(Page 1 of 2)Report No. 91
Reported by: Dr. med. E. Siegel
I spent eight months in Theresienstadt and as physician had the opportunity to see more than most others, and so I shall give an account of the events in the so-called "Little Fortress" in Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia); this account holds true with only minor variations for any other internment camp or prison in Czechoslovakia as well.
The first inmates to be imprisoned there were the soldiers from the German Wehrmacht who were marching through or were on their way home and whom the Czech "Revolutionary Guard" (known as RG) arrested. At that time the RG were the main of the occupying forces.
The "Little Fortress"
During the war the whole population of Theresienstadt was evacuated and the town was set up as a ghetto, in which some 40,000 Jews were housed. On the opposite bank of the river Eger, about a kilometer away from the town, lies the "Little Fortress" which was used as a concentration camp. It consists of four buildings, adjoining a little park with mansion, barracks, store-buildings, stables and a cinema, a large swimming pool and a rock garden.
The first three buildings included offices, store-rooms, carpenters' and locksmiths' workshops. The casemates served as lodging for the internees. These lay within the thickness of the ramparts, which like the whole of the fortress dated from the time of Maria Theresia. In the first few months only the fourth building was occupied by prisoners. This lay between the inner and outer rampart and was reached by a sort of tunnel, 15 to 20 meters long. The courtyard of this building is about 80 meters long, the longer sides of which were occupied by newly built cells, the single (solitary confinement) cells being on the right, lined up in groups of 10. Each solitary confinement cell is of bare, smooth concrete, about 4½ feet wide and 8 feet long. In the corner there is a porcelain bowl with flush system and a small, thick reinforced-glass window looking out onto a small yard. The door opens into another yard and has a roughly 1 x 1 ft opening, closed off with a wire screen. The small yards are approximately 8 ft wide and 45 ft long. Each of these yards opens onto the main yard via a door which is also locked at night. Three or four of these small yards were roofed under glass, the others were completely open to the elements.
Along the left side of the main yard are five large cells housing 200 prisoners each. These cells contain three stories of wooden bunks, as beds. The bunks are of unplaned wood (straight from the sawmill). Each cell has two toilets and a few sinks. To either side of the end of the yard there are three cells, or more accurately, dark, fenced-off tunnels, formerly casemates in the outer wall.
Reception of the Victims
A typical reception of prisoners took place on May 24, 1945. A transport arrived consisting of some 600 people of both sexes and of all ages. Among them were many Red Cross nurses from the Prague clinics.
Red Cross flags waved on the ramparts. Many of those present to receive the prisoners also had Red Cross bands on their arms, which went badly with the iron-tipped staves which they held. In the dark passage, some 4 yards from the end, the paving-stones had been torn up. The hole lay right across the path and was almost invisible in the darkness. First of all the newly arrived men were driven through the dark passage with shouts, threats and blows. The first to reach the hole fell and the next stumbled over them. The guards, who had stationed themselves along the passage, struck violently and uninterruptedly with their iron-tipped staves into the struggling pile of men. Hardly anyone reached the court uninjured. The guards kept strictly to the rule that anyone who could not get up unaided should be beaten to death (or as they said: "finished off"). Once in the yard, the unfortunates were driven along again; it was a sort of running the gauntlet. When anyone fell and was unable to rise, the commandant Pruša stalked up to him and struck him to the point that first the left and then the right kidney was knocked loose. Those who had been "finished off" in this way were dragged into the concrete cells and left to perish. The commandant's way of counting the prisoners was to hit each of them on the head with an iron bar. Then everyone had to stand against the wall for eight hours with raised hands. Anyone who let his arms drop was pitilessly beaten. This reception alone cost 70 men their lives. 500 men were driven into a large cell, in which they could only lie down packed together like herrings. The stillness of the night was broken by shots and the shrieks of those being beaten. The heat was terrible and the air suffocating. Such nights were to be repeated for months.
Next day all our clothing was taken away and ragged convict uniforms were distributed. Each man had a strip of hair shaved off from the forehead to the nape of the neck. The supervisors were mostly criminals and sadists. Both to keep their positions and for their personal pleasure, they tormented the internees in every possible way. Everything was done by shouting. The prisoners had to wait for their meals for half an hour in a squatting position with outstretched arm. If anyone lost his balance and fell, it was an excuse to beat him anew. In the cell the men had to stand close together. Sitting or lying down during the day were strictly forbidden. The men had thus to be on their feet from 5 in the morning until 9 in the evening, often with a roll-call in the yard which lasted for hours and included insults, beatings and every kind of abuse. Pruša and the deputy-commandant, Tomeš, constantly repeated that nobody who had come to the camp would leave it alive. Nobody, however, was accorded the mercy of a quick death. Everybody had to "atone"; in other words, one could only be gradually beaten or tortured to death. Almost every day piles of personal documents, souvenirs, photographs etc., belonging to the prisoners, were burnt, for as the commandant maliciously explained, no one would need souvenirs or identity papers any more.
The proposed gassing of the prisoners could not be carried out for technical reasons and so there remained only the method of slow death. The inhuman packing of more than 500 men into cell No. 43 lasted for weeks. The other cells were probably also very overfilled, if not to this unimaginable extent.
My own Experiences
I shall describe my own arrest and imprisonment in detail only in order to provide a first-hand account.
I should mention to begin with that I was never politically active. I was Deputy District Representative of the German Red Cross. I could not be the head, since this position was reserved for a representative of the Party. During the war many Czechs, Slovaks and other Slavs came to me for consultation. I always spoke Czech with them. I had therefore no reason to believe that anything would happen to me from the side of the Czechs. On May 30, 1945, about noontime, there was a sudden banging on my door. Two cars full of heavily armed men stood outside. I heard a shout: "Police! Open up!" I opened the door and was at once thrust backwards and compelled to let the horde in. I was frightfully knocked about. They shouted at me, asking where I had hidden my SA-uniform and my weapons. When I answered that I had never been in the SA and that I had already surrendered my arms, I was struck again. My wife and I were constantly threatened with a pistol at the breast and the flat was systematically plundered. Objects of value, shoes, linen, clothing, watches, money etc. were packed in my own leather suitcases and carried off. They found no gold, jewellery or valuable watches, since my wife had hidden them all in the attic. I had no idea where they had been concealed. Before I could explain this, I was choked into insensibility. I was shown to my wife in this condition and she was told that she, too, would be choked and the children would have their eyes put out, if the gold and jewels were not handed over. Trembling with fear, my wife ran for the valuables. The thoroughness with which the apartment was stripped showed considerable practice on the part of the police. As they found no SA-uniform, they tried to force me to admit that I had hidden it. I, however, could admit nothing of the sort, since I had never possessed such a uniform. In consequence I was struck repeatedly with a poker. Then I had to take off my shoes, lie on the stomach and lift my feet to receive a bastonade. After many blows and much ill-treatment, without having seen my family again, I was shoved down the stairs and taken by car to Theresienstadt. On the way they described to me how painfully I should be beaten to death.
Once arrived at the fortress of Theresienstadt, I had first of all to stand with raised hands against the wall, occasionally receiving a violent box on the ears. Then the interrogation began. I was asked: "Were you in the SS? Were you in the SA?" and so on. And on each answer I was struck and punched with full force. Then I was stood up against the table and was struck so violently in the stomach that I fell each time. As I lay on the floor, I was viciously trampled on and kicked, particularly in the chest, head and sexual organs. One of them kept on to dislocate my arm. Later on I saw many with arms pulled out of joint. As soon as I was on my feet, I was knocked down again with blows to the stomach. This went on for some time. Afterwards I was put on a plank-bed and a dirty towel was stuffed in my mouth. Then they showed me an iron-tipped stave more than a meter long and told me that they were going to knock out my teeth. An internee had to hold my head and they struck me with the greatest violence in the mouth. My teeth withstood the blows, since the material covered them, but my lips were completely disfigured. The internee, Karl Erben, told me afterwards that the sight had made him sick as he held my head and that he had had to leave. I was later placed on my stomach on the bed and beaten with the stave, which was swung with both hands on the buttocks, the back and the nape of the neck. They also hit me deliberately on every joint as well as in the ribs. I suffered a fracture of the forefinger of the right hand and two further fractures of the bones of the same hand. I still have a scar on my forehead from hair to eyebrows; my right ear was lacerated and crushed and I was covered with gashes and abrasions. My whole body was black and blue. In this condition I was dragged to an ice-cold cell in the ramparts. They left me lying in my blood on the bare concrete for three days and three nights. I wore only trousers and a shirt so torn that the upper part of my body was practically naked.
As a result of the blows on the spine and the joints my body was practically paralyzed and I lay almost unable to move in terrible pain and trembling with cold. I prayed to be freed from my torment and to be allowed to die at once. On the third day a Czech doctor came into the cell and shouted at me to stand up. Since I could not move, he pulled me up by the hair and threw me down again. This was my first medical treatment by one of my Czech colleagues. I was insanely thirsty. Nor did I get anything to eat; but with my injured mouth I could in any case have eaten nothing. When I was at last given a cup of coffee, a soldier, who on the third night had been locked in with me, had to introduce the liquid gradually by one corner of my mouth. The warders looked in every now and then to see if I was still alive, remarking: "He'll soon kick the bucket...."
Appointment as Camp Doctor
On the fourth day a fellow-prisoner came in to see if I was still alive. He advised me to report myself fit for work, otherwise I should be left there to die. I therefore reported myself for work, but more because I thought that when they found out the deception they would finish me off quickly. I was lucky, however, and was appointed as camp doctor. The prisoner came back in an hour to tell me the news. He helped me onto my feet and after several attempts I slowly staggered out. The usual strip was cropped through my hair. I received another pair of trousers, a shirt, a jacket and shoes and was then ready to begin with my duties. "Begin my duties", though, is somewhat of an exaggeration. I could not even sit down without help, much less get up. I constantly had to hold up my head with my left hand, for the neck muscles had been terribly injured. I could not see properly with my left eye, but only vaguely distinguish light; and as a result of the blows on my ears, I could scarcely hear. In the sickbay I was first bandaged and with a certain amount of help I was able to quench my thirst. There was a woman doctor there who knew me. She had worked in the German clinic in Prague, had been arrested and was also interned here at Theresienstadt. She sent me a palliasse to sleep on, for the internees had nothing but planks on the bare floor. One can hardly imagine the agony of those who had been beaten all over. In many cases the pulped flesh turned gangrenous and often fist-sized chunks of flesh separated from the body. As a consequence many internees succumbed, after weeks of suffering, to the beatings they had received long before. My colleagues laid me on the palliasse and I slept like one dead. Two hours later the Czechs asked if I were at work. They were told that I had been working up to that moment and was taking a short rest. Following my ill-treatment I suffered from a serious heart defect and my life was only saved by injections of a combination of glucose. These were given to me by Dr. Benna, who had been arrested and came here via the concentration camp at Pankratz. He was still suffering from festering wounds on the head from the clubbing at the time of the reception in Theresienstadt on May 24th. Dr. Benna had equipped himself with these injections, among other things, from the piles of medications in the former ghetto in Theresienstadt.
Murder by Order
I gradually began my duties; but very soon I was ordered to kill the internees of cell No. 50 by means of injections. A refusal would have only meant being beaten to death. I pointed to my injured right hand and explained that I could not yet give injections. Two or three days later the order was repeated. They simply said that it was not worth the expense of feeding these elderly people since they could do no equivalent work. My injured hand was no longer taken as excuse. Anyone with any sensibilities can imagine what pain this order gave me. Since a direct refusal would have meant death, I agreed, but hid the ampules for the injections under my palliasse. A further postponement was hardly possible. It was only a question of days, and new ampules were ordered. Then something else came to my help. Since spotted typhus had broken out in the camp, Dr. Patočka, the head of the Hygienic Institute in Prague, came to Theresienstadt and examined the internees for cases of infection. He diagnosed 16 cases and therefore ordered the establishment of a typhus station in the isolated rooms of the movie theater. On the 6th of June I was appointed as doctor in charge.
As a result I was released from giving the injections. In my new capacity it was my duty to examine all the cells, so that I can give an eyewitness account of conditions in this cell No. 50. It was an annex to cell No. 49, the sick-room. Even in these cells there were no palliasses, but only unplaned boards on the floor, on which the patients were packed so close together that they could not lie on their backs, but only on their sides. Among them were many with recent amputations. They were almost all boys between 16 and 18 years of age, allegedly from the SS. They could not prevent their amputated limbs from striking against one another, the bandages were soaked with pus, stank terribly and were crawling with maggots. I shall never in my life forget the agonized faces, marked by terrible pain and despair. These poor unfortunates were the pride of the commandant Pruša and his accomplices. The cells were not generally shown to the commissions coming from Prague; the commandant would only show them now and then to amuse his personal friends. I was not allowed to bandage or even speak to the boys. On my visits I was taken by the arm and warned that if I spoke a single word, I should have to stay there with them. This martyrdom lasted several weeks. I saw the victims one time more - as corpses bruised with blows, especially on their stumps. Whether they had been beaten to death or strangled according to "Theresienstadt custom", or had received a merciful injection, I do not know.
The Typhus Station
When I set up the typhus station on June 6th, 1945, I was given a staff of two nurses. On the first day we had 16 typhus cases (men) and on the second day 15 more men came. All had high temperatures and as a result of their illness could barely hear, and most of them were delirious, restless and suffering from diarrhoea. There was no linen for the patients. The place was jumping with fleas. In their delirium the patients moved about incessantly and responded to no directions, and soon the entire room and toilet was befouled with runny stool, as were the palliasses and the patients themselves. In addition we were overrun with fleas and lice and tormented by swarms of flies coming from the morgue opposite. Since we were given nothing for the patients to drink, they constantly attempted to use the water from the toilet. I was still in such a condition that I could not get up from a chair alone and a nurse had to put me to bed, wash me and get me up in the morning.
I was so desperate that my only hope of freedom from my cares and sufferings was, that I myself would catch the typhus infection.
On the third day the situation changed suddenly. An inspection from Prague was expected. I was now given five nurses, plenty of linen, enough coffee for the patients, and D.D.T., with which the whole sickroom was dusted over. The result was fantastic. In a couple of hours the swarms of fleas were completely destroyed, the floor was black with dead flies, after two days the bugs began to dry up and also the lice, our greatest problem, were wiped out. It was the first ray of sunshine in my hopeless situation. Soon the typhus station became a little model, in the sharpest contrast to the rest of the camp and the treatment of the internees. Prof. Dr. Patočka inspected us often. I obtained the necessary linen, medications and D.D.T.
The following incident is indicative of the attitude of the camp administrators themselves:
Beasts in Human Form
I had diagnosed a new case of typhus and had the patient brought on a stretcher from the courtyard out to the isolation-station. As I came out of the dark passage I was stopped by deputy-commandant Tomeš: "What swine have you got there on the stretcher?" he demanded. "A typhus patient," I answered, to which he replied: "Why make so much fuss over the swine. Kill the bastards off right away. Why should they get fed, everyone in the camp has got to be finished off!" He shouted to the nearest of the gendarmes to get rid of them all. At a later date the commandant, Tomeš and others were arrested and brought before the district court at Leitmeritz, not for their many murders but because they had embezzled valuables belonging to the internees which should have been turned over to the state.
The commandant had a daughter, Sonja Prušova, whose jewel-case was stuffed with diamonds, gold, watches, jewellery and other objects of value, all taken from the internees from Prague. This girl, although barely 20 years old, was an extraordinary sadist and I was told that she had helped in the beating to death of not less than 28 people. Women told me from their own experience that she had torn out their hair, punched them in the face or the stomach and thrashed them with a whip. Whenever she ran through No. 4 court with gleaming eyes and greedy mouth, I knew that people were to be tortured again and that blood would flow.
Several times a week, especially in the evening or at night, drunken Russians would come into the fortress. The women had to assemble and the Russians picked out those they wanted. In return the supervisors were given spirits, tobacco, bacon and so on. The then-supervisor of the 4th building, a Pole named Alfred Kling, had a venereal disease, which did not prevent him from constantly picking himself girls from those recently interned.
"Alfred" regarded the killings from a scientific point of view. He asserted that he could calculate the beatings which he gave exactly and know whether the victim would die in two hours or in two days, or even after as long as a week; or on the other hand that he would be well again in a fortnight. He gave us practical examples of his science. For example, an internee had stolen bread three times running; the Kapo, an old criminal, decided that he must be finished off. First of all he was beaten bloody. In this condition he was brought to "Alfred" who announced: "Fifty strokes - two hours!" In front of the women internees, who were forced to watch, one by one he smashed the prisoner's arms, legs, ribs and left him lying on the floor. Two hours later he died and "Alfred" was obviously proud. Our two commandants were also really proud that the internees looked as wretched and ill after two or three months as the concentration camp inmates did after three or four years. They boasted: "We have messed you up as much in two months as the Gestapo could have done in five years!"
Towards the end of June and the beginning of July a new commandant was appointed to the camp, a certain Staff Captain Kálal. He was no friend to the Germans, but still he was correct and a real officer, which in such a camp means a great deal. But he was completely isolated and all his subordinates were united against him.
I believe that it was thanks to him and perhaps also partly to Prof. Dr. Patočka that not all the prisoners were killed as Pruša, Tomeš and Co. had intended. The camp doctor Dr. Schramm as well as one or two employees of the camp proved to be decent people who did their duty, but had retained some feelings of humanity. Alois Pruša, the first commandant of "Little Fortress", who called himself "Captain" and mostly went about in a uniform decorated with the Soviet star, hammer and sickle, was a fat, brutal man and had formerly been in the German concentration camp in Theresienstadt. His greatest pleasure was torture, but he also enjoyed beatings to death, provided that they were done as brutally as possible. He used to gloat especially over the amputees who had been jammed together in two cells and whom he often visited, jumping up and down with glee at the sight of them like a clown.
Orgies were celebrated almost every day. These took place in the rooms which adjoined Pruša's apartment, where his wife and his two daughters would be sleeping. The girls among the internees were "invited" and the orgy usually ended with his favourite game: playing brothel. The girls had to undress and what followed is impossible to describe. I received this account from two girls, one of whom had her knee slashed open by Pruša with a bottle in a fit of drunkenness. She sustained a long, deep wound that took months to heal. A second girl also confirmed the same. She too had been "invited" by Pruša and I shall refrain from giving details here.
600 Calories - but Millions Looted every Day
To begin with the food was plentiful, although the meat was often spoiled and the bread mouldy. But soon the diet became very insufficient. By order of the Ministry of the Interior the bread ration was halved and the soup, which had previously been nourishing, came to resemble dishwater, in which a few grains of barley and some bits of potatoes floated. For months no salt was put in anything. We estimated that we received from 600 to 800 calories a day without any extra in winter, although, working in the open, we were constantly half-frozen. It may be objected that rations of 250 g bread and 70 g cereal are not sufficient for survival. This is true, and such was the intention. If some of the internees survived, it was due to the fact that the Russians, who showed themselves in many ways more humane than the Czechs, very often fed the groups which were allotted to them for work so well that prisoners were able to bring food back to their comrades in the camp. The Czech farmers also often showed themselves good-hearted. In addition the general chaos allowed frequent stealing, often on a large scale.
The Russians also showed themselves in other ways to be far more decent. For example, they often intervened when our people were too badly beaten. Every morning the Russian doctor would bandage the heads of those who came for work, and in the evening he would remove the bandages again so that they should not be torn off by the Czechs. The Russians even helped many internees to escape, simply by driving them in their cars across the border. I counselled many girls, who came to me in desperation after having been raped repeatedly, rather to pick a Russian and to escape with him; and I know that in many cases this proved to have been good advice.
In our leisure time we estimated, on the basis of a thorough inquiry, the extent of the personal property stolen in Theresienstadt. On a conservative estimate this amounted to 500 million Czech crowns. I do not believe that more than 50% was turned over to the Czech state.
The Czech Ministry of the Interior attempted to carry out an extermination of all non-Czechs, outside as well as inside the camps, by withholding all supplies of protein (save for ½ a pint of milk for children and a pint for babies, the ration cards for Germans made no provision for any distribution of protein). If this extermination was not as complete as planned, this was in part due to a certain carelessness in carrying it out. This enabled the German population to obtain foodstuffs illegally, all the more so as there was plenty available. Moreover a few Czechs and also the Russians had remained good-hearted. In addition many of the officials never grasped the actual meaning and purpose of these directives. So it happened twice, for example, that a horse which had had to be destroyed was distributed to the internees and several times animal blood was given out with the food. The distribution of several tons of dried cheese provided by the Swiss Red Cross in December 1945 was also an unconscious contravention of the official directives by subordinate officials who did not know the real state of affairs. The receipt of monthly food parcels of up to 3 kilograms (about 6½ pounds) was allowed during the late autumn and winter: another measure which frustrated the 100% success of the plan of the Ministry of the Interior. An absolute deficiency of protein in the diet will cause the death of any human being, not rapidly but with complete certainty. Those who succumbed were either emaciated skeletons as a result of inadequate food, or monstrously swollen up; in the latter cases death was more often consequent on terminal diarrhoea. The German PoWs also returned from Russian captivity in a bloated state owing to a deficiency of protein.
We had plenty of both types at Theresienstadt, the emaciated as well as the bloated victims. But consider what a person must suffer through to starve to a skeletal state, spending the nights lying on unplaned boards or on a concrete floor, tormented at night by the impossible need to relieve himself, plagued by the cold or the heat and by air almost too thick to breathe, driven to work time and again with beatings or equally vicious tongue-lashings - it is gruesome, and a graphic reflection of the intentions held by the Ministry of the Interior at Prague. The beatings and tortures meted out to the prisoners whenever inspectors went through the institution were probably also a uniform aspect in all camps, regulated by a central directive.
"Hitler Did a Poor Job"
The anti-Semitism of the Czechs can be seen from the following story. A Slovak Jew named Müller, who had already spent five years in a German concentration camp, was brought to the "Little Fortress" at Theresienstadt at the beginning of June. He had in the meantime recovered from his experiences and looked well. He repeatedly claimed, "They won't get me to work." The Czechs regarded him as a comic figure. They used deliberately to order him to various kinds of work, which they knew in advance he would not do, such as putting him in a line of men who were passing tiles from hand to hand, knowing that on principle he would drop every tile, although he was well aware of what would follow. "Don't beat me too hard, Mr. Commandant", he used to say, ducking his head. His work always ended with slaps and blows to the amusement of the guards. Another time they put a railroadman's cap on his head and a red scarf around his neck and ordered him to push a wheelbarrow on the double. The Kapo ran with him, tripping him up unexpectedly. Beatings again followed. Later on he was sent to the ghetto at Theresienstadt for several days. When I met him there, I was hardly able to recognise him, so wretched and haggard did he appear. The Czech GPU interrogated me on the subject of this man. During my interrogation I pointed out that Müller had been in a German concentration camp for five years and asked that he be released, since he was certainly neither a Nazi nor even a German. But Müller remained in the camp, where he died after 5 or 6 months as a result of too much ill-treatment and not enough rations.
There were also other Jews interned at Theresienstadt. Among them were Schück, Glässner, Spieker, Herbert, Geitler, and others whose names I do not remember.
The Czechs often remarked that Adolf Hitler had done a poor job, since there were still plenty of Jews alive.
Death Rate Over 50%!
In May 1945 72 soldiers of the German Wehrmacht, none of them SS-men, were taken to Theresienstadt. In September 1945 only 34 of them were still alive. During the months of May and June 200 men and 6 women are shown as having died as well as those whose deaths were not recorded. The extremely high death rate of men in relation to the almost equal numbers of men and women in the camp can be easily explained by the fact that men were most subject to ill-treatment and blows.
The death rate among those suffering from typhus was low owing to the medical attention they received and to the use of the medications found in the ghetto at Theresienstadt as well as to the relatively good accommodation and the mild type of the disease itself. Out of 74 cases only 11 died. 50% of the deaths were caused by bedsores, the result of previous mistreatment, because the victims had been so grossly beaten that fist-sized chunks of flesh separated from their buttocks and back. No special diet was available for the patients, but an epidemic of dysentery could to a great extent be controlled by bacteriophage provided by the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Patočka.
The men comprising the camp leadership were pathological liars.
Whenever a commission arrived at the camp, Pruša would lead them past the prisoners in their cells, remarking that all were SS or Gestapo men. When a member of the Russian commission doubted the truth of this, seeing that there were several boys of 12 or 14, who could hardly have been members of the SS, Pruša lied, declaring that these were sons of SS or Gestapo-men and that one of them alone had killed eleven Czechs.
As many who listened to the official Czech broadcasts can confirm, the Ministry of the Interior repeatedly asserted to the foreign countries that only members of the SS, Gestapo and other major offenders were at Theresienstadt, although in fact half of the inmates were women up to the age of 92 years, and small children. The men were mostly Germans from Prague and among the civilians were a number of blind men. Blind soldiers had also been taken out of the hospital at Aussig or seized in the course of the Czech lootings. There were also prisoners who had been turned over to Theresienstadt because the prisons were overfull and they were not charged with any serious crime.
As previously mentioned, the commandant Pruša used to count the prisoners by hitting the men on the forehead with a club. Since some of the boys were small, the club struck the skull instead of the forehead. The wounds were not allowed to be bandaged, but were left to be infested by maggots and smelled terribly. The dates for release which were fixed monthly led the prisoners to hope for a discharge, but the recurring disappointments brought deep depression. For the camp administration the release dates, which were constantly set fictitiously for the next month, and the next, and the next, had another advantage - namely that many prisoners postponed their attempts at escape, thinking time and again that they had a chance to be discharged properly.
Victims from Aussig "Brought in Dead"
At the end of July 1945 an ammunition depot exploded at Schönpriesen near Aussig/Elbe. This explosion was followed by a general persecution of the Germans, mainly carried out by the members of the Svoboda Army. Many of the Germans, including those of the Schicht works, were driven into the river Elbe, shot or killed by hand-grenades. On July 31, 1945 21 men were brought to Theresienstadt in a closed car, wearing white bands on their arms with the inscription "Závody Schicht". They were said to be "Werewolves" and were stood against the wall the whole afternoon. Shortly before midnight we heard the well-known sounds of blows and screams, of clubs striking on skulls. An acquaintance of mine later told me that he and other internees had that night had to clear away blood, brains, teeth and hair and to strew fresh sand in the entrance to the courtyard. I never saw the 21 men again. I made inquiries in the office: there the men were booked as having arrived dead.
Miss M. W. reports on her internment from May 13, 1945 to October 10, 1946 at Theresienstadt as follows:
The Significance of International Commissions
The behaviour of the camp authorities when a commission arrived was almost comical. For instance, at the beginning a Russian would ask for what purpose the bloody club was used which lay on the table in the cell: "Has anybody here been beaten?" All 500 inmates would shout in unison: "Nobody!" It is impossible to imagine what would have happened to anyone answering in the affirmative. Later on, when a British commission (mostly journalists) was announced, the whole camp was in a state of excitement. The cells were hermetically closed, no internee was allowed to leave and the British journalists were led through the fortress surrounded by the commandant and his officials. The commission missed everything worth seeing, but was bombarded with information about the atrocities the Germans had perpetrated. Some of the stories were ridiculous, for instance thousands of Czech women (and it was never less than thousands) had been raped by SS-men in a steep rock garden and had afterwards been drowned in the swimming pool. The steepness of the rock garden would have made such exploits difficult indeed for even the most experienced womanizer.
The brutality which was customary at the beginning, the constant and unrestrained beatings, were later forbidden. The new commandant himself backed up the prohibition and saw to it that order was kept. Owing to the poor discipline and the hostile attitude of his subordinates towards him, however, he was only able to limit the maltreatment; behind his back many abuses still occurred.
Help from Switzerland
In December 1945 there came at last a shipment of food from the Swiss Red Cross for which we had long been waiting. It consisted of noodles, canned vegetables, dried cheese, preserved milk and powdered milk etc., about 4 tons in all. The effect was that the death rate dropped 50%. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Red Cross that really showed great good will and helped us as much as it could, and I only regret that we had to wait seven months for this help. Probably wisened by experience, the Swiss Red Cross handed over the consignment to me for the internees, against receipt, and inquired whether my fellow prisoners would benefit from it. I answered: "I hope so." This was, indeed, the only way in which a proper use of the material could be assured. I had a constant fight to prevent the camp rations being discontinued on the ground that the Swiss gift could be used instead. In fact over 80% of the articles sent were used for the purpose intended, whereas, if this care had not been taken, not more than 10% would have reached the prisoners.
In retrospect I must correct one thing. After I was released in late January 1946 a considerable amount of these Red Cross supplies were still left. Inmates who were released later informed me that these supplies were largely misappropriated after all, and the inmates received little of them.
Babies, Small Children and Adolescents
It is significant that babies and children up to 12 years of age were also interned. We had about a hundred of them. Children over 12 were considered to be grown-ups and were treated and mistreated in the same way. Although milk was fed to the pigs which were kept in the fortress, not a drop of milk was available for the babies. For that, permission had to be obtained from the authorities, a process which took 2 or 3 weeks. I had to face the desperate problem of nourishing some 20 babies with gruel and a little sugar, without a drop of milk. I succeeded in obtaining and bringing secretly into the camp an adequate supply of preserved milk. Later this was discovered and the internee who had provided the money for the milk was put in solitary confinement.
The children were housed in a wooden hut and had a big yard to play in, where diapers and laundry could also be hung up to dry. This children's section, which was headed by a woman doctor under my supervision, became a small model. It was used by the Czechs to show to visiting journalists, some of whom even took films of it. A remark which was made to me - "We Czechs died here, but you are allowed to survive" - shows the real attitude of the officials. The wooden shed, however, became more and more unsuitable as the weather grew colder, for the gaps between the planks were such that one could see through. I was promised every week that the children would either be released or better housed. The commander of the fortress and even more so the District Medical Officer took a great deal of trouble in the matter, but the competent authorities remained immovable. There was no room for the children. A great number of large rooms stood empty in Leitmeritz, as did more than 600 apartments, but there was no room for these children. October came and the children suffered terribly from cold. With November the first frosts began, the water was frozen in the morning and it was impossible to keep the children warm, even by bedding them close together and well covered up. There was very little fuel and in any case the temperature only became bearable quite near the stove; in the rest of the hut it remained below freezing. Some children suffered from frostbite on the hands, others could not hold their water in the cold and remained lying in wet clothes on the wet palliasses. At the end of November or beginning of December, thanks to the efforts of the commandant, Major Kálal, I was successful in getting the children transferred to a large cell in the 4th building, where two big stoves were installed and the temperature became bearable. The nurses slept in the aforementioned wooden barracks, six to a room, which did not stop the yard commandant, a young fellow names Benes, from entering the room several nights a week, throwing himself boots and all into the bed of one of the internees, and having sex with her in front of all the others.
Trade with Spirits, Tobacco and Women
It is significant that in all conflicts between the superior and the subordinate officials, the latter were successful. The position of the commandant was therefore extremely difficult. Certain sadists such as Truka, a supervisor and deputy commandant of the 4th building, were able to terrorize the whole fortress. Everyone was afraid of these brutes. Valchař, the commandant of the 2nd building, was a man of the same type; he was on hand for every murder or other atrocity. Some of these subordinates made a great deal of money. One Ortl had the internees make leather flowers to the number of 45,000 in two months. One can imagine what he earned from their sale. After the transport of the Jews from Theresienstadt hundreds of horsehair mattresses were collected and brought into the fortress. They were pulled to pieces by the internees, the hair packed in bales and sold for the profit of the officials. Furniture and other items were manufactured in the large woodworking shop in the 2nd yard. In addition Ortl traded women to the Russians in return for spirits, bacon and tobacco. Once, as a special delicacy, he handed over nine women in their last month of pregnancy. The fact that as a result one or two children were born dead could not have disturbed him. One of these women attempted to resist. I saw her a few days later and she had been so ill-treated - her upper body and especially her breasts and arms were scratched and black with bruises - that I was surprised a premature birth had not resulted. Women were also officially assigned to the Russians for work, when they were also used for sexual purposes. Anyone who attempted to resist was returned to the camp as lazy, and punished.
The Old People's Home
A series of small cells in the 4th building were set apart as a home for old people and invalids. The cells opened onto the smaller court and when it rained the water ran over the floor and caused the palliasses to moulder. In September it was bearable, but in October, when the cold nights came, these people suffered terribly. In one row of cells of 27 inmates, after two months, only 7 survived. At the beginning of winter I was finally able to get about 50 of the survivors into a casemate, where at least they suffered less from the cold.
Conditions in Cell 44 of the 4th building were far worse. No heating was allowed, water dripped from the ceiling and plaster became loose and fell. Everything was wet, including the blankets, and few possessed winter overcoats. The poor devils were never allowed to leave the cell, even to go to the sick-bay. They had to die where they were. As long as they had strength they kept moving half the night to keep themselves warm and then had to creep under the wet blankets again. Part of the time the floor was icy. It was inevitable that prisoners died en masse. Although Major Kálal had forbidden beatings, they still occurred; often, during the night, we would hear the smashing of clubs on skulls, the whack of slaps and rubber truncheons making contact, the screams of the tortured and the roars of the guards.
Another Individual Case
In the first months of his detention Count Ledebur, a former member of Parliament for the Christian Social Party, a quiet, distinguished and likeable old man, was kept continuously in solitary confinement. He was forbidden contact with everyone, save the doctor. He was an idealist and believed firmly that he would be given a hearing. He told me that he had been imprisoned in connection with an archeological piece of jewelry, the property of his wife, which it had proved impossible to find. He would gladly have revealed its whereabouts to secure his release, but he had never inquired where his wife had kept it. For this reason, he assumed, he was being closely watched. In spite of his 72 years he held out for months. After some months, however, he had to take to bed, as a result of an abscess on his foot which I treated. I myself was sent to the Leitmeritz hospital for eight days, for x-rays and treatment of my hand which had been fractured in the course of my abuses (and the purpose of my stay in Leitmeritz was also to see my wife and children). When I returned to the camp I noticed a worsening of his condition and incipient gangrene. I therefore attempted to secure his removal to the hospital in Leitmeritz, saying that the foot would need to be amputated, otherwise the Count would die. I was told, "At chcipne!" - he might just as well die where he was. I was thrown out. Since I felt very sorry for the old gentleman, I still tried repeatedly to get him into the Leitmeritz hospital, but it was always in vain. His wife, who was also interrogated about the missing jewelry (she was still at liberty and lived in a small cottage in Milleschau), took advantage of the opportunity to send him several baskets of fruit. I don't know if he ever saw so much as two apples from all this fruit. After another 10 to 14 days the old man's condition was very poor. A commission arrived from Prague and I was sharply censured for not having transferred him earlier, and he was admitted to the hospital the same day. I told the catholic nuns that the Count had been the leader of the Christian Social Party and begged them to do all they could for him. The catholic nuns, who always had a good heart towards the internees and whom the internees rightly described as "angels", did their best. But the Count died, just on the day when the British ambassador and the Prince of Liechtenstein were to have visited him. The Countess was dragged before the Leitmeritz district court sometime in the winter months.
I must give a short account of one Kurt Landrock, a Kapo of the notorious cell No. 50. He was a beast in human form, a specialist in strangling, who curiously enough could be very nice to his favourites. Thanks to him the sick-bay became a hell for the patients. In my capacity as head doctor of the fortress I attempted to have him removed, on the grounds that he was unsuitable and that he could also speak no Czech. But the man enjoyed such credit for his misdeeds that his position could not be shaken. It was not until after the fact that I noticed that he preferentially accepted patients with gold teeth. It turned out that he collected these, which he wrenched out of the mouth of the patients. This, however, proved his downfall; since he had not handed the gold over to the state, he was brought before the district court in Leitmeritz.
The following example demonstrates the low opinion the Czechs had of the international public's intelligence: In order to be able to say that the abuses were not the work of Czechs, such a man as the Pole Alfred Kling, who had carried out many murders with his own hands, was declared to be German. Landrock was a German, a criminal whom the Czechs had selected as Kapo for his record of cruelty and who had already spent several years in German concentration camps. Therefore: all the numerous murders were not committed by the Czechs, but by the Germans. This ruse had a two-fold purpose: first, it washed the Czechs clean of the charges of mass murder, and second, it cast the Germans in a dreadful light once again. The fact that Captain Pruša or Tomeš could have prevented the ill-treatment, and could have prevented any murders at all from taking place, were things that the dumb foreigners won't realize - or so the assumption went, and I would not be surprised to see trials of these "Germans" being staged to pull the wool over the public eye. Where the many smashed jaws are concerned, none of the victims will speak up - for someone who has a broken jaw and is given nothing but hard bread and a bit of soup to eat, does not live to tell his story.
The Pole, Alfred Kling, was also a "sports champion": he was able to kill someone with a single blow to the neck with a small club. Despite many tries, none of the Czechs were able to duplicate this feat, and Alfred enjoyed considerable prestige as a result.
Remarks by Way of Comparison
From the many inmates who had formerly been imprisoned in German concentration camps and who had to continue their detention in Theresienstadt, I am fairly thoroughly informed first-hand about the methods used by the Gestapo and the brutalities in the camps, by people who themselves were inmates and had no reason to praise these camps but who unaninmously stated that the Theresienstadt camp was worse. I won't go into detail and will just mention two monsters in human form: one Valchar, who was cruelty and brutality incarnate, and one Truka, his equal in every way. It would take many pages to describe how these two yelled, beat, slapped, kicked, and tortured their victims in every conceivable fashion. One of Truka's little pleasures was to order the SS men to lie on the ground and then to take a walk on them, choosing the most sensitive places to step, jumping with both feet on the kidney areas, and the like. It is easy to imagine what cold, constant starvation, yelling, abuse, being stood up against a wall, being rolled on the ground etc. can do to people both mentally and physically. But to describe how the internees had to spend Sundays and holidays permanently locked up in the dark grave-like vaults to allow their overseers some time off, and more of the like, would go beyond the scope of this report. I should only like to add that Theresienstadt was no exception. I have talked to inmates of other camps and prisons and the system was everywhere the same. It was decreed and controlled by the Ministry of the Interior, although nobody now wishes to take the blame.
One may believe this account or not. But all who were in Theresienstadt can confirm that what I have said above is neither exaggerated nor untrue. Whereas the practice of beating prisoners to death more or less stopped later on, other factors took its place. The cold, and inadequate clothing; the lack of heating fuel and the months-long starvation. The torments involved in these are by no means less than they were in being beaten to death, for it is possible to let a great many people die without using violence on them.
Thousands of people are suffering under medieval-like slavery to this very
day . I only have one
wish: that my truthful account, which I am ready and willing to take on my oath, may help to
prompt international authorities to take all possible steps against these inhuman conditions!