thousands of prisoners shrouded in their own filth" were being held was at least one kilometer from the area where the first executions of the Waffen-SS soldiers took place.
According to Col. Buechner, who wrote a book called "The Hour of the Avenger," the SS garrison had a capacity of 1473 men. The guards of the concentration camp, who were SS-Totenkopf soldiers, were quartered at the SS garrison, along with Waffen-SS soldiers who had recently arrived from the front. The Waffen-SS soldiers were not responsible for the Dachau concentration camp, which was administrated by the SS-Totenkopfverbände, not by the Waffen-SS. Many of the guards had fled on the April 28th. Their wives and families had been left behind in the SS garrison.
Whitlock wrote that one of the men of I company shot the handsome SS soldier, who had surrendered at the "big gate," because he tried to make a break to escape, after he had surrendered, according to Lt. Walsh. The name of this soldier is unknown. Then four more Waffen-SS soldiers emerged with their hands up and surrendered to the men of I company. Remembering the words of General Patton who had warned about dirty tricks, and knowing the evil reputation of the SS men, Lt. Walsh herded the SS soldiers into an empty railroad boxcar inside the camp and "emptied his pistol" into them, according to Whitlock.
Lt. Walsh and his men continued through the SS garrison, rounding up the soldiers who had surrendered and separating the Waffen-SS soldiers from the Wehrmacht soldiers, who were in the regular German army. The photograph below shows some of the German soldiers who had surrendered.
Soldiers at the Dachau garrison after they surrendered
Note the prisoners, who are assisting the American soldiers, in the photograph above, taken on April 29, 1945, the day of the liberation. On the right is a liberated prisoner wearing a pair of striped prison pants and a jacket with an X on the back. The X was painted on the civilian clothing worn by some of the prisoners to identify them in the event they escaped.
The SS soldiers, who had surrendered, were lined up against a wall that formed part of a coal bin, as shown in the photograph at the top of this page. Lt. Walsh called for a machine gun to be set up facing the prisoners, and ordered his I company soldiers to shoot the Germans if they didn't stay back. When the SS soldiers saw the machine gun cocked and ready to fire, they panicked and started toward the American soldiers, according to John Lee of I company, as quoted by Whitlock.
The medic who was present, Peter Galary, told Whitlock that he "refused to patch up the Germans we shot."
Hans Linberger survived the Dachau Massacre Previous
Five SS soldiers who have surrendered
Hans Linberger was a Waffen-SS soldier who had been wounded in battle on the eastern front and, after a long hospital stay, had arrived at the Dachau SS garrison on March 9, 1945 as a member of a Reserve Company. On April 9, 1945, the men of the Reserve Company were put into the hospital that was right next to the scene of the shooting. They had been so severely wounded that they were no longer fit for combat; Linberger had been wounded in battle four times and had lost an arm.
In his testimony given to the German Red Cross (DRK) after the war, Hans Linberger said that the American liberators came into the SS hospital armed with Machine Pistols (sub-machine guns).
Linberger stated that he went to the entrance of the hospital, carrying a small Red Cross flag as a sign of surrender; it must have been obvious to the American liberators that this was a hospital, that the soldiers there were unarmed and that one of the sleeves of Linberger's uniform was empty.
Linberger testified under oath that an American soldier shoved a Machine Pistol against his chest and then hit him in the face. Another American soldier allegedly said to him: "You fight Ruski, you no good." Ruski was German slang for a Russian. America was fighting on the side of the Russian Communists in World War II, and Linberger had been at the eastern front, fighting the Russians.
According to Linberger's sworn statement, the American who had placed the MP against his chest then went inside the hospital and immediately shot a wounded Waffen-SS soldier, who fell down to the ground motionless. When Dr. Schröder, the head of the hospital, tried to surrender, he was beaten so hard that he suffered a fractured skull, according to Linberger.
Linberger said that the wounded men in the hospital were ordered out and after the Waffen-SS soldiers were separated from the Wehrmacht soldiers of the regular Germany Army, the SS men were lined up against a wall. A movie camera was set up so that the scene could be filmed. The Waffen-SS soldiers were then mowed down with machine gun fire while the camera rolled.
The photograph below shows the hospital in the background on the right-hand side. On the roof is a red cross on a white background, which clearly marks the building as a hospital.
Waffen-SS soldiers executed with machine guns
There is considerable disagreement about what time the photo above was taken. According to Col. Howard A. Buechner, a medical officer in the 45th Division, the photo was taken at around 2:45 p.m. during a second action when 346 SS soldiers were allegedly killed. In his book, "The Hour of the Avenger," Col. Buechner wrote that a second machine gun was located to the right, but out of camera range. Lt. Jack Bushyhead was in charge of the second machine gun, which Col. Buechner says was set up on top of a bicycle shed. However, Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, has stated that the photo above depicts a shooting which occurred around noon and resulted in 17 deaths, according to his story.
Linberger told the German Red Cross that he managed to survive only because the soldier standing next to him was shot in the stomach and when the wounded man fell to the ground, Linberger fell down with him. Linberger's head and face were covered with blood from the wound of the soldier who had been shot, so that it appeared that Linberger had been severely wounded. Linberger said that he shared some chocolate with another soldier while they waited for a shot in the neck to finish them off, as was customary in an execution.
According to Linberger, the shooting was halted when a few drunken prisoners arrived with shovels, "looking for a man named Weiss." The photo below shows a guard, named Weiss, who is being confronted by two Polish prisoners. In the background of the photograph below, one can see some of the buildings in the SS garrison and the coal yard wall where the bodies of Waffen-SS soldiers are lying on the ground after they had been executed with their hands in the air by the men of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 157th Regiment, 45th Division.
Two prisoners prepare to beat one of the guards
The photograph below shows Dachau prisoners celebrating with bottles of wine after the American liberators arrived. The wine was probably obtained from the SS warehouses, which Martin Gottfried Weiss, the acting Commandant, had turned over to the inmates before he escaped. The prisoners are wearing worker's caps which were adopted by some of the inmates as a symbol of their Communist affiliation. Note the man in the center in the bottom row; he is the man on the left in the photo above, and he is also in the next two photographs below.
Communist prisoners celebrate with wine after Dachau liberation
According to Linberger's account of the shooting at the coal yard wall, a man wearing a Red Cross armband came up to the wounded men, as they were lying on the ground by the wall waiting to be finished off, and threw some razor blades to them, saying "There, finish it yourself." A wounded German soldier, named Jäger, cut the wrist of his own wounded right arm and then asked Linberger to slash his other wrist. Just as Jäger was proposing to return the favor by slashing Linberger's wrists for him, an American officer arrived with Dr. Schröder "who could barely keep himself standing," and the shooting was stopped. The SS soldiers who were still alive were allowed to drag away their wounded comrades, according to Linberger. The American officer who halted the shooting was Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment.
The photograph below shows the same liberated prisoner, now armed with a rifle. He is talking, in a bellicose manner, to a Hungarian soldier who has surrendered, while a young American G.I. looks on in amazement. The liberated prisoners were armed by the Americans and allowed to kill 40 of the Dachau guards, according to Col. Howard Buechner, who wrote about the Dachau massacre in his book "The Hour of the Avenger," published in 1986.
Communist prisoner talks to Waffen-SS soldier who has surrendered.
Later, some of the wounded Waffen-SS soldiers went to the town of Dachau where Linberger mentioned that they were in the cafe of the Hörhammerbräu, a Gasthaus in Dachau, which had formerly been the site of Nazi party meetings. Linberger said in his testimony that the barracks of the SS soldiers had been looted by the liberated prisoners. As he and other Waffen-SS survivors were walking on the road to the town of Dachau, they were spat upon and cursed by the looters who "wished we would all be hung."
Linberger testified that "During this action, 12 dead were left nameless." The "action" that he was referring to is the killing of the Waffen-SS soldiers at the wall around noon. His account agrees with that of Col. Howard Buechner, who says that there were 12 dead in the first incident, when SS soldiers were lined up against a wall and shot.
Linberger continued his testimony: "As I later found out, documents and name tags had been removed on American orders, and a commando of German soldiers were supposed to have buried these dead in an unknown location." The "commando of German soldiers" refers to a work party of German POWs who were ordered to perform forced labor in the burial of the dead. It is a violation of the Geneva convention to remove identification from fallen enemy soldiers or to bury them in an unmarked grave. In this passage of his testimony, Linberger is referring to the 12 men killed at the wall, whose name tags he says were removed.
Linberger told the German Red Cross that he found one of the mass graves of the SS soldiers, which included the body of a German soldier named Maier, who was in the SS hospital at Dachau because his leg had been amputated. According to Linberger, Maier was shot in another area of the hospital terrain near 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 his comrade. In the proximity of the hospital/mortuary were probably other comrades executed at the walls, as I later found traces of gunfire." According to Linberger, bodies of the SS men killed during the liberation were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of the SS garrison.
Linberger's statement to the German Red Cross was quoted by T. Pauli, the chairman of a group of survivors of the Flemish SS volunteers in their magazine called Berkenkruis in October 1988. The article, translated into English by one of the Flemish veterans, can be read on a separate page on this web site. This magazine also reported another massacre at Erfurt, where American soldiers killed 52 Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered.
The bodies of the dead SS soldiers were left in the coal yard until May 3, 1945 when the incident was investigated by Lt. Col. Joseph Whitaker, the Seventh Army's Assistant Inspector General. A report on the "Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau" was filed on June 8, 1945. It was marked secret, but the contents were later revealed to the public in 1991. A copy of the report is included in Col. John H. Linden's book "The Surrender of Dachau 29 April 1945."
The paragraphs below, from the Secret Report, pertain to the Execution of German soldiers by members of the 45th Division.
4. At the entrance to the back area of the Dachau prison grounds, four German soldiers surrendered to Lt. William P. Walsh, 0-414901, in command of Company "I", 157th Infantry. These prisoners Lt. Walsh ordered into a box car, where he personally shot them. Pvt. Albert C. Pruitt, 34573708, Company "I"157th Infantry, then climbed into the box car where these Germans were on the floor moaning and apparently still alive, and finished them off with his rifle.
5. After entry into the Dachau Camp area, Lt. Walsh segregated from surrendered prisoners of war those who were identified as SS Troops.
6. Such segregated prisoners of war were marched into a separate enclosure, lined up against the wall and shot down by American troops, who were acting under the orders of Lt. Walsh. A light machine gun, carbines, and either a pistol or a sub-machine gun were used. Seventeen of such prisoners of war were killed, and others were wounded.
7. Lt. Jack Bushyhead, 0-1284822, executive officer of Company "I", participated with Lt. Walsh in this handling of the men and during the course of the shooting personally fired his weapon at these prisoners.
16. Lt. Walsh testified that the SS men were segregated in order to properly guard them, and were then fired upon because they started moving toward the guards. However, the dead bodies were located along the wall against which they had been lined up, they were killed along the entire line, although Lt. Walsh only claims those on one flank moved, and a number of witnesses testified that it was generally "understood" that these prisoners were to be shot when they were being segregated. These facts contradict the defensive explanation given by Lt. Walsh.
Lt. Jack Bushyhead was a Native American, a "Cherokee Indian"from Oklahoma. Col. Buechner claims that 346 Waffen-SS soldiers were executed, on Lt. Bushyhead's orders, in a second action later that day. They were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death while they had their hands in the air.
Dan Dougherty was a 19-year-old soldier with C Company, which was ordered to relieve I Company after the SS soldiers were killed. In an interview in April 2005 with Jennifer Upshaw, Assistant City Editor of the Marin Independent Journal in Marin County, California, Dougherty said that the men of I company had "gone berserk" under the strain.
The soldiers of the 45th division had seen dead prisoners on a train parked outside the SS garrison before entering Dachau. At least one of the men of I company, Private John Lee, knew that some of the prisoners, who were riding in open cars, had been killed by American bullets when the train was strafed by American planes during its three-week journey, through the war zone, from Buchenwald to Dachau, a distance of only 200 miles.
In the following quote from Upshaw's article in the Marin Independent Journal, Dougherty described how the men of I Company reacted to the sight of the dead prisoners:
"They became very emotional, crying," Dougherty said. "We went in to relieve them. They'd walked along that same train of boxcars. We came to the coal yard. It was a strange sight because here are about 10 reporters standing in this courtyard around corpses of SS officers."
An estimated 200 to 300 SS guards were rounded up - two to three dozen were "killed unnecessarily," Dougherty said.
"I Company, we now know they got there about noon and at 2 p.m. arrived at the southwest corner and worked over to the east side where the prison was. They were holding the prisoners of war in the coal yard. We know there something happened. About 17 (guards) were shot."
Dougherty said he has learned through his research a U.S. Army private insisted the group had fired at the guards in self defense, although the company's commanding officer said the group was not provoked.
"I think it haunted some of them," he said.
No one was ever charged with a crime, he said. In a previous interview with Ronnie Cohen of the Jewish Weekly News of Northern California in April 2001, Dougherty said that, soon after he arrived at Dachau, he had seen about 10 reporters staring at a pile of corpses. The following is a quote from Dougherty in this article:
"This mound of corpses was about 2 or 3 feet high and 15 feet across. And they were SS. One of the corporals in my company whips out a hunting knife and cuts a finger off one of the bodies. He wanted an SS ring for a souvenir."
Herbert Stolpmann was a German POW who worked for the US military at Dachau after the liberation. In an e-mail letter to me, Stolpmann wrote:
When American Troops "liberated" Camp Dachau proper, they forced all the SS-families, including women and children, out of the so-called villas, put their fathers against the wall and shot them. Most of the mothers had cyanide capsules; they gave them to their children and told them, put them into their mouths, bite onto them as soon as Daddy is shot. The American "Liberators" stopped the shooting after about 24 children were dead.
The American soldiers who were involved in the Dachau massacre were court-martialled, but the papers were torn up and then burned by General George S. Patton, Commander of the US Third Army. The Dachau massacre was kept secret until 1991 when information was finally released. This newspaper article tells about the ethics of shooting unarmed prisoners of war at Dachau.
With regard to the shooting of German POWs, Jim Stephens, a rifleman with the 63rd Division of the U.S. Seventh Army, told reporter Steven Mihailovitch that "the experience of Dachau affected his unit during the subsequent fight against the German army."
The following words of Jim Stephens were quoted in an article written by Steven Mihailovitch on November 10, 2008 for the San Marcos, CA Today's Local News website:
"We didn't bother too much with capturing," Stephens remembered. "If they stuck their head up, we didn't look if they were surrendering."
At the proceedings against the Waffen-SS soldiers accused of the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge, which were held in a building inside the former SS training camp at Dachau, any mention by the defense that American soldiers had killed German POWs, was ordered stricken from the record by the judges of the American Military Tribunal.
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).
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: