THE SITUATION IN THE MAIN CAMP
Beginning of 1944 the use of inmates was comparatively regulated. The company Messerschmitt shifted more production to Flossenburg, so that the work in the quarry almost completely ground to a halt. By February, only 126 prisoners were employed in Halls 7 and 9 of the quarry. But Himmler's Communication on the number of prisoners in the Messerschmitt factory already no longer met the current status through the commissioning of a new production hall and the establishment of an experimental building department, for Messerschmitt the number of prisoners employed in the aircraft armament had increased from the last half of February already over 3,000. [Ref: Undated plan for the expansion of armaments production, 2004, in: AGFI, B222.]
However, the intensification of armaments production did not lead to a stabilization or even improvement of living conditions for the prisoners. The overcrowding of the camp, the shortages in the camp of vital resources such as food, sleeping and washing areas was indescribable. At the same time, the violence of Kapos and SS intensified, so in the second half of the year began the mass deaths (Massensterben) of prisoners in camps, this would continue up to the liberation of the camp on 23 April 1945. In the available 23 blocks that were designed for the accommodation of prisoners, there was a desperate shortage of sleeping space. The expression 'packed like sardines' would apply. Since the camp due to topographical conditions could not be enlarged easily and expansion plans were not implemented since 1940, 224 available beds in existing barracks, number 2 to 18 had to be shared between 300 and 900 prisoners each. The same applies to barrack 19, in camp jargon called 'Kindergarten', which was established in 1944 as a block for prisoners under 18 years. Each new incoming transport further exacerbated the conditions in the camp. Excluded from these conditions was only block number 1 near the camp's main entrance, which was the 'Celebrity Block' reserved for the prisoners-functionaries.
|Three survivors infected with typhus lie in beds in the hospital barracks in the Flossenbürg concentration camp. (May, 1945)|
look after themselves, where they perished in the shortest possible time. For the rapid disposal of the bodies, a partially underground railway was built in autumn 1944 from upper slope of the camp to the crematorium.
FLOSSENBÜRG AS A COLLECTION CENTRE
Due to its distance from the retreating front the concentration camp had been designated to become a reception centre for Camps in the east in the process of their closure. Due to the war-related evacuation of Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen concentration camp since late 1944 thousands of new prisoners were taken into the concentration camp of Flossenburg. With the complete dissolution of the Silesian Camps in January and February 1945, the arrivals took part place always in an uncontrolled method, the concentration camp system imploded. On January 16, 1945 there were 8,722 prisoners in the main camp, another 31.776 in satellite camps, including 11,436 women. (Ref: Camp strength list of, 17.1.1945, in:. CEGESOMA, CR 14368) Exactly one month later, on 17 February, 13,265 prisoners were crammed into the 23 barracks in the main camp. On March 1, the concentration camp reached the highest documented camp population of 15,445 prisoners. In the infirmary alone and the death-bed blocks 22 and 23 with nearly 3,500 terminally ill prisoners were slowly dying there. The death rate in January and February was at a daily average of 40 and continued to rise. At the high point of registration in the camps on March 1, 1945 the maximum occupancy was 36,995 male and female internees. With the evacuation of the eastern camp complexes more Jews came to Flossenburg. These now made up almost 20 percent of the total inmate strength. Most arrivals took place in February 1945, when 6,170 male and 428 female Jewish prisoners were registered in the camp complex. Even a death march with 1,000 Jewesses from the Gross-Rosen camps Neusalz and Christianstadt had Flossenburg as their goal. Between 8 and March 11, only 867 of these women and girls still living reached the main camp. They received camp numbers and stayed for some days in quarry barracks before they were further deported to Bergen-Belsen on 17 March. [The information of Gilbert, which states on the way to Flossenburg, 800 of these women died, is not factual see Martin Gilbert, Final Solution. The expulsion and extermination of Jews, Reinbeck, 1995, page 218, sic]
Although a regulated prisoner labour deployment was less and less thought of, in early 1945 the able inmates were pushed into the Messerschmitt-works and still new satellite camps were established. These were mainly in areas of bomb disposals and maintenance and repair commandos on militarily important major hub stations (Knotenpunkte) and airports in Ansbach, Oberstraubing, Regensburg and Pocking, where the prisoners literally 'worked' as a last resort and were treated as a disposable labour pool. In January about 2,500 people died, in February 2758, in March 3207 of which three-quarters of the dead came from satellite camps. The value of the prisoners were measured exclusively at their maximum exploitable labour. At no time, more people than in the period of the complete economization of the camp complex in 1944 and 1945 died in the Flossenburg concentration camp.
|A room filled with corpses at Flossenbürg concentration camp.|
Despite the chaotic conditions that prevailed with permanent arrivals, constant departures of some kind, total overcrowding and mass death in the spring 1945 in the camp, and under the largest logistical effort, scheduled and regular executions still took place in the camp, which had been performed since the establishment of the Arrest Building that had served not only as a place of detention for prominent prisoners, including this Prince Phillip of Hesse, members of the Wittelsbach family, also former Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg and his family. On April 8th Pastor Bonhoeffer and his fellow conspirators only stayed one night in one of these cells before they were “tried,” found guilty and led into the courtyard to be hanged.
Physician H. Fischer-Huellstrung witnessed the event:
"On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners were taken from their cells and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this unusually lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Note: There is a vast difference between a court marshal and the German version of a 'Standgericht'. In the latter case it is always a summary execution, without any preliminaries, as the word implies the accusation and sentence is read out while all the participants are standing and the accused either shot or hanged immediately. To my knowledge he or she is not asked the usual: 'HAVE YOU GOT ANYTHING TO SAY'
Based on the available execution sites, shooting range, provisionally place for shots in the neck (Gernickschussanlage) and numerous facilities of gallows, the detention block was also used as a central murder site for different authorities, such as the Gestapo authorities in Chemnitz, Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), Nuremberg and Regensburg. Arrested forced labourers, political opponents to the regime or captured soldiers of the commando operations were being transported and murdered in the concentration camp at the detention block. Since these people did not count legally as KZ-prisoners per se, they had not been registered, exact numbers of the victims of these murders are still missing. After a night of a 'standing trial' (Standgerichtsverfahren) during which the prisoners were abused and tortured, they expected their death, normally in the early morning hours. Their bodies were transported immediately to the crematorium, cremated and the ashes, like the remains of thousands of other prisoners dumped in a valley behind the cremation site.
Even in the days before April 9th the evacuation of the first prominent prisoners from the detention block was started. On the 8th April, the family Schuschnigg, the Generals Haalder and Thomas as well as Hjalmar Schacht were transported in the direction of Dachau . The other remaining special prisoners were transferred to Dachau on the 15th April. Shortly after their killing spree of inmates, the SS began with the preparations for the liquidation of the entire camp. Gallows and the neck execution facilities were demolished, the blood-soaked shooting wall hastily painted over, for days the burning pyres of corpses of prisoners and of the commandant's hastily brought mountains of files. The SS personnel file, the death register of the camp and and much of the prisoner index went up in flames. At the same time, the SS enlisted some of the German prisoner-functionaries of the camp and formed a kind of camp police. This should take care in light of the ubiquitous signs of disintegration of discipline among the thousands of prisoners and escorting them the next day during evacuation marches.
On April 16, the first transport left with all the Jewish prisoners of the camp, about 1,700 men in the direction of Dachau. In the neighboring village of Floß the rail transport was first straffed by American Fighter Planes, allegedly on the mistaken believe it was a German military convoy. Dozens of prisoners died in the attack and in the subsequent chase of SS men who pursued the fleeing prisoners that were in agony. After the train had first resumed its journey, worse was to come, the remaining prisoners were beaten near the village of Schwarzenfeld from the trains and driven in several groups of 200, south-east, those no longer able to walk virtually shot or slain every kilometre at the city of Neuburg vorm Wald, the little group of those still alive were finally freed on April 23rd by units of 97 Infantry Division 3rd U.S. Army. [The details of Heigl give a rough, but often incorrect overview on death marches from the concentration camp of Flossenbürg, compare Peter Heigl, concentration camps Flossenbürg, past and present, Regensburg 1989 sic]
|An American soldier looks at the corpses of Polish, Russian, and Hungarian Jews found in the woods near Neunburg vorm Wald. The victims were prisoners from Flossenbürg who were shot near Neunburg while on a death march. Germany, April 29, 1945.|
Through a rumour about the imminent arrival of American troops, the closure of the camp was temporarily interrupted. After the removal of the Jewish prisoners the SS guards left the camp and went into hiding in close-by forests. Since the delayed arrival of the Americans, however, the evacuation of the camp continued at an accelerated pace as from the 17th of April. The utter chaos during the resolution phase of the concentration camp makes it almost impossible to determine the exact number of prisoners taken via Flossenburg to the south. According to the last remaining strength report of 15 April 1945, there were about 7,000 prisoners in the main camp. Added to this figure, there were about 7,000 additional Buchenwald inmates also present in the camp, without having been registered. Not all Buchenwalder transports that were still in the camp are incorporated in any counts, some stayed only briefly into the surrounding forests. An overall figure for these 'evacuated' Buchenwald inmates could not be exactly determined today. It is assumed that by mid-April up to 10,000 prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp or in its surrounding area, would have been included with the columns that included those commencing on the Death Marches at Flossenburg.
Until 20 April from 16.000 to 20.000 completely emaciated and exhausted prisoners were marching in several groups from Flossenburg and in a southerly direction. Left behind by the SS were barely 1,600 terminally ill, no longer capable prisoners of marching. The others, without food, and only scantily clothed the misery columns crossed hundreds of villages in the Oberpfalz and Lower Bavaria. The most feared of these death marches led to the foothills of the Alps, where hey were finally liberated on May 2nd 1945 in Surberg near Traunstein. One can only roughly estimate the number of prisoners that survived this inferno to the last days of the war. The emaciated prisoners died from exhaustion, they collapsed through the strain of walking or froze to death in the cold April nights. Others were trying to escape and because they no longer were able to walk were shot or clubbed to death. A work detail (Sonerkommando) of prisoners that followed the marches had to hastily bury the bodies. Along the routes of these death marches almost 5,000 people were killed and discovered by American units alone in Bavaria after the war .
One of the most murderous death marches led from the Women's sub-camp in the Upper Franconian vilalage of Helmbrechts through the satellite camp in Zeodau near Falkenau as far as Wallern in southern Bohemia. The brutality of the Helmbrechtser camp leader Alois Dörr, who predominantly used Jewish women exposed to extreme hardships, is considered one of the most horrible examples in wilful murder down to the last days of the war. It can be stated the perverse killing of helpless victims was present in many SS leaders. To date, only approximations of numbers to the victims of the death marches from the Flossenburg controlled camps can be assessed. After a scant inspection of documents from local archives of Saxon and Czech municipalities it is estimated that at least 2.000 to 3.000 women have perished.
|Route of 800 km Death March by Jewish Women from Slawa to Volary/Prachatice (20 Jan - 5 May 1945)|
52 young Jewish women survivors pose in Vodnany school-hospital before release. Center front are 4 Czech Nurses. Survivors from Neu Vorwerk had marched 800 kilometers, often without shoes. Survivors from DWM (Deutsche Wollenwaren Manufaktur) had marched 700 kilometers.
1. Nelli Ebbe 10. Gruner, Rutka 19. Twardowicz, Franya
2. Rushinek, Regina 11. Rakowska, Itka 20. Majer/Markswicz, Ester
3. Silbiger, Reyna 12. Halpert, Ester 21. Majer/Markswicz, Pola
4. Weinryb, Fela 13. Kammer, Dora 22. Waksmann, Franya
5. Langer, Berta 14. Weinryb, Bela 23. Kozubska, Lola
6. Deutsch, Zita 15. Nucher, Dvora 24. Zeidner, Gusta
7. Rotgeberg, Dora 16. Gruner, Bascia 25. Wohlander, Pola
8. Berkowicz, Berta 17. Silberstein, Genia 26. Erhlich, Guccia
9. Gelbauer, Malka 18. Pilc, Guccia 27. Chaimowicz, Halina
N = Nurses, S = Staff
• photos of SS guards on the Death March from Helmbrechts to Volary/Prachatice
1. SS Private Walter Kowaliv named "the shooter" by prisoners. His post was at the end of the March column. He shot any woman prisoner who could walk no farther
2. SS guard Ingebord Schimming murdered more than 30 women prisoners. She was protected by the "Stasi" against extradition to Czechoslovakia
3. SS guard Ruth Hildner. In Pisek at 12 noon, May 2, 1947 she was sentenced to be hanged for her crimes. Six hours later she was executed
4. SS Pfc Sebastian Kraschansky. On May 5, 1948 he together with SS Pvt. Michael Weingartner murdered 22 Jewish women and girls who could walk no farther
5. SS Cpl. Paul Letmethe. On the last day of the war he shot to death an exhausted Jewish woman prisoner despite an order of "no more killings"
6. SS Cpl. Werner Jarritz. His duty was to be in charge of the wagons carrying ill prisoners. When the wagons were full, the women were shot that night
7. Herta Haase - Commandant of women prisoners at FAL Helmbrechts. During the Death March from Helmbrechts to Prachatice she beat to death many prisoners. Never punished
8. SS Sgt Alois Dörr 58 - was sentenced at a War Crimes Trial to 'Life in Prison' - He was freed after serving ten years
CONTINUED UNDER PART 6/6