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Report about the Buchenwald concentration camp

Sources of the report

The following report is based in the first instance on the detailed stories of three prisoners, whom the reporter himself has spoken to individually during the course of the month of July, each one only a few days after his release. Secondly information has been taken into account, which was given to the writer as being the substance of what two lawyers learned, who spent six weeks continually dealing with the processing of cases of internment from Buchenwald. Other sources, in particular the reports published in the British press, have not been used.

The precise names of the three prisoners mentioned above are known to the writer, however cannot be revealed here because the people concerned are still in Germany.

Camp population

According to a statement of the prisoners the composition of the camp population on about 20th June was as follows:

Number of prisoners in total:  c.7850
Jews included above 1240-1250
Ernste Bibelforscher 300-400
Arbeitsscheue  c.3000
Politische Häftlinge 800-1000
'B.V.'  1500-2000

In addition to these prisoners there are only uniformed SS teams in the camp; civilians are never allowed to enter the camp – even the Kriminalpolizei have to wait at the entrance to the camp. The composition of the camp population is always posted on a blackboard in the area where the prisoners receive the money sent to them by their relatives.

The individual categories of prisoners

Of the individual categories of prisoners, the following can be observed: The so-called “Arbeitsscheue” [work shy] are made up in part of elements who really are reluctant to work, amongst them also a number of Gypsies, to a greater extent however of people whose crime was to leave their employment in order to take up better paid work elsewhere.

The “Ernste Bibelforscher”, members of the well-known sect, who amongst other things refuse to give the Nazi salute on religious grounds, are released from the concentration camp immediately if they undertake to “no longer believe in Jehovah”. Without exception they refuse to do this however. In the concentration camp the “Bibelforscher” look after the Jews especially, often giving up some of their bread rations to them etc.

The number of Jews came to about 1,350 initially, i.e. after the large manhunt operation of 12th-18th June was carried out, as part of which the Jews first came to B. The departure of about 100 within five weeks is to a small extent the result of releases, to a larger extent of fatalities. In general Jews are released if it can be proved that they have an immediate opportunity to emigrate, i.e. if visa and ticket to travel are in place.

The different kinds of prisoners are already denoted by their clothing; therefore Jews wear a black stripe as “Arbeitsscheue” and a yellow one as Jews. Prisoners are accommodated in large barracks and in fact the Jews in special ones. Initially 462 men slept in one of the Jewish barracks, of these twelve were dead within the first week.

The course of the working day

As a rule the prisoners’ day proceeds as follows: waking is at half past 3. At quarter past 4 is Appell. This lasts until quarter past 5 – above all the frequency and long duration of the Appells, having to stand to attention during them, is felt to be scarcely less agonising than the work, the mistreatment and the hunger. At quarter past 5 the Arbeitskommandos report for duty, at quarter to 7 work starts. This then goes on without interruption until 12 o’clock. From 12 o’clock until shortly before half past 12 is lunch break, before half past 12 they move off again, and from 1-4 is work again. At 4 o’clock they are counted off again; this Appell lasts until at least ten past 5, that is if no one is missing; otherwise the so-called Stufendienst search for the absentees (mostly in the forest), and the others have to continue to stand until he is found alive or dead; in some circumstances this can take from 4 o’clock until 8 o’clock. If no one is missing, then at twenty to 6 there is another work Appell, and from 6 o’clock until 8 o’clock they work again. At 8 o’clock there is then supper.

Rations

The prisoners receive coffee in the morning, but nothing to eat. At midday there is usually noodles, rice, pearl barley or suchlike or pulses. The food is said to be very good qualitatively, only much too little. In the evening Jews receive in total 300 g. of dry bread, which also has to last for the following morning. In the canteen prisoners can buy jam to put on it, which incidentally is said to be good. The result of this catering is weight loss, which as a rule seems to be between 20 and 40 pounds within six weeks. Aryans receive larger bread rations than Jews. But the precise detail is not known.

Types of work

The work of the prisoners consists predominantly of hauling rocks from the nearby quarry. Close attention is paid at least to the Jews, so that they are only allowed to perform this roughest work; one of the prisoners who had redeployed to the mason, asked for permission to work in the quarry itself, which was refused on the grounds that there was no question whatsoever of this for Jews. Besides hauling rocks prisoners are also occupied with felling trees and dragging them away. In each case they are forced to work with the most extreme exertion using all their strength, so oak planks say, which are normally carried by four workers, have to be carried by two prisoners here. In the same way in the quarry it is ensured that prisoners have to carry rocks of between one and two hundredweight – and even the old and sick.

Mistreatments

During the work itself mistreatment of all kinds, right up to straightforward murder, takes place daily. If someone collapses altogether under the workload or stumbles, then he is brought round again with kicks or blows from rifle butts or with a bucket of cold water. One of the prisoners told of the folllowing case: a Jew whilst hauling rock had picked up one rock which weighed roughly 40 pounds. At this he was shouted at to put the thing back and look for a larger rock. As the Jew went, the guard took the smaller rock and flung it with all his might at the Jew; he was hit in the neck and was dead. Prisoners are also continually dying in other ways as well as from the direct results of mistreatment. E.g. in July one of the Jewish prisoners died of a double renal pelvic fracture as a result of kickings. Mistreatments during work seem to happen for the most part through the Vorarbeiter, called “Capos”. They are prisoners themselves (and indeed to an extent ‘B.V.’ men, which means Berufsverbrecher, who are urged on by the SS teams to crack down as harshly as possible. The guards themselves stand near to the Arbeitskommandos with weapons primed.

Outside work numerous mistreatments happen even during Appelle etc. Here especially punishments are also imposed and carried out for all possible offences, e.g. if somebody does not stand to attention or is not standing precisely in line etc. The regular punishments are 25 lashes, some of which are carried out in the presence of everybody in the camp in the evening during Appell. In most cases the result of these floggings is that the people concerned cannot then be released even if they can prove they have an immediate opportunity to emigrate – because it is not wanted that traces of mistreatment will be visible outside.

Medical care

Only those people who have either an open wound or a broken bone are allowed to report sick; hence all the serious internal illnesses that are caused through over-exertion during the work or through the inadequate diet, particularly heart disease, are not treated, and a large number die of exhaustion or a heart attack etc. This all the more as the rather large number of people over 50, at least amongst the Jews, in addition to those who were already suffering from heart disease on day one, the asthmatics etc., must take part in all kinds of work and also all the drills (endurance runs etc.) like the others.

There are doctors and Sanitäter present in the camp. These are prisoners themselves and have far too few beds, medicines etc., to be able to help effectively. For the most serious cramps they give a couple of drops of belladonna or the like in some circumstances. An SS doctor comes into the camp for a couple of hours each day, “but he will not touch a Jew”, as one of the prisoners said.

Number of fatalities

When the Arbeitskommandos march out to work in the morning, they come past a place where always one or two, often even several, stretchers lie with the newly dead who are taken away. In total the number of fatalities in an average day is said to number six to eight. Of these fatalities one part is due to mistreatment, another to over-exertion, exhaustion, etc., a substantial part, however, to suicide. This is how it takes place as a rule - the despairing prisoners hurl [themselves] into the high voltage barbed wire surrounding the barracks. This was very common particularly in the early days.

Particular incidents

There is no ray of hope at all for the prisoners. Sunday seemed to us to be scarcely less terrible than the other weekdays; it consists for the most part of hours-long Appelle. On a Sunday the prisoners even had to stand throughout the whole day, so that in the end from tiredness they could no longer stay upright. In between times they were drafted into groups to undress completely naked, after which the clothes are searched very thoroughly. It was said that a photograph has been published in an English newspaper of the gallows on which the recaptured murderer of the SS man was hanged in the presence of the entire camp population, and the whole camp is now being searched for the camera. Special punishments are imposed in other ways as well in some circumstances as a reprisal for foreign publications, for example complete deprivation of food for one day.

Conclusion

Those released from Buchenwald give the impression of being completely broken and frightened. As a rule the men weep as soon as they are asked something; often they only answer if their wife is nearby and encourages them. These people have doubtless become incapable of emigrating as a rule, because every bit of courage, every strength of nerve, has been taken away from them. Probably a larger part of them will perish abroad afterwards. Finally it should be noted that contrary to most of the press publications, the overwhelming majority of prisoners consists of non-Jews. Even amongst these the misery is horrendous; one of the released Jewish prisoners asserted that he had never before seen such dreadful misery in his life as in Buchenwald amongst the Christians.

Reporter unknown

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