GROSS-ROSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP - PART 1/6PROLOGUE
The former concentration camp Gross-Rosen after these many years is one of the least known camps of the Nazi regime. It appears only in specialized literature and in overviews, it is 'an unknown camp', 'misplaced and forgotten'. Yet it interned a total of 120,000 displaced people there, as one of the largest forced labour camps at anyone time. In the four and a half years that it existed, first as a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen, and then since May 1941 as an independent concentration camp, more than 40,000 people have been mistreated or worked to death in Gross-Rosen. (German spelling reads Groß-Rosen)
Gross-Rosen is in Germany not only known because of the language barriers to the Lower Silesian place, today it is re-named Rogoznica and is located in Poland, but also because it was difficult to reach it in the first decades after the war. It was located in a historical no man's land between the death camps in Poland and the concentration camps near Munich and Berlin, near Hamburg and Weimar. The Silesian region was also in the public consciousness of the German post-war decades, especially those Germans that only meant for them a lost homeland, flight and expulsion and had hardly any other thoughts on their minds, than to survive. There were in the Federal Republic no sensational trials of commanders, functionaries or guards of Gross-Rosen, and put it in other words comparative hardly any known published legal records and testimonies in the German language do exist. In her 1992 published memoirs in Germany 'weiter leben' by Ruth Klüger, who came as a young girl from Auschwitz to the sub-camp Christianstadt, says of Gross-Rosen, 'A still fairly unknown name'.
Throughout the years of Nazi rule in Germany and the the German occupied territories, the question of inducting members of occupied peoples for forced labour was fraught with ambivalence. At first, prisoner labour was intended as a means of oppression and extermination, especially for Jews and Soviet prisoners. Concurrently, however, it became a necessary element in the enhancement and strengthening of Germany's fighting ability. As a result, hundreds of thousands were interned in concentration and labour camps, their energy and very lives subjugated to the German economy. This policy, first invoked before the war began, continued during the period of rapid military advance through to the end of the war, even as Germany fought for its life and victory slipped from its grasp.
THE LOCATION- A QUARRY CAMP
The concentration camp Gross-Rosen gets its name from a village in the district of Schweinitz, in today's Lower Silesia, it was on the Striegauer heights, about 60 km west of Breslau (Wrocław), close to the railway line between Jauer and Stiegau. Not very far away from this place was a 300 meter high ridge, the Kuhberg, a then medium sized quarry with an extent of 100 by 180 meter and 38 meter depth, which in the decades prior, had mined the extremely hard, black and white Silesian granite. Three kilometres away, there was one of the SS-owned German Enterprises ' Earth and Stone Works' (DESt) and thus useful for the KZ later on as a loading station by train. The SS acquired the quarry and granite factory in May 1940 with a 'by and large good technical operating system' for half a million Reichsmarks. The DESt, which was one of the many business enterprises of the SS since 1938, in addition leased the land and other properties from them as well. The overall aim and planning of the SS was not new, in the Upper Palatinate Flossenburg and the Austrian Mauthausen near Linz, concentration camps were built next to quarries for the DESt before the war in 1938. These were significantly larger which have always been found more profitable than Gross-Rosen. In addition to Gross-Rosen in May 1941 yet another quarry camp was built by inmates at Natzweiler in Alsace/Lorraine.
The reason for establishing a camp in this area speaks for itself, after some early, soon abandoned concentration camps which were used for individuals under the political 'protective custody' rule, from Silesia and, apart from the recently created camp at Auschwitz, that, after the annexation of Polish territory became part of the province of Upper Silesia, there was was no concentration camp in Silesia. People, irrespective of Nationality arrested by the Gestapo in Breslau Liegnitz and Oppeln were therefore generally admitted up to the end of 1941 into a central German concentration camp at Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald, the women at Ravensbrück, and after the pogrom of November 1938, they deported from Breslau 2,471 and from Oppeln 703 Jews into these camps. So it seemed to be part of the general reorganization (Neuordnung) and expansion of the Nazi camp system in the summer of 1940, that an additional camp in the eastern outskirts of the Reich for prisoners from the local districts was required, covering the Sudetenland and areas from the nearby occupied countries, as an instrument of future Germanization and living space (Lebensraum) policy. Another reason was the still relative safety from British and American air raids, which should protect any future arms factories there.
The offensive against Poland, launched on 1 September 1939, coincided with the peak of the German grain harvest. The potato harvest was also about to begin and, as usual, placed further burden on the labour supply, and aggravating the shortage that already existed. In response to such as these, Hitler announced on 9 November 1941: "There is no doubt that we must succeed in mobilizing each and every one of these millions of people (in the occupied Territories) for labour". The announcement prompted the senior leadership of the Ministry of Labour to establish hastily in Poland a rather large number of employment agencies that were to carry out a thorough census of people fit for labour to be transported to Germany. Agricultural workers and those in enterprises that had been reactivated for support of the German economy were especially in demand. The first modes operandi, meant to provide economic justification for the mobilisation of forced-labourers, was devised by Reich Minister of Labour Franz Seldte in September 1939. At that time, the officials in charge of the Labour Ministries of the provinces bordering Poland (Eastern Prussia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, and Silesia) were urged "to get these agencies up and running as quickly as possible , immediately after the various areas are occupied. [Seldte was captured and arrested in Mondorf-les-Bains at the end of the war and died in a US military hospital at Fürth, before being arraigned on charges. sic]
|View of the stone quarry in the Gross-Rosen camp, where prisoners were subjected to forced labour.|
When Hitler and his architect, the General Building Inspector Albert Speer, after the 'Blitzkrieg' in the West, rushed to plan even more than previously, grossly and increasingly unrealistic monumental representative buildings, especially in the capital of Berlin, but also of the 'New Design' (Neugestaltung) and then in 'Leader Cities' (Führerstädte) like Munich, Nuremberg, Hamburg and Linz, they needed not just bricks and clinker, which could be supplied by the DESt, but large amounts of natural stones, in addition to the 'grand' (herrschaftlichen) marble for the interior construction, because especially to Hitler, he estimated in this way, the indestructible granite, which seemed to be appropriate for the future of 'the Thousand Year Reich'. ['The Thousand Year Reich' is a metaphysically expression, like: "Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott".HKS]
Although Hitler did change his mind as the war progressed and insisted that he had to have secure Führerbunkers in some strategic locations. As preparation for the construction of the underground plants were being built, it occurred to Hitler that he might do well to add a few hideouts for himself. Documents and testimonies of close associates indicate that the construction of a new headquarters for the Führer began in spring 1944. The new facility would be linked to an airfield, also to be established nearby, by numerous underground passages. The first overt mention of the matter appears in the diary of Field Marshal Milch, who notes on 6 April 1944, Hitler's headquarters had requested an allocation of cement for a construction site near Waldenburg in Silesia, which was explicitly defined as a structure planned to be a Führer seat. Milch estimated the quantity of cement needed for the project at 28,000,000 tons, as much as the annual allotment for the construction of all shelters throughout Germany at that time. On 20 April, the headquarters project was handed over to the senior management of Organisation Todt.
As of that date, 213,000 cubic meters of tunnel and 58 kilometres of roads, including six bridges, had been completed, and 100 kilometres of pipes had been laid. In his memoirs, Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's adjutant, wrote, having made trips to Waldenburg and recorded his impression that the work would be very time-consuming.In his memoirs, Speer wrote that he was gravely disappointed about the priority that had been given to the Führer's projects, since it had deprived him of Jewish prisoners from Hungary for labour in his armament plants. "by Directive of Hitler", Speer stated, 'they were used first and foremost for the construction of that huge bunker. Other Nazi Leaders rushed to emulate the Führer by building bunkers for themselves nearby. 'To build these headquarters', Speer noted, 'a serious penetration bombings to break through the mountains was needed. This tied up hundreds of fortification engineers, other essential experts, and thousand of labourers. In apologetic retrospect, Speer bemoaned the waste of material and skilled labour that were crucially needed for the war effort. He even expressed belated criticism of Hitler himself, stating that the Führer demanded construction of underground bunkers for his personal protection wherever he went. 'The more intense bombardments, the thicker the ceilings (Hitler demanded) until they came to five meters.The commander of the camp guard units in the Eulengebirge area also confirmed the existence of a special bunker for Hermann Göring under the Fürstenstein castle. The entire construction zone was secured by SD forces in Wüstegiersdorf, which patrolled the roads around the clock. 'We, the SS-men had to sign a statement of confidentiality and were not allowed to host family members within the radius of 40 kilometres'.
Heaps of cement bags left since 1944 at the Eulen Mountains
|Camouflaged entrance to tunnels in the Eulen Mountains 1944|
The quarry at Gross-Rosen should be made available for 'major operations' after the very positive forecasts of the SS and immediately requested 1,000 prisoners. From the previous owner, the company of Granitwerk Alfons Hay, the DESt took over more than 200 workers and employees, which lived mostly in Gross-Rosen and surrounding villages. As skilled workers for the extraction and preparation of building stones, which should now be produced in the first place, the master stonemason Rudolf Ronge from the camp of Flossenburg took over the position as plant manager, but was soon replaced by SS Second Lieutenant Peter Ketterer, who came from the Mauthausen concentration camp and remained there until 1945. His deputy was the civilian clerk Paul Büttner from the village of Gross-Rosen. The takeover of the company by the DESt took place on the 15th May 1940.
The so-called labour camp Gross-Rosen was created in the summer of 1940, initially as a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen, 600 prisoners were requested. Sachsenhausen provided the first 100 prisoners, German and Polish men with SS-Hauptsturmführer Anton Thumann, who came on the 2nd of August during that year as a camp leader, who later became the protective custody camp leader when the entire enterprise became an independent concentration camp. The 'new re-alignment of Gross-Rosen' under SS Sergeant M Hafer who did not have any control at this stage over inmates, rather oversaw only the assignments of forced labourers and prisoners of war, took over the site prior to the operation in the weeks of June and July south of the quarry, and erected the first two barracks and surrounded the area with a fence. Prisoners were already being used in the quarry, where they had to carry away the heavy burden of granite rocks. In September, a second group of at least 100 prisoners from Sachsenhausen arrived, followed by other transports during the winter. Then a consignment in March 1941 arrived from Buchenwald, which by April increased the occupancy to 722 prisoners. Because of the catastrophic conditions with the onset of winter in an unfinished camp and the extremely hard work in the quarry, in the first few months until May 1941, 91 prisoners found their deaths, furthermore the sick or completely exhausted prisoners considered as incapable of working were returned to their respective main camps, but many of them did not survive the return.
The Gross-Rosen camp had not been meant for Jews originally, and at the beginning the Jewish population was negligible. The history of the internment of Jews in Gross-Rosen includes two distinct periods. During the first period from the time the camp was established until the middle of 1943, the staff tried to induce the Jews rapid death. During the second period, 1944-1945, when the proportion of Jews declined considerably, but by then, the Nazi authorities were increasingly aware of the production needs in the armaments plants and directives changed. Even in this phase, however, the main camp refrained taking Jews. "Smelt Jews" who survived after the dissolution of Organisation Smelt automatically became prisoners of Gross-Rosen, but they had nothing to do with the main camp. The mass transport of Hungarian Jews and the remnants of the Lodz Ghetto population, too, wee sent directly, after selection to Auschwitz, and to sub-camps of Gross-Rosen. The main camp remained 'judenfrei'(free of Jews).
The fate of the Jewish prisoners in the main camp has not been sufficiently researched and information about their terms of confinement is lacking.
Jewish prisoners in the camp, were not treated like other prisoners. The status of camp prisoners at large, and the authorities attitude towards them, underwent several upheavals before and during the war. In contrast, there were very few changes in regard to the treatment of Jews, and these were manifested only temporary slowing, not the outright cessation, of killings. Since few Jews survived this period there are not many testimonies that enable us to infer the attitude towards the Jews during the first phase of the camp's existence. The Jews remained in Gross-Rosen until the autumn of 1943 and were then taken to Auschwitz. There is the belief that the first victim in Gross-Rosen was a Jew named Aharon Reich from Tomaszow-Mazowiecki, who was murdered on the very first day that the camp was opened.
The first forty-eight Jews reached Gross-Rosen from Dachau on 18 June 1941. Most Jews in this transport were from Germany, while a few were from Austria and Czechoslovakia. In Gross-Rosen they were given numbers 823-870. A second Group of Jews, from Berlin, Breslau, Dresden, Hannover, Düsseldorf and Bonn reached Gross-Rosen from Sachsenhausen on 13 August 1941. A third Group came from Sachsenhausen and arrived on 18 September 1941. Another group came from Sachsenhausen on 20 September 1941. This group, the last to arrive in 1941, included ninety-four Polish and German Jews. Seventy-seven of them had been imprisoned for political offences, the others were declared criminal prisoners. In all, 195 Jews were interned in Gross-Rosen in 1941 - 13 percent of the prison population.
|risoners constructing Gross-Rosen'|
In October 1940, the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler with the Police General Obergruppenführer Kurt Daluege had inspected the developing camp and on May 1st of the following year it received the status of an independent concentration camp. Gross-Rosen was then still in the Camp Group II (as well as Buchenwald, Neuengamme and Flossenburg) for, as it was officially called, 'individuals, convicted and sentenced long term, but still able through educational procedures would show improvements, until then kept in protective custody'. In early 1942, it was then re-grouped to the camp stage III for 'professional criminal prisoners, especially with alleged murder convictions and anti-socials, that were barely educable inmates', which one left alive, these bone crushing mills, only in the rarest of cases'. In the second half of the war, however, these categories lost more and more of the adherence to the rules of importance and in the end in most camps were completely ignored.
|Gross-Rosen entrance gate with the phrase Arbeit macht frei'|
In 1944, Gross-Rosen joined Auschwitz-Birkenau in serving one great labour pool. Of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and the Lodsz ghetto refugees who had been earmarked for the gas chambers, several tens of thousands were selected in the presence of factory managers who visited the camps and choose workers. The first Hungarian Jews to be sent to the Reich, in May 1944, were intended in sub-camps of Auschwitz and in Organization Schmelt camps that had recently been annexed to the Gross-Rosen command. It is true that for some of these Jews, the labour camps became places of exploitation and enslavement, yet they were also vehicles of survival, since Himmler himself had made the seemingly revolutionary decision to halt the extermination. The Nazi regime had fallen into the thicket of contradictions between fulfilment of its ideology and the needs of its economy.
|Plan of KZ Gross-Rosen towards the end of WW II|
SS-Obersturmbannfuehrer Arthur Roedl (in white), the commandant of Gross-Rosen, in the camp with three members of the SS staff. His adjutant Kuno Schramm is on the right.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 2/6