|CONCENTRATION CAMP HINZERT - PART 2/3|
Between September 1939 and March 1945 a total of at least 13,600 men were taken to the SS special camp. An accurate determination of the number of inmates of the camp is not possible. In the five and a half years of its existence Hinzert was a detention facility of prisoners from the German Reich, Poland, the Soviet Union, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Albania, the Netherlands, Belgian, Yugoslavia, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the United Kingdom. Within the barracks a total of 560 beds were provided, but if simultaneously several major prisoner transports arrived in Hinzert as during the great waves of arrests in Luxembourg in November 1941 and Belgium, France and the Netherlands in 1942 a temporarily increase from 1.000 to 1.200 prisoners huddled into the barracks. In this revival over the initially facilities sufficient even by NS-standards of the barracks had not enough bunks, lockers, or still washing facilities available. On average, about 800 prisoners were normally in Camp Hinzert.
The 'prisoners' society' changed from year to year, depending on the political circumstances and the course of the war. Shown in simplified form, the following groups of prisoners were noticeable in appearance: In the early days of the camp mostly Reichs-German labour reformatory detainees, police and custody-prisoners were brought to Hinzert. From 1941 regular transports of Luxembourger resistance fighters, who had set themselves up to defend against the use of their country, in particular the inclusion of the Grand-Duchy (Großherzugtums) into the Gau of 'Moselland' and against the forced recruitment into the German Army. Luxembourger interned in the camp had limited scope to receive mail from home, and with good behaviour were often released. As a result of the "Nacht und Nebel' decree from May 29, 1942, large transports of French prisoners arrived at the camp. These NN deportees were completely isolated from the outside world and were used in commandos in the context of specific camp-work. The holding of the group 'E-Poles' was due to the necessary 'probation' as a future German citizen and had only limited contact with another inmate group. They were used in enclosed commandos in part at given work details.
|Interior of a Barrack at Hinzert|
The Legion’s toughness and ruthlessness are indisputable, but there is no reason to suppose that it has produced better warriors than those of other crack units. The mystery and diverse origins of its recruits do more than its battlefield prowess to create the ethos that catches the imagination of military romantics.
After the WW II:
There definitely were former members of the SS in the Foreign Legion, but a lot of it is based on exaggeration. After the Second World War France lacked the will to keep fighting another war and was short on men: To recruit foreigners was an obvious choice, the first recruitments took place as early as 1944 when they recruited in North African prisoner camps, even though they only took Italians and Austrians.
When the war had ended one year later they started recruiting on a wider base and then there indeed was a swap of former SS soldiers. However due to bad press and obviously because of the grudges held by the French towards the Germans and especially the SS they soon started sorting out SS soldiers (recognisable by blood group tattoos under the left armpit, even though many carved them off there, it still left a scar). Interesting fact: While they were relatively strict about German SS soldiers they didn't do background checks on other nationalities, so many SS members from Eastern Europe and even French collaborators managed to get into the Legion, often because they would have faced trials in their homelands.So its more correct to say: Yes, there were former members of the Waffen SS, but many of them weren't German, but in fact Polish or Russians.
|Free French Foreign Legionnaires assaulting an Axis strong point at the battle of Bir Hakeim, 1942.|
|'Historical road sign at the Hinzert concentration camp. The sign is presently part of the permanent exposition in the National Resistance Museum in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg'.|
The special camp was led successively by three commanders: first commandant was SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Pister, who worked in Hinzert from the 9 October 1939 to 21 December 1941, before his move as commander in Buchenwald until in mid-April 1945. His successor at Hinzert was Sturmbannführer Egon Zell, but at the end of April 1942, he was first commander of the KZ Natzweiler and later at Flossenbiirg . Third camp commander was Hauptsturmführer Paul Sporrenberg from 23 April 1942 to January 1945. The commander was responsible next to the camp, also for the guards, slightly elevated and diagonally opposite the prisoner camp, a house was available for him. The commanders had complete disciplinary powers in a supervisory capacity over the the guards. The 'First protective custody camp' and the other 'protective custody sections' were responsible for the supervision of prisoners in the camp. The protective custody camp 'teacher'(Erzieher) or 'block leader' who had to supervise the inmates in their barracks and to ensure the implementation of the orders of the commander or protective SS camp leader. For the registration of incoming or Return-transports of prisoners, this came under the jurisdiction of 'the Rapportführer' ' . The prison records were maintained at headquarters.
|SS with their officer posing for photo in front of one of the camp barracks at Hinzert|
Of special brutality towards the prisoners were SS-men George Schaaf and Joseph Brendel. Georg Schaaf was called in the camp 'Ivan the Terrible'. He was enlisted into the guards of the police camp Hinzert since October 23, 1939. Former prisoners report that he participated in countless abuses towards prisoners . Josef Brendel, by profession a mason, conducted duties from October 1939 in the infirmary. He tortured the prisoners by arbitrary decision, made surgery trials without anaesthesia and abused seriously ill prisoners with kicks and punches and often refused any medical care.
A special role played In January 1942, Eugen Wipf, he was, in the autumn of 1943, promoted by the Camp-Administration and served as 'room elder' until June 6, 1944 as 'Lagerkapo' and thus had an overseer function of its prisoners. He spread fear and terror by its brutality and killed several prisoners. In the summer of 1941, Eugen Wipf originally from Switzerland, who after he had been sentenced several times in a [German] criminal court, had been admitted as an 'undesirable Alien and 'Antisocial' into the SS-Sonderlager. Numerous reports of former prisoners who had served their time in Hinzert and were then transferred into other concentration camps or detention centres, testify that in that tight little camp it was not even temporarily possible to hide from arbitrary action by the SS tormentors. Shortly after the war, he was arrested while crossing the border into Switzerland in May 1945 and later imprisoned. Responsible for several murders and acts of violence against detainees, he was by a Zurich Circuit Court on 6 July 1948 convicted to life imprisonment. Wipf died shortly after the verdict in the University Hospital of Zurich . The cause of death was a blood disease.
The prison camp was surrounded with a 3.50 meter high fence of chain-linked wire mesh, barbed wire was attached at the top of this. Against this high fence at a distance of about 1 meters away from from it, coiled barbed wires had been placed, to prevent prisoners from creeping under the high fence during an escape attempt.. At the four outer corners of the trapezoidal camp were four watchtowers. In the prison barracks, the 'bunker', were about 21 barred cells along a lined up central aisle. Barred cell window let in skylight. In addition, there was a dark cell in which the bunker overseer frequently committed abuses towards the occupants.
The SS officers, NCOs and men were transferred dated back to July 1, 1940 and incorporated into SS Death's Head units (SS-Totenkopfverbände) of the Waffen-SS. The man-power allowance for this special camp of December 12, 1940 which should have been an authorized strength of a total of 304 SS guards, could never be filled. In fact, only 192 personnel were at that time considered as active. The staff strength had dropped to 106 by the 10 June 1941. By January 15, 1943 there was a slight increase and amounted to 118, up to July 15, 1944 very little had altered with 117 people. The guard company, which originally consisted of three Units rapidly dwindled by year's end 1943-44 down to only two, resulting in a 24-hour guard shift. Thus, the free shift could be used for part of daily service tasks. This in turn led to disciplinary actions, arguments in a competitive sense evolved , rivalries occurred, holiday overruns was the norm, they overstayed their home leave, and staff was effected by the increasing consumption of alcohol.
Some prisoners were constantly in contact with SS guards almost side by side within the camp, especially in the Clothing Unit, Drying Room and Showers, where, for example, Scharführer Johann Schattner the newly arriving deportees plagued with his sadistic behaviour, and in the 'infirmary' where Untersturmführer Schneider used to say: 'Here we have only healthy or dead, you have the choice'.
|Wire Fence at Hinzert|
A security measure and intimidation was that the prisoners after their arrival during hair cuts had an approximately three centimetre wide strip from the forehead down to the neck shorn twice, and was regularly re-cut to leave a bare strip. The prisoners called this strip the 'Autobahn'. It probably served the fact that the guards could easier identify escaping prisoners. (Ref.: Testimony of Dr. Claude Meyroune and Michel Goltais, former deportees at Hinzert on 16/03/1996 in Paris, in: NS-Documentation Centre Rhineland-Palatinate in Osthofen).
Three mass executions were carried out at Hinzert. A few weeks after the invasion of the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union on June 6, 1941, Hitler's issued orders detailing the 'Kommissar Befehl' when it got its full meaning, that 'political commissars' of the Red Army are not treated as prisoners of war in accordance with the Hague Convention, but should be liquidated after being taken prisoner. Because of this 'Commissar Order' when in mid-October 1941 from a work detail at the military training area at Baumholder, near Birkenfeld) 70 Sowjet [political] soldiers were selected, literally 'released' from captivity [legally becoming civilians] and brought to Hinzert concentration camp. Pister, as camp commander had days earlier discussed in advance with the Higher SS and Police Leader in Wiesbaden, Erwin Rösener, the method of execution. The Soviet prisoners were expected by the camp physician, Dr. Waldemar Wolter and other SS officers, which took place in the quarantine barracks, which was previously partly separated and had been prepared as a first aid room. A staged medical examination was performed on the Soviet prisoners, they were told that prior to an assigned work detail, that their physical condition had to be verified, checked and vaccinated before their transfer. Commander Pister was in temporary attendance as an observer. The physician was assisted by paramedics Brendel and Fenchel, while the doctor allegedly inoculated the Sowjet Prisoners against influenza , which in fact were cyanide injections. Those killed were buried secretly in the surrounding forest. [What I personally did experienced, Officers and NCO's in the Wehrmacht would often equivocate when given orders to conceal the truth]
|'Leonid Brezhnev in 1942 (right), then a brigade commissar, handing a Communist party membership card to a soldier|
|Von Brauchitsch with Hitler. Brauchitsch was sceptical about the legality of Hitler's Commissar Order.|
The second murder action concerned the participants of the Luxembourg General Strike against the German occupation policy which took place on 30 August 1942 after the Decree by Gauleiter of 'Moselle' (Koblenz-Trier-Luxembourg) Gustav Simon, in his political/civilian capacity announcing compulsory military service for males in the Wehrmacht. The strike movement against the forcible Germination (Eindeutschung) of its inhabitants probable a significant deviation of international law and the conscription of males into the German army had all of the occupied Grand Duchy (Großherzugtum) in uproar. Workers left their factories, farmers dumped milk onto streets, teachers and students boycotted classes. The telephone wires between the Gestapo in Luxembourg and the Reich Security Main Office ran hot. Fritz Hartmann, director of the Einsatzgruppen of the Security Police and the SD in Luxembourg, obtained from Berlin, the declaration of a state of emergency and martial law (Standrechtes). On 31 August Gauleiter Simon imposed as 'head of the civil administration in Luxembourg' the state of Emergency (Ausnahmezustand). [With that all legal procedures were observed to take appropriate actions.] 20 Luxembourger patriots were condemned as the main accused, and sentenced to death by a court martial (Standgericht- there is no defence, consider it a Military Tribunal.) For further details read: https://libcom.org/library/1942-luxembourg-post-office-strike
|Camp Commander Sporrenberg|
|Poster announcing the death sentences of 9 of the 21 Luxembourgers executed for their participation in the 1942 General Strike.'|
Due to the forced recruitment of young Luxembourger, the resistance of various groups in the occupied Grand Duchy increased in the subsequent years. Mostly it was resistance in the form of assistance during escapes, providing of hiding places and intelligence work was done. Early in 1944 an attempted deterrent action to intimidate the Luxembourger Resistance was contemplated by the German occupier. 350 Luxembourger resistance fighters were brought to Hinzert at the end of January 1944. Originally it was planned to have 50 of them sentenced to death by a special court. Gauleiter Simon and the Inspector of the Sipo and SD Wiesbaden, SS Standartneführer Otto Somann, agreed instead of a process with 50 death sentences to settle the matter on 'Police 'Security Policy' and to reduce the number to be shot to 25, because both expected an unfavourable political reaction with regard to the proposed Eindeutschung (Germanization) of the Luxembourger population. February 25, 1944, was the deadline date: 25 should be shot without trial in Hinzert. Two inmates escaped execution because they had previously been transferred to other camps and could not be brought back in time for the execution. Two other prisoners who were being treated for diphtheria and a stomach ailment in the hospital at Hermeskeil were collected as planned, however, and shot. So, finally 23 Luxembourger were executed in the forest near Hinzert and buried in a mass grave. The conformist newspaper 'Luxenburger Wort' wrote of a martial law enforcement in order to hide from the public that the resistance fighters were killed without due process. The 22-46 year old victims came from different parts of the country, it was intended that the the terror would spread over the whole Duchy.
In addition to these killings, there were those in the forest and the others in the quarry where numerous prisoners were murdered, plus many others by different methods. For example the Jewish Josef Hanau and other prisoners were drowned by SS men in a water trough. The indictment against the camp commander Paul Sporrenberg from 21 December 1960 lists a total of 93 killings. [Ref .: Albert Pütz, Das SS-Sonderlager/KZ Hinzert 1940-1945. Bd. 1: Das Anklageverfahren gegen Paul Sporrenberg, hrsg. vom Ministerium der Justiz Fheinland-Pfalz und der Landeszentrale für politische Bildung. 1998, Seite 178 ff.] [Ref. Albert Pütz, The SS special camp/KZ Hinzert 1940-1945. Vol. 1: The impeachment proceedings against Paul Sporrenberg, edited by the Ministry of Justice Rheinland-Palatinate and the Regional Centre for Civic Education. 1998, page 178 ff.]
COMMANDER PAUL SPORRENBERG
He was arrested in Münchengladbach in 1959 and accused of 60 cases of personal injury and deaths, and the execution of 23 Luxembourgers. He died before the opening of the proceedings.
EXISTENCE AND CONDITIONS
Instead of calling prisoner by their name as soon as they entered Hinzert [and elsewhere, this was standard procedure] they were addressed by their Number. Foreign prisoners who initially did not understand or pronounced their number in their own tongue were brutally beaten and punished. Here the Luxembourger prisoners played a special role, as they mostly grew up bilingual, they could at least help the French prisoners. They translated the orders of the SS-men or practised with the French, so that they could memorize their prison number in the German language and they could pronounce it properly when reporting. So they kept the prisoners that did not speak German often from further beatings or ill-treatment by overseers, which in some cases were foreigner themselves.
Through letters, characters, or the Star of David on the handed out tattered, mismatched clothes, the prisoners were classified into different groups and thus made directly visible to the guards. Particularly characteristic of the this SS special camp/concentration camp, according to many former deportees that it was a 'run camp',(Lauflager) were everything had to be performed and settled on the run. In particular, for malnourished, sick and elderly prisoners continuous running coercion was painful and led to health problems.
The food was totally inadequate. The French 'Nacht und Nebel'-deportee Dr. Claude Meyroune outlined after the war the situation: ''A very small ration of protein, almost without fat, no raw food in the form of fruit, very little vitamins and almost no calcium. A ration under 800 calories, is a starvation rations, on top of this, the worse forced hard working conditions". The daily rations consisted mostly of 300 to 500 grams of bread, an average of half a litre of tea or coffee substitute in the morning and evening and at noon a low-fat watery soup, containing mostly cabbage. The lack of of carbohydrates, fat, and protein resulted in prisoners loosing massive weight losses. Some lost in the first two months of their stay in Hinzert over 25 kg of their regular weight.
For the whole camp, there were only 20 beds in the medical hut where also sick members of the security guards were treated. Until the beginning of 1941 led by Dr. Waldemar Wolter, physician of the Waffen-SS, was in charge of the Revier. He was succeeded by the surgeon Dr. Theophil Hackethal, a contract physician and Obersturmbannführer from Hermeskeil, who was also the senior doctor at the hospital there. Dr. Hackethal, who took part in the mass shootings of Luxembourger resistance fighters, signed death certificates of dead prisoners without even seen the corpse, with false information about the cause of death, based on the statement of others. [involved as a secretary of a firing squad in the shooting of a total of 43 people.] Since he was often absent, medical care was until early 1943 at the mercy of an incompetent SS-Paramedic. Many prisoners were already upon their arrival in Hinzert in a physically poor condition. Camp Commandant Sporrenberg reported on 25 January 1943, to the RSHA in Berlin: 'Since April 1942 constantly French prisoners are transferred here to Hinzert. The state of their health is so poor that they represent a danger for the whole camp. The reason for these conditions is not the state of our facilities but poor condition of the prisoners. A large proportion of prisoners are already sick when admitted. So it often happens that prisoners are transferred here that are already over 80 years old, others can not walk the route from the station to the camp and must be carried. In many cases, even prisoners are admitted with active TB, which must be immediately referred to the local civil hospital. Since we do not have an isolation Unit at present, the infected detainees with a contagious disease must be brought to the hospital at Hermeskeil. There are currently over 40 prisoners, most of them there are French. The hospital and the civil population can not be expected that in the long run these condition to be acceptable. It is therefore (es wird gebeten) requested that the admission authorities, especially in Paris which is the cause of these problems, that sick prisoners are not transferred here in future". A life-sustaining for many prisoners was ensured in Hinzert by the French doctors Dr. Chauvenet, Dr. Chabaud and Dr. Jagiello, who were themselves arrested as "Nacht und Nebel" deportees in the camp. (Ref.: Andre Chauvenet, Une experience de l'esclave. Souvenirs d'un resitant poitevin deporte, Le Poire-sur-Vie (Vendee) 1989.)
Dr. WALDEMAR WOLTER
After the war, he was indicted together with 60 other representatives of the Camp Administration in the Mauthausen-Gusen trials. Among other things, he was accused of having ordered the gassing of 1400-2700 prisoners shortly before the war ended. The assessment of his behaviour as medical officer in Mauthausen proved to be controversial. There were a number of former prisoners who attested of his decent behaviour. Thus, it was stated Wolter had sought to improve the medical care of inmates and fought for a better food supply in the camp. Still, he was convicted as a war criminal and executed at Landsberg on 28 May 1947.
Dr. THEOPHIL HACKETHAL
At the end of February 1945, Hackethal lived in his holiday cottage near Fulda. There he was arrested by American soldiers on April 16, 1945. In 1947, he was extradited to the French occupation zone. On October 28, he was sentenced to seven years in prison at Rastatt, on appeal on May 25, 1949, the sentence was increased to 15 years, rather than reduced. Subsequently, several appeals for Hackethal who was detained in the prison of Wittlich had been filed. Both, the Trier Bishop Bernhard Stein and Rhineland-Palatinate's Prime Minister Peter Altmaier campaigned for him. In April 1952 Hackethal was released and his financial benefits under the Act of Returnees were granted. He returned to Hermeskeil and practised there until his death as a doctor. He was married and had eight children.
CONTINUED UNDER PART 3