Report No. 42
The concentration camp
Reported by: Ottokar Kremen
Report of June 25, 1950
I returned home from the Wehrmacht on May 7, 1945 and was unable to enter my apartment because it was occupied by Russian officers. Therefore I went instead to my sister-in-law in Gersdorf, District Komotau, to stay there with my wife until my apartment was vacated. I went to my apartment to get some linen and clothing. While I was there, the officers apologized and did not keep me from taking my clothes and linen with me. I had arrived on a bicycle, but while I was in my apartment the bike was stolen. When the officers noticed what had happened, one of them, a Major, went out into the street with me and flagged down a Russian soldier who was driving by on a Sachs motorcycle. He levied the motorcycle from him and gave it to me as replacement for my stolen bike. He gave me a paper in Russian so that I would be able to pass the Russian sentries without trouble. And indeed none of these sentries gave me any trouble, and I arrived safely in Gersdorf with the motorcycle. The officers had mentioned that they would be moving out in three weeks at the latest and that I would be able to move back into my flat then. But that’s not how things turned out:
On June 3, 1945 nine Czechs came to my temporary lodgings at my sister-in-laws’s place in Gersdorf. Except for one, the Czechs wore civilian clothes, but you could tell at first glance that they had stolen them as there was not one among them whose jacket or pants fit properly. Only one of them wore a uniform (Staff Captain of the gendarmes), which appeared to belong to him, since it fit. They searched my quarters, and others from the same unit searched the entire house. They took all the clothes and linen which the Russians had let me keep, as well all of my sister-in-law’s clothing and all the food there was. They shot the rabbits that were in the hutch, and left them lying there. I had to undress and was examined for evidence of having been in the SS. When no such evidence was found they asked me if I was a member of the NSDAP or the SA, and when I said no, I was hit in the face to the point where the blood ran from my nose and mouth. When they had collected everything that they intended to take, including the motorcycle that the Russian Major had given me, my sister-in-law’s son had to harness the oxen and cart the booty to the road. I myself also had to go along. I was taken to an inn in the town. Other men were immediately brought in, and we were forced to beat each other up – each had to punch or slap the other. From there I was taken to the police jail in Komotau (formerly the Hotel Weimar).
June 3 was a Sunday. I was put into a cell meant for two. There were 16 of us in this cell, among us an 11-year-old boy whose parents were in a different cell. I don’t remember the names of all the prisoners, but one of them, whom I knew well personally, was the teacher Kny from Sporitz. The 11-year-old boy was the son of engineer Merden from the bell-foundry Herold in Komotau. Both father and son were later shot in the camp and are buried somewhere in a field in Trauschkowitz. The mother had to remain in the camp. We had to stay in this police jail until Thursday, without food or water. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, our situation changed. We were lined up in the jail yard and made to face the wall. It was lucky that I understood Czech and could therefore understand what the Czechs were planning and saying to each other, and I was able to let my fellow-sufferers know what was being planned. One by one we were interrogated by a lieutenant of the gendarmes. When it was my turn I asked the lieutenant why I had been locked up here. He replied: “I didn’t bring you here and so I can’t discharge you either.” When we had all been interrogated, we had to line up in the yard in fours to be transported off. One of the Czechs held a bust of Hitler and demanded that everyone marching past had to give the Hitler salute, and another one of these Czechs took up position on the other side with a submachine gun. I understood when the Czech holding the bust called to the other guard: when one of the raises his paw, shoot immediately! By ‘paw’ he meant ‘hand’. I was just able to inform the others of this so that they would not salute, and we marched out the gate without even a glance at the Czech with the bust. Naturally the guards leading us were angry that they had not managed to get one of us to raise his hand, so as to be able to shoot at him. En route we were maltreated with kicks and with whip lashes for allegedly not marching properly.
We were put into a camp, it was the old Glass Works near the Municipal Estate of Komotau. Once there, we had to line up single-file at a distance of three paces from each other. First we had to empty our pockets and place everything on the ground before us, and then to strip naked. When we had stripped, the camp guards rifled through our pockets. Woe to anyone who still had anything at all in his pockets, even if it was just a tiny scrap of old paper; he was immediately whipped, or punched in the face so that he could hardly find his way back to his place in the line. Those who had good clothes or underwear or shoes were relieved of these things and got clothes instead that had belonged to fellow-sufferers who had already been beaten or tortured to death. These clothes were either torn or covered in blood. Then we were taken into a large room where there was a total of 78 men, among them Herr Rafler-Müller from Neudorf/Biela, weapons dealer Böhm, and others whose names I do not recall.
The room was paved with bricks and covered with a roof of roofing felt. It had a single window, where a guard stood all day, watching us in the room. It was as hot as an oven in this room. None of us had any bedding or even a blanket, much less a straw pallet. We had to sleep on the bricks. All day long, from 6 o’clock in the morning until 10 in the evening, we had to parade to Czech orders. There were old men 70 to 80 years of age among us, and even they had to drill along with us. One day the guard did not like how we performed the drill, and he said: “Well, what’s wrong? If you can’t do any better than that I’ll teach you.” No sooner said than done – he took groups of nine men at a time out into the square to parade, but God help anyone who turned to the wrong side, then he was pointed in the right direction with the guard’s leather whip. Then we were urged into a jog, again with lashes from the leather whip. On their return many of the men collapsed and begged to be killed, put out of their misery, but nonetheless the torture went on. In the evening the camp commandant entered our room and asked if there wasn’t anyone among us who was familiar with Czech command. When nobody spoke up, I raised my hand. The commandant asked me if I spoke Czech well, I said yes, and he put me in charge. I asked him if it might be permitted to give the prisoners classes in Czech. The commandant agreed to it, and in this way we got out of the parading for a while, since it was permitted to sit during the classes, albeit only on the brick floor.
During this time our daily rations consisted of 100 g bread and a cup of coffee, nothing for breakfast and at noon, and another 100 g of bread and a cup of coffee in the evening. Often we were harshly awakened at night, forced to stand at attention and to endure any and all harassment and torments that Czech civilians chose to inflict on us. One night a group of Czechs came in, among them a gendarme, and we had to line up in rows of three and at three paces’ distance, and then the Czechs went from one to the other and asked each if he had been with the Party or the SS or SA. Woe to any unfortunate who had been! These had to run into the yard, under blows from the whips; once all had run out, the Czechs left the room and we could lie down again, but there was no question of sleep, for we were all too agitated and didn’t know what would happen the next moment. Shortly afterwards we heard the rattle of submachine guns. It was already dawn. A truck drove past our window and was loaded up with the bodies of the shot men. There were 78 of them. That same morning right after reveille I and three others had to fetch a wheelbarrow and to cart sand into the yard to cover up the pools of blood left by the unfortunate men. It took us 18 wheelbarrow loads of sand, they had to be filled right up and even so it was only enough for a sprinkle over the blood. Later the truck returned and I had to wash it, since it was all covered with blood. As I heard from a guard, the men were dumped into a shallow pit in a field in Trauschkowitz. The dead included the aforementioned engineer Merden from the bell-foundry Herold and his 11-year-old son, whereas their wife and mother was still in the camp.
One day the order was issued to vacate the camp, as the inmates would all be taken across the border to the Russians. A transport was put together, and off we went. In the evening I found out from the camp commandant, who was a Staff Captain with the gendarmes, that everyone had been taken to the infamous concentration camp of Maltheuern. Those who had to remain behind in the Glass Works camp included: a doctor named Lockwenz from the Komotau District Hospital; an engineer; an Austrian who had done the Czech laborers many good deeds during the Hitler years – this was well known in the camp, and such former Czech beneficiaries actually visited him and brought him cigarettes as thank-you, but nonetheless this man was not released; a former Staff Captain from the Czech army; a Yugoslav; a postal worker named Havel from Görkau; and I. We asked a guard who was a little more approachable what was to be done with us, and he replied: “You weren’t with any Nazi organization and you will be released.” But the release didn’t happen. The Austrian and the Serb were sent under guard to their native countries, and the rest of us continued to remain in the camp. Hardly 8 days had passed before the number of inmates had increased to 360, 78 of them women. Of the new arrivals I remember the following names: Herr Mader, Director of the Mannesmann pipe manufactory of Komotau; engineer Vierlinger from the same factory; one Herr Dr. Meier, the largest merchant in Komotau; Herr Taud, the Administrative Director of the royal demesne of Rothenhaus-Görkau; the sausage manufacturer Herr Mittelbach of Komotau (he was tortured to death in the camp), Herr Müller, gravel pit owner from Komotau-Oberdorf; the priest of Eidlitz near Komotau; one Herr Heger from Natschung (he too was beaten to death); and many other people whose names I do not recall. Together with the new arrivals we were divided into labor gangs for the CSD (Czech railroad) in Komotau and had to clear away the rubble from the bombed-out boiler house. An engineer Sturm from Komotau was also there.
I had to go along on these work details to serve as translator, to convey the railroad foreman’s or team leaders’ orders to the prisoners. There were many among them who had never done this sort of work before in their life, and they were speeded up in their efforts by the whips of the Railway Police guards who oversaw the work gangs. This hard labor was accompanied with rations consisting of unsalted soy-meal soup, and nothing else at all except 100 g bread a cup of coffee in the morning and evening. If a prisoner escaped, the team leader, who was also an inmate, was treated to a session “on the teeter-totter” (torture room). I will return to this torture method a little later. Many inmates were no longer able to return home after that – for example Herr Mittelbach of Komotau. He had been beaten so badly that his face was steel blue and he did not recognize anyone nor even know where he was. He was quite out of his mind. His own daughter did not recognize him when he passed her during the march-out from the railway station, and anyone else who knew him and didn’t know that it was him also did not recognize him, that’s how badly this man had been disfigured.
At the railway station I met a young foreman who had been assigned a 3-room flat in Komotau, Klingergärten, but who refused to move into it. He often said to me: “Where is all this going to end? I won’t take a flat here, because everything here has been stolen.” But this man was the only one of this mind-set whom I ever met. Later he gave us two cartloads of potatoes for the camp, so that the inmates could cook them. He also brought many an inmate some bread, and gave away his own lunch rations.
Whenever someone collapsed at work, the Railway Police found it amusing to throw him into a water-filled bomb crater, and would laugh when the victim surfaced, all covered in mud. We were often glad when we could go to work, and feared Sundays, as torture by the camp guards and civilian Czechs from the city were the order of the day on Sundays. Even at night inmates were often called out in order to be tormented. One example of Sunday in the camp: in the forenoon civilian Czechs, including women, came to the camp and selected their victims, whom they abused by beating them in the face with their shoe heels, or had them beaten by other prisoners. If the one in question did not beat his fellow-sufferer as he was expected to, he himself would be beaten by the Czechs, sometimes with knuckle-busters. Everyone man or woman who had been a member in any NSDAP organisation, or whose sons or husbands had been members, were taken straight to the torture chamber right after being body-searched.
This torture chamber was a room where the people had to strip naked and were then beaten by eight guards armed with clubs. Then he or she was taken to another room and made to stand at the wall and to hold a piece of paper to the wall with his or her nose. God help you if the paper dropped, then you were punished with punches and blows to the head. One day the officers of the former municipal police were brought to the camp. It goes without saying that, like all the other torture victims, these men were also beaten every third day. One of the policemen, quite a big, strong man, responded to the first blow he received by reaching for the throat of one of the guards. The other guard standing nearby shot him down. Then the tortures were stopped for a few days.
Then came a new invention. A gear wheel was installed, across which a rope was drawn. On one end the rope had a loop, through which the unfortunate souls had to put their hands. The loop was then pulled tight, and after the victim had been hoisted up the other end of the rope was tied to a post to ensure that the beaten man could not retaliate against his tormentor. Often these unfortunates were left hanging, or lying on the ground. Those who had already been beaten twice or even three times had festering wounds. The pus soaked through their shirts and jackets. The poor people’s backs were covered with flies and stank horribly. They were put into a separate little room, the so-called “marodka”, but there could be no suggestion of recovery or healing. Once 8 to 10 prisoners were in this “marodka”, these beaten people who could hardly move had to dig a pit 2 meters deep and about 60 cm wide. In the evening, when the pit was finished, they were stood beside it and the first of them had to lie down in the hole (grave). Only after he was in it was he shot, from above. The second had to lie down on the corpse and was also shot from above, and so on until the grave was full. Once there was enough room left for one more, and so they fetched a 67-year-old woman. Her hair was cut off. She was beaten for refusing to reveal where her son was, and had to lie down on the previously murdered inmates. Then she was shot just as they had been.
Words fail me to describe how those people looked who had been beaten twice. I saw one man from the Waffen-SS who had already been beaten twice. Aside from his body, which was basically pulped, his manhood was swollen to an average of 8-9 cm [approx. 3 inches] in diameter, entirely suffused with blood, and his testicles were beginning to suppurate; the entire area right to his anus was full of pus, and he stank horribly. And all this had been done to him only because he was a German and a member of the SS. More and more people arrived every day. The “Stráz bezpecnosti” brought the people in already half-dead. Once they brought in a badly injured Latvian who had been in the infirmary to recover. They brought him on a stretcher, dressed only in a shirt and underpants. He did not speak German well. When I had to question him, he told me that he regretted not having known what the SS meant when he had volunteered for battle. He had ended up with the SS without knowing it. This poor man was shot that very evening. Later on, officers from the Czech army came and chose some victims from among the prisoners. They found an old, formerly retired German Colonel who had served in the Czech military from 1918 to 1924 and had been pensioned off from there; he was literally beaten to death. The photographer Schuster from Komotau and piano-maker Lutz were also beaten to death in this camp, as was the municipal surveyor with a Polish-sounding name. Once a number of Czech officers came to the camp and criticized the camp commandant because the former members of the municipal police were still alive in the camp, and one of them said: “Get rid of that rabble!” He said it in Czech, but I understood it.
For a time I also had to serve in the kitchen. There was nothing but unsalted soy-meal soup on the menu and, as already mentioned, some bread and coffee in the evenings. But meanwhile the butter, margarine, noodles, barley and other foodstuffs were going bad in the store houses. Every guard, even the commandant, would drive away in stolen cars packed with full suitcases, taking food, clothing, linen and other things home. The inmates’ family members brought clothes for their fathers and sons, as well as bread and other food. The guard at the gate would take these things, and in the guard room they were examined and if there were good articles of clothing among them the guards would divide them up amongst themselves. The food was eaten by the guards or left to go to waste. It was not until close to the end that the women got some margarine on their evening bread and the soup was salted, and it was even longer before the commandant could be persuaded to cook some horsemeat in the soup once a week. And so it went until we were transferred to the former Ciprian camp in Oberdorf. In this camp I had to undergo an operation and was then permitted to stay there. After I had recovered, I planned my escape, which I carried out.
And that’s what the civilized world – that dares call itself democratic – sanctioned and deliberately hushed up, and praised as “liberation”!