The authorship of the following article must remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. The New Republic vouches for its authenticity, and for the fact that the conditions described are continuing to the present day. Indeed, reliable reports from Germany indicate that mistreatment of prisoners in concentration camps has become much worse since the alleged attempt at revolt at the end of June.—The Editors, 1934
The camp at Dachau is one of the first and largest concentration camps in Germany. The area, comprising about one square mile, is enclosed by a concrete wall seven feet high and covered with barbed wire. In the southwestern corner there are thirteen crude barracks, originally built for military purposes. They are in a dilapidated condition because of sixteen years of weathering, and were only superficially restored to serve as a shelter for 1,800 Bavarian workmen, political adversaries of the new regime.
Each barracks consists of five connecting rooms, in each of which fifty-two prisoners are lodged. Each room is equipped with fifty-two berths, in tiers of three, rough tables and benches. The floor is concrete. The prisoners sleep on straw sacks covered with a sheet which is changed once in two months. The walls are only a few inches thick, and the ill fitting windows offer almost no protection against the icy cold, wind or rain. For each fifty-two men a small washstand is provided, and the time allotted for washing, for the whole group, is only twenty-five minutes.
The whole corner where the barracks stand is enclosed by a high wire entanglement. The prisoners are warned that these are live wires, but this is a false alarm. This enclosed area is about 1,800 feet square, and contains a pool filled with muddy water, which, shrewdly photographed, appeared in the Munich Illustrierte Zeitung of July 16, 1933, as a swimming pool for the prisoners. From this enclosure leads a gangway, also protected by barbed wire and machine guns, to a spacious workshop, part of which is the kitchen and the other part drill-room and mess hall. Farther away are the guard houses, equipped with heating facilities. They are the officers’ quarters and contain workshops for cobblers, cabinet-makers, etc.
At the present time the camp harbors about 1,700 prisoners, the majority of whom are either Communists or members of organizations known as sympathetic, such as workers’ athletic and relief organizations. Some hundred prisoners are Social Democrats, Socialist Workers’ party members, students, lawyers and doctors, who were either active politically or known as pacifists. There are about forty Jews, mostly manual workers or clerks. A few of them were business men from small villages in northern Bavaria who had been arrested from motives of personal rancor or envy. None of the prisoners could be convicted of any violation of law, but they are nevertheless detained for an indefinite period.
The prisoners are kept occupied at hard labor, building roads and laying out drilling and shooting grounds. Some of the prisoners were harnessed for weeks to a heavy roller which they had to tow nine hours a day without a rest period. Others were compelled to stand the whole day in cold water excavating quagmire to lay the foundation for a swimming pool for the guards. The work was continually speeded up by lashing and kicking the prisoners, and many times men collapsed and had to be carried back to the camp for a short rest.
The food consists of three pounds of bread for each prisoner (this has to be eked out over a period of three days), a bowl of coffee in the morning and evening, and at lunch time a mess that is 75 percent potatoes and the balance meat or vegetables. The food is barely enough to keep idle men fit; certainly it is not sufficiently sustaining for the hard labor required. Additional food can be purchased by those prisoners who still have money, but there are very few of these. The night rest of the inmates is often disturbed by gangs of intoxicated guards rushing through the rooms with guns in their hands, tearing prisoners out of their beds and beating them up. In many cases, under this terrible strain, the hair of prisoners has turned white.
The prisoners are divided into three classifications, each treated differently. The first class is picked at random. These men act as firemen, and their only routine consists of some drilling. The second class is made up of the majority of the prisoners, who receive the treatment outlined above. The third class is composed of leading Communists and all the Jews. This class performs the hardest work on the smallest rations. They receive no sheets to cover their straw sacks. For a long time they were confined to dilapidated barracks where on rainy days the water would stand six inches deep on the floor. They are beaten more than the other prisoners, and nearly all of the murders are perpetrated on members of this class. Even within the last-mentioned class, the Jews are segregated, because no Aryan is allowed to share sleeping accommodations with a Jew. The Jews are refused cigarettes, and the other prisoners are forbidden to converse with them. However, the solidarity among the prisoners makes it impossible to put this rule into effect: camaraderie between the Jews and the other confined men is very strong. The prisoners are allowed to write one letter, or postcard, a week, which has to be turned in to the authorities unsealed. Any remarks about the conditions at the camp means daily beatings and severe punishment in dark cells.
During the first three weeks the camp was under the command of the regular police fore. Then the Nazis appeared one night to take over control. Their leader made a speech to his followers, of which the following quotations are of interest: “Always remember that no human beings are here, only swine.”—“Whoever does not wish to see blood may go home immediately.”—“No one who does harm to a prisoner need fear reprimand.”—“The more you shoot, the fewer we must feed.”
A favorite stunt of the Nazis is to order newly arrived prisoners into a dark room and make them stand with their faces against the wall while volleys are fired into the air. Whenever a new transport comes, some prisoners are picked out and horribly beaten with wired oxtails. On April 12 a transport from Nuremberg arrived with three Jewish prisoners. These, and another Jew who had been imprisoned for some time, were led out of the camp on evening. A few minutes later a volley of shots was heard. All were killed by shots fired through their temples at close range. These men were Arthur Kahn, Dr. Benario, a man named Goldman from Nuremberg, and Edwin Kahn from Munich. The last did not die immediately, and was able to make a statement to the effect that no attempt to escape had been made. Nevertheless, the next morning the prisoners were addressed by an overseer. He began by insulting the Jews: “They successfully tried to mislead and to stir up hatred and strife among the German people. But when they have to share your lot and wield pick and shovel as you do, they try to escape.” Three of the four prisoners were shot by the Second-in-Command, Erpsmüller, who boasted about the deed before the prisoners and remarked, “I am opposed to torture for the Jews. Bugs are not exterminated by tearing out their legs, but are trampled upon.”
The secretary of the Communist party, Deputy Joseph Goetz, was frequently taken out for a cross-examination. He always returned to his cell covered with wounds, and the orderly at the barracks refused to dress them. Every night at 10 o’clock, Steinbrenner, one of the overseers, entered the cell with five other special policemen equipped with long oxtails. They beat him into unconsciousness. The mattress, drenched with blood, was put out to dry in the sun every second day. After having gone through this torture for more than two weeks, Goetz was killed in his cell. His coffin was made in the cabinet-makers’ workshop by his former friends. In the meantime, his corpse lay in a coal cellar, the bleeding head wrapped in newspapers.
Deputy Fritz Dressel underwent similar daily tortures. He tried to cut his wrist with a piece of glass, but he was discovered while he still showed some signs of life and was transferred to a first-aid station. No sooner was his wound dressed than the Camp Commander, Weckerle, ordered him brought back into the detention call, in spite of the doctor’s warning that under these circumstances he would not be responsible for the consequences. A few hours later he was again “discovered” with the dressing ripped off, lying in a pool of blood, his arms pulled out of their sockets. When his corpse was taken out of the camp on a dray, the Commander made a remark to the assembled Special Police, which unfortunately I could not understand, but which was answered by the guards with roars of laughter. Captain Ehmann of the Special Police and another man led Leonhart Hausmann, Communist leader of Augsburg, out of the camp to be shot. Ehmann, however, lost his courage and ran away and the other fellow brought the prisoner back. The next day Hausmann was transferred to Ehmann’s labor group, and Ehmann took him out of sight behind some bushes and shot him. The official announcement was “Shot while trying to escape.” Ehmann was apparently reluctant to murder the prisoner, but was finally forced to do so by pressure from his superiors.
A few days later a transport arrived with 200 prisoners from northern Bavaria, some of whom were at once inhumanly beaten. Among these prisoners were twelve Jews who were picked out immediately and brought to the guard room. They were stripped of their clothing, their heads were wrapped in blankets to smother their cries and they were beaten barbarously. Later, after kicks on the testicles and further beating, they were driven to the barracks. The body of each, from the waist to the knee, was one complete wound. The entire scene took place in the presence of a high police official, Dr. Frank, and fifteen Special Police headed by Steinbrenner, Hofmann and Kantschuster.
One prisoner, Aaron, son of a Bamberg attorney, died of his injuries a few days later. The official cause of death, which in every other case was agreed upon between the camp commanders and the Special Police, could not in this case be made to appear as “Shot while trying to escape,” or “Found hanged in his cell,” since the body showed no marks of shooting or hanging. The Commander, however, found a way out of this fix: that very night the shed in which the corpse was laid out was burned down. The corpse was sufficiently scorched to destroy the marks of the beating, and the official announcement read, “Died of heart disease.” The body was delivered to the parents in a sealed coffin.
A prisoner, Major Hungbinger, a member of the Nazi party, but accused of being a spy, was tortured in his cell and hanged himself with the rope that is always provided for this purpose in the detention cells. As soon as the noose was taken off the body, Overseer Vogel laughingly showed the bloodstained rope to the other prisoners.
Schloss, a business man from Nuremberg, was killed in less than three days by blows on the testicles. The torturing was supervised by Commander Erpsmüller. The Jews were forced to scrub especially befouled toilets with their bare hands. A lawyer, Rosenfelder, was made to dab his face with the excrement. Two other prisoners were forced to clean some barbed-wire entanglements placed in the bed of a brook. They were forced to work without shoes or gloves, so that both came back to camp benumbed with cold and with their hands and feet severely lacerated.
A prisoner, Furth, who later disappeared from camp, was found lying on the concrete floor of his cell, almost beaten to death. Commander Weckerle entered: “Why don’t you stand at attention when I enter?” he asked. No answer. Thinking that the prisoner had attempted to commit suicide, Weckerle continued, “This man wants to get away before we’re through with him, but he has to confess first.” The prisoner was taken from his cell for medical attention, simply to restore him for additional torture. An attorney named Strauss, from Munich, was arrested because at one time he had a case against the Minister of Justice. A few days later this man, who had previously enjoyed good health, was transformed into a quivering white-haired old man. They compelled him to swim in ice-cold water while they lashed him with oxtails. After four days of torture he was shot.
The camp physician, Dr. Katz of Nuremberg, was also a prisoner. At first he was well treated because the guards and even the Commander admired his courageous attitude, but after he had witnessed the torture inflicted upon the prisoners, it became dangerous for the Nazis to release him. It was reported later that he had hanged himself in a detention cell—a few days before his anticipated release. His presence in the cell, however, was never explained.
The Commander enters the room where prisoners are mending boots and reads aloud an article on the situation in the concentration camp in Dachau, taken from the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung. The paper states the prisoners are beaten with oxtails and shot “when caught in the attempt to escape” or are found “hanging in their cells.” Every prisoner knows that the report is true. The Commander asks: “Are you now convinced of the lies published by this Marxist Jewish press?” No one answers.
Solidarity among the prisoners is strong. Although at every cross-examination the prisoners are tortured, the Nazis never succeeded in obtaining any traitorous information. Despite the fact that several attempts were made by the Commander to stir up hatred between the Christian prisoners and the Jewish minority, and although the Commander promised that any prisoner who harmed a Jew would be released, the Jews receive every encouragement, kindness and consideration from other prisoners.
The German press has repeatedly announced that great numbers of prisoners have been released and that several of the concentration camps have been closed. To illustrate the credibility of such statements, the happenings on Hitler’s birthday are significant. The press declared that two thousand prisoners were released in southern Bavaria, which means that at least fifteen hundred would have to have been released from the Dachau concentration camp. Actually ninety-nine men were released and twenty-five of them were imprisoned again the next day.
The names of the Nazis who are mainly responsible for the cruelty toward and murder of the prisoners are the following: Weckerle, Erpsmüller, Dr. Frank, Steinbrenner, Heini Straus, Hofmann and Kantschuster. The great majority of the Storm Troopers did not take part in the torturing of the prisoners. Some of the guards even had the courage openly to oppose the torturing and murdering of prisoners. They were placed in “protective custody.” Several of the Special Police sympathized with the prisoners, so that every third week the guard had to be changed, and only the most brutal were kept permanently at the camp.
It is frequently stated that such cruelties as are outlined above are due to certain deficiencies in the character of the German people. I am strongly opposed to this view, having observed that even among this selected group of Special Police, only about five percent take an active part in, or favor, the brutalities inflicted upon the prisoners. The atrocities committed are the work of a few criminal types who are strongly backed by their superiors. This substantiates the statement made by Dimitroff during the Reichstag trial, that “neither the Bulgarian nor any other people is barbaric, but fascism is barbaric wherever it appears.” The happenings in Dachau were not the uncontrolled actions of minor officials. The camp was continually visited by leading members of the Nazi party and government, among them being Heinrich Himmler, Commander of the Special Police; General Von Epp; Bavarian Minister of the Interior Wagner and others.