GROSS-ROSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP - PART 2/6
WORK IN THE QUARRY AND HUMAN LOSSES
The drudgery of prisoners and slave labour as an outcast in quarries were always among the hardest and most inhuman forms of humiliation and exploitation of human beings. But probably rarely as murderous as in the quarries of a German concentration camps. 'The quarries were in all the camps the true suicide missions' (Himmelfahrtskommandos), as mentioned in Eugen Kogon's book 'The SS-State', and in a statement of the former Gross-Rosen prisoner Jankowski: "The work was [...] especially in the quarries not only exhausting, but absolutely devastating ', gruelling and dangerous heavy work at almost twelve hours per day with inadequate facilities and equipment, poor clothing and done so under the ongoing harassment and torture of supervisors (Aufseher). Some prisoners were employed in the workshops with the removal of loose material for despatch, while others split the heavy stone to shape, suitable as a building brick and grind them to a required size on machines, followed by loading onto trolleys for transportation onto the train ramp. Many also broke and chiselled suitable plates in the quarry itself, where they had to climb and descend with their chunky wooden soled shoes (Pantoffeln) on long, unsafe wooden ladders, which were often iced up in winter. In the lowest layer of the fracture they were at work with their feet mostly in groundwater. There were numerous injuries, also because they were constantly driven to hurry, and fatal accidents occurred. The quarry was a 'workplace of destruction' (Vernichtungsarbeitsplatz).
In the judgement of the District Court of Hannover of November 9th 1960 stated during a judgement against the block leader of the Russian camp of Gross-Rosen, it reads: 'The number of dead in the quarry amounted daily between four to five. The casualties were: Suicide, murdered and and those that were slain, tormented by their torturers, beaten, kicked and stomped on, in a most brutal way, some prisoners fell into such despair that they took their own life by jumping into the quarry or run towards the sentry line to have it all ended'.
|'granite quarry filled with ground water and accumulated rain'|
In October 1942, Himmler decided to fulfil his Führer's wishes by banishing the Jews from the Reich's territory. Accordingly, he ordered the commanders of camps in Germany to transfer all the Jews to concentration camps in the East, mainly Auschwitz and Majdanek. The decision was not fully implemented, as the continued activity of Organisation Smelt attests. Conditions in women's camps were sometimes different:
Condition in some of the women's sub-camp were somewhat more agreeable. Women workers' lives were eased in various minor ways, and their living conditions were 'relatively reasonable', including, in a addition to a bunk, a sheet and blanket and an additional hot shower. Girls did have to deposit their belongings in the camp warehouse and were allowed to use only the most essential objects, but as winter approached, they received their warm clothing. They even experienced some intermittent romance. Working together with war prisoners from Western Europa and forced-labourers of various nationalities sometimes resulted in brief affairs, which, although often broken off cruelly, played an important role in enhancing the women's endurance. 'It made us feel good to know that there were still people who loved us and considered us human beings, that there were young men who saw the attractive women in us and were willing to hug and kiss us, because all we got from a German, even if you were the prettiest girl, there were nasty remarks, juicy profanity, shoving, kicking, and slapping. These friendly young men restored our maternal feelings, and invigorated us. The men gave us back our feminine pride.[This is not what I personally observed during my military training by SS-Instructors, all seven (unmarried) had their attractive Jewish girls selected from concentration camps, they did speak in Yiddish about us, which I understood and it was certainly not endearing! HKS]
|List of ill inmates taken to the central infirmary at camp Dachau 15 July 1944|
It is difficult to determine the exact number of Jewish prisoners who were in Gross-Rosen between May 1940 and October 1942. Appropriate documentation is lacking, apart from a handful of documents that trace the correspondence between the camp authorities and the institute in Bernburg. One may account for the only Jews who were put to death in the camp, including those in the transport to Bernburg. Including those in transports to Dachau and Auschwitz, we may state that 285 Jews spent time in Gross-Rosen during that period. Some 87 percent of them died within a year of their arrival, indicating that the camp obeyed the authorities' orders to act against the 'Jewish enemy'. In the main camp, Jewish prisoners continued to occupy the lowest rung on the prisoners' ladder and were quickly eliminated, even as the economy demanded the amassing of all labour forces. During 1942, by which time the authorities were considering the application of the Jewish labour force, the anti-Jewish policy in Gross-Rosen stood in contrast to the flexibility that the commanders of other concentration camps displayed. The treatment of Jewish inmates in Gross-Rosen proves beyond doubt that Jewish labour was not exploited until 1942. The main-factor in their incarceration was the intention to kill them, since in the middle of 1942, the "Final Solution" was still the main motive in dictating the anti-Jewish policy. Thus, of a group of 500 Jewish prisoners who were taken to Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald in 1941, only forty remained alive in 1942.
|portable crematorium oven'|
KL Gross-Rosen - Crematoria'
The regime and chain of command in Gross-Rosen labour camps, both of the SS and prisoner-functionaries, substantiate the nature and the inevitable results and the closed and sealed system that was imposed on the prisoners. Personal violation by thuggish prisoners, repression and disregard of accepted moral values, and the cynical exploitation of human suffering were daily occurrences. The issue of suicides in labour concentration camps has been marginal in historical research. In prisoners' lives, however, it played an important and essential role. Camp authorities, too, were aware of the phenomenon . Sometimes, in order to cover up unusual events, they often recorded 'suicide' or 'shot during escape' next to the prisoners names.
It is the impression of former prisoners that most suicides took place within a few weeks of arrival in the camp, before an inmate's initial shock and terror wore off. Suicide was not easy in the camps, because prisoners were seldom alone. Walking into the electrified fence or positioning oneself in the guards' line of fire was a spur-of-the-moment decision. These forms of self-inflicted deaths did not arouse emotions among prisoners, they were considered less outrageous than the death of a prisoner at the hands of a member of the camp staff. Survivors' testimonies reveal that prisoners were most likely to 'go to the fence' in the morning, when they could not summon the strength to cope with another day. Suicide by hanging, in contrast, generally took place at night, when the prisoner remained alone among his bunkmates. There were also public suicides that took the other prisoners by surprise. Their purpose, in most cases, was to pre-empt execution or to express protest and invest the persons death with special meaning.
Suicides in the camps usually occurred in spates, at times when pressure from the camp authorities overwhelmed many prisoners and left them unable to persevere. Survivors report that suicide was occasionally the topic of disputes among prisoners, although many considered it a path to freedom. Researchers who distributed questionnaires to survivors found that the spectacle of suicide corpses had not shocked prisoners greatly. They accepted suicide as a tragic but inevitable 'norm'. Prisoners gazed at the corpses indifferently and, according to the survivors testimony, often translated what they saw into the question of how much work it would take to bury them or haul them to the nearest crematorium. Amid the mass mortality, suicide seemed like just another form of death that lurked threateningly within the camp.
Most prisoners wanted to survive and leave the camp alive, but once they decided on suicide, they strove to complete the act in the way they wished. Their methods were purposeful and brutal and usually precluded any possibility of rescue. Avram Kajer described laconically, as if writing a dry chronicle, at suicide that he had witnessed: 'Today, on the way to work at the construction area (in the Kaltwasser camp), the baker K. of Lodz leaped off the bridge into the canyon'. Kajzer returned to the topic some time later: 'A day never passes without suicide. No one gets exited, no one shows any interest. The Lagerälteste (Camp Elder) spoke with us today and said that we have no reason to take everything so badly, but our situation will improve [...] It's easy for him to talk, because he himself isn't working. I realize that he wants to raise our morale because the number of suicides has risen'. Who were the prisoners who took this desperate step? Most had fallen into depression. A few were Muselmänner. We can also distinguish between 'active' and 'passive' suicides. The 'Activists' were of sound mind and had the resolve to follow through on their decision. 'Passivists' had given up. They had stopped fighting for their lives and used death as their escape. Most suicides belonged to the latter category. Expression such as 'I'll throw myself onto the barbed wire' were common, even though they usually were only threats. Most Jewish prisoners strove to avoid these thoughts, hoped for an Allied victory, and followed developments on the front as best they could. Their hopes, however, were coupled with the fear that the Germans would slaughter the camp inhabitants at the last moment.
Although Avram Kajer acknowledged that he, too, was beset by this fear and knew that his chances of surviving to liberation were diminishing, he refused to succumb. 'I admit that I had doubts of severe depression, but my yearning for fife overcame them. I realized that man's powers are limited'.
The acquisition of prisoners from other camps, was now no longer required, prisoners were mostly assigned and transported into the camp, which gradually increased in numbers out of all proportions and created chaotic conditions. By the end of the year 1941 eleven transports together with 1,400 men had arrived in Gross-Rosen, since the establishment of the labour camp during the summer of 1940. 1,100 had came from Sachsenhausen and 150 from Buchenwald and Dachau. On October 11, 1941 a total of 1,185 were officially counted. (This means that a selection process must have taken place, HKS) During this period, many prisoners unable to work were sent back or sent to other camps. At the end of 1941 the first transports of Soviet Russian prisoners of war from the various POW camps (Stalag) arrived .
1942, there were almost 60 transports with a total of 3,970 prisoners, including 2,650 arriving from other camps: approximately 1,700 came from Buchenwald, 500 from Auschwitz, about 400 from Sachsenhausen 40 from Flossenburg. Gross-Rosen was at this time apparently part of, and changed to an admission and transit camp. The protective custody prisoners did now continue to arrive mainly from the State Police offices of Breslau (responsible for Lower Silesia with the state police station in Liegnitz), Kattowitz covering security (for Upper Silesia, with the state police station in Oppeln), the Security Police in Breslau and Radom and the external offices of the Gestapo in Reichenberg and Posen made up independent Transports. More than 1,300 prisoners were sent, or returned during this period from Gross-Rosen to other concentration camps, of which 900 went to Dachau. According to official figures there were in July 1942 1,890 prisoners in the camp, and thus had partially reversed the trend of overflow to be able to cope.
1943 arrived a total of about 4,900 new prisoners in Gross-Rosen, a large number of individual prisoners, smaller groups and further 24 major transports. By now they came less from camps within the German Reich, still, from Flossenburg came 470 prisoners, from Auschwitz in a transport alone had 1,000 Poles, then in August, 1,100 Russians from Kiev and 93 from Posen and Majdanek. Of the remainder, most were in turn apprehended by the Gestapo in Silesia, Bohemia and Poland. An official occupancy number is not available for 1943. 1,230 prisoners were transported in the course of that year to other camps, 790 of them to Sachsenhausen. The numbering of the prisoners by the end of the year reached the figure of 16,947, (However, this method of numbering was not accurate nor reliable, HKS)
The admissions and transfers of prisoners to and from Gross-Rosen increased since the middle of 1944 and especially in 1945 in the last months of the war like an avalanche. The camp was now no longer a concentration and labour camp, it had also become a collection and transit camp, to accommodate these masses, they set up numerous satellite camps and work details, which was becoming increasingly confusing. Accordingly, patchy and often contradictory information on numbers and origin of the prisoners were evident. The consigned protective custody prisoners from the Silesian, Bohemian and the Polish districts now arrived as Evacuation Transports from prisons in the General Government, cities like Lemberg, and Warsaw (at least 2,500), Lublin, Posen, Lemberg (694) and Krakow (1,677) out of the prison of Montelupich and the district Bialystock, from the Majdanek camp, including Krakow-Plaszow (2,450) Auschwitz-Birkenau (about 20,000) and 111 from the concentration camp Stutthof near Danzig. In April, even from the camp Flossenburg 819 prisoners followed. In the fall and winter of 1944 at least 1,700 prisoners of the 'Nacht und Nebel'- Action from Western Europe arrived. Although Gross-Rosen's Administration for some reason insisted to remain 'judenfrei', it did take in on a temporarily basis members of the 'Organization Smelt '(one by the Special Representative of the Reichsführer SS for Foreign National Labour in Upper Silesia, SS Brigadier Albrecht Schmelt, was incorporated and named an SS organization) consisting of 28 forced Jewish labourers, 20 of them were led into a separate satellite camp where they continued to work. Overall, the concentration camp Gross-Rosen took on, an awakening 52,000 prisoners in 1944. Auschwitz, which served Organisation Schmelt as a place to exterminate exhausted prisoners from its labour camps, took over the management of several Schmelt camps when this organisation was dismantled. Unlike the Gross-Rosen main camp, which received Jewish prisoners for a short period of time only, Auschwitz became a death factory for Jews. It even received the last Jewish prisoners who were removed from Gross-Rosen on 16 October 1942 in order to make the camp 'judenfrei'. The place was at that stage, the very embodiment of hell.
jewish forced labourers at Camp Gepersdorf, part of Organization Schmelt System
On January 1st, 1945, there were in the camp and its numerous satellite outposts 76.728 prisoners, one third of them were women. The highest recorded prisoner number, known to be assigned, 90.314 was at the end of 1944 . When the camp was disbanded, its last number used was 97.414, but bearing in mind that apparently in the final stages many prisoners received no number at all, apart from that numbers had been given of dead or of detainees already transferred. Another factor was, that for certain special inmate groups a different numbering method was applied and did not follow the same numbering sequence.
For January 1945, there are still 30 transports with a total of over 6,200 people, mainly from the east, over 2,000 in particular the evacuated camp of Auschwitz, recorded, including 300 prisoners from Buchenwald, 1,390 from Dachau, 45 from Ravensbrück and 309 which were detained by the Gestapo in Trier. Then In early February the first concrete and determined measures of an evacuation of the camp into the more Western located internment centres was implemented. The 'Chronological list of transports' recorded 43 bigger and a number of smaller shipments with almost 40,000 prisoners sent to concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Mittelbau-Dora, Flossenburg and Dachau.
Of the approximately 120,000 prisoners who arrived in the camp Gross-Rosen in the years 1940 to 1945, about 27 percent were transferred from various other concentration camps, nearly 20,000 alone from Auschwitz, especially in the last year of the war. By far the majority were deported from Poland and the Soviet Union into the camp, During 1944, some were coming from Hungary, but preserved card indexes recorded 24 other additional countries of origin. It is remarkable that in the last two years, the relatively high proportion of Jewish prisoners who came, particularly from Poland and Hungary. About initiated releases by the appropriate authorities from this camp, which became less frequent over the years, only few documents are available, but apparently there were occasionally prisoners set free after they had their time served, even in the last year of the war.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 3/6