Letter from Mr. R. R. Stokes,
a British Member of Parliament and Minister,
to the Manchester Guardian, October 1945,
about the Czech concentration camps
(Retranslated from the German in the absence of the original)
Some months ago I heard of the Czech practice of assembling young men, who according to the Potsdam Agreement were to be transferred on account of their nationality, and of putting them in concentration camps. And in fact, many Sudeten German Social Democrats, who as anti-Nazis had been in German concentration camps, have now been put in Czech labour camps simply on the ground that they are German. I therefore attempted to find one of the so-called political internment camps and had the luck to come on one at Hagibor near Prague. The main part of the camp consisted of ten big huts, in [each of] which 70 to 80 persons were lodged. At the time of my first visit, on September 12, at 9 o'clock in the morning, most of the inmates were absent at work. The huts were typical concentration camp barracks with three tiers of beds, lacking the most primitive conveniences and with the most horrible sanitary arrangements. I met all kinds of people in the camp; some of them had only been there a few days and others for months. None of those to whom I spoke had the slightest idea why he had been arrested. An old lady of 72 had already been two weeks in the camp and no reason for her internment would be given other than that she was an Austrian. She had lived near Prague for 55 years, where her late husband had been the well-to-do owner of a sugar refinery. I found her in a corner of the sick-bay reading a copy of Cronin's book "The Stars Look Down".
A 70-year-old professor of dramatic art from Belgrade and his wife were also there. The old man was almost blind in both eyes. He had left Russia in 1911 and had lived in Yugoslavia since that time. While he was in Vienna to consult a specialist about his eyes, he was interned by the Nazis as a Yugoslav; on the day of liberation he was imprisoned by the Czechs, probably because he was a White Russian.
I also saw a 75-year-old lady, the widow of a Russian admiral of the First World War, whose only wish was to reach her daughter in Tyrol. She had already been there several months and was kept on bread and water.
I should like to know what these people, who were typical of many whom I saw, may have done to deserve such treatment. I at any rate was unable to find out.
When I brought this matter to the attention of the Ministry of the Interior, they promised me to look into it.
There are 51 such camps in Czechoslovakia, in which famished people are vegetating. And when I say famished, I mean it literally. In front of me lies the menu of this camp, the same for every day:
Breakfast - black coffee and bread
The bread ration is distributed every morning and amounts to 250 grams a day per person, and what is left over from supper may be eaten next morning. The camp kitchen consists of a small room 9 by 9 ft in the cellar of the building. Two old women peeling carrots for the mid-day soup and two buckets [of water] made up the whole equipment and personnel.
On September 3, there were 912 persons in the camp and the total amount of food distributed on this day consisted of:
550 lbs of bread
Reckoning bread and potatoes together, each man received 1.5 pounds, 25 grams of sugar and vegetables and 5 grams butter or margarine [1 gram = 0.035 oz]. It is therefore no wonder that the camp inmates were glad of the slave labour outside the camp, since the employers had to provide food in order to obtain workers. This also explains why at the time of my first visit the camp was almost empty. Everybody except the old people and the so-called "dangerous persons", who were lodged in another part of the camp, were out at work.
I was able to observe the methods by which the slaves were selected when, two days later, to the astonishment of the camp authorities, I appeared in the camp at half past five in the morning. At 6 o'clock the first employers arrived in the camp with cars and lorries to choose and to take away the slaves. They were taken into a big hut which had been empty at the time of my previous visit. 300-400 slaves were then let in from the camp and the visitors made their choice and gave written receipts for those whom they took away and would bring back at the end of the day. I moved freely among employers and slaves; and I was told that anyone who showed the slightest sign of unwillingness to go to work would receive a severe beating. In honor of my visit this practice was discontinued on this morning. The slaves receive no payment of any kind.
On my previous visit to the special section of the camp, to which I have referred, I noticed that during the whole three hours of my stay on a fine sunny day hardly anyone was to be seen outside the huts. This time I demanded to see the huts themselves and found them crowded. All inmates, with few exceptions, lay rolled up on their palliasses. These were the "dangerous" men. As such they were not allowed to go out to work; and since they did not work, they received only camp rations. A half pound of bread per day and black coffee cannot keep body and soul together, still less allow any physical effort. According to my estimate their rations amounted to 750 calories per day, that is to say less than in Belsen. The only men I saw outside were a dozen young Jews and Poles, who had been brought in a couple of days before because they had not kept to the prescribed route from Russia and Poland to the Mediterranean.
I can only assume that the conditions in other camps are similar.
The officials who gave me the information as to the number of camps, did so without shame; and I should be interested to know whether Dr. Beneš knows that these disgraceful things are going on. As he was absent from Prague, I was unfortunately unable to see him, but I left reports at the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
R. R. Stokes, m.p.
Documents on the Expulsion of the Sudeten Germans
Survivors speak out