CONCENTRATION CAMP NEUENGAMME PART 1/5
NEUENGAMME -STAMMLAGER (Researcher Detlef Garbe)
The six and a half year history of Neuengamme concentration camp is intimately linked with the history of Hamburg in the Third Reich. Even the founding of the camp was heavily influenced by Hamburger interests. First, the city was looking for a replacement for the established in September 1933 part of a prison and concentration camp located within the city at Fuhlsbüttel. On the other hand, it was primarily economic expectations, which made Hamburg as a location for a new foundation of a camp lucrative.
From 1936-37 it was the targeted use of prisoners as a work force for the needs of the SS as an essential factor in having concentration camps. First area of activity was the building a material industry, which was the reason that the 'Deutsche Earth and Stone Werke GmbH (Erd und Steinwerke GmbH) was founded for the organization, responsible for marketing and profit. As shareholders acted mainly members of the SS leadership. At the same time, the SS began to build new 'modern' concentration camps, which were now designed as 'labour camps' in contrast to the previously used primarily for political opponents of the regime in early concentration camps and were either like the ones in1938 built at Flossenbürg and Mauthausen, usually close to quarries, where large clinker plants were constructed. This was the case, from December 1938 until the spring of 1940 for Buchenwald and Neuengamme which were initially run as satellite camps of Sachsenhausen from December 1938 until the spring of 1940.
The German Earth and Stone Works purchased in the fall of 1938 on the outskirts of the village of Neuengamme in Hamburg-Vierlanden, for years a disused brickworks plus land in a total size of 50 acres, which was suitable for the mining of clay. On December 12, 1938, 100 prisoners from Sachsenhausen arrived in Neuengamme, which should make the brickworks (Ziegelei) again ready for use. They were quartered provisionally in the attic of the company building above the drying chambers. First, to be carried out, they had to do the clean-up, repairs and renovation works, then the first production trials were undertaken. Although the prisoners had to work hard, but the prison conditions differed significantly from the conditions that prevailed later in Neuengamme.
Three months after the outbreak of war the final decision was taken to expand Neuengamme to a large concentration camp. Following a visit of the Reichsführer SS, Heinrich Himmler, during January 1940 negotiations began between the SS-Leadership and the city of Hamburg, where the city expressed its 'biggest interest to the extensions of the brickworks operated with prisoners'.
Because the Hamburg Party Leadership(NSDAP)had big plans: A comprehensive 'redesign' of the Altona riverbanks should make Deurtschlands(Germany's) "Gateway to the World" like a 'business card invite, what National Socialism' can achieve. The plan was to build a monstrous 'Führer-Building', a 250-meter-high Gauhochhaus,(Gau High Rise-Building) a 'Strength through Joy' hotel (Kraft durch Freude), a peoples hall(Volkshalle) for 50,000 persons and a high bridge over river Elbe. Since the planning of the task force of the 'Architect of the Elbe-Shore' for the planned buildings, had to design in the North German tradition to incorporate a cladding with clinker bricks, the Hamburg Administration was very pleased with the opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of construction by the labour of concentration camp prisoners .
|Prisoners working in the clay pits. Photograph by the SS, 1943–1944
|The old brickworks in Neuengamme. To the right is the provisional wet press. It was used for experimenting with different wet pressing techniques after dry pressing procedures had proven unsuitable'
|Concentration camp prisoners working at the old brickworks, circa 1940'
To set up a new camp, which was one kilometre south from the old brickyard, the transfer of additional prisoners at that time took place, when it was still a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen. It was increased in March 1940 by 120 men and a further 350 prisoners in May. The construction of the camp barracks, watchtowers and the enclosure had been accelerated at a fast pace. The working and living conditions differed significantly from the then comparatively tolerable circumstances at the very start. The new detachment commander, Sturmbannführer Walter Eisfeld, led an enforced regimental type of administration. Mistreatment, exhaustion, hunger and work accidents killed soon the first inmates. During the spring of 1940 Neuengamme concentration camp became an independent KZ, reporting directly to the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps. After the first three camp barracks had been completed, which took place on 4 June 1940 to coincide with the arrival of 520 additional prisoners from the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and had to move into the still under construction 'Protective Custody Camp'(Schutzhaftlager). As commander acted at that time in April Hauptsturmführer Martin Weiss, who was the successor of the late Commander Eisfeld .[Martin Gottfried Weiss alternatively spelled Weiß was the Commandant of Dachau concentration camp in 1945 at the time of his arrest. He also served from April 1940 until September 1942 as the commandant of Neuengamme concentration camp, and later, from November 1943 until May 1944, as the fourth commandant of Majdanek death camp. He was appointed commandant of Majdanek after his predecessor Hermann Florstedt was charged with wholesale stealing from the Jews to become rich. Weiss was captured at Munich on 29 April 1945 by corporal Henry Senger of the 292nd Field Artillery Observation Battalion, and was tried during the Dachau Trials beginning 13 November 1945. After being found guilty of "violating the laws and usages of war," Weiss was executed by hanging at Landsberg prison on 29 May 1946.]
|Forced labour in Neuengamme concentration camp'
WORKING AND LIVING CONDITIONS
The prisoners in the Neuengamme concentration camp, whose number was growing rapidly and at the end of 1940 was already as high as 2,900, they worked mainly on the enlargement of the camp, in the construction of the new Klinker plant and in the clay pits. On an average 1,000 prisoners were used under contract broadening and deepening of the 'Dove Elbe' canal on a six kilometres long stretch, the construction of the branch canal with docking facilities, including a wharf to receive and loading of goods. Even after 1943 the works of the 'Dove Elbe' canal was complete, and the transports by barges and ships was taken up, the extension of quays at Neuengamme harbour was continued until the fall of 1944. The working conditions for the prisoners in the 'commando Elbe' were very poor: Under the constant driving of the SS to move the earthworks with wheelbarrow and filled by shovel had to be done at a run, and this took place on a twelve-hour-day with far too little food and clothing that did not protect against wet and cold weather. Many were also victims of abuse by the SS as well as individual prisoner-foremen and Kapos, who tried with blows to increase the pace of work. It was part of everyday life that detainees were driven into the 'Restricted Zone', where they were shot by the sentries. 'killed while escaping'.
|Prisoners working to broaden the Dove-Elbe canal.'
From the perspective of the SS, the decisive criterion for the right to live in a concentration camp was, that prisoners had the ability to work. Was this not the case, as expected from the SS they did not always wait, until the prisoners slowly starved and were completely exhausted at the work site, in the barracks or at the often extended for several hours standing at Roll-calls. In January 1942 prisoners were in the Neuengamme concentration camp for the first time after a rapidly rampant typhus epidemic which had in the previous month erupted, were killed by phenol or Benzine injections in the infirmary. The victims included primarily Soviet prisoners of war, which, like the Jews were in the racist scale value of SS at the lowest level. From 1,000 Soviet soldiers who were transferred in October 1941 from the POW camp XD Wietzendorf and had been admitted to a fenced labour camp for 'POW of the Waffen SS' and declared the area as such within the concentration camp, 652 died within six months of starvation, typhus and murders by the SS. Usually the dead were taken to the urban crematorium in Ohlsdorf or since 1942 were cremated in the camp's own crematorium, depending of their status as prisoners of war these victims were buried on that basis in mass graves at the city limits of Bergedorfs. The 348 survivors were transferred in May 1942 into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and there probably murdered immediately after their arrival.
|'Workers doing groundwork on the Dove-Elbe canal. Pictured in the front left with a shovel is the former prisoner Salo Blechner.'
Fearing selection, many prisoners avoided reporting their ailments to the infirmary. Numerous prisoners due to the miserable working conditions and poor malnutrition had gastric intestinal problems, Tbc or suffered heart diseases, often had physical pain from, or had work accidents, the area in front of the Revier was nevertheless always crowded. Although the Prison Orderlies struggled for all they could, they lacked any effective aid for the hygienic conditions, drugs and trained staff. Until 1942, it was prisoners who were doctors by profession or who possessed a medical training, were forbidden to work in the infirmary. Temporarily the SS prison tightened admissions (for unknown reasons), according to Jewish prisoners they and inmates from the penal company, Jehovah witnesses were banned from entering the infirmary as well as other groups, thus medical treatment of these people was entirely lacking.
|'The death register from the infirmary of Neuengamme main camp, 26 March 1943.'
The data is based primarily on an analysis of death certificates that had been issued by the Neuengamme concentration camp registry office. They are also based on the death records preserved from the camp infirmary, between May 1, and May 15, 1945. Both sources are incomplete and include several deficiencies. Until the autumn 1944, with regard to the main camp these sources can be considered relatively complete. Because of the considerable number of subsidiary camps, more than 80 of them by 1944/45, these subsidiary camps included three times as many prisoners as the main camp (Stammlager) as well as the more than 10,000 people who died during the evacuation, the names (16,956) recorded by both sources represent only one third of all prisoners who died at the Neuengamme concentration camp.
As an additional control in the organization of any camp operation, the SS established a 'prisoner self-government', which leaned towards both traditional forms of a prison system as well as to military structures normally applied. [All concentration camps had appropriate manuals]. Camp-. Block-, and Room Seniors were responsible for the free flow of camp life reporting to the SS. For the work details Kapos and Foremen were used, which would support the oversight of functions to assist the guards. By the betterment of these appointments, the SS, tried to sow discord and jealousy among the prisoners, hoping to have willing tools in them. The influence of these 'function detainees' were considerable, and depending on the personality they could use them for the benefit or detriment of other prisoners. Quite a few of them tried the options available not only for their own survival, but also - albeit often limited to members of their own group - some of them fully used their position to assist in building a resistance network in the camps. On the other hand others were willing to participate as willing tools of the SS. They became ruthless henchmen of the system, so that the SS could achieve their objectives with inmate self-government, at least partially.
|Prominentenlager at Neuengamme
For the vast majority of prisoners in the concentration camp Neuengamme, the accommodation conditions represented were entirely different. In the first years the prisoners were lying on straw mattresses on the floor. [This is nothing unusual]. 1942/43 the barracks were equipped with three-tier bed frames. Up to the end of the war, the condition worsened due to the high admission figures more and more, so that finally, two or sometimes three prisoners had to share a bunk. Overcrowding led to disastrous sanitary conditions. Bugs and diseases spread out in the barracks like wild-fire.
|Neuengamme environs, 1942-1945
CONTINUED UNDER PART 2/