THE PRISONER SOCIETY
The building complex on ul Gesia number 22 was since the spring of 1943 a Labour Re-education camp (Arbeitserziehungslager) under the command of the Security Police (KdS) in Warsaw. In the camp the Police kept mainly Polish citizens who had been apprehended without papers or on suspicion of black market trade during street raids. Staff from the Office of these detachments that operated the camp held the rank of NCOs, the guards were the Polish "blue police" (Policja granatowa), which in turn was sub-ordinate to the commander of the German police administration. The detention period in the Labour Re-education camps was the same as in the Reich, for a period of eight weeks. After that the prisoners were released or deported as forced labour into the Reich. The Warsaw concentration camp was built in the immediate neighbourhood, but separated geographically and organisationally, to the labour camps. In the Polish literature, both are called and bearing the term "Gesiowka", leading to frequent confusion. (66) In the fall of 1943, the labour camp, finally moved into the area outside of the ghetto police district on the ul-Litewska [road, sic].
The Warsaw concentration camp was not a "familiarization camp"(Einweisungslager)which means the inmates were not admitted through the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) or the local Gestapo (Division IV of the KdS), but transferred from other concentration camps. This meant that the WVHA would independently decide on the transports of prisoners that came to Warsaw. The camp admitted males only. The first 300 prisoners arrived on 19 July 1943 from Buchenwald in Warsaw. None of these were Jews and consisted mainly of German Inmates from the Reich, many of which were interned since the late thirties into concentration camps. (68) Under this transport were also some French and Dutch. By the end of November 1943 more than 3700 Jewish prisoners had been transferred from Auschwitz. Nearly all of them came from countries occupied by the Wehrmacht. The largest group were Greek Jews who had been brought via Auschwitz into the camp in the Spring of 1943. For reason of security, transports to Warsaw had only a few Polish Jews, as the SS rightly feared that they would make contact with the local population who in turn would be helpful in any escape attempts. However, many Jews from Upper Silesia came after the closure of the local ghettos there, in the summer of 1943 again via Auschwitz. In the early summer of 1944, just months before the evacuation of the camp, several transports of Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz arrived in the city, who were admitted into the second camp section. An estimated 2500 Hungarian Jews were now the largest group of prisoners in the camp. (70)
The inequality within its camp society was extremely profound in a concentration camp like this. The prison functionaries were extraordinarily privileged. They enjoyed better health care, wore civilian clothes, were armed as well [I did not find any reference to the type of weapons,sic] and could even leave the camp temporarily. The blurred line between Guards and Guarded in this "Gray area of the camp" (71) where the thin layer of "dignitaries" had adapted themselves to methods of the SS. At the top of this society were the non-Jewish prisoners from Buchenwald . Due to the racial classification system, the SS gave them privileged access to the functions on storage sites and as block leaders, overseers of the demolition commandos as well as in the camp workshops. Among the Jewish prisoners, they were perceived less than fellow prisoners, but rather as a tool of the SS. (72) The first requirement in a camp environment for survival are the social practices such as barter trade and corruption with which the more experienced "Konzentrationären" were more familiar than the later deported inmates from Auschwitz in 1943, when they first came into contact with the concentration camp system. Another advantage in the struggle for hierarchy and the associated access to material resources were the knowledge of the German language. Without it, the prisoners were exposed to the terror of the camp SS in a special way. Of these, that did not and could not follow a command, particularly the Greek Jews were affected, who spoke Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish and could neither follow orders and barely communicate with the other prisoners. (74)
The functionary prisoners also used separate rooms away from their fellow prisoners. With the exception of the block elders, they were housed in a barrack of their own. Only in certain circumstances did Jewish prisoners obtain better positions due to their professional qualifications, protection or support of gentile groups and thereby became Block Elders and or Work Overseers.
The number of prisoners interned in the Warsaw concentration camp can only approximately be determined, the same goes for the number of victims due to lack of sources. In the nearly twelve months, in which the camp existed, there where at least 7800 and up to 10,000 prisoners interned. Of these, more than 3,400 detainees did not survive the evacuation. Most of them died during the epidemics or became victims of violence and the excesses of the camp-SS during the evacuation march .
Ref :66-There are numerous reports of the Delegation of the Council of the Polish Republic in the country over the labour training camp, give the arrival date, the number of prisoners, their work and guards, in: AAN, Sygna. 202
Ref :68-BwA, HKW, F.I. Almost three quarters (224) of the 300 prisoners belonging to the category of temporary Verbeugungshäftlinge) (professional criminals), 41 were considered to be political, 35 as anti-social prisoners.
Ref: 70 - About transports of Hungarian Jews there are no firm or reliable sources.
Ref :71-Primo Levi, the Gray Area. Selected Writings, The Drowned and the Saved, Munich / Vienna, 1986, pages 33-68.
Ref :72- statements, Bernard R. 09/16/1975 17/09/1975 and Herszek R. in: BWrch Ludwigsburg, B 162/15316, pg. 1632-1637 and 1639-1641.
Ref: 74 - James K. statement 13.2.1975, in: BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/15314, pg 1112 ff Maurits Fränkles report, in: NIOD, 240d, Box 26, pg 15f.
|SS troops and officers search the Jewish department heads of the Braur armaments factory during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.|
The first two of the three commanders who led the Warsaw concentration camp, did not belong to the "Network of the SS concentration camps". During their careers in the SS and at their ages they differ from the administrative core of the permanently SS operating in these facilities. SS-Obergruppenführer (General) Oswald Pohl appointed as the first camp commander, SS Lieutenant Colonel William Goeke, who was a WW I volunteer and ascended to Leutnant (Lieutenant) during his time in service. After discharge from the Reichswehr in 1920 Goeke did not manage well to integrate into civilian careers. After the National Socialists regained power in 1933 he was hired as an instructor for SS troops. Repeated conflicts, decided him in 1936, to apply for the resumption of a position in the officers corps of the army. He was given command authority in 1940 over a Reserve Battalion of the Waffen-SS in Norway. After a booze-induced scandal, Goeke had insulted younger SS leaders as "communists" which resulted to a temporary suspension from the Waffen-SS in August 1941. [There is a grain of truth in his accusations, if one analyses the past of some members of the SS,sic] Even as a commander of a camp for Serb prisoners of war in Norway, Goeke could not "prove" himself. Hans Loritz, the former commandant of Dachau and Sachsenhausen, wrote in an assessment that Goecke "is not suitable as a camp leader." The HSSPF Norway, then dismissed Gloeke from their staff. After a "training" session in the Mauthausen concentration camp in March 1943 he was officially accepted into the Office Group D of the WVHA. However, during the construction of the Warsaw concentration camp, a former prisoner pointed out during testimony Gloeke made no specific commitment, nor showed very little interest. After a few weeks Gloeke was recalled from Warsaw and appointed commander of the newly established concentration camp at Kauen. Presumably, his experience in the Baltic's in the 1920's, he fought there as an officer of the volunteer corps(Freikorps) made this crucial promotion.
[After closure of the camp in August 1944 the WVHA waived to continue to employ Goeke in any concentration camps, confirmed in a letter from the staff at the main office of the SS Race and Settlement Office dated 29/10/1944. Goeke,had been transferred at the end of August 1944 to the staff of the HSSPF-Adriatic Küstenland but was already dead at that time, he was killed in action on the 22nd October 1944.sic]
Goekes successor, SS-Captain Nicholas Herbet was almost a generation older than the usual concentration camp commanders appointed by Pohl during the 1942's. Herbet was born in 1889, had completed his training in his profession before the First World War, and started a family. Although he was among the first members of the SS, he reached as late as 1934 only the rank of SS-lieutenant. Working in a Dresden publishing company of the NSDAP (the Nazi Party), he remained until the outbreak of war an honorary member of the General SS (Allgemeine SS). In 1940 he was inducted into the Waffen-SS. Presumably owing to his age and his lack of military skills, Herbet was assigned to Mauthausen. From there he came with Goeke to Warsaw. With the exception of the camp elder Walter Wawrzyniak, with whom he maintained a friendly relationship, Herbet had towards the prisoners or the running of the camp hardly any impact.
Unlike the main concentration camps within Germany, at the Warsaw concentration camp, not all departments of the Commandants Staffs Offices had been fulfilled. Important positions in Administration remained vacant or were combined into one. There were for instance no "political department" and at times no camp doctor.(84) The compulsory division between internal and external security, between headquarters and guards did not exist. The protective custody camp leader, SS-First Lieutenant William Haertel, commanded the Protection Squad as well as the the Guard Company at the same time.
Among the members of the guard company, what they received or were allotted was the "dregs of the SS" (85) mostly older men, wounded in the war and "ethnic Germans"(Volksdeutsche), which in no way corresponded to the ideal of a disciplined and well-established ideological elite. The majority of the guard company consisted of SS members who were transferred in two contingents in August and September 1943 from Sachsenhausen. Of the nearly 150 men they were exclusively "Volksdeutsche" from Southeast Europe, which had been enlisted since 1942 in their home countries for the Waffen SS, and Eastern Europe as "auxiliary volunteers" (86) [They were considered as voluntaries and as such could not join the Wehrmacht,sic] In Sachsenhausen or the SS training camp Trawniki in the district of Lublin they had completed a short training before they were moved to Warsaw . The relationship between "ethnic Germans" and the Reichsdeutsche did not meet the ideological concepts of a "blood relationship". In February 1944, Himmler ordered the SS to avoid the term "Volksdeutsche", because he felt it "is used with a certain derogatory tone" by the Rerichsdeutschen. (87) Former members of the Warsaw concentration camp guards reported after 1945 of Resentments and Group Formations. The communication and cohesion of the unit was complicated considerably by language barriers, so that the "Volksdeutsche" had to be given notice of the prohibition to acquire items from the ghetto, in their native language to be translated by an interpreter and read out to them (88) this is indicative of the fragile morale of the security forces and are the circumstances of two suicides of SS men due to the alleged criminal offences as seen in entries for the troops guard muster rolls (Strafbucheinträge). (89) Lack of knowledge of the German language and an outward appearance that challenged the racial ideology of the SS was noticed by the inmates as well. In the German Federal Investigation after the war, many former inmates gave information about an SS man, whom they called, because of his dark skin and hair colour simply "Zigeuner"(Gipsy).
Ref.;84- Orth, concentration camp SS, Page 47
Ref: 85 Hilberg, Destruction, Page 967
Ref: 86-AS, DIA 1143 (copies of the Special Archive Moscow) On 3 August, twenty-two men were transferred and on the 29 September another 120 non-commissioned officers from Sachsenhausen went to Warsaw. In the spring of 1944 another three members from Sachenhausen were added. Information on original and official channels in the SS troops muster roll of the SS Totenkopf shows in: BArch Berlin, Außsenstelle Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten, ZM: Data-bank in: AS.: About People in the German guards: Johannes Tuchel, the Wachmannschften of the concentration camps 1939-1945. Results and open research issues, in: Alfred Godfrey etc. (Eds), NS-Gewaltherrschaft, contributions to historical research and legal processing, Berlin 2005, pages 135-151.
Ref :87-Chief Order No. 3, dated 10 February 1944, in: BArch Berlin branch Dahlwitz-Hoppegarten, EG 6686, page 162
Ref, 88-facsimile in Domanska, Obozy, page 133 The guards apparently also included several illiterate enlisted men. John R. 08/03/1977 statement, in: BArch Ludwigsburg, B 162/15316, pages 1895-1898.
Ref :89-AIPN, M-168. The court officer first examined whether the people were suspect of corruption concerning the likely deaths. Only after he diagnosed with the chief medical officer during the investigation, he determined "mental depression" as a cause of suicide.
THE WORKING AND LIVING CONDITIONS OF PRISONERS
The majority of prisoners were employed during the demolition of the ghetto. From the ruins they retrieved initially wood, metals, windows and furniture The working conditions and treatment apparently did not correspond to the commands of Pohl's instructions to the camp commandant, that "the labour output of prisoners to be maintained and increased even further." Six days a week, the prisoners had to work, only the Sunday was a day off. The work was affected by the seasons of the year. From early morning up to six clock in the evening was standard during summer months. In winter, the onset of dusk limited these hours, which offered the prisoners a chance to escape. For the first months during the demolitions there were no machinery available, so that the prisoners had to break off masonry with simple tools, under the guidance of the professional craftsmen and foreman of the construction companies involved in removal of the the ruins. Often accidents occurred during these work details, some of which were aware to the foremen or the security guards who had instigated or "engineered" them. [There is no reason given, as to why they would do this,sic] Due to the heavy physical work, long working hours, inadequate nutrition and lack of medical care, the tabor output of these prisoners was exhausted within a few weeks.
Only when heavy construction equipment and a demolition squad(Sprengkommando) was used working conditions were improved. Now systematically ruins in lines were blown up. The main task of the prisoners was now to clean the reusable bricks and stack them. This was less exhausting work then manually dismantle still standing walls within the the ruins of the Ghetto. The processed bricks for transporting were uplifted by Polish civilian workers with horse-drawn carts or loaded directly into rail way wagons onto the Eastern Railway (Ostbahn).
When working in the ghetto prisoners kept coming across victims of the ghetto uprising. Often prisoners discovered Jews who had been hiding after the crackdown of the uprising after the ghetto had been destroyed. Supplied with food, mostly against money they were provided for by the Poles. On the other hand, Polish workers who were employed during the ghetto demolition, as well as prisoners denounced those Jews who could not offer any valuables or money for food to secure their safety (92) The SS guards took them to the headquarters or into the Pawiak prison, where they were interrogated by the security police and later shot.
The work in the ghetto gave the inmates the opportunity to barter and proceed with their smuggling of certain items. The Polish workers, with whom they came into contact accepted and exchanged the valuables, which they found in the rubble like tableware, jewellery, laundry, often money for food and clothing. Although the prisoners were strictly forbidden to acquire valuables from the ruins of the ghetto. For the inmates these valuables were a vital part of available resources, which, however, not all prisoners had equal access. Primarily the functionaries of the detainees benefited because of their prominent position among the prisoners, but even those prisoners who were able to communicate due to their linguistic competence with the Polish civilian workers benefited from these transactions. When it comes to the Poles to whom valuables were offered in exchange for consumer goods they also had the opportunity to improve their own supply situation. The availability of food in the cities of the General Government was very bad. The allocation rates for Poland were significantly lower than those of the German population. In the city of Warsaw, where the situation was even more evident than in rural areas, which relied heavily on a Black Market to which the ghetto was indirectly connected (93). Working for the German construction companies also protected the Poles from being deported as forced labour into the German Reich. Compared to the concentration camp prisoners, they were in an envious situation, which some took advantage of, by denunciation and extortion (94) But other inmates reported the fact that Polish workers had helped them providing them with food. One has to recognise also, that for the Poles the trade of valuables from the ghetto involved a considerable risk. The smuggling was punishable with a sentence to the security prison or a labour camp(Arbeitserziehungslager).[The German word in fact indicates that this is a punishment work detail,sic]
A prison work commando worked in the autumn of 1943 a few weeks for SS Captain Franz Konrad, who confiscated for the Eastern Industries in the ghetto the remaining machines. (96) Since the concentration camp inmates were too weak because of their physical condition for removing the iron-working machines, Konrad had in the end requested a labour force of Soviet POWs.[This is a rather intriguing admission as it is usually claimed that Russian Prisoners of War were almost starving to death, sic]
To be employed in the workshops of the Administration, like carpentry, electrical workshop, blacksmith, locksmith, piggery, vegetable garden, the laundry, clothing room and kitchen as well as in the office, was one of the privileged activities. In the workshops there were almost exclusively German nationals and prisoners who possessed trade qualifications. Part of the inmates worked outside of the "residual ghettos": in a laundry at ul Leszno [street], who did this for the Wehrmacht, and support troops of the Waffen-SS stationed in Warsaw, in the municipal water works and in a "sand retrieving driver command", which obtained sand from the river bank of the Vistula (Weichsel) which was used for construction work in the camp. This work detail had been repeatedly used to try to escape (97) In early summer 1944, when the news spread in the camp of the liberation of the eastern Polish territories by the advancing Red Army, Polish Jews fled from the work details. The camp authorities ordered that Polish Jews were only to be used in internal commands from there on. (98)
In their records and testimonies, some of which were described during large intervals of the events, the former prisoners are judging living and working conditions in the Warsaw concentration camp very differently. It was characterised by Robert Savosnik, that the camp was a "hell without any plan," much worse than Auschwitz, from where he was deported to Warsaw Oktober1943. (99) The Dutchman Samuel Holswilder remembered, however the good food and the opportunity "to organize things "(100) The judgements are each dependent on the preceding and following camp experiences of prisoners and their position among the prison society and their personal attitude they had within a group.
Ref :92-Bernad Goldstein, The Stars and witnesses. The downfall of the Polish Jew, Munich 1965, page 188 Charles Goldstein, life without a star. A report, Munich 1964 page 227f
Ref :93-Tomasz Szarota Warsaw under the swastika. Everyday Life in Occupied Warschau.01.10.1939 to 31/07/1944, Paderborn 1985, pp. 118-130.
Ref: 94 - Rabbi Jacob report, in: NIOD, 250d/39 page 41 Report Roodveldedts Alexander, in: ibid, 250d/39, page 9 Nico Engelsman report, in: ibid, box 25, page 7.Zidovke Muzeum Praha (ZMP), interview by Anna Hyndrakova with Jiri Kral, 19/04/1991.
Ref :96-report by Franz Konrad 08.01.1946, in: AIPN, NTN 163/63, page 207
Ref :97-The failure to flee of the Greek Jew Saul Sorin is mentioned in numerous reports and testimonies of former prisoners. Sorin was publicly hanged in the camp. Mannheim's Diary, page 99
Ref:98- Report, Itzchak David Mehls, in: AZIH, sygn, rel. 301/3352.
Ref :99-Robert Savosnicks report, in: DaA, 25 381, page 144
Ref :100-Samuel Holswilders report, in: NIOD, 250d/30, page 6
continued under Part 3
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