THE EVACUATION OF PRISONERS PART 7/10
With the beginning of the winter offensive of the Soviet Army on January 12, 1945 the decision was made in the SS Economic-Administrative Main Department (WVHA) that the concentration camps Auschwitz, Stutthof and Gross-Rosen had to be vacated. On January 16, 1945 the Higher SS and Police Leader in Danzig, Frederich Katzmann, would give the final command coded 'Fall Eva' (Fall of Eve) for the evacuation of the population of West Prussia, which had been already elaborately worked out on the 4th September 1944, by the staff of Gauleiter Albert Forster. This plan, by then already in the third stage of a planned evacuation, according to the password, code, 'seal', the evacuation of the Stutthof concentration camp would commence. Crucial for the immediate evacuation of the prisoners was the rapid advance of the front. On the 23/24 January, 1945, Soviet troops were at a distance of 40 to 50 kilometres from Stutthof. They stood before Elbing and Marienburg. In this situation, the camp commander Hoppe received the order from Katzmann, that the Stutthof camp to be evacuated and taken in the direction of Lauenburg (Pommern) at a distance of 140 km. Although it was previously considered as to the possibility to take prisoners by vessels to Lübeck, or the camp handed over to the Red Army in full operation.
After he had received the approval of the transfer of the prisoners to Lauenburg (Lebork) at the last moment, the Camp Commander signed in the early morning of January 25th, 1945 issuing command order No. 3 for the evacuation of the camp at 6.00 am. The order laid down the march route, determined the number of columns that should leave the camp within two days, on the 25th and 26th of January and the number of escorts. Responsible Head of the evacuation was the Deputy Camp Commander Theodor Meyer, assisted by SS Sergeant Reiss and a doctor, SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Laub.
It is noteworthy, that the dissolution already started at all outside commands and nearby satellite camps in mid-January 1945. Between 10th and 25th January, most satellite camps where Jewish prisoners were kept for working assignments, had already been evacuated.
On January 25, 1945 during the morning roll call at four o'clock a Selection took place, in which the sick in the camp hospital, and part of the hospital staff, inmates who were needed for the camp maintenance as well as in packaging and transportation of the camp inventory, and finally the 'Clan-Prisoners' (Sippenhäftlinge) were excluded from the evacuation. On this day began the death march for seven marching columns. On January 26, 1945 only two columns left the camp on the march. A column consisted of 1,100 to 1,600 prisoners. Thus, leaving 11,500 of the approximately 25,000 inmates of the main camp. According to a report of the transport offices from January 24, 1945 the concentration camp Stutthof counted, including satellite camps 46,505 prisoners, including 18,115 men and 28,390 women.
Female prisoners eat their rations on board a barge in the Baltic Sea after being evacuated from Strutthof
Before the departure of the prisoners they were given a little food, which should have lasted for two days using standard camp requirements to sustain them. But most of them consumed their meagre ration at once. Contrary to the orders contained in the marching directives while on route the prisoners were given neither food nor night camps, which could not always adhered to and was in opposition to the orders contained in the written instructions. Rest sites were selected randomly as the route constantly changed. The orders specified roads or by-ways during the evacuation to be taken, yet they were often blocked by withdrawing or retreating Wehrmacht Units or by the fleeing civilian population. In addition, the change in the weather came on the third day. Especially the violent snow falls forced the squad leaders to have breaks without shelter or catering. Most prisoners were sent for shelter into cattle sheds (Viehställe) , barns and churches. The local population was strictly prohibited of any kind of assistance, especially food.(Although they in fact did in some cases) Those who could not keep up , were shot and killed by their escorts. Probably the sick , who were not supposed to be evacuated , had joined the column because they were afraid that staying behind would mean death. Some of the prisoners who went on the march were infected with typhus , whose symptoms did not until the road march came to a head. [ Memories of T.T. Meyer , in: ibid , sign , Z - V49 , page 11, sic] (Theodor Meyer: sentenced to death (executed on October 10, 1947 in Poland)
Since the Evacuation Leader Meyer received in Lauenburg no assigned accommodation, he finally asked the appropriate authorities for the columns of prisoners arriving on the march to make all abandoned camps of the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst) available for them. The food problems were almost intractable. All inventories that had been stored were intended for German refugees flooding in, and food delivered from Stutthof was not enough.
The prisoners who arrived on 2nd and 4th of February, and were finally quartered in the much too small for winter weather conditions in twelve completely unsuitable satellite camps within the County of Lauenburg. Detachment commanders of the evacuation camp were the respective team leaders. The former escorts took over the functions of the camp team. All leaders were still under the command of Theodor Meyer, who repeatedly visited the various camps, but this by no means had a positive impact on the situation prevailing there. In addition to the lack of food and especially the disastrous sanitary conditions, plus the lack of medical care and extreme exhaustion led to the spread of typhus.
When the Red Army in March 1945 had reached Schlawe, Stolp, Lauenburg and Neustadt and the offensive towards Danzig and Gdynia began, (this no doubt was a Russian pincer movement) the evacuation camps were left in the immediate front area. As the prisoners were under any circumstances NOT to be released, the German authorities ordered a further evacuation towards Putzig and Gdynia. From there, the prisoners should probably be shipped via a circuitous route to Germany by vessels, but this did not happen. At the liberation by the Red Army from the 9th to March 10th 1945, the prisoners were often still on the march or in the evacuation camps.
Because of its remote location on the Vistula Spit the Stutthof concentration camp remained until the last days of the war in operation. The Red Army directed its main thrust against Pomerania and West-Pommen delaying their attack on Elbing, Danzig and Gdynia while bypassing them, either directed for tactical reasons or because of the difficult terrain, which was the Vistula (Weichsel) Lagoon. The main objective of the offensive was to cut off the connections to the ports of Danzig, Gdynia and Hela from the west and to prevent the evacuation of Wehrmacht soldiers, equipment, and German civilians by sea.
In February 1945, the camp Stutthof became a stopping point for German refugees from East Prussia, foreigners and prisoners of war who had done forced labour, as well as for Wehrmacht Units, which came after the defeat of the German army in East Prussia up to the Vistula Spit. From February until the end of April 1945 there were between 20,000 to 40,000 people in the camp, who lived in the abandoned barracks of the new camp and in a part of the old camp. From there, a part was evacuated by sea to Germany, about 20,000 remained until the arrival of the Red Army.
On January 30, 1945 there were 11,863 prisoners present in the main camp (Stammlager), including 6,922 women in the Jewish camp. The overall level of the camp, including sub-camps, amounted to 33.948 prisoners on that day. The chaos created by the departure of the first prisoners, led to the collapse of the camp administration and its operation. Neither role calls, nor the status of the occupants still held, was never counted, the death register was no longer maintained. From 26 to 29 January 1945, no reports, lists of evacuees or the newcomers were neither kept or recorded. Both the camp management as well as the greatly reduced labour detachments limited their activities to a bare minimum, the camp kitchen was no longer in operation. The prisoners from the effects room and money management, packaged under the direction of SS Sergeant Otto Knott the most of the camp's inventory, clothing and shoes and anything they considered useful, into bags and boxes. It was not until after 31 January 1945 that the necessary work for the camp's operating existence took place in the canteen, camp kitchen, nursery, in the transport columns, at the water pumping station, the mobile fleet and construction work of the SS in the new camp commenced again. The work details in the DAW halls and in the factory of G. Epp in the village were preparing tools and equipment for shipment to Germany as before. A newly set up commando, named Leising built for the SS makeshift shelters in the neighbouring forest, as the camp had become a target of Soviet air raids in February 1945.
|Fragment of the New Camp along with halls Deutsches Ausrüstungs Werke (DAW).'|
During this time a typhus epidemic was rife in the camp, which lasted from January until April 1945. Deaths previously unknown to that extent,were mainly in the Jewish camp. Of the 6,922 Jews who were in the camp on the 30th January 1945, only 1,425 survived until 23rd April 1945. Of the total 6,550 deaths in this period were approximately 5.200 to 5.500 Jewesses. Despite the isolation of the Jewish section the typhus epidemic spread through the whole camp, because sewage pipes, through which the camp's effluents was passed, were blocked, the camp's entire sewage system had failed. Prisoners lacked drinking water as well.
As to the official report about the occupancy level of the 23rd April 1945, two days before the beginning of the evacuation, shows, there were on that day 4,508 prisoners in the camp, including 1,690 Jews (265 men and 1,425 women). The evacuation was controlled by Albert Foster, who was on Hela on the 27th of March to the 8th of May, 1945. As chief of staff for all matters of the evacuation in Gau Danzig-West Prussia, he was personally responsible for the provision of the relevant transport. The evacuation should go in three stages : from the camp after Nickelswalde from there to the half-island Hela and then by barges to Lübeck.
The prisoners who were marched to Nickelswalde were taken with motor boats on the south side of the Hela peninsula near the town of Hel, divided into three groups and placed on barges. About 1000 prisoners were embarked on the two vessels 'Wolfgang' and 'Vaterland'. On a third with an unknown name 600 people were undergoing embarkment. 'Wolfgang' and 'Vaterland' reached accompanied by tugboats finally on May 2nd, the port of Neustadt. After the unsuccessful attempt to evacuate the prisoners from Stutthof onto at anchor lying ships 'Thielbeck' and 'Cap Arcona' at Neustadt harbour, the tugboats returned and left the barges. The prisoners took the initiative and went on land, where up to 100 of them were shot and killed by SS men and men of the Navy. A unit of the 2nd British army under General Dempsey freed the surviving prisoners on May 3, 1945. Of the approximately 2,000 prisoners who had arrived by ferry from Nickelswalde only about 1200 survived.
|Nickelswalde, dirt road from the main road to a farm'|
The last group that left the Stutthof concentration camp was on the 27th of April 1945 with about 1060 prisoners of various nationalities. Their first loss occurred when their narrow-gauge railway was bombed . After arriving in the evening in Nickelswalde there was another tragedy which faced them: About 70 Jewish women, had been shot at the banks of the river Vistula (Weichsel) by the SS Escorts. The barge ' Ruth ', which left Hel on 28 April 1945 reached Flensburg on May 3rd. On May 5th 1945, the prisoners were loaded on orders of the harbour master Hans Joachim von Ramm and the captain of the merchant fleet Herbert Schmalz onto the steamship 'Rheinfels', where they remained until the 10th May 1945. On this day, the Swedish Red Cross took the survivors into their care . From Flensburg, 700 former prisoners from Stutthof were taken with other 700 passengers by ship to Sweden. On May 11th they reached the port of Malmö, where in addition to Trelleborg ,and other southern Swedish ports like, Gothenburg, the transports of inmates of concentration camps were taken to.
After the departure of the last group of evacuees on 27 April Ehle ordered the dismantling of the crematorium in the concentration camp Stutthof. The 50 remaining prisoners still in the camp he issued, as directed by the Higher SS and Police Leader Katzmann, discharge papers, which were backdated to the 15 April 1945, the date of the official camp resolution.
|Island of Rügen-Germany-Part of Evacuation Stop-Overs'|
The total number of victims of the concentration camp Stutthof is between 63.000 to 65.000 people. This includes both the 41,500 inmates included, as from 1939 to 1945 which were killed or died in the main camp and in the satellite camps, as well as the 21,500 (from about 23,500) people who died on the death marches or during the evacuation on the ships. Approximately 43 percent of the victims were Jews. During the period from September 1939 to May 1945, 28,000 Jewish prisoners of the concentration camp Stutthof died, most of them, 27,000, between July 1944 and 8th of May 1945.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 8/10
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