PART 3/ 5
Despite these difficult conditions prisoners still tried to resist the structural hierarchy of the Camp Administration, which took place in various forms, and initially included contact with each other and thus to organize themselves illegally into cells. First they formed national resistance groups in small circles, and later an international Camp Committee was established, whose influence was largely confined to a narrow faction of political Prisoner Functionaries, while the majority of prisoners had neither knowledge nor gained directly from any activity they perused. Meaningful were the dissemination of intercepted radio messages (also using self-made receivers) and the allocation of lighter work for those inmates already severely weakened.
Due to the interaction of Eminent Persons [These are, in particular, the Polish inmate doctor Maurycy Mittelstaedt and French professors Florence, Prenant and Quenouille as well as the Communist Albin Lüdtke from the Rhineland and Andre Mandrycxs from Ghent/Belgium working in the camp offices sic]. These prisoners employed in the offices and in hospital districts that performed spectacular acts of defiance, often narrated about the theft of drugs from SS held supplies, that of hiding patients from selections or falsifying of data in the camp records for the rescue of prisoners. Only to mention one example of December 1943 while prisoners working in the office had became aware that a 27-year-old Soviet military doctor who had his Jewish origins kept hidden, was scheduled to be hanged. With the cooperation of several Functionary Prisoners made it possible that Sergej Kartaschow (the victim) was under the pretext as being sick on the same day transferred into the infirmary. In the morgue, lay a body of about the same age and similar type as Kartaschow, who had his number written with a stylus pen removed from his chest and replaced by the number of Soviet doctor. In the Death Register (Totenbuch) Sergej Kartaschow is listed under the date December 21, 1943 as deceased. (The statement reads: "Sergej Kartaschow, RK Nr. 25498, born 03/11/1916, died 21/12/1943 at the failure of the cardiovascular system and pneumonia" in: ANg, Krankenrevier-Totennachweise ) In fact, he was under the name of the actually deceased transferred with the next transport to the sub-camp Salzgitter-Drütte. He was able to experience the end of the war and liberation. His salvation is attributed to the work of the Belgian Communist Andre Mandycxs, who worked in Neuengamme since early 1943 in the labour assignment office, trying to coordinate numerous resistance activities. [The question remains what happened to Kartaschow after his return to the Sowjet-Union, as Stalin considered all former POW's as traitors.
Some Soviet POWs who survived German captivity were accused by the Soviet authorities of collaboration with the Nazis or branded as traitors under Order No. 270, which prohibited any soldier from surrendering During and after World War II freed POWs went to special "filtration" camps. Of these, by 1944, more than 90 per cent were cleared, and about 8 per cent were arrested or condemned to serve in penal battalions. In 1944, they were sent directly to reserve military formations to be cleared by the NKVD. Further, in 1945, about 100 filtration camps were set up for repatriated Ostarbeiter, POWs, and other displaced persons, which processed more than 4,000,000 people. By 1946, 80 per cent civilians and 20 per cent of POWs were freed, 5 per cent of civilians, and 43 per cent of POWs were re-drafted, 10 per cent of civilians and 22 per cent of POWs were sent to labour battalions, and 2 per cent of civilians and 15 per cent of the POWs (226,127 out of 1,539,475 total) were transferred to the NKVD, i.e. the Gulag. Thousands of Soviet POWs indeed survived through collaboration, many of them joining German forces, including the SS formations. sic]
|The prisoners’ showers, camp detention area, and prisoners’ kitchen in the former camp. In the background on the left are the brick prisoners’ barracks, which still stand today.|
|A Soviet POW with a loaf of bread. June 1941'|
THE USE OF PRISONERS IN THE WAR ECONOMY
With the turn of the war in 1942 a new phase in the development of the concentration camp system, aimed at the widest possible use of the work potential of the prisoners on arms and other war functions, commercial or military projects was planned. The SS who had previously faced the idea of a prisoner use in the defence industry and saw this as an adverse move, they finally agreed under pressure of growing labour shortages, that is was for security reasons and in view of its subsequent financial benefits that private or state-owned companies would relocate their production directly to or into the camp sites.
Then several armaments factories were relocated into Neuengamme, the construction activities were carried out under the direction of the SS construction management by prisoners. In March 1942, thus began the operation for the Hamburger "Engine Factory (Motorenfabrik) Carl Jastram" where finally up to 300 prisoners in engine and shipbuilding (Torpedo ejection pipes and water tanks for submarines, repair of boat engines) were employed. Up to 150 prisoners were in the"German Measuring Apparatus GmbH"(Messap), whose main operation was in Hamburg-Langenhorn also had concentration camp prisoners and forced labourers who were mainly engaged in producing time fuses for grenades. For both operations six workshop-barracks were built south of the brickworks factory (Klinkerwerke).
|'Prisoners at work in the commando Messap'. Note: This is an illegal picture-taking of a civilian worker.|
In the course of efforts during 1942 to use prisoners on a large scale in the armament production, the WVHA ordered measures to reduce the mortality rate in the camps to improve inmate care and thereby increase performance, this brought in Neuengamme a number of changes with it, (establishment of additional medical facilities, permission to use inmate doctors, permission to receive parcels from home, abolition of particularly cruel punishments such as the pole hanging, introduction of a bonus system and permission to participate in cultural and sporting activities). For the majority of prisoners, however, the living conditions due to the poor food situation and the ruthless extortion of labour continued to deteriorate. Also, abuse and harassment remained on the daily agenda. The situation was different in case of skilled workers. Here was the economic interest of the SS, and in some cases significantly improved the survival chances of these prisoners.
Already since 1942 prisoner working commandos, contrary to the original intent of the SS, had been used on outside industrial sites. As early as April 1942, 500 detainees had been transferred to a Volkswagen factory-owned "Arbeitsdorf" (Workers Village), which was in fact self-administrated in the initial phase but still under the guidance of the Neuengamme commander Martin Weiss. The first-built satellite camp by private Enterprises outside the camp were erected in August 1942 at the Phrix plants in Wittenberg. This was the first ever own concentration camp in a non-business enterprise, and in October 1942 at the 'Reichswerke Hermann Göring' in Salzgitter-Drütte. At the same time, 1,000 prisoners of Neuengamme were transferred as SS-brigade number II to Bremen and Osnabrück to do clean-up jobs there after bomb attacks in affected areas of these cities. In the following years prisoner were engaged still further north in German main centres such as Hamburg, Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, on factory transshipment sites and after major attacks on the Reich Railway Network in Soest/Bad Sassendorf, Uelzen, columns of prisoners removed debris from collapsed dangerous and vulnerable ruins, took part in recovering corpses and their subsequent disposal or burial, and as special commandos, a highly skilled function, (Feuerwerker) responsible for de-fusing and demolition of unexploded bombs.
|Prisoners clearing in the destroyed Hammerbrook district of Hamburg, 1943|
In March 1943, the WVHA subordinated the SS Construction Brigade I, to the Neuengamme camp management which was reassigned to the occupied British Channel Island of Alderney in the construction of fortifications.
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by German Armed Forces. The Germans built four Neuengamme sub-camps on Alderney Island—the Alderney concentration camps—and named them after the Frisian Islands: Lager Norderney, Lager Borkum, Lager Sylt and Lager Helgoland. The Organisation Todt operated each sub-camp and used forced laboureres to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. The Alderney concentration camps had a total inmate population of about 6,000. Norderney camp housed European (usually Eastern but including Spaniards) and Russian forced labourers. The prisoners in Lager Norderney and Lager Sylt were slave labourers forced to build the many military fortifications and installations throughout Alderney. Sylt camp held Jewish enforced labourers and was a death camp. Lager Borkum was used for German technicians and volunteers from different countries of Europe. Lager Helgoland was filled with Russian Organisation of Todt workers.
In 1942, Lager Norderney, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Lager Sylt, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS Hauptsturmführer Max List. Over 700 of the inmates lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944.
After World War II, a court-martial case was prepared against former SS Hauptsturmführer List, citing atrocities on Alderney. However, he did not stand trial, and is believed to have lived near Hamburg until his death in the 1980s.
In the meantime, the number of inmates in the sub-camps gradually approached that of the main camp at: (August 1943 the main camp held circa 5,800, the sub-camps circa 3,700 inmates). In the second half of 1943 two more locations were added., This was the prison labour used in the accumulator factory at Hannover-Stöcken and in the construction of the submarine bunker "Valentin" in Bremen-Farge.
The vast number of other sub-camps emerged only in the last year of the war, as branches for them in the defence firms in northern Germany were built. As part of the "Geilenberg program" which had to safeguard production from bombing the German oil industry, thousands of prisoners had to perform clean-up operations at refineries.
Towards the end of the war, the military war economic situation increasingly deteriorated, the National Socialist leadership had decided under pressure due to serious labour shortages in Germany to consider also recruitment among the deported people from extermination camps in the East, where certain Jews had been selected for elimination (the German title reads 'murder') and take them rather for the Reichs-wide use in armament factories. Totalling more than 12,000 Jewish prisoners were allocated for Neuengamme, which the SS had mainly selected from Auschwitz and some other camps, but also directly from Budapest . Only a small part of them remained in the main camp, as most newly built sub-camps in other locations, which were often designed exclusively for Jewish prisoners were available. The majority of them in these camps worked around those heavy building projects such as the construction of an underground tunnel system in Hannover-Ahlen.
Although the main camp Neuengamme remained as a detention facility for men, but from the total of 86-99 sub-camps [some are not clearly defined as such,sic] 24 were occupied by women. The establishment of women's sub-camps all emerged only in the last year of the war, and differed greatly from the general inmate composition. Among female inmates were in the great majority Polish, Czech and Hungarian Jewesses, who were transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau into sub-camps camps of Neuengamme. The non-Jewish prisoners came mostly from the Ravensbrück concentration camp. The living and working conditions of these women did not differ from those of male prisoners, they also had to do hard physical work during a shift system and produced, for example, from the clinker plant at Neuengamme, and manufactured there finished parts to build panel houses for bombed-out apartments in Hamburg.
|The "Station"(der Bahnhof) inside the Neuengamme concentration camp, 1944. The siding was prepared in 1943-44. In the wagons as from spring 1944 prisoners and goods were transported into the camp.|
With the establishment of sub-camps often located in the middle of cities, and individual work assignments even in busy areas with daily trips between locations and the camps, KZ inmates were increasingly perceived at the end of the war by the civilian the population. Where the jobs were not, or only difficult to define, the prisoners came with foreign forced labourers and German staff members in contact. Sometimes there were little signs of Solidarity, for example, it was reported of secretly surrendered food left behind, but this describes the common reactions through their own experience. Unfortunately, inmates claimed that in the last years of the war the largely blunted civilian population, treated them with contempt, indifference and looking away.
“And then the people came. We knew there were concentration camps in Germany. I believe almost everyone knew that. We also knew that they weren’t holiday resorts. But what we didn’t know was how these people looked. That was a shock for us. […] There were people that were only skin and bones". [Walter Felgner, Second Officer of the Thielbek. (Interview, 21 January 1983)
CONTINUED UNDER PART 4/