SearchScriptoriumArchives indexSponsor


Freiwaldau
(Page 2 of 2)
Report No. 184
translation 
by Victor Diodon and Arnim Johannis.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
District Freiwaldau, the Thomasdorf camp,
description of the camp

Reported by: Karl Froning Report of January 4, 1949

location of Freiwaldau, Thomasdorf and AdelsdorfOn July 25 [1945] I was sent on a transport to the concentration camp Thomasdorf. This was a former Russian camp in my administrative district and was located in a forest, in the so-called Vietseifen. It was designated a penal camp. We were to learn soon enough what that meant, but for most of us the reason why we of all people had been sent there remained a mystery, like so many other things in the newly created "Second Republic".

In total the Czechs maintained four such camps in the District: Jauernig, Adelsdorf and Thomasdorf for men, and Biberteich near Freiwaldau for women. The camp in Jauernig was a former camp of the Reich Labor Service, and the camp in Adelsdorf a former English camp maintained by the company Weihönig.

After our arrival we had to line up in the camp square and spread out what we had brought with us, and the contents of our pockets, for inspection. Knives, valuables, matches, cigarettes and anything that caught the Czechs' fancy was taken from us, and without receipt. This inspection already marked the start of the beatings. I heard how the camp commandant Wiesner yelled at a prisoner who stood behind me, who had been badly beaten and was evidently bleeding: "German blood isn't blood, it's swine piss!" The camp was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence, outside of which stood a building for the guard teams, made up of so-called partisans and some younger gendarmes. The camp commandant was the aforementioned Wiesner, his deputy was a certain Opichal, both of them partisans. By our standards the camp had been designed for a maximum capacity of about 100 Russian prisoners-of-war, but the Czechs had crammed more than 200 Germans into it. Among the prisoners there were many that were over 60 years of age, some even were 70 and older. A great many didn't even know on what grounds they had been locked up. There certainly were no war criminals or Party bosses among us, but any random denunciation or even the simple fact that one was German sufficed for an arrest. Even having been detained in a concentration camp in the Third Reich was no protection, and there were a good many among us who got to know both.

The major structures in the camp included a large barrack in which the prisoners slept in double bunk beds on bags of wood shavings. There were no lockers or closets. Then there was also a smaller, somewhat better sleeping barrack - the former dining room - a kitchen barrack, barber room, and infirmary. We had to wash out of doors at a small uncovered water trough, while our laundry was washed in a special laundry barrack. Tailor, cobbler, blacksmith and locksmith shops were located outside the camp fence, but we couldn't get very much made for us there since the workers had only very limited materials, most of which were needed to make goods desired by the guards.

Immediately upon our committal to the camp, we were shaved bald. There was no medical care, and wounds and ulcers - from which we suffered badly - were treated with self-sacrificing care by the hospital assistant Brosig who had used to be a massage therapist at the Prießnitz Sanatorium in Freiwaldau-Gräfenberg. More severe cases, such as phlegmones and blood poisoning, were sent to the Freiwaldau hospital. Every now and then a younger military physician also showed up in the camp, but only in order to certify the death of an inmate.

Our rations were meager, to put it mildly. The main meal at noon consisted mostly of potatoes and old, dried vegetables. Sometimes leftovers from noon were distributed as extras in the evening; but usually all we got in the mornings and evenings was coffee and a wholly insufficient bit of bread.

After we were awakened at about 5 o'clock in the morning, we had to perform morning "exercises", and after some coffee we were sent off to work, which for most of the prisoners consisted of building a new road through the forest. The work, which continued on Sundays as well, was quite hard in and of itself, and the utterly inadequate rations and shelter and the downright sadistic way we were treated only made it worse. Every evening almost without exception, during our Czech "language classes" which were held outdoors, the two aforementioned camp commandants picked individuals for special exercises, such as jogging, crawling, leapfrogging, parade marching etc. Sometimes two prisoners also had to stand facing each other and slap each other about the head, or when it had rained, suck up the filthy water from the ground and spit it into each other's faces. Then the slapping about the head would resume at full force, which cost many of us our hearing; or we were beaten with dog whips, sticks and slats. During the exercises one morning - I think it was August 14 - a larger number of us, including myself, had to line up bare-chested in front of the aforementioned Opichal and were then severely beaten with a bullwhip. An older, 60 to 70-year-old prisoner was especially severely beaten and after every 10 to 15 blows he had to say "dekují" - thank you. But because in Opichal's opinion he never pronounced "dekují" correctly, he always received another 10 to 15 blows. This was repeated about 6 times, and you can perhaps imagine what the man looked like after that. Another time Opichal chose me for special attention because I had been a member of the Party and the SA. He demanded that I should curse Hitler, which I refused to do, saying that at any rate Hitler had been the head of state of the German Reich. Opichal then threatened to shoot me in the foot. I replied that it was perfectly clear to me that at present he had the power to do so. He cursed me roundly, but then he left me alone.

For a while Opichal liked to pass out our rations himself, and again every one had to say "dekují" on receiving his allotment. Anyone who Opichal felt did not say it correctly either did not receive any food or was beaten. One time, an older prisoner, rather excited and evidently somewhat hard of hearing, accidentally dumped the hot meal down Opichal's boots. He was beaten half to death over the course of the next few days.

One day the elderly and invalid prisoners had to line up. Allegedly they were to be released. They had to stand and wait for a long time in the camp square, then they were badly beaten and ended up staying in the camp after all. In early August some of the inmates were transferred to the Adelsdorf concentration camp, and others were transferred from there to Thomasdorf in a sort of prisoner exchange. They arrived at night, in the pouring rain, and were very badly beaten during the aforementioned welcoming search.

Slaps and blows were administered very liberally at every line-up whenever we allegedly faced the wrong way or one of the prisoners did not understand, or misunderstood, the orders which were only ever given in Czech. Even if Opichal and his minions felt that our boots were not polished enough, 15 and more blows with a stick was considered fitting punishment.

Every now and then the Czechs got the idea to have us line up in the camp square at night, even several times a night. The partisans and gendarmes would first stand beside the barracks doors and hit randomly and as hard as they could into the crowd of prisoners exiting the barracks. Then the aforementioned exercises were ordered, only in a much more severe form than usual; generally the Czechs were badly drunk while this was going on. It was a popular practice to chase the prisoners around the square with whips and then to suddenly trip them up or shove a rifle barrel between their legs. Anyone who remained on the ground due to exhaustion - and there were many who did so - was beaten until he got up again. If anyone fainted he was alternately doused with hot and cold water until he regained his senses. Bandages were ruthlessly torn off the wounds they covered, even if they were badly infected and dripping with pus. And in conclusion to these night-time drills, which usually lasted for hours, we all had to shout a triple "Sieg Heil" to our Führer Adolf Hitler.

It is beyond me to give a description of these nocturnal scenes in such a way that someone who was not personally involved could truly share the experience. I doubt that anyone could give such an account anyway. Even though I have fairly good nerves, was in good enough physical shape to handle the described exercises, and ultimately survived all this maltreatment without lasting physical damage, I too relived these spectral images in nightmares even later on, with the prisoners being chased about, the crack of the whips, the moans and whimpers of the beaten victims and the hoarse yells of "honem, honem" by the drunk Czechs, all of it only poorly lit by a few stable lanterns. - The physician Dr. Pawlowsky from Freiwaldau was perhaps maltreated worse than anyone else. According to a reliable source, on his admission to the camp he had to walk at the head of his column and carry a sign bearing the words, "We have our Führer to thank for this." In the camp itself he barely ever had a quiet minute, and in the end he was literally beaten to death. His pallet was in my barrack, fairly close to my own, and there was hardly an evening when he did not crawl painfully onto his straw sack totally filthy, soaked to the skin, covered in blood and welts. For some time he was also in my work unit. Aside from angina pectoris he suffered from a very painful ulcer on his behind, which the Czechs clearly knew and therefore made a point of kicking him there. As a reliable source told me, Opichal would grind out burning cigarettes on Pawlowsky's naked body. I myself saw how once he was dragged across the camp square and was supposed to eat some sort of filthy mass off the ground. When he begged that he might be spared that, the mass, which was said to have been his own excrement, was smeared into his mouth. On August 13 I saw him line up outside for the last time, dressed only in black gymnastics shorts; he was covered in wounds and welts, and collapsed from weakness. That night he died in the infirmary.

He bore all these unspeakable tortures silently and with admirable composure, and the Czechs made a martyr out of him - even in the eyes of his political opponents. In a culmination of their actions, as a reliable witness told me, they forced his assistant, a lady imprisoned in the Biberteich concentration camp, to put on mourning clothes after he died.

On August 5, 1945 the farmer Adolf Böhm from Ober-Lindewiese was beaten to death, whereas the lumber merchant Raschke had hanged himself out of despair even before my arrival in the camp. These 3 dead were buried without any ceremony in shallow graves in the woods above the Russian Cemetery. The master stonemason Sohmen from Saubsdorf, a physically small and rather clumsy man, was also abused especially badly, and was ultimately beaten into mental retardation. Aside from a broken eardrum, the physical signs of his abuse included a large festering wound on his neck, where the sinews were already exposed and which was hard enough for the one available orderly to dress with the limited bandages that were available to him. Nonetheless this dressing was also repeatedly and ruthlessly torn off. On July 27 a man named Vater, from Hermannstadt, escaped while on labor duty. That same day, the other 10 members of the labor team were each punished with 200 blows on the bare soles of their feet, which the rest of us had to witness. They were beaten with thick slats, and when they had splintered they were replaced with fresh ones. Naturally the men thus beaten could not walk for weeks, but nonetheless had to attend each line-up, day and night alike. They came crawling to these line-ups like dogs, on all fours, and were often beaten some more on these occasions. The men maltreated like this are:

    Brosig, livestock dealer, Oberlindewiese;
    Dittrich, locksmith, Böhmischdorf;
    Hackenberg, Niederlindewiese;
    Hofmann, innkeeper, Weidenau;
    Kuchar, Zuckmantel;
    Nietsche, forestry supervisor, Böhmischdorf;
    Siegel, forestry worker, Obergrund;
    Siegel, forestry worker, Obergrund;
    Spielvogel, civil servant, Sandhübel;

and a tenth man whose name I was unable to find out. At the end of this beating, which reduced at least one of them, Spielvogel, to a lifelong cripple, commandant Wiesner announced: "If anyone else escapes I'll have you all shot. I'll have 200 new arrivals in the camp the next day anyway." An approximately 17-year-old Czech girl, who was said to have been Opichal's and his buddies' collective affair, watched these beatings with open enjoyment. She seems also to have kept the registers, and read out the names.

Every now and then there were barracks searches in the camp, which were occasions for the Czechs to steal from us whatever they liked. Even the small parcels of food and clothes which our kin were occasionally allowed to bring us were very often stolen. A good sweater was stolen from me in this way. Once, when the accountant Kasper from Zuckmantel reported to Opichal to pick up a small parcel which his wife had walked 60 km [37 miles] to bring him, the parcel was shown him, but not handed over. Instead he received a variety of blows to the head. One day one of the partisans, nicknamed Sherif or something like that, wanted my boots because his were not good enough for him. Luckily for me my boots did not fit him.

On August 15 the camp was supposed to be transferred to Adelsdorf. In the night from the 14th to the 15th a lot of gunfire suddenly began outside, and continued until morning. We had heard the same in earlier nights, but not as severely and not for as long. The following day around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, as work on moving the camp was progressing, six prisoners, including some who had already gone to Adelsdorf with an advance unit, were led off into the forest under heavy partisan and gendarme guard. Shortly thereafter we heard several shots being fired nearby. About half an hour later a team of prisoners were led into the woods with shovels and hoes. Forestry supervisor Emil Locker was one of the members of this work team. The names of the executed men are:

    Buschmann, painter, Friedeberg;
    Dr. Franke, attorney, Freiwaldau;
    Hanke, Rudolf, Mayor, Alt-Rohtwasser;
    Klimesch, truck driver, Zuckmantel;
    Reinelt, secretary (an invalid), Groß-Krosse;
    Seifert, Gustav, foundry worker, Böhmischdorf.

They were buried in shallow graves in the forest a few hundred meters from the camp, to the left above the road right next to the game fence. Captain Novak was said to have issued the execution order per telephone from Freiwaldau, and also to have specified which prisoners to shoot. We were never able to find out what the grounds for their execution were. Commandant Wiesner, who had broken his leg and was therefore not really on duty at that time, nonetheless attended the execution. As various credible witnesses, including some women, told me, Wiesner repeatedly brought up the subject of this execution later, in the Adelsdorf camp, especially when he was drunk, recounted the events and declared that he was not responsible for what had happened and that he had only carried out a written order from Captain Novak, of which he had made copies and bricked up the original in a safe place to establish his innocence.

In addition to the men thus murdered, there are also those who died in the Freiwaldau hospital of the consequences of their maltreatment. They are:

    Kintscher, community secretary, Weißwasser, 57 years old;
    Ludwig, law official, Freiwaldau, 70 years old;
    Seifert, roofer or plumber, Friedeberg;
    Watzlawek, retired senior teacher, Schwarzwasser, 70 years old.

Others to die in the hospital were:

    Lux, Freiwaldau;
    Pelz, farmer, Jungferndorf;
    Streit, farmer, Neudorf.

Adding the four more who were beaten to death in Adelsdorf up until August 20, about whom I will speak again later, the number of dead comes to 20. Given the camp population of 200, that makes fully 10 percent, and that was in the space of about 4 weeks.

In the evening of August 15 we were taken to the


Concentration Camp Adelsdorf

where we were initially housed in makeshift emergency shelters. The camp entrance was on the town's main street, and above the gate was a large sign bearing the Czech and Russian inscription: Koncentracní tábor (concentration camp). Later this sign was taken down and the camp was variously described as labor camp, internment camp, internee collection point, and the like. The barracks were not the worst I'd seen, even if they were drafty and damp; occasionally a new one was built. This camp as well was overcrowded, though not as severely as Thomasdorf; two men each shared a small locker. In general everyone received only one blanket, and if anyone wanted a second he had to arrange to have one sent to him from home. During the cold part of the year we were allowed to heat the barracks from about 5 o'clock p.m. until 9 p.m.; unfortunately the fuel was rather scarce. Regarding the tailors, cobblers and other service workers, the situation was the same as in Thomasdorf.

We "Thomasdorfer" prisoners wore a patch with an "A" beside our sewn-on camp number and were forbidden to talk to or get together in any way with the old "Adelsdorfer" prisoners, who wore a "B". We also had to work longer hours and were generally treated differently than they were, in the sense that our night-time "exercises" were repeated even more frequently, so that we practically got no rest at all any more and no longer even dared take off our clothing and boots for the night. Once I could not even recall how I had made it back to my straw sack after the previous night's two such exercise sessions, during which I hadn't even been maltreated beyond the usual degree.

One night I was called away from these exercises and over to a group of Czechs, and a brutal-looking man wearing a Soviet Star asked me for my name and profession. When I stated both, I was hit in the face so severely that two of my incisors were knocked out. Later I found out that this thug was Mader, the Commissar of Buchelsdorf and Adelsdorf; allegedly he had used to be a professional boxer, and had a rap sheet of 16 to 20 previous convictions. Judging from his appearance, demeanor and punching power, I can easily believe it. Another time my tormentors immediately left off beating me when I declared that I was a German national, had been in the Sudetengau only since 1939 and had not been involved in the events of 1938; the following day this same declaration worked one more time.

Prisoners who were beaten to death during and after these "exercises" included:

    Knoblich, 15 years old, on August 19 or 20, 1945;
    Schniebel, laborer, Niklasdorf, on July 16, 1945;
    Schubert, manufacturer, Niklasdorf, on August 16, 1945.

During the night of August 19 to 20 a great deal of shooting once again broke out during the nightly exercises. The lights were turned off, and we had to stand with our hands raised for a long time, until we were chased into the nearest barrack when it was already almost morning. During this to-do the mailman Nitsche from Reihwiesen was shot through the ankle while he lay in a bunk in the emergency barrack. His injury had not fully healed even by the summer of 1946. The next morning Captain Novak appeared, ordered us to line up, walked up and down the rows as though inspecting us, and without saying a word, selected six men, whose names Hansl Velitel had to write down. Evidently another execution was planned, but there was no longer enough time to carry it out because the gendarmerie took over the camp on August 21. But even so it still took several days before the new Commandant - a very civil and proper sergeant of the gendarmerie whose name I think was H..... - arrived in the camp. One night during this interval time my barracks neighbor, the grocer Fial from Freiwaldau, was fetched from his pallet by a partisan wearing a German pilot shirt with a Czech coat-of-arms on the left sleeve. Fial never returned. He had also been an Ortsgruppe leader and had already been badly maltreated with kicks to the abdomen. We never found out with certainty whether he was beaten, shot or choked to death by Commissar Mader, what role the two prisoners-of-war H. from Mannheim and Z. from Berlin had played in Fial's death, and where he was buried; it was said that his corpse is beneath the stacks of wood piled at the end of the camp. The camp leader at that time, Schieche, no doubt knows details. He was dismissed in autumn 1945 after allegedly having passed himself off as a Czech, but was imprisoned again later, served as camp leader in Jauernig for a longer period of time, then was sent to Adelsdorf in May 1946 and then arraigned before the People's Court in Troppau in July or August.

Regarding the night-time shootings, especially the last one, I later heard in Freiwaldau from an older gendarme whom I knew from Jauernig that these had been prompted by werewolf attacks. I had the impression that the gendarme honestly believed this silly tale, which had also been put about by the "Hranicar". The truth is probably that these shootings were triggered by nervous or drunken guards, and most likely that they were deliberately brought about in order to have an excuse to take reprisal measures. It is a revealing fact that following the last of the shootings in Adelsdorf, several farmers from the surrounding area, and their families, were taken and locked up, even though they certainly had nothing to do with any of this. The farms thus vacated then had to be "worked" by prisoners from the camp, for the boon and benefit of the partisans.

When the gendarmerie took over the camp, the differences between the A and the B prisoners gradually disappeared, particularly the beatings stopped, at least for the most part. But even so, mill owner Schroth was still badly beaten about the head as late as January 1946, following one of the evening inspections. However, this incident seemed to be most unwelcome to the camp management, and the perpetrators were even said to have been punished. In spring 1946 the staff leader Schindler from Freiwaldau was badly maltreated by Wiesner and his lackeys during an interrogation in the camp office. Schindler had been caught while smuggling bread into the camp. When the camp Commandant entered the office, the maltreatment stopped immediately.

In March of 1946 Franz Stöhr from Niklasdorf, at that time the batman for labor inspector Kopriva, was beaten almost to death by the latter and two gendarmes. Kopriva accused Stöhr of having stolen a pair of tall boots from him, a charge that later turned out to be totally groundless. And other incidents also still took place every now and then, for example that of the retired Captain Hackenberg from Freiwaldau, who suffered permanent impairment of balance as a result of the beatings he had received.

Every now and then, barracks searches also took place here, and again all sorts of things were confiscated and stolen on these occasions - not only cigarettes etc., which the guards then enjoyed, but also food and valuables such as, in my case, a small can of meat and a gilt cufflink.

Rations improved. Potatoes were now plentiful, vegetables and barley not as much, perhaps once a week we got a bit of meat, and even a bit of margarine or jam every now and then; at Christmas and Easter there were even a few cakes. Bread, unfortunately, was very scarce, and what little there was was often incredibly bad. Sometimes it seemed to have been baked with very dirty flour, and often also with improvised flour made from horse chestnuts. Following a strong complaint by our camp physician Dr. Hajek who, incidentally, stood up for us in every conceivable way, the bread improved again. There was always plenty of coffee - only imitation coffee, of course - but often it was even available outside of mealtimes, and in the mornings and evenings it was always sweetened with sugar. Nonetheless meals were still insufficient, and lacked any variety, especially since much of the rations that were intended for us almost certainly ended up instead in the pockets i.e. in the stomachs of the partisans and gendarmes. Of course it was not possible for us to prove this.

Food shortage in the Czechs' own regions was in no way a plausible excuse for our meager rations, for the Czechs themselves ate and drank quite well indeed, slaughtered livestock illegally whenever they felt like it, fed a great deal of human foodstuffs to the pigs and were quite liberal with food insofar as their own supplies were concerned, as we were able to witness on many an occasion when we were assigned to work outside the camp, especially at some of my own work sites. However, the Czech families for whom prisoners had to work seemed almost consistently to grant their forced laborers adequate to good additional rations, and even the partisans, including Novak and Wiesner, were no exception to that. Incidentally, for the last few months adequate additional rations were not only implicitly expected from our employers, but even demanded outright.

But what deserves special mention in this context is the attitude of the German population, who disregarded strict bans and risked severe punishment to supply us with as much extra food as they could, often enough at the expense of their own, quite meager supplies. Only with these additional provisions, both the allowed and the forbidden, was it even possible for us prisoners to survive our time in the camp without overly severe damage to our health.

In Adelsdorf the health care available to us was much better due to the fact that there was always an imprisoned German physician among us, sometimes even several. But bandages and medications were very scarce here as well. The main health problems from which we suffered were boils, and circulatory disorders accompanied by swelling of the limbs, etc.

Among those to die in the camp were:

    Dittmann, innkeeper, Gr. Kunzendorf;
    Ehrlich, farmer, Gr. Krosse;
    Harwiger, railway official, Zuckmantel;
    Harmann, merchant, Niklasdorf;
    Mader, senior teacher, Buchelsdorf;
    Seidel, innkeeper, Dittershof.

In the course of summer 1946 a dental-care facility was also finally set up, but it served primarily for the free-of-charge treatment of the Czech guards and their family members. We prisoners could at most have a tooth pulled. Washing facilities were rather limited, since the water supply was insufficient for the entire camp population, which at times was as much as 500 men. Once a week we had access to a rather primitive shower, but with warm water. The establishment of a Finnish-style sauna, which we were allowed to use on Sundays, was deemed a luxurious blessing. Fleas and bed bugs tormented us constantly, and it was late summer 1946 before they were brought under control with a white powder, sent from America and supplied by the UNRRA. - As I already mentioned, our treatment became much more humane when the gendarmerie took over the camp, but this too fluctuated; sometimes we were treated better, sometimes quite harshly. As a favorite punitive measure, the Czechs would forbid the delivery of small extra quantities of food by our next-of-kin, which was normally permitted twice a month. This was commonly done as a collective punishment when an inmate had escaped, which did happen every now and then. Strictly speaking, it was not at all difficult to escape, especially from work sites outside the camp, and there was also a good chance that an escapee would actually get away; of about 6 escapees, only one was recaptured. Nonetheless, escape attempts were relatively rare, since most of us prisoners did not want to expose their families to the Czechs' reprisals, and also because the Czechs had told us that this camp was going to be closed down soon. And there was also the fact that the area under Polish occupation - which was the only practical option to escape to - was not a particularly tempting destination.

Smoking, reading, writing, playing cards or chess, visiting in other barracks, bringing food into the camp, speaking with the German population, and many other things were strictly forbidden. Often, however, the Czechs did not bother too much about enforcing their countless regulations - unless they happened to be in a bad mood, or once again drunk.

On October 16, 1945 Captain Novak showed up again and gave a lengthy speech, in the course of which he promised us the establishment of a canteen as well as wages for our work, amounting to three Czech crowns a day, which equals about 30 pfennig. We never saw anything of the canteen or of the wages, even though a pretty sign was painted for the former, and very detailed records were kept of the work done by each prisoner. Incidentally, the employers who benefitted from our work had to pay 70 to 90 Czech crowns per prisoner per day; it would be interesting to investigate where this money went to. We were never able to find out.

In about mid-October 1945 the priest of Thomasdorf was able to hold a Catholic service in the camp; later on he was not allowed to preach any more. At Christmas and Easter and on a few other occasions the prisoners would stage a sort of primitive cabaret entertainment. November 1946 also marked the end of the practice of shaving the prisoners' heads.

Work inside the camp, the division of labor etc., was administered by a sort of German camp service. Engineer Klaus did this rather difficult and also quite thankless job with untiring devotion. Various prisoners who had a command of the Czech language worked in the camp office; this, and the other camp jobs such as cooking, peeling potatoes, repair work, washing, barbering etc., employed about 70 to 80 people each day. The others, insofar as they were not sick or unfit for work, were assigned to a wide variety of tasks outside the camp, in the forest, in factories, on farms, in private households, etc. The most manpower was needed for the various forest labor units, who were used for logging in at times very remote work places. On their way home they often had to bring firewood back with them, and in order to spare the Czechs the expense of using a team of horses they had to haul this firewood themselves, on large wagons which it took 20 or more men to pull. I personally was put to work for about three-quarters of a year at the gendarmerie station and in the gendarmerie school that had been set up in the former Altvater Sanatorium in Freiwaldau. The team that had to work there was generally comprised of 12 to 15 men, most of them tradesmen from various professions; I myself and two of my comrades had to work as a kind of Boy Friday, fetching and chopping wood for the kitchen, operating the central heating, loading and unloading things, as well as cleaning rooms. On the whole the work was not hard, the additional rations were reasonable, our treatment bearable, and we were left almost without supervision while we worked.

Conditions for the other work teams were similar, only the so-called mine-timber commando that brought in and loaded mine timber for a company, and the team working for the company Regenhardt & Raymann in Freiwaldau, were known as "slave-driver commandos"; among the most popular jobs were the (unfortunately always only short-term) postings to private households, because the additional rations the prisoners received there were usually quite good. Another major factor for us was the opportunity presented by almost all commandos outside the camp, namely to contact one's family and the outside world in general. One disadvantage of commandos outside the camp, however - especially the forest commandos - was that these job postings wore out our clothes and shoes much more quickly; since the Czechs did not even provide us with enough material for mending, much less new clothes and shoes, this too was largely to our own expense. Depending on the specific situation, our work output was fairly small, especially since shifts were also relatively short. A typical off-site team (i.e. a team posted to work outside the camp) would march out of the camp at 7 o'clock a.m., work began at my site at about 8 a.m., we got one hour for lunch, two shorter sandwich breaks, and the end of the work day was set for 4 p.m. Whenever we were posted to off-site work we had to wear a yellow armband with a black swastika, specifically those of us from Group A had to wear this on their left sleeve and Group B on their right; ultimately that was the only difference left between the two groups A and B. But there was one advantage after all to being in Group A, since on about September 1, 1946 many of the B prisoners were sent to work in the coal mines, where the work was very hard and rations very poor. Many of those assigned to this work returned some time later, worn out and unfit for work, and had to spend weeks and even months in the infirmary.

To justify and cover up their actions, the Czechs alleged in their propaganda that the Germans had made themselves guilty of incredible atrocities against them, while they themselves just oozed humaneness. Accordingly, even back in the Thomasdorf camp an obituary notice for the Third Reich had been posted, that was evidently intended to be funny or satirical but was really just stupid and in bad taste. Then, in Adelsdorf, propaganda materials about German concentration camps were posted, and in February 1946 we had to submit to a large traveling exhibition, with photographs and documents compiled by a German Communist. However, where the prisoners were concerned these methods completely missed their mark, since the origin of the photos often seemed more than questionable and the presenter already had a pretty bad reputation, and since most of us had seen and lived through enough of these atrocities ourselves, but at the hands of the Czechs; and Wiesner, whom I have already mentioned several times and who reappeared in late February as second camp commandant after having spent a long time being ill and some more time enjoying the hospitality of the prison in Brünn, declared that it would be an easy matter to restore conditions to the way they had been in Thomasdorf. Labor Inspector Kopriva also repeatedly threatened us with this.

At times the partisans also claimed that the treatment we had received was a reprisal and could not compare with what they themselves had gone through in German concentration camps. But since they consistently looked quite well-fed and sported amazingly long hair, it was obvious that the worst that might have happened to them was that they had been put to work in the armaments industry, where by their own admissions they had been very well paid.

What a bad conscience the Czechs, even the partisans, really had and how uncertain they were, deep down, was revealed time and again by their wondering what would happen if the Germans were to return; their declarations that they wanted to emigrate to Germany; and their requests that we should give them something to certify that they had treated the Germans well. In conversation they sometimes expressed pity for the fate of the Germans, but justified it all with the still-ongoing revolutionary conditions which they unfortunately couldn't do anything about. On these occasions they sometimes expressed some surprisingly severe criticism of their government's measures, but it was all only ever said in private. When other Czechs arrived, the subject and especially the tone was immediately changed, since as they themselves admitted, they feared being reported or locked up as collaborators, or for being friendly towards Germans.

Aside from the pictures of Beneš and Masaryk, Stalin's picture and the Soviet flag were also often displayed beside the flags of the Republic. I never saw any pictures of other foreign statesmen, but I did notice the occasional small American and also English paper flags. At least in Freiwaldau and its environs, the number of Soviet flags gradually decreased considerably; where the ratio had initially been about 1:1, it dropped to only about 1:10 later on. However, the Soviet star pinned to the chests of most partisans remained there - often enough happily in conjunction with crosses and medals hung about the neck.

On the whole the partisans enjoyed decking themselves out in a rather odd manner, and availed themselves of the tailor workshops that had been set up for us, to design ever more beautiful uniforms, sometimes based on Russian models, sometimes - evidently even more popularly - in simple black and imitating the cut of the SS. But many of them could hardly handle their weapons properly. Of course they also had an Association of former partisans and politically persecuted people, whose Chairman in Freiwaldau was the infamous Captain Novak. In other respects most of them had accomplished few achievements on behalf of the Second Republic - if one discounts stealing, looting and the maltreatment and killing of defenseless Germans. In any case, after my release a Czech who was in a position to know told me that there was hardly one among these partisans who had ever fought with weapon in hand, or had even committed any sabotage worth mentioning. The Germans, he said, had hanged the few real fighters and saboteurs, and whoever was now still going about in the guise of partisan had at best reached for his gun at the very last moment when there was no more risk involved, after first having worked obediently, earning a good income and dodging service in the real war.


previous pageTable of Contentsnext page

Documents on the Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans
Survivors speak out