Robotnik [newspaper], […] December 1945, issue 235
Cc: the Nuremberg judges
“Modlitwa narzędziem kaźni” (“Prayer as a Tool of Torture”)
A fragment from the memoirs of a Flossenbürg prisoner
The Flossenbürg camp was considered a harsh-regime camp, intended only for great criminals and recidivists. In 1940, there were about a thousand prisoners. Awful individuals! In terms of both their appearance and their character. The majority had been castrated and sterilized. Their wax heads and photographs constituted original exhibits in German criminal museums. Many, or even hundreds of them had spent from 10 to 15 years in prison, and a few years in the camp, which they were never supposed to leave.
The first transport of Poles arrived there from Sachsenhausen on 5 April 1940 – there were a hundred of us, mainly sick and elderly people, most of us members of the intelligentsia and many doctors and German professors from Austria. We were immediately placed under the supervision of criminals, devoid of any human feelings, who zealously murdered their inmates. In this respect they were equal to their SS caretakers.
Quarries were situated at height of 960 meters and formed a beautiful mosaic panorama during our work. A forest, rocks, and thousands of “striped” prisoners against the background of a blue sky, rushing around from the bottom to the top of a granite mountain. Huge masses of rocks, stones and sand, torn off of the massif by explosions, were being pushed down lower and lower, then swiftly and smoothly loaded into a row of trolleys. Those with blocks of roughly hewn granite were taken away to the halls of Steinmetzes [stonemasons], while those with useless material were used to fill in holes and valleys.
We were often filmed while working. The German must have felt very proud watching such a coordinated work of thousands of prisoners who were increasing the wealth of fascist Germany for free.
That was how it looked from a distance. And upon a closer look? A hell of torture and murder!
Early in the morning, we would usually hear sirens warning the camp’s neighborhood about a prisoner’s escape. A group of Führers [leaders] with hounds would scatter in all directions. Soon we found out that a Pole had run away at night, but no one knew how he had done it. The emergency pursuit was ineffective. The commandants and their helpers were wild with rage. At 3.00 a.m., there was an Antreten – a gathering at the roll call square. When the sun began to rise, German and Czech prisoners were sent back to blocks. About 800 prisoners, just the Poles had to stay at the square. Rapportführer [report leader] Schmatz approached them and informed that he would teach Poles not to escape once and for all, and that they would remember that day for the rest of their lives.
And so it happened!
Lagerführer [camp leader] Aumeier gave an order to drag all sick Poles out of the hospital, even those who were unconscious, and make them join the rows of prisoners standing two meters from each other. After an hour of exercises – “leapfrogs,” “get downs and stand ups,” “rolls”, and beating – Aumeier declared that we would stand at attention until they found the escapee. Even if it were to last for a week and if all Polish prisoners were to perish, he would not change his mind. He also informed us that we were not allowed to answer the calls of nature. It was also prohibited to eat and drink. Then, he forced us to pray out loud whole day long, repeating the words, “for help from Heaven”. He made us the laughing stock of the prisoners and SS men gathered around us.
Hundreds of stick and whip blows encouraged us to pray out loud. A Silesian with a piece of wood in his hand climbed a barrel and indicated the rhythm. The Our Father and Hail Mary – weak and hesitant at first – resounded with more force. The prayer of hundreds of voices echoed against the mountains and reverberated far away as a terrible lament, an omen of justice.
The prayer repeated hundreds of times for the whole day, from dawn till dusk, and it gradually grew weaker and weaker despite the constant beating. Dry lips were moving, but the words would not leave the mouths. When someone moved, he was beaten until he bled. Feces were leaking out of the trouser legs of prisoners with diarrhea, and the ground was covered with first uncollected corpses.
By night, to keep them from falling asleep while standing, the prisoners were poured with streams of cold water, to the delight of the tormentors.
The sun rose for the second time, playing with colors and beams, filling our hearts with bitterness. How beautiful is the world in the eyes of a convict! Only he who has stood at the edge of life and death, in majesty of a newly-born day, know how full of sorrow and pain his heart is.
Hungry, thirsty, covered in blood and bruises, we stood there like ghosts… Those who staggered were beaten. Those who fell down were tortured until they lost consciousness and were placed by the wall.
Two 14-year-old boys, who were unable to stand on their feet, were beaten up and tied to poles. The tortures would not stop even for a minute. Suddenly, a high and scrawny man was pulled out of the crowd and four Führers together with two kapos beat him all over his body. I asked my neighbor, “Who is he? How tough he is!”. He answered, “It’s M. Trecz, a lawyer.” I understood. He received at least a hundred lashes, but he avoided being crushed to death only because he did not collapse under the heavy blows.
The second day was passing by. Over twenty corpses had already been piled up by the wall. I heard wheezing breaths of a dying man. Kapo Rochel also heard him groan. He leaped at him, breaking his ribs, kicking him in the heart, but he did not manage to kill him. The young and healthy victim, who had only recently arrived at the camp, did not want to die. Finally, Rochel, exhausted, decided, “I’ll let that Polish dog die a slow death”, and dragged him to the wall.
The 14-year-old boys tied to the poles were barely standing on their feet. The children’s bodies received more lashes and the tormentors tightened the ties. One of the boys died before the sunset.
On the second night, dark clouds covered the sky. Under the cover of darkness, we tried to sit down. It was very painful. Stiff and swollen legs cracked and hurt. Then, it started to pour with rain. A moment later, we heard the command “get down”. They wanted us to get wetter and sicker. Executioners with electric torches, clad in coats, to protect themselves from the rain, tormented those who did not lie in puddles. Many of us seized the opportunity and quenched our thirst with dirty water. After an hour, the rain stopped. We heard the command “stand up”, but not all of us stood up. Again, a dozen or so corpses and about the same amount of dying prisoners stayed on the ground. They were beaten with sticks and forced to stand up, but none of them managed to do that.
The sun rose for the third time, while we – decimated, swollen, dirty, and covered in blood – were standing there like night ghosts. We were all using our last strength to keep standing and avoid being finished off. We deluded ourselves that it would end that day, hoping that they would not murder all of us.
A third day… We asked ourselves if it was possible for a man to endure that much. The feeling of hunger, tearing our stomachs apart, faded away. We became indifferent to torture, too numb to feel pain as strongly as at the beginning, although the torturing did not get less intense. We were exhausted and each of us felt that we were running out of strength, that death was imminent for us all.
Finally, on the third day in the evening, we heard that the escapee had been caught 100 kilometers away from the camp. Schmatz came with files in his hands, smiling ironically, and he started reading out names. We understood that it was the final stage of our decimation. When he was reading out the names, each of us was ready to hear his own. So be it! At least the agony would stop sooner. One hundred and eighty [prisoners] were beaten to death with sticks! Eighty more were read out. They were assembled in groups of five. Aumeier declared through an interpreter that in an hour none of them would be alive. He asked, “Do you understand?” “Yes, sir” – they all responded at once.
Until the last moment, they still had hope in the face of imminent death. Aumeier noticed that “Polish dogs” were still so arrogant, did not cry or beg…
He yelled, “Turn left!” They all fulfilled his command and marched off. Those who were stronger supported the weaker. We heard gun salvos being fired, one after another, and people screaming, “Poland is not yet lost!” Our brothers were dying there!
We were told to disperse. German and Czech prisoners were not allowed to give us food. We were given a half a liter of soup on the fourth day.
The following day, the captured escapee received 50 lashes and was hanged at the square in front of the whole camp. All Poles were given less food for two weeks, but they had to work at a faster pace.