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Karthaus

Report No. 219
translation by Gerda Johannsen, Victor Diodon and Arnim 
Johannis.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
Report on the convict camp
Reported by: Franz Lehmann Report of August 11, 1950

location of KarthausOn May 25, 1945, about 30 minutes past 1 o'clock in the afternoon, a car stopped in front of our house, 15 Oberhennersdorfer Strasse, Warnsdorf; two partisans got out of the car, carrying automatic pistols at the ready, and told me that I was under arrest. I was only half-dressed, but I was forced to get in the car at once and we left for Rumburg; there I was brought before the interrogator, a commissar, who had been appointed by the Revolutionary Committee. The interrogation took place in the former servants quarters of the district administration building. There were also other arrested persons assembled. I was told to face the wall. Rudolf Keil, the mayor of Oberhennersdorf, was interrogated before it was my turn. A number of gendarmes stood in the room, ready for action. Now my interrogation began.

The proceedings were under the direction of the elder son of one Wagner from Oberhennersdorf. In a voice filled with hatred this man accused me of all kinds of misdeeds. The main accusation consisted of the following points: You are a member of the NSDAP, you are an enemy of Czechoslovakia and of the Jews, you denounced a number of Communists in 1938 so that they were taken to concentration camps. You were also a member of the SA. I rejected these accusations, but they did not listen to me and I was forced to sign the protocol of the interrogation, otherwise they would have beaten me until I did so.

After the interrogation I was put into Cell 1 of the local jail at Rumburg. There were already five other men in the same room. As a result of the interrogation I was quite confused and sank down on the plank-bed, paying no attention to the other inmates. All of a sudden one of them said to me: "Franz, don't you know us?" Now I looked up and recognized the following men present: Eduard Grohmann from Rumburg, Mehnert, a railroad-man, Ritt, who worked in the Rinco Motor Works, Hesse, an engineer from Rumburg, Töpfergasse, and Schubert from Rumburg, Zittauergasse. The appearance of the men was dreadful. Their faces and hands were covered with black and blue marks. Richard Ritt was writhing in pain. Shortly before I had entered the cell, the Czechs had pulled his feet between the seat and the back of a chair and had caned them on the soles, giving him 25 strokes.

May 25th was a Friday. At evening on the same day all inmates of the local jail had to line up in Rudolfstrasse; we were then locked up under heavy guard in the prison of the court building at Rumburg. In our cell there were some 20 persons, people from Rumburg, Oberhennersdorf and Niederehrenberg. We could hear the screaming of the inmates of the adjoining cells. At night we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on the bare floor. Again and again, all night long, the guards fired off their pistols in the yard of the prison. Saturday morning brought all sorts of new abuses. Inmates of the prison who had been members of the SS were forced by order of a partisan to spit at each other, to slap themselves, to pull each other's hair and to kick themselves. The men in our cell were ordered to do one hundred squats. Then they had to stand facing the wall with their faces a few inches from it; after they complied, one of the monsters approached and struck us violently on the back of the head so that our faces bumped against the wall. Blood was running down the walls, noses were broken, eyes and foreheads swollen up.

On Sunday morning we were told that we would be transported to Kosmanos. We washed the blood and dirt from our faces at a big water barrel. Shortly after noon we were to be loaded on a bus, parked in the Georgswalder Strasse. But before we were allowed to get in, we had to undress and everything was searched, afterwards one after the other of us was forced to run the gauntlet between partisans, gendarmes, and uniformed Czech civilians until we reached the bus. We were beaten with rubber truncheons, whips and so on. A howling Czech crowd awaited us at the bus. Many of us received from them something more as a memento, some of the crowd even aimed blows into the curtained windows of the bus. The interrogator, commissar Wagner, had devised a special reception for us at the convict prison: he had enclosed two rubber truncheons with the case records, which were sent with us, with the instruction that those German swine whose names were marked with a red pencil in the list attached should be received in a special way with these rubber truncheons.

After the martyrdom at Rumburg was ended, we drove under heavily armed gendarmerie escort into the interior of Czechoslovakia. We could not look outside, since the windows were covered with tent cloth. We stopped at Kosmanos. But the convict prison there did not accept us. We therefore drove to Jungbunzlau. But there was also no room for us. Finally we reached the convict prison of Karthaus in Waldice near Jitschin. We were turned over to this notorious prison. The reception was rough but correct. A gendarme from Rumburg, who had accompanied us, could not resist shouting at us: "Well, you won't come out of this place alive!" We were once more searched by the warders and then 26 of us were put in a cell. The whole transport consisted of about 40 persons. We received no food. We had to relieve nature in the cell and the vessels were only emptied into the cesspool in the morning.

On the first day of our imprisonment we were officially catalogued in the reception office, in which the director of the prison and two warders were working. We were lined up in front of the office, along the wall, and the nearer we came the more penetrating were the screams of those who were being tortured inside. All of these men had been in our transport. They left the office, one after the other, with tears in their eyes and faces distorted with pain. I stood next to the mayor of Oberhennersdorf, Rudolf Keil. We were not allowed to move. One of our comrades was beaten so badly that he lost control over his bowels and excrement ran out of his trousers. He had then to go back to the office with a rag to wipe up the mess. Arriving there, he was again dreadfully beaten. Now it was Rudolf Keil's turn, he left the room unmolested, and then I had to enter the torture chamber. The record of admission was made out by the director himself. Opposite him sat a burly warder, the rubber truncheons from Rumburg in his hand. My answers to the questions asked were correct. When I was asked why I would not acknowledge the protocol of my interrogation at Rumburg, I answered that I had signed it under duress. It was an advantage that I spoke Czech. On this occasion I was able to take a glance at the list of our transport and noticed that various names were marked with a prominent red tick. They were the names of those whom Wagner had chosen for the reception with the rubber truncheons.

My admission being over, I was locked up in a cell in which there were already four other men. These men were two Czech collaborators and two Germans from the Riesengebirge (Sudeten Mountains). For the present I was separated from my companions-in-misfortune from Rumburg. Routine prison life began. At eleven o'clock I received the first meal in a broken pot. No spoon; I had to use my fingers to pick the bigger pieces of cabbage out of the soup, but hunger is the best sauce and I emptied the pot, although with disgust. In the afternoon we received a cup of coffee. The diet consisted of 100 g of bread per day, a cup of coffee at 7 in the morning, at half past ten a pint of cabbage or potato soup and at 4 o'clock another cup of coffee. That was all we received to still our hunger, thin soups. Compared to this, the regular prisoners in the penitentiary at Karthaus lived in quite a lordly way; several times a week they received dumplings, fried potatoes, coffee with milk, enough bread, marmelade - in a word, they could appease their hunger. Moreover, their relation to the warders was almost comradely. The prisoners there were common convicts: murderers, sexual criminals, assassins etc., most of them sentenced to penal servitudes for 5, 15 or 25 years or for Life. The two prisoners who were detailed to shave us once a week were, one, a man guilty of manslaughter, and the other a murderer. In the eyes of the personnel of the convict prison we were evidently criminals more dangerous than the permanent inmates. Whenever a warden entered the cell, the eldest in the cell had to call in Czech: "Attention!" and after this to report: "Mr. Commandant, the cell has so many inmates, all present, nothing to report!" If one of the inmates did not stand at proper attention, he was promptly slapped.

Several days after our arrival at Karthaus, the inmates of the different cells were exchanged and I was put in another cell together with men from Rumburg. 25 men were packed into a cell, the sleeping accomodation consisted of six palliasses but no blankets. We were troubled more and more by hunger.

The assembling of labour columns began. Trucks and tractors took us to the immense sweet-turnip fields, where we worked on our knees the whole day long, in the scorching heat and without food. The slave-driving overseers and foremen on the farms were especially brutal, and some of us who did not make progress with their work as expected were struck on the back with a hatchet handle. The diet normally consisted of boiled potatoes or a vegetable soup with potatoes in it. We were driven like slaves. Places of work which were dreaded were the "hunger farm" at Detenitz, the farm at Popovic, the tree nursery Mazanek at Jitschin and the bridge building at Železnice. Those who were lucky enough to work for Czech farmers on smaller estates could for once appease their hunger. I may mention here that the Czech smallholders were for the most part humane and treated us well.

One month after another passed, again and again rumours were intentionally spread about, sometimes it was good news, which was always followed by bad; hunger broke us down, we were terribly afflicted with lice, our clothing went to rack and ruin, our shirts literally rotted on our backs and we could already register the first cases of death as a result of complete exhaustion. We were said to be prisoners awaiting trial, but there was never an interrogation at Karthaus. The noticeboard indicated that in August 1945 there were 1,200 prisoners awaiting trial, and there was really no room for more people at Kathaus, as there were also several hundred other prisoners and juvenile delinquents in the convict prison. The need for workers for various sorts of labour increased.

One morning, when we had lined up in the prison yard in order to be distributed for work, a column of men marched out from a wing of the building, which startled us very much. These men were prisoners who were specially marked off, and who had to live for six whole weeks in the casemates. We had opportunity to talk to them. They lived in cells where water dripped continuously. Four or five to a one-man cell. At night they could only sleep by turns in brief snatches, moreover the cell doors were liable to open at any time, day or night, and brutal warders to enter and deal out blows in all directions. These conditions were ended only when a Russian commission made an investigation. By order of this commission the prisoners had to be put into normal cells. From the same moment the torturing of inmates also ceased. The men were reduced to skeletons and showed black and blue marks on their bodies and faces. A number of them died, but by reason of their greater vitality some survived. The physician in the convict prison showed no interest in us. He was said to have been an inmate of a German concentration camp for many years. According to the talk of the Czechs almost all of them had been in concentration camp, but they all looked strangely well-fed.

We were completely cut off from the outside world and had no contact whatsoever with our relatives. Every day some more of us were buried in shallow graves in the prison graveyard. Once I happened to witness such a burial of one of our comrades; he had been from Warnsdorf. I and another fellow-sufferer had some chores to do in the graveyard; two inmates accompanied by the prison inspector brought a coffin on a cart and carried it to a freshly-dug grave. The coffin lid was lifted, the coffin was tipped over, and the body dropped into the grave. The corpse was dressed only in a torn shirt, since the institution even kept any clothing that was even remotely re-usable.

As far as I know the following persons from Rumburg and its environs died at Karthaus: Hans Keil, municipal inspector, Mehnert, a railroad worker, Klier, bank employee, Anderle, salesman, Reindl, employee of the employment office; as a consequence of the imprisonment at Karthaus there died at Böhmisch Leipa: Otto Münzberg, salesman from Rumburg, Oskar Günther, porter from Rumburg, Möcke from Oberhennersdorf, head clerk of the firm of Schierz, Rus & Co. at Rumburg, Richard Walter from Oberhennersdorf, and many others whom I cannot remember. I believe that I do not exaggerate if I estimate the number of those who died as a result of the tortures endured at 20%. The prisoners came from the following districts: Rumburg, Warnsdorf, Hohenelbe, Niemes and Arnau. The most dreadful days at Karthaus were the holidays and Sundays. At half past ten a.m. we received lunch and dinner together, which was our last meal until Monday morning. A fellow-sufferer, one Aurich from Rumburg, an employee of the "Deutsche Arbeitsfront" [German Workmen's Association], had received such injuries that we doubted he would recover. His whole back was, as a result of the beatings, one festering wound. This man had endured a great deal, but thanks to his strong physique his condition improved at Böhmisch Leipa.

During the first days of our imprisonment at Karthaus, we were used for gardening. One of our comrades had probably not yet realized the situation in the convict prison. In the evening, when we were formed up for the roll call, he was missing. The entire garden was searched and the unfortunate man was found hidden behind a berry bush. Together with five cellmates I witnessed his ill-treatment from our window. The man was beaten by four warders and collapsed, then water was poured over him, he regained consciousness and the warders continued the beating. Finally they carried the pitiable man on a stretcher to the sick-room, where he eventually recovered.

There is another case: Tschapsky, a teacher from St. Georgenthal near Warnsdorf, worked for the military department at Jitschin. He received blows and kicks. Tschapsky gave way to the following remark: "Well, our time will come again!" He was beaten up at once and in such a manner that he had to be taken to Karthaus on a wheeled stretcher. But that was not the end of his suffering. He was taken to a special room where he was tortured and abused so badly that he died the following day. He was buried in the prison cemetery. Everybody in the prison behaved brutally towards us, we received blows on the slightest excuse. A warder by the name of Rosenbaum, whom we called "Watschenpeppi" (Peppi the Beater) was extraordinarily brutal. After our work was finished outside the prison, which was always before dusk, we marched in columns in the direction of the prison. In the yard we lined up once more and the warders inspected us for forbidden articles. On this occasion "Watschenpeppi" showed himself a great hero: anyone he disliked was simply punched in the face. One of his slogans was: "You German swine, I like you best two meters under ground."

During our absence they very often visited our cells. What seemed useful to them was stolen. We were not allowed to possess any needle, pencil, knife or similar article.

In September 1945 we were finally permitted to get in touch with our relatives. Later on we received the first parcels from home. What joy when one of the cell inmates received a parcel! Everything was divided up as exactly as possible. But the contents were not enough for a single person, let alone for all the comrades in the cell. However, it was encouraging to have contact with our homes again. Unfortunately there were many among us who could not expect to get anything, since by this time their relatives had already been expelled and we did not know their whereabouts. We were told that in October we would be sent home. And in fact at the end of October and in November, the men from Warnsdorf, Hohenelbe and Arnau were taken away, and finally on December 13, 1945 the happy day had come for those of us from Rumburg and Niemes. We were to be sent to the internment camp at Böhmisch Leipa. We were ordered to line up at 5 o'clock in the morning. Everybody who was at all able to walk got ready. The first one prepared was Otto Münzberg from Rumburg. I myself had about 10 abscesses and was unable to move my head. Münzberg was transported by us in a cart to the station and dragged into a railway carriage. The SNB, who escorted us, consisted of nothing but riffraff. They immediately looked for members of the SS. Our number included several. What these people had to endure from these demons during the transport is unbelievable. Their swollen-up faces and broken ribs showed the result of this maltreatment. Among those who suffered most severely was the son-in-law of the former mayor Herbrich from Niederehrenberg. In the meantime Otto Münzberg had become so exhausted that when we arrived at Böhmisch Leipa our comrade Richard Ritt had to carry him through the town. We reached the internment camp at noontime; Münzberg was immediately admitted to the hospital, but by 2 o'clock in the afternoon he was dead.

Karthaus is a complex of buildings, designed for the Carthusian friars and built by order of General Wallenstein between 1647 and 1654; the penitentiary cells have walls which are 2 to 3 meters thick (7 to 10 ft) and windows far from the floor, which could only be opened with sticks 4 meters long (13 ft). The church of the monastery still exists. We were not allowed to enter the church, because we had lice. The whole complex of buildings was surrounded by walls 4 to 5 meters high (13 to 17 ft). We were also not allowed to go into the courtyard even with our heads covered. Two big statues, representing St. Peter with the key and St. Paul, flanked the main entrance. The sight of prisoners with heavy chains of about 30 kilos (more than 60 pounds) riveted to their legs, who lived in special casemates, was terribly depressing. These men were those criminals who had again and again attempted to escape.

As mentioned above, we reached Böhmisch Leipa on December 13th. There we met our fellow-sufferers from Warnsdorf again and we soon learned that our release was still out of the question. After we had been sufficiently rid of lice, we were lodged. We found that we received a little more food there than at Karthaus, for we had 180 g of bread, more coffee and a better lunch. But for our exhausted bodies it was still not enough. We were unable to recover very much. There was not much work to do and we had the opportunity of getting better medical attendance, since the doctors were imprisoned Sudeten Germans who were familiar with our diseases. Quite a few of us were saved by means of this attendance and I myself cannot adequately express my gratitude for the doctor's sacrifices. However, the Czech camp commander Vebr (Weber), a staff sergeant, will also remain in our memories for ever. This man was always drunken, brutal and inhuman, hated everything German, a slavedriver without scruples, in a word he was downright subhuman. After a while former Czech gendarmerie officials were appointed to the internment camp and began to try and interrogate the inmates. The moment came when many of those imprisoned were released, but many also were severely punished. The hour for my freedom struck on September 6, 1946, since it became clear that no basis for the accusation existed, but all my suffering could have been avoided if a Sudeten German by the name of Johann Kantuzzi, living at Oberhennersdorf in the district of Rumburg, had not caused my imprisonment by completely false allegations.


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Survivors speak out