GROSS-ROSEN CONCENTRATION PART 3/6
Gross-Rosen. although located within the German Reich, was to a particular degree an 'eastern' concentration camp. While in 1941 the German prisoners still outweighed in numbers among the 1,497 inmates, which accounted for more than eight hundred, Polish and Soviet prisoners were in the majority since 1942 and this was maintained during the whole period of its existence . Insofar Gross-Rosen served, probably similar to Stutthof and as other camps as an instrument of aggressive living space policies of the Third Reich in the East. Mainly from the police stations in Silesia and almost on schedule, were constantly 'not German-like elements',(nichteindeutschbare) especially Poles, admitted in large numbers because of minor crimes and transgressions, and with the most flimsy of reasons. This practice was given still more power with the imposition of protective custody of Polish citizen, when authority was completely transferred to the Gestapo offices and the security police at their district as from May 1943 and admissions could be routinely done in a fast-track procedure. Gross-Rosen was, however, also the concentration camp for the region: The Gestapo in Breslau took, for example, from September to November 1944 mostly because of refusal to work 1,882 people into protective custody who were sent to concentration camps, most likely to nearby the camps like Gross-Rosen.
Again and again were 'Foreign' or 'Eastern Workers', i.e. men and women, especially from the Soviet Union, who worked as recruited or abducted workers in German factories, sent for 'educational' reasons into concentration camps, but brought back to their original workplaces after some time or retained to work in the camps. Until the last months of the war, many 'Eastern Labourers' (Ostarbeiter) came to Gross-Rosen.
The Reichsführer SS - Himmler, ordered to set up in 1940 'labour education camps' (Arbeitserziehungslager) [A typical German trend, HKS] to take in civilian foreign workers for 'military and economic plants of importance' that were or otherwise unfavourably 'noticed' for sabotage and refusal to work, for a short time taken into 'political custody'. Gross-Rosen was one of five concentration camps, in which such a labour re-education camp was integrated, it was directed by the Gestapo from Breslau. From May 1941 to November 1944 a total of 4,425 prisoners were registered as such, especially Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs and French, of which 163 did not survive in spite of the brief time period of detention of not more than 56 days. At least 275 of these workers were transferred over time as protective prisoners into concentration camps in general.
Since October 1944, there were also 'Night and Fog' prisoners (Nacht und Nebel) in Gross-Rosen, that were by the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo arrested as foreign agents assisting members of 'resistance' and the underground in the occupied western European countries which were not immediately executed, but at 'Night and Fog' had been deported to Germany. In 1943, the pending operations against them were transferred by a special court to Silesia, but discontinued and in the autumn of 1944 transported the remaining prisoners to the larger concentration camps. However, out the Silesien prisons at least 1,730 prisoners, apparently all 'Night and Fog' but probably more, came into the camp. Many of them did not survive the unaccustomed hard work in the wintry quarry. A group of Belgian and French 'Nacht und Nebel' prisoners was evacuated in 1945 from Gross-Rosen via Mittelbau-Dora to Nordhausen.
As of March 1944 arrived through the takeover of forced labour camps of the 'Organisation Schmelt' Jewish women into the camp complex Gross-Rosen. But they were only detained in satellite camps where they were used in the defence and textile industry or in the construction of entrenchments and tank traps. In the main camp within the frame work of Evacuation in 1944/45 women were temporarily housed until a Transport was ready. From the end of May 1944 Jewesses were deported from Auschwitz into sub-camps of Gross-Rosen. They came mainly from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. In total, about 26,000 women were imprisoned in the camp complex at this late phase.
As in other concentration camps, Jewish prisoners were also here at the lowest position of the camp hierarchy, no doubt they were to a greater extent disadvantaged compared in particular to others, often harassed and terrorized , had regularly perform the comparatively heavy labour and were almost never given the sought-after functionary positions with their authority or other privileges, and often no medical care. According to the ideological guidelines of the regime they were despised and ostracised by their guards and often even from other groups of prisoners. They were in in 'Jews block', (Judenblock) the block 4 crammed together, and remained from other prisoners almost completely separated. 'Jews favouring' (Judenbegünstigung) by block elders or by Kapos was severely punished by the camp authorities. Often it was said after the work was finished during evening Roll-call: 'Everyone dismissed, the Jews block remains standing' for further special work to build up inventories well into the night hours. [Sprenger, Gross-Rosen, page 127, sic]
In total, nearly 60,000 Jews were held in Gross-Rosen and its satellite camps, which represents almost half of all intakes yet recorded. The first 48 Jews came with a transport from Dachau on the 18th June 1941, then apparently followed still several other admissions, because the death register of the civil registry of Gross-Rosen shows up and until October 1942, 218 deaths of Jewish prisoners. In a transport of prisoners in August 1941 there were 28 so called 'race defilers' (Rassenschänder) [which means a Jewish male had married a Gentile women, HKS] of which 25 died by the end of the year. When in the autumn of 1942 a 'clearing' (Säuberung) of Jewish prisoners in concentration camps took place, as Himmler wanted the camps within the Reich to be 'Jew-free' (judenfrei), the last 37 Jews of Gross-Rosen were transported to Auschwitz on the 16th October 1942. Thus 87 percent up to this point of time, Jews incarcerated at Gross-Rosen were no longer alive.
THE PLIGHT OF WOMEN
Women's labour figured most importantly in the calculation of the Nazi leadership from the outset. As the war dragged on, the Nazis's appetite for forced-labourers mounted, and they also integrated women prisoners into the labour for the Reich. When the constellation of concentration camps developed, they included women in the occupied territories in the forced-labour scheme, posting them to camps that were newly established at the time. By early August 1944, there were 145,000 women in concentration camps, and women accounted for 38.3 percent of all inmates in camps under the WVHA. Their numbers increased gradually as the war continued. By 15 January 1945, 202,674 of the 714,211 camp inmates (28.4 percent) were women. Fourteen of the fifteen concentration camps that existed at that time housed women.
Incarceration in a Nazi concentration camp and labour camps was especially difficult ordeal for them. The constant degradation and humiliation, selections, naked inspections by SS men, yearnings for parents and for children induced distress and disquiet and undermined the women's resolve. They usually brought only the most basic items with them, and these, too, were stolen by the minders. Hungarian women who were taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau and sent to labour camps after several days or a week of internment arrived only in their frocks.
Nevertheless, the women quickly adjusted to the new situation, attempting with great endurance to cope with the daily hardships. Even when they performed arduous men's labour and lived under conditions identical to those in the men's camps, they coped better than the men.[Women who performed strenuous labour did not menstruate, the same applies to some female athletes during strenuous training prior to a main event.HKS] On frosty nights they slept next to each other and thus covered themselves with two blankets instead of one. Fewer women than men fell ill. Even their mortality rate was lower. Women prisoners who worked at looms concealed linen seeds in their pockets and slipped them into the camps. Rumour had it that the seeds contained an oil that was vital for their physical health. Maintaining cleanness was essential for the women's survival, even when they set out on death marches they took a bit of laundry detergent with them.
|Female prisoners in 1939'|
Most women who were taken from Poland until 1944 to work in textile and arms plants had to undergo special training with German Meisters until they learned to operate and take full responsibility for heavy machinery. Fatal accident were frequent. A prisoner in Neusalz camp was sentenced to transport to Auschwitz after her hand was crushed by a machine, since any such accident involving Jewish prisoner was perceived as attempted sabotage. Women prisoners worked six days a week in shifts of eleven to twelve hours on weekdays and seven hours on Sundays. Prisoners found the night shift the most difficult, many attempted to improvise solutions and steal away for a few moments rest. On 8 January 1945, one of the plants sent a complaint to the headquarters of the Langenbielau labour camp concerning a women prisoner,whose name they did not bother to mention, [In a KZ you had no name, only a number,HKS] considering it sufficient to note only her serial number, who had exploited the night shift to create a secret sleeping place for herself under some rolls of fabric. "there have been many cases of late'< the department manager noted in a resigned tone. "We request that those caught be punished severely". The manager remarked that since the roster of civilian workers had been reduced, the supervisor of the night shift was unable to notice that "Jews switch off with each other and go away to rest. They camouflage themselves so well that you can't find them".
The women prisoners who worked in factories did so alongside German women workers, who, unlike them, lived in open camps. Although they were close to each other at work, the hardest jobs were given primarily to Jews. Many women felled timber, carried heavy logs, and marched through the snow in cumbersome wooden soled shoes. The distance that they had to cover to and from work was another crucial factor.
The women prisoners' plight worsened when Gross-Rosen took over the administration of the women's camps. The SS-minders, themselves former labourers, usually subjected them to rough, hostile treatment, which included frequent threats to send them to Auschwitz. Since women prisoners who had been interned in the Organisation Schmelt camps since 1940 had heard plenty about Auschwitz, many preferred to continue working even when they became ill or weak in order to avoid being placed in the Reviere. Women who had endured time in Auschwitz felt that "coming to Kratzau was the luckiest thing. Each wooden barracks had five rooms and thirty women in each room. They slept separately, they had a mattress, pillows, a blanket, a bowl, and a spoon. "Paradise". They also described their work at a gas-mask factory as tolerable.
The German women minders looked don on their wards during the day but did not hesitate to exploit their occupational skills during off-hours. They hired well-educated prisoners as tutors for their children. They made regular use of prisoner hairdressers, drafted singers to make their off-duty hours pleasurable, and had seamstresses make clothing for them at the factory sewing workshop. Most minders did not hesitate to extort the women prisoners and to misappropriate the few possessions they had brought to the camp. Others instituted a formal system of bribery for small mercies. On rare occasions, however, there were also a few who retained some sense of pity, even in this bizarre world.
Since the end of 1943 transports came again with Jewish prisoners into the camp complex Gross-Rosen, they had to be accommodated into newly established satellite camps in Lower Silesia, working in the Sudetenland and in the Lausitz for German armaments factories. The first 600 men came in October from the forced labour camp Markstädt. But again Jewish prisoners came to the main camp only due to the evacuation of Auschwitz since the fall of 1944, among other things, an essential part of the operation out of necessity was a considerable expansion of the camp, which was called the 'Auschwitz camp'. The acquisition of the 28 Jewish forced labour camps of the 'Organization Schmelt' since 1943, and especially by the following occupation of Hungary by the German Wehrmacht in March 1944, driven by Adolf Eichmann for the deportations of Hungarian Jews, the number of Jewish prisoners rose very sharply. Tens of thousands of Jewish men and women, the SS at Auschwitz put into the sub-camps of Gross-Rosen.
Like almost all concentration camps there existed in Gross-Rosen a penal company for prisoners, who had broken the rules, stolen edibles, had been guilty of taking other trifles or had been captured during an escape attempt. Simon Wiesenthal, for example, came at the last Winter was approaching into the penal company, because he had forgotten to greet an SS man. The penal company was housed in their own block, block 19, as a block elder acted at times the sadistic 'evil beater' Kurt Vogel, 'the terror of the whole camp. He murdered if he wanted to'. [Statement Jankowski, 19.8.1974, in: BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/19439, sic] They were kept in strict isolation from other prisoners, even during work assignments that were particularly difficult and stressful, such as the cleaning of latrines and the crematorium, they had to work longer hours than the other inmates and often suffered food deprivation. The death rate in the penal company was higher than in the rest camp. 1944, a special department was spun off, the 'Ringel-men', so called because of the grey, red striped nettle suits they wore. In this department, for the most part were prominent prisoners from politics and science and Polish nobles and journalists. After the assassination attempt (on Hitler's life) of 20 July, 1944 as part of the 'action grid' (Aktion Gitter) people from a wide area of the assassins were added, former labour leaders and parliamentarians, this included the former Reich President Paul Löbe. The former Breslauer mayor Karl Mache and his councillor Hugo Frey, both Jews, they died in this penal company. A total of 400 so-called 'Gitter"- inmates had been admitted, but during the evacuation of the camp there were only 45 who were transported to Dachau, how many have been released before that, such as Paul Löbe, and how many have come to death there, is not known.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 4/6