Wednesday, September 25, 2013



Until the formation of the concentration camp in May 1938 Flossenbürg was a small community with about 1,200 inhabitants in the Eastern Upper Palatinate Forest (Oberpfälzer Wald) on the border of the Czechoslovak Republic. The entire Eastern Bavarian area was in the twenties considered as backward and underdeveloped. A harsh climate, poor soil conditions, lack of raw material, generally poor transport links had made this into a 'natural poverty area' and  had brought them the unflattering by-name as the 'Bavarian Siberia' long before the First World War.
Flossenbürg as a poverty area located on the very edge of it, was economically, socio-structurally, politically and religiously a special case in this largely agrarian small border region. Thanks to the rich granite quarries numerous quarries were opened in Flossenbürg since the 19th century, which provided, despite the high migration losses of the working population in Eastern Bavaria, an influx of workers from neighbouring Bohemia. During 1925 there lived in Flossenbürg about 1074 inhabitants, two-thirds Catholic and one-third of Protestant religion. Apart from that the agricultural community maintained a social-democratic oriented outlook, but workers were  still strongly divided in denominational groups. The work ethic of stone masons, with all the connotations linked to poor living conditions, became culturally a very sorry picture of a place. Although Flossenbürg possessed with its medieval castle ruins an attraction for a tourist infrastructure, this village, as opposed to other places in the central mountain regions took a timidly approach and did very little, in fact nothing at all to exploit a possible tourist potential.

'The castle Flossenbürg, also called castle near Flozze, was founded about the year 1100. First there was only a sort of residential tower built, then in 13th and 16th century the castle was extended with a donjon (The fortified main tower of a castle) and gate'

With the end of the First World War, the political geography of Eastern Bavaria changed fundamentally. Until 1918/19, the Bavarian-Bohemian border marked 'a barely perceptible geographical concept'. After the Treaty of Versailles and the creation of the First Czechoslovak Republic, a century-long existing natural stone industry at Flossenbürg with the new political importance of the border and particularly the economic crisis in the late twenties the area was slowly but drastically affected. With the onset after the National Socialist (Nazi) takeover the labour market policies promoting the natural stone industry had hitherto a moderate acceptance, however, the National Socialists rapid rise to power in 1933 changed Flossenbürg and its environments.

This building located on top of the hill overlooking the quarry was the administration building of the SS DESt company.                                    

With the support of small settlement constructions (Siedlungen) and large public buildings under the National Socialist autarky and architecture planning, the medium-sized granite works took an unexpected upturn, which soon brought them to the brink of their capacity. One of the main consumers of the local granite were the sites of the Reich's Party Rally Grounds (Reichsparteitagsgelände) at Nuremberg.  The Flossenburg quarries had already full employment, as from 1934 onwards, at the same time new settlements were designed and built for the required civilian workforce and their families.
Not only in Flossenburg but also on a Reich level the labour shortage worsened from 1936/37 in the construction industry, so that problems were foreseen in the realization of the extensive military and urban construction programs. The Reichs-Leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, in agreement with Hitler and the 'General Construction Inspector for the Reich Capital' (GBI), Albert Speer, sanctioned the use of concentration camp prisoners in the production and supply of building material. A direct consequence was the establishment of new camps, including the concentration camp at Flossenburg. In April 1938, the SS-owned operation 'German Earth and Stone Works Ltd.' (DESt) was founded with the aim to organize and provide building materials through newly formed concentration camps.

Flossenbürg Panoramic view
On May 1st 1938 came the first members of SS guards to Flossenburg. These had been sent from several other SS units such as staff drivers from Frankenberg near Chemnitz who were set on a 'train' in the direction of Flossenburg. But the majority of SS men recruited, probably came from the first Totenkopfstandarte (Death Head Unit) 'Oberbayern', the guards of the concentration camp at Dachau. As the first Commandant in early May was Jacob Weiseborn transferred to the northern Oberpfalz. Weiseborn had served in various concentration camps since 1934 and had worked before his promotion to commander of the concentration camp Flossenburg as Deputy and General Protective Custody Camp Leader as well as temporary adjutant to the commandant of Karl Koch at Buchenwald. Two days after the arrival of the SS members on May 3, the first transport of 100 prisoners arrived from Dachau at Flossenburg. The task of these prisoners was the structural development of the camp. They had to build living quarters for prisoners and storage barracks, erect the first administration building as well as security systems. All the barracks were delivered as pre-fabricated components from Kamper & Seeberg and provided to the inmates to put them into place with the assistance of local construction workers.  Prisoners had to live initially in unsafe  temporarily shelters exposed to all weather conditions for a few weeks, until the first barrack, Block 1, was completed on May 28, 1938. But the construction of the camp was not proceeding in the planned pace, as deliveries of building materials were hampered and slow in arriving.   SS-Hauptsturmführer Weiseborn complained already on May 10th to the Administrative Office of the SS, that the SS barracks needed further improvements urgently. Likewise, he requested, that immediate facilities for an SS doctor has to be provided, in addition, a supply depot and garages are in urgent need.

 Flossenbürg headquarters building, in the SS camp area. Today it houses a film room with an interpretive video.
The circumstances of the first few months of the existence of Flossenbürg and the short time span between the site selection and arrival of the first prisoners suggests that the decision to set up the camp had been made in  great haste. No fundamental decision had yet been taken as to the status and the planned state of expansion for this camp. Although at the end of May, 200 prisoners worked on the physical infrastructure and from July 1938 away from the camp at the southern slope, permanent houses were built for staff members. The Chief of the SS-Main Office (SS-Hauptamt) Oswald Pohl was prompted to ask Theodor Eicke on September 7, 1938, if the camp at Flossenburg should be continued and used as a 'hiking camp'(Wanderlager), or whether the camp's only aim was to keep the required prisoners for the quarry and the commandant plus the necessary guards (Bewachmannschaft), or whether it was intended to build a strong camp with its own Skull Head Unit (Totenkopfverband) and the associated training camp. He made no bones about finishing off that he thought the yield of the quarry was very limited, estimated at not more than 5-10 years, and after completion of the constructions, saw no way for any use of inmates on a larger scale.
Hand-drawn plan of the Flossenbürg concentration camp by Stefan Kryszczak, a survivor of the camp.'
In addition to the initial difficulties to build up inventories and the prevailing scepticism about the productivity of granite deposits the camp had already attained by the end of 1938 a considerable stage of expansion. In addition to the three quarries that had been opened on the DESt site, the actual camp was structurally sound, although rudimentary, yet by the method of zoning for prisoners, separated from the Administration and the range of working facilities pointed already towards the typical structure of a concentration camp. At the end of 1938 in the area were ten prisoner barracks, but not all used as accommodation, rather as functional utility buildings and converted later to inmate's accommodations. The entire area was surrounded by a two to three-strand fence but was not electrified, however, the camp side was reinforced and secured by 'spanische Reiter' [virtually means Spanish riders, and is a German expression for wooden obstacles (cross-bars) similar during horse jumping competition,sic]. The entrance into the camp area led past a small block leader guardhouse. To oversee this sector as a whole, wooden watchtowers were built at a distance of about 50 meters apart

Watch Tower at Flossenburg'
The first SS-houses for their leaders and families were ready for occupancy on the Plattenberg mountain in December of that year. The establishment of the SS settlement had led to a violent dispute in the summer between Pohl and Eicke. Pohl told Eicke in a sharp letter of 31 August 1938 to discontinue the construction of the SS settlement immediately, since the relevant area was only leased from the municipality and lie too close to the camp. Eicke responded immediately, and he used Pohl's equally strong language in his reply: "I demand that the apartments for the supervisory staff who are in constant need, be in the immediate vicinity of the camp. Moreover, I have concocted this scheme myself which gave me stomach spasm.." According to this view of Eicke's, the structure of 15 houses of the SS settlement was proceeded with in undiminished pace.

' Some of the camp officials and higher ranking SS-personal were housed in a specially constructed housing area on the hill side near the camp. These period log houses with stone foundations are still in use today'.
Nevertheless the entire endeavour was characterized by the scarcity of space since the establishment of the camp, a condition that, despite continuous expansion throughout the seven years of its existence would not change.  Flossenbürg remained structurally in a period of continuing provisions.
The fact that the concentration camp Flossenburg was built in the midst of a phase of restructuring of the German police force, and the extension in persecution and the restructuring of the concentration camp system, was clearly reflected during the years 1938/39, it also showed up in the increase of prisoner occupancy. These events can almost be completely reconstructed for 1938.  The first prisoner transport from the Dachau concentration camp came with 100 inmates to Flossenburg on May 3, and ​​ further transfers were made on May 9, so that at the end of May there were 200 prisoners in the camp. These were almost invariably prisoners identified with green triangles which came under the category "BV" (professional criminals) or "VH" (preventive detainees). They included primarily men who were convicted of various criminal offences or after serving a prison sentence under the "Decree for the Prevention of Crime Reduction through the Police" of 14 December 1937, which extended the protective custody decree dated January 25, 1938 with the result of an additional holding period in a concentration camp.
On July 1, the transfer of another 127 prisoners from Dachau took place, bringing the total of prisoners to 400 prisoners nearly two months after the camp was opened. Until the end of July only prisoner from Dachau had been transferred to Flossenburg, and then on 8 August, the first  transport with 60 people arrived  from  Buchenwald, with another expected to follow in November. Between the 17 and 26 November, in two separate shipments from Sachsenhausen with a total of 602 inmates arrived. In the first eighteen months of its existence Flossenburg was not directly an admission camp for first time offenders. All Flossenburger prisoners had been previously been interned in other concentration camps. Even in the wake of the pogroms of November from 9/10 November 1938 onwards, arrests of Jewish citizens of northern Bavaria were not transported to Flossenburg but went to Dachau.
Among the deportees to Flossenburg was a significant proportion of violent criminals who were deported from the three mentioned camps, and specifically selected for Flossenburg to act there in a working commando . Of the total of 1505 men, which can be traced as prisoners of the concentration camp for the year 1938, the overwhelming majority did have the green triangle of preventive detainees (Vorbeugehäftlinge). There were  only three prisoners who would come under the category "asocial" and two "Bible Students" (Bibelforscher), plus nine homosexuals and few political prisoners. In later years communists arrived, but for entirely other reasons.

Work in the quarry: In the foreground one of the "blue label"(Blaupunkte) prisoners, a group of 18 German Communists, who were transferred from Sachsenhausen to be executed at Flossenburg in November 1942

There are no recollections of former prisoners who can give an insight into the perceived life and prison conditions, or on labour inputs in Flossenburg for the first year. Based on the existing construction and management files, but mainly on the basis of later trial testimonies of former prisoners a picture can be drawn, which negatively contrasted Flossenburg in this phase of development mainly due to the extreme climatic changes, topographical conditions and the severity of the work compared with other camps. In the quarry, the prisoners worked together with civilian workers of stone masons from Flossenburg , where the prisoners were forced to do the hardest and most dangerous physical work. They had to clear away unfinished granite blocks from the blasting area to drag them to the loading trolleys and push them to the civilian stonemasons, but firstly to open up the entire quarry site with simple rotary hammers and pickaxes. All qualified work, such as the precise forming of building stones, was done by qualified civilian masons, the prisoners were only used for severe physical auxiliary functions.

The quarry as it appeared in 1945, and the quarry site today. The quarry is still in use
Although the camp had been built against the background of a new economic focus on the part of the SS, the SS considered this type of work primarily as an instrument of harassment and 'education'. 'Education' within the meaning of the camp SS was basically aimed at the destruction of the individual personality. Even the commandos that were used to build up the initial complex had to suffer under the same conditions. Since the camp site while lying on a plateau, and limited to the north and south sides by steep rock walls, the area to place the barracks in terraces had to be literally shaped and carved out of the mountain. The incidence of injuries in this type work was so high that in 1938 a prisoner barrack had to be converted into an Emergency Revier(Hospital) to cope with injured inmates.

Not even three weeks after the arrival of prisoners at the concentration camp the first death was officially recorded. Born in Tauberfeld near Eichstätt the baker Joseph Herzner died on 21 May 1938 and reported to the registry office (Standesamt) Flossenburg two days later by the camp physician Dr. Walter Weyand without giving the cause of death. Since the camp still had no means at that stage for the cremation of dead bodies, the deceased was taken to the nearest civilian crematorium in Selb and was cremated on May 24. The entry in the city cremation register indicates the cause of death as 'poor circulation' (Kreislaufschwäche). The urn was finally buried on November 18 in an anonymous mass grave at the municipal cemetery in Selb. This practice of burial was repeated until the completion of the camp's own crematorium in May 1940, the certification of dead concentration camp inmates was continued as far as September 1942, at the registry office of the municipality of Flossenburg. From the accurate and unbroken records of both registries show that in 1938 a total of twelve prisoners died in the concentration camp. Until December 31, 1938 at least 1505 prisoners had passed through it.  At year's end of 1938 a total of 1475 people were imprisoned in the camp, which was the last and highest prison number assigned for the year. If this is claimed to be correct, it can be assumed that thirty detainees had perished, not twelve!

None of the period barracks remain at the Flossenbürg site, but some hard buildings such as the prisoners laundry and kitchen have been preserved, as well as three of the original guard towers.

Continued under Part 2/6

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