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Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp
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KL Gross-Rosen (Groß-Rosen) was a German concentration camp, located in Gross-Rosen, Lower Silesia (now Rogo?nica, Poland). It was located directly on the rail line between Jauer (now Jawor) andStriegau (now Strzegom).
It was set up in the summer of 1940 as a satellite camp to Sachsenhausen, and became an independent camp on May 1, 1941. Initially, work was carried out in the camp's huge stone quarry, owned by the SS-Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH (SS German Earth and Stone Works). As the complex grew, many inmates were put to work in the construction of the subcamps' facilities.
In October 1941 the SS transferred about 3,000 Soviet POWs to Gross-Rosen for execution by shooting.
Gross-Rosen was known for its brutal treatment of NN (Nacht und Nebel) prisoners, especially in the stone quarry. The brutal treatment of the political and Jewish prisoners was not only due to the SS and criminal prisoners, but to a lesser extent also due to German civilians working in the stone quarry. In 1942, for political prisoners, the mean survival time was less than two months.
Due to a change of policy in August 1942, prisoners were likely to survive longer because they were needed as slave workers in German industries. Among the companies that benefited from the slave labour of the concentration camp inmates were German electronics manufacturers such as Blaupunkt or Siemens. Some prisoners who were not able to work and not yet dying within a few days, were sent to Dachau in so-called invalid transports. One of these, Willem Lodewijk Harthoorn, an inmate from the end of April to mid-August 1942, wrote an account of his experiences, Verboden te sterven (in Dutch, meaning Forbidden to Die). The largest population of inmates, however, were Jews, initially from the Dachau and Sachsenhausen camps, and later from Buchenwald. During the camp's existence, the Jewish inmate population came mainly from Poland and Hungary; others were from Belgium, France, Netherlands, Greece, Yugoslavia, Slovakia, and Italy.
At its peak activity in 1944, the Gross-Rosen complex had up to sixty subcamps located in eastern Germany and occupied Poland. In its final stage, the population of the Gross-Rosen camps accounted for 11% of the total inmates in Nazi concentration camps at that time. A total of 125,000 inmates of various nationalities passed through the complex during its existence, of whom an estimated 40,000 died on site and in evacuation transports. The camp was liberated on February 14, 1945, by the Red Army.
A total of over 500 female camp guards were trained and served in the Gross Rosen complex. Female SS staffed the women's subcamps ofBrünnlitz, Graeben, Gruenberg, Gruschwitz Neusalz, Hundsfeld, Kratzau II, Oberalstadt, Reichenbach, and Schlesiersee Schanzenbau.
Gross-Rosen entrance gate with the phrase Arbeit macht frei
During the Gross-Rosen period as a subcamp of Sachsenhausen the following SS-officers served as Lagerführer:concentration camp from May 1941, the following were commandants:
Rödl was born into a devout Catholic family, his father working as a messenger and his mother running a newsstand. The stand closed when Rödl was ten and he was told by his mother that it had shut down as she could not compete with a nearby stand ran by a Jew. The incident helped to instill a sense of anti-Semitism in the young Rödl, who was involved in extreme nationalist groups from an early age. Rödl was apprenticed to a blacksmith when World War I broke out and he soon enlisted in the German Imperial Army by forging his age on his documents after initially being rejected for being only 16. He was injured seriously at least once during the war and was demobbed at the age of 20, eventually working for the post office.
Rödl also quickly return to far right activism and joined the Bund Oberland in 1920. His activities brought him frequent reprimands at work, be it taking time off to travel with other Bund members to fight with Poles in Upper Silesia or using his window at the post office to hand out propaganda leaflets. When it became clear that he had participated in the Beer Hall putsch he was dismiised by the post office.
By this time a member of the Nazi Party, Rödl sought employment at the party's Brown House headquarters where he initially found a job as a mimeograph operator. He volunteered for the SS in 1928 and in 1934 was switched to a full-time member of the organisation. He served with the SS-Totenkopfverbände, initially at Lichtenburg along with the likes of Egon Zill and then at Sachsenhausen, although he initially found advancement difficult as he was seen by his SS superiors as naive and unsubtle. Rödl was noted for his brusque manner, a facet that was less than ideal for an SS man at Sachsenhausen because it was sometimes open to overseas dignitaries due to its proximity to Berlin. For this reason Theodor Eicke recommended Rödl's removal from his position in 1937.
Rödl finally began to rise through the ranks following a transfer to Buchenwald, where he was deputy to commandant Karl-Otto Koch. In this role he was given a largely free hand to indulge his cruel side, with Koch placing no restrictions on his men's actions. An example of this occurred late on 1 January 1939 he lined up the inmates at Buchenwald, picked five at random and had them stripped, tied to posts and whipped until morning in tune with the prisoner orchestra. Eventually he was given command of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, although he was not suited to role and one of his evenutal successors Johannes Hassebroek commented that he was a "cruel, corrupt and drunken man". He ultimately reached the rank of Obersturmbannführer despite consistently testing for low intelligence. Wilhelm Gideonreplaced him as camp commandant on 16 September 1942.
- 13 June 1898 in Munich - April 1945
Camp Commandants~Wilhelm Gideon
Gideon enlisted in the SS in 1933 (as member number 88,657) and the Nazi Party itself in 1937 (member 4,432,258). He had a varied career in the SS, initially being stationed with the 9th SS-Reiterstandarte (cavalry) from 1934 to 1939. Following this he was moved to the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf until 1942 following which he was briefly attached to the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt and then served for a short spell at Neuengamme concentration camp and as administrator of the 88th SS-Standarte in Hamburg.
Gideon had been identified by Oswald Pohl as a reliable SS officer and was promoted to Hauptsturmführer by the concentration camp chief.He was appointed commandant of Gross-Rosen concentration camp on 16 September 1942 in succession to Arthur Rödl and held the post until 10 October 1943 when Johannes Hassebroek succeeded him. His final post was as SS and Police Leader in occupied Denmark until the surrender in 1945.
Gideon was last known to be alive in 1975 when Israeli historian Tom Segev interviewed him for his book Soldiers of Evil, a study of the concentration camp commandants. However after initially co-operating Gideon terminated the interview when he suddenly claimed that he was a different person who happened to be named Wilhelm Gideon rather than the former commandant of Gross-Rosen
- 15 November 1898~ died after 1975
Hassebroeck was the son of prison guard who had joined the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten after his service in the First World War. He encouraged his son to become involved in right-wing politics and enrolled him in the conservative Bismarckbund youth movement. The young Hassebroeck also attempted to enrol in the army but was rejected, due largely to the reduction in size ordered by the terms of theTreaty of Versailles, and as such he was apprenticed to a factory instead.Nazi Party involvement
Hassebroeck initially continued as a member of the Bismarckbund before switching to the Sturmabteilung as a 19 year old, joining the Nazi Party the following year. He lost his job in 1931 and spent three years unemployed, during which time his faith in Nazism was strengthened. During this time he was a regular in the SA street fights against Communist Party supporters whilst also serving as a volunteer counsellor with the Hitler Youth. The party found him a job with the Saxon Fishermen's Association in 1934 although this ended when their offices moved to Berlin leaving Hassebroeck unemployed again.The SS
In June 1934 he left the SA to join the SS instead under the advice of a friend who told him that SS membership would help him get into the police. He was put to work in an administrative role with little hope of promotion after SS psychologists deemed him too compliable and weak-willed for officer material. However he appealed the decision and was allowed to enter the officer training scheme at Braunschweig. Initially he failed but following another appeal was given a second chance and at 26 passed the course and was given a trial run as an SS officer.
His first assignment was as a member of the SS-Totenkopfverbände stationed at the concentration camp at Esterwegen. Reports from his superiors at the time still criticised his lack of a forceful personality although they also indicated an improvement. When Esterwegen was closed in 1936 he was transferred to a unit near Sachsenhausen concentration camp before being sent for Wehrmacht training and was sent to the front when the Second World War broke out. However he remained an SS man, being attached to Theodor Eicke's 3rd SS Division Totenkopf rather than the regular army. Hassebroeck's reports improved significantly whilst he was at war and in 1942 he was promoted toHauptsturmführer, his first promotion.Concentration camp commandant
Hassebroeck fell ill in the summer of 1942 before suffering a right leg wound, resulting in long spells in military hospitals in Riga, Munich and Berlin. Whilst at the latter facility he met Richard Glücks, who had overall charge of the concentration camps, and he soon requested that Hassebroeck be sent to his units. Returning to Sachsenhausen in August 1942 he remained there until October 1943 when he was given command of Gross-Rosen concentration camp in succession to Wilhelm Gideon. The camp that Hassebroeck took over had only 3000 inmates but it grew rapidly in size under his command and by the time it was closed had as many as 80,000. By late 1944 Hassebroeck, who had been promoted to Sturmbannführer in the interim, also had responsibility for thirteen sub-camps set up to deal with the severe overcrowding in Gross-Rosen. It was estimated that as many as 100,000 people had died at the camp during Hassebroeck's time in charge. For his part Hassebroeck was adjudged a success in his new role, with Glücks reporting that he "exudes self-confidence and toughness" near the end of the war.Later years
Hassebroeck was initially arrested by Czechoslovakians before ultimately passing into the hands of the British Army who put him on trial. Initially sentenced to death, this was quickly commuted to life imprisonment and finally fifteen years, with him being released from prison in 1954. He settled in Braunschweig where he worked as a sales agent until 1967 when he arrested under German law for his involvement in the camps. He was accused of being personally responsible for the killings of nine Jews and three other inmates at Gross Rosen, in part because of evidence arising from the testimonies given by Oskar Schindler earlier in the decade. In the case that followed he was acquitted firstly by the Braunschweig court and then again, following an appeal by the prosecution, by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. He continued to be under investigation until his death in 1977.
Up to death in 1977 Hassebroeck remained nostalgic for his SS days, commenting to Israeli historian Tom Segev that "our service was an overwhelming emotional experience of enormous strength. We believed not only in the same values and ideals - we believed in each other". He also claimed that he had no involvement in killings, arguing "all I know about the atrocities at Gross Rosen I learnt during the trials against me.
- 11 July 1910~17 April 1977
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
Erich Woywoth who also served at Buchenwald
Karl Babor Dr. Karl Babor
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.
Ash Pit of the Victims of Gross-Rosen
Prisoners Constructing Gross-Rosen
Barrack No. 40 at Gross-Rosen
Inmates from Gross Rosen not only worked in the manufacture of nerve gas, but also served as live lab rats for lethal experiments. Scientists known, or thought to have conducted research on human camp inmates studying the effects of Radiation, Chemical, or Biological warfare for Laternenträger include:
Dr. Otto Ambros
Dr.. Karl Babor Peter Brandenburg Karl Brauer Herbert Dillmann
Dr. Frie Dr.ich Entress Walter Ernstberger Georg Guessregen
Waldemar Henneberg Dr.Erwin Herzum
Dr.ich Honig Eugen Krunick Dr Richard Kuhn * Albert Luetkemeyer
Karl Marg Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Heinrich Rindfleisch Fritz Ritterbusch Ernst Rüdiger von Brüning Dr. Karl Schmidt
Kuno Schramm Dr Gerhard Schrader Wilhelm Stoetzler Otto Stoppel
Rudolf-Heinrich Suttrop Dr. Heinz Thilo Anton Thumann Karl Ulbrich
Dr. Van der Linde Erich Woywoth Christian Wirth
* Kuhn also developed a thermal convection Uranium centrifuge with Dr Martin.
In January 1945, nerve gas facilities in Silesia were guarded by detachment SS Kampfgruppe Delfs, under command of Obersturmbahnfuhrer Hermann Delfs. Overall however the 269th and 17th Infanterie-Divisions were responsible for military defence of areas about Breslau under the command of Maj Gen. Max Sachsenhaaimer. Gross Rosen Concentration Camp and it’s many satellite work camps were commanded by SS Sturmbannfuhrer Johannes Hassebroek 1943 – 1944.
© Simon Gunson (non-commercial reproduction permitted, but please cite source)
He was born in Zschopau near Werdau , a professional civil servant. He participated in World War I , serving in the 153rd and 264th Infantry Regiment. He was a member of the SA , NSDAP on 25 January 1925 year (six card number 317) and SS from 1931 year (Registration No. 9 107). Since October 1934 the 91st year officer Universal SS regiment in Wittenberg . Since the spring of 1940 to 30 January 1941 he held an unspecified role in the Division IV camp Flossenbürg KL , where then was transferred to the post of commander of one of the camp guard companies. The camp moved to January 10 1943 until the headquarters staff of KL Hinzert , where he was adjutant to the commandant of the camp, Paul Sporrenberga . 18 June 1943 year moved to KL Lublin . In the spring of 1944 years seconded to KL Gross-Rosen , where since May this year to 13 February 1945 , he was company commander and the head of sub Parschnitz in Pozici and AL Trautenau in Trutnov inthe Czech Republic
His post-war fate is unknown.
- 11 January 1894~
Born in Zella in Thuringia , he worked as a warehouseman. Member of NSDAP since 1 May 1933 year (party number 2 553 999). The same day, also joined the SS (registration number 71 688). 1 July the same year he joined the professional service in the SS and was assigned toDachau . Between 1.94 thousand - one thousand nine hundred forty-one the he was such function Rapportfiihrer . Then seconded to KLGross-Rosen , where on August 14 1941 he was appointed deputy director of the camp from the employment of prisoners. He left the campon September 1 in 1942 year, then moved to the facility head of economic department at the Office of the Higher SS and Police Leader Eastin the General Government . At the same time he was employed as deputy head of unit IIIa KL Lublin . From 1 April 1943 to 5 June 1944 , he was a functionary of the Office D II WVHA , while he held a job as deputy Lagerführer responsible for the work of prisoners in Neuengamme Concentration . Then he returned to Dachau , where the 15 November 1944 , he served the same function, and later was posted to 18 reserve battalion of the SS Panzer Grenadiers, forming part of the 18th Volunteer SS Panzer Grenadier Division Horst Wessel . In this subdivision remained until 24 November 1944 year, then was assigned to the headquarters of the school shooting Wehrmacht in Pölzig .
Nothing is known of his fate after the war. During the war was marked including the Iron Cross Second Class , War Merit Cross Second Class with Swords , Medal for the inclusion of Austria into Germany and the Czech Medal for annexation of the Sudetenland
- 11 May 1905 ~
Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop
Rudolf Heinrich Suttrop
Suttrop, married and father of three children, had since September 1933 member of the SS (Mitgliedsnr. 230 953).
In September 1937 he joined the NSDAP in. No later than 1936 Suttrop member of the team camp Sachsenhausen concentration camp Burg moved and after the camp was disbanded in July 1937 to guard the newly built concentration camp Buchenwald . After the outbreak of the Second World War he was a member of the SS Death's Head Division , part of the Waffen SS , and came to the front.
From September 1941 until 15 May 1942 Suttrop as adjutant in the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in the camp commandant Arthur Rödlused. From mid-May 1942 to mid-May 1944, he served as adjutant in the concentration camp Dachau, first under Alexander Piorkowski until June 1942, then until the end of October 1943, Martin Gottfried Weiss , and finally to mid-May 1944 under Edward Next .
There he was responsible in the capacity of adjutant to the needs of the 235-strong headquarters staff responsible. In essence, he oversaw the execution there of correspondence, the telecommunications, management of car parks, the management of the headquarters offices and the practical support of the camp commandant. From 15 May 1944, he served again until the sixth March 1945 as an aide to John Hassebroek Gross-Rosen concentration camp.
On 13 December 1945 Suttrop to prove the crimes committed were not independent, because of the "help and participation in the crimes in Dachau concentration camp" with 35 other co-defendants by the American military court to death by hanging convicted. The ruling was on 28 May 1946 in Landsberg prison for war criminals executed at the Lech.
- July 17 1911~May 28 1946
THILO, Heinz SS-Hauptsturmführer
THILO, Heinz SS-Hauptsturmführer
1911 - 1945
Camp physician in Birkenau
Thilo joined the Nazi Party in December 1930 and the SS in 1934. He concluded his medical studies in 1935 in Jena, and then worked mostly as a gynaecologist within the Lebensborn organisation (from April 1938 until the end of 1941). He served at the front for six months in 1942, and at the end of July was posted to Auschwitz.
From November 1942 until October 1944, Thilo was the responsible physician at the prisoners’ infirmary camp in Birkenau. According to Dr. Johann Kremer,
Thilo called Auschwitz “anus mundi” (the "asshole of the world” - entry inKremer’s diary 5 September 1942). Thilo was amongst those doctors who were very often on duty at the ramp. He participated in numerous selections not only here, but also in the blocks of the infirmary camp, where he selected victims for the gas chambers. Furthermore, he took part in the liquidation of the “Theresienstädter Familienlager” (the Family Camp for Jews from Terezin (Theresienstadt): 3.791 Jews were murdered in the gas chambers on 8 March 1944.
In October 1944, he was transferred to KZ Gross-Rosen, where he served as a camp physician until February 1945. He left the camp shortly before its liberation. On 13 April 1945, he committed suicide in Hohenelbe.
- 1911 - 1945
View of the stone quarry in the Gross-Rosen camp, where prisoners were subjected to forced labor. Gross-Rosen, Germany, 1940-1945.
January 22, 2010. In dedication to the victims of the Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp.
Within a few minutes I was put on a cattle car with about 120 men. I was enveloped with a fear that words can only hint at: it was as if I had become the fear. My father was gone, my mother was gone, my sisters were gone. I had not seen my brother in four years. My community disappeared before my eyes. I was alone.
The door of the cattle car was closed and locked. It was black. I could not turn or even lift my hand after we were herded into the car. As my eyes got used to the darkness, I could see through the slats. There was not enough light to recognize faces. Although it was so crowded that I could not move, I have never felt so completely alone. When the train started, something was shoved through the small openings on each side of the car. Because I was tall, I was able to grab what was tossed in. I didn’t know it was bread because the texture was unlike any bread I had ever held, the taste, unlike any bread I had ever eaten. It was like sawdust. I ate some and put the rest in my jacket. The first decision I made on my own was to save some bread for later. I wanted to eat the bread, but couldn’t because whatever was in it made me thirsty. This was my first encounter with the hunger of the camps. Hunger, like a good friend, was always by my side, while at the same time, was the tyrant I carried with me for the next 11 months.
Gross-Rosen entrance gate with the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei”
People were collapsing, but it was so dark that I realized this only when I started to lose my balance and found myself standing on bodies. I had to remain upright because had I fallen, I too would have been trampled to death. It was too crowded to get up. Falling meant dying. I did not want to step on bodies but instinctively did, to maintain my balance, to save my life.
Men were moaning, whimpering, and shuddering, making sounds I had never heard. Cries of prayer reminded me of the Day of Atonement when we ask who is going to live and who is going to die. In contrast to my recollections of the past during the train ride to Auschwitz, now memory was all I had. It was what temporarily distracted me from the horror of the cattle car and the dread of the future. I was struck with the change in my perception of my past. My memories helped me to survive. My past had become a retreat into which I could escape. Only a week before, I would not indulge in even the slightest recollection.
There was no pale, so no decisions had to be made in this regard. I lost control and urinated during what must have been the night. My first reaction was that of warmth and then relief from the cold. Seconds later, I was again cold and wet. Losing control of a body function was the first of a series of surrenders.
When the train stopped and the doors opened, we were blinded by the light and assaulted by screams of “Raus! Raus!” as the SS, Wehrmacht, and Kapos ordered us to disembark.
We were at the outskirts of a village in Poland Gross-Rosen. I realized the stench on the train was the scent of death when I saw 30 or 40 bodies being pulled out of the car and loaded onto wagons. The Germans expected and were prepared to remove the bloated, misshapen corpses. There was no dignity in this world. Even in death, men were heartlessly hurled on top of each other to be carted off and disposed of callously, as if they were waste.
We lined up and were ordered to march in rows on a country road. There were thousands of us marching through the village of Gross-Rosen to the labor camp, located on the periphery of the town.
“Where am I?” ”How long?” ”What am I?” Continuously I asked myself these questions. ”What could be next?”
We marched through narrow gates with the “Arbeit Macht Frei”posted on the side. It struck me as odd to see slogans posted. The signs I was familiar with were geographical pointers. These signs seemed to be conveying a message with a thematic meaning. The numbers on our jackets were recorded by inmates clad in the same striped uniform I had just received. I wondered if I had entered some hitherto unknown kingdom. There were many similarities between this place and Auschwitz, both in appearance and in the citizenry.
We, the new inhabitants, were directed to a large open area where there were a gallows and a pole with a bell on top. I was struck immediately at how much smaller this working camp was than the place I had just left, Auschwitz. Although the camp was smaller, there were many more people assembled in the Appelplatz than there had been during the roll calls in Auschwitz. There were probably about 7,000 to 8,000 men wandering around. I searched for a familiar face. People were difficult to recognize with their shaved heads and striped uniforms. I saw a couple of people from Munkacs Adler and Schwartz. After seeing them, I did not want to recognize people. I felt ashamed and embarrassed for them and myself.
The concrete posts in the former Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp held the electrified barbed-wire.
Schwartz was short and stocky and although I did not know him personally, I knew that he was a lawyer. Two months previously, he had been a dignified well-dressed, and respected man in the community. In Gross-Rosen, he looked hideous, like a caricature of himself. A few weeks later, the folds of skin on his face would be all that was left to testify to his former corpulent self. There was a craving in him now that had not been there before. I wanted to avoid this beastly need.
Adler was a working class peer of mine. Although we had the same right to dignity and respect that Schwartz had, the reality was that it had not accured to us. It was awkward to see Schwartz dressed as I was, and in the same despondent state of being.
Time was difficult to measure. A free man uses time to order his life – when to eat, when to sleep, and when to go some where. Time has no meaning as a prisoner. When I arrived in Gross-Rosen, it was clear to me that I was a prisoner and my time was not my own. So it is impossible to say whether we were in the Appelplatz for an hour or for three. Time was not ours to control, and we did not measure it. On the day of my arrival, we remained in the Appelplatz until the inmates returned from their work in the quarry and the Messerschmidt factory.
After, we were counted. An official with handheld loudspeakers announced that everyone must remember the numbers they were wearing. From then on, we would be referred to only by number. Use of our names, would result in death. We were never given information about the future.
Before being assigned to a barracks, we were given our first meal in two days. A bowl of soup unfit for human consumption. The barracks were smaller than Auschwitz, each holding 300 or 400 men. I tried to get a lower bunk, which consisted of a wooden plank without a pillow, cover, or mattress. Exhausted after having stood on my feet for 48 hour, I fell asleep.
“Raus! Raus!” The hollering seemed louder maybe because the barracks was smaller. We were sent to the running water located outside the barracks, to splash ourselves with cold water. Once back in the barracks, we were ordered out again and given the regulation piece of bread and cold coffee by the door and counted in front of the barracks.
We were counted first as a group, then divided into smaller groups of 50 or 100. Marched to respective work areas, we passed six or seven inmates playing musical instruments. When describing this now, the image takes on a surreal characteristic. Today, when I visualize the band whose members were inmates seated in an open field playing marches as thousands of emaciated skeletons in ill-fitting striped uniforms passed by, I am struck with the absurdity and utter senselessness of such an ordeal. This recital occurred twice daily as we went to work and returned. But 50 years ago, the music was just a variation to the noise of the usual yelling and screaming and the barking of dogs. At night, there was a constant drone in the barracks with 400 men moaning from the fatigue, pain, and a sense of helplessness that permeated every minute of our existence. The noise was exaggerated due to the structure of the barracks, which did not include any acoustic buffering. Occasionally, the music distracted me from the constant hunger that was overcoming me. I never looked at the musicians and they never looked up at me or the men who passed by. There was no contact. This too, was bizarre, for music is a form of communication. To be so close to musicians without any kind of exchange seemed entirely unnatural.
A view of the stone quarry in the Gross-Rosen camp, where prisoners were subjected to forced labor. Gross-Rosen, Germany, 1940-1945.
My first destination outside of the barracks was the quarry. There we lifted stones onto wagons that were then pushed to a rock pile and emptied. This was done over and over for eight to ten hours a day. I think I worked for about three of four weeks in the quarry. There were SS men who came in periodically. People from the village were employed there but were forbidden to speak with us. The Kapos had sticks with them all the time and if I slowed down, they would beat me. If an SS man was nearby, the Kapos administered the beatings with great vigor and enthusiasm to impress their superiors. Sometimes, men did not survive the clubbing. This meant, the Kapo had an extra ration of food that day. They patrolled constantly, like vultures circling, waiting for their prey to fall.
Although we worked under virtually all weather conditions, once during a torrential downpour, it became impossible to move the wagons in the heavy blanket of mud that covered the earth. We were assembled and marched for half an hour to the Messerschmidt factory. Each of us was assigned to work with a civilian who had a bench with a vise, lathe, and other metal working tools. The man I was with spoke Polish. I was able to communicate with him because of the similarity between Slavic languages. I knew that the work inside was much easier than in the quarry. I tried to please him and be as helpful as possible.
I was assigned to the same worker as the day before, and was so relieved to be working inside, that I took off my hat and thanked him, “Dequi barzo.” This startled him, but he did not acknowledge me. It was forbidden for inmates to speak with civilian employees. So I will never know if he requested me out of kindness or because I was useful. I don’t know whether this peasant chose to work in this factory or if he too was forced. It made little difference, for choise was not an option during the war for someone from a Polish village. There was no work alternative for the village peasants if they declined employment in the German-owned factories that used either the inmates for slave labor or the so-called civilian l abor. Labor is a scarce resource in a war economy. In the sphere the Nazis created, it was absurd to judge choices made by using the ethical standards of my previous life. To this Jew, working with this man at that time meant the difference of life and death. I had begun to lose weight and strength. In the intolerable conditions of the quarry, men were not able to last working more than six weeks, if they were not clubbed or shot first. I saw more people murdered in the quarry than in any other work place I was in.
I assisted this man every day from the end of June until September 1944, in the Messerschmidt factory. I filed, sanded, cut pipes, polished metal, and did any other job he asked me to do, including cleaning and sweeping our work area. I tried to anticipate everything that he needed. I observed and attended to anything that I could do. The Polish man indicated daily to the Kapo that 83150 should return. He never knew my name. I too, did not know or dare ask him his.
A horn blew before every lunch break. The civilians ate outside while the inmates were counted and their food rations distributed. After receiving my ration, I went outside. Not every horn that roused us was for a lunch break. If an inmate was missing, we had to stop working, file outside and wait until everyone was accounted for. This disturbed the man with whom I worked. I became a scavenger, constantly on the lookout for any garbage that was discarded by the civilians. I gathered paper bags to use in the latrines, asked for the cucumber peels, radish stems, or any scrap of food not consumed by those whom I thought it safe to approach. As time went by, focussing my thoughts became increasingly difficult. I thought of nothing but how to obtain food. I realized that I would not survive, even under the improved conditions in the factory, unless I was able to supplement my meager rations. I took more risks in my approaches, not only to civilians, but also to a man wearing a German military uniform. I looked to see if anyone was watching and, without making eye contact as I passed him, I asked, “Can I have a piece of bread?” I had recognized this man and knew his lunch-break routine. Repeatedly I asked him over the course of several day, “Gehen Sie mir ein Stiick Brot?”
One day, he had a small parcel with him and as we passed each other, I slowed down in case he had something in it for me. He looked to see if anyone was watching and then dropped it on the ground. I turned, picked up the parcel, put it in the pocket of my pants, and immediately covered the bulge it made with my jacket. Inside was a piece of dry bread. He continued to show the same generosity, risking his life daily, by leaving a parcel for me.
Barracks in Gross-Rosen taken after liberation, February 13, 1945.
During the time I was in Gross-Rosen, these were the only two occasions on which I had any social contact or kind gesture was made towards me. These were shrouded, in a necessary veil of secrecy. If this contact had been recognized as an act of kindness, either I or the German soldier or my Polish work-mate would have been shot or severely punished. It was mandatory for prisoners to take off their hats when passing any man in a German uniform. When passing this German soldier, I removed my hat as I said, “Dunke Shane.” He acknowledged this with an expression of gratitude, pierced with sorrow.
A Story Part 11
In contrast to this kindness, during the lunch breaks, some of the civilians treated me as if I were an animal, hurling vegetable peels different distances to watch me scurry and scramble to retrieve them. I have wondered whether they did this as a foil to protect themselves in the event that they were caught or if they enjoyed this heartless play. The man I worked with threw vegetable scraps that were thicker than those thrown by others. He did not tease or badger me, rather he avoided any eye contact and thus minimized the chances of being observed by others. Every night as I left the factory, I thanked him and said good night.
At night in the barracks, the inmates who had pilfered potato peels would put the peels in a can with water and cook them in the oven. The inmate who was in charge of watching the fire received some of the cooked peels for looking the other way.
There were people of many different nationalities in the camp. French, Germans, Hungarians, Poles and Russians. Jewish inmates had few privileged positions working within the camp, such as those coveted in the kitchen, disinfection rooms, infirmary, latrines, or in the yards. My Kapo was a Polish Jew and was merciless.
I prayed every night before I went to sleep, hoping that a miracle would occur. I thought we would return to the outside world and it would be possible for things to be as they once were.
We, the inmates, had a day off every second Sunday. On that day, Aplicing – so named because we were supposed to wash ourselves to get rid of the lice. We were given the much needed opportunity to go through our clothes and check for lice. It was almost impossible to avoid catching lice in these crowded conditions, where people lived on top of each other, swarming in a mass of bodies. The only thing that differentiated us was our numbers. We were all slave laborers without families, names, or anything that distinguished us as individuals. If any of these beings were so badly infected with these disease-bearing creatures, I would attack him to keep him away from my social space – that crucial arm’s length that is too great for a louse to vault. Its hard resistant body, which gained in endurance and strength from the inmates, is a testimony to natural selection. These little creatures were my enemy number two, after hunger and before man.
Oddly enough, I engaged in a kind of play with these animals. During the Aplicing, we, the inmates, enjoyed our leisure time…engaged in our own kind of destruction, crunching lice. In my delirium, each crack was cause for rejoicing for I reigned victorious over a thwarted attempt on my life. This bug held within its nature, control over my life. It was able to determine whether I would live or die, not with the gesture of the hand, but simply by being. I enjoyed this activity, the execution of louse, because it was a form of play and so different from the usual daily routine of submission. The merit and pleasure was derived almost exclusively from distraction.
We washed our uniforms and took a cold shower in a disinfecting room. If we were were lucky, we had kerosene to wash ourselves and our clothing. I sprinkled kerosene on the seams of my clothes and anywhere the lice could be hiding. If people did not go early to the laundry room, they would not have time for their clothes to dry, so they avoided washing them. But, if you did not wash your clothes, the number of lice bites during the next two weeks would become unbearable. I wanted to avoid scratching myself at the work bench. I was afraid my Polish work mate would not tolerate me assisting him if he knew I had lice. Sometimes, I chose to not wait for my food ration on Sunday morning, because I desperately wanted to shower and disinfect my uniform. During these selections, the SS would look for scratch marks on the inmates and these people were among the first to be removed.
Peter Kleinmann next to the “washing facilities” he used during the Aplicing, 66 years earlier in 1944. (Photo: Naomi Kramer)
Former kitchen in the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. In 1995, the reconstructed bunks were placed on display here, as none of the barracks remained standing. It was in front of here that Peter saw the truck unloading beets. (Photo: Naomi Kramer)
As more people were interned in the camp, the frequency of the selections increased. The selections were always the same. Usually at night after returning from work. During roll call, as we stood in line, an order was made to remove our clothes. Two SS men walked up and down the rows examining us, one in front and one from behind motioning, usually with a whip, to those who did not pass the inspection. These men formed another group, which increased in number as the group being inspected became smaller. The SS had the power to decide with a glance, the fate of a man. The only indication that a selection was taking place, was that the count took place in front of the barracks and not at the usual Appelplatz. The selections made among those working in the Messerschmidt factory resulted in fewer men being removed than in those made among people from other work places. Skilled labor in the factory was more difficult to replace than manual labor. Rumors circulated concerning the fate of those who were selected. I did not know for sure what became of these people then, but I was sure of this: it was better to be in a place you knew, that to go somewhere new.
Guard House, May 1941 – February 1945, Gross-Rosen.
One night after I returned to work and after we had been counted, I saw a truck unloading beets. I ran to grab as many as I could, eating them while stuffing them in my pants. I traded all the beets I could for a cap or a piece of bread. The caps were valuable for repairing holes in shoes. The bread was not as bulky as the beets, and therefore, not as visible. It was also easier to conceal the bread overnight. The next morning when I went to the latrine, I noticed my urine was red. I was sure that it was blood. If you were sick in the camp, you were brought to the infirmary and didn’t have to go to work that day. And depending on your state of despair, perhaps fortunate to never return. It was a risk that I took, and one that the inmates took only when there was no other option. I thought I was bleeding, so I went to the Kapo and told him I wanted to go to the infirmary. He sent me. I encountered an SS man and two inmates wearing white coats. They came to me and first asked for my number, questioned the nature of my illness, and then demanded a urine sample, which I had to produce on the spot. Before the next morning, the diagnosis was given. Two men came and attacked me with clubs saying, “you stole beets and ate them! Where did you get them?”
The men who beat me were soldiers, not the doctors. If you faked an illness, they really made you suffer. I went back to the barracks all bloody and washed myself. The Kapo asked me what happened and I told him I ate something bad. Had I told him the truth, I would have gotten another beating.
The hours of the inmates’ clandestine trading market was restricted to evenings after we returned to the barracks. I did not smuggle anything of value into the camp, so the only materials I could use for bartering were the clothing and shoes I was able to remove from the bodies of those who died in the night. This required the cooperation and strength of other inmates. Once the clothing was stripped off, we had to remove the body from our bunk so the Kapo would not be able to identify the area from which the corpse came. The people in the vicinity were at serious risk. Removing bodies was permissible and obligatory. We would lay the pants or jacket on top of the corpse in order not to be discovered stealing. Had we taken the clothes outside, we would have risked being caught. Shoes were the most valuable items, jackets were never touched. It was too dangerous to be caught with anyone else’s identity. This was punishable by death.
The day was Yom Kippur. Jews prayed with such intense fervor, it reminded me of the cry of prayer I had heard in shule on Yom Kippur. According to Jewish tradition, on the Day of Atonement, the fate of everyone is sealed in the book of life. That night, I repeated the words of prayers recited on this holiest day of the year:
On Rosh Hashanah their destiny is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many shall pass away and how many shall be brought into existence? Who shall live and who shall die? Who shall come to an untimely end? Who shall perish by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by hunger and who by thirst? Who by earthquake and who by plague? Who by strangling and who by stoning? Who shall be at ease and who shall wander about? Who shall be at peace and who shall be molested? Who shall have comfort and who shall be tormented? Who shall become poor and who shall become rich? Who shall be lowered and who shall be raised?
Execution wall in Gross-Rosen. (Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, after February 13, 1945, R. no. x 78, x 248, x 264, Neg. no. 3399)
As I repeated each way of dying, I imagined that this might be my death and this would be the last time I would say this prayer. How could it be that only a year before, I was with my family in a synagogue reciting the same prayer? At that time, more than 50 years ago, it was impossible for me to comprehend how differently I was to understand the meaning of this prayer in only a year. In Munkacs, only a year earlier, the words “who shall live and who shall die…”, had no meaning within the context of my destiny.
Piles of shoes found after the liberation of Gross-Rosen. About half of the shoes belonged to children. More than 1,200,000 Jewish children were murdered during the Shoah. (Main commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, after February 13, 1945, R. no. x 260, x 265; Neg. no. 3416)
In Munkacs on Yom Kippur, I repeated within a communal setting, the prayers reminding man that his fate is not in his control. At this time of the year, all men are obliged to make amends with their enemies. It is a time of reconciliation. On Yom Kippur in Gross-Rosen, I was reminded in memory that one’s fate is sealed for the coming year, but this year I knew and realized this truth because of the reality that surrounded me. Those who are convinced of their beliefs do not need reality for confirmation of their beliefs. They are comforted with their faith. Years later when reflecting on this incident, I recognized that interpretation and reality are indelibly woven.
The ration that day was not the usual soup. It was a milk soup with what appeared to be noodles. Yom Kippur is a day on which Jews abstain from all food and drink. Since I was a Bar Mitzvah and had publicly declared my responsibilities as a member of the community, I had always fasted on this most sacred of days. The Nazis, in their cruel, torturous manner, tempted us with this soup. In this same vein, they punished the observant among us who did not violate their religious obligations and consume the soup.
The crematorium remained after the building housing was blown- up at the time of liberation. The stone foundation is still evident. (Photo: Naomi Kramer)
Several hundred Jews had been prisoners in Gross-Rosen between 1940 and 1943. In late 1943, a mass influx of Jews swelled the prisoner population. Starting in October of that year, and continuing until January of 1945, as many as 60,000 Jewish prisoners were deported to Gross-Rosen. Most of them came from Poland and, after March 1944, from Hungary. Some came from western and southern Europe. A large number of these Jews came from 28 forced-labor camps which had been part of the Organization Schmelt system in Silesia.
Ruins and debris of the crematorium blown-up by the Russian troops in Gross-Rosen. (Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, after February 13, 1945, R. no. x 249; Neg. no. 3385)
Other incoming prisoners were distributed within the Gross-Rosen subcamp system in order to be put to forced labor in support of the war effort. Many of the prisoners worked for companies such as Krupp, I.G Farben, and Daimler Benz. Jewish prisoners did not begin arriving in the camp until the fall of 1944, with the evacuation of Auschwitz.
One of the better-know subcamps of Gross-Rosen is Bruennlitz, a subcamp established in an empty former textile factory through the efforts of Oskar Schindler. After the close of that camp at Krakow-Plaszow, 1,100 Jewish prisoners who had worked there for Schindler were transported for labor at the new camp at Bruennlitz, where they were able to survive the war.
THE LIBERATION OF GROSS-ROSEN
As Soviet forces approached in January 1945, the Germans began to evacuate the Gross-Rosen complex. The subcamps on the eastern bank of the Oder River were dissolved. In early February 1945, the main camp was evacuated, followed by additional subcamps. About 40,000 prisoners, half of whom were Jews, were forced on death marches, marching west on foot under brutal conditions. Some of the survivors were then transported by rail to Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenburg, Mauthausen, Dora-Mittelbau, and Neuengamme – camps in the German Reich. Many prisoners died during the evacuations due to the lack of food and water. SS guards killed prisoners who became too weak to continue. Soviet forces liberated the main Gross-Rosen camp on February 13, 1945.
It is estimated that of the 120,000 prisoners who passed through the Gross-Rosen camp system, 40,000 died either in Gross-Rosen or during the evacuation of the camp.
Monuments in Gross-Rosen commemorating the deaths of various victim groups of the Nazi regime and their collaborators. (Photo: Naomi Kramer)
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum