Het artikel wordt hier in het Nederlands vertaald op de site van Jonge Historici Schrijven Geschiedenis.
When I ‘discovered’ the existence of a concentration camp (the Columbiahaus) in Berlin, it both shocked and surprised me. Now I find out, it has not been an exception. There were also several KZ-Außenlager (external concentration camps) in the Nazi capital which were satelite camps of Sachsenhausen – such as the KZ-Außenlager Lichterfelde, KZ-Außenlager Haselhorst, KZ-Außenlager Berlin-Reinickendorf and KZ-Außenlager NCR. The latter was located in Neukölln and used to be a forced labour camp from September 1942 onwards. Two years later, the forced labourers were replaced by jewish females who were recorded concentration camp inmates. Officially, these women worked for the registration for the industrial magnate Krupp. In reality, they were forced to produce weapons for the Second World War. How much can we reconstruct of this KZ-Außenlager in the middle of the Nazi capital?
In the summer of 1944, thousands of jewish women were brought from the ghetto in Litzmannstadt (now: Łódź) to Auschwitz. Thousands of them were considered to be capable enough to work – and send to Sachsenhausen. Shortly after, over 500 of these women were deported to the concentration camp at the Braunauer Straße (now: Sonnenallee) in Berlin-Neukölln. Nearly all of the women were Polish jews, a few others were from the Czech Republic and from Vienna.
Their day started at 4am, with the infamous roll call during the cold, winterish months. Two hours later, the women marched under guarded surveillance to the factory which was only 50 meters abroad. At work, the concentration camp inmates were guarded by civil guards in stead of the SS guards. Here, they produced components for air planes, machine guns and ignition devices. The women worked unprotected for the heat, for burning splinters and for machines. It happened several times that women lost fingers during their work with a card punch. The inmates worked twelve hours daily and six days a week. The only food they were given was a daily thin soup and 125 grams of bread. Their male colleagues secretly gave them clothes and shoes from their wifes.
The camp consisted of three barracks for housing the 500 women and another three barracks to facilitate the laundy, the kitchen and the guards house. The inmates were guarded by six men and twenty women who were member of the SS. The Oberaufseherin (female head supervisor) was the 39-year-old Margarete Trampenau, who had a relative good reputation among the inmates. In despite of her SS-membership, she protected the female inmates from being beaten up by other SS guards. This is even the way that the former concentration camp inmates remembered it. When the women became ill or pregnant, they were sent to other concentration camps – such as the infamous Ravensbrück. This use makes it hard to investigate how many women lost their lives due to the concentration camp in Neukölln.
When the site was used for forced labourers from September 1942 till the summer of 1944, there was already a fence with barbered wire which seperated the camp for the neighbourhood. When the jewish female moved in the barracks, this fence was braided so no one could look into the camp at street level. Still, the neighbours had a view on the concentration camp when they lived on the upper floors. In despite of this all, there was barely food thrown over the barbed wire. The neighbourhood was indifferent towards the concentration camp in front of their house. In contrast, there was a fear for the inmates when an air raid drove them together in the shelters underneath the fabric. In the last weeks of the war, the barracks were bombed. The women found shelter in underneath the local cinema – till this one also was bombed. Thereafter, the women slept in the shelter of the fabric.
At April 18th, 1945 – the concentration camp’s inmates were deported to Sachsenhausen and to Ravensbrück – the concentration camp for women somewhat 100 kilometer north or Berlin. By the end of April, some of the women were liberated by the Swedish red cross during operation white buses. Other women were forced to go to Lübeck. Again, since the victims did not pass away within the concentration camp – it remains unclear how many of its female inmates surived the horrific last weeks. It is likely that they took part of the death march, in which many inmates did not survive the cold weather and the lack of food.
The barracks were demolished by the end of the 1950s. The factory at the Thiemannstraße still looks the same. It is used for decades by a company which produces industrial breathing masks. Where the camp with the barracks used to be, garden houses are to be found and a football union has its pitch here. In 1994, a light projection by the artist Norbert Radermacher remembers the inmates of the concentration camp at the nowadays Sonnenallee. Unfortunately, I could not find this memorial anymore. In the meanwhile, a group of thirteen women who survived the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust visited the location in April 1995.
Taken everything into account, this example shows how much a concentration camp took part of public, daily life during the Second World War. Although many details remain unclear, such as the number of victims in the camp, it clarifies most of all that the people felt uncomfortable with this group amidst their neighbourhood. Nevertheless, there is reason to think that this attendance prevented public torture and death for the inmates. Illustrating is the fact that the ill were brought to other concentration camps – where their death wouldn’t cause a shock. Nowadays, there is nothing which actively remembers the unpleasant existence of KZ-Außenlager NCR in the middle of Neukölln – and only the factory is still visitable. The question remains whether how much is known about the other KZ-Außenlager in Berlin’s neighbourhoods and its forced labour. This topic will be continued.