About The Author
Paul Rassinier was born on March 18, 1906, in Beaumont, a small village near Montbéliard, the son of a farmer. He received his formal education in the schools of the area and passed the necessary examinations which allowed him to teach history and geography at the secondary school level and to use the title of "professor." He taught in the secondary school at Faubourg de Montbéliard where students were prepared to take the "brevet," an examination that is somewhat inferior to that examination which is taken by students in the lycées who desire to matriculate at the university. It was at this school that he was arrested by the Gestapo in October 1943.
Having joined the Socialist Party, SFIO, in 1934, Paul Rassinier became the head of that party in the Belfort area when the war broke out in 1939. Following the German occupation of France, he participated in the founding of the "Libre Nord" organization which became involved in various forms of "passive resistance," including the smuggling of Jewish refugees over the Franco-Swiss border into Switzerland in cooperation with the Swiss Jewish Committee. Rassinier's activities eventually came to the attention of the German authorities who caused him to be arrested and to be deported to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Later he was sent to the camp at Dora where he was incarcerated until the end of the war.
Upon his liberation in 1945, he returned to France where he was elected to the Assemblée Nationale as a Socialist deputy. He served for one year and then retired He was awarded the highest decoration which the French government bestowed for service in the wartime resistance movement. Due to his frail health, a consequence of his two years of imprisonment at Buchenwald and Dora, he retired from teaching and received a small pension from the French government. He died on July 29. 1967, at his home in Asnieres, near Paris. He is survived by his wife, Jeanette, and his only son, Jean-Paul, who is a practising physician
2. Swarms of Humanity at the Gates of Hell
3.The Circles of Hell
4. Charon's Bark
5. Port of Grace; Anteroom of Death
7. Concentration Camp Literature
8. The Minor Witnesses
9. Louis Martin-Chauffier
10. The Psychologists: David Rousset and the Universe of the Concentration Camp
11. Eugen Kogon and L'Enfer Organise
12. Raul Hilberg: His Doctrine and His Methods
13. Witnesses, Testimonies, and Documents
14. Statistics: Six Million or ...
15. Conclusion: Six Million Exterminated Jews -- Fact or Fiction
HERE: Ch. 1-3
The train, a long line of cars grinding along the rails. slowly disappeared into the blackness. The engine, a locomotive of another era, sweated, blew and strained, coughed and spat. slipped and back-fired. A hundred times it hesitated. and a hundred times it seemed to refuse to make the effort expected of it.
It rained unceasingly. In the gondola car open to the sky. were eighty huddled cringing bodies, intertangled, on top of each other. Were they living? Were they dead? No one could say. In the morning they woke once more, frozen in their miserable rags; they were emaciated and hollow with their eyes staring out, feverish and dazed. With a superhuman effort they shook themselves. They were aware of the daylight. They felt the rain -- the stinging slashes of the rain -- go through their ragged clothing, to their thin and hardened flesh. reaching to the very bone. They arched their backs with an imperceptible shudder. Perhaps, they were just beginning to make those thousands of instinctive, waking up movements, when they saw themselves reflected in each other's eyes. Through the fog of fever and the sheet of water falling from the skies, they noticed the men in uniform, armed to the teeth, planted in the four corners of the car, impassive but vigilant. Then they remembered. They realized their destiny, and with a start, dejected and overwhelmed, they fell back into that half sleep, that half life, that half death.
It rained, and rained, on and on. A heavy fetid air rose from the mass of bodies, and disappeared into the cold wetness of the night.
When they had left there were a hundred of them. They had been collected together in a hurry, with dogs at their heels and thrown pell-mell in groups into the train, under blows and shouted commands. They were horror stricken when they found themselves about to leave from the small platform, without provisions for the journey. Suddenly they understood that a great ordeal was beginning.
"Achtung, Achtung!" they were warned. "On your feet during the day; sit down during the night!... Nicht Verschwinden Any breaking of the rule, sofort erschossen ! understand?"
The open car, the cold, and the rain, that was one thing- that had been seen before. But, nothing to eat, nothing to eat!
To cap their misery, for weeks there had not been an ounce of bread in the camp, and they had had to make do with supplies from the storage pits: plain soup of rutabaga, a quart sometimes half a quart, and small potatoes, in the evening, after a long, hard day of work. Nothing to eat. Everything else vanished before this menace. The sound of the Americans seven and a half miles away barely reached them.
Standing during the day, sitting down at night...! Before the end of the first night, three or four of them who had shown too precipitately a desire to satisfy a pressing need, were seized by the collar, smacked brutally against the high wall of the car and executed point blank: Craa-ack! against the wood, craa-ack! They did it in their pants, cautiously at first, holding themselves so as to soil themselves as little as possible; then, progressively they gave up.
Three or four others who had fallen down with exhaustion during the following day, were coldly finished off with a bullet in the head. Craa-ack! against the floor, craa-ack! The bodies were tossed out, as the train rolled along, after the registration numbers were removed. At the beginning of the third night, the ranks were considerably thinned, and fear gave way to terror, and terror to complete resignation. Abandoned was any urge to escape this hell, any urge to live; they let themselves die in their own excrement.
And still it rained, on and on and on. A little breeze riffled across the convoy, and the bit of canvas, that make-shift shelter under which in each corner the guard passed his long hours of watch, was lifted. It was as if the miasma were blown away, and the S.S. man, nervous at first, fussing about although in a determined way, suddenly became concerned. For some time, fewer rifle shots were heard, and there was less machine gun chattering. The dogs themselves-oh those dogs!-barked and yelped less at the numerous stops. In 48 hours, due to the constant changing of direction from side-track to side-track, the train was less than twelve and a half miles from where it started. Late in the afternoon it set off toward the southwest, after having tried the north, the south, and east in vain. If this track was cut like the others, it would mean that we were trapped and that we would be taken. The S.S. guards frowned, and then passed the news on from car to car, throughout the length of the train. "We are trapped, we will be captured!" They were completely bowled over. They were going to be captured, and all of these half conscious prostrate bodies were going to come back to life, rise up to accuse them; they would be caught red-handed.
Still, during the morning we heard them frequently calling out questions to each other with guttural voices, cracking jokes, and laughing coarsely at the sad and disabused girls who all along the right of way gave them back only occasional and melancholy encouragement. Now they were silent, only the click of a lighter, or the red end of a cigarette, from time to time broke this death-like silence, or disturbed the thick and humid obscurity of the night.
It rained endlessly, on and on. On top of this, the wind had become stronger. It began to whistle sharply between the boards, and the water came down in torrents. The canvas cover over one S.S. guard ballooned up, and its props gave way. Suddenly, the tent cloth began to flutter like a flag and to flap against the wall of the car. The S.S. swore. Then, grumbling and swearing, he tried in vain to repair the damage. If he got it attached on one side, the wind tore it off on the other! "Gott Verdammt ! "
After two futile attempts he gave up. Suddenly, he turned toward the nearest of the miserable creatures, and gave a few shoves with his knee. "Du," he cried. "du... Du. blöder Hund!" Blöder Hund? The man heard, understood where the cry came from, automatically collected all the strength left in him, and got up frightened. When he saw what he was expected to do, he felt a little reassured. He raised himself onto the top of the wooden side of the car where he balanced on his hands and knees. Then, very carefully so as not to fall over the other side onto the road bed, he brought in the canvas, and helped the guard to fix the corners onto the supports.
"Fertig?" (Finished? ) "Ja, Herr S. S. "
And, then an extraordinary thing happened. He came to his senses all of a sudden. All of a sudden the thought came to him that he was on his knees on the top edge of the wall, that his two legs were turned toward the outside, that the train was not moving very fast, that it was raining, that the night was black, and that the Americans were perhaps seven or so miles away, that freedom... Freedom, oh liberty! With that evocation, a sudden madness filled him who just a little while before was afraid of falling-oh irony-a light filled his brain, flooded his whole being: "Ja... " he repeated; then cried, "Ja! Ja! Ja!...a...a... ah!"
Before the S.S. guard even had time to register surprise, the man, the half-dead skeleton, tightened his muscles in one supreme effort, propped his poor thin arms on the edge of the board, and threw himself backward. He heard the crackling of gunfire ringing in his head, and he still found the strength, the astonishing lucidity, to realize that he had fallen into a spot, that was out of the line of fire. He felt himself caught there, body and soul, and he collapsed into the nothingness of unconsciousness. A machine gun continued to fire: Tch!... Tch!... Clac! Tcheretchstche !... Clac !... Tch !... Clac ! Taratatata !... Tche!... Tche!... Tche!... Tche!... The locomotive sweated and blew, hesitated, slid and back-fired, and the train moved on. The guns stopped spitting death. Little by little the great indifferent silence of nature asleep closed over the drama going on, disturbed only by the hissing of the rain that now became steady with the dying of the wind. It rained on and on and on.
First, two eyes tried to open, but the heavy eyelids sank down in a sudden reflex, as though the head were under water.
His dry throat contracted to salivate and brought up the taste of earth on his tongue. An arm sketched a movement which was paralyzed in mid air by a sharp pain in the elbow, dull at the shoulder. Then, nothing more; the man lost himself again in a strange sense of well-being, and actually thought that he was falling asleep.
Suddenly, a shiver came over him and enveloped him. His chest was bared of its wet covering, brrr!... He wanted to curl himself up to get warm. Then, he tried to wake up. his eyelids fluttered nervously, and he forced them to stay open. He stared into the opaque blackness.
A desire to cough rose up from his lungs and shattered him. He had the feeling that his body was acting in sections, independently and aching, in the dripping grass, and on the muddy ground.
He tried to think. Like a knock in his head came the thought "The dogs." This time he did wake up. He reviewed everything. A flood of experiences assailed him, one after the other: the loading, the train, the hell of the railroad car, the cold, the hunger, the canvas, the wind, the jump into the night. The train; what if it should come back over the same way once again? The dogs! Oh! Any death but that.
He wanted to flee; there was nothing else to do, but the pieces of his body were riveted there. He wanted to gather himself together, he heard his bones grating against each other. But, he had to get away from there, at any cost.
His reasoning took another turn: a railway line was a military objective for the attackers and a defensible breastwork for those attacked The Germans would return to make use of it as a defensive line, and they would find him.
To flee! To get a few hundred yards from the railway right of way and wait there would be a little safer. The Americans would eventually come. "But, first, stand up! First, stand up." He was thinking out loud and the murmur from his lips brought forth from his mouth gritty bits of earth. He sputtered.
With infinite carefulness he moved his arms one after the other; the left seemed all right, but from the right came that pain in the elbow and shoulder. "Well, well, it seems to be going away." He repeated the motion, and it was true; the pain grew less as he moved his muscles and joints. Nothing was broken. He breathed easier. Now the legs. Gently he moved his muscles. He felt no pain; nothing was broken there either-at least it did not seem so. He became calmer.
He managed to sit up. His bruises became more painful, and his wet sticking clothes became more icy. He shivered. In the pit of his stomach he felt a round ache. He was hungry, and that was a good sign. He was surprised that he had not felt this hunger before. He put his hand to his head, his prison beret was still in place. This fact made him laugh. He thought of his clogs which he had lost during his jump; never mind. He felt all over himself: he was covered with mud and was rolled up in a tangle of wire from which he at once tried to extricate himself. He turned and got on all fours; one more effort and he would be standing up ....
On his feet; he was standing; he would get away; the Germans could double back, cling to the railway... not so fast; his head was spinning. He felt like vomiting. He felt himself tottering, about to fall. He stiffened, held himself upright as long as he could. and saw that he was going to collapse and that he might hurt himself in the fall. So, gently and very carefully, he crouched down. If he could not walk, he would drag himself, but he would not stay there; no, he would not stay there. He thought of the train, the dogs, and the Germans who would be coming back. And, he thought of the Americans... "To think that they are there seven miles away. No, it would be too stupid."
On his hands and knees, crawling like a huge tormented worm, he managed to go down a slope, to cross what seemed to be a ditch, full of gluey water, and to slither along a newly ploughed section of an adjacent field where the earth came up in hunks and stuck to his knees, his legs and his elbows. He stopped and got his breath back.
Meanwhile the night had become less black. and the sky was higher. Already the shapes of the hedges and the single trees around him could be made out in the thinning fog. Day was about to break and that was another danger. A few hundred yards away on a little rise of ground he made out a dark mass: woods, no doubt.
He made it his first objective to reach them before dawn. He started to move again. The struggle had warmed his body, had loosened his muscles and his joints, and had localized the pain down the whole length of his right side. He succeeded in standing up, in staying up, in putting one foot before the other, and in walking. He walked slowly because his right leg pulled and his shoulder was very painful. But, he was walking, and he made progress. Bent over, dead beat, broken, twisted, he pulled himself toward the woods. He straightened up, forced himself, and kept hold of himself. He would be there before dawn, and would take cover there; the Americans would come, and he would be saved. The rest took place in a dream a long, dead tired, slow-motion dream.
Day broke. The ground which sloped down from his feet gradually appeared out of the darkness; the indistinct checkerboard pattern of fields and meadows became more outlined: the railroad tracks down below stood out like a long ribbon. In between two distant hills, a church spire rose among little wisps of smoke rising straight up from invisible chimneys. Very quickly the radiant spot in the still grey sky. which announced the sun piercing the clouds, was high in the sky. The country-side was animated here and there with yokes of oxen peacefully going and coming. A man, a civilian too, but whose brassard could be distinguished, had nonchalantly begun to do his stint along the tracks.
The sight evoked in him the image of a similar corner of the earth in similar weather, under the same sky, and with the same checkerboard of fields and meadows, the same woods, the same isolated trees, the same church steeple, and the same railroad somewhere in the vicinity of Alsace and Franche-Comté.
It occurred to him that if his mother could see this scene at this very hour, she would certainly have commented that the sky was "washing itself" or that the weather was "drying itself off." For a long time he watched two horses about five hundred yards away who were pulling a sort of harrow, over a square of meadow, to "scatter" the mole hills; the old man guiding them, surely that was father Tourdot, and that good little girl pulling on a rope attached to the back of the harrow that was his granddaughter, whose father, Tony, was a prisoner in Germany! In an association of ideas he saw the worried face of his wife bending over a little bit of a fellow two years old... Then, the reality of his present situation came to him with a start of anxiety.
No, no, it was a trap! The Americans couldn't be seven miles away because everything was too quiet. Nothing in these fields and meadows and these woods gave a sign of war, much less of a complete collapse. He was crushed; what was going to become of him? He could not approach those people in his prisoner's clothing! He was hungry, very hungry, and thirsty, and he picked up a twig which he put into his mouth that was another remedy of his mother's, when he had cried into her skirts with thirst in the hot afternoons during the harvest. It took his mind off it.
The hours went by; the sun managed to pierce the greyness and to clear up the sky. A church bell rang; noon it was. The afternoon went by in the same way. The teams of animals became more numerous under a hotter sun which completely dried his garments. A man went by near him, a hoe over his shoulder, and almost brushed against him. He didn't move a muscle, but he realized that he couldn't stay there much longer without being discovered. The next day was Sunday, he had no trouble deciding that since they had left the camp on a Wednesday evening. So, in the morning he would be all right, but in the afternoon he would have a lot to worry about, since the Germans, large and small, liked to walk in the woods
Evening came, then the night. The moon, a huge moon, the color of embers, shed its strange light over the country. The guard on the tracks was still going back and forth. There had been no alert; in fact, there had not been the least little noise of an airplane motor in the sky during all day long. But, now he heard heavy thuds sounding in the distance. He thought, "They are still twenty-five or thirty miles away. The dogs, if they are set after me, will find me before the Americans get here. I must go, go toward them, but which way first?"
He was about to despair of everything when the sound of aircraft gave him back his courage. Airplanes wheeled above him and dropped their bombs in the immediate vicinity, without in the least being disturbed by anti-aircraft fire. Then they went away, and others came; a continual coming and going until dawn.
Daylight came, and the fog quickly broke up under a bright sun. All at once the day became clear. It was a beautiful springtime Sunday morning that gave no hint of what was to come. It might have been ten o'clock when the great upheaval finally came. Tac! .... Tac! .... Tacatacatacatac!.... Tac! He estimated the distance: two to three miles at the most. It came from the direction of the church and a little beyond . Tac ! Tac!.... tac tac tac!.... Tac!
The machine gun persisted, and another replied. Toc! Toc! .... toc toc! Toc toc!
Then a great uproar: Boom! boom! Boom!... Boom! The projectiles did not fall far away, but still on the other side of the village. Boom ! Boom ! ... boom, boom .... A pause, Boom ! ... boom !... Another pause . Boom ! Boom ! Boom !... Boom ! Boom!... Boom! They came right at him; the discharge was regular, sharp, ringing. It would soon be time to do something, but what? A formidable explosion tore the air behind him; a shell had almost fallen on top of him. Brr... oom ! Then another. Brr... oom! His ear drums were bursting with it! Brr... oom! Br... oom! It didn't stop, and was echoed from behind. Boom!... Boom!... Boom!... Boom!... The countryside was deserted, and the man with the brassard had disappeared. He was alone. Brr... oom!... Boom, boom, boom, Brou... Brr... oom !
He was on the axis of a trajectory that was cut almost at right angles by the rail tracks, along which the Germans were doubling back. They would try to defend it, but they could not hold out for long in the face of the artillery fire; they would then retreat into the woods, where they would find him. "No, he must not stay there!"
He got up. He went down the slope, veering toward the left to get out of the line of the trajectory. His leg hardly dragged any more, the earth was dry, the ground was hard, and he was in possession of all his faculties. The last act of the tragedy was about to be played, and no false step must be made. "Not too near the tracks, not too near the forest," he decided.
The artillery duel continued: Boom! ... Boom! ... Boom! ... Boom!... The shells came down again; the were hitting the tracks. He saw the earth explode in a long line which cut obliquely across the tracks. He could smell the burning explosives. "The Devil! Get Down!" He would have liked to go farther on, but .... He saw a single bush that was near by: a poor shelter. He preferred a deep trough which separated two farm plots; he threw himself down in it.
ZZ... . Boom! ... . ZZ... . Boom! Just in time! The shell whistled over his head and fell near him. The thunder behind him, which had ceased, began again, the sounds were heavier and farther away. They were drawing back !
While the American lengthened their fire, the Germans shortened theirs, following their withdrawal step by step. Suddenly, he found himself in the very center of a terrifying earthquake, a cloud of smoke, iron, earth. He was almost buried in earth and wondered what miracle had saved him from being pulverized.
As the dust settled, he risked taking a look around him. He could see forms in field grey who were crossing the tracks, one after the other, in rapid spurts between bursts of machine gun fire. They flattened themselves against the embankment; a burst of fire! They were up and moving again. Down again, another burst of fire! They retreated toward him, trying to get out of the open, to make it to the woods. Down ... a burst of fire; fifteen steps backs, a burst of fire ... . down again. "Let's hope that one of them doesn't throw himself down next to me!" he thought. A shot rang less than fifteen feet on his left, another less than five on his right. He could not see anyone. "What are they shooting at, Good Lord?"
The exploding artillery shells, little by little, reached the woods, and the chattering of machine gun fire raked it. More grey forms climbed up over the tracks and withdrew into the woods from which they directed their fire: Clac! ... . Clac! ... . Clac! ... . Clac ... . Clac! But in the face of the brisk artillery fire, the reports from the forest grew weaker, and finally stopped altogether.
Suddenly there was a great clamor. It came from all corners of the horizon and echoed nearer and nearer, never ending. Suddenly, a host of men began to appear with rifles and machine guns in hand. While those who, a short while ago, had crossed the tracks amounted to a few dozen men, a hundred at the most, there were at least a thousand of these. They all seemed to be converging on the same point. Soon they were everywhere, walking and running. Not one of them saw him, which was just as well since one never knew what might happen at moments like these. He was careful not to make his presence known too soon. He waited for the excitement to subside. Finally he dared to move.
He sat up. About three hundred yards away some fifteen very nervous men, with their hands above their heads, were slowly emerging from the woods under the watchful eyes of guards, with their machine guns on the alert. In front of them, their backs to the woods, other men were already lined up, their hands resting on their heads, rigid. Finally others with their arms raised high appeared one by one; they threw their guns to the ground, took off their equipment, and took their places in the lineup.
"Jump to it!" One of them, too slow, was reminded of his new status with a well placed kick. Another received a blow with a gun-butt. A third tried to argue; Cra-a-ac! A machine gun was fired point blank at his chest. A few more blows, kicks, and slugs with the gun-butt, and the column was ready. "Get marching, toward the church!"
The group passed him at a distance of about seventy-five yards. The prisoners, in rows of five, completely stripped of equipment, jackets unbuttoned, and hands behind their heads shuffled by, awkward, silent and docile. On both sides an armed cordon of seven or eight men showered them with insults and warnings. He decided that it was time to show himself, and he rose up with a leap. "Hey! ... Hey! ... " he shouted, and he raised one arm in a gesture of appeal.
Without delay, the group halted, four men detached themselves on the run, and before he had time to realize what was happening to him, the barrels of four machine guns were pressed against his chest and back. "Like this, at least, I know they won't shoot ! " he thought. The questions all came at once, menacing and in a language that he did not understand.
'`French man," he said. It was all the English that he knew and he wasn't sure that was right. They looked at him round-eyed, astonished and mistrustful. He was obviously not understood. Then, he said, "Francaise!" This was not understood either. He tried his last resource: "Franzoesische Häftling! Franzous!" This time it worked; one of the machine guns was lowered.
"Was?" He briefly explained, in broken phrases, and he saw that he was in the presence of a German, two Spaniards and a Yugoslav, whose lingua franca was Italian. They had understood, all the machine guns were lowered, and a canteen was offered to him. He drank a bitter cold drink, which he wanted to spit out. He grimaced. "Koffé," said the German, "gut Koffe." They got out dry biscuits, hard, hard, oh how hard, chocolate, tins, cigarettes .... Cigarettes! First a cigarette .... But, they must not waste time. "Schnell," said the German, "Wir müssen... " (Hurry .... we have to .... ) They saw what condition he was in. Two of them hoisted him onto their shoulders, and like a living trophy took him, laughing, to the group which was waiting. "Sin-Sin?" asked one of the fellows of the escort. "Yes," he answered. But, the others said nothing. There was only one Englishman-or an American-in the company... which was a kind of international brigade, and he thought of the Spanish War.
As evening fell, the little column resumed its march toward the church, with the emaciated figure keeping his balance with difficulty on the shoulders of the two men, while nibbling slowly, his mouth watering copiously, on the biscuits and the chocolate. The sarcastic comments, the warnings, and the oaths, continued to rain on the prisoners, who, always docile, moved along, awkwardly in the unlaced shoes, their heads hung down their two hands crossed at the nape of their necks. "Porco Dio... Gott Verdammt!!" >From time to time the German spoke up: "Du! Bloder Hund!... Du!!" And, he pointed to a prisoner. Then, taking his revolver out of its holster, he asked him, "Muss ich erschiessen?" (Shall I shoot?) The prisoner rolled his frightened and pleading eyes, waiting for the answer a neutral, resigned smile. "Du hast Glück! Mensch! Blöder Hund!" (You're lucky ... stupid dog .... ) he said and spat contemptuously, "tt!... Lumpe." The roles were reversed.
From insult to insult, gibe to gibe, and threat to threat, the column of triumphant conquerors and disappointed losers made their entrance into the village just before midnight. They were past a station, very small, just like others that he knew, in Franche-Comté and Alsace. On the front he read "Munschof' in Gothic lettering. They set him down on the ground and the column rested. Then, slowly they started up again, amidst the deafening noise of the imposing war machines which at full speed went through the deserted but intact village on to new positions. Sometime later, the column reached the headquarters encampment.
"First, find a place to stay, my friend, eat, get your strength back, rest, a good bed. Then, we will see .... Knock at the first door that strikes you as a good place .... No, no, not with my men, they haven't the time, the hell with them now. Knock; if they open the door to you, ask for something to eat, hot, you need something hot. You will get a little something extra, from us, cold of course .... If they don't open, go in just the same, whether there is someone there or not; make yourself at home; all these people are our servants, it is their turn .... All they have to do is behave properly. No, no, don't be afraid, at the slightest lack of respect .... Come back to see me tomorrow. Until then .... Not wounded? Not sick? ... Yes, of course, weak, just weak. Until tomorrow then. And try to find another pair of shoes there... and another dinner jacket!"
The next day he went back. The Commanding Officer was sitting in an armchair on the porch, playing around with two very pretty persons, laughing out loud, who seemed to be quite ready "to behave properly" in the military sense of the phrase as applied to civilians of the opposite sex. "The female always submits to the conqueror with smiles," he thought. In France, in 1940 .... All of them, girls from Colas Breugnon.
But, the Commanding Officer said at once: "Ah, there you are! You know, since last evening I have been handed quite a lot of people like you. Since dawn my men haven't stopped bringing them to the Arbeitsdienst camp. What am I going to do with them, Good Lord? There is a train load of them, a train! And me, I haven't any way to transport them to the rear! They are all going to die; they'll all die! What sort of a place was it that you were in. Ah! the skunks! Well, don't worry about it, old boy, these two girls ...."
"Good," he began again, "You can walk?... Then, don't go to the Arbeitsdienst camp Go West, my friend, toward the West. Escapee, get there on your own, on friendly ground Hague Convention, deportee, priority .... Signal the first ambulance you run into. In eight days you'll be in Paris. All the laws, I'm telling you We'll see that you have something to eat to take with you. Really, is that all you have found since last evening? You'll give a fright to the girls all the way, old boy. Wasn't there anything where you spent the night? We won the war, in God's name!... She's pretty good that one! Ah, these French, you can't ever teach them anything Frantz!"
Then he added in a few words in Anglo-German lingo:
"Also, bye, bye! Follow the guide, he's going to give you something to take along. Good luck, but... try to do better the next time!"
Well weighed down with canned food, sugar, chocolate, biscuits and cigarettes, among other things... which he didn't know where to put, he found himself outside. He wanted to see the train from which he had escaped, and he turned toward the station.
People, civilians and soldiers, were busily going back and forth along the platforms. They made room for him as he came along: the clothes that he wore gave him a sort of respect. Gangs of men were pulling from the cars, the half clothed bodies, in rags, lank, dirty, bearded, and muddy! Some civilians were helping and watching them, full of pity, horrified. The dead bodies were lined up along the edge of the tracks, after their numbers, if there were any on their rags, were taken down. He looked to see if he could find anyone he knew among the dead .... Two men, two German civilians, arrived carrying a big thin body. "Kaput?!" one of them said. "Nein," answered the other, "atmet noch.... " (Finished .... No, he's still breathing.) He recognized Barray; Barray!
Barray was an engineer from St. Etienne. In camp they had slept together on the same straw mat for three weeks and had become friends. They had promised to write to each other if they got out. He learned from one of the survivors that the poor man had gone down under the blows of some German prisoners for having, in the delirium of hunger, cold and fever, begun to sing the Marseillaise. The S.S. guards had stood by unconcerned during the show. "Barray ! " .... "It's all over," he said to himself.
And, he went away thinking that there was a fatality in things that some premonitions did come about in life: for fifteen days, at least, Barray had been swearing by all the Gods that they would be freed on Quasimodo (Low) Monday He promised himself to write to his widow and two children about whom they had so often talked before they went to sleep.
A survivor told him what had happened to the convoy. A mile and a quarter beyond the station, it had been brought to a halt, very early Saturday morning. The S.S. guards had hurriedly made all of the able-bodied men get down from the cars and had formed them into a long endless line, which trailed away into the landscape, accompanied by the howling of the dogs and the sound of gun shots. The S.S. had left-on the train-the dead, the dying, and all of those who, taking advantage of the general confusion, were lucky enough to pass for dead, Obviously, there were too many of them, and there wasn't time to kill them one by one-nor was there the desire to do so. (Since this was written, it has been determined that there was no order to kill the prisoners, either.)
He continued his inspection. In one wide open car that no one was paying any attention to, the surviving prisoners shivered in spite of the full sun; they crawled out from under the pile of dead bodies; they huddled together to protect themselves from a cold that they alone felt. "What are you waiting for?" "Well... waiting to die, can't you see?" "What?" "There are still fourteen of us living; all the rest are dead; we are waiting our turn.... " He could not understand how they could be so little concerned with the saving of their lives. "They have given up," he thought; "It is not worthwhile to bother with them. They are already 'dead' and are satisfied. To force them back to life would be to inflict a kind of punishment on them .... "
And, he went on, with a feeling of indifference. He had known many prisoners in the camp who had been burdened with a sort of "death wish" and whom one could never meet without thinking that they were already dead, but that their bodies, in some manner, had survived them .... They were the ones who never missed a chance to announce, to drum it into one, that the war would be over in two months, that the Americans were here, that the Russians were there, that Germany was in revolution, and so forth. They were irritating, and they exhausted one's patience. Then, one fine day they were seen no more. The two months-or whatever-had gone by, and, since nothing had happened, they had just "let go of the railing," as it was said, and had let themselves die on the appointed date. These prisoners had let go of the railing right at the winning post; the two months had ended there, and the day of liberation had arrived ! He knew from experience that there was nothing to do. But, two steps farther on a feeling of remorse overcame him. "Don't stay like that; get out of there; the Americans are here; they are emptying the next car, and they will get to you soon. They will give you something to eat; there is a hospital in the village." They did not believe him, but he had made peace with himself.
At the end of the train was a boxcar that was filled with supplies; sacks of peas, flour, canned goods, packages of every sort of ersatz goods imaginable, liquor, beer, liqueurs, suits of clothes, shoes, accessories, and equipment. He took a soldier's nap sack and a pair of Italian shoes, with cloth sides and low-heels, which fitted his feet wonderfully. Then he left, eager to leave behind all that misery.
But, he still wanted to see the Arbeitsdienst camp where the Commanding Officer had told him that the Americans were taking those inmates who were still living. On the mustering grounds, surrounded by wooden buildings, living skeletons were coming and going, and corpses lay crumpled here and there... There were some five or six hundred men milling about. Well-wishing nurses -- attached to the American army -- busied themselves among them, running from one to another. The nurses did their utmost in vain to try to get the inmates to understand that they should stay inside the barracks and rest on the straw mattresses. Few among them had in their hearts any desire to live. Those who might have been saved began to die of dysentery because they had, disregarding all warnings, stuffed themselves too greedily with all of the food that was so profusely distributed among them. They ate, then felt a great need for air, and then went outside to die in the yard. No, no, this was no place for him. In the first place, he was too near the front lines; one could still hear the cannon fire all too sharply. He thought of Ulysses' return.
He made his way toward the villa where he had slept the night before and where another tug at his heart awaited him. On the way, he found an American soldier who wanted to shave him, amused.
To tell the truth, it was not a villa but the modest house of an engineer or a retired person just like so many in France- with an iron fence and a garden all around. The evening before he had found it empty with all the doors open. In the kitchen, the table had not even been cleared; a white cheese was on one plate, and jam was on another. In the dining room, the doors of a cupboard were swung open, and the linen and various other things were piled up on the sofa, on the table, and on the chairs, without thought. A trunk with its top gaping open sat waiting. The bedroom was in perfect order. He felt there the pressing distress of a comfortably well-off family who had hoped to the end and had waited until the last minute before leaving. "They aren't far away," he had thought, "They will come back any minute ."
He had slept in the big bed in the bedroom; he had laid there lazily in the morning smoking a cigarette. He had stretched himself out under the warmth of the covers, under a wide beam of sunshine which shone on the polished furniture. Leaving this house, to go to the Commanding Officer's about ten o'clock in the morning, he had thought of what had happened to him in 1940 when, turning back into Alsace, he had wanted to go home one last time. He had caught himself holding a pencil to write a note which he would have stuck on the door if at the last moment a sort of pride, which he had always felt was misplaced, had not restrained him: "Make use of everything, steal nothing, break nothing. Do not take vengeance on things for what you reproach people for. Do not make individuals pay for what you believe is the error of the whole community." And so he had taken out of the linen cupboard only what was indispensable: a shirt a pair of under shorts, a handkerchief, and from under the kitchen sideboard the pair of imitation leather sandals that had made the Commanding Officer laugh so much... He had even resisted the very strong temptation, when passing in front of the garage, to borrow the magnificent Opel that was parked there.
Now everything had disappeared, the magnificent Opel was gone, the cupboards were emptied, the linen was stolen, and the dishes were broken. "And I who was so conscientious," he thought "The war, ah the war!" On the night table, an alarm clock that he had noticed the night before was still there by some miracle It pointed to 6:30. He threw himself. still all dressed, onto the bed and went to sleep.
He glanced at the titles: Kritik über Feuerbach; Die Räuber of Schiller; Kant und der Moral. Goethe, Hölderlin, Fichte, Nietzsche, and others, were all there as if at a tragic rendez-vous, and they were waiting for their fate to be decided by less noble lords, the Goebbeles and the Streichers. The paper was fine, the bindings were unpretentious, and the workmanship was good. He had always had a weakness for books of any kind. He spotted one, Du und die Kunst by one of National Socialism's leaders. He opened it mechanically, and he saw a colored reproduction of "La Liberté guidant le peuple," by Delacroix. He leafed through it more attentively: Monet's flowers, a detail from Renoir, la Joconde, Mme. Recamier, le Martyr de Saint Sebastien. This sharp contrast with the hell out of which he had just come made him ill. He asked if he could take this book away with him, as a souvenir of that civilization that had been so cruel to him, and which would astonish and shock the world for years to come. Permission to take the book was given with a smirk and a sneer. Of course it was difficult for them to understand .
He turned west again, with the feeling that he would never come upon an ambulance and that he would continue to the end on foot All of a sudden, he felt that he was on the threshold of a new adventure, and that he would have liked to have it resemble, although in other times and under a different sky, that of Ulysses of whom he had thought the day before.
Before him he saw roads, the peasants in the fields, the hedges in bloom, the trees budding, the farms, the people who asked about him and to whom he gladly told his story, and the never ending roads. And, there at the end of this mirage-like horizon a small house with arbor vitae, on the outskirts of a small village. In the little yard, a little boy always two years old playing in the sand, who raised astonished eyes at seeing him arrive in his prison clothes... On the tip of his tongue he was about to ask, "What's your name? Little fellow? Where is your mama?" He wept.
Each man was absorbed in his own thoughts; we were trying to buck ourselves up and to understand what had happened to us: for three days and three nights, one hundred of us per car, hunger, thirst, madness, death, the unloading at night, in the snow, with the howling of men and the barking of dogs, with blows from some and swipes from others; the shower, the disinfection, the "gasoline tank," and so forth. We were all stupefied by what had happened. We had the feeling that we had just crossed a no-man's-land and that we had been in a more or less mortal obstacle course which had been carefully graduated and organized in every detail.
After the trip, and without any transition. we encountered a long string of halls, offices and underground corridors, each filled with strange and menacing people, who had their no less strange and humiliating specialties. Here, your wallet, wedding ring, watch, fountain pen; there your jacket, trousers, shorts, socks, shirt; in the last place, your name. They had stolen everything from us. Then came the barber who shaved us bald, the cresylic bath, and the shower. Finally the whole process was repeated in reverse: at one window a shirt that was falling to pieces; at another shorts with holes; at another pants with patches; and so on to the wooden clogs and the strip of cloth with the registration number. A frock coat thrown away, a military blouse no longer used, a Russian cap, a Bersagliers hat made up our clothing. We were not given back our wallets, wedding rings, fountain pens or watches.
"Just like Chicago," someone said, showing his number and joking, "there they go into the factory as pigs and come out as cans. Here we go in as men and come out as numbers." Nobody laughed; between the pig and the can in Chicago there is surely not much difference than between what we were and what we had become.
When we arrived in that large, Iight and clean hall, well aired and comfortable at first glance, we felt a sort of relief; the same feeling, doubtless that Orpheus felt coming out of Hades. Then we withdrew into our own preoccupations, to the one which dominated and checked any desire for inner speculations and which could be seen in the eyes of all: "Will we get anything to eat today?" When will we be able to sleep?"
We were at Buchenwald, Block 48, Wing A. It was six o'clock in the morning at a guess. And it was Sunday -- Sunday, January 30, 1944. A dark Sunday.
In preparing for our arrival the day before, the camp authorities had emptied Block 48 of its prior occupants. Only the administrative personnel who were attached to it remained: the Blockaltester or the Block Chief; his Schreiber or bookkeeper; the barber, and the Stubendienst or barracks men. There were two Stubendienst per wing. In all, eleven persons ran the block.
Our group, which was the first to arrive, was housed in the Block Chief's Flugel. Little by little others came in. And, little by little the atmosphere livened, too, as tongues became loosened. Fellow countrymen who had been arrested at the same time, or in the same operation, met each other again. As for me. I had found Fernand again, who came to sit next to me.
Fernand was a former student of mine, a solid and conscientious worker, who was twenty years old. During the occupation he had just naturally turned to me. We made the trip to Compiegne chained together, and already at Compiegne we made a nice little island among the seventeen who were arrested in the same operation that had netted us. To tell the truth, we had decided to ignore them. First, there was the one who had set himself down at the interrogation table, then the inevitable career non-com who had become an insurance agent, and who, upon decorating himself with the Legion of Honor, had felt that it was indispensable to his dignity to promote himself to the rank of Captain. Then there were the others, steady and serious, whose silence and whose every look betrayed their awareness of the seriousness of their plight. The insurance agent, especially, annoyed us with his megalomania, his grandiloquent manners, his air of being in on God's secrets, and the stupidly optimistic exaggerations which he incessantly imposed on us. "Come on," Fernand had said to me, "they're not our kind of people."
At Buchenwald, where we had arrived in the same railroad car, we once again stuck together, and took advantage of a moment of inattention on the part of the group to slip away and to present ourselves one behind the other, for what can only be called prison registration formalities. Separated for an instant, we again found ourselves together with the group.
At eight o'clock in the morning, there wasn't room left to break an egg around the tables, and the chattering that went on was so noisy that it disturbed the Block Chief and the Stubendienst. Introductions, occupations and positions that had been held in the Resistance were shouted back and forth over the heads; bankers, big industrialists, twenty year old commanding officers, colonels hardly any older, the big chiefs in the Resistance, all having the confidence of London and in possession of military secrets, especially the landing date. In addition, there were a few professors, a few priests who timidly kept apart, and a few who said that they were simply job holders or workmen. Aside from these few, everyone wanted to have a social position more enviable than that of his neighbors: above all, one that included having been entrusted by London with a mission of the greatest importance. You could not count the number of brilliant feats. We two unpretentious people found ourselves crushed. "Upper crust, upper ten . . . Crud," Fernand whispered into my ear in a very, very low voice.
After a quarter of an hour, really tormented, we felt an irresistible urge to urinate. In the hallway which led to the WC an animated conversation among five or six persons was in progress. As we went by, we heard talk about millions of dollars. "God, what sort of a crowd have we fallen into?"
All the places were occupied in the WC; there was a line-up and we had to wait. On the way back, a good ten minutes later, the conversation was still going, and it still concerned millions. It was a matter then of some fourteen million. We wanted to find out what it was all about and stopped. It was a poor old fellow who was lamenting over the fabulous sums that the time he would spend in camp would cost him. "But then, sir," I ventured, what do you do in civilian life that would cause you to handle such large sums of money? You must have quite a position." And, I assumed an air of admiring commiseration when I said that. "Ah, don't talk about it." And, he showed me the wooden clogs he had on. I couldn't keep from laughing out loud. He did not understand and started to tell his story again for my benefit.
"You understand, first the Germans ordered a thousand pairs of them from me, which they came to get without checking either the number or the invoices. Then another thousand pairs, then two thousand, then five thousand, then . . . Lately the orders were pouring in. And, they never checked them. So I began to cheat a little on the quantity, then on the prices. What else can you do? The more money you take from them the weaker they get, and the job gets easier for the English. Sales boches, just the same! Then, one fine day they compared the invoices with the reports of their receiving clerks; you can expect anything from people like that. They found they had been robbed of about 10 million. And, so they sent me here. Directly. And, without any trial, Sir. But, can you see me, a thief? Ruined, I am going to be ruined Sir! And without any trial . . ."
He was truly shocked. Quite sincerely, he was under the impression that he had indisputably performed a patriotic service, and that he had been, although with so many others, the victim of an injustice. Another fellow nearby, without batting an eye began to explain, "That's just like me, Sir, I was a business manager in . . ." "O.K. Come on," Fernand said to me "You see!"
Then, the camp administration let us know something about the provisory regime that we would be required to follow. During the quarantine, we were absolutely forbidden to leave thee Block or its small yard; in any case. it was surrounded with barbed wire. Every morning, we were roused at half past four, "with bugle," by the Stubendienst, with a rubber truncheon in hand for those tempted to lag behind; we washed on the run, and then received our food distribution for the day: 250 grams of bread; 20 grams of margarine; 50 grams of sausage or white cheese or jam, and a pint of ersatz coffee without sugar. Roll-call was held at half past five and lasted until half past six or seven. From seven to eight, we cleaned the block. At about eleven we got a quart of rutabaga soup and at about four o'clock the cafe-trink. At six o'clock there was another roll-call which could last until nine o'clock, rarely longer, but usually ended at eight. Then to bed. In between times, we were left to ourselves, sitting around the tables, and if we weren't too noisy about it, we could tell our little stories, our discouragements, our fears, our apprehensions, and our hopes. In fact, from morning to night, the talk centered around the date of the eventual end of hostilities and how they would end; the general opinion was that the war would be over in two months with one of us having gravely announced that he had received a secret message from London giving the beginning of March as the sure date for the landing.
Gradually Fernand and I became acquainted with the others in our group, while keeping our distance and remaining on our guard. In two days, we were sure that at least half of our companions in misery were not there for the reasons that they gave, and, in any case, they had had practically no connection with the Resistance. Most of these internees seemed to have been arrested for black market activities.
It was more difficult to adjust to the rhythm of things. Through the intermediary of a Luxemburger who knew hardly any French, the Block Chief made speeches to us explaining things every evening during roll-call; but, needless to say, it was hard to understand. The Block Chief was the son of a former Communist delegate to the Reichstag, who had been assassinated by the Nazis. He was a Communist and didn't conceal it, a fact which surprised me. The main gist of all of his palaver was that the French were dirty, that they talked like magpies, and were lazy, that they didn't know how to wash themselves, and that those listening to him had the double good luck of having arrived at a moment when the camp had become a sanitarium and of having been assigned to a Block whose Chief was a political and not a common criminal. One could not say that he was a bad fellow: he had been in prison for eleven years and had acquired the ways of the establishment. Rarely did he strike one; his displays of violence generally consisted of vigorous "Ruhe! '"cutting across our talk, which were followed by imprecations in which there was always something about a crematorium. We were afraid of him, but we were much more afraid of the Russian and Polish Stubendienst.
We knew nothing, or almost nothing about the rest of the camp because of our confinement to the four Flügel of the Block. We sensed that there was work going on around us and that the work was hard but we had only scuttlebutt to give us any idea of the nature of it. On the other hand, we knew very quickly about every nook and cranny of our Block, as well as the life stories of the occupants who lived there. There was a little of everything there: adventurers, people whose social origin and standing were very ill-defined; genuine Resistants; serious minded people; Cremieux, the attorney to the Belgian King, among others. It is hardly necessary to say that neither Fernand nor I felt any desire to attach ourselves to any one of the groups that formed.
All this stirred up the philanthropists. There is no Court of Miracles without philanthropists, and France, copiously endowed with them, perforce exported some to this place, who asked only to have their devotion noted and, if possible, to be remunerated. One fine day they cast a haughty glance of commiseration on this mass of men in rags and tatters abandoned to all of the machinations of the mind and possible victims of all of the perversions. The level of our morale seemed in danger to them, and they flew to its assistance, because in a situation like this the factor of morale was essential. So it is in life; there are those who grudge you your bread, others your freedom, and others your morale.
A man from Lyon, who said he was editor-in-chief of l'Effort ; a Colonel, if my memory is good; a big supply official; and a lame man who called himself a Communist, but whom the people of Toulouse accused of having betrayed them to the Gestapo during his interrogation, got underway a program of regular singing and a series of lectures on various subjects. During the week, we heard a discourse on syphilis among dogs, another on the world petroleum production and the role of petroleum after the war, and a third on comparative labor organizations in Russia and America.
On Sunday afternoon, there was a continuous program from three to six, with a stage-manager. A dozen volunteers gave impromptu performances. The most mixed feelings arose from the depths of their souls, and the most varied personalities displayed themselves: from the Violon brisé to the Soldat alsacien, and through G.D.V., Margot reste au village and Coeur de Lilas. In addition the most daring broad jokes were told along with the most comical monologues. These clownish actions clashed with the place, the audience, the spot we were in, and with the preoccupations which should have occupied our minds. Definitely, the French well deserve the reputation for levity that the world has attributed to them.
Finally, an intelligent, handsome young man, twenty years old, with a warm voice, sang La petite Eglise by Jean Lumiere and made everyone homesick. "Je sais une église au fond du hameau...." Everyone had tears in his eyes, faces resumed a human look, and the unbalanced became men again. I understood what "le lent Galoubet de Bertrandou, le Fifre ancien berger" meant to the Cadets of Gascogne de Cyrano de Bergerac. I forgave the philanthropists and, then and there, vowed eternal gratitude to Jean Lumiere.
The "m . . . duty": ah! my friends! All the defecations of some 30 to 40 thousand inhabitants of the camp converged into a cone of excrement on a lower level. Since nothing was to be wasted, every day a special Kommando spread this precious commodity on the gardens attached to the camp which produced the vegetables for the S.S. and the foreign civilian workers who worked in and around the camp. Ever since the convoys of foreign prisoners began to provide a continuous supply of new manpower, the German prisoners, who were in charge of the administration of the camp decided that they would have this work done by the new arrivals; it took the place for them of the traditional farce played on the recruits in the casernes in France, and it amused them enormously. This duty was the most painful one. The prisoners were harnessed in pairs to a Trague (a wooden basket in the shape of a pyramid with a rectangular base) which contained the stuff; they then went back and forth from the reservoir to the gardens, like horses in a circus, for twelve consecutive hours, in the cold and in the snow. In the evening they returned to the Block dog-tired and stinking.
One day we were told, without even being detailed to a Kommando that our Block was to quarry rock each morning and each afternoon during the rest of the quarantine period. The Block Chief had decided that instead of sending out groups of a hundred men who would work in relays for a period of twelve hours, it would be easier on us for all of us to go at once, that is, all four hundred, and to stay out only two hours for each shift. Everybody agreed. From that day on, every morning and every evening we filed across the camp to get to the Steinbruch where we picked up a stone whose weight was what our strength could manage. We dragged it back to the camp where gangs broke it up for street pavement. Then we went back to the Block. This work was light, particularly in comparison with that of the quarry workers who excavated the stone under the insults and the blows of the Kapos, the abbreviation for Konzentrationslager Arbeitpolizei, or police in control of labor.
Four times a day we passed close to villas where rumor had it that Leon Blum, Daladier, Reynaud, Gamelin and Princess Mafalda, daughter of the King of Italy, were imprisoned. We all envied the lot of those privileged people. Every time we passed, I heard comments: "Wolves don't eat each other!" "All depends on whether we are powerful or miserable . . . " "The big shots, old boy, you break your neck for them and they bow to each other." "Hitler's race laws apply to all Jews but one." And, the like.
In our ranks there was a former prime minister of Belgium, a former French minister, and other personages, more or less important. They were more mortified than we at the treatment enjoyed by the inhabitants of the villas. It was said that each of them had two rooms, a radio, German and foreign newspapers, and three meals a day. Moreover, we were sure that they didn't have to work. Leon Blum (1) was especially envied. Chance had it that during one trip, Fernand and I, who never left each other, found ourselves next to the French minister. "Why Leon Blum and not me?" he said to us. Judging by the tone of his voice, we gathered that he did not find it at all strange that we should be detailed to those low jobs fit for slaves, but for him, really, a former minister! Fernand shrugged his shoulders. I was puzzled.
Another day, instead of taking us to the Steinbruch, we were taken to the criminal anthropometry department where our photographs, face and profile, and our finger prints were taken. Coarse, fat, well-fed individuals, but prisoners just like ourselves, each with a brassard on the arm of some authority or other, and each with a rubber truncheon in the hand to back it up, yelled at our heels. In front of me were Dr. "X" and the little Communist cripple who was in the good graces of the Block Chief and who was considered by the French to be his confidential agent. I listened to their conversation. Doctor "X," whom everyone knew had been several times a candidate for the U.M.R. in various elections, was explaining to the cripple that he was not a communist, but not an anti-Communist either, far from it. The war had opened his eyes, and, perhaps, when he had time to assimilate the doctrine . . . For two days a possible move to Dora had been talked about, and Doctor "X" was beginning to lay the ground work so that he could stay at Buchenwald. Misery!
Suddenly I felt a terrible blow. Absorbed in reflections that had been stimulated by this conversation, I must have strayed a little from the ranks. I turned around and got an avalanche of insults in German of which I made out "Hier ist Buchenwald, lumpe schau mal, dort ist Krematorium!" (This is Buchenwald, take a look you, there is the Crematorium.) That was all I was to know about the reason for the assault. By the way of explanation, and to justify it, the little cripple turned to me and said, "You could have been more careful; that's Thaelmann!"
We arrived at the entrance to the anthropometry department where somebody else with brassard and truncheon pushed us brutally in line against the wall. This time it was the little cripple who got a blow and who was soundly imprecated. The storm passed, and he turned to me, and said, "That doesn't surprise me coming from that S.O.B.; that's Breitscheid." I did not in the least care who in the world these two fine fellows were. But, I smiled at the thought that the Communists had finally realized that unity of action that they had talked about so much before the war, and I admired that acute sense of difference which the little cripple felt even in his reflexes.
International Red Cross taking all of the concentration camps over. Johnny was never short of good news, with the result that every evening, in February 1944, the war was going to be over in two months. He exhausted my patience, and that of others, too. To those who came up to me with the assurance that had been fed to them by Johnny, I was in the habit of answering that as far as I was concerned, I did not think that the war would be over for another two years. Moreover, since I was one of the very few who did not believe in the fall of Stalingrad, just on the face of things as it were, and I admitted it after it happened, I was immediately pigeonholed as a pessimist. In fact, I listened to everything with unshakable skepticism: the most refined horrors that were told about the history of the camps; the optimistic assumptions about the future conduct of the S.S. who felt, it was said, the wind of defeat blowing over Germany and who wanted to redeem themselves in the eyes of the coming conquerors; and the reassuring rumors about our ultimate assignment. I did not even fly in the face of facts. For example, the famous inscription which was on the wrought iron gate which closed the entry to the camp read: Jedem das Seine. With my little knowledge of the German language, I translated it as A chacun sa destinee (To each his destiny.) All of the French prisoners were convinced that it was a translation of the celebrated phrase which Dante had put on the gate to Hell: Vous qui entrez ici abondonnez tout espoir (2). That was the limit, and I the nonbeliever.
Jircszah was a Czech and a lawyer. Before the war he had been the assistant Mayor of Prague. The first thing that the Germans did when they occupied Czechoslovakia, was to arrest and deport him. He had been moved from camp to camp for four years. He knew them all: Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Dachau, Oranienburg. A commonplace accident had brought him to Buchenwald, among a transport of the sick. When he arrived, one of his compatriots got him the job of general interpreter for the Slavs. He hoped to be able to hold that position until the end of the war which he did not think was very near, but which he felt would come finally. He lived with the Chaouchs of Block 48, who considered him to be one of themselves, but his attitude immediately set him apart from the others and made us consider him to be one of us; among other things, he was more generous with the rations that he distributed, and he got hold of and lent us books.
With our arrival in the camp, Jircszah came into contact for the first time with Frenchmen. He looked at us with curiosity and with pity, too. So that's what the French are? So that's the culture they told him so much about when he was a student? He was disappointed; he couldn't get over it.
My skepticism and the way I kept myself apart from the noisy life of the Block drew him to me. "Is that what it is, the Resistance?" he asked. I did not answer. To reconcile him to France I introduced him to Cremieux.
He certainly did not approve of the conduct of the Chaouchs, but he was no longer shocked, and he did not even despise them. "I have seen worse," he said. "You mustn't expect men to have too much imagination along lines of what is right; when a slave gets power without changing his station, he becomes more tyrannical than the tyrants."
He told me the story of Buchenwald and the other camps. "There is a lot that is true in all that is said about the horrors for which they are the setting, but there is a lot of exaggeration, too. You have to reckon with the complex of Ulysses' lie, which is everyone's, and so it is with all of the internees. Human beings need to exaggerate the bad as well as the good and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Everyone hopes and wants to come out of this business with the halo of a saint, a hero, or a martyr, and each one embroiders his own Odyssey without realizing that the reality is quite enough in itself."
He did not hate the Germans. To his mind, concentration camps were not specifically German and did not reveal propensities that were unique to the German people. "The camps -- Les Lager," as he said, "are an historical and social phenomenon through which all peoples go as they reach the idea of Nation and State. They were known in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and in modern times. Why should the contemporary epoch be different? Long before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Egyptians could find no other way than this to neutralize the commercial threat that was presented by the Jews, and Babylon reached its marvelous apogee thanks to persons in concentration camps. The English, themselves, resorted to them with the unfortunate Boers, after Napoleon who invented Lambessa. As a matter of fact there are some in Russia which are nothing to be envied when they are compared to the German ones. Moreover, they exist in Spain, in Italy, and even in France (3); you will come across Spaniards here and you will see what they have to say about camp Gurs, in France, for example, where they were stuck right after Franco's triumph."
I ventured a remark. "In France, all the same, it is done out of humanity." In response, Jircszah, countered: "The Germans, when they speak of the institution, use the word Schutzhaftlager, which means 'camp for protected prisoners.' When the Nationalist Socialists came to power, they decided, in a gesture of compassion, to put all of their adversaries in a place where they could not hurt the new regime and where they could be protected from the public anger. In other words, the National Socialists wanted to put an end to assassinations and to beatings on street corners and, at the same time, wanted to rehabilitate the strayed sheep and to bring them back to a healthier concept of the German community, of its destiny, and of the role that the individual was to play within it. But, National Socialism was overtaken by events and, particularly, by its agents. It is something like the story of the eclipse of the moon that is told in the barracks. The Colonel says one day to his Adjutant that there will be an eclipse of the moon and that the officers and noncoms should see to it that the soldiers see the phenomenon and that they have it explained to them. The adjutant then passed the word on to the Captain, who, in turn, passed it on down the ranks, and the news got to the soldiers via the Corporal in this form: 'By order of the Colonel, there will be an eclipse of the moon this evening at 23:00; all those not present will get four days guard duty.' And, so it is in the concentration camps: the ruling powers within the National Socialist regime thought them up and, then, set up regulations by which former unemployed illiterates run them through the assistance of Chaouchs who are selected from among us. In France, the democratic government of Daladier had established the camp at Gurs and had fixed the regulations for its operation, with the result being much the same as that that is found in the German camps. The implementation of those regulations was delegated to gendarmes and to militia whose power to interpret them was very limited.
"It is Christianity which introduced into Roman law the humanitarian nature that is given to punishment in the West and which assigned to it, as its first objective, the rehabilitation of the delinquent. But, Christianity failed to account for human nature, which cannot come to terms with itself, except on a basis of perversity. Believe me, there are three kinds of people who have remained the same throughout all of recorded history: policemen, priests, and soldiers. Here, we have to deal with policemen."
Obviously, here it was a matter of policemen. I never had had any trouble with any other than the German police, but I had often read and heard it said that the French policemen do not distinguish themselves for any special consideration. I remember that at this moment in my conversation with Jircszah, I brought up the Almazian affair. But, Almazian was involved in a crime of common law, and we were political prisoners. The Germans did not seem to distinguish between common prisoners and political prisoners, and this fact accounted for the commingling of the two groups in the camps....
"Come, come," Jircszah said, "You seem to forget that it was a Frenchman, an intellectual of whom France is proud, a fine scholar, a great philosopher, Anatole France, who wrote: 'I am a supporter of the suppression of the death penalty in a matter of common law and of its reinstitution in political law.'"
By the end of the quarantine - since the S.S. never meddled with the camp life itself, which thus seemed to be left the master of its own laws and rules - I believed that Jircszah was more or less right; the National Socialists had resorted to this> We hashed over other problems together, especially the war and the postwar period. Jircszah was middle class, a democrat, and a pacifist. "The last war left the world divided into three rival blocks," he said. "The Anglo-Americans, the traditional capitalists, the Soviets, and the Germans, the latter supported by Italy and Japan. There is one too many. The postwar period will find a world divided in two, and the democracies will make no headway and the peace will be no less precarious. The Allies think that they are fighting for liberty and that the Golden Age will rise from the ashes of Hitler. It will be terrible afterwards; the same problems will lie before two powers instead of three in a world that will be ruined materially and morally. Bertrand Russell was right when he said during his courageous youth, 'No ill that war claims to do away with is as bad as war itself.'" I shared that view, and even cherished it. As time went on, I thought often of Jircszah.
We did not know what Dora was. Not one of those prisoners who had been sent there had ever returned as far as we knew. It was said to be an underground factory, constantly being enlarged, in which secret weapons were being manufactured. One lived there, ate there, slept there, and worked there without ever seeing the light of day. Every day trucks brought full loads of dead bodies from Dora to be cremated at Buchenwald, and it was from the presence of these corpses that the horrors of the camp were deduced. Fortunately, we were not going there.
Four o'clock: we were still standing in front of the Block at attention (Stillgestanden) under the eyes of the S.S. guards. The Block Chief went down the ranks and the old men, the cripples, and the Jews were taken out. Cremieux who filled all three of these categories by himself, was one of them. The little cripple as well as a few others who did not seem to be either old men cripples, or Jews but whom we knew were in the good graces of the Block Chief since they passed for or actually were Communists-was also removed.
Half past four: we were marched to the infirmary for a medical checkup -- "checkup" was just a figure of speech. An S.S. doctor who was smoking a huge cigar and who was flopped in an armchair conducted the examination, so to speak. We passed in front of him in a single file and, generally, he did not even bother to look up.
Five thirty: next we went to the Effectenkammer, where we were given clothing -striped trousers, jacket and coat -- and shoes (leather with wooden soles) to replace the wooden clogs which were not fit for labor.
Six thirty: we had to stand for a roll call which lasted until nine o' clock. Alter that, before we could go to bed we still had to sew our numbers on to the clothing that we had just been issued: the strips of cloth on which numbers had been stenciled had to be sewn on the left side chest on the jacket and coat, and on the right pocket of the trousers.
On March 11th reveille came at half past four and the roll-call lasted from five-thirty until six. Ah! those roll-calls! In March, in the cold whether, it rained or the wind blew, we had to stand for hours and hours being counted and re-counted! This last one was a general roll-call of all of those prisoners - regardless of the Block that they belonged to - who were destined for the transport, and it took place on the mustering ground in front of the guard tower.
At eleven o 'clock we were given our ration of soup. Then at four o 'clock there was another roll-call which lasted until six or seven; we lost track of how long it lasted.
On March 12th, we got up at the usual reveille, and the roll-call lasted from half past five until ten. Roll-call and again the roll-call. They wanted to drive us crazy. At three o' clock we left Block 48 for good, and, after a wait for some time on the grounds, we were sent to the Block where the movie theater was, where we spent the night, with the lucky ones sitting down and with the rest of us standing up.
The next morning, reveille was sounded at half past three, an hour earlier than usual. The guards led us under the tower where we waited, in the dark and in the cold, with nothing in our stomachs since the day before at eleven, to be loaded onto a train. It was sometime between seven and eight o'clock when we got into the cars.
The trip was uneventful. We had elbow room, and we talked mainly about where we were going. The train was going in a westerly direction. To Cologne, that was it. We were right! At about four o'clock, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere, at a sort of railroad switchyard, where, floundering in the mud and the snow, miserable men who were haggard and dirty, and who wore striped rags of the same kind as our new clothes, unloaded the cars, dug ditches and cleared away rubble. Men with brassards and numbers - who were well clothed and full of health -- pushed them on with threats, insults or the blows of truncheons. We were forbidden to speak to them. Passing next to them, if by chance they were out of eye and ear shot of the guards, we questioned them in as low a voice as possible: "Say, where are we?'' "At Dora, old boy, haven't you finished . . . yet?" Fernand and I looked at each other. We had only with difficulty just come to believe the optimistic rumors about Cologne. Now, we felt terribly discouraged, our shoulders sagged, and we felt the shadow of death pass over us.
Footnotes1 [Leon Blum was imprisoned at Buchenwald at about the same time that Professor Rassinier was there. Several interesting references to Blum's stay at Buchenwald are found in his biography by Louise Dalby. One of them confirms the camp rumors which Professor Rassinier mentions:
Occasionally visits to Blum were restricted and letters censored, but he suffered very little while in France. His quarters at Buchenwald were reasonably comfortable, but his diet was poor and contributed greatly to his ill health. He resented most of the restrictions on his privacy, and the annoyance of being disturbed every two hours as guards thoroughly inspected his quarters. He was allowed to take a servant to care for him, he was permitted a radio by which he could occasionally get the B.B.C. although this was forbidden, and he received most of the food parcels sent him.(Louise Elliott Dalby, Leon Blum. New York: Yoseloff, 1963 pp. 418-419.)]
2 This phrase translates: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here." Immediately after my liberation, in May 1945, when I was still in Germany on my way home, I heard a talk over the radio by a deportee - Gandrey Retty, if my memory holds -who gave this translation. This is how tall stories are born.
3 [The fact should be noted that the United States also had its concentration camps during this period. Best known, in spite of the repeated efforts of the liberal establishment to sweep all memory of the matter under the rug, are the so-called "relocation camps" where Americans of Japanese ancestry were interned during World War Two. This sordid episode, although officially justified as being necessary in the interest of national security, seems to have had as its real impetus certain racial and economic motives. Clearly, the relocation of the prosperous Japanese-American community away from the West Coast afforded numerous bargain conscious Californians, among others, the opportunity of purchasing Nisei and Issei businesses and properties at "fire sale" prices, a fact which, without doubt, was on the minds of many of those persons who applauded the prompt action of General John DeWitt. For a general discussion of these "relocation camps," see, Allan R. Bosworth America's Concentration Camps (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967). Not so well known are the numerous concentration camps that were spread across the United States from the Carolinas to the Dakotas where German and Italian nationals many of whom had been long time residents of the U.S. were incarcerated. Following the outbreak of formal hostilities in December 1941, these German and Italian nationals were declared to be "enemy aliens", were rounded-up by the American version of the Gestapo, i.e., the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and were confined behind barbed wire for the duration of the war.]
Sometime later others came. They were chained together by fives, one to the other and constituted a detachment of a hundred men, surrounded by about twenty S.S., guns in hand. There was no more room in the German prisons. They climbed up the path as best they could, sworn at and kicked. When they reached the top exhausted, they were put to work without any delay. A group of fifty put up tents for the S.S., while the other group put in place a circle of barbed wire, three Strands high and about a hundred circle of barbed wire, three strands high and about a hundred yards in diameter. The first day that was all that could be done. They ate a meagre meal in a hurry and almost without stopping work and, very late in the evening, they went to sleep right on the ground, wrapped in thin coverings. The next day, the first group of fifty unloaded all day long construction materials and sections of wooden barracks which heavy tractors managed to bring about half way up the hill; they carried this material the rest of the way up on their back s and placed it inside the barbed wire. The second group cut down trees to clear the area. They did not eat that day because they had started off in the first place with food for one day only. But, they slept better that night in the shelter of the branches and among the piles of boards.
Beginning with the third day, sections of barracks began to arrive at a faster rate and began to pile up half way up the hill. There were also a kitchen outfit, quantities of striped clothing. some tools, and some supplies. The S.S stated in their daily report that with one hundred men they could not keep up with material delivered Others were sent them. The rations then were insufficient. At the end of the week, some fifty S.S. struggled with about a thousand prisoners who they did not know where to put at night, who they could barely feed and who overwhelmed their ability to supervise. The prisoners were made up into several groups or Kommandos, each detailed to a particular job: the kitchen for the S.S., the orderlies for their camp, the kitchen of the prisoners, the construction of the barracks, the transport of material, the administration accounting. All of these operations were called .SS Kueche, Haeftlingskueche, Barrakenkommando Bauleitung, Arbeitsstatstik, etc., and on paper, in reports, it looked like a simple and methodical organization. But it was in fact, a complete mess, a horrible swarming of men, who went through the motion of eating, who worked haphazardly, and who barely slept covered in a jumble of branches and boards. Since it was easier to keep them under surveillance when they were working than when they were sleeping, the days were twelve, fourteen or sixteen hours long. Since there were not enough guards, they were forced to select a complement of trustees out of the whole lot of the prisoners on appearances alone, who, since they had uneasy consciences, created a reign of terror by way of excusing and justifying themselves. Blows rained, not just insults and threats.
The bad treatment, the poor and insufficient food, superhuman work, the lack of medicines, and the pneumonia created conditions that caused this gang of men to die at an alarming rate, endangering the general health. The S.S. had to think of another way to get rid of the bodies other than by burial which took too much time and which was too often repeated: so they had turned to cremation, a procedure that was much faster and in conformity with Germanic traditions. Another Kommando, in its turn, became indispensable, the Totenkommando, and the construction of a crematorium was put on the list of "urgent" work to be done. Thus it happened that a place was built for men to die in, before the place was built for them to live in. Everything is linked together: evil attracts evil, and when one is caught in the mesh of evil forces ....
Moreover, the camp was not conceived in the minds of the National-Socialist authorities to be just a camp, but a community working under supervision for the building of the Third Reich, just like the other individuals of the German community who remained in relative liberty. As a consequence, after the crematorium came the factory, the Guzlow. So it is seen that the order of precedence for all the installations was determined first by the need to keep everything well under guard, second by hygienic requirements, and third by the demands of work that constituted the raison d'etre for the camp. Everything was subordinate to the collective interest which trampled down and crushed the individual.
Buchenwald was thus, during the period of the first installations, a Straflager (punishment camp) where only those considered incorrigible in other prisons were sent. Then, from the moment that the factory, the Guzlow, was ready to go, an Arbeitslager (labor camp) with Strafkommandos. Finally, it was transformed into a Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) which is what it was when we knew it, a camp equipped with all the amenities of a small city, where everyone was sent without discrimination. Around the central camp there were satellite camps, which it kept supplied with human material. All the camps went through these three stages successively. Unfortunately, with the war breaking out, prisoners from all places, of all kinds, in for all kinds of reasons. and under all kinds of disciplinary punishment, were haphazardly, because of the disorder of the circumstances, and indiscriminately sent to a Straflager, an Arbeitslager, or a The result was a frightening mixture of all kinds of humanity which resembled, under the sign of the truncheon, a gigantic basket of crabs, over which National-Socialism, so sure of itself and so methodical in its operations, but overwhelmed on all sides by events which were beginning to master it. threw an immense Noah's mantel.
Dora was born under the sponsorship of Buchenwald and in the same way. It grew and prospered following the same process.
In 1903, German engineers and chemists had discovered that the stone of the Harz mountains in that area was rich in ammonia. Since no private company was willing to risk capital in its extraction, the Government undertook it. Germany did not possess as did her neighbors, colonies that were able to put at her disposal men from Cayenne or Noumea. Because of this fact together with the fact that she was obliged to keep her convicts inside the country, they were imprisoned in certain places where they were used for especially disagreeable labor. As a consequence, a convict prison, like all convict prisons in the world except for a few minor differences, was created at Dora. In 1910, for reasons unknown, but most likely because the yield of ammonia was much smaller than was anticipated, quarrying the stone was stopped. It was resumed during the war of 1914-1918 as a sort of punitive camp for prisoners of war at a time when Germany was already beginning to think of going underground to escape some of the devastation of bombing. Again the operation was interrupted by the Armistice. Between the two wars, Dora was completely forgotten: wild tangled growth masked the entrance to the excavations and, all around, vast fields of sugar-beets were cultivated to supply the sugar refinery at Nordhausen three and a half miles away.
It was into these beet fields that on September 1, 1943, Buchenwald disgorged a first well escorted Kommando of two hundred men. Germany, again feeling the need to go underground or at least to put her war industries underground, had taken up the project of 1915 again. Construction of the S.S. camp and of the crematorium was begun, underground the factory was set up, and the kitchens, showers, the Arbeitsstatistik, the Revier, or infirmary, were built, last of all. So long as the underground work existed, the S.S. delayed as long as possible, putting off always a little longer. the unprofitable work of constructing Blocks for the prisoners, preferring instead to dig the gallery of the tunnel farther in, and to make it possible to get as many factories as possible under protection from the ever increasing threats from the open sky.
When we arrived at Dora, the camp was still in the Straflager stage. We made an Arbeitslager out of it. When we left it with its 170 Blocks, its infirmary, its theater, its brothel, and with all its installations in place and its tunnel completed, it was on the point of becoming a Konzentrationslager. Already, at the other end of the double tunnel, there was another camp, Ellrich, its offspring, and which was itself in the Straflager stage. There could be no break in the descending curve of human misery.
But, the English and Americans and the Russians had decided otherwise, and, on April 11, 1945, they came to free us. Since then, the penitentiary system of East Germany has been in the hands of the Russians who haven't changed things a fraction. Tomorrow, it will be in the hands of ... who knows? Since there must be no gap in history.
Inside -- or on the outside, but near by -- a factory was the reason for its existence and its means of existence: at Buchenwald, the Guzlow; at Dora, the Tunnel. The factory was the keystone of the entire edifice, and its needs, which had to be satisfied, were the iron laws. The camp was made for the factory, and not the factory to keep the camp busy.
The most important department of the camp was the Arbeitsstatistik, which kept a strict accounting of the entire population, and kept track of each man day after day in his work. At the Arbeitsstatistik the personnel could tell you at any moment whatsoever of the day what each prisoner was doing and where he could be found. This department, like all the others, too, was entrusted to prisoner trustees and kept busy a considerable and privileged number of them.
Then came the Politische-Abteilung, which kept track of the political aspects of the camp and which was able to give for any prisoner any information wanted about his previous life, his moral conduct, the reasons for his arrest... It was the department of anthropometry of the camp, its Sicherheitsdienst (security police), and employed only those prisoners in whom the S.S. had confidence. Once again the privileged.
Then the Verwaltung, or the general administration, which kept track of everything that came into the camp: food, material, clothing, etc.... It was the quartermaster of the camp. Those prisoners employed in office work always occupied a privileged position.
These three big departments ran the camp. They had at their head a Kapo who ran them under the supervision of a noncommissioned officer of the S.S., or Rapportfuehrer. There was a Rapportfuehrer for all the key services, and each one of them reported every evening to the Rapportfuehrer-general of the camp. who was an officer, generally an Oberleutnant. This Rapportfuehrer-general communicated with the prison camp through the intermediary of his subordinates and of the Lageraeltester, or the doyen of the prisoners, who was responsible in general for the camp and who answered for its smooth running even with his life.
Similarly, the departments of the second level: the Sanitatsdienst, or health service, which included doctors, male nurses disinfection, infirmary and crematorium services; the Lagerschutzpolizei, or camp police; the Feuerwerk, or fire protection; the Bunker, or jail for those prisoners caught breaking the rules of the camp; the Kino-Theater, or movie, and the brothel, or Pouf.
There were also the Kueche, or kitchen; the Effektenkammer, or clothing store, which was attached to the Verwaltung; the Haeftlingskantine, or canteen, which supplied the prisoners with extra food and drinks in exchange for the coin of the realm, the Bank, where the special money good only in the camp was issued .
And, now to describe the mass of workers... They were divided up into Blocks constructed on the same plan as that of Buchenwald 48, but of wood, and with only one floor. They lived there only at night. They returned there at night after roll call at about nine o'clock, and they left every morning before dawn, at half past four. They were supervised by the Block Chiefs who were surrounded by their Schreiber, Friseur, Stubendienst, who were veritable satraps. The Block Chief governed life in the Block through the supervision of an S.S. soldier, or Blockfuehrer, who reported to the Rapportfuehrer-general. The Blockfuehrer were only rarely seen; generally they confined themselves to one friendly visit with the Block Chief during the day, that is, when the prisoners were away, so that it was the latter who was in effect the only authority, and practically all of his exactions were without appeal.
During the day, that is, during the period of actual work, the prisoners were caught in the meshes of another group of prisoner trustees and camp officials. Every morning those who worked only during the day were divided up among Kommandos, each with a Kapo for chief, assisted by one, two or several foremen or Vorarbeiter. Each day, beginning at four thirty, the Kapos and the Vorarbeiter were at the mustering grounds, in a designated place -- always the same, and formed their respective Kommandos which they conducted in marching time to the place where they were to work. There a Meister or a civilian supervisor informed them of the job that they were to have their men get done during the day. The Kommandos which were used by the factory did two twelve hour shifts rather than the usual three eight hour shifts. They were divided into two teams or Schicht: There was the Tageschicht which came before the Kapos and Vorarbeiter at nine o'clock in the morning, and the Nachtschicht at nine o'clock in the evening. The two Schicht alternated one week of day labor and one week of night labor.
That was the Buchenwald which we knew. Life was bearable there for the prisoners who definitely were assigned to the camp; it was a little harder for those who were destined to stay there only for the quarantine period. It must have been the same in all of the camps. Unhappily, when mass deportations of foreigners into Germany were taking place, few camps were ready, aside from Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz. Consequently, almost all of the deportees knew the camps only during their construction, as Straflager, and Arbeitslager. but not Konzentrationslager. Unhappily, too, even in camps that were ready, all responsibilities were given to German prisoners at first, to facilitate relations between the Haeftling people and those of the Fuehrung, and to the survivors of the Straflagers and the Arbeitslagers afterward, who could not imagine the Konzett, as they called it, without the horrors that they had themselves suffered there. This latter group constituted a much greater obstacle to any humanizing of the camps than did the S.S. The "Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you" is a concept of another world, which had no meaning in the concentration camp. "Do unto others what has been done to you" was the motto of all the Kapos, who had spent years and years in Straflagers and Arbeitslagers, and in whose minds the horrors that they had lived through had created a tradition, which, by an understandable distortion, they felt obliged to perpetuate. If by chance the S.S. forgot to mistreat us, these prisoners took care to make up for the slip.
Between these two extremes, there was a whole series of intermediary crimes: the black triangle (professionally unemployed); the pink triangle (pederasts and homosexuals); the yellow triangle reversed over a red one so as to form a star (Jews); purple triangle (conscientious objectors) (2). In addition, those who had done a certain term in prison, and then, following their release, were incarcerated again for committing new crimes wore instead of the triangle a black circle on white background with a large "Z" in the center, which stood for those freed from the Zuchthaus or prison. And, finally, those who wore a red triangle with the point up had committed minor crimes in the army and had been sentenced by a court-martial.
To these were added a few special ones: the red triangle with a transverse bar for those sent to the Konzett for the second or third time; three black dots on a yellow and white brassard for the blind; the Wifo, the same circle as for the Zuchthaus people with the "Z" replaced by a "W." These latter had originally been volunteer workers. They had been employed by the Wifo firm which had been the first to try to achieve the Vergeltungsfeurer the famous V1 and V2 rockets. One fine day, and for no apparent reason, they got the striped clothes and were put into concentration camps. The secret of the V1 and V2 having gone through the trial period and into the intensive production stage was not to be freely circulated, even among the German people. In other words, they were interned for reasons of State security. The Wifo were the most unfortunate ; people in the camp: they continued to be paid their salary, half of which was paid them in the camp itself, the rest being sent to their families. They had the right to keep their hair and to write whenever they wanted to, on condition that they said nothing about what had happened to them; and since they were the best off, they introduced the black market into the camp and raised the exchange (3).
As far as the population was concerned, the concentration camps were regular towers of Babel in which personalities clashed because of differences of origin, of their sentences, and previous social standing. The common law offenders hated the political criminals whom they didn't understand, and the latter returned the feeling. The intellectuals looked down on the manual laborers, and the latter rejoiced to see the former "working at last." The Russians wrapped the whole of the West in the same icy contempt. The Poles and the Czechs couldn't stand the French, because of Munich, etc... On the nationality level, there were enmities between Slavs and Germanic people, between the Germans and the Italians, between the Dutch and the Belgians, or between the Dutch and the Germans. The French, who came last and began to receive the most magnificent parcels of food, were looked down on by everybody except the Belgians, who were pleasant, frank, and good. France was regarded as a land of milk and honey, and her inhabitants as sybaritic degenerates, who were incapable of work, who ate well, and who were occupied only with making love. To these sentiments the Spaniards added the concentration camps of Daladier. I remember having been accosted in Block 24 at Dora by a vigorous: "Ah! The French; now you know what a Lager means. No harm, it'll teach you!"
It was one of the three Spaniards (there were 26 in all at Dora) who had been interned at Gurs in 1938, enrolled in labor companies in 1939, and sent to Buchenwald after Rethel. The three maintained that the only difference between the French and the German camps was the work; all other things, treatment, food, being just about the same. In fact they added that the French camps were dirtier.
Oh, Jircszah !
All the services of the camp had their parallel in the S.S. camp where everything was centralized, and from which daily or weekly reports were sent directly to Himmler's offices in Berlin. The S.S. camp was, therefore, the administrator of the other. When the camps were just beginning during the Straflager period, they were administered directly: afterwards, and as soon as possible, the S.S. carried on the camp administration only through the prisoners themselves as intermediaries. One would think that this arrangement was used out of sadism and, after the war was over, that is what was said. But, it was really out of the necessity to economize personnel that the system was used, and for that reason, in all prisons in all countries, the same situation holds. The S.S. itself only administrated the camp when it was impossible for them to do otherwise. We knew what self-government by the prisoners in the camps was. All of the old hands who have experienced both systems are unanimous in recognizing that the former was in principle the better and the more humane, and that if it was not in tact, it was because wartime circumstances and the pressure of events did not permit it. I believe it; it is better to deal with God than with the saints.
So the S.S.guarded the perimeter of the camp, and it can be said that we hardly ever saw them inside the camp, except when they simply went through to take the salute of the prisoners, the famous "Muetzen ab". They were helped in their guard duty by a company of marvelously trained dogs, always ready to bite and capable of hunting out an escaped prisoner tens of miles away. Every morning, the Kommandos that were to work outside the camp, often they traveled three or four miles on foot -- when they had to go farther, they used trucks or trains -- were accompanied, according to their importance, by two or four S.S., guns in hand, each with a muzzled dog on a leash. This special guard, which complemented the surveillance of the Kapos, just kept watch from afar, and did not intervene in supervision of the prisoners unless a show of force was called for.
In the evening, at the roll-call by Block, when everyone was there, at a whistle, all the Blockfuehrer turned toward the Block for which they were responsible, counted those present, and then went back to report. During this operation non-coms went around the Blocks to enforce silence and attention. The Kapos, Block Chiefs, and Lagerschutz (5) greatly helped them in making this task easy. From time to time an S.S. man stood out from the others for his brutality, but it was rare; and in no case was he ever more inhuman than the prisoner trustees who filled the positions that are mentioned in the preceding sentence .
At the inception of every camp there was no Haeftlingsfuehrung (6) ; there just the convoy of prisoners which arrived out in the open, guarded by the S.S. who themselves assumed all responsibility, directly and in detail. And that's the way it remained until the second, third, or fourth convoy arrived. The direct supervision of the S.S. could last six weeks, two months, six months, a year. But, as soon as a camp grew to a certain size, since the number of S.S. personnel could not be indefinitely expanded, they were obliged to take from among the prisoners the additional manpower necessary to keep watch over the mass of prisoners. One has to have experienced concentration camp life and have assimilated their history really to understand this phenomenon and the form it took in practice.
When the camps were originated in 1933, the German state of mind was such that opponents of National Socialism were considered the worst of brigands. With this attitude in the popular mind, the new masters easily succeeded in indoctrinating the masses to accept the idea that there were no crimes or offenses against common rights or political rights but only and simply crimes and offenses. As a result, the distinction between the two became unclear and in many instances it took very little to make the second, to all appearances more odious than the first in the eyes of a youthful fanatic, enrolled in the S.S. and entrusted with carrying out the project! Now put yourself in the place of the fifty S.S. soldiers at Buchenwald, on the day when, deluged by a thousand prisoners and a huge mass of materiel they had to select the first trustees from among their prisoners, and appoint the first Lageraeltester. Between a Thaelmann or a Breitscheid, whose recalcitrance was especially brought to their attention, and the first criminal they came across who had murdered his mother-in-law or raped his sister, but who was just as dull and docile as you please, they did not hesitate; they chose the second. He, in his turn, appointed the Kapos and the Blockaeltesters, and naturally he picked them from his kind of people, that is, from the common criminal, the "greens."
It was only after the camps had developed up to a certain point that they became real ethnographic and industrial centers, and that men of some moral and intellectual caliber were really needed to give efficacious assistance to the S.S.-Fuehrung. The latter perceived that the common criminals were the dregs of the population, in the camp as elsewhere, and that they were quite beneath what was required of them. Then the S.S. turned for help to the political criminals. One day a "green" Lageraeltester had to be replaced by a "red," who at once began to get rid of the "greens" in all positions, in favor of the "reds." And so arose the struggle which rapidly became a permanent one between the "greens" and the "reds. '' And, that explains why old camps like Buchenwald and Dachau were in the hands of the Politicals when we were there (7) while the newer ones, still at the Straflager or Arbeitslager stage except for miraculous variations, were always in the hands of the "greens."
An attempt has been made to claim that the struggle between the "greens" and the "reds", which only very late in the day extended beyond the German contingent in the camps, was the result of a coordinated effort on the part of the second against the first: this assertion is incorrect. The politicals, distrusting each other, not knowing where to turn, had only very vague and tenuous solidarity among themselves. But. on the side of the "greens." it was quite different: they formed a compact block, firmly held together by that instinctive confidence which always exists among criminals recidivists and convicts. The triumph of the "reds" was due only to chance, to the incompetence of the "greens." and to the discernment of the S.S.
It was also said that the political -- and especially the German political -- had organized revolutionary committees, had held meetings in the camps, had stocked arms, and had secret correspondents on the outside. This is pure legend. It is possible that some happy concurrence of circumstances made it possible, on occasion, for an individual to write to the outside, or to another prisoner in another camp, under the nose of the S.S.-Fuehrung. Or, someone who was released from a camp might carry, with great precaution, news from a prisoner to his family or a political friend; maybe someone who had just arrived might do the same thing in reverse. In fact, a transport of prisoners sometimes became a means of communication from one camp to another. But it was extremely rare, at least during the war, for a prisoner to be discharged from a camp and, as for the transports, no one in the camp, not even most of the S.S., knew what their destination was to be before they got there. Generally one only learned that a transport had taken place several weeks or months after its departure, and that it had arrived at Dora or Ellrich, through the sick, who sometimes came back from them. More often, this information was learned through the dead, who were returned to the camp to be cremated, and on whose chests their numbers and places of origin could be seen. But to say that these communications were premeditated, organized, and carried through, is pure fantasy. As for the stocking of arms: in the final days of Buchenwald, thanks to the chaos, some of the prisoners were able to filch pieces of guns, and even whole weapons from the manufacturing that was going on, but to state that such activity was a systematic practice is ridiculous. And, as for the revolutionary committees, and the meetings held: I had a good laugh, when, after the liberation, I heard of a committee for French interests at Buchenwald being talked about. Three or four vociferous Communists, including Marcel Paul (8) and the famous Colonel Manhes who had managed to escape from the evacuation transports, evoked this committee in the vacuum between the departure of the S.S. and the arrival of the Americans. They succeeded in making others believe that this committee had long been organized (9), but the existence of this committee is a pure invention and the Americans did not take it seriously. Their first action. when they came into the camp, was to ask the trouble-makers to be quiet and the crowd that was getting ready to listen to them to go back quietly to the Blocks. In short, everybody was required to submit from the start to a discipline of which they alone intended to remain the masters. After order was restored, they took care of the sick, the feeding of the prisoners, and the organization of the repatriation efforts. without taking any notice of the advice and suggestions which the several last minute VIP's tried in vain to impress upon them. And, that was all to the good: it cost Marcel Paul a lesson in humility, and a certain number of lives were saved.
Finally, it was said that the politicals, when they had the upper hand in the H-Fuehrung were more human than the common criminals. And this claim was said to be supported by the experience at Buchenwald (l0). It is true that Buchenwald was, when we arrived there, a relatively comfortable camp for those prisoners who were definitely free of any threat of being transported to any of the satellite camps. But, the bearable situation at Buchenwald was due more to the fact that it had completed its evolution and had become a Kozentrationslager, than because it had a political H-Fuehrung. In the other camps which which were behind it in development, the distinctions between the "greens" and the "reds" were hardly discernible. It could have been that contact with the politicals might have improved the moral standards of the criminals; but, the opposite took place, and it was the criminals who corrupted the politicals.
- It is said that the German population was almost totally ignorant of what went on in the camps during the war, and I believe it. In fact, the SS personnel who lived near the camps and who guarded their perimeters were, for the most part, ignorant of -- or, at least, did not learn of -- certain happenings until long after they were past.. If the reader finds this contention hard to believe, permit me to ask the following question: who in France knows any of the details about the life of the prisoners at French penal institutions at Carrere, La Noe, and other places? [And, for the American reader: how many Americans really know what goes on in the thousands of jails, penitentiaries, and prison farms that exist throughout the United States?]
- [For a scathing description by an English prisoner of the Jews -- as well as others -- who were interned at Buchenwald, see Christopher Burney, The Dungeon Democracy (New York: Duell, Sloan, & Pearce, 1946).]
- ["Black markets" seem to have been a common feature throughout the German concentration camp system. For a detailed discussion of how this kind of sub rosa economic activity worked in a German P.O.W. camp, see R. A. Radford, "The Economic organization of a P.O.W. Camp," Economica, (November 1945), pp. 189-201.]
- [By the end of the war, nationals of virtually every country in Europe -- including, even, Turkey -- were fighting along side the Germans. A kind of "pan-Europeanism" in the face of the possible annihilation of European culture at the hands of the Russians seems to have been a primary motivational factor for some of these volunteers. For a general discussion on the foreign volunteers from German occupied Europe who fought on the German side -- generally in units of the Waffen-SS -- see David Littlejohn, The Patriotic Traitors (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972). As a general rule, most of the foreign volunteers fought in combat units on the Eastern Front against the Russians. Some, however, were assigned to other duties such as the guarding of concentration camps. Littlejohn mentions, for example, that while the bulk of the Dutch and Flemish SS volunteers were transferred to the Waffen-SS following June 22, 1941, some of them were retained in Holland where, among other things, they guarded the concentration camps at Westerbork, Vught, and Amersfoort (p. 99).]
- All of these administrative positions within the camp were filled by prisoners who had been selected for the jobs by the SS guards.
- "Haeftlingsfuehrung" means the "self-government" or the direction of the day to day operation of the camp by the prisoners themselves.
- [Following the liberation of Buchenwald by American troops, a U.S. Army report was prepared in which it was stated that "... the prisoners themselves organized a deadly terror within the Nazi terror..." with German communist inmates running things. This report formed the basis of an article by a former U.S. Army officer who was present at Buchenwald following the capture of the camp and who interviewed many of the prisoners. In his article, he presents a story of how the communists ran the camp which corroborates many of the details which Professor Rassinier mentions in the text. Among other things, he says that "... on the day Buchenwald was liberated, the Army intelligence men were astounded to note that the 300 surviving German communities [who were running the camp from the inside] were dressed like 'prosperous business men.'" See, Donald B. Robinson, "The Communist Atrocities at Buchenwald," American Mercury (October, 1946), pp. 397-404. See, also, R.H.S. Crossman, "Buchenwald," Nation (July 30, 1945), pp. 123-125, in which the author reports on an interview with an Austrian inmate who describes at length how the communists ran Buchenwald from the inside.]
- Marcel Paul was a Studendienst in Block 56, and later he was assigned to Block 24 where the parcels that were sent to prisoners by their relatives were received.
- There was only one "committee" of long standing in the camps, and this "committee" was the loose association of thieves and pillagers, composed of either "reds" or "greens," who had been given the levers of command by the SS. At the liberation -- in order to save their own necks - they tried to put everyone off the track by claiming that they had represented organized prisoner resistance to the Germans, and to a large measure they have succeeded in this objective.
- Although to this camp was due all the notoriety about the "human skin lamp-shades" for which Ilse Koch, called the "Bitch of Buchenwald," today remains solely responsible, the question still remains: did the wife of the Lagerkommandant walk around the camp looking for handsome tattooing, and herself pointing out their unfortunate owners for death? I can neither confirm nor disprove it. Nevertheless, I can point out that from February through March 1944, rumors in the concentration camp accused the two Kapos of the Steinbruch and the Gartnerei, of that crime, already carried out by them, with the complicity of almost all their "colleagues." The two buddies had made a business of the death of tattooed prisoners, whose skins they sold to Ilse Koch in exchange for a variety of favors, and to others, through the intermediation of the Kapo and the SS of the Crematorium service. So, the contention of the accusation, if it has any basis in fact, is very fragile. [For a further discussion of the Ilse Koch matter, see Arthur R. Butz, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century (Richmond, Surrey: Historical Review Press ), pp. 42-43.]