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Prague
(Page 3 of 6)
Report No. 71
translation by Gerda Johannsen.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
My experiencs in Czechoslovakia 1945-46
Reported by: W. L. Report of June 21, 1947

location of PragueSince November 1944 I had been lying in the military hospital VII (Prague-Kleinseite, formerly the Tyrs House) with a shattered forearm. In April I was already allowed to go out with my arm in a sling. Everything in Prague was quiet and peaceful at that time. It was perfectly safe for me to move around. The Czechs showed themselves friendly and obliging.

On May 4, 1945 all was quiet, even the three-days public mourning for Hitler's death, which had been ordered by Frank, the Minister of State, was carried out without incident. No one would have thought that the Czechs, who during the whole of the war had dared to make very little resistance to the German Military Authorities, would after the capitulation give way to a paroxysm of cruelty against defenceless people. Still less that they would not even spare wounded soldiers, women, children and other helpless persons.

The following is a rough sketch of my own experiences and observations:

During the evening hours of May 4th the Czechs in Prague began to take down the German sign-boards and posters and refused to answer any questions asked in German. The attitude of the police remained passive.

On the morning of the 5th of May things were still quiet. I had had to leave the hospital, which was very overcrowded, and was convalescing at home. On this day I saw no danger in going in my Lieutenant's uniform from my flat to the hospital, in order to have my bandages changed. About 11 o'clock great tumult was to be heard on the streets. The houses were suddenly decorated with Czech flags. People were embracing one another everywhere and waving Czech flags or throwing flowers.

I left the hospital with my arm in the sling, pushed my way through the crowd, jumped in a passing streetcar and travelled across the city to my house. Apart from a few insults and curses I experienced no further signs of hostility. During this time, as I heard later on, weapons were being distributed to the Czechs in the area around the Bubner Station and shots were fired at a German ambulance train. In the meantime the Czechs had taken the Prague radio station in a surprise attack. They broadcast incessant appeals to the population, inciting them to revolt and repeating the savage slogan: "Smrt nĕmcum!" (Death to the Germans!)

After my return I saw from the window of my parents' flat a German soldier covered with blood, who was lying near the station in the blazing sun. He was being brutally maltreated by the Czech who was guarding him. Meanwhile I had changed into civilian clothes and pretended to be a university student. Nothing was done to the inmates of our house, and save for small-arms and cigarettes nothing was taken away. That night and the following Sunday, May 6th, brought no special events, except that we were called up to build barricades and received orders to leave our flat and to take refuge in the air-raid shelter. It was not until the late evening of the 6th of May that a number of men came into the cellar and called out: "All men out to come with us!" I was the only one of my family living at home and my mother clung to me and wanted to come with me. She was torn from my side and thrust back again. We were not even able to take leave of one another. I was not to see my mother again for the next two years.

We were taken to the Oko (Orion) movie theatre and shut up there together with men, women and children from other districts. Our treatment was not bad at first; the guards did not take much notice of us and we were given a bit of bread and soup to eat.

On May 8th we had reason to hope for an early release, for the shooting increased nearby and the guards showed growing nervousness and anxiety. A few even began to talk to the Germans and sought reassurance that the latter had been well treated so that the advancing German soldiers would deal gently with them when they came. But night fell without any change in our situation. That was the night which brought the end of the war and with it the end of the battle for Prague, the arrival of the first Russians, and the time of murder and atrocities.

At noon of May 9th armed louts with red badges stormed yelling into the theatre. With kicks and blows from their rifle butts they drove groups of 10 to 15 men (and later women) together and herded them out to tear down barricades. I was standing with a group of Austrians and called out that we were Austrians. But even that did not help much. We were nevertheless driven out together with the others. However the "guard" did tell us that he would take note of the fact that we were Austrians. We all had to run through the streets with our hands up. We felt the first blows of the crowd. A few streets further on stood a big barricade which we were to clear away. It was 2 to 3 meters high and consisted chiefly of paving-stones, iron bars and barbed wire. We pulled it down and replaced the paving-stones.

A big crowd of spectators gathered. Swastikas were chalked on our backs and marked on our foreheads with hot tar, and in some cases shoes and new articles of clothing were taken from us. The whole afternoon I had only been able to work with my right hand, since my arm had been in a cast until recently; the wound was not yet completely healed and was festering. My constant reminder that I was an Austrian, and my knowledge of Czech, saved me from the fate of the many who were killed on that day.

We were forced to greet passing Russian cars by kneeling down and bending our heads to the ground. Sweat and blood stuck to our bodies, our tongues were swollen so that we could hardly speak. The sun burned down. It was impossible to straighten up, let alone to rest or to get a drink of water. During all this time we were being driven by kicks and blows. Towards evening our work was finished. On the way back we were forced to run, to lie down momentarily and to hop in a squatting position. On the way I received a blow on my wounded arm from a Czech woman with a fence-post; it paralysed my arm. Only a part of the work group returned. Most people were wounded and the women had had their heads shaved.

Even at night we were deprived of the rest we longed for. Russians and Czechs came for the German women and girls. Desperate shrieks could be heard from the entrance hall. Men who attempted to protect their wives were struck down. Children, clinging to their mothers, were taken along to witness their violation. As a result of being raped my former dancing-teacher went out of her mind. In desperation a number of people tried to commit suicide by cutting their wrists, hanging themselves or throwing themselves down from the balcony of the movie theatre. I myself protected a 16-year-old girl by hiding her under the seats and lying down above.

During the next few days all our personal possessions down to pocket-knife, nail-file and comb (and of course our money) were taken from us under threat of death. Every day men and women were fetched for some kind of work and often very few of them returned. 14 days later came Whitsuntide. On this day, as I was told later on by a fellow-prisoner, one Dr. Küttner from Halberstadt, a numberof Germans were tortured to death in the riding-school on Hybernerplatz. The death-cries mingled with the solemn sound of the organ from the nearby church, where these same people were "devoutly" praying to the God of Charity and Mercy!

There was nothing to be done but to submit oneself to the will of God and to suffer with patience, if one wished to avoid an agonizing death. I have often wondered what it was that suddenly awakened such an abysmal hatred in the hearts of these people. After all, they had come through the war better than any other nation in Europe. The Czechs had been treated by the Germans as equals and were better nourished than many Germans. One had sat next to the Czechs in railroads, movies or cafés; no difference was made - except that the Czechs did not have to enlist and had no losses to lament.

During the week after Whitsuntide we were all driven out of the movie theatre and into the former Scharnhorst-School in Prague-Dejwitz. At the entrance we saw the welcoming inscription "Koncentracní tábor" (concentration camp). And, indeed, they did their best there to surpass everything that they had heard of the Nazi concentration camps. We lay there on the floors of the empty classrooms. There was no soap to wash ourselves with, but instead there were 25 lashes for each louse found, and a warning to that effect was posted in the corridor.

Every day at the roll-call shootings and beatings took place. If one sank to the ground with a bullet in his stomach, his neighbour had to remain standing motionless. The bodies would be several days in the yard before they were buried somewhere without ceremony. Children and old people died off, for the rations were bad and ridiculously small.

I was glad when one day they began to ship us off for agricultural work. On my reminder that I was a wounded officer I was assured that I should be put in a PoW-camp. On the other hand the camp commandant, a Czech Staff Captain, shouted at me that my war-injury was a disgrace to me and no honor.

On June 2nd 1945 I marched off with new hope, together with several German soldiers who had worked for the Russian army for a considerable time as drivers and had been sent home, but whom the Czechs had arrested. We were being sent under guard to the PoW-camp at Prag-Motol.

There, I thought, the rules of the Geneva Convention would obtain and I should be treated as a human being again and not as a thing below the level of an animal. This opinion was first shaken when I saw a man with a red arm-band and a rubber truncheon standing at the entrance of the camp.

We were drawn up in the courtyard and thoroughly searched. They could not find much on me, but they deprived the Russians' former drivers of all their tobacco, canned food, bread and money. Then, as was often the case in other camps, we had to strip to the waist and were examined to see if we had the SS tattoo-mark. There was one of those among the soldiers and he was at once beaten up by the camp commandant, Staff Captain Masanka - a Czech staff officer -, personally. When he raised his hand and swore to God that he had never been in the SS, but had received the same mark as a returning settler from Eastern Europe, the Staff Captain struck him in the face and said: "You swear to God? But the Germans have no God!" The poor man disappeared into the SS-cellar, from which no one escaped alive.

The was no improvement here in treatment or in rations. In the morning we would find men, who had gone to the latrine during the night, lying shot and bled to death in front of it. The only difference from the other camp was that here there were only men who had been accustomed by the war to exhaustion and danger and that to our own suffering there was not added that of seeing the torments of desperate women and innocent and once-happy children.

I myself together with most of the other officers was commanded to the most strenuous tasks, as for instance carrying cupboards through the town, etc. More than once I was struck in the face with a leather strap by one Sergeant Kuzbach.

The prisoners were so undernourished that many of them lost all self-control and during working times they fell on every dust bin and grubbed in it for mouldy crusts of bread or potato peels whenever the guards did not prevent them.

While at work I got to know a 21-year-old guard who was unexpectedly friendly and with whom I would talk in Czech about various things. He said among other things that the present rulers of Czechoslovakia should not get the idea that they could set up the same regime as before 1939. "During our being in Germany", he said, "we saw and received what we workers should demand and what they will have to give us! So I do not belong to any of the old parties, I am a Communist!" This man was perhaps the first Czech who worked in German factories during the war and was well paid and looked after, who did not afterwards claim that he had been in a concentration camp, like all the others did.

He also told me about a horrifying murder in May 1945. According to his story a Czech girl in Prague-Weinberge, who had been the mistress of an SS-man and was now pregnant, had been dragged into the streets by the Czechs and bestially murdered. She lay there with her breasts cut off and her stomach slashed open. Journalists, including foreign correspondents, were called; and finding out from her papers that she was a Czech, they concluded that the atrocity could only have been perpetrated by the Germans. In that way, the stories of German bestialities during the Czech revolution originated.

This same guard, under whose supervision we were working in the suburb of Wrschowitz, escorted me to a Czech family whom I knew well and who lived in the neighbourhood. The father of the family, a childhood friend of my father's, whom my father had helped to a good position during the occupation, was not at home. All I wanted was to give a sign of life, so that at least one being on earth should know that I was still alive and was in the camp at Motol, for in those days one still had to expect to be killed any day.

The woman got such a shock at the sight of me that she would have liked to throw me out of the house at once, if the guard had not been standing there. Her daughter began to call down curses upon the Germans and said that if she had got her hands on one during the revolution, she would have finished him off herself.

The guard took the woman aside and said to her in a low voice that she should give me something to eat, since we suffered so much from hunger. He admitted to me afterwards that he had done so because he was sure that I should find it beneath my dignity, especially in this situation, to beg for anything. So at least I got a piece of bread and marmalade, which the woman wrapped up and gave to the guard with an anxious look, saying: "I give it to you, do what you like with it. I don't want to have anything to do with it."

Unfortunately we had this guard only for three days. He was the only humane Czech whom I met during my imprisonment.

As a result of hard work and bad food the condition of my injury became worse. The scar had opened along its whole length, 12 by 6 cm, and was festering badly. Other small wounds on my body were also festering and would not heal. At last I could work no longer and was put into the so-called hospital-camp of Motol. It consisted of several stone buildings around the court-yard. We slept in the former hay loft above the empty stables with nothing under us and I, like most of the others, also without a blanket. There the sick and wounded lay crowded closely together. The doctors, who were also prisoners, could do practically nothing, for they had no medicaments, not even enough paper bandages.

The distinction between officers and men consisted only in the fact that the ill and wounded officers were ordered to coal-shovelling and street-cleaning almost every day. For the amusement of the Czechs we had to parade and drill with our brooms. (Slowe arms! Order arms!)

In the opposite building was the notorious SS-cellar. There in a little coal cellar 80 to 100 men were jammed. Day after day they were dragged out and tortured. As soon as the guards were fired with giving beatings, the prisoners were made to face each other and to box each other's ears. Now and then they stripped them naked and then beat them. The men looked like skeletons, for they were also being slowly starved. Sometimes on the return to the cellar they stood each man in turn in the doorway and kicked him down the steps. If anyone was skilful and agile enough to make a good landing below, he was fetched up again and the same thing was repeated, or else they made him kneel down in the threshold, facing outwards, and bend his head. Then he received such a kick in the face that he plunged down the steps backwards.

While this was going on we were driven up to our loft, but we could observe what was happening through cracks in the door and gaps in the roof, so far as our horror did not prevent us from doing so.

The number of inmates of the cell increased constantly. There were even 14-year-old boys from the Hitler-Youth Home Guard. When a second room was also overfilled, they started "to make room". To prevent the guards becoming infected by the diseases, which were rapidly getting the upper hand in the cellar, chloride of lime was often sprinkled in through the barred windows. They also shot blindly into the windows with automatic pistols.

At night regular mass-executions were carried out. First in line were all the wounded with their casts and bandages. All the inmates faced certain death. Small wonder that two youths, who had to carry out the excrement bucket, dropped it suddenly and, calling to us: "Love to the Homeland! Love to Germany!", ran off as quickly as their feeble legs would carry them. They ran to their death, for there was no way out of the camp. Soon shots rang out and their sufferings were over.

Those executed were mostly shot - not in the neck or head, but through the stomach, so that they would linger for hours in agony. During these times, mostly at night, we were not allowed to leave the loft; we were all ill with kidney trouble as a result of sleeping on the cold tile floor and needed urgently to get out. But whenever anyone tried to do so, the guards fired from below. Nor were we allowed to have an excrement bucket up there. Later on, a group of ten men was usually fetched to cart the corpses away and bury them and to sprinkle the great pools of blood with sand.

For a long time a work group was busy every day digging out mass graves.

In the meantime our bad and insufficient diet had "improved" to 400 g of bread a day, a pint of water-soup and, twice a day, so-called coffee. As a result, my condition, like that of many other of the wounded, had grown so much worse that I lay there for a long time apathetically. Many of us remained lying there for ever.

I had managed to send word to my relations in the Sudetenland. Now, in the middle of August, I heard secretly through them that my mother and father were still living. This revived my will to live and made it my duty as the last surviving son to survive. I searched desperately for an opportunity of changing my condition and to escape this slow death. Finally I took the only chance there was: I volunteered for farm work.

The big Czech farmers in inner Bohemia regularly employed a large number of farm labourers. But all these people had now gone to the Sudetenland, where they received German farm land. The harvest was overdue and had to be brought in. So the farmers asked for Germans as help.

On the 2nd of July 1946 we finally left this country in which we had experienced so much.

I had escaped with my bare life, even if I did not know where to turn or what to do now.



 

Report No. 72

translation 
by Victor Diodon and Arnim Johannis.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
The Motol camp
Reported by: Mr. Schreiber Report of December 3, 1946 (Prague)

location of Prague and MotolI was Chief of the police office in Neudeck until 1938, and after the Sudetenland rejoined the German Reich I was arrested in Lubenz on October 5, 1938 and detained in the concentration camps Dachau and Flossenbürg until November 13, 1942. After that I served as truck driver in Norway, where I fell into British captivity after the German surrender. In October 1945 I was put on a transport of repatriates and sent back to Czechoslovakia, but once we arrived there, I and all the others on my transport were arrested and put into the concentration camp Motol. The plentiful and good clothing and rations which the British had issued us on our departure were taken from us, with one thin blanket as the only exception. We were housed in bare, unheated rooms with stone floors, without so much as a straw sack to sit on. For 4 weeks many of the camp inmates were beaten almost every day. Labor teams were sent from the camp to work for area farmers, in factories and on street construction in Prague. Many of the laborers on these work details were also beaten while they were at work. I myself saw how a pregnant woman who had to carry cement bags and who was almost exhausted and who collapsed repeatedly, was prodded by the Czech overseer to work faster. When one of the prisoners objected to this, the overseer declared that she was just a German and it wouldn't matter if she croaked. - On New Year's Eve my nephew was in Prague, on his way home from work, when he was stopped by a Russian soldier and beaten so badly with a submachine gun that he sustained severe injuries and later died of them.

In early March [1946] I was released from the Motol camp, to return to Neudeck, where I held a position on the Antifascist Committee. In granting the status of antifascist, the Czech authorities differentiated greatly between the Germans who were in Social Democratic organizations and Germans who were Communists. In 1938 only about 10% of the Social Democratic Germans were acknowledged as antifascists, as compared to twice as many Communist Germans. It seemed as though the granting or refusal of antifascist status was influenced by how wealthy the Germans in question were. As a rule, the Germans to be resettled were deprived of all their papers and valuables. When I was released from the camp I literally had nothing left to call my own. Since I was an acknowledged antifascist the Národní výbor did issue me the bare necessities of clothing and items for everyday life, but these things were consistently of poor quality, so that I was dependent on the aid and support of friends and acquaintances.



 

Report No. 73

translation 
by Victor Diodon and Arnim Johannis.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
Execution of 18 prisoners of war on August 9, 1945
Reported by: Eduard Flach, lieutenant colonel (ret'd.) Report of March 6, 1950 (Prague)

location of Prague and MotolI am a former Lieutenant Colonel and was Chief of a Pay and Allowance Office of the Luftwaffe. I was 58 years old when I fell into Czech captivity in Prague on May 6, 1945. Together with some 600 other German soldiers, also prisoners-of-war, I spent the time of my captivity in the labor camp Roudnice on the Elbe River, in the "Benzina Plant", a large industrial facility formerly belonging to the Organisation Todt. I wish to state the following facts for the record:

In the evening of August 9, 1945 we had to line up in the parade square outside the barracks and take off our shirts. An investigative commission had arrived from Prague in order to examine the POWs to see if they had been members of the SS. 18 men were discovered, among them several prisoners who had been drafted into the Waffen-SS without their own doing. The tattooed "a", the sign of membership in the General Waffen-SS, was only found on a few, and some of these had already left the SS.

These 18 POWs now had to stand side-by-side facing a wooden barracks. And now, before our very eyes, the Czechs committed what I can only describe as a very brutal crime against those defenseless prisoners. The Czech guards and soldiers beat the pitiable victims on their bare backs with iron bars and rifle butts until they collapsed in bloody heaps. When the prisoners lay on the ground moaning, the Czechs stood them up again and dumped cold water on them. To this day I recall vividly how the fingers of some of the prisoners were smashed with rifle butts; this maltreatment, unparalleled in my experience, lasted for about 2 hours, until the onset of dark. Then we were allowed to withdraw, and the unconscious prisoners were dragged away to the soldiers' camp, which was separated from the prison camp itself by a barbed-wire fence, and there they were abused some more and finally shot. Still that same night, the stripped-naked bodies were thrown into a drained former reservoir and buried in shallow pits. The next day we had to begin to fill in the pit. When this task was finished several days later, we were able to observe how the Czech guard teams used the filled pit as a football field. I am convinced that the families of these 18 POWs, who were tortured to death without any sort of trial, are still totally in the dark about the tragic fate of their husbands, sons etc., since we and the camp administration were strictly prohibited from making any notes about what we experienced during our captivity.

The fact that during our stay in the Roudnice camp we former German POWs not only had to do hard physical labor for utterly inadequate rations but were also looted of everything we owned and received no POW pay or any other compensation for the work we did - unlike the policy practiced by the Americans and British - is something I just want to mention on the side.

On February 12, 1946 I was to be released, and was sent, severely ill, to the transfer camp Prague-Motol. But my release still took until June 8, 1946. After I was finally released I had to spend several years in medical care, to undo some of the damage to my health caused by the inhuman treatment I had suffered at the hands of the Czechs. I am prepared at any time to take this report on my oath.


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