By Wilfried Heink
The last two chapters of Verbrechen der Sieger are titled “Polen” (Poland) and “Tschechoslowakei” (Czechoslovakia).
Poland was defeated and therefore did not have any legitimate armed forces and as a consequence not able to capture “Prisoners of War”. About 800,000 German POWs were concentrated in the area of East/Germany-Poland, among them 7,500 POWs discharged by Americans and delivered to the Poles (p.342). Nobody knows how many Germans were given to the Poles by the Russians, for one because both the Russians as well as the Poles refuse to allow access to the archives. And two, because the Poles did not label their camps ‘POW camps’ but ‘work camps’, and with this managing to get around the bothersome legalities concerning Prisoners of War. These camps also housed civilians, impossible therefore to come up with precise POW numbers. The closes estimate is 70,000; employed in a variety of slave labor positions, from mines to farm work (pp.228/39).
The Poles claimed that they had a right to employ German POWs, as part of reparations for damage done by the Germans. The fact that they received huge chunks of German territory was ignored. It is estimated that Germans worked a combined total of 61,393,060 days from 1945 to 1950: 70% of them in mines, 15% on farms and 15% rebuilding Warsaw. The average workday in Warsaw, for instance, started at 6 AM and lasted to 8 PM, 14 hr. days with a one-hour lunch break. In the winter they worked less hours, of course, because of the shorter days. As a doctor testified, Sunday was a workday as any other, although only 8 hours, there were no holidays (p.339). They received no pay and were wholly dependant on the rations provided to them by the camp commanders. Starting in 1948 they were to receive pay, a laborer 25 Zloty a day, a tradesman 50 and an engineer 75. That is what was on paper, in reality most received nothing, or 10% of what was due to them. The price for one kg of bread was 35 Zloty, one kg of butter 700, one pound of bacon 300 and 20 cigarettes 60 Zloty. Clothing was unaffordable; most POWs were dressed in rags. An IRC report states that in Warsaw camps there is a severe shortage of coats, shirts/pants, underwear, shoes and personal hygiene articles (p.340).
From 1947 on things improved – but took a turn for the worst again in 1949 when large contingents of them were released. The clothing of those to be discharged was stored, only handed to them at the last moment so as to have them appear fairly well dressed when arriving home.
German POWs were humiliated whenever and wherever possible. Those working in mines were treated worst of all, forced to walk around in rags in public, their heads shaven, with a number on their backs, often accompanied by a swastika. Officers were treated the same, everything possible stolen from them by civilians during the long “atonement/show” marches. Reports of ill treatment abound, driving some of them insane (p.341).
Train transports were as inhumane as the marches, 80 men forced into a freight car. For a three day journey 2kg of bread provided for 4 men, at the arrival they were send straight into the mines. The guards shot those showing signs of exhaustion. And if anyone of them still had a coat, it was taken away when they entered camp. Even those discharged had no assurance that they would get home, and, only those too sick to be of any use were let go, they were not considered to be humans but waste (Schrott) which had to be disposed of. From a transport of 700 men, leaving Lodz on December 18, 1945 for Berlin, only 360 arrived still alive, and that is only one example (pp.343/44).
The IRC did their best, but were powerless because the authorities were unwilling to cooperate, refusing to provide the locations of all the camps. POWs were forced to sleep in huts with cracks in the walls, on straw infested with any bug imaginable. To sleep outside in summer, to get away from the bugs, was forbidden (p.345). And, they had to work 14 hrs. a day, undernourished and deprived of sleep because of the bug problem, scores of them dying as a consequence (p.346). The physicians among the POW’s did their best, but even if they could identify the problem, there was no medicine to treat anyone. In some camps Polish students of medicine were supposed to care for the inmates, one for 1,000 inmates, they only spoke Polish and medicine, as well as any other equipment, was missing almost completely (p.347).
And as was the norm, no records of those who had died were kept, the bodies buried in unmarked graves. It is therefore easy for Polish authorities to fudge the numbers, anyone recording anything was punished and the records taken away. In one of the mine camps, Beirut, two thirds of the 600 men died from October 1945 to March 1947. Conditions in the “extermination” camp Karsten-Centrum were even worse, some 480 died during a period of two and a half month. Mass graves were dug, up to 500 buried in one of them. Some of the graves were/are close to the camps, but there is no interest in launching an investigating (true right up to this day). Some were buried in single graves, the name on a cross, but in 1948 all the names were changed into Polish sounding names, making any attempt at identification impossible. Typhoid epidemics broke out, claiming hundreds of lives (p.349).
All of this is hushed up. Throughout that time the IRC was prevented from conducting proper investigations. Only in 1947 were they allowed to visit an SS-camp in the district of Jaworzno, the inmates isolated to then, not able to send any letters home. The IRC was unaware that two more camps existed in that vicinity, camp Chrusty and Libiaz. It is impossible to know how many other camps were kept hidden, this explains why the veil of uncertainty still hides the fate of many of the POWs captured by the Poles. And this veil will probably never be lifted (354).
On September 25, 1974, the parliamentarian Windelein asked secretary of state Gerhard Baum during a session of the Bundestag (German parliament) if it would not be advisable to compile the information on crimes committed by Germans and on Germans in a white book, to allow the younger generation to come up with an appropriate assessment of the worst period in European history. The reason for this request was the upcoming 30th memorial of the end of the war. Baum answered that the young generation is sufficiently informed. When asked if that is the case also for crimes committed on Germans, Baum claimed that all of this is known, but pointed out that a summary of all the crimes committed on Germans would be impossible to come up with, because of the unreliability of the sources, forgetting to mention that the communist countries to this day refuse to open their archives. Baum then quoted foreign secretary Brandt who had stated that:
“…mit einer massierten Publizierung des Materials werde politische Absicht verfolgt und eine Diskussion des Inlandes oder gar des Auslandes provoziert”.
(…that by publishing the material a political agenda would be pursued, provoking a discussion in Germany and even abroad).
And, he continued, this would only open old wounds in all involved and would be counter to the efforts by the government to come to an understanding.
And indeed a storm of protest erupted in Czechoslovakia when even the intend of publishing documents on crimes committed on Germans was discussed. Rude Pravo, a Czech paper, in an article of March 10, 1975, talked of a “cynical demand for the publication of crimes committed during relocation” and an “immoral campaign”. Radio Prague already announced on February 17 that this was “an obvious and provocative attempt to falsify the history of WWI and to incite hatred”. When a few German papers did publish some documents, the same radio station dismissed it as “mendacious drivel”(erlogenes Geschreibsel), aimed at young people who had “no knowledge of history, or at best only an fragmented and distorted account of it”. And how would a person in the BRD, the broadcast continued, be able to ascertain if what is published is the truth? By publishing this the seed of mistrust is planted.
Two issues here: Baum is wrong when stating that the young generation is informed as to what really happened, and two, it is the communist authors who distort history. By publishing this book the intend is to break through the wall of lies and to inform Germans and the world – so an honest attempt can be made to find closure (pp.357-59).
The next sub-chapter is captioned: “So gerieten sie in tschechoslowakische Hand” (This is how they ended up in the hands of the Czechoslovaks).
Since Czechoslovakia was not one of the countries at war with Germany they also could not take any “Prisoners Of War”, but 25,000 German soldiers still ended up in their camps. And just as in other countries, here too exact figures are impossible to establish, no records were kept, the numbers of those dying in captivity unrecorded, the graves never found. To those perishing in captivity the numbers of civilians murdered during the campaigns of hatred against Germans, Austrians and Hungarians must be added. But as was done in Poland, here also civilians were interned in the same camps as POWs, 167 camps have been identified; the majority of them in the coal mining region of Moravia-Ostrava, with the uranium mine of Joachimsthal a special case, to be addressed later (p.359).
All the soldiers interned in Czechoslovakia were POWs who had either surrendered or were captured by the Red Army; about one million of them in the territory of Czechoslovakia-Saxony. This figure includes 135,000 soldiers handed over by the Americans, former citizens of Czechoslovakia before the breakup of the country. The Americans used treachery to identify them, as testified to by one of the affected. In one of their camps, Remagen, they announced over the loudspeakers that former Czechoslovak citizens are to report to the authorities, for early release. About 20,000 responded in that camp alone, among them German citizens, former officials of the Protectorate. The POWs were transported into Czechoslovakia in open cattle cars. Some of the soldiers captured in Czechoslovakia by the Americans were registered by them and then handed over to the Russians. Older POWs, as well as the sick were left for the Czechs; the rest marched to Russia, many of them perishing during the forced marches/transports (pp.359-362).
The motto was: “All Germans must perish” (Alle Deutschen müssen krepieren), maltreatment and torture the norm, verbal abuse the mildest form. Beatings with wooden sticks were the preferred method, but rubber truncheons and cables were also used (p.363). Former German citizens of the state of Czechoslovakia, created after WWI, were of course singled out for revenge. A transport of Sudeten-Germans, released from Russian captivity in September 1945, was made to stop in Tetschen-Bodenbach, the passengers taken to camp Böhmisch-Kamnitz, describes as an extermination camp. Every day several of them were beaten to death, among them invalids who had lost a leg or an arm. After six weeks the rest were marched to the mining camp of Dux, whoever straggled was shot.
Members of the remnants of the partisan units or revolutionary guards, who now represented the Czech army –which never existed until May 1945 –, were the worst perpetrators. They beat the prisoners when they entered the camp, the inmate’s hair was shaven, they were beaten again and then made to stand for hours in the hot sun (Here again I am reminded of the tales told by Jews). Beatings occurred day and night, the Czechs entering the camps at night, inmates were taken from their bunks and beaten unconscious, or until they were dead (pp.366/67). Many, many more details are provided here also, too many to list.
The IRC tried their best, but were prevented from entering the camps in many cases, if they were even aware of their existence. IRC officials pointed out that even though Germany had surrendered unconditionally, the soldiers had not lost their status a POW – to no avail, they were powerless. The IRC issued a memorandum on July 2, 1946, followed by a second on November 28, 1947, stating in the latter that the war had ended two years ago and that therefore the continued incarceration of POWs can not be justified. This also fell on deaf ears, the beatings continued into the fall of 1947 (pp.369/70).
Hygienic conditions were atrocious, medical care almost non existent. From fall 1946 on, no resident doctors were assigned to any of the camps, casualties impossible to ascertain but it is estimated that 20% of the inmates perished. From the 5,000 to 6,000 POWs passing through Camp Prag-Motol, a transit camp, about 1,600 died between August 1945 and March 1946 (374/75). Food was also at a premium. The British Member of Parliament, R.R. Stokes, published a letter in the Manchester Guardian in October 1945. He had visited 51 camps and had informed the Czech ministry of the interior about the conditions. In one camp for instance, on September 3, 1945, 550 pounds of bread, 750 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of sugar, 30 pounds of coffee, as well as 18 pounds of butter or margarine and some 70 pounds of vegetables were made available for 912 inmates, adding up to 750 calories per man. And they were forced to work very hard, making the inmates feel like slaves. Stokes made a surprise visit to one of the camps at 5:30 am, and was astonished that at 6:00 o’clock the first cars and trucks appeared, the drivers picking out ‘their’ slaves, a short time later the camp was empty. Anyone refusing to go was beaten mercilessly (pp.377/78). Young people and women were not exempt from the beatings and killings (pp.382ff).
Just a little about the Joachimsthal mine. Because of the uranium deposits in that mine the Soviets had come to a secret agreement with the Czech government in exile already during the war, allowing the Soviets to mine the uranium for a period of 99 years. The whole area around the mine was hermetically sealed off, 300 German POWs working the mine at first but when it was fully developed in 1947/48, 7,000 POWs were taken to Joachimsthal. The hard work and the absence of even basic safety equipment made for treacherous conditions, one needs to add to that the exposure to radioactive material. The men worked crawling around on all four, the mineshafts extremely low and narrow to save costs. Cave-ins were the norm, the men suffered from shortage of air, pain in the lungs because of the mine dust, but no regular medical checkups were ordered. The food rations were also inadequate, many of the POWs, aware of their dangerous occupation, tried to flee, most of them caught and punished, some shot. In 1950 the survivors were finally released, the fate of them unknown (pp.389-394).
Thus ends the book. Some of the Joachimsthal miners continued to work in the uranium mines in Aue, East Germany. They probably knew that they were walking dead because of the exposure to radioactive rays and work in that mine earned them and their families the best ration cards. I saw one of them, paraded as an example, for he always fulfilled his work norm, exceeding the norm. He was a walking skeleton.
No need to add any more to this, many of the details were left out but I tried to give an overall account. It has not been easy for me to read this book; it brought back memories I did not know existed any longer. The sad part is that all of this has been forgotten, German soldiers who fought in WWII and were made to suffer and killed after the fighting had stopped are now on top of it – to add insult to injury – depicted as criminals by modern ‘historians’. The fifteen-volume documentary compiled by that scientific commission still not published, archives in Russia et al still locked. Some authors addressed the issues, Joachim Hoffmann one of them in his Stalins Vernichtungskrieg (Stalin’s war of destruction; Verlag für Wehrwissenschften, München 1996, pp.215-250). He was threatened with a lawsuit, his book ignored by system whores, pardon, ‘historians’.