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and Hohenelbe

Report No. 315
by Victor Diodon and Arnim Johannis.   zum deutschen Originalbericht
Reported by: N. N. Report of June 19, 1950

location of Schwarzental and HohenelbeOn July 18, 1945, around 10 o'clock, a truck full of Czech soldiers arrived on the market square of Schwarzental. The truck was carrying a considerable number of Czech soldiers, all of them armed to the teeth. They got off the truck outside the Hotel "Erben", and went in. One or two platoons of Czech soldiers had been quartered in this hotel for some time already, but their presence or demeanor had not given rise to any complaints. Only the new arrivals turned out to be criminals shortly after their arrival. After a brief stay at the Hotel "Erben" they rushed off to the upper section of Schwarzental. The first German man to be brought out was the master dyer Franz Munßner, the father of two underaged children. Like all those who followed, he had been forcibly taken from his home and family. He was followed by the coachman Josef Ettrich, the father of one underaged child; master dyer Josef Krauß, father of three underaged children; and master dyer Johann Krauß, brother of the previous. To loud curses all these men were dragged to the Hotel "Erben", while kicks and blows from rifle butts and rubber truncheons rained down on them. Further, the Czechs also invaded the homes of the farmer Wonka, Franz Kröhn, father of four underaged children, Josef Schneider, also father of four underaged children, a quarry worker in the limestone works, master saddler Möhwald, Oswald Renner, father of two underaged children, a telegraph worker, and then it was my turn as well. I too was dragged away from my wife and my four underaged children. In my case these bandits invaded my shoemaking shop and demanded, with violent threats, that I should come with them right away. In the hallway they beat me to the floor with several blows from their rifle butts. I had to cover the short distance to the Hotel "Erben" almost at a run, while they cursed me in the most insulting and crude manner. Since I understand the Czech language perfectly, I understood all their slurs, such as "German pig", "German bastard" etc. In the hallway of the Hotel "Erben" all the German men who had been brought in, including myself, had to stand side by side facing the wall. We were strictly forbidden to move. Some of the Czechs apparently got their pleasure from hitting us severely on the back of the head, so that our faces crashed into the wall. This was repeated at short intervals, and soon we were all bleeding badly from our noses and the wall was also blood-spattered. Then the Czechs brought on the German man Kröhn, a cobbler; he had been taken from his place of employment in the Mencik factory. This poor man could hardly walk any more, and so he was dragged in across the floor. He had been beaten horribly on the way here, so that he was already totally exhausted. His clothes were smeared with blood. He had to stand up across from us and with his back to the wall, and then his clothes were searched. One of the Czechs found a sports badge in one of his pockets. Kröhn stood fairly close to my position, and so I saw clearly how they hit him in the face and even on his glasses with a rubber truncheon. His glasses shattered. His tormentors also tried to pin the sports badge on him, pushing the pin (meant for fixing it to one's shirt) into his skin and into the flesh of his forehead. Since such a pin is about 3 mm thick and relatively blunt, these attempts failed. But the victim sustained considerable injuries to his forehead, which was bleeding badly. He then had to turn and face the wall also, and he and Seff Ettrich, who stood beside him, had to raise their arms and lean against the wall with the palms of their hands, and then both were beaten with rubber truncheons on the backs of their hands and fingers as well as on their head and back until they both collapsed. They were then still treated to vicious kicks, mostly in the stomach area.

A few hours later - it may have been around 5 o'clock p.m. - we were all ordered to get into the truck that was standing at the ready. As I was getting in, my wife, who had approached the truck along with some children, tried to hand me a jacket, but she was turned away with the words, "He doesn't need a jacket any more, he's going to get one over the head and then a stone to mark his place." Once we were on the truck, we had to squat on the floor in the middle. The walls were lined with benches, on which the Czechs sat. Squatting with our knees drawn up, and holding our knees with our hands, we had to huddle in the middle of that truck. Some of the ruffians hit us on the knees and elbows with the butts of their pistols. The truck moved out, and we drove towards Lauterwasser-Forstbad. The farmer Wonka and the master saddler Möhwald each had a large mustache. Some of the Czechs made a game of it and passed the time by ripping the moustache hairs of these two unfortunate men out one by one, until there was not a single hair left to pull out. The poor men then asked to be allowed to smoke. They were permitted to; but the Czechs first removed the mouthpieces from their pipes and stuffed the pipes with horse manure, and the two men then had to take the pipes in their mouths without the mouthpieces. Then they were given a light, and they actually had to smoke the horse manure. After a brief time, for which they had been forced to continue smoking, the pipe heads were simply knocked out of their mouths, along with some of their teeth. The Czechs then stuffed their mouths full of hay. But finally this trip was over, and when we were ordered to get out of the truck we found ourselves in the courtyard of the welfare home in Hohenelbe.

We were told to get off as quickly as we could, and had to stand up along the wall of the welfare home, facing the wall. Shortly afterwards we were allowed to turn around, and were then called one by one to the steps that led down to the basement. Two Czechs had taken up position there, and hit each arrival ruthlessly over his head and torso with their rubber truncheons and then kicked him brutally down the steps. Once all of us had arrived down there in the dark, unlit basement hallway, all of us except for two - one of which was myself - were to be roped together into one big pile. In the hallway there was also a large number of dirty and blood-soaked shirts from the former Hitler Youth. The two of us who had been sent off to one side were ordered to rip the sleeves off these uniform shirts, and were then ordered to put them on our fellow-prisoners as gags. We were told to tie these gags tightly at the neck so that our comrades-in-suffering would be completely unable to speak. We were also to take such torn-out sleeves and tie our fellow-prisoners' hands firmly behind their backs. Since we did not carry out these orders quite to the liking of the soldateska, we were shoved aside, and now these criminals did it themselves and the two of us were also gagged and tied up.

Before this tying-up and gagging was even complete, some of the ruffians led some other Germans in from one of the basement rooms. They had probably been brought here a few days earlier. They were the mailman Wenzel Seidel, the father of two underaged children, and the carpenter Franz Seidel, also father of two underaged children. These two men were totally disfigured. They had been shaved bald, and their faces were suffused with blood. Their heads were grossly swollen. They were almost unrecognizable and could barely keep upright. During an unguarded moment they whispered to us that during the interrogations that were no doubt about to begin for us, we should simply admit to everything we would be asked, and confess to everything. These two men had been told that they could save their lives only by a full confession. The criminals now ordered them to check and make sure that we new arrivals were properly gagged and that our hands were tied tightly enough. In the course of this examination I had to take a step backward in the dark basement hallway, and I stumbled over something lying on the ground there. A cold sensation suddenly ran over me, for I felt that I had bumped against a stiff human body. I whispered, as best I could, "What's that?" Wenzel Seidel replied, also in a whisper: "That's first lieutenant Langer, he was beaten to death about an hour ago." I shuddered.

Now we were distributed amongst the basement rooms. Together with five others, I was put into a very dark room. It was a larger room containing a large number of old bicycles and bicycle parts. Franz Munßner, the farmer Wonka, master saddler Möhwald and Seff Ettrick were imprisoned in a smaller room, about 9 meters square, windowless and with a fairly large table and an iron door. The four comrades-in-suffering were tied together in a standing position, which made it impossible for them to sit or lie down. The brothers Seidel were locked back into their basement room in which they had already spent several days prior to our arrival. I had taken up position by the door, and through said door I could hear how the soldateska were divided up into guard teams and how these guards were instructed to check the various basement rooms at least once an hour to make sure that none of us were sitting down. Seff Ettrich was beaten especially badly, until he was quite mangled. I too was beaten about my head and back every time the guards inspected our cell; to protect myself a little I had turned my face to the wall at one spot where there was a small depression that just fit my nose, so that when they shoved and hit me there was a bit of a safeguard for me when my face hit the wall. - The master weaver Edi Klust had been in the same cell as I for several days already. He had snapped and gone insane, but whenever the guards entered he was again brutally beaten like the rest of us.

In these prison cells it was impossible for us to tell whether it was day or night. We got nothing to eat, nor to drink, at least not for the first three or four days. After that we got a few mouthfuls of water, and then - it may have been the day after - a little black coffee and a bit of dry bread. For the first days we had to answer the call of nature while still tied up. Due to the severe blows we also received to our stomachs, some comrades had had to throw up, and they were not helped in any way. The air in the basement rooms had taken on a dreadful stench, and when the guards entered they always had to let the room air out for a few minutes. It was not until the third day that we were given a pot to serve as toilet, and when the guards arrived one of us would have to carry it out. I was virtually unable to open one of my eyes, which was suffused with blood and totally swollen shut. I had only partial vision left in my other eye, which had also been injured by the brutal blows. One day the guards again came by on their rounds - I have to add that the guards were different Czechs almost every day - and they had brought small flat pliers with them and used them to shove wood splinters under our fingernails. We had no choice but to endure this helplessly as well. One particularly brutal torture technique that deserves mention here was their practice of hanging us head-down, by our feet from the ceiling, and beating us savagely with their rubber truncheons.

While all these brutalities were going on in the basement rooms, individual interrogations were also being performed. The men were taken from the rooms one at a time to be interrogated. Screams of pain were also to be heard from this interrogation room, which was not far from the basement room in which I was imprisoned. After the interrogation the Czechs dragged the prisoners back as a misshapen bloody mass, which they threw into the room and left there. These people were no longer able to speak. As the days passed I was able to ascertain, by looking through the keyhole of the locked door that connected our cellar room with the adjoining one, that aside from the two Seidel brothers the chief forester Franz Bayer, the administrator Hubert Wawra and senior teacher Gall were also locked into that adjoining cell. Hubert Wawra was lying on a large table, totally exhausted and almost as though dead. At certain intervals, as I heard, the guards made him drink considerable quantities of iodine. I also happen to know that the Seidel brothers, Wenzel and Franz, as well as comrade Wawra were taken from the cellar one night by a severely drunk Czech, were tormented and tortured horribly, and then simply shot. Senior teacher Gall was transferred to the Hohenelbe District Prison, where he was subjected to long and agonizing interrogations in Ober-Hohenelbe-Steinwag and then shot.

Then it was my turn to be taken to be interrogated. My manacles and gag were removed in the basement hallway. The manacles had been too tight, and had bitten deeply into my flesh. I was in a great deal of pain. The laundry room of the house we were in served as the interrogation room. Once there, I was allowed to sit down on a chair. The room contained a long table, on which my comrades who had been 'interrogated' before me had to lie down and were then beaten dreadfully with rubber truncheons in order to force them to make confessions. A laundry mangle and a clothes press were also in the room. The concrete floor, the walls and especially the ceiling were spattered all over with blood. In one corner I saw not only blood that had been swept together there, but also a large amount of hair and even some human fingers.

My interrogation was relatively brief, and I was not even beaten. A verdict, which was first read to me and then given to me to sign, stated that I was to be sent to a penal camp, that my wife would be deported to Germany and my children taken into the Czech interior. I was also informed that the money that had been taken from me on my arrest would not be returned to me. Then I was asked whether I had shoes, for I had come to the interrogation room barefoot. I had also lost my suspenders in the cellar room and had to hold my pants up with my hands. One of the Czechs was sent to the cellar room to get my shoes and suspenders. He returned just a few seconds later and said that he had been unable to find anything. Then I heard the Czechs debate which of them was to escort me to the gate. The chief interrogator saw fit to accompany me personally. As we walked through the large garden, he insisted most forcefully that I was not to tell anyone about anything I had seen and experienced here. At the gate he ordered the guard to let me pass. I went as best I could, and as quickly as possible, to the house where my father lived in Hohenelbe. On my way there, Czech soldiers stopped me several times and laughed and made fun of me because of the dreadful state I was in. My father hardly recognized me. After something to eat, and several hours' rest, I left to go home. At home my children did not recognize me either. My comrades which I have mentioned in this report were tortured to death and died in the most horrible agonies.

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Survivors speak out