Saturday, November 3, 2012



By letting the prisoner block leader and Kapos do their dirty work for them the Germans successfully demoralised the inmates in the camp. It was their deliberate policy. [It was in fact applied to all concentration camps, sic]. For those who did not harden their hearts or turn a blind eye to the terrible atrocities that were perpetuated daily, death was merely around the corner. A compassionate man could hardly believe or stomach their inhuman acts, yet he had to do so if he was to survive. And the will to survive was always strong despite terror on work commandos, the raging hunger of near starvation, and the fear of an injury which often ended in being shot. Every man dreaded the prospect of falling sick because he knew that the infirmary's chief concern was not the care of patients. Everyman was afraid to speak and afraid to get up in the morning. He was afraid to go to bed also, lest he should catch an infection from his sleeping companions. Suppurating wounds, the dreaded erysipelas, phlegmon, dysentery, pneumonia and even typhus were all risks. He feared and mistrusted his fellow prisoners, who might steal from his treasured crust of bread or hoarded cigarette. A general fear of both his companion and his overlords made the the demoralising complete.
The method of torture were manifold. One was the swinging torture in which the victim was tied by the hands and feet and suspended between two beams. He was then swung from side to side as the Kapo and the SS delivered their blows. Another favourite method with the SS was to tie the victim's hands behind his back with the thumb against against thumb and then suspend him by these tied hands some eighteen inches above the ground. This caused extreme pain and a shock to the system which, in the case of those with heart conditions, sometimes resulted in death.
There were endless beatings with sand-loaded rubber truncheons about eighteen inches long. Eventually they induced in the prisoner a stet of permanent swaying - akin to a sailor on a moving deck - often resulted in various kinds of brain damage. Further anguish was caused when Deputy Commandant Georg Bachmayer set his hounds to savage victims of these various form of torture.
Anyone who stepped out of line during roll-call, or who failed to take off his cap as an SS man passed by, or who was not quick enough to get out of the block when summoned, might be the victim of the so-called manacle torture. An SS man who had a hatred for prisoners of a particular nationality, or suspected a man of hidden political leanings, would order the manacle torture if he so wished. A prisoner could be manacled to the iron ring for any reason, or for no reason.
The ring at the Wailing Wall

The iron ring, with chains, was placed just inside the main entrance of the camp. It was an extremely unhealthy situation for the victim because he received kicks and blows with everything that came to hand - including revolver butts - from all the passing SS men. There was also, of course, the dogs. During the time he was at the gate the prisoner received no food, no water, no covering, no respite. He died where he was manacled, from thirst, starvation, or from exposure in temperature which at times dropped to minus 30 degree Celsius. One well known episode epitomises the iron ring torture:
'A Russian prisoner was sent to the tower, that is to the chain in the wall by the main entrance. There he stays, with hands tied up above his head. Rapportführer Riegler arrives at dusk. He beats the unfortunate fellow, thrusts him to the ground, bores out his eyes with his cane, crushes his ribs with the blows from his heels, pierces his throat with the cane till the iron tip protrudes from the back of his neck. The cries of the prisoner, who is still alive, are stifled by the surging blood. Riegler then puts an end to his misery with a revolver shot and orders the body to be taken to the crematorium'. [Mauthausen by l'Amicale de Mauthausen, Paris, no date of publication, Riegler SS-Unterscharführer-Rapportführer, was sentenced to death and executed 27. May 1947.sic]

                                              Shooting victim Mauthausen inmate

Between Blocks 1 and 2 was the "wooden horse". The prisoner was bent over it at roughly hip level, with his arms tied to each side of the structure. At the bottom were two holes through which his feet were tied. He was then lashed by prisoner functionaries, or, as a refinement, by a known friend of his. The lashes were administered with a heavy whip known as a Pizzle, with a circumference of about 7 cm. It was neither rigid nor bendable, but springy. The prisoners seldom endured such punishment without losing consciousness. When this occurred the blows were stopped and the prisoner was revived with water. After he had regained consciousness the flogging continued, with the prisoner himself calling in German the number of lashes inflicted.
German prisoners were treated rather differently from the rest, regardless of the crimes for which they had been imprisoned. Only a German was allowed to punish a German prisoner, and this was by no means peculiar to particular SS men in Mauthausen. It was laid down by Oswald Pohl, the chie economics administrator, who in 1942 sent to Mauthausen a notice (DI, 14C3/L/OT) that specified who was to beat whom. [Document in the Archives Dept. Of the Ministry of Anciens Combtants et Victimes de Guerre, Paris, sic]
An inmate at Mauthausen hangs himself
In the history of Mauthausen the names recur of Kapo murderers whose bestialities placed them beyond the pale so far as their compatriots were concerned. There is evidence to show that they aroused even in the SS a feeling of repugnance. At various times Block 15 and Block 5 were half infirmary and half Jewish. They both came under the rule of a German gypsy known as Negro, who had a pathological hatred of Jews. His allocation to these blocks was deliberate, and his reign was ruthless and efficient in the extreme. Deaths among the inmates occurred with unfailing regularity in order that room could be made for new arrivals. One of the Jews to survive Negro's regime is the English SOE Agent, Captain Edward Zeff. While waiting to be allocated to his block, Captain Edward Zeff heard the call for 'the Jews'. He did not answer. One of Negro's typical outbursts followed. His eyes became glazed, veins stood out angrily on his temple, his ginger hair and red face blazed like a torch, as he demanded the 'Engländer'. At this Zeff presented himself, expecting a rain of blows. He answered only to the name of 'Engländer' which, luckily for him, had the right effect. After this, Negro showed a strange respect for Zeff. He [Negro] was a naturally reticently man and certainly had never confided in prisoners before, but he mellowed sufficiently to tell Zeff that he had been a sailor once and was now serving a life sentence for murder.1
His homicidal tendencies showed themselves terrifyingly on one still and frosty evening. After having made his Jews lift rocks in the quarry all day without food or water, Negro suddenly set upon them with a hatchet. The piercing shrieks of terror could be heard all over the camp. The inmates were accustomed to horror, but this struck deep into their souls. Some of the Jews were too weak to crawl away from his flailing hatchet, as he hit out again and again. He is known to have killed as many as six men one time when this madness came over him.
It was also Negro's habit to tell the remaining prisoners in his block how many days they had to live, that is to say until the expected arrival of the new consignment from another camp.When they heard the news, many hanged themselves during the night from the beams of the roof. Some went berserk and ran towards the main gate, where they were immediately shot dead by the tower guards. Others ran, hand in hand, straight into the high tension electric fencing behind Block 5. Others jumped over the precipice into the quarry. Survivors from the camp tell of two well known and much liked brothers, French Jews, who spent the lunch break saying good-bye to all their friends, and when they jumped over the precipice, they took with them two SS-men who were standing by as observers.

Dead prisoners corpse clings to electrified Barb wire
In the evening, when the prisoners were weakened from work, Negro would place a Jew on a stool in the centre of the barrack room. With his head in his hands, the Jew would be beaten with a corn flail which whipped the skin off his body like peeling paint off the wall. [I think that would have been a rye/wheat flail, as corn was rarely planted in Austria, sic] The blows were given with such force that deep dents were made in the wooden floor. Twenty years after the war these dents could still be seen in Block 5.
The sunken cheeks and generally emaciated appearance of the Negro's Jews created an illusion of increased height, In their feebleness they could only speak in whispers, which added to the ghost-like impression.
Another Kapo, Zaremba, who was of German-Austrian origin, was a well known sadist. he would attack any prisoner who happened to be near him, but he had a particular preference for knocking very weak prisoners down the 186 steps of the quarry and then beating them to death.
A block leader called Unek was a professional criminal from Vienna. He was in charge of Block 12, which contained Spaniards and French from Prisoner-of-war camps. Previously he had been on 'night shift jobs', which was another name for the liquidation of prisoners by injecting into the heart. Later on Unek was transferred to Block 7 which held Polish prisoners, with whom he seems to have felt some affinity. They appear to have escaped the worst of his excesses, despite the fact that wherever Unek was there was an immediate rise in deaths. He was dubbed the 'Polish King', for he took special care of all Poles in the camp, and no one dared to take advantage of his Polish Muselmänner. [This was a term used for prisoners in the second stage of starvation, they could not hold down any food at the end. I have seen them in a POW Camp 1945 under Eisenhower, strange behaviour, grunting like animals, their stomachs and intestines penetrated by parasites from foul food which they consumed, finally would crawl into a corner of a tent, sitting for some reason in a foetus position and die sic] Within his own Block he was known for his unpredictable moods. At one moment he would hit out right and left, at the next he would be given the victims a morsel of bread as a sort of expiation. He also organised a foot ball team which he named 'Vienna', and arranged for them to give regular, if macabre, exhibition games on the SS field.
Muselmänner in second stage of starvation, naked at Gusen, after liberation
Unek and Negro both eventually joined the SS. Their 'conduct' had earned them remission of sentence and acceptance into the ranks. Thus they belonged to that SS group which tried to stem the Russian advance early 1945. [Negro was still alive in 1973, Unek was executed after the war, sic]
The daily roll-call was a form of torture in itself, for it was rarely that the Rapportführer was satisfied with the counting at the first try. When they returned from the quarry in the evening, all prisoners, even the sick and the dying, had to gather in the Appellplatz to be counted. This roll-call area, which was far too small for the number of prisoners in the camp. was bounded on either side by a footpath which could be used only by the SS and Kapos. Any prisoner who walked or stumbled on to these paths was summarily shot. Fearing this, the prisoners struggled to keep in the centre. Those who were unlucky enough to be on the outside were in danger of being thrown on to the paths by the swaying and pushing crowd. Taking a single day at random example, there were 11,135 men in that small place on the 1st October 1941. Any infringement of the orders given to the prisoners could mean the death sentence, and this would take place during the roll-call period. The condemned man, accompanied by a violist of the camp band playing 'J'attendrai', was pulled along on a wooden stand. The stool on which he stood was kicked away from under him. He died from strangulation and not from breaking of the neck.

Mauthausen Gallows
Many prisoners fell down with fatigue, and the sick and injured died while waiting for the counting to be completed. On one remembered occasion the roll-call lasted five hours, well into the wintery night. The prisoners naked feet were gradually hidden under the thickly falling snow. Even when they returned to their blocks the prisoners were not always free to rest. Many Kapos enjoyed waking them in the early hours of the morning to perform strenuous physical exercises. This also caused a number of deaths. [These were under normal circumstances accepted standards in Germany as far back in the 1930 during my days in Primary School, the so called "Frühsport" and continued during military service,sic]
As for the political section, the bunker, or a prison within a prison, held it's own form of torture. The tiny, ill-ventilated cells had just enough space in them for a bunk. There was scarcely room for the prisoner to stand up and spent most of his time lying on the bunk. [One must assume that's how Ilse Koch got pregnant in the holding cell at Dachau, when her interrogator Kirschbaum questioned her on the bunk, sic] If he could see anything at all from the high, small window, it would be the barrows of bodies being trundled into the crematorium. He might be subjected to interrogation at any rime of the day or night, and all the refinements of compulsion would be used. The dazzling electric light was on all the time in the cell. In winter there was no heating, while in summer the kitchens provided heating which would be turned on to its fullest extent.
bunker cells hallway

The Bunker with its cells
The dogs provided another sort of torture. They were expertly trained to attack when let off the leash. On an order from their handler they would either savage prisoners at random while they were at work, or attack a single prisoner specifically chosen and cornered by the guard. These hounds were responsible for the most horrible wounding and eventual death of prisoners. There is no evidence that they were ill fed and thus inclined to be savage, nor that cruelty entered into their training. On the contrary, they were fed and treated much better than the inmates. Those prisoners whose job it was to take huge bins of food to the kennels usually managed to appropriate bins of food for themselves, an act which in camp parlance became known as 'organisiert'. The kennels were outside the camp enclosure in the area of the shooting wall and Camp III.The RSHA issued death warrants or orders under various names in order to justify the murders committed in the camps. Why they felt it to be necessary is a continuing puzzle. One of these orders, the Kugel Erlass or bullet decree, was unique to Mauthausen. This 'K Aktion', as it came to be called, was instigated by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who succeeded Heydrich when the latter died of wounds received in Prague in 1942.
It is yet another instance of complicity of the Wehrmacht in Nazi crimes, for the enactment of the order meant the handing over of prisoner-of-war to the security service (SD). [This to the best of my knowledge this applied mainly to Russian political commissars after the 'Führer decree' and POW, who did not have the protection of the IRC, sic] In this way they were deprived of the protection of the International Red Cross and were brought under the rule of the concentration camps, which were outside international law. The original telegram provides proof of the co-operation between the German Supreme Command the Armed Forces and the RSHA. Its official translation was used for the trials of war criminals after the war.
Only the Commandant and the political section in Mauthausen had full details of the transports of special prisoners, that is, their numbers, names of camps from which they were transferred from and so on. The information was not entered in any official register, nor in the 'special death' book. There were many ways of carrying out executions ordered by Berlin. A common method was known as the 'height measuring stand technique'. The condemned man would be taken down the steps besides the bunker to the corridor below, where he then stood against the wall, a height marker was lowered on to his head as if to measure his height. Behind the brick wall was an SS-man with a specially designed rifle, the nozzle of which protruded into a well concealed hole whose exit was in line with the prisoner's neck.
SS officers posing in front of a newly arrived transport of Soviet prisoners of war -Mauthausen"
The hanging of special prisoners took place in the same area. The prisoner descended the steps from the Appellplatz and, once inside, when he reached a certain position, a wire controlled by a guard jerked so that his head fitted instantly into a noose. In the gloom of the staircase this noose was seldom noticed by the prisoner. In some instances where Berlin decided that a certain prisoner already in Mauthausen should be disposed of under the 'K Aktion', he would be killed and his name 'corrected' on the register.
The Wehrmacht have always vehemently denied responsibility for such deaths of their charges by this 'Aktion'. However, there is little room to doubt their complicity when all evidence is taken into account. It would even appear that it was done at the suggestion of Keitel himself. Keitel had already shown himself ready to co-operate with the SD by handing over prisoners-of-war. It is estimated by former prisoners that some 25,000 people were murdered in Mauthausen under the 'Kugel Aktion' (Bullet Action) [Figures from the International Tracing Service, Record branch, Documents Intelligence Section Catalog, 1st Edition (Germany), 1949, p.26, sic] This figure included 1,300 civilians, the annotations on the execution warrant, accompanying them or preceding them, being Stufe Roem III. Neither their names nor their deaths were recorded, and this enormous total will never be shown on any graphs or camp death rates. 'K Aktion' prisoners should not be confused with the special prisoners sent to Mauthausen for immediate execution, although both groups were housed in Block 20 and both met their deaths in similar ways. They were usually gassed, shot in the neck or hanged. The names of special prisoners were kept in a register numbered with Roman numerals, the last entry reading II-5040.
Records of the 'K Aktion' killings and those of the Roman numeral II appear to have been kept separate from the executions listed in the ordinary death register under 'Orders of the Reichsführer SS'. To give two examples from this last register, 144 persons were listed as hanged on the 25th September 1944, and another 144 on the 14th October 1944. It is unlikely, however, that so many were actually hanged on one day, because there were so few gallows. It would have been slow work and the likelihood of serious disturbances among those who were waiting their turn would have been considerable. It would have been feasible to hang no more than about ten prisoners a day. With any larger number, gassing or shooting would have been more probable.

continued under Part 4 2/2

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.