HERE: ch. 4 - 8
Across the S.S.-Lager. about fifty buildings were spreadaround, with no paved walks going from one to the other; just muddy paths through fields.
Entrance to the H-Lager: two blocks of wooden buildings, one on each side of a wire tangle that opened in front of us. We were counted. "Zu funf ! Zu funf ! Mensch Bloeder Hund!" Wham, a blow trom a fist. Wham, a kick.
On the other side of the wire fence was the camp itself. Ten or so square blocks of wooden buildings, a dozen at the most, were laid out haphazardly with no visible coordination. On the way wecould read from a distance the numbers on the Blocks: 4, 35, 104, 17. Where are the other Blocks?
A muddy track, marked out by many tramping feet, led away from the entrance and climbed the hill, with nothing to indicate that it led anywhere. The guards had us take it and we came to the gemeinde Abort (public toilet) where we were penned in, waiting for orders. The gemeinde Abort was a Block in which there were only toilets, urinals, and wash basins. It was impossible to sit down or to stretch out, and going outside was forbidden. We were tired and famished, too. Toward six o'clock, a bowl of soup, 300 grams of bread, a piece of margarine and a slice of sausage were served to us. We noticed that the rations were ampler than at Buchenwald. A breath of optimism blew over us. "We shall be working, but at least we shall eat" was whispered among the group.
Men with brassards appeared at eight o'clock: a table was set up; a clerk sat down. One by one we passed in front of the table where we stated our registration number, name, and profession. The men with brassards were Czechs and Poles who had been interned for a variety of offenses. They were heavy handed and made generous use of the rubber truncheons with which they were armed. "Hier ist Dora! Mensch! Bloder Hund!" and wham, wham.
At midnight, the business was finished. Everyone was ordered outside. We retraced our path, in the dark this time, always surrounded by Kapos and S.S. Suddenly we found ourselves in front of an immense excavation which opened on the hill side: the Tunnel. Two enormous iron folding doors opened: this was it, we were going to be buried; nobody had any idea that these iron doors would ever open again to liberate us. The horrors that we had heard about this "underground" installation while we were at Buchenwald worried us.
We entered the Tunnel and were confronted with a Dantesque scene: outside, all was darkness; inside. we were in full light. Two parallel railroad tracks were set a yard apart; so trains shuttled back and forth in the belly of the monster? A string of cars loaded and covered with tarpaulin shrouded torpedo shapes, immense shells longer than the cars which carried them, was sitting on one of the tracks. They were the famous V1 and V2 rockets. By their looks, their diameter was greater than a man's height, and they appeared to be more than 40 feet long. "That must have quite an effect where it falls!"
Talk started to turn to the mechanical details and the launching method of the V1 and V2 which we had heard about and which we saw now for the first time. To my great amazement, I found that there were some persons among us who seemed to be very well informed, and who with the greatest seriousness provided the most precise details, but who later turned out to be the most fanciful story-tellers.
We kept going farther inside. On each side of the main tunnel were offices and caverns that had been fixed up as work shops. We came to a portion of the Tunnel which was still being worked on: gaunt, thin, diaphanous shadows of men perched on scaffolding all over, against the walls like bats, were boring into the rock. On the ground, the S.S. guards walked around, guns in hand; the Kapos, in all the coming and going, bawled out the poor men who were carrying tools or were pushing wheel barrows full of the excavated material. The noise of machinery was deafening, and dead bodies were sprawled along the passageways.
One cavern was fixed up as a living Block; we were ordered to stop.
At the entrance were two garbage cans and fifteen or so corpses. Inside, men were running around like madmen between the tiers of bunks, three, four and five layers. Brawls erupted between two orin a group now and then. Among them, serious and imposing, were the Stubendienst who tried in vain to restore order. That was where we were to spend the night. The Stubendienst interrupted their police work to take care of us. "Los! Los! Mensch! Hier ist Dora!" The rubber truncheons began to dance on their new targets. The Block Chief, a big German, looked on, amused, mocking, and threatening at the same time. We quickly saw that this Block was occupied by Russians whose day gang was off work. Still dressed we threw ourselves down on the straw pallets assigned to us. At last! Hours later, we woke up: all our shoes and what was left from the food distribution the evening before had disappeared. Even our pockets had been emptied. We admired the dexterity of the Russians who had accomplished this general pillage without waking us up. Only two or three were caught in the act. The victims took them to the Block Chief and were themselves brought back to their straw mattresses, with blows of the rubber truncheon, by their Stubendienst accomplices "Hier ist Dora, mein Lieber!" We had fallen for sure into the lair of brigands whose only law is that of the jungle.
As soon as we were awake, we were brought back up to the daylight. We breathed easier; so we were not to be buried indefinitely. The morning was spent standing in front of the Arbeitsstatistik, stamping around in the mud and the snow; we were freezing cold and hungry again. In the afternoon, we were divided up into Kommandos: Fernand and I were landed in the Strassenbauer 52 (road builders). Right away they put us to work, and until the evening roll-call we carried fir trees on the run, from the camp to the railway station.
At six o'clock, the roll-call: it lasted until half past eight. At nine o'clock we were ordered to Block 35. This time we were sure that we were not going to be put underground in the Tunnel. But, we learned that quite a few among us had claimed to be skilled in all kinds of specialized technical professions so that they would be employed in the factory and so that they would not have to come up again in all probability until the liberation.
The Chief of Block 35 was a Czech; the Stubendienst, too, naturally. The Block itself was still bare of furnishings. We slept piled together, right on the floor, without covers, in our clothes. But first, in an indescribable scuffle, they gave us a quart of rutabaga soup which we ate while standing; that was all we had to eat that day. At ten we went to sleep, certain now that we were an integral part of Dora. Dora!
Half past four: a gong sounded four times in that shell of a camp. The Block lights went on, the Stubendienst, rubber club in hand, burst in to the Schlafsaal. "Aufstehen! Aufstehen! Los Waschen!" Then, with pause, "Los, Mensch! Los, Waschen!"
The two hundred men got up as one, crowded through the Esszimmer, bare to the waist, and in the passage between came to the door of the wash room at the same time as the two hundred from the other Flugel. The wash room could hold twenty persons. At the entrance two Stubendienst, hose nozzle in hand, held back the invasions. "Langsam! Langsam!... Langsam, Lumme!" At the same time the hose went into action. The poor fellows fell back... Meanwhile, two other Stubendienst having anticipated the water spray, forced them on:
"Los.' Los.' Schnell, Mensch! Ich sage: waschen!" And, the truncheons rained down pitilessly on the thin bare shoulders.
Every morning it was the same tragi-comedy. It didn't stop there, however. After washing came the distribution of food for the day. We went single file holding in hand the chit that had been handed out in the wash room (you could not get your food until you had shown that you had washed) and which had to be given to a Stubendienst. Another solid crush of humanity. The hour allowed by the rules to accomplish this double formality was soon over.
Half past five: the Kapos, warmly clothed, were there on the mustering ground waiting for the arrival of the human tide. It came pouring out toward them from all the Blocks; men running in the icy morning while still dressing and swallowing the last mouthful of the meager portion of the daily ration that had been handed out for breakfast. The Kapos proceeded with the assembling of the Kommandos and called the roll of their men blows and insults rained down. With the roll-call over, the Kommandos started out at a predetermined pace according to the distance they had to go; some had to go as far as three and a half to five miles, and they left first. Then came those who had only an hour's march, and finally those with only half an hour's walk. Kommando 52 was twenty minutes away. It left at six thirty. At exactly seven o'clock everyone was where he was to work. The Tunnel Kommandos were run on another schedule: reveille at seven in the morning for the day shift, seven in the evening for the night shift, and all of the preliminaries for the work took place in the Tunnel itself.
At seven o'clock Kommando 52 was at the embankments, having arrived there after having completed the washing and the feeding operations, after having waited shivering in ten inches of mud at attention for an hour and ten minutes, and after having marched the mile and a quarter or so from camp to work. The men were already exhausted long before the work began.
The purpose of the work was to construct a road bed from the station to the camp. An ellipse of narrow-gauge railway track, whose greatest diameter was perhaps 800 yards, was used in the construction. Two trains of eight dump cars each pulled by gasoline-powered engines, made a perpetual circuit over the tracks. While 32 men -- four per car loaded the train up at one end, 32 others unloaded the other one at the far end, being careful to spread the rock level. When the empty train arrived, the other had to leave filled; this was supposed to happen everytwenty minutes. Generally, the first train left in the time prescribed. However, with the second, there were delays which provoked growls from the Meister, the Kapo, and the Vorarbeiter. On the third circuit, the empty train had already been waiting for five minutes and another five were needed before it was ready to leave. The Meister smiled ironically and shrugged his shoulders, the Kapo shouted, and the Vorarbeiter lashed at us; no one escaped being hit. The delay was increased by the amount of time that it took three men to beat thirty-two, and from then on the time lost was never made up, and the work was off schedule for the rest of the day. On the fourth trip, there was a further delay; more blows rained down. On the fifth the Kapo -- and Vorarbeiter -- grasped the fact that nothing could be done, and they gave up beating us. In the evening, instead of the thirty-six trips planned at the rate of three per hour, only fifteen or twenty had with difficulty been achieved.
Noon: a pint of hot coffee was distributed right where we worked. We drank it standing up while eating the remains of the bread, margarine and sausage given out in the morning.
Twelve thirty: we began work again. During the afternoon the work dragged. The men, hungry and frozen, had just enough strength to keep standing. The Kapo disappeared, the Vorarbeiter calmed down, the Meister himself seemed to recognize that there was nothing more to be got from such rags as we were,and he gave up. We kept up an appearance of working;but that was hard, too. We had to rub our hands and stamp our feet for the cold. From time to time, an S.S. guard went by. The Vorarbeiter, on the lookout, saw him coming from way off and gave the signal. When he reached the Kommando, everybody was busy at his job. He tossed out a word to the Meister, "Wie geht's?" (How's it going?) A discouraged shrug of the shoulders answered, "Langsam, langsam, Sehr langsam! Schauen Sie mal diese lumpen: Was machen mit?" (Slow, slow, very slow. Just look at these no-goods. What can you do with them?) The S.S. guard shrugged his shoulders, too, grunted and went on, or else, depending on his humor, gave vent to insults, handed out a few blows of his fist, threatened with his revolver, and left the area. Once he was outside of earshot the Kommando relaxed again. "Aufpassen! Aufpassen!" said the Meister almost paternally.
Six o'clock came, and everybody slackened off. "Feierabend, " (Knock off) said the Meister. The Kapo who had returned a few minutes before, had his men stack the tools, shouted a few insults which stimulated the Vorarbeiter, and distributed a few cuffs; a return to discipline through the use of terror.
Six forty: the Kommando started the march back to the camp in fives. At seven o'clock, organized by Block, and not by Kommando, we once again waited shivering, feet in the mud, for these gentlemen to finish counting us; that job took two or three hours.
Between eight and nine o'clock we got to the Block. A Stubendienst, rubber truncheon in hand, was stationed at the entrance. We had to take our shoes off. wash the wooden soles and enter with them in our hands; and then only if they passed as really cleaned were we allowed to go in. On the way to the Esszimmer we put them down in rows; then we held out tin bowls into which theoretically a quart of soup was poured, which we ate standing up in an indescribable jostling. When these various formalities were over, a third Stubendienst gave us permission to make for the Schlafsaal, where we simply fell in a heap on a little straw that had been brought in during the day. Half past ten. We were dead tired, hungry, and cold. We felt that the work forced on us counted for very little in contributing to our fatigue.
The next morning, it all began again at four-thirty. During the night the Russians stole the Holzschuhe which we had so carefully lined up in the Esszimmer at the command of the Stubendienst. Thus, in addition to the washing and the distribution of food, we had to locate another pair before running outside, while still dressing and swallowing the last mouthful of the meager breakfast, into the cold night to reach the mustering grounds where the Kapos were waiting. By the end of the week we had become shadows of our former selves.
At the other end of the Tunnel, camp Ellrich was being built. A very important Kommando of about a thousand men went there every morning on a ballast train which left the station at Dora at half past four. There were three miles to go. On foot it would only have been necessary to leave at half past five to get there by seven o'clock, but that would have been too simple. The S.S. authorities decided to show that they had some human feelings and, to spare the Kommando the fatigue of the march, they ordered the prisoners to be transported to work by the train. As a consequence, the Ellrich Kommando was awakened at three; the men washed, got rations and were at the mustering grounds at four. Then came the departure from the station. The train which was due at four-thirty was never less than an hour late, and the Kommando had to wait. At six at the earliest, half past six at the latest, it arrived at Ellrich. The work consisted of digging all day. The work stopped at six. Theoretically, the prisoners should have gotten on the train at half past six, but like the morning train, it was never less than an hour late. They had to wait again. At about half past eight, at the best, but often nine or even ten, they returned to Dora where they had to observe all of the formalities of going into the Block, the shoe washing, and the distribution of soup. At about eleven they could lie down and sleep; five hours of sleep and up again, assembly, departure, waiting. The grind of the days was merciless; the steps that the S.S. took, or pretended to take, to improve things turned into an additional torment. The very travel back and forth was more killing than the work itself. Added to that fact was the fact that the Kapos of the Ellrich Kommando were the worst of brutes, whose blows rained down upon the prisoners without pity. Then, too, the work was rigorously supervised; in short, it was the Kommando of death, and every night corpses were brought back.
In the camp itself there was Transport Eins. The men of Transport Eins began their day in the same way and at the same time as all the others: they unloaded cars and carried on their backs heavy loads from the station to the tunnel, or from the station to the camp. We saw them from morning to evening working like circus horses in fours with large boards, by twos with railroad ties, by lines of eight or ten with rails, and singly with bags of cement. They moved slowly under the weight of their burden. Their Kapo was a Pole with the red triangle who went from one group to the next swearing, menacing, striking.
The Gartnerei, or garden Kommando also worked in teams like Transport Eins, but they carried human excrement instead of building material. The Kapo was a "green" who used the same methods as the Pole of Transport Eins with the same results.
The Steinbruch, the famous quarry for all of the camps, supplied rock building material. Stone was excavated and loaded on wagons which were pulled or pushed to the places where the stone was broken up to be used as surfacing for the camp roads. The people at the Steinbruch had the additional bad luck of having to work on the slope of the hill at the opening of the quarry where the beatings by the Kapos often caused them to lose their footings and to fall to the bottom of the quarry where they were killed. Every day the dead were brought back to the mustering grounds. Four men carried each body by the arms and legs. "Ein, zwei, drei, vier," the Kapo at the head of the column called out to set the pace; ploc, ploc, ploc, the heads of the dead men knocked against the ground. From time to time we heard that some poor devil at the Steinbruch, having been hit with a truncheon tottered and fell into the stone-crusher, or the concrete-mixer, without anyone trying to stop him.
There were also Kommandos that were better. Among them were all those that made up the camp administration: the Lager Kommando, the Holzhof, the Bauleitung, the Schwung.
At the Effektenkammer, an account was kept of the clothing that had been taken away from the prisoners when they came into the camp; that was an easy job. It was lucrative, too. From time to time a pair of pants could be stolen, or a watch, or a fountain pen, all of which were valuable exchange goods for food. At the Wascherei, the underwear which the prisoners were supposed to change every two weeks was washed. There it was sheltered and warm. Also quite a few opportunities presented themselves to obtain food. At the Schusterei, the shoes were repaired, at the Schneiderei, clothing was repaired and underclothing mended, and at the Kueche...
The best Kommando was without question the kitchen or Kuche Kommando. The food was not rationed to those who prepared it, and the work was not difficult. First they got the ration that was given to everyone at the Block before starting for work. When they got to the kitchen or place where they worked, they received a supplementary ration officially. Then, whenever they were hungry they could help themselves from the provisions that they were preparing. In addition, they stole food in order to provide themselves with exchange for tobacco, socks, clothes, and favors. On top of that, they were exempt from the roll-call. They lived the life of regimental cooks. A certain amount of influence was necessary to get into the Kueche Kommando; the French did not have it; and, as a result, the positions were reserved for Germans, Czechs and Poles.
On a par with the Kueche were the Arbeitsstatistik and the Revier. There was no roll-call either. Blows were not the usual practice. At the Arbeitsstatistik, the work was office work, and one could obtain as much food as one wanted because those who were assigned to the better Kommandos by the personnel there paid in kind: clothing, food, tobacco, etc. I know two Frenchmen who had managed to get themselves into the Arbeitsstatistik; all the rest were Germans, Czechs, and Poles, as in the kitchen service.
In the Revier, there were doctors, Pflegers, and Kalifaktors. The Pflegers, or nurses of sorts, took care of the patients, and the Kalifaktors were responsible for the cleanliness of the hospital. In addition, there were a lot of clerks, who ate their fill; you could hardly say that they worked, and they were not beaten.
Then came the Lagerkommando, or the Kommando responsible for the maintenance of the camp. All those prisoners in delicate health were assigned there, in principle. Actually only those prisoners with pull, with friends among the Kapos and Lagerschutz, with influential friends in the Revier or the Kueche , or with relatives who sent good parcels were assigned to the Lagerkommando. The Lagerkommando supplied crews for light janitorial work, cook-house work for the S.S., the Haftling, -- and the volunteer foreign workers who worked in the factories at the camp, and for the care of the Altverwertung, the place where things were repaired. At the beginning, when the camp was still small, it was a very much sought after spot. Later on, when the Kommando had grown to include hundreds and hundreds of individuals, the personnel were periodically screened for manpower to fill out other Kommandos without enough men, a fate which was escaped only by those with pull.
Two other Kommandos were also sought after: the Tabakfabrik and the Zuckerfabrik. They both went to Nordhausen to work, and they were transported in trucks. Each evening, the first group came back with pockets full of tobacco which they exchanged for bread and soup, and the others did the same with sugar. Afterwards, a third Kommando was assigned to the slaughter houses at Nordhausen, and they introduced meat barter into the camp.
To get a good or a bad Kommando was a matter of chance. which connections with someone in the Arbeitsstatistik could decisively influence. The constant preoccupation of all the prisoners was to get into a good Kommando, and this overriding objective was pursued by any means regardless of how incompatible it might be with human dignity.
They had at their head a Kapo general -- the great Georges -- who had under his orders a whole team of Kapos in charge of prisoners according to their specialties. To be assigned to a Kommando working in one of the ten or twelve factories sheltered in the Tunnel was to be guaranteed light labor and to be protected from the wind, the rain, and the cold. All this was a very great advantage. Such an assignment also guaranteed being free of the roll-calls, since there were no roll-calls for the Tunnel people. But, it was also a certainty that the tunnel workers never came up into the daylight, and had to breathe in galleries that were badly ventilated. Consequently, they were afflicted with miasmas of all sorts and dust for months on end, and they risked dying before they were liberated. But on the road building, for example. one worked in all kinds of weather: rain, snow, wind, or hot sunshine. In other words, the work never stopped. Nor were the roll-calls cancelled or shortened. During the rainy season it happened that for weeks on end we could never get the rags that served us for clothing dry. In the evening, coming back to the Block, we put our clothes under the straw mattresses in the hope that the heat of our bodies would evaporate the dampness. The next morning we put them on warmed, but wet, and we went out once again into the rain. Simple or double pneumonia was endemic among the road workers, and many ended up in the crematorium, but at least we were living out in the open. And, during the good weather... Opinion was divided between wanting to work in the Tunnel or on the roads. "One should be able to get in the Tunnel during the winter, and come out during the summer," Fernand said to me. That solution was obviously impossible, and I was not sure that in the end that it would be a good solution.
What was called the Tunnel was a system of two parallel galleries going through a mountain from one side to the other. At one end was Dora, and at the other was the hell of Ellrich. These two main galleries, each about three miles long, were connected by about 50 transverse galleries or halls each about 200 yards long, 8 yards wide, and 8 yards high. Each one of these halls contained a work shop. In April 1945 the Tunnel was all finished and if it had not been for the sabotage would have produced at maximum capacity. It was estimated that at that time there was a total of eight to ten miles of galleries, excavated and fitted out, as against the five to six in existence in August 1943, when Dora was just started. These figures give an idea of how hard the prisoners were made to work. It should also be noted that the two camps, Dora and Ellrich, together, could never handle more than 15,000 men, who had, in addition, to build barracks, as well as to produce a certain number of V1 and V2 rockets, or airframes and secondary weapons. And, that if one wants to calculate the cost of this work, one must add to the francs or marks, the 20,000 to 25,000 human lives it cost in less than two years.
Twice every day, at seven in the morning and at seven in the evening, the Kommandos of the Tunnel who slept in the galleries, or in those parts of the galleries fixed up as Blocks, were awakened by shifts. They had less water; consequently the hygiene was deficient, and fleas and lice abounded. At nine in the morning and at nine in the evening depending on the Schicht to which they belonged, they were at work.
There were also bad Kommandos in the Tunnel. Those digging the galleries, and those who were assigned to the transportation of drilling tools and the excavated material had a bad time. Those Kommandos were veritable chain gangs whose members died like flies, their lungs poisoned by the ammonia laden dust. But, most of the Tunnel Kommandos were good.
In the factories, scientific management was carried to an extreme: one Kommando spent its time sitting in front of drills punching out holes one after the other; another inspected gyroscopes; a third assembled electrical switches; a fourth polished sheet metal; a fifth was made of turners or fitters. And, there were some jobs that were neither good nor bad like those involved in the assembly of the V1 and V2 rockets. Generally speaking, the productivity was not very good: ten men were employed at a job, against their will, which one or two could have done if they had had the incentive. The most difficult things were always to pretend to be working, to be standing up all the time, to seem to be very busy, and. above all, to live in that noise and miasma, getting hardly any air from the outside through the few and inefficient air ducts
Toward the middle of March. at the request of Zavatzky; who wanted to eliminate one of the main causes which he thought was responsible for the poor output, they began to take the Tunnel Kommandos up into the open air to have their camp soup, instead of taking the soup down to them. By the end of April. the construction gangs had finished just about all of the Blocks that had been planned: 132 of them. It was decided that no one would sleep in the Tunnel any more. So, all the Kommandos after that date only went underground to work, that is, for twelve hours a day.
To give the whole picture, it must be said that civilians, too were used in the various factories in the Tunnel. In April 1945. there were six to seven thousand of them. They included the Germans who were Meister, and the S.T.O.. or volunteers from all over Europe They too were grouped in Commando, but they lived in a camp about a mile from Dora worked ten hours a day got good wages and ate fairly monotonous food, but which was healthful and plentiful Besides they were free to move about within an 18 mile radius; in order to go beyond that, they needed special papers. Among them were many Frenchmen who kept themselves at a distance from us and in whose eyes one always saw the fear that they had that they might some day have to share our lot.
The date was March 31, 1944. For the past week the Kapos, the Lagerschutz, and the Block Chiefs had been particularly on edge. Quite a number of prisoners had died from blows; lice were found not only in the Tunnel, but even among the Kommandos outside; and the S. S.-Fuhrung laid the responsibility for this state of affairs on the H-Fuhrung. On top of that, the weather the whole day long was terrible: it was colder than usual, and an icy rain mixed with hail came down without any let-up. In the evening, we got to the muster grounds, frozen, soaked, and hungry beyond belief. How we hoped the roll would not last too long! But, there was no such luck. At ten o'clock we were still standing at attention under the rain of hail, waiting for the order Abtreten (break ranks!) which would liberate us. Finally it came, and we could go and eat the hot soup in a hurry and fall onto the straw. We got to the Block and began the shoe cleaning. But, then, gesturing that we should stay outside, the Block Chief, standing framed in the entrance, announced that since lice had been found, the whole camp was going to be disinfected. It was to begin that night. Five of the 35 Blocks were picked for Entlaeusung -- (delousing) that night. Consequently, that night there was no soup until that was over. The delousing process then began: "Alles da drin!" (Everybody in there!) We went into the Esszimmer with our shoes in our hands. "Auszieben!" (Undress!) We took our clothes off, wrapped them in a bundle with the number on top. "Zu fuenf!" (By fives!) That frightened us. "Zu fuenf."' We form into lines. With the Stubendienst carrying our clothes on blankets, surrounding us, all naked, in the cold, in the rain and the snow, we went in the direction of the building where we were to be deloused. There were about 800 yards to cross.
When we got there, the four other Blocks, naked like us, were already pushing against the entrance. We felt Death in our presence. How long would it last? There were about a thousand of us, all naked and shaking in the wet and the cold which penetrated to our very bones, pushing at the doors. There was no way to get in. Only forty at a time could go in. The scene was hideous. At first we tried to force our way in, but the delousing men kept us back with water hoses. Then we wanted to go back to the Block to wait our turns; but that was impossible since the Lagerschutz, truncheons in hand, surrounded us. So we had to stay there, crowded together, between the water and the truncheons, soaked and beaten. We pressed together. Every ten minutes, forty of us were allowed to enter the delousing chamber in a crush that was a life and death struggle. Elbows went into play; there were fights, and the weaker were mercilessly trampled underfoot, and their bodies were found at dawn. At about two in the morning, I succeeded in getting inside, Fernand behind me, where we received a haircut, cresyl, and shower. At the exit we were given a shirt and a pair of shorts which we wore when we went out into the night to return to the Block. I felt as though I had accomplished some act of heroism. When we came to the Block, we went into the Esszimmer where a Stubendienst handed us our clothes which had been disinfected. Next came soup and bed.
At reveille, the sinister comedy was just barely finishing. At least half of the Block got back only just in time to get dressed, get soup, get the daily ration, and hurry to the grounds to go to work. And, there were a number missing: those who had died during the execution of this sorry business. Others survived it only for a few hours or for two or three days and were carried away with the inevitable double pneumonia. The job itself probably killed as many men as it did lice.
How did it happen? The S.S.-Fuhrung -- was responsible only for the decision to disinfect five Blocks per day, and the H-Fuhrung was left in complete control of how it was to be carried out. A schedule could have been set up: at eleven, Block 35, at midnight, 24, at one, number 32, etc... The Block Chiefs could have, within this frame-work, sent us in groups of one hundred at twenty minute intervals, for example, and in our clothes. But no, that would have been too simple.
When what took place on the night of March 31st reached the ears of the S.S.-Fuhrung, the latter itself set up an exact schedule the next morning tor the Blocks that remained to be disinfected.
Nine o'clock. All the Kommandos were on the grounds at attention. The Lagerschutz went in and out among the groups: Block Chiefs were at their stations. The Lageraltester -- chatted familiarly with the Rapportfuhrer.He had a paper in his hand: a detailed list of the camp personnel drawn up by the Arbeitsstatistik. About thirty S.S. in helmets, their pistols in holsters, were assembled at the entrance to the camp: the Blockfuhrer. It looked as though all were going to go well.
A whistle blew, and the Blockfuhrer spread out fan-wise, each toward the Block which it was his responsibility to oversee. Each one made his count and compared his figure with that which the Block Chief handed him. "Richtig" (Correct.) One by one the Blockfuhrer came to report to the Rapportfuhrer who waited, pencil in hand, and who wrote down the figures as they were given him.
There was not one discordant note: the roll-call would not last long. The S.S. wanted to take advantage of this Sunday and were moving fast. We were exultant: one day ot rest with nothing to do but to eat our soup and to stretch out in the sun.
Just a minute! The total number ot prisoners which the Rapportfuhrer had , did not tally with the figure given to him by the Arbeitsstatistik:there were twenty-seven fewer men on the grounds than on the paper. Question: what had become of them ? The kapo of the Arbeitsstatistik was sent for in a hurry. He was asked to go over his figures right away. One hour later he came back. with the same figure. Perhaps, then, the S.S. had made a mistake. The count was made again, and the Rapportfuhrer came up with the same figure. They searched through the Blocks, they searched through the Tunnel: they found none of the missing prisoners.
It was noon. The ten thousand or so prisoners were still on the grounds waiting for the figures of the Arbeitsstatistik and of the S.S.-Fuhrung to agree. Time dragged: some men fainted: those whose turn it was to die fell down never to get up again: those with dysentery relieved themselves as they stood: the Lagerschutz felt that things were getting slack and began to to lay about. The S.S. guards whose Sunday was threatened were furious. They went off to eat, but we stayed there. At two o'clock they came back.
Suddenly the Kapo of the Arbeitsstatistik came running: he had come up with another figure. A murmur of hope rose from the crowd. The Rapportfuhrer looked over the new figure and became violently angry: there were still eight men missing. The Kapo of the Arbeitsstatistik went away again. He came back at four. Now no more than five men were missing. At eight only one was still missing, and we were still there, pale, drawn, and exhausted, after having stood for eleven hours, with empty stomachs. The S.S. decided to send us to eat. We left. Behind us the Totenkommando picked up some thirty dead.
At nine, it all began again, in an attempt to find the missing man. At eleven forty-five, after various comings and goings, this missing man was found, too: the S.S-Fuhrung and the Arbeitsstatistik were in agreement. We went back to our Blocks and were able to go to bed, again leaving behind us ten or more dead.
There you have the explanation of why the roll-calls took so long. Those employed in the Arbeitsstatistik, illiterate or nearly so, had been made bookkeepers only as a favor, and they were incapable ot adding up at the first count the number ot men present.The concentration camp was a world where every man's place was determined by his connections and his cunning and not by his abilities Accountants were made masons, carpenters became accountants, wheelwrights became doctors and doctors became fitters, electricians or road graders
A Kommando of Czechs and Russians were detailed to unload this car. From there, the package was taken to the Poststelle where the Schreiber and Stubendienst -- of each Block went to take delivery. Then the Block Chief himself gave it to the addresse. It was during this chain of distribution that the packages were plundered.
The way the pillage was worked was simple. First, it was the French parcels, known for the wealth of their contents, which got all the attention. Right where the parcels were unloaded, under the eyes of an S.S. guard in charge of the operation, they were passed through three hands: at the car a Czech passed it to a Russian standing outside, who had to catch it in air and toss it to another Russian or Czech, whose job it was to stack it onto a wagon. From time to time, the Czech at the car said "Franzous," and the Russian spread wide his hands; the parcel fell to the ground where it broke open, the contents spilling all over. The Russians and Czechs filled their pockets or musette bags. If something from the parcel pleased the S.S. guard, he held out his hand and thus was his complicity bought. When the wagon was full, pulled by six men it rumbled off toward the Poststelle; during this brief trip, a number of parcels disappeared or also broke open.
Regulations required that at the Poststelle the parcels were to be carefully examined, and that medicines, wine, any alcohol and weapons or various things that could be used as weapons, be removed. This official search was made by a team of prisoners (Germans or Slavs, under the surveillance of two or three S.S. and provided another opportunity lor more filching. The S.S. guards themselves were tempted occasionally by a piece of bacon, a bar of chocolate which a girlfriend liked, a package of cigarettes, or a lighter. They made sure that the prisoners would not talk by closing their eyes to the thievery that was committed by the latter. From the Poststelle to the Block, the Schreiber and Stubendienst arranged things between them so that a third pilfering took place, and at the end of the distribution chain, there was the Block Chief who did the fourth and last and who gave what was left to the addressee.
There was something grotesque about the ceremony of handing over the remains to the party concerned. The prisoner was summoned by his number and invited to present himself to the Block Chief. On the latter's desk lay his parcel, open and contents listed. By the desk was a large basket surmounted by a placard labelled "Solidaritat." Each prisoner was morally obliged to drop in a little something of what he had received for those who never received anything in particular the Russians, the Spaniards, the young and the disinherited of all nationalities who had no relatives or whose relatives did not know where they were.
This is what was supposed to happen in theory; in practice, the Block Chief, after each distribution, simply appropriated what was in the basket and divided it with his Schreiber and the Stubendienst. After every load was received, the Kapos, the Lagerschutz, the Blockaltester, and all those with any rank at all in the S.S.-Fuhrung were amply supplied with French provisions, a fact which convinced me that the pillaging was done by an organized gang.
I received my first parcel on April 5, 1944: all the underclothing, a bar of chocolate, I think, and a tin of jam were missing, but there were still three packs of cigarettes, a good two pounds of bacon, a tin of butter and various other eatables. We had changed Blocks two days before, and we were now in 11. Our Block Chief was a German with a black patch. I asked him what he would like. "Nichts, geh mal." (Nothing, get going.) Resolutely I held out a package of cigarettes to him, then pointing to the "Solidaritat" basket, I questioned with my eyes."Brauchst nicht! Geh mal, Bloede Kerl!" -- (Don't bother, get going, you dumb ass!).
I had guessed correctly. The day after the next, I was called up again. I had three parcels this time. Of one nothing was left but the label; but the two others were more or less intact and in one there was a huge hunk of bacon. "Dein Messer, " (Your knife) I said to the Block Chief. I cut off a good half which I handed him and then I went off without asking whether I should leave something in the "Solidaritat" basket. He watched me go with gaping eyes. The French had a reputation, which was deserved, of being very tight with their parcels and not very generous. Suddenly he called me back. "Dein Nummer?" (Your number?)
He wrote it down, and then, said to me, "Hoere, mal, Kamerad, deine Paketten werden nie mehr gestollen werden. Das sage ich. Geh mal jetzt!" (Listen, your parcels won't be pilfered any more. That I can tell you. Now get going!")
Indeed, from that day on my parcels were given to me just about intact. The Block Chief had passed my number on to the various stations in the chain of distribution, implying an order "do not touch". And, it was to that fact that I owe my life since the parcels which came from France, aside from the fact that they contained food supplements to the camp diet, were a precious exchange currency with which exemptions from work, extra clothing, and light jobs could be bought. They made it possible for me to spend eight months in the infirmary, when others, just as sick. spent the same time working until they died.
Concerning the parcels, another tragic phenomenon took place. Most of the French, even those from very comfortable families, received one parcel three quarters plundered; then they received nothing more. It was only after the liberation that I got an explanation. On arrival at the camp the prisoners wrote to their families, saying that they had the right to write twice a month. The family sent a parcel, and, since it was the first, before sending another they waited for an acknowledgment of receipt which never came, because except for the first, only one out of ten letters that we wrote arrived at its destination. In the camp, the prisoner who wrote regularly wondered what was the matter. And, while he was dying of starvation, his family in France was convinced that it was not worth while to send a second package because, since he had not acknowledged reception of the first, he must surely be dead. My wife, who regularly sent me a parcel every day, told me that she did it for her conscience's sake and against all hope; my mother herself was of the opinion that she was sending them to a dead man and that, in addition to the mourning, she was throwing her money away.
Block 141, destined to be the movie theater, was under construction and the brothel was ready to receive the women. All of the Blocks, geometrically and agreeably set out on the hill were connected with concrete streets. Cement staircases with railings, led up to the higher Blocks. In front of each of them were pergolas with climbing plants and little gardens with carpets of flowers; here and there were cross roads with a fountain or statue. The mustering yard, which covered about half a square mile, was entirely paved, and was so clean you could not lose a pin on it. With a swimming pool that was fitted with a diving board in the center, a sports field, and shaded areas nearby, Dora was a regular resort camp for anyone who might happen in, when the prisoners were not there. In fact, such visitors would go away under the impression that a pleasant life was led there, not to be compared to the war risks which free men were running. The S.S. authorized the establishment of a music Kommando. After that, every morning and evening, a band of wind instruments, supported by a bass drum and cymbals, gave rhythm to the march of the Kommandos going to and from work. During the day they practiced and deafened the immediate area with the most extraordinary sounds. On Sunday afternoon they gave concerts in the midst of general apathy while members of the prisoner elite played football or did acrobatics on the diving board.
Although the appearances had changed, the realities were the same. The H-Fuhrung was still what it had always been, except that the politicals had worked their way in in appreciable numbers and the prisoners, instead of being brutally treated by the "greens" got the same from the Communists or so-called Communists. Every person regularly received a wage, of two to five Marks per week. These wages were collected by the H-Fuhrung who distributed them usually on Saturday evening in Arbeitsstatistik square. But, the distribution was done in such a way that chaotic mobs were created which made any attempt to get them tantamount to offering yourself for the crematorium. Very few prisoners were bold enough to claim their share. The Kapos, the Block Chiefs, and the Lagerschutz, divided up among themselves what they were relieved of having to pay out. Cigarettes too, were distributed -- twelve cigarettes every ten days -- for about 80 Pfennig on the average. We had no money to pay for them, and the Block Chiefs in charge of dividing them up exacted from those who did have some money such standards of cleanliness and order that it was just about impossible to get possession of one's ration. Finally, beer was distributed, in principle, to everyone. But, there again one had to be able to pay. The families of the prisoners were allowed to send them 30 Marks a month, which they no more received than their weekly wage or their cigarettes, and for the same reason. And, all in keeping with this, one day the H-Fuhrung people decided to divide up the clothing and the various other things that had been taken away from us when we arrived at Buchenwald.
It can be added that for things to have reached that stage, thousands and thousands of prisoners had died as a result of natural causes, as a result of the life they were forced to lead, or as a result of their summary execution for various other reasons, especially for sabotage and were no longer around to claim their property that was stored in the Effektenkammer. From March 1944 to April 1945, not a week passed when I did not see three or four men hanged for sabotage. Toward the end, they were being hanged by tens and twenties, right in front of each others eyes. These executions took place on the muster grounds in front of everyone. A gallows was set up, the condemned men arrived, a gag in the shape of a bridle-bit was placed in their mouths, and their hands were tied behind their backs. They climbed onto a stool, and their heads were put into the hanging noose. With a kick, the Lagerschutz knocked the stool over. No sudden jerk; it took the poor people four, five or six minutes to die. One or two S.S. guards supervised. When the job was done, the whole camp filed past the bodies strung up on their ropes.
On February 28, 1945, thirty men were hanged in groups of ten. The heads of the first ten were placed into the nooses. The next ten were waiting their turn, at attention, near the stools: the following ten were standing five steps away, waiting for their turn. The following March 8th, nineteen men were hanged. This time the job took place in the Tunnel, and only the Kommandos of the Tunnel were witnesses. The nineteen condemned men were lined up in front of Hall 32. A huge pulley, to which nineteen ropes were attached, was slowly lowered above their heads. The Lagerschutz handed out the nineteen nooses: then the pulley raised up slowly, slowly. Oh! How the eyes of the poor fellows grew large, and how their poor feet searched to keep some contact with the ground! On Palm Sunday, fifty-seven were hanged, just eight days before the liberation, when we had already heard Allied cannon fire very close and when the issue of the war could no longer be in any doubt for the S.S. But this was the way it was: the S.S. themselves discovered a certain number of cases of sabotage (in 1945, and since the middle of 1944, it had become impossible for anyone in the camp, or even on the outside to live without sabotaging); however, the H-Fuhrung, without any mercy, pointed out to them an even greater number.
It is almost impossible to grasp the cost of this undertaking in human lives. On June 1, 1944, the population of the camp was almost exclusively made up of people who had arrived in March of that year or later. There were still seven prisoners whose numbers ranged between 13,500 and 15,000; at least 800 of them had arrived on July 18, 1943. There were about a dozen left in the 20,000 to 22,000 range, they had arrived in a group of about 1,500 in October, 1943. Of the 800 included in the 30,000 to 31,000 group, who arrived in December-January, there remained about fifty; of the 1,200 taken from the 38,000 to 44,000 group, who came in February-March, three or four hundred survived. Those prisoners who wore numbers 45,000 to 50,000 and who arrived during May 1944, were still more or less all there; but not for long.
Anteroom of Death
The weather was beastly that year. It rained and rained. Pneumonia and pleurisy ran rampant, and made great inroads among those who were weak and badly treated, who were wet all day long, and who had to sleep at night in damp caves in the rock. In eight days, those unfortunates were doubled up with what the S.S. called a little fever, which seemed to worsen, but they didn't know why. The regulations were that one was not sick unless one had a temperature of more than 39.5°C. (103°F.), in which case one could get a Schonung, or work exemption. Until you had such a fever you had to keep on working, and when you did have such a temperature it meant death.
Then there was what we called dysentery, but which was in reality uncontrollable diarrhea. One fine day, for no clear reason, one was overcome with digestive troubles which rapidly developed into an inability to tolerate anything. There was no remedy: one had simply to wait for it to stop, without eating anything. It lasted eight, ten, fifteen days, depending on the resistance of the sick man, who got weaker, who finally began to fall down, without any strength left to move, even to take care of his needs, and who then succumbed to the fever that accompanied it. This sickness, fortunately easier to detect than pneumonia or pleurisy, led the S.S. to take steps, with what means they had available, to check it. They ordered the construction of a Bud, where, without regard for their temperatures, those with diarrhea were admitted on showing the proper paper and so long as there was space available.
The Bud could hold thirty people. Very soon there were fifty, a hundred, and more, their number ever growing as new convoys arrived from Buchenwald and as the camp grew larger. Generally, the diarrhetics were sent there only in the last stages of the illness, and then only to die there. They were piled together right on the ground, packed like sardines, unmindful of what was under them; it was an epidemic. It got to such a point that for health reasons the S.S. had the first H-Fuehrung pick out a Pfleger, or nurse, to keep order among the sick and help them to keep themselves clean. The job was given to a "green" (naturally!), a carpenter by trade. who had been sentenced for murder. A fine job was done ...!
All the day long people were lined up at the entrance to the Bud. The Pfleger, truncheon in hand, calmed down the impatient ones. From time to time a corpse was brought out of the stench, and a space was made which was jumped at. The number of diarrhetics only increased. When the S.S. saw that the Pfleger was not up to the task, the latter pointed out that he had a lot of work to do all alone, and he was given an assistant of whom the S. S. required that he know his business. The job fell to a Dutch doctor who had been employed, until then, in the work of transporting goods from the station to the Tunnel. From that moment on the Bud became humanized, the Pfleger became Kapo, and the Dutchman worked under his orders, exercising prodigious diplomacy. He managed to save one diarrhetic, whose cure he was careful to conceal in order to keep him by his side as a nurse. With the help of a big supply of charcoal, the diarrhea was checked, the S. S. declared themselves satisfied, and the Bud could be used for something else. The first Revier was born.
In fact, the Dutchman was able to fix it so that as places were left available by the diarrhetics, those with pneumonia and pleurisy with temperatures of 38°C (109°F) and up could be admitted. But, this practice aroused the resentment of his Kapo! He even began to claim that with a little charcoal it would be possible to care effectively for the diarrhetics without hospitalizing them, if they were caught soon enough, and that, therefore, there would be more room for those with pneumonia and pleurisy. The duel was Homeric. An S.S. doctor, who had been assigned to the camp and who had arrived in November along with the officers of a convoy, after having remained indifferent to this conflict for a long time, ended by backing up the Dutchman. And, the building of a Block was begun, the Bud having rapidly become too small.
Then it was the turn of those with nephritis. Nephritis was inherent in the life of the camp: under-nourishment, too many hours standing up, the effects of bad weather, pneumonia, pleurisy, the rock salt -- the only kind there was in Germany -- which the cooks used immoderately, and which, it seems, was harmful because it contained no iodine. Cases of edema were legion; everybody had legs more or less swollen.
It goes away, they said, it's the salt that does it. And no more attention than that was paid to it. When it was an innocuous edema, it did sometimes disappear! When the edema was the outcome of nephritis, one was carried away, one fine day, with an attack of uremia. The Dutchman succeeded in getting those with nephritis hospitalized, too. Another Block had to be built. Then it was the turn of those with tuberculosis, and so on. The expansion continued to such an extent that on June 1, 1944, the Revier was composed of Blocks 16, 17, 38, 39, 126, 127, and 128, grouped around the top of the hill. Fifteen hundred patients could be put there, at one person per bed, or a tenth of the camp's population. Each Block was divided into wards, where related sicknesses were assigned.
Block 16 was the administrative center of the whole structure. The Dutchman was promoted to the rank of Head Doctor. Meanwhile, the S.S. replaced the "green" Lageraeltester with a "red" and there was a great commotion in the H-Fuehrung. The Kapo of the Revier was the first victim of the new Lageraeltester. A plan was set up to catch him in the act of stealing the food destined for the sick. He was sent to the Ellrich camp by way of punishment, and he was replaced by Proell.
First he was sent to Dachau where it was due only to his youth that he survived the rigors of that budding camp. Neither the S.S. nor the adult prisoners had their knives out for the youngsters: the first because of a kind of respect for real innocence; the second because of a special tenderness which nourished in them the hope of seeing the youngsters become affectionate later. Thanks to these two circumstances. Proell managed to get into the Revier as a Pfleger and to stay there tor several years. Then, he was sent to Mauthausen in that capacity. The "green" Haeftlingsfuehrung of Mauthausen got rid of him by sending him to Auschwitz, where he was included in the first convoy that was sent to Natzweiler. It was at Natzweiler that he spent his longest time. There he was promoted to Kapo of the Lagerkommando and was attached to the Lageraeltester. The few prisoners who knew him in that camp were unanimous in saying that they never had seen such a brute. A palace revolution in the H-Fuehrung of Natzweiler caused his removal to Buchenwald from whence he was sent to Dora as a confidant of the Communists and Kapo of the Revier.
At Dora, Proell behaved like all the other Kapos -- neither better nor worse. He was intelligent and organized the Revier along the lines laid down by the Dutchman, whom he considered, in spite of everything a valuable assistant because he was competent. To be sure, he did not always follow the moral commandments of medicine. He was brutal, and in making up the army of Pfleger that he needed to carry out the job, he gave preference to the politicals before the professionals. That is how the blacksmith Heinz, who was a Communist and who had managed to get himself into the Revier under the regime of the "green" Kapo as Oberpfleger (head nurse), was completely trusted by him against the advice of all the other medical people. That is also why, to a medical student whose political opinions he knew did not agree with his, he always preferred any lout, German, Czech, Russian or Polish. He had a great admiration for the Russians, and a weakness for the Czechs, who in his eyes had been abandoned to Hitler by the English and the French of whom he was contemptuous. But, he was an organizer of the first order.
In less than a month, the Revier was organized on the lines of the big hospitals: in Block 16, the administration, admissions and emergencies; in 17 and 39, general treatment, the kidney cases and those with neuritis; in 38, surgery; in 126, pneumonia and pleurisy; in 127 and 198 the tubercular. In each Block there was a doctor in charge, assisted by an Oberpfleger; in each ward, a Pfleger for nursing and a Kalifaktor for other duties. For the sick two-bunk beds only, one above the other, with a mattress stuffed with wood shavings, sheets and blankets. There were three diets: the Hauskost, or food in every way like that given out in the camp, for those whose digestive tracts were not affected; the Schleimkost, or thin semolina soup (no bread, no margarine, no sausage), for those who required a low diet; the Diatkost, which every day consisted of two soups, one sweetened, and white bread, margarine and jam, for those who needed building up.
It cannot be said that one was very well taken care of in the Revier. The S.S.-Fuehrung dispensed very little medicines and drugs, and Proell filched from the lot all that was necessary for the H-Fuehrung letting only that which they didn't need filter through to the sick themselves. But, the beds were clean; one rested; and the food ration, although not of better quality than for the rest of the camp, was still more abundant. Proell himself limited his activities as Kapo to one visit which each day was accompanied with shouts and some generously bestowed blows on the personnel and the sick who had been caught disobeying Revier regulations. Life there could have been a contrast to the prevailing conditions in the rest of the camp, if the Pfleger and Kalifaktor, as much out ot zeal and loyalty to tradition as out of fear of the Kapo, had not been bent on trying to make it intolerable.
Aside from the H-Fuehrung, everyone in the camp was sick, and, under conditions which prevail in the normal world, everyone would have been hospitalized without exception and without delay, even if only on account of their extreme debility. In the camp, the situation was quite the opposite. There, general debility did not count; only those conditions which exceeded such debility were taken care of, and then only under certain extra-therapeutic circumstances or when nothing else could be done. Every prisoner was, therefore, more or less a candidate for the Revier. They had to make a rule that one could apply for admission every four days, on an average.
First of all there were the boils. The whole camp had suppurative furunculosis. the result of the lack of meat and roughage in the food. It was endemic just like the benign edema and the nephritis. There were the sores on the hands or feet or both. Finally there were cut fingers, arms or legs broken, and the like. They made up the patients of the Aussere-Ambulanz and trom June 1, 1944, were in the hands of the Negro, Johnny, whose incompetence as a doctor had finally been recognized at the Buchenwald Revier. In spite of the political pledges that he had given, he was sent to us in a transport, as a doctor, naturally, but with a note stating that it would be more prudent to use him as a nurse. Proell thought that he was just right for the Aussere-Ambulanz, and put him in charge. I learned afterwards that he had been astute enough to get the protection of Katzenellenbogen, that prisoner who called himself an American by origin, who was the general physician of the Camp, and who committed so many extortions that he was considered a war criminal after liberation.
Johnny had under him a whole company of Pfleger, Germans, Poles, Czechs or Russians, who knew nothing whatever of the job they were charged with; they put on dressings, took them off and put them on again when it struck their fancy. For boils or wounds, there was only one remedy: ointment. Those gentlemen had before them pots of ointments of all colors. On the same sore, they one day put the black salve and another day put the red or the yellow, and there was no guessing what determined their choice. Luckily, all of the ointments were antiseptic !
To the Innere-Ambulanz went everybody who hoped to get hospitalized. Every night there were five or six hundred, each one just as sick as the other. Sometimes there were ten or fifteen beds available. Put yourself in the place of the doctor who had to choose which ten or fifteen... The others were sent back with or without Schonung. They appeared the next day and every day until they had the luck to be admitted. Uncounted were those who died before they made it.
I knew prisoners who never went to take a shower because they they were afraid that gas would come out of the pipes instead of water (1). And, then, during the weekly inspection by the nurses of the Block, lice were found on them. Then they had to go through a disinfection treatment that killed them.
I also knew prisoners who never went to the infirmary. They were afraid of being used as guinea pigs of some kind in the medical experiments that rumor had said were being conducted by the S.S. or of being given poison injections. Consequently, they held out and held out against all advice, and one evening a Kommando brought their corpses back to the camp .
At Dora, no medical experiments were performed on the prisoners, and poison injections were not administered, at least not to the common prisoners. Generally, in all of the camps, injections of poison were not used against the general run of the prisoners, but they were used on occasion by one of the two H-Fuehrung cliques against the other; the "greens" used this method as an elegant means of getting rid of a "red" whose star they saw was rising in the eyes of the S.S. staff, or the other way around.
The swelling had begun in the ankles. "Ich auch, Bloder Hund!" my Kapo said, "du bist verrueckt! Geh mal zu Revier!" (You you're crazy! Get on to the Revier!) And, he punctuated this order with several fist blows. It was April 3rd.
At the Revier I was caught in the mob. After waiting for an hour my turn came to go before the doctor.
"You have only 37.8° (99°F), impossible to hospitalize you; three days of Schonung. Rest stretched out in the Block with your legs up, it will go away. If it doesn't go away, come back again."
As for the rest, for three days I was put at Block cleaning by the merciless Stubendienst. At the end of the period I presented myself again in a noticeably worse state.
Of course you will have to be hospitalized, the doctor said to me, but there are only three vacant places and there are at least three hundred of you, some of them worse off than you are. Another three days of Schonung, then come back...
I began to have a presentiment of the crematory. With resignation, I went back to the Block where my first parcel was waiting for me, thanks to which I got the Stubendienst to allow me to stretch out on my bed instead of making me work.
On April 8, when my turn came, a package of Gauloise cigarettes got me among the three or four chosen ones. And what was bad about it was that I saw nothing irregular in the bribe.
Before getting to the bed assigned me, I still had to leave at the entrance my clothes and my shoes, which were naturally stolen while I was there, and to go under an individual shower which a Polish Kalifaktor kept just as cold as he could.
The shower was the last thing that had to be done. It was supposed to be hot, but when it was not a Czech or a Pole, or a German, the KaIifaktor swore to heaven that the thing was out of order. The number of those hospitalized for pneumonia or pleurisy who died of that treatment is incalculable.
I was in the Revier six times: from April 8th to the 27th; from May 5th to August 30th; from September 7th to October 2nd; from October 10th to November 3rd;from November 6th to December 23rd; and from March 10, 1945 to the liberation. At the first, I lost track of Fernand, who was sent in transport to Ellrich were he died. I was sick that fact was quite plain. In fact. I was gravely ill because I still have not fully recovered. but...
At about seven o'clock, the Block doctor went among the beds. looked at the temperature charts, heard the comments ot the Pfleger, the complaints of the sick, said a word to each one , and gave orders for particular treatment or medicines that were to be administered during the day. If he was not Polish, German or Czech, the doctor was usually a good and understanding man. Perhaps, he trusted the Pfleger a little too much, with the latter treating the sick according to their political views, their nationality their profession or trade, or their generosity with the parcels that they received. Nevertheless, the doctor very rarely allowed himself to be influenced in a bad sense. Rather, his decisions were almost always well intended.
Once in a while someone who was very sick would dare to ask him, "Krematorium?" The doctor might answer: "Ja, sicher ... Drei, vier Tage". ("Yes, that's certain ... in three or four days." ) There was a laugh. He then went on without any consideration of the effect that his reply had on the one concerned . After he finished with the last bed, he left the ward; it was all over. He would not be seen again until the next day.
At nine o'clock, the distribution of medicine. It went very fast since the medicine was generally either rest or diet. From time to time, an aspirin or pyramidon was given out very parsimoniously .
At eleven, soup. ThePfleger and the KaIifaktor ate heartily, served themselves at each issuance and gave the remainder to the sick. It wasn't too bad; there was enough left over to give an honest regulation helping to everyone, with even a little supplement for one's friends.
In the afternoon, a nap until four o'clock, after which lots of talk until the temperatures were taken and the lights put out. The conversations were only interrupted when our attention was drawn to a long line of cadavers which, right under our windows, the Totenkommando people were carrying to the crematorium.
Some favored ones, of which I was one, received parcels: they were a little more pilfered than in the camp because they had to go through another pair of hands before they reached the addressee. The tobacco they contained was not replaced; that was deposited at the entrance, but the Pfleger were obliging, and with a good hand-out, a fair share, one could also get one's tobacco and permission to smoke secretly. In the same way, by sharing the rest, the Pfleger could be gotten to hike-up the temperature readings, and one's stay in the Revier was prolonged.
In summer, the afternoon siesta took place in the open air under the beech trees. The Kommandos working inside the camp looked at us with envy, and we grew apprehensive of the time when we would be cured and back among them.
They were collected in Block 17, Ward 8, whose Pfleger was the Russian, Ivan, who said that he was a "Docent" on the medical faculty at Karkhov, and whose KaIifaktor was the Pole, Stadjeck. Ward 8 was the hell of the Revier. Every day it supplied two, three or four corpses to the crematorium.
For every diarrhetic admitted, the doctor prescribed, in addition to the charcoal, a supervised diet: very little to eat, if possible nothing at all, and nothing to drink. He advised Ivan to give nothing the first day, to divide a quart of soup among two or three the next, and so on; a return to a normal diet being determined by the disappearance of the sickness. But Ivan considered that he was there as Pfleger to take care of himself and not the sick men: to look after them was work too hard for him, and, in any case, out of place in a concentration camp. He found it simpler to administer the absolute diet, to divide with Stadjeck the rations of the patients, to feed themselves amply, and to do some bartering with the rest. The poor men had nothing to eat. absolutely nothing. On the third day with very rare exceptions, they were in such a state that they could no longer get up, and they had to take care of their needs right where they were, since Stadjeck had other things to do than to bring them the bedpan when they asked for it. From that moment on they were doomed ...
Stadjeck started to inspect very carefully the bed of the unfortunate man to whom he had just refused to bring a basin. All of a sudden he got the smell and went into a rage. He began by giving the offender a good beating, pulled him out of bed, pushed him to the adjoining lavatory, and there gave him a good cold shower since the Revier must always be a clean place and patients who didn't want to wash themselves, well, they had to be washed .... Then shouting out curses, Stadjeck took off the sheet and cover from the bed and changed the straw mattress. Hardly stretched out again the patient would be seized with grips, would ask for the bedpan again which was again refused, would discharge in the bed, and would be taken once more to the cold shower, and so on and on. Usually, twenty-four hours later, the patient was dead.
From morning to night the cries and pleadings of the poor men who were put under the cold shower by the Pole, Stadjeck, could be heard. Two or three times the Kapo or a doctor happened to pass near during this operation. They opened the door; Stadjeck explained, "Er hat sein Bett ganz beschiessen... Dieser Bloder Hund ist so faul... Keine Warme Wasser." (He completely dirtied his bed the stupid dog is so lazy... and there is no warm water.) The Kapo or the doctor would close the door again and go away without saying a word. The explanation was, of course, unassailable: those patients unable to wash themselves had to be washed, and when there was no hot water...
In the Revier one was kept pretty well informed about the way the war was going. German newspapers, in particular the Volkische Beobachter, were delivered, and everyone regularly listened to the radio. Of course there was only official news, but that came rapidly, and that was something.
We also knew what was going on in the other camps; the poor men who had already been through two or three camps before ending up at Dora, recounted the whole day long the experiences they had lived through. That was how we learned about the horrors of Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Oranienburg, etc. And, that was also how we learned that there were very decent camps.
In August, for ten days, the German, Helmuth, was my bed neighbor. He had come straight from Lichtenfeld near Berlin. There were 900 in that camp, and under Wehrmacht guard they carried on the work of clearing the bombed suburbs: twelve hours of work, as everywhere, but three meals a day, and three good meals (soup, meat, vegetables, often wine), no Kapos, and no H-Fuehrung, consequently no beatings. A hard life, but bearable. One day they asked for specialists: since Helmuth was a fitter, he stood up; he was sent to the Dora Tunnel, where they put rock drilling equipment in his hands. Eight days later he was spitting blood.
Before that, I had next to me a prisoner who had spent a month at Wieda, and who had told me that the 1,500 occupants were not too badly off. Naturally, they worked and had little to eat, but they led a kind of family life: on Sunday afternoons, the villagers came to dance at the outskirts of the camp to the music of the prisoners accordions, exchanged friendly small talk with them, and even brought them things to eat. It seems that that did not last; when the S. S. noticed it, Wieda became as hard and as inhuman as Dora.
But, most of those who came from other camps had only hair-raising things to tell, and the accounts of Ellrich were the most horrifying. They were in an incredible state when they arrived among us, and just one look at them was enough to prove that they were inventing nothing... In speaking of bad concentration camps, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz are cited, and that is an injustice: in 1944-1945, it was Ellrich that was the worst of all. There, one was without a billet, not given clothing, not fed, without a Revier. and all the work consisted of digging under the supervision of the scum of the"greens", the "reds", and the S. S.
It was in the Revier that I got acquainted with Jacques Gallier, called Jacky, clown at Medrano. He was as tough as they came. When anyone complained of the hardships of camp life, he invariably answered, "Me, you know, I've done two and a half years at Calvi: I m used to it." And he went on, "Listen, at Calvi, it was just the same, same work, never enough food, only we didn't get hit so much, but there were irons and solitary, so..." (2)
Champale, the sailor from the Black Sea who had done five years at Clairvaux, didn't contradict him, and as for me, who had earlier witnessed the life of the Joyeux in Africa, I wondered if they weren t right.(3)
In July, Proell gave himself a shot in the arm of potassium cyanide. No one ever found out why, but rumor had it that he had been just about to be arrested and was in danger of being hanged for conspiracy. He was replaced by Heinz, the Communist blacksmith.
Heinz was a brute. One day he caught a fever-case, who had been forbidden any water, in the act of moistening his lips, and he beat him up so hard that he died as a result. He was said to be capable of everything: in the surgery Block, he undertook an appendicitis operation -- without the surgeon in charge, the Czech Cespiva, knowing about it. The story was told that in the first days of the Revier, under the rule of the "green" Kapo, he had given his attentions to an Algerian whose arm had been crushed between two carts in the Tunnel: he disjoined the shoulder, just as a butcher does with a ham, and instead of anesthetizing the victim, he first beat him up with his fists... A year later, the whole Revier still resounded with the wails of the unfortunate fellow.
Lots of other things were told, too. The patients never felt safe with him. As far as I was concerned, one day at the end of September, he came near my bed with Cespiva, and he decided that to cure me, the right kidney would have to be removed. I at once begged one of my comrades, who had another disease, to give a urine specimen for me, and thus got a negative analysis, which allowed me, as I had wanted, to be sent back to the Kommando. Being incapable of doing the work, I presented myself at the Revier a few days later -- just time enough for the storm to have passed -- and I got in easily.
Everything went well until December, at which date Heinz was arrested, in his turn, for conspiracy, like his predecessor, and he was replaced by a Pole. Caught in the same net by the S.S. were Cespiva, a certain number of Pfleger, among them the lawyer Boyer from Marseille, and some others from the camp. We never learned why about this either, but it is probable that it was for having circulated news about the war which they said they got from foreign broadcasts, listed to in secret, and which the S.S. considered subversive.
With the new Kapo, the Revier was overrun with Poles, and new doctors were put at the head of the Blocks, ours was an illiterate Pole. When he arrived, he decided that nephritis was caused by bad teeth, and gave an order to have all the teeth of all the nephritis cases pulled. The dentist was sent for at once and began to carry out the order without knowing what it was about, but showing his astonishment and protesting. In order to save my teeth, I arranged once more to get out of the Revier with a paper which certified me for leichte Arbeit (light labor). An exceptionally favorable set of circumstances occurred which made it possible for me to serve as the Schwung (batman) to the S.S. Oberscharfuehrer who was in charge of the company of guard dogs which patrolled the perimeter of the camp. I found that the camp had changed considerably when I got back.
- The gas chambers which some of the S.S. denied existed and which others attested to with the logic of Mme Simone de Beauvoir did not exist at Dora. Nor did they exist at Buchenwald. I note in passing that of all those who so minutely described the horrors of this form of execution (which, incidentally, is a perfectly legitimate form of execution in the United States) not one was an eyewitness, as far as I know. The only possible exceptions are Rudolf Hoess, Miklos Nyiszli, and Kurt Gerstein. The former was Lagerkommandant at Auschwitz; his testimony is unreliable both on the grounds of the atrocious conditions under which it was written down and of the fantastic circumstances under which it was published, as will be discussed further on in this book The testimony of the latter two is obviously false, a fact which will be discussed in the following chapters.
- For a comparison of prison life in French prisons -- during about the same period -- I have included four descriptions which are found in Appendix A at the end of this book.
- In La Lie de la Terre, Arthur Koestler gives a picture of the life in a French concentration camp which confirms my point of view. (The first book in English by Koestler : Scum of the Earth, London, Jonathan Cape, 1941) Another account which also confirms my view is that of Julien Blanc under the title Joyeux, fais ton fourbi.
In December 1944 Dora was a large camp. It was no longer a satellite of Buchenwald, but, rather Ellrich, Osterrod, Harzungen, and Illfed, all in the construction stage, were dependents of it (1). Convoys of prisoners arrived there directly, just as they had earlier at Buchenwald, where they were disinfected, numbered, and divided up among the satellite camps. The numbers that the new prisoners wore now were beyond the 100,000's...
Every night, trucks brought back corpses from the satellite camps to be burned in the crematorium.
Block 172 was finished; there was a movie theater, as well as a library, functioning for the people of the H-Fuhrung and their proteges; the women who had been installed for several months in the brothel also served their needs. The Blocks were comfortable; there was running water; and there were even radios! The beds were set up, without sheets but with straw mattresses and with blankets. The period of great hurry was over; the S.S. were less exacting; their object, which was to get the camp set up, had been accomplished. But, on the other hand, they paid more attention to the political life, got excited about all sorts of imaginary conspiracies, and hunted out acts of sabotage, which, indeed, were real and numerous.
All of these material betterments, nevertheless, did not bring the general mass of prisoners the welfare that might have been expected. The mentality of the H-Fuhrung had not changed. It was as though the prisoner bureaucracy tried to make us live the life of savages, but in buildings instead of caves, so hard did they try to retain the atmosphere of the Straflager along with its hardships and cruelties.
During the night of December 23-24, some Kommando, motivated by cudgels, set up on the grounds a gigantic Christmas fir tree, the erection of which was completed by five thirty the next morning in time for the roll-call before leaving for work and which was resplendent with multi-colored lights. >From that day on and until Epiphany we had to listen every night at roll-call to O Tannenbaum, played by the Musikkommando, before breaking ranks . . . One was obliged to listen with evident enjoyment or one risked getting hit.
Concerning the matter of prisoner welfare, two unexpected elements had to be considered: the joint advance of the Russians and of the English and Americans forced the evacuation of the camps in the East and the West and the transfer of prisoners to Dora and the more and more intensive bombing from the air that interrupted the normal flow of supplies into the camp.
After January 1945 there was no end to the convoys that arrived; often the prisoners were in an indescribable state. The camp which was planned to hold about 15,000 persons sometimes had 50,000 and more. They were bunked two or three to a bed. There was no more bread since flour was no longer delivered. Instead, one got two or three tiny potatoes. The ration of margarine and sausage was cut in half. As the storehouses were emptied as a consequence of the increased population and of the bombings, only a pint of soup instead of a quart, was distributed. There was no more clothing to replace what could no longer be used; Berlin was unable to send more. No more shoes; one made the best of the old ones. And, the same shortages existed with everything else.
On the work level, the whole camp became riddled with sabotage. Raw materials no longer arrived at the Tunnel, and the work was slowed. It was winter. It was useless to ask for window glass to replace what was broken because there was not any to be had: but any prisoner could secretly steal a pane at the Tunnel. There wasn't any paint, either. The Block Chief who needed some had it stolen from a Zawatsky warehouse by one of his proteges. One day there was no electric wire for the V1 and V2 rockets; all of the prisoners who were working in the Tunnel had stolen a yard each to use for shoelaces. Another time, a supplementary stretch of railroad track was to be laid down. For at least a year, the necessary wooden ties had been there, piled up around the station. The S.S.-Fuhrung supposed they were still there and gave the order to build the line since they had no choice. It was noticed then that the ties had disappeared, and an investigation revealed that at the beginning of winter the civilian workers had had them sawed up one by one by the prisoners and had taken them away little by little in their Rucksacks to supplement the shortage in their fuel rations. A few persons were punished, more ties were requested, and a few days later some gyroscopes were received.
In the Tunnel the acts of sabotage were beyond counting. It took the S.S. months to catch on to the fact that the Russians were making a large number of V1 and V2 rockets perfectly useless by urinating over the wireless equipment. The Russians were master pillagers, and master saboteurs, and they were stubborn; nothing stopped them. They also made up the largest contingent of those hanged. But this was for another reason: they thought they had worked out a plan of escape ...
Very few prisoners had any idea of escaping from Dora, and those who tried it were all recovered by the dogs. Once back in camp they were usually hanged, not for the attempted escape, but for a war crime, since it was rare indeed that they could not be charged with some theft or other crime in one of the places that they had gone through...
Sabotage seems to have extended into even very high circles: the V1 and V2 rockets, before being used, had to be tested, and those that were not right were sent to Harzungen to be dismantled and checked. At Harzungen, they were dismantled, and the various defective parts were put into special packing cases which were then sent back again to Dora where they were assembled again in the same improper way. As a consequence, there were always about thirty V1 and V2 rockets that were being shuttled back and forth between Harzungen, Dora and the testing place.
Even the administration at Dora was snowed under in confusion. At the entrance to the Tunnel, there was a sort of stockroom where all the parts that could not be used were collected: nuts, bolts, pieces of sheet-metal, screws of all kinds! etc. A special Kommando, detailed for light work, was in charge of sorting all these pieces: into one box went the bolts, into another the screws, in a third the odds and ends of sheet-metal. When all of the boxes were full, the Kapo would give the order to empty them all together into a rail car. When the car was full, it was attached to a train which went off to an unknown destination; then, two days later it ended up at the entrance at Ellrich where it had been sent to be unloaded and sorted. The Kommando in charge of this work at Ellrich sent to the storeroom at Dora all of the pieces that they had sorted out and had dumped in a heap. Thus was a whole Iot of scraps being endlessly sorted at the opposite ends of the Tunnel. And so, from incident to incident, from bombings to diminishing food supplies, from virtual conspiracies to sabotage and hangings, we reached the liberation.
During all this period I lived as batman to the Oberscharfuhrer in command of the company of dogs; it was easy work which included the polishing of his boots, the brushing of his uniforms, the making of his bed, the keeping of his room and his office meticulously clean, and the fetching of his meals from the S.S. canteen. Every morning at about eight my stint was done. I spent the rest of the time talking here and there, warming myself near the fire, reading newspapers, and listening to the T.S.F. When the S.S. cook gave me food for my Oberscharfuhrer at each meal, he surreptitiously gave me just as much for myself. In addition, the thirty S.S. men who lived in the Block gave me various jobs from time to time; they had me wash their mess kits, wax their boots, sweep out their rooms, etc... In return, they gave me their left-overs, which every night I took to friends. It was the good life.
This direct contact with the S.S. personnel made me see them in quite a different light than that in which they were universally seen in the camp. There was no possible comparison: in public they were brutes; taken individually, they were lambs. They looked at me with curiosity, they asked questions; then spoke on familiar terms with me; they wanted to know how I thought the war would turn out and took my opinion seriously. They were all men -- former miners, factory workers, plasterers -- who had been unemployed in 1933 and who the regime had taken out of their misery by giving them what they thought of as a bridge of gold. They were simple, and their intellectual level was extremely low. In exchange for the well-being that the regime had brought them, they carried out its more ignoble deeds and were at peace with their consciences, with morality, with the German fatherland, and with humanity. Although they were very sensitive to the bad luck that had befallen me when I was sent to Dora, they nevertheless, went among the prisoners in their charge with their heads high, haughty, unbending and without pity. Not once did the idea occur to them that the other prisoners were people like themselves, or even ... like me!
The anomalies in the administration were not generally obvious to them, and when by chance they did notice them, they quite sincerely attributed them to the H-Fuhrung (2) or to the general prisoner population. They did not understand how we could be so thin, so weak, so dirty, and so badly clothed. The Third Reich, after all, had furnished us with everything we needed: food, everything necessary to keep us perfectly clean, comfortable lodging in a camp as modern as possible, health recreations, music, lectures, sports, a Christmas tree, and so forth. And we did not know how to take advantage of it. That was proof that Hitler was right and that, with very rare exceptions, we belonged to a physically and morally inferior part of humanity! The idea never occurred to them that they might be responsible as individuals for the wrongs that were done under their eyes, or with their cooperation, unconscious or active. They were victims of the environment -- of that special environment -- in which, while breaking collectively with the restraints of tradition, all peoples, without distinction as to regime or nationality, founder periodically.
On March 10th, a group of female Bibelforscher (Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and conscientious objectors) arrived at Dora, followed by an order from Berlin stipulating that these women -- there were twenty-four of them -- were to be put to light work. Henceforth, the Schwung work was turned over to them. I was removed and sent back to camp. To escape a bad H-FuhrungKommando, I thought it wiser to take advantage of my state of health and to get hospitalized in the Revier; from the hospital windows I watched the bombardment of Nordhausen on April 3 and 5, 1945, two days before being taken in the evacuation transport, the account of which is included in the Prologue.
- The Haftlingsfuhrung of these satellite camps was in the hands of the "greens" which the " red" H-Fuhrung of Dora sent there to get rid of them and to prevent their return to power.
- The majority of the prisoners also felt that the H-Fuhrung was much more to blame than was the S.S. for the kind of life that they were forced to lead.
While we were in the camp, all of our conversations during rare moments of respite, were centered around three things: when the war was likely to end and our individual or collective chances of surviving to see that end, the food that we were going to eat after we were freed, and what might be called camp "gossip," although the word "gossip" seems inappropriate in view of the tragic reality of camp life. None of these topics offered much possibility for escaping from the actual situation of the moment. All three, on the other hand, separately or collectively, depending on the amount of time that we had to discuss them, brought us right back to the present with the use of a phrase like, "When we tell them about that..." said with such a tone and such a sinister look that it frightened me. Recognizing that I was powerless to do anything about these pangs of conscience, given the atmosphere of the place, I retired within myself and became an obstinately silent witness.
Instinctively I recalled the aftermath of the First World War: the veterans, their stories and all of their writings. There was no doubt in my mind that the coming post-war period would have, in addition, veteran prisoners and deportees who would go back to their homes with even more horrible memories than those of veteran soldiers. But, instead of merely telling their stories, the way seemed to be open for these veterans to vent their feelings in a spirit of hatred and vengeance. To the extent that I was able to distinguish my personal lot in the great drama that was being played, all the Montagues, all the Capulets, all the Armagnacs, and all the Burgundians of history, taking up all their quarrels from the beginning, began to dance, before my eyes in a frenzied saraband, on a stage enlarged to the size of Europe. I could not convince myself that the spirit of hatred, being kindled before my eyes, would be harnessed no matter how the conflict came out.
When I tried to envision the consequences of this smoldering hatred and when I remembered that I had a son, I had to ask myself whether it would not be better if no one returned. And, I even hoped that the higher authorities of the Third Reich would realize in time that they could only be pardoned by offering, in a gigantic and frightful holocaust, all that remained of the inmates in the camps, as a redemption for so much evil. In that state of mind, I had decided that if I ever got back from the camps, that I would practice what I preached, and I swore never to make the slightest reference to my experience in the camps.
For what seemed to me to be a very long time after my return to France, I stuck to my decision; but it was not easy to do.
First, I had to struggle against a natural inclination to want to tell my story. For example, I shall never forget a demonstration that in the very first days, the deportees had arranged at Belfort to mark their return. The whole town had gathered itself together to listen to their message. The great hall of the Maison du Peuple was full to bursting. Outside the square was thronged with people. Loud-speakers even had to be set up out in the street. My health did not permit me to be present at this demonstration, either as a speaker or listener, and I was very disappointed. But, my disappointment was even greater the next day when the local papers reported all that had been said; it was impossible to discern any statement of objectivity. My apprehensions about the hate-filled and distorted stories of the camp veterans had been confirmed. The crowd, however, was not fooled; never again could the same mass of people be gathered together for such a purpose.
I had also to struggle against others. Wherever I went, over a glass of wine or a cup of tea, there was always a distinguished parrot in the grip of emotion, who was discussing the deportation, or a well-wishing friend who thought he was doing me a favor by drawing attention to me by turning the conversation to the subject: "Is it true that?" "Do you think ...?" "What do you think of the book by ...?" All these questions irritated me. When they were not inspired by a perverse curiosity, they betrayed an uncertainty and a need to be reassured. Systematically I cut the talk short, a practice which sometimes provoked severe criticism.
I resented such criticism, and I blamed it upon my fellow deportees and their never ending publication of their stories, often imaginary, in which they gave themselves the airs of saints, heroes, or martyrs. As their writings collected on my desk like so many entreaties, I was sure that the time was coming when I would be forced to abandon my reserve and to relate my memories of my experiences as a deportee. Hence, I was not surprised when more than once I thought that the saying, attributed to Riera, that after every war all of the veterans should be killed without pity, was more than just a clever remark.
Then one day I realized that a false picture of the German camps had been created and that the problem of the concentration camps was a universal one, not just one that could be disposed of by placing it on the doorstep of the National Socialists. The deportees -- many of whom were Communists -- had been largely responsible for leading international political thinking to such an erroneous conclusion. I suddenly felt that by remaining silent I was an accomplice to a dangerous influence. And, at one sitting, without paying attention to literary style and in as simple as possible a form, I wrote my Le Passage de la ligne in an attempt to put things into proper perspective and in an attempt to bring people back to a sense of objectivity and, at the same time, to a better conception of intellectual honesty.
Next, the idea occurred to me that future discussions about the problem of concentration camps would benefit by starting with a general reconsideration of those things that were attributed to the German camps, drawn from the mass of testimonies that former prisoners have brought forth. As a consequence, I have gathered together the first elements of this reconsideration. This is the explanation and the justification for the Regard sur la Litterature concentrationaire (Survey of concentration camp literature) which is found in Chapters Eight through Eleven.
On the eve of the 1939 war, however, their opinions were very much questioned. Their experiences and the lessons from them were fully commented on in various ways, and the best that one can say is that public opinion was not kind to them. It sneered at their public statements, saying that they were in their dotage -- that was the word used -- and that their memories crowded into every conversation. The Ieaders of the national veteran associations, whose mission seemed to be limited to demands for fatter pensions were also criticized. Concerning the writings of the veterans, public opinion was just as categorical, and there was only one testimonial that it would acknowledge: Le Feu by Barbusse. When, in rare moments of good will, public opinion made an exception, it was for Galtier-Boissiere and for Dorgeles, but on other grounds: for the mocking obdurate pacifism of the one, and what it thought was the realism of the other.
Who can say what the real reasons were for this reversal of opinion? As I see it, the reasons all belong within the framework of this general truth: men are much more preoccupied with the future that they face than they are with the past from which there is nothing more to be gained. Consequently it is impossible to center people's lives around any event, no matter how extraordinary, especially a war, a phenomenon which tends to become commonplace and whose particular characteristics very rapidly become obsolete.
On the eve of 1914, my grandfather, who had not yet digested the war of 1870, used to talk about it interminably to my father, who yawned with boredom. On the eve of 1939, my father had not yet finished telling about his war, and, every time that he brought it up, I could not help thinking that Du Guesclin, rising up among us, full of pride in his deeds with his cross-bow, could hardly have been more ridiculous.
Thus are generations opposed to each other in their ideas. They are also opposed in their interests. Between the two wars, the rising generations had the feeling that it was impossible for them to make any attempt to realize their own destiny without coming up against the ex-service men, their pretensions, and their preferential rights. They had been given "rights over us." And they took advantage of it and kept pressing for more. But, there are rights which even the fact of having suffered through a long war and having won it, do not confer, particularly that of being the only ones fit to construct a peace, or, more modestly, the right to positions regardless of merit, whether they be in a tobacconist's shop, in a rural police station, or in a teaching post.
The divorce between the public and the veterans took place during the economic crisis of the Thirties. The rift was aggravated, about 1935, when the veterans forgot about the vows that they had made on their return from the battlefield and so easily accepted the possibility of another war, and when, at the same time, the public sentiment was for peace. It is another law of historical evolution that the young generations are pacifist, that through them, over the centuries, humanity progressively becomes firmer in its search for universal peace, and that war is always, in a certain measure, the rancor of old age.
In any case, there is one thing due the ex-service men of that war as well as of the last one: they told about their wars as they were. Almost every word, to read them or to listen to them, rings profoundly true, or, at least convincing. But this cannot be said of the deportees.
The deportees came back with hatred and resentment on their tongues and in their pens. They were not tired of war; rather they had an axe to grind and they demanded vengeance. Moreover, since they suffered from an inferiority complex -- there were only some 30.000 of them out of a population of 40 million inhabitants -- they wantonly created a story of horror for a public that always clamored for something more sensational in order the more surely to inspire pity and recognition.
The inflammatory fabrications of one deportee soon inspired similar stories by others, and they progressively were caught on a treadmill of lies. Although some deportees were duped by others in this process, most of them managed quite consciously to blacken the picture even more in their zeal to hold the limelight. So it was with Ulysses who, during the course of his voyage, each day added a new adventure to his Odyssey, as much to please the public taste of the times as to justify his long absence in the eyes of his family. But, if Ulysses succeeded in creating his own legend and in fixing the attention of twenty-five centuries of history on it, it is no exaggeration to say that the deportees failed to do so.
Everything was fine for the deportees during the very first days of the Liberation. One could not, without risk of being branded a "collaborator" question what they had to say, even if one would have felt like it. But slowly, the truth took its revenge. With the passage of time, with a return to freedom of speech, and with conditions more and more normal, it burst forth into the light. For example, one could write, sure of expressing the common uneasiness and of not being incorrect, that "Travelers from afar can lie with impunity... I have read many accounts by the deportees and always I felt the reserve, or the pressure. Even David Rousset, at moments, misleads us; he explains too much." (From a letter by Abbe Marius Perrin published in Le Pays Roannais, 27 October 1949), or that "La derniere etape is an imbecilic film that amounts to nothing." (From a letter by Robert Pernot published in Paroles francaises. 27 November 1949.)
It was fifteen years before the military veteran of World War Two lost prestige in the eyes of the public; it took less than four years for the deportees. Except for that difference, their political destiny was the same. Such is the importance of truth in history.
The scene takes place in a law court, in the fall of 1945. A woman is seated on the defendant's bench. The Resistance, which suspected her of collaboration, had not succeeded in killing her before the arrival of the Americans. Her husband, however, fell in a burst of machine gun fire, at the corner of a dark street one night in the winter of 1945. I never learned what the couple actually did, although I had heard, before my own arrest, the most improbable tales. In order to get to the bottom of it, I went to the hearing.
There is not much in her record. The witnesses are the more numerous and the more merciless. The principal one among them is a deportee, a former group leader of the local Resistance -- so he says! The judges are plainly embarrassed by the accusations whose substance seems to them to be very questionable.
The principal witness arrives. He explains that members of his group had been informed against to the Germans and that it could on}y have been by the accused and her husband who lived in their circle and knew their activities. He adds that he himself has seen the accused in friendly, possibly amatory, conversation with an officer of the Kommandantur, who lived over a court behind his parents' shop; that they exchanged papers, etc. The defense attorney then begins his cross-examination:
Attorney: "You used to go to this shop then?"
Witness: "Yes, just to keep track of this business."
Attorney: "Can you describe the shop?"
(The witness describes the counter, the shelves, the window at the back, gives the approximate dimensions, etc ...)
Attorney: "It was through the window at the back which looks out on the court that you saw the accused and the officer exchange papers?"
Attorney: "Then, you can describe just where they were when you saw them, and where you were in the shop?"
Witness: "The two of them were at the foot of a stairway which led to the officer's room, the accused with her elbows on the railing, and the other one very near her ..."
Attorney: "That's enough. (Turning to the court and holding a paper) Your Honor, there is no spot from which the stairway in question can be seen: here is a floor plan of the place drawn up by a draftsman."
(The Chief Judge examines the document, passes it to his colleagues, and admits the evidence.)
Chief Judge: "Do you adhere to your statement?"
Witness: "Well, that is ... It wasn't I who saw ... It was one of my agents who gave me the report at my request ... "
Chief Judge: "You may step down."
The rest of the affair has no importance at all, since the witness was not arrested on the spot for perjury and since the accused, having admitted that she had attended some courses at the Franco-German Institute, which, as she said, brought about a certain number of friendly relationships between herself and certain officers of the Kommandatur, was in the end sentenced to a term in prison for a number of things in which she was only implicated.
Even if the witness had been cross-examined further, such questioning would probably have revealed that the agent he claimed to have sent to make a report was non-existent and that his statement consisted of nothing but those "they says" which poison the atmosphere in those small towns where everybody knows everyone else.
It is not my intention to compare all of the writings that have appeared on the German concentration camps to this experience. My only object is to show that some were no better, even among those which were most popular. And that, aside from good or bad faith, there are so many imponderables which influence the witness that, one must always distrust History as it is told, especially when it is still warm.
Les jours de notre Mort, which established the prodigious talent of David Rousset, and which is discussed further in Chapter Ten, is, for example, a collection of the "they says" which ran through all of the camps and which could never be verified. It is upon this kind of questionable testimony that the author has culled the facts upon which he bases his particular interpretation. In this present work, which is concerned with truth and not with virtuosity, no extracts from it will be found.
On guard, so as not to fall into the error for which I was blaming others of talking about things a little too removed from my own experience, I deliberately gave up presenting a complete list of concentration camp literature of the time. Moreover, the number of witnesses was necessarily limited in each of the above-mentioned categories so as to keep this study in a manageable form: three minor witnesses (Abbe Robert Ploton; Frere Birin of the Ecoles chretiennes d'Epernay; and Abbe Jean-Paul Renard); a psychologist (David Rousset); and a sociologist (Eugen Kogon). In addition, there is a witness who defies> Since 1950, sustained and encouraged by the political policies which underpin the so-called "cold-war," concentration literature, which in turn supports those policies, has only grown and blossomed. For example it is no secret that there are certain features of the foreign policy of the United States which are expressly designed to prevent any serious breakdown of relations with the Soviet Union; the contrived danger of a re-birth of Naziism and Fascism in Europe is one of them. Both Stalin and Truman fully exploited this myth, the former to keep Europe from achieving economic and political unity and from integrating Germany into such a European community, and the latter to justify in part the huge cost of maintaining an army of occupation in Germany. And, Khrushchev continues to play the same game that Stalin played with Truman, with Kennedy ... but, with a little less luck?
About 1950, the idea was revived among many Europeans that Europe as -- a political entity--did exist. Formerly brought about by the haunting memory of the Franco-German wars, this pan-Europeanism was this time provoked by another obsession with two complementary aspects: on the one hand, the near certainty that, divided against itself, Europe was an easy prey for Communism; on the other hand, that no United Europe was possible without the integration of Germany. In Moscow and in Tel-Aviv, it was felt, from the first breath of this revival of pan-Europeanism that if it grew into a tempest, it could not fail to end in a united Europe, which would mean the political isolation of Russia and the end of the so-called reparation payments paid out by Germany to Israel. The counter-attack was not long in coming: two attacks, as remarkably synchronized as if they had been planned together ahead of time, were spear-headed by two propaganda organizations, the one with the title Comite pour la recherche des crimes et des criminels de guerre, located at Warsaw, and the other called the World Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, whose two most important branches are in TelAviv and in Paris. The target was Germany. The theme was that the horrors and atrocities that had been committed during the Second World War by the Nazis were a natural vocation of Germany. Therefore, in order to prevent a re-emergence of this horrible propensity, the Germans had to be kept under severe control and very carefully segregated. The first result of this policy of defamation was, so far as I know, the publication of Documentation sur l'extermination par les gaz (1950) by Helmut Krausnik; the second, was Medecin a Auschwitz (1951) by a certain Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew who was deported to that camp in May 1944, and the third was Le Breviaire de la Haine (1951) by Leon Poliakov. Since then the deluge has not stopped: every time that the least sign of rapprochement between Germany and the other European countries is seen (e.g., CECA., Common Market, Franco-German Treaty, etc ...) we get with the stamp of the Warsaw Committee or of an important member of the World Center for Jewish Documentation, or again, of the Munich Institut fur Zeitgeschichte, which is associated with the two, a study that each time amounts to an accusation more terrible than the last one. And, each time the world press supports the defamation with a spectacular publicity campaign. Thus have three publications appeared one after the other: Le Troisieme Reich et les Juifs (1953) by Leon Poliakov and Josef Wulf, I'Histoire de Joel Brand,un echange de 10,000 camions contre un million de juifs (1955); and Le Lagerkommandant d'Auschwitz parle, Memoires de Rudolf Hoess (1958). These volumes are among the best known; to cite them all, just a list without commentary would require an entire book. Recently, an anthology of this literature was compiled by a Comite d'etude de la seconde guerre mondiale, whose head office is in Paris and among whose directors are a woman by the name of Olga Wurmser of the World Center of Jewish Documentation, and a renowned unknown, who can put his hand to anything, by the name of Henri Michel. It contains excerpts from 208 author-witnesses, and I can add that it cites only those authors who strictly followed the Zionist and Communist lines because on the shelves of my library there are almost as many books which are not cited, although they are often just as accusatory, often more intelligently, and although they often have the same lack of respect for historical truth. Naturally, I was not included in this anthology which is entitled La Tragedie de la Deportation (1962). What makes one despair is that there are historians who are intellectually dishonest enough to support these works with their authority: Labrousse and Renouvin in France, and Rothfels in Germany arnong others ... From the United States has come Raul Hilberg, whose book, The Destruction of the European Jews (1961), is surely the most important of all the works that have been published on the question and the one that has best succeeded in giving the appearance--the appearance only -- of being a serious and objective study. Because of its importance, I have devoted the third section of this work to an examination of The Destruction of the European Jews, as well as other historical studies. Finally, to be thorough one should also cite the films, whose purpose is to condition public opinion, that have been taken from this literature: La Derniere Etape, Kapo, the Nuremberg Documents, etc....
The reader may be tempted to place this survey of the concentration camp drama, with regard to its over-all tragic consequences alone, on the human plane, and perhaps to find that I included too much detail. If I point out that the deportation trains from France to Germany carried a hundred persons per car in cars that were intended to hold forty at a maximum, and not a hundred and twenty-five as some have claimed, it will be observed that the fact scarely mitigates the conditions of the trip. If I point out that a camp bore the name Belsen-Bergen and not Bergen-Belsen, that fact certainly does not alter the lot of those who were interned there. If I claim that the word Kapo is derived from the first letters of the German phrase Konzentrationslager Arbeitpolizei, instead of coming from the Italian Il Capo, that fact does not excuse the brutalities that were committed by the prisoner police. And, the bad working conditions, the hunger, the tortures, etc ..., whether they took place in one camp or in another, whether the one reporting them saw them or not, whether they were the acts of the S.S. themselves or carried out by the prisoner trustees whom they chose at random from among the inmates, were still inhuman and brutal treatment.
I would like to make the observation, in my turn, that a whole is composed of details, and that an error of detail, whether made in good or bad faith, regardless of whether it is of a kind that is intended to mislead the observer, must logically make the observer doubt the reliability of the whole; and if there are many errors in detail ...? And if they are almost all shown to be made in bad faith ...?
I shall make myself better understood by referring to a news item that filled all of the papers a few years ago. Just before the outbreak of the 1939 war, a foreign student, taking advantage of a momentary distraction on the part of the guards, stole a painting by Watteau called l'Indifferent from the Louvre. A few days later the painting was recovered, but the student, in the meantime, had made a slight modification to it: disturbed by that hand raised in a gesture which all of the experts said was something that had been left untinished by the artist, the student had rested it on a cane that he had added. This cane did nothing to change the figure. On the contrary it harmonized marvelously with the pose. But, it emphasized the figure's indifference, and noticeably changed the interpretation one could place on his reasons for it and his purposes. Moreover, one could argue that quite another interpretation could have been made if, instead of the cane, a pair of gloves had been put into the figure's hand, or if a bouquet of fowers had negligently been dropped from it. In spite of the fact that no one could swear that Watteau had not intended that the cane be included in the picture, the cane was effaced and the painting was put back in its place. If the curators had let the cane remain no one would have noticed anything amiss either in the painting itself or in the general appearance of the painting galleries of the Louvre. But, if, instead of confining himself to correcting l'Indifferent, our student had taken it into his head to eliminate all of the enigmas of all of the other paintings, if he had put a velvet mask over the smile of the Joconde, rattles in all the outstretched hands of the little Jesuses Iying astonished on the knees and in the arms of spell-bound Virgins, spectacles on Erasmus; and if all that had been allowed to remain, one can imagine how all of those little changes would have changed the general appearance of the entire Louvre collection!
The errors that can be found in the testimonies of the deportees are of the same kind as the cane of l 'Indifferent, without modifying noticeably the picture of the camps, they have falsified the sense of History. Moreover, by taking these errors collectively, the viewer is confronted with a distorted picture of a similar magnitude as if he had gone through the Louvre's collection of paintings, after they had been thoroughly corrected.
The same will hold true for the reader if he will reserve his judgment, both on the secondary works and the documents which I indict and on the conclusions which certain historians who are obviously in the service of a cause, have drawn from them, and if he will ask himself apart from all other considerations whether these documents and interpretations could be upheld in their entirety before a properly constituted court of law, that is, one that is not a kangaroo court like the Nuremberg Tribunal!(1)
- [This view is not unique to Paul Rassinier. For example, William O. Douglas, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, observed that he "... thought at the time and still think[sl that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled. Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time .... " For additional strong "anti-Nuremberg" views by numerous notables who were in the highest echelons of the Allied governments during World War Two, see, H. K. Thompson, Jr. and Henry Strutz, eds., Doenitz at Nuremberg: A Re-appraisal (New York: Amber Publishing, 1976).]
These witnesses recount only what they saw or what they claim to have seen, without much comment. Criticism here pertains only to details, which are often small. While the great enigmas of the concentration camp problem can only he approached through the major witnesses, the others cannot be overlooked.
l. Frere BirinFrere Birin, whose real name is Alfred Untereiner, published a chronological account of his experiences at Buchenwald and Dora entitled 16 mois de bagne (Reims: Matot-Braine 1946). In the prologue, he relates the circumstances that led to his arrest and deportation. He was arrested in December 1943, was deported to Buchenwald on January 17, 1944, and was transferred to Dora the following March 13th. We were in the same deportation convoy and in the same transport from Buchenwald to Dora. Our registration numbers were also close together: 43,649 for him, and 44,364 for me.
We were liberated together. But, inside the camp we fared differently:Thanks to the perfect knowledge that he had of the German language, because of his Alsatian origin, he managed to get himself assigned as secretary of the Arbeitsstatistik (work statistics office ) a particularly privileged position, while I shared the common lot until sickness interrupted. As secretary of the Arbeitsstatistik, he rendered innumerable services to a large number of prisoners! Especially to the French. His devotion was without limits. Implicated in a plot which I have always believed was without substance, he was incarcerated in the camp's prison for the last four or five months of his deportation. He is presently teaching, if I am not mistaken, in the Ecoles chretiennes, at Epernay.
Frere Birin claims that 16 mois de bagne is a faithful account. "I wish nevertheless only to give an account of what I have seen," writes the author (page 38). Perhaps indeed he believes this quite sincerely. But we shall see how faithful it really is. He writes that in the deportation train from the Compiegne station "They made us get into an '8 chevaux 40 hommes ' car... but 125 of us." (page 28)
What really happened when we left the Royallieu camp was this: the guards lined us up in columns of fives and in groups of 100, each group destined for one rail car. Fifteen or twenty sick men had been brought to the station by automobile, and they had a rail car all to themselves. The last group in the long line which that morning was strung out along the streets of Compiegne between heavily armed German soldiers, was short of men. It consisted of some forty persons who were disbursed among all the cars, after all of the complete groups had boarded. We got three in our car which brought our number to one hundred and three. I doubt that there were any special reasons why the car in which Frere Birin found himself should have taken on twenty-five. At any rate even if that were the case he should in all honesty have shown it to be an exception.
He describes our arrival at Buchenwald as follows:
Everyone arriving had to be disinfected. First of all, the shearings where ex tempore barbers, amused at our confusion and at the gashes which in haste or carelessness they gave us, mocked us. Like a flock of sheep shorn of their fleece, the prisoners rushed pell-mell into a big tank of water strongly dosed with Cresyl. Streaked with blood, dirty with filth, this bath served the entire detachment. Harried with clubs, heads had to be plunged under the water. At the end of each session, drowned bodies were dragged out of that despicable basin (Page 35, emphasis added )
The reader, not forewarned, will not fail to think that these ex tempore barbers who mocked and gashed us were the S.S., and that the clubs that beat the heads were held by the same. Not at all, they were prisoners. And, since the S.S. were absent from this operation, which they only supervised from a distance, no one made the prisoner barbers behave the way they should, have. But, because this detail is omitted, the entire responsibility seems to fall on the S.S.. This confusion, which I shall not point out again, is maintained all through the book, an in the same way.
Concerning the camp schedule, Frere Birin writes:
Very early rising, food clearly insufficient for twelve hours of work: one liter of soup, two to two hundred and fifty grams of bread, twenty grams of margarine. (Page 40)
Why did he forget, or neglect to mention, the half-liter of coffee each morning and night, and the round of sausage or the spoon of cheese or jam which regularly came with the margarine? The fact that the food was insufficient would not have been lessened and the honesty of the information given would have suffered less. He then goes on to say:
Since March, twelve hundred French, I among them were designated for an unknown designation. Before our departure we were issued convict's clothes, striped blue and white: Jacket and trousers only which could not protect us from the cold. (Page 41, emphasis added.)
I was in that convoy. Everyone was issued, in addition an overcoat. If this clothing could not protect us from the cold, it was not because there were not enough pieces but because the pieces were badly worn.
He describes the Dora camp as follows:
The installation of the camp at Dora began in November 1943 (Page 40)
Actually, the first convoy arrived there on August 28, 1943, exactly. Concerning our reception at Dora, he writes:
There, as at Buchenwald, the S.S. were waiting for us at the unloading of the cars. A road furrowed with ruts full of water led to the camp. We ran along it at race speed. The Nazis with big boots on, chased us and let their dogs loose on us... This new style of "corrida" was punctuated with many gun shots and inhuman yells... (Pages 43-44, emphasis added.)
I have no recollection that dogs were set on us or that any guns were fired. On the contrary, I remember very well that the Kapos and Lagerschutz (camp police composed of prisoners) who came to take charge of us were much more aggressive and brutal than the S.S. who had convoyed us.
Before going on to the serious errors, I would like still to point out two more which are not so serious but which expose the lack of accuracy of Birin's testimony, all the more so when one recalls that the author was, through his duties in the camp, in control of job placement which eliminates any excuse:
I will only mention that good old doctor Mathon, nicknamed Papa Girard ...(Page 81 )
For ten months I always carried on my person the Holy Reservation. Priests, constantly risking death, kept me always replenished. I should mention here Abbe Bourgeois, the R.P. Renard, Trappist, and that dear Abbe Amyot d'lnville. (Page 87)
For one thing, there was at Dora a doctor Mathon and a doctor Girard . The Iatter was very old and it was he who we had nicknamed "good Papa Girard." For another, Abbe Bourgeois died in the second month after he came to Dora, between the 10th and the 30th of April, 1944 before the departure of a transport of the sick, among whom he was supposed to have been included. He, therefore could not have kept Frere Birin supplied for ten months. One might also add that if the priests were maltreated for the same reasons as the other deportees, and even more because of their religious calling, they still were not risking death by keeping in their possession the Holy Reservation.
Now to turn to the serious errors that Frere Birin includes in his account. He writes that:
The wives of the S.S. also picked out their victims, and with even more cynicism than their husbands. What they wanted were fine human skins, artistically tattooed To humor them, an assembly was ordered on the parade grounds, Adam naked was the rule. Then, these women went up and down the ranks, as if at a style show, and made their choices. (Pages 73-74)
It is not correct to say that these things took place at Dora. There was one case of a lamp shade made of tattoed human skin at Buchenwald. It figures in the case of Ilse Koch, who was called "the Bitch of Buchenwald." And, even at Buchenwald, Frere Birin could not have been present at the selection of the victims, as is claimed in his statement that is already cited from page 38, since these incriminating activities took place before we arrived at Buchenwald, if, in fact, they ever did take place at all. He gives to this selection of victims the feeling that it was something that happened regularly and as a matter of course and that his description is quite precise. If the person who had placed the event at Buchenwald, in the first place, from having seen evidence of the crime (the lamp shades in question), did so in the same fashion, how can one avoid thinking that the accusation against Ilse Koch rests on very fragile grounds? (1)
To conclude the matter, I shall point out that from February through March 1944, a camp rumor at Buchenwald maintained that two Kapos, one from the Steinbruch (quarry) and the other from the Gartnererei (garden) were responsible for that crime, which earlier had been perpetrated by them with the complicity of almost all of their colleagues. The two comrades had, it was said, made a business of the killing of tattooed prisoners, whose skins they sold for various favors to llse Koch and others, through the intermediary of the Kapo of the crematorium service and of some S.S. personnel who looked the other way. But did the wife of the commandant of the camp, and the other wives of officers walk around the camp looking for fine tattoo specimens, whose owners they themselves designated to be killed for their skins? Did they organize roll-calls in the nude to facilitate this search? These allegations I can neither confirm nor deny. All that I can say is that, contrary to what Frere Birin attests, these things never took place at Dora, nor at Buchenwald, during our common internment there.
Where there was a sure case of sabotage, the hanging was carried out in a more cruel fashion. Those about to be executed were lifted up from the ground very slowly by an electric winch. Not getting the fatal jerk that kills the victim and often breaks his neck, the poor men went through all the stages of agony ...
Other times a butcher's hook was placed under the jaw of the condemned man who was thus hung in that barbarous manner. (Page 76 )
It is true that at the end of the war -- i.e., between the end of 1944 and the end of the spring of 1945 -- acts of sabotage became so numerous that groups of guilty men were hanged at a time The S. S. took to holding executions in the Tunnel itself with the use of a pulley worked by a winch, and not just on the parade grounds with gallows that looked like the goal posts on the ends of football fields. On March 8, 1945, nineteen condemned men were hanged in this way, and on Palm Sunday fifty-seven were executed. Palm Sunday, incidentally, was eight days before the Liberation, when we could even hear the Allied cannon very near and when the outcome of the war could not have been in any doubt in the minds of the S. S.! But, the story of the butcher's hook, which was told about Buchenwald, where the instrument was found in the crematory oven, was unlikely to have been true of Dora. In any case, I never heard anything about it in the camp itself and it did not fit in with the way things were done at Dora.
On the instigation of the notorious Oberscharfuhrer Sanders, S. S., with whom I had something to do, other methods of execution were used for the saboteurs.
The unfortunates were made to dig narrow ditches, in which their comrades were forced to bury them up to the neck. They were left for a certain length of time. After that an S. S. with a long handled axe cut off their heads.
But the sadism of some of the S. S. led them to discover an even more cruel death. They ordered other prisoners to pour barrow loads of sand over their poor heads. I am still haunted by the looks, etc ...(Page 77)
This, too, was never done at Dora. But the story was told to me in almost the same words, in that camp, by prisoners who had been transferred there from other camps and who all claimed to have been present at the scene: Mauthausen, Birkenau, Flossenburg, Neuengame, etc... Back in France I came across references to it by various writers; but none concerned Buchenwald or Dora because it was not desirable to place the story, in a written testimony, at a camp where it did not take place. French public opinion, catching an author in a deliberate error, would have become suspicious about all the accounts concerning all of the camps, and German public opinion also would have made an issue of this lie.
Concerning the fate of the deportees, Frere Birin reports as follows:
As Geheimnistraeger (those who knew the secret of the Vl and V2) we knew we were condemned to death and destined to be massacred as soon as the Allies approached (Page 97)
Here it is not a question of a fact but of speculation. Such speculation was engaged in by all the writers of memoirs about the camps up to and including Leon Blum in Le Dernier Mois. Blum found some semblance of justification for his speculation in the drownings in the Baltic of some deportees who a short time before Liberation were loaded onto boats which were set adrift and which were allegedly sunk from the shore by gunfire. In addition, he pointed to the statement of an S. S. doctor at Dora who confirmed the existence of secret orders to that effect, and who, in so doing, saved his own life.
In any case, the Geheimnistraeger at Dora were not massacred; nor was anyone in the evacuation convoy in which Leon Blum was included. For a long time it was maintained that the absence of massacres, which was the case in all the camps, resulted solely because, in the turmoil of the German collapse, the S.S. had neither the time nor the means to carry out their sinister execution plans. Then one day, January 6, 1951, light was thrown suddenly on the worth of that assumption On that day, in Le Figaro litteraire, Mr. Jacques Sabille, of the Center of Jewish Documentation at Paris wrote under the title "Un Juif négocie avec Himmler" that:
It was thanks to pressure from Gunther, put on Himmler through the intermediary of Kersten (his personal physician), that the fratricidal order to sack the camps at the approach of the Allies --without sparing the guards -- remained a dead letter.
This means that this order, supposedly received by everyone, and brandished with such forceful indignation against the accused at Nuremberg, although not one of the prosecutors could produce a copy of it, was never given by anyone who had the authority to issue it. In 1960, in the Les Mains du Miracle, a study by Dr. Kersten, Joseph Kessel confirmed this account unreservedly.
For having testified that the order actually did exist, Dr. Piazza, the S.S. physician at Dora, saved his life, and a number of good marks were awarded him, among them the following statement, made on the 25th day of June, 1954, at the Struthof Trial, by Dr. Bogaerts, Major-Doctor at Etterbeek (Belgium):
I had managed to get myself detailed to the infirmary of the camp, and there I was under S.S. Doctor Piazza's orders, the only man at Struthof with any humane feelings.
Now at Dora, where this Dr. Piazza assumed the position of head doctor of the camp, opinion was unanimous in putting the responsibility on him for all that was inhuman in the diagnosis and treatment of illness in the camp. The reports from the Revier (infirmary) were crammed with his misdeeds, which, it was said, his assistant Dr. Kuntz was only able to mitigate with great difficulty. Those who knew him at Struthof spoke of him in horrifying terms. I personally had contact with him and agree with all those in the same position: he was a brute among brutes. Back in France, I was surprised to see so many certificates of good behavior given--by privileged prisoners, true--to a man whom everyone at the camp, even the better disposed, wanted to see hanged. I could only understand it after I had learned that he had been the first, and for a long time the only one, to attest to the authenticity of the order to destroy all of the camps on the approach of the Allies, and to murder all of their occupants, guards included. It was his reward for false testimony; the worth of which at the time could not be known, but which was indispensable for the fabrication of a theory itself indispensable to a policy!
As for the drownings in the Baltic, it has long been a question as to whether they were an isolated instance, due to the excessive zeal of underlings, or whether they were part of a general plan drawn up in various departments on the initiative of Himmler, head of the German Police, and later Minister of the Interior. In reality this is what took place: On the 3rd of May, 1945, in the roads at Neustadt near Lubeck, three ships that were loaded with deportees, who, by an agreement between Himmler and Count Folke Bernadotte, were to be transported to Sweden and from there repatriated to their various countries, were waiting for the order to sail; they were the Cap Arcona, the Deutschland, and the Thielbeck. On that same day, the three ships were attacked by British aircraft, which persisted for hours in the attack, even though the people on the ships hoisted up, from the moment of the first bomb, white flags, and spread out on the decks all the linen, towels, sheets, etc. that they had. But, nothing worked, and the attack was not ended until the pilots decided that no one was left alive on board.
There were 7,000 dead, buried in a cemetery especially made for them. Most of the victims were of foreign nationalities and came from thirty different countries. However, prior to the burial, the mass of bodies that had been taken out of the smoldering ships was piled up on the shore. Photographs and films made of the corpses -- piled like so much cordwood --were circulated all over the world, and the commentaries of many journalists made them appear as a new atrocity to add to Germany's charge. This was all the easier since the shore batteries of the German D.C.A. had opened fire on the British warplanes, and that fact provided a perfect occasion for spreading the word that the Germans had fired on the three ships, under orders.
The mystery has been cleared up for almost ten years now. It is known that the three ships were destroyed by an attack of British warplanes. This fact is admitted by historians all over the world, even those of the World Center of Jewish Documentation and the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte at Munich. But in La Tragédie de la Déportation (1962) Madame Olga Wurmser and Mr. Henri Michel still maintain that the drownings in the Baltic were the work of German artillery which had fired on the three ships from the shore. And, no one contests their error -- not even the Center of Jewish Documentation or the Institut fur Zeitgeschichte of Munich, which not only let it stand but which continue to give praise to that "remarkable work."
II. Abbe Jean-Paul RenardDeported with registration number 39,727, Abbe Jean-Paul Renard preceded Frere Birin and myself by several weeks to Buchenwald; it was Dora where we met him again. He published a collection of poems inspired by a sometimes moving mysticism with the title Chaines et Lumières. These poems consist of a series of spiritual reactions rather than any attempt at objective testimony. One of them, nevertheless, enumerates some facts: J'ai vu, j'ai vu, et j'ai vécu... Frere Birin published it in an appendix to his own work, which has been discussed in the first section of this chapter. One of the poems reads:
"I saw going into the showers thousands and thousands of persons over whom poured out, instead of liquid, asphyxiating gases. I saw those who were unfit for work injected in the heart."
Actually, Abbe Jean-Paul Renard saw nothing of the kind because gas chambers did not exist either at Buchenwald or at Dora. As for the injections, it was not done at Buchenwald at the time he went through there. When I pointed that fact out to him at the beginning of 1947, he answered, "Right, but that's only a figure of speech... and since those things existed somewhere, it is of no importance."
I found his reasoning delightful. At the moment I did not dare to retort that the Battle of Fontenoy was also an historical reality, but that was no reason for saying, even as a figure of speech, that he had been present. Nor did I say that, if twenty eight thousand survivors of the Nazi camps had claimed that they had been present at all of the horrors set forth by all of the testimonies, the camps would assume, in the eyes of history, quite a different image than if each survivor had confined himself to telling only what he had actually seen. Nor did I mention that it was in our interest that not one of us should be guilty of lying or exaggeration.
When, in July 1947, J'ai vu, j'ai vu et j'ai vécu appeared in Chaines et Lumieres, I had the satisfaction of noting that, although the author had allowed his testimony on the injections to remain in its entirety, he had nevertheless honestly attributed his statement on them as well as on the gas chambers to another prisoner, who, in turn, had laid the responsibility on still another deportee.
III. Abbe Robert PlotonAbbe Robert Ploton was curé at the Nativité at St. Etienne and presently is curé at Firminy. He was deported to Buchenwald with the number 44,015, in January, 1944, in the same convoy with me. We ended up together in Block 48, which we left, also together, for Dora. His account of his deportation, entitled Montluc a Dora, was published by Dumas in March, 1946 at St. Etienne.
Montluc a Dora is an unpretentious testimony of 90 pages. Abbe Ploton states the facts simply, as he saw them, without going into much detail and often without checking himself. Manifestly he is quite sincere, and if he sins, it is out of a natural predisposition for the superficial heightened by the eagerness with which he recounts his memories.
For example, when the German collapse came, he was sent to Bergen-Belsen. But, he writes "Belsen-Bergen" throughout the chapter in which he tells about this, so that one cannot think that it was a mere typographical error. And he misses other facts: In Block 48, at Buchenwald, he heard someone say, "We are under the orders of a German prisoner, Communist ex-deputy of the Reichstag," (Page 26), and he accepted that statement as being fact. Actually, the particular Block Chief in question, Erich, was only the son of a Communist deputy.
As concerns the camp food, it is doubtless in the same manner that he writes:
On principle, the daily menu consisted of a liter of soup, 400 grams of a very heavy bread, 20 grams of margarine extracted from coal, and a dessert which varied: sometimes a spoon of jam, sometimes white cheese, or again some ersatz sausage. (Page 63-64)
So many people have said that the margarine was made from coal, and without being questioned, that the exact origin of that product is no longer brought up. After all, Louis MartinChauffier did even better in writing that:
It seems that nothing pleases them [the S.S.] unless it is artificial; and the margarine that they stingily distributed to us derived all its flavor from having been a product made from coal. [The cardboard box was labelled "Guaranteed to contain no fat." ] (L'Homme et la bete, Page 95)
When Abbe Ploton undertakes to speak of the categories of prisoners he finds eight> One of the most effective and ignoble ways to moral degradation, inspired by the instructions in "Mein Kampf; " is to charge a few prisoners, chosen almost exclusively from the Germans, with the policing of the camp. (Page 28, emphasis added.)
He does not know that this ignoble procedure is used, precisely because it is effective, in all the prisons of the world, and that that was the case long before Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (2). Shall we recall that Dante n 'avait rien vu, by Albert Londres, establishes France in the application of this system in her prisons and jails?
On the duration of the roll-calls, which plagued all of the prisoners, here is the explanation that he gives:
We wait for the count to be verified, a laborious job the length of which depends on the humor of the S.S. Rapport-Fuhrer. (Page 59, emphasis added.)
The length of the roll-calls, if it depended on the humor of the Rapport-Fuhrer, also depended upon the competence of those persons who were in charge of establishing every day the number of the men present. Among them there were S.S. personnel who generally knew how to count, but there were also illiterate, or almost so, prisoners who had become clerks in the Arbeitsstatistik only as a favor. It must not be forgotten that the employment of each prisoner in a concentration camp was determined by his ability to get around and not by his ability to do the job. At Dora, as everywhere else, it happened that masons became accountants, accountants became masons or carpenters, wheelwrights became doctors or surgeons, and it could even happen that a doctor or a surgeon became a fitter, an electrician or an earth-works laborer.
Concerning the injections, Abbe Ploton sides with the general view:
Meanwhile the infirmary had to be expanded and an increasing number of its barracks were built on the hillside. Those with incurable tuberculosis ended their poor existence there as a result of an euthanasia injection.
This practice, as I have explained in earlier pages, is not true.
With the exception of these remarks, this witness is not tainted by a mania for exaggeration. He is simply crushed by an experience which was too much for him. And the inaccuracies of which he is guilty are only minor when compared with those of Frere Birin; they also carry much less influence. But, a concern for objectivity, nevertheless, requires that they be noted.
- So fragile was the case against llse Koch that the Augsburg Court of Assizes, dealing with the case, refused to hold her for trial due to the lack of evldence.
- See Appendix A to this volume: La discipline a la Maison centrale de Riom, in 1939, by Pierre Bernard, who was interned there, and Dans les prisons de la "Liberation" a testimony given by A. Paraz.