Hitler's Death Camps
The Belsen concentration camp was located some 10 miles northwest of Celle, Hannover, near the village of Bergen. Belsen had no gas chambers but many thousands of inmates died from disease and starvation. The shortage of food was always acute, even though the camp's staff were all well fed. It has been said that inmates resorted to cannibalism to survive. In the closing months of 1944, the camp was given a new commandant, Josef Kramer, later to be known as the 'Beast of Belsen'. British troops liberated Belsen in April 1945. A reporter, Patrick Gordon described the ghastly scenes at the camp. "I went to Belsen. It was a vast area surrounded by barbed wire. The whole thing was guarded by Hungarian guards. They had been in the German army and are now immediately serving us. They are saving us a large number of men for the time being. Outside the camp, which is amidst bushes, pines, and heather, all fairly recently planted, were great notices in red letters: DANGER-TYPUS. Typhus broke out in the camp, and a truce was arranged so that we could take the camp over. The Germans originally had proposed that we should bypass the camp. In the meanwhile, thousands and thousands of people would have died and been shot. We refused these terms, and demanded the withdrawal of the Germans and the disarmament of the SS guards. Some dozen SS men and women were left behind under the command of Higher Sturmfurher Kramer, who had been at Auschwitz. Apparently they had been told all sorts of fairy tales about the troops, that they could go on guarding, and that we would let them free and so forth.
We only had a handful of men so far, and the SS stayed there that night. The first night of liberty, many hundreds of people died of joy.
Next day some men of the Yeomanry arrived. The people crowded around them, kissing their hands and feet-and dying from weakness. Corpses in every state of decay were lying around, piled up on top of each other in heaps. There were corpses in the compound in flocks. People were falling dead all around, people who were walking skeletons. One woman came up to a soldier who was guarding the milk store and doling the milk out to children, and begged for milk for her baby. The man took the baby and saw that it had been dead for days, black in the face and shrivelled up. The woman went on begging for milk. So he poured some on the dead lips. The mother started to croon with joy and carried her baby off in triumph. She stumbled and fell dead in a few yards.
On the sixteenth, Kramer and the SS were arrested. Kramer was taken off and kept in the icebox with some stinking fish. The rest, men and women were kept under guard to save them from the inmates. The men were set to work shovelling up the corpses into lorries. Two of the men committed suicide in their cells. Two jumped off the lorry and tried to get away, they were shot down. One jumped into a concrete pool of water and was riddled with bullets. The other was brought to the ground, with a shot in the belly. The SS women were made to cook and carry heavy loads. One of them tried to commit suicide. The inmates said that they were more cruel and brutal than the men. One SS woman tried to hide, disguised as a prisoner. She was denounced and arrested.
JOSEF KRAMER (1907-1945)
The last Commandant of Bergen-Belsen. Josef Kramer received his training under Rudolf Hoess at Auschwitz and he also served at Mauthausen and Dachau. In 1940, Kramer accompanied Hoess to inspect Auschwitz as a site for a new synthetic coal oil and rubber plant. In August 1943 Kramer received eighty inmates who were to be gassed. He had the woman stripped and shoved them into the gas chamber. When the door was shut behind them, the women began to scream. He later testified, "I put in a small amount of salt through a tube and looked through the peephole to see what happened. The women breathed about a minute before they fell to the floor" Kramer was then asked by his interrogator what his feelings were at that time "I had no feelings in carrying out these things because I had received an order. That, incidentally, is the way I was trained" Kramer was tried by a British military court at Lunenburg and was sentenced to death on November 17, 1945. He was executed shortly after.
Above: Despair in Belsen
FLOSSENBURG CONCENTRATION CAMP
Flossenburg was established in May 1938 in the Neustadt district of Palatinate of Bavaria. The prisoners were used within the local granite quarry and armament factory. First, the camp held only German nationals but this changed on April 5, 1940, when an influx of non-German prisoners arrived. In 1940, a medical commission visited the camp in order to select prisoners for special experiments. One way that the guards used to torment their charges was by placing a metal bucket over the inmates head whilst being pinned down by two other guards. Several other guards, including a Kapo, would batter the bucket with clubs. The terrible noise amplified through the bucket, which brought the victim to a pitch of terror, when he had lost his mind and his sense of balance, the bucket was removed and he was pushed towards the wire fence. This always caused the inmate to stagger, helplessly, inside the 5-metre zone where he would be shot at from the guards within the watchtowers. On April 9 1945, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Director of the Abwehr, the counter-intelligence Department of the German armed forces) was executed for his part in the bomb plot against Hitler in July 1944. Over 15,000 inmates were forced to take part in a death march as the allied troops approached the camp. The American army liberated Flossenburg on April 23, 1945. Like all the camps and ghettos, sanitation was allowed to break down and epidemics spread. Many inmates died from diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Many more would die from hunger.
Ravensbrück Concentration Camp
Ravensbrück concentration camp about 56 miles north of Berlin, was built specifically to hold female prisoners. The building of the camp began in 1938 and began accepting it's first batch of prisoners in May 1939. The camp also had approximately 70 other sub-camps attached to it.
SS-Standartenführer (Colonel) Günther Tamaschke (1896 –1959) became the camp's first Commandant in 1939. Other Commandants included Sturmbannführer (Major) Max Koegel (1895 – 1946) and Sturmbannführer (Major) Fritz Suhren (1908 – 1950).
In 1941, the SS established a small sub-camp for male inmates and it was prisoners from this sub-camp that built and maintained the gas chamber and Crematoria that was built and put into operation in 1944.
After the assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in 1942, the Nazis destroyed the Czech village of Lidice as an act of revenge where all the men were murdered whilst the women and children were imprisoned within Ravensbrück.
The infamous Irma Grese did her training at Ravensbrück before being posted to Auschwitz.
Below: Ravensbrück Concentration Camp