(Page 2 of 2)Report No. 7
Reported by: Heinrich Michel
It was on May 16, 1945 at 5:00 p.m. that I was led off from my house on the orders of the police prefect Douda of Aussig. I was self-employed as master carpenter in Aussig-Prödlitz and was still wearing my working clothes. My wife just managed to slip me some dry bread. Of the men guarding me, I knew the partisan Walter Swoboda of Aussig-Prödlitz, Lange Gasse 116. On our arrival in Aussig, in the coal syndicate where Douda resided, the latter - surrounded by Russians - yelled at me: "You bandit, you crook, you scoundrel, you Gestapo lackey!" Searching me for weapons, he yanked the bread out of my pocket and threw it in my face, with the words: "I'm going to have you shot!" Douda had used to be the head waiter in the Turnhalle. In 1938 he had emigrated to Russia. After all my valuables had been confiscated from me, I was taken to the court prison, into Cell 8. Surmising what kind of Czech terrorism was to come, I had considered taking my life, but I was dissuaded by the other inmate of the cell, the Elbe valley painter Podlebnik from Aussig-Salesel. Podlebnik had been arrested because he had allegedly served people from the Waffen-SS. Podlebnik believed that it was an act of malice by a local Czech, because he had not so much as seen a Waffen-SS man all of 14 days prior to his arrest.
More fellow-sufferers arrived by the hour, so that there were soon nine of us in the cell. There were the weapons dealer Strowik, lawyer Knöspel, Heller and others.
On the second day following my imprisonment, another prisoner came into the cell. More accurately, he stumbled in and collapsed. Soon we noticed a horrible stench. The man lying on the ground before us had excrement running out of his collar and both trouser legs. What had happened here? I got permission from the warden, a Croat, to undress the man and clean him up a bit in the water earmarked for fighting air-raid fires. It had not been changed for weeks, but it was better than nothing. To our horror, there was not even a palm-sized area anywhere from the man's neck to his feet that was not suffused with blood. We didn't believe that he would survive. But he did recover. The abused man's name was Heller, he was from Staditz near Tschochau and was a foreman at the cable factory of Staditz. As Heller told us later, the reason for his arrest was that in his capacity as foreman he had reported a Czech man's act of sabotage to the owner of the factory, one Herr Wild. He had managed to flee, wading twice through the river Biela, but after a downright turkey-shoot conducted by the partisans he was surrounded, taken back to Staditz, and grossly abused here in a cellar.
By the time Whitsun had arrived there were about 180 of us imprisoned here. On Whitsun evening - all the cell doors had just been opened - a partisan appeared (I have forgotten his name, but he was a Czech) and yelled: "I am lieutenant of the partisans. Now I will show you how to deal with an SS-dog!" He emptied a ¾-liter bottle of schnapps. From Cell 15, where the Waffen-SS and other SS members were kept, they dragged out Willi Künstner, the chief of personnel from the Schicht works and honorary member of the General SS. He was beaten, shoved, knocked down, dragged to his feet again, beaten again, and so on without pause. We closed our doors and stuck our fingers in our ears. When we dared open the doors again, we saw how the victim, who had collapsed, was being dragged back into his cell by two SS-men. The cell was so overcrowded already anyway that there was no room for someone lying down. After many entreaties we managed to have Künstner taken to a hospital. The next day we found out, in roundabout ways, that Künstner never regained consciousness at the hospital, and died there. An 18-year-old member of the Waffen-SS in my cell, who was not taken to Cell 15 until later - he was the only child of a widow in Türmitz and had been drafted into the Waffen-SS as late as March 1945 - had been so badly beaten that he got a nervous shock every time someone so much as opened the cell door. I don't know where he was taken to from Cell 15.
The living conditions in this court prison were very bad. Our rations consisted of some black coffee in the morning, two or three potatoes with instant sauce at noon, and 100 grams of bread to last the entire day. Eight to nine people lived in each 9 m² cell. A bucket without a lid had to serve as toilet. And so it was rather a relief for us when work teams were set up. On the other hand, this again provided more opportunity for maltreatment, which was directed particularly at the intellectuals who were not used to hard physical work. At the train station we had to unload supplied that had been intended for the German Wehrmacht - barrels of butter, sardines etc. - and move them into the basement of the former Jepa shopping mart. In view of the bounty we unloaded, the excuse given for our starvation rations, namely that our fellow German pigs had taken all edibles with them, was obviously not true.
At the time, especially the teenaged, 16 to 18-year-old partisans often beat me.
To make room in the court jail, the 50 of us were taken to the former Luftwaffe camp in Lerchenfeld on May 29, 1945. First we had to clean up the chaos left by the Hungarians and the Russian soldiers passing through. We were ordered to run everywhere we had to go in the camp, which was an inhuman anguish for the older ones among us, for example the approximately 74-year-old government official Galle, Mayor Nittner, and others. In this way, we had to lug the Wehrmacht lockers from the camp to the storerooms at the top of the hill, at a run from morning till night. I was fortunate to be appointed Kapo by a Czech locksmith of my acquaintance, who had been apprenticed to Master Locksmith Schiller in Prödlitz. This spared me the worst of the hard labor. In the camp I obtained a push cart, so that four of the older prisoners could ride and walk. The partisan guards forbade this kind of transportation, but I applied to the camp commandant Vrsa and convinced him that in this way four lockers could be moved at a time. New groups constantly arrived from the court jail, and by the end of June our number had grown to 1,000, distributed among the 13 blocks. Four of the blocks housed women. Later, all prisoners - most of them were people who had been arbitrarily arrested - were sent here to Lerchenfeld directly instead of with an intermediate stop at the court jail. From the time the camp had opened, a roughly 20-year-old fellow who had only one arm had been used as messenger. He had to pass on all the orders given by the camp command, and this gave him some degree of freedom. One evening he did not return. Immediately all the surrounding villages, where the partisans serving in the camp were quartered, were informed of his absence. Almost all the camp's partisans, some 80 to 120 guards, participated in this manhunt. Late that night we learned that the escapee had been shot in a forest nearby. The next morning we had to walk single-file past the gurney with the shot man. During the roll call that had preceded this, camp commandant Vrsa had yelled: "This is what will happen to anyone who tries to escape."
Witnesses to all the events which I recount from my time in the Lerchenfeld camp and also in Schöbritz, are: the arms dealer Strowik from Aussig, Hoffmann from Nestomitz, chief engineer Holina from the Solvay Plant, the attorney of the Solvay Plant, the Chairman of the Trade Guild health insurance organization (I don't want to mention his name yet as he is still missing), Hübsch from the Employees' Health Insurance organization, the master shoemaker Heller, Wenzel Behr, an employee of the DAF, the two brothers Mieke from Türmitz, one of which was an attorney with Tuch-Hübel, and all the prisoners of Block 1, of which I was a member and which included all the craftsmen and clerks used in the camp.
It was usually arranged that newly arriving groups of prisoners - generally 30 to 50 but sometimes as many as 100 men - arrived in the evening, when all camp inmates had to be in their cell blocks. From the window of our Block 1 we were able to observe how these receptions took place. The new arrivals had to sing the German national anthem and SA songs, and had to parade along after a portrait of Hitler. They had to run the gauntlet from the barrier to the administrative barracks, which meant a stretch of about 40 to 50 meters lined on either side by partisans who beat mercilessly down on the running prisoners with bullwhips. The women among the partisans were the worst among them, most especially one from Karbitz, whose name is probably known to my fellow prisoner Kohberger from Karbitz. Members of the SA got special treatment. They received 25 blows with a bullwhip or rubber truncheon on their bare buttocks.
In October our numbers had grown to about 3,500. Every day 2,500 went out to work. On July 31, 1945, the Bloody Day of Aussig, one team had not returned from work. As I already mentioned, I was the Kapo (block elder) of Block 1, the cell block where the camp's craftsmen and clerks were imprisoned. This helped me to find out many things that most others didn't know, from the tax advisor Hahnel of Aussig, Hauptmann of Aussig, Stephan, a high-ranking official with the Aussig Main Post Office, the academic painter Ungermann, Mayor of Reichenberg (he was later taken to Reichenberg). Especially Fritz Wolfrum from the Schönpriesen liquor factory must know a lot, since he was the clerk to the political officer in charge and was later also involved in the preliminaries for the People's Court trials. From these clerks, we in Block 1 learned that the account given of the labor team that had not returned stated: "Killed in the catastrophic explosion." According to the accounts of the eyewitnesses to the Aussig massacre, these men most likely fell into the hands of the rabble. The aforementioned clerks also witnessed the shooting of Emil Luprich from Nollendorf. I will never forget this one Saturday in August, I think it was the 22nd, when 22-year-old Emil Luprich from Nollendorf, who had not been drafted into the Waffen-SS until spring 1945, was shot by a firing squad in front of all 3,000 camp inmates. The day before, two men from a labor team had escaped. Saturday evening around 5:30pm, not the usual time, the camp bell was rung. "Everyone line up, without exception," we were ordered. Camp commandant Vrsa appeared, totally drunk, and took his usual speaker's podium. His speech was nothing but cursing from start to finish. In conclusion he screamed that as punishment for the two escaped men, every tenth prisoner would now be shot. The roofs of the surrounding barracks were manned by partisans with submachine guns. The partisans repeated their rifles and got ready to fire. We were prepared for the worst, and only felt sorry for the approximately 1,300 women, who were lined up across from us, calm but deathly pale. And then Vrsa began to curse all over again. The real culprits, he said, were actually the Kapos, and so all the Kapos should be shot. Now all Kapos had to line up side by side, in lines of five. After this was done, Vrsa again changed his mind; now every tenth Kapo was to be shot. I believe I was one of those who would have been shot, because a partisan came up to me and changed my place with another. I guess my carpentry services were simply too useful for the partisan gentlemen to dispense with. - But this order was also not carried out. We figured out later that all this back-and-forth was intended to create panic among us, which would snap at the climax to be expected and provide an excuse to stage a blood bath.
We had been standing on the roll call square for about an hour already. Vrsa began cursing yet again, this time at the women. He said they were German whores, SS-whores, every one of them. A new order was issued: "All members of the SS and Waffen-SS step forward!" The SS-men had been continually sent off to special camps, but unfortunately there were still five Waffen-SS men among us, who had been brought here from the camp at Karbitz. These five were now led off into the former Wehrmacht bunker. As we found out later, they had to draw lots. The young fellow from Nollendorf drew the short straw. Meanwhile, Vrsa had declared to us that he did not want to be like us, that he would rather show mercy than dispense harsh justice, but that a punishment simply had to be. When the SS-men returned, he called out: "Someone is being executed here in the name of the Republic! The verdict will be carried out immediately!" About 30 feet away, the execution squad took up position in front of the "convicted" man. Hands raised, the young Nollendorfer begged for mercy. Then Vrsa yanked a kerchief off a woman's head. It was tied over the condemned man's eyes. Vrsa repeated the sentence in Czech. Then the sentence was carried out. The tall Czech partisan whose bullet had been the fatal one was never seen in the camp again after that. - We saw Emil Luprich lying in a pool of his own blood. "Dr. Tauber!" Vrsa yelled. Dr. Tauber, the camp physician, examined the young man and found that he was still alive. Now Luprich was shot once more, in the head. It was a few minutes before 8 o'clock pm. A brief order decreed that the square had to be vacated by 8 o'clock. It was thanks to the level-headedness of our camp elder, who immediately saw to our quick withdrawal, and not least of all to the self-control of the women, that the panic which the Czechs probably still longed for did not break out after all.
A time of torment was in store for me as well, namely when Skala, the son of a railwayman from Prödlitz, and Huttig, who lived in the Prödlitz Castle, came to Lerchenfeld as partisans. Huttig beat me with the bullwhip that every partisan carried in his boot until I collapsed unconscious. When I came to, the beating was resumed. One time later on, when I asked Huttig in the presence of another Czech named Vacek why he had beaten me, he declared that it was because when he had been a 12-year-old boy I had ejected him from a fairground for stealing cake. I asked him whether I had also beaten him at the time. "No," he admitted. In Prödlitz Skala then bragged at every opportunity that he had beaten up the master carpenter Michel. During this period my camp comrades had to keep a watch on me to keep me from committing suicide.
One day - I do not recall the date - a father was brought to the camp along with his son who had returned home to his parents' house from the Wehrmacht only the evening before. At the gate to the concentration camp the son tried to flee. He was mowed down with a submachine gun. The father then had to cart his dead son into the camp on a wheelbarrow, and was severely beaten while doing so.
Beatings were the order of the day. The most minor violations of camp rules were punished with 25 to 50 blows. It was such a violation for an inmate to speak to a woman, even if she was his own wife. Then both of them would receive 25 blows. Or if someone was caught smuggling letters. And as I mentioned before, at first everyone was punished if he failed to run through the camp, or stood still for a while. To be punished, it was enough if a partisan said someone had deserved it; nobody checked to see if it was true, and there was no defense. Punishment was meted out every evening at roll call. The prisoner to be punished had to bring a beer barrel and lie across it. Then two partisans beat down on him with their bullwhips. When a woman was to be punished, her head was stuck between a partisan's legs, her mouth was held shut, and then she was beaten mainly on the kidney area. Afterwards the punished prisoners were forced to thank their tormenters. Once the 70-year-old teacher Meiyner from Prödlitz was punished with 50 blows for allegedly having stolen a loaf of bread. Meiyner had actually been given the loaf by the baker who supplied the camp, but he couldn't say so because otherwise the baker would also have ended up in the camp. Meiyner looked horrible. His back and buttocks were suffused with blood and his testicles enormously swollen. We expected that Meiyner would die of this treatment. But he actually survived. Today he lives in the American [occupation] zone [of Germany].
In early October the camp at Lerchenfeld, which was occupied by Russians, was transferred to Schöbritz. But first we had to make the camp livable. For the first time we had to live outdoors, even though the cold nights were already setting in. A time of severe hardship began for everyone except those in Block 1. The dividing walls had to be removed from prefabricated RAD barracks, logs were set up inside at a height of 3 feet and the dividing walls were placed on these, and this process was continued up to the ceiling so that each barrack turned into a three or four-storey shack. Each of these barracks had to house two blocks of inmates, that is 500 men. Altogether we were 13 blocks. There was no straw; we had to sleep on the bare floor, packed like sardines. There was no way to keep the shacks clean; you could cut the air with a knife, the stench was so bad. Whenever someone turned over in his sleep, or had to use the bucket, he invariably woke up all his neighbors. It was astonishing that under these circumstances these people actually still managed to keep the peace amongst themselves. Under the pretext of repairs I often managed to go to the other barracks, and smuggled illegal packages along in my toolbox. Those of us in Block 1 each had our own bed, even if they were stacked two and three storeys high. But this favoritism that was shown to us by the Czechs was not because they liked us, but rather, as mentioned before, because very often they would exploit our labor for their own personal purposes.
Then came November 13, 1945, a horrible day, horrible for those involved and for those who had to watch helplessly how German people whose only crime was that they were Germans, were tortured to death. The day before, two comrades had escaped from a work team. On the 13th, Block 8, which the two men had belonged to, was not allowed to go out to work. At 7:30 am the order was given: "Block 8 line up for morning exercises." Block 8 lined up. From the window I heard how Vrsa said sarcastically to them, since the German people loved gymnastics this was really no punishment at all for them. Then everyone had to march off to the parade square. The lawn there had been removed only a few days before; the loamy ground was still slippery. Then the "gymnastics" began: Up, down, squats, push-ups, and on and on without a break until 11 o'clock. It was undernourished and, in part, elderly frail people who had to do these exercises here. Anyone who could not continue was beaten. Slats were ripped off an old fence and used to ruthlessly beat these people. Hoffmann from Nestomitz and the NSV District Office Chief Stroppe were standing beside me at the window. We had to turn away, and went into our workshop. Gymnastics teacher Langhammer of Prödlitz was one of those who went through this torment. After these agonizing hours it was decreed that Block 8 would have to report again in the afternoon, completely cleaned up. That meant that the overalls had to be washed, and put on again wet since they could not possibly be dry again by the afternoon. From the camp physician Dr. Tauber I learned that this day had cost 9 men their lives and produced 20 injured who had been taken to the infirmary.
In terms of quantity, our rations had increased. They consisted in the main of ground potato starch, which the former Wehrmacht stores were full of. We continued to starve. Those of our comrades who did a lot of work for the Czechs personally, or who received their rations in the Schicht plant or in the Glass Works, fared a little better. The camp's water supply was a disaster. The water was carted in from old wells in the vicinity, in barrels. Typhus raged in the camp from late October until December. One day I saw a line of cars from the Red Cross pull up. The cars had foreign licence plates. Dr. Tauber, who was just crossing the camp square, was called over. The conversation had lasted for about 15 minutes when Vrsa showed up. After the Commission had toured one of the barracks, they left the camp again.
On Christmas Even there was a major roll-call. The entire camp had to line up in front of a Christmas tree decorated with electric lights and was ordered to sing "Silent Night, Holy Night". When our rations suddenly improved, we knew that change was in the air. The ill prisoners received gruel with sugar, and Vrsa showed up in the kitchen and declared that this order was to be strictly adhered to, so that we wouldn't have reason to complain again.
On January 13, 1946 the events of November 13 were repeated. I don't know how many prisoners died; I only saw how dead people were taken on stretchers directly to the morgue, and that many injured went to the infirmary. One day, I and the health practitioner Riedel, the baker Wenndt from Aussig, policeman Hacker from Türmitz, and Schlattner from Königswald observed from the kitchen how an approximately 18-year-old girl was roped to a pear tree from her chest down to her knees and was then beaten in the face by partisans passing by. Then a car pulled up, driven by a man I did not know. It seems that it was on his intervention that the girl was untied a short time afterwards. She had to be taken to the infirmary on a stretcher.
We found out later that beating and abuse was now forbidden in the camp. And on the surface it did seem as though this order was being obeyed, but in actual fact the abuse continued - except that now the victims were taken one at a time into the basements of surrounding houses so that the abuse could no longer be seen or heard. - Now I would like to tell how Dr. Tauber died. In my opinion his conversation with the foreign Commission was the cause of his death. Although Dr. Tauber had to appear to be stern to his fellow prisoners, he took many a chance on our behalf and tried to improve our general lot. I personally was often present when he went up against Vrsa. One evening someone from Block 13 called, "Dr. Tauber!" Block 13 wasn't far from the barbed-wire fence. Dr. Tauber had the right to visit the blocks where he was being called even at night, carrying a lantern. The next morning Dr. Tauber was dead, and no-one got to see him any more. Two inmates had escaped during the night. We were told that Dr. Tauber had tried to escape and had been caught and beaten down by the partisans standing guard. "And that's what will happen to anyone who tries to go over the barbed wire and home into the Reich!" Vrsa announced. Among us prisoners the explanation was that Dr. Tauber had to die because on all the death certificates he had issued he had been forced to give the cause of death as heart failure, weakness due to old age, debilitation etc. Once, when I had been ill and in the infirmary for several days, Dr. Tauber had commented to me: "If this ends well and I get out of here alive, I'll have been lucky. But I don't believe it will happen. I know too much."
In late January we were sent back to Lerchenfeld. The People's Court trials began. Minor offenses, in many cases of an entirely private nature - for example if a Czech and a German had once had a disagreement and they mutually insulted one another - were now dragged into the limelight and punished with 2 to 3 years' imprisonment. Josef Hergesell of Prödlitz was sentenced to two years for an alleged slap in the face. Hergesell is now living in Germany; I don't know where. Schubert, who had worked in the copper plant in Pömmerle, was sentenced to 10 years for keeping a Czech from committing sabotage. I myself was spared a People's Court trial, as my personal enemy Douda had by then died. He had been removed from all offices and was himself locked up for 8 days; the Czech police inspector Klimesch of Prödlitz had been unable to substantiate his charge that in 1938 I had allegedly stolen his dining room [furniture?], 50 kg of screws and 20 m wood. On September 16,1946 I was informed that I was not allowed to return to my home town, and was deported to Thuringia.
This report represents the truth, to the best of my knowledge and belief.