Polepp and Leitmeritz
Report No. 288
Reported by: Franz Richter Report of Christmas 1948
I had returned home to Polepp one rainy night shortly after Whitsun 1945. There was not a soul to be found at home. Terrible things had already taken place in my home town during my absence. On May 30, 1945 around 9 o'clock in the evening two young Czech civilians suddenly showed up. They were armed to the teeth. There was a woman with them as well. They shoved their submachine guns in my face and took me by car to the gendarmerie in Leitmeritz, where the first maltreatment began. I had to stand facing the wall, was boxed about the head and worked over with their boots. Then my personal data was recorded, and I was again maltreated. Still that same night I was committed to the District Court. Registration, confiscation of valuables etc., blows to my head with the key ring. The guard was a puny fellow, with a yellowish-grey face and terribly dirty hands. His eyes were bloodshot. He did not speak a word the entire time, his maltreatment was absolutely impersonal, almost objective. The prison cell was opened, and I had to bend my upper body horizontally forward so that he could beat me all over with a rubber truncheon from my buttocks to my neck. Then he mumbled that my real treatment would not take place until tomorrow.
There was a straw sack in the cell, but no blanket. The next morning and noon I got beatings instead of something to eat. In the evening there was neither food nor a beating. Suddenly, in the night, keys rattled. The next day I was put into a cell on the first floor, where two fellow-sufferers already sat. One of them had to punch me in the face as a welcome. Both had already been here a while. They assured me that we had gotten off easily, since these welcoming scenes did not normally entail anything less than 40 to 50 blows. In Theresienstadt I came to know this method well, which was intended to keep the guards blameless. Heller from Prosmik, who had to beat me, reassured me by saying that maltreatment was not as frequent here on the first floor. The first days after committal, he said, were the worst. Both of them were surprised that I had been brought up from "Correction" (the penal section in the basement) so soon. As we found out later, the reason for this was the colossal increase in the number of arrests. The next morning we got some black coffee, but as yet there was no bread for me.
It was probably around 7:30 when I was taken from the cell. This time there were three guards, who scrutinized me carefully. One more joined us on the way. They had their fun with me, tripped me up, kicked me in the back, shoved and punched me. From their conversation I gathered that I was being taken to an interrogation. They spoke Czech. Once we had arrived in the bathroom, two of them took the safety off their guns. Suddenly they yelled at me. Even though nobody told me intelligibly what to do, I did know that they wanted me to undress. Another one or two fellows had joined us in the meantime. All of them carried cables as thick as a finger. They landed some very painful blows on me. Then I had to lie down in the empty bathtub, and cold water hit me. As yet there were a few moments of relative peace. But then I had to place my feet on the edge of the tub and was given the "bastinado". I couldn't endure it for very long, then I jerked one of my feet back. It was inevitable that I splashed some water in the process. And now all hell broke loose. I was choked and shoved under water for minutes on end. Then I had to get out of the tub, and now they rained blows and kicks on me from every direction. The smallness of the room hindered them, and they got out of breath. Again I was shoved into the icy-cold water, and now the torture continued systematically, with repeated bastinados while my groans were muffled by holding me under the water. When I reacted more slowly to their new idea of scorching my feet with burning strips of paper, they finally left me in peace. I could barely drag myself back to the cell, while being given another "back massage", as they called it, with a pendreck.
It is impossible to describe the terrible pain in my feet. Soon they came to fetch me again. For a long time I and many other German men had to stand facing the wall in the anteroom of the police station in Neutor Street. Every now and then one of us fainted, and one or the other received a beating. We were forbidden to speak a word. A good friend of mine stood about 25 feet away from me. I made use of the commotion resulting from the beatings and fainting fits to move closer to him. Cautiously we exchanged our opinions and tried to encourage each other a little. He later died while trying to escape.
My name was called, and I was taken to be interrogated. A pistol and a pendreck lay on the table. I was instructed to tell them everything they wanted to know, else - a threatening gesture. The interrogation was brief and relatively calm. I could not gather that I had been charged with anything specific. The questions were very general, regarding Party membership and my professional and private activities. The stereotypical questions that came up everywhere and in every interrogation, "How many did you send into the concentration camp? How many did you kill?" etc. were accompanied by accounts of how badly the Czechs had allegedly had it since 1938.
I was sent back to the District Court prison, into a cell with 10 other men. Beatings were less frequent here, and I recovered fairly quickly. After a few days I was well enough to go out on various work details. In mid-June - I don't recall the exact date - some of us were forbidden to go out to work. I was among these, and we were made to stand in the hallway. More and ever more prison guards showed up. Each of us was given a little packet that allegedly contained our valuables, but we were sharply forbidden to open it. A drunken guard gave a speech full of crude curses and accusations. From this speech we gathered that we were to die, but that we would have to earn the mercy of death by first working very hard.
I was sent to the Little Fortress in Theresienstadt. Together with many others, I spent a long time standing just a few centimeters before the gray wall. Anyone who moved got a terrible beating, and then had to press a sheet of paper against the wall with his chin or nose. Woe to anyone whose paper dropped. Finally the so-called Kapos took charge of us. All of the Kapos were criminal convicts. Well, to be perfectly objective, there was the occasional exception. The Kapos led us into a large cell where we had to strip completely naked. In front of each of us there was a basket into which we had to lay first our clothes, then our underwear, and then, on top of it all, the packet with our valuables.
We were gagged with an old stocking or rag and had to bend over. One henchman would squeeze our head between his knees while two others each held our wrists. Another stood to one side of us and beat us on our buttocks and back with a metal-fitted pick-axe handle. Or else the torture was performed without assistants - in which case we had to kneel to be beaten. Initially the Fortress Commandant, one Staff Captain Prusa and his two daughters (about 18 to 25 years of age), the camp Commandant Alfred Klink and the Administrator Otto performed this procedure personally. One of Prusa's daughters bragged that she had beaten at least 18 German men to death. These bestial murders were mostly performed with brutal blows to the back, and to the back of the head. Torn kidneys, fractured skulls and spinal injuries were often the result. Those of us who survived urinated blood for weeks.
After we were registered, we were thrown some old clothes and underwear, and I was assigned to Cell 43. Our own possessions were taken away, and we never saw them again. I can only give snapshots of life in Theresienstadt between the summer and fall of 1945. I don't know how many people - men, women and children alike - were beaten to death here, or starved, or died of dysentery, typhus and other illnesses for which the responsibility rests squarely on the Czech government. But there were definitely more than 1,000 of them, and I had to carry many of their corpses out. I saw their abused, maltreated bodies, emaciated like skeletons.
In those days a favorite form of entertainment for the Czechs were "sports". We were herded out of our cells, usually in the evening and at night, and had to run brisk laps around the yard. "Exercises" had to be performed. Guards, Czech civilians and several Kapos armed with whips, bullwhips and sticks stood off to the side and urged the gasping people on until they were totally exhausted. Shattered arms and especially elbows (raised to protect the head) were common. The Czech spectators in the bleachers expressed their delight at this spectacle with howls of glee.
In the evenings the women and girls had to strip naked, to be inspected by the Czech guards and the Russians for the nightly orgies.
I want to mention that these brutal, sadistic persecutions went through several high points alternating with somewhat calmer periods. This was partly due to the epidemics of dysentery and typhus, when the Czechs avoided entering the Fortress for fear of being infected, and partly to a change in the camp administration and the guards. Kling and Prusa with his two daughters had been arrested. I later saw them again in the District Court of Leitmeritz, as prisoners.
The arrival of the SNB (Sbor Národní Bezpecnosti) marked the beginning of a new time of suffering. This was also the time of the Aussig-Nestomitz explosion, which was simply laid to the Germans' charge. What happened there at that time was terrible. A small group of innocent, unhappy youths aged 13 to 17 who had been rounded up in Aussig were brought into the Little Fortress. Night after night they were taken out of the Special Cells, hounded with police dogs and beaten and tortured until there was not much left of any of them.
Normally every man had one blanket. If you were lucky you could find a spot somewhere in the four-story plank beds, which were a makeshift construction of uneven boards. If you were less lucky you slept on the concrete floor.
In August a few prisoners were interrogated - I was among them. My examining magistrate was one Dr. Ocadlík. He showed a particular interest in me. Among other things he claimed to have known my family "long enough", and made veiled threats to try to extort a confession from me. Sometimes a big Black man was also present. Ocadlík was visibly dissatisfied and tried time and again to prove that I had committed a crime of some kind. The third interrogation took place in the District Court of Leitmeritz, whence I was taken in shackles. At that time I had been frequently put to agricultural labor tasks in Kopitz. For example, I was accused of having caused the deaths of Anton Kaiser and Tyle. Both of them had committed suicide, for reasons unknown to me. I hadn't even know Tyle very well. Since I denied all the accusations being laid to my charge, and requested the opportunity for an appropriate defense, O. said mockingly, "At the next interrogation you'll see what's up."
So I was surprised when I was taken from Theresienstadt and back to Kopitz again. From a friend who had connections to the office I found out that strict measures had been ordered against me. I should not have been allowed to work outside the Fortress at all. The plan to notify my wife had been successful; I knew that she would come. But the evening before, I learned by chance that I was to be interrogated again the next day. In the morning I was taken back to Leitmeritz in chains.
In Leitmeritz I waited several days to be taken to the decisive interrogation. I was in a solitary-confinement cell on the first floor. As per regulations I was not allowed to leave the court building to go to work. Line-up for labor detail was in the morning, after coffee had been distributed. Since the prisoners in my cell block did not receive their coffee until those from the other blocks were already leaving for work, I calmly reported to the guard who was newly appointed to our section, "Do práce!" - off to work - and walked out into the long corridor. It happened to be one of the quieter periods again just then. Once more I was lucky; a few more people were needed for one of the work teams, I was entered into the list and was again able to leave the gray building regularly. There was no sign of an interrogation.
As far as I know, the following people from Polepp were arrested: Trojan Wenzel and Hermine Schafferbinder, Langer and his wife, young Mrs. Sipetzky, the teacher Welser (sentenced to 8 years), Weithofer, Munzig Albin, Franz Schwabge and I.
We frequently worked for the Russian occupation forces, and sometimes we were able to contact our relatives and to see or even talk to them every now and then. They knew, of course, what was happening, and put up with the hardship, harassment and abuse in order to see us when they could.
The arrests continued, and the prison was overcrowded. Here and there, People's Courts began to convene. None of the accused were given any opportunity to defend themselves properly. Often the verdicts were read without any preceding trial. Sometimes a longer show trial was staged, attended by many sensation-seeking spectators - and this usually resulted in a death sentence. The sentences were consistently severe. 10 years' imprisonment, imprisonment for life, and death. 5 to 10 years was considered a mild sentence, and these were relatively rare. Sentences under 5 years were the exception. To make room in the prisons, transports of prisoners were sent to Theresienstadt and the coal mines, but there was always a new, bloody and frightened face in the cell, to fill the space that had been cleared.
Christmas and New Year had passed. On March 7 they came to fetch me. I was only read the indictment, and was allowed to name only three witnesses. The indictment contained 7 charges.
Recently we had finally been able to have our laundry done every other week. Every second Thursday our relatives were allowed to come pick it up, and bring it back again the following week. Laundry distribution was supervised by the guard on duty. A so-called chodbar (hall worker) searched everything thoroughly and with considerable skill. Once I asked the supervisor to please let me have the bread that my loved ones had gone hungry to be able to send me. But he trampled on the slices of roasted bread and yelled scornfully that I should go ahead and eat my garbage, that it would soon be my last anyway. It was a welcome occasion to beat me up again.
In April we were allowed to receive food parcels, 2 kilos every two weeks. Regulations were unclear. At first we only received the bread that was in the parcels. Any butter, meat and meat dishes as well as sugar and fruit were confiscated by the guards for their own enjoyment.
On April 30, 1946, after our morning coffee, I was fetched from my cell. I was issued a better uniform, and was shaved. Zásvorka, one of the dumbest and most brutal of the guards, came to get me. For about 20 minutes I was able to speak to my defense counsel. The postcard that I had been allowed to write on March 7 had been withheld, he had not received it. But he was able to name witnesses for my defense (about 20 of them). He urged me to stay firm and straightforward, hinted that I was indeed in grave danger, but expressed hope that he could avert the worst if only I did not lose my nerve. This defense counsel also gave me to understand that my trial was being staged as a big deal.
Time was up, and I was led into the court building. The hallways were crowded with people, and at the entrance to the courtroom there stood the hangman in full uniform, black and red. My answers were brief and concise. The presiding judge seemed to be objective, and I grew more confident. The witnesses worked out wonderfully as well, but the witnesses for the prosecution were the tools of the examining magistrate Ocadlík. And so it went on until evening, with a short break for lunch. When O. realized in the course of the trial that I had managed to thoroughly unsettle the prosecution, he tried to induce the public prosecutor to bring new charges. The presiding judge commented that from the course of the trial it seemed to him that I had already disproved the new charge, but he left it up to the prosecutor to file a petition for the new charge. The prosecutor chose not to do so. At the end of the trial I was certain that we had won. Deliberations took a long time. A large part of the spectators had left; the case had lost its appeal for them. I knew that the Court would pronounce me guilty despite the facts - but still I had not expected to have to serve 15 years in prison, as forced laborer, with three months in a harsh penal camp.
For the time being, aside from my transfer to the third floor, not much changed. The third floor was for convicted prisoners who had been sentenced to more than 10 years. The room I was in had been designed for 6 prisoners, but now housed 14.
The greatest improvement that came about after my conviction was the right to write a short letter every six weeks, to receive a similar letter, and to have a visitor. In this way I managed to see my wife and children a few times before they were resettled [expelled] in July 1946. As of August 1, 1946 I again went to work regularly for the NWB, to Tschischkowitz into the cement factory, to Theresienstadt into the barracks, etc. We were kept under extremely close guard and had to work very hard. But we were rarely beaten. As of mid-September I was again forbidden to work, since I and a larger number of comrades were to be taken via Prague to Pilsen, to the prison of Bory, on September 24, 1946.
After our unpleasant and painful initiation into the customs of the Bory prison was over, I was assigned to a labor detail. The work was at times very hard, but the rations we received from the company we worked for were adequate.
Medical care in the prison varied. Frequently, the guard on duty in the sick-bay simply canceled the physician's orders.
After about 9 months our labor detail was changed, and instead of the iron foundry I now worked in a quarry outside Pilsen. The work was extremely hard, and some of my comrades could not hold up under it. We only had to work from 7 a.m. until 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and then we were left in peace, but what I liked about this job was something quite different. It seemed possible to attempt an escape from here. But by the time I was sufficiently familiar with my surroundings to begin preparations for an escape, I was reassigned to the agricultural labor detail Luhov, with new fellow-workers I did not know at all. But I quickly got used to the new work and the new environs. I cautiously began to get my bearings. I studied my new surroundings carefully, and found out where the rivers went and where the train crossings and street intersections were. It was impossible to obtain civilian clothes, maps and a compass. But I saved up some bread and dried some fruit as travel rations. For some time now I had been in charge of driving a team of horses, and systematically got my supervisors and fellow prisoners used to my not finishing my work until late in the evening. Then: a foggy night, dry weather had already held for some time, no rain was to be expected for the next days either, a waxing moon on the 13th - and we vanished into the dark. After three days and four nights we had done it.
Report No. 289
Reported by: Anna Zitzmann Report of June 8, 1946
On May 2  my husband and 16-year-old son were arrested by partisans and locked up for eight days in an ice cellar in Possigau [Pössigkau]. They were hung from a tree by their hands, which were tied behind their backs, and beaten with iron chains. From Possigau [Pössigkau] they were transferred to Taus. On the way there they were again beaten so badly that their entire bodies were black and blue.
On May 8 I too was arrested for no reason. I was detained in the ice cellar in Possigau [Pössigkau] as well, for two days without food. I too was beaten there. I had to bend over the back of a chair, and my skirts were lifted over my back. Two men then beat me with rubber truncheons. I was also hit in the face, and almost all my teeth were knocked out in the process. For 10 days I was beaten up like this several times each day. When I urinated I passed blood. From Possigau [Pössigkau] I was taken to the District Court in Taus. I was beaten there as well. For three weeks I was detained in the prison, with completely insufficient rations. There were approximately another 150 women there, and they were beaten just as badly as I was. My husband and my son were being held in the same prison. On June 17 my husband and son were transported off. I never heard from them again. A Czech woman later told me that 1,200 German men were said to be buried in a mass grave behind the Taus train station.
In late June I was sent from Taus to go to work for a farmer, where conditions were relatively good. In August I was brought back to the camp in Taus, and had to go to work in the milk hall, where things were also bearable. Then I was sent to work as housekeeper for a widower with 10 children. The widower proposed to me several times, but I turned him down. To escape his constant molestations, I fled across the border in April 1946.
I am prepared to take this statement on my oath.