The unchristian history of Berlin’s churches. The barracks in Neukölln and the forced labourers at the graveyards.

Memorial to the location of the barracks. Berlin-Neukölln, April 2013. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Neukölln is full of surprises. I’m slowly getting over the shocking fact that an external concentration camp was located at the Sonnenallee. Then, it turns out that Berlin churches builded a barracks for over a hundred ‘Ostarbeiter‘ (‘Eastern workers’) in Neukölln’s Schillerkiez. Recently, the seasonal exhibition is opened again at the St. Thomas Friedhof, informing the visitor about the churches’ unchristian history. A glass structure hosts a bunch information panels, accompanied by two friendly pensioners who are waiting for the few guests who heared about this history and come over. Why did the churches recruit forced labourers? How did these labourers work and live in the city? And how is this remarkable history remembered?

It is May 1942 as the financial director of the Jerusalems- und Neuen Kirchengemeinde Berlin, Walter Kinkel writes a letter to Neukölln’s Baupolizei (construction authorities). In this letter, a union in name of 27 churches asked for money to build barracks for forced labourers. Most of these churches in this union were evangelical – a few others were catholic. Together with the Berliner Stadtsynodalverband (Berlin’s city church organisation) they gathered 133.000 Reichsmark and build a barrack for the forced labourers in August 1942.

Map of the barracks for the Eastern labourers who worked for the churches (1942)

The forced labourers replaced the German burrowers who were one by one sent to the battlefront. Replacing the German workforce by forced labours was not a reason which benefited the churches themselves. The churches benefit came with paying the wages – since the forced labours were way cheaper. Initially, Croatian and Bulgarian labourers were used. Because they were given ‘Trennungsgeld‘ (‘seperation money’), they were not that much cheaper than German labourers. Only Soviet forced labourers turned out to be cheaper. By October 1942, only Ostarbeiter from Ukraine or Soviet-Russia were operative on these graveyards. Before they worked on on the graveyards, the Ostarbeiter were deported to the Durchgangslager Wilhelmshagen in Southeast Berlin. Here, the young men were controlled on diseases and organised by their working skills. As Michail Fedotowitsch Iwaschtschenko remembers, it was an unpleasant experience given the lack of hygiene and nutrition. Since there was only one pipe for fresh water, groups of labourers made argues and fights with each other. In the meanwhile, one had to stand at a roll call square from 6am till 7pm. The most men had to wait two or three days till an employee hired them as a forced labour. Michail, only a boy aged 15, wasn’t skilled at all. Therefore, he was forced to do unskilled work – such as digging graves.

Michail and another hundred of the youngest men were brought to a camp in Neukölln. By a fence, the barracks were seperated with one graveyard between the Neuer St. Jacobi Friedhof and the Tempelhof airfied. Although the camp was amidst a neighbourhood, it was relatively good hidden for the surrounders. The church did not want to let people know that the forced labourers belonged to them. The camp was not strictly guarded, which was rare for a labour camp with so called Ostarbeiter. Nevertheless, there was a Lagerführer (camp’s commander) named Gustav Weniger. He complained that he lived next to a barrack with 100 ‘dirty and bugged foreigners and criminals’. The men who were forced to live in there, were even worse off. And although molestation was officially forbidden since February 1943, some of the forced labourers were beaten up by Weniger. The latter also worked closely with the Gestapo (secret state police).

The main job which forced labourers had to do was digging out graves and moving gravestones. It was a physical heavy job in which many accidents occured. Usually, a working day lasted 8 up till 10 hours, though sometimes even 12 hours. The work was hard – especially when the ground was frozen during the winter time. Sunday’s were off, but then – the burrowers weren’t allowed to travel for free. Most of the Soviet forced labours were paid a salary which was about 40% till 50% less than German labourers. With this loan, they also had to pay rent for their obliged stay and a daily 1.30Reichmark for food. Their meal consisted of soup, a quarter loaf of bread, 10 grams of sugar and a minimum of butter. Except it wasn’t enough, everyone suffered from health problems such as anemia or diarrhea.

The most people who had to be burried were victims of the Allied air raids. By the middle of 1943, these air raids became a daily threat for the city and its inhabitants. Since the camp was located close by the Tempelhof Airfield, the barracks were bombed up to three times. For shelter, the forced labourers had to stay in the Splittergraben which barely protected them. In January 1944, this shelter was even destroyed during a bombing. Ever since, the men went to the U-Bahn at night. Wassilij Kudrenko, former inmate of this camp, explained that they looked for shelter between the coffins and at night – in the U-Bahnhof. During one bombing on April 29th 1944, the barracks were hit and burned down within a couple of minutes. During air raids, they were not allowed to make use of the official bunker at S-Bahnhof Hermannstraße. In other bombings, the burried were hit. Graves broke, bodies, limbs and intestines went all over the place. The forced labourers had to recover them again. Many of them couldn’t go through this without becoming psychologically disordered.

Letter to the Arbeitsamt (working authorities) explaining that these men are ill and already replaced by other men. Unfortunately, this may have meant the death of these five men.

Since 1944, the Ostarbeiter had a health insurance. In reality, men were treated to be sended to the Gestapo when they said they were ill. Especially when the men were old and suffered from injuries, they were put in a camp in which the hygienical conditions were bad and the medical care was underdeveloped. In those cases, basically they were sent to death – although the churches covered it with the excuse that the ‘few places’ at the barracks should be used for ‘other’ labourers. One forced labour who became ill at 12 February 1944 was given three days off to recover from his illness. When he couldn’t work on February 15th, he was beaten up – threatened with a pistol and sent to Arbeitserziehungslager Großbeeren. After six weeks here, he was sent to concentration camp Sachsenhausen on April the first. The 6th of June 1944 man was sent back to the graveyard where he used to work.

In despite of everything, there were also minor reliefs for the forced labourers. Sometimes, they managed to benefit from Berlin’s population who tried to visit the grave of the one they’ve lost. Because the graveyard wasn’t open daily, the men were asked to maintain those graves – for which they were given clothes, a bit of food or money in return. Of course, this was highly forbidden. Besides, the men who worked for the church were allowed to make use of public transport without being under surveillance – which was unusual for Eastern workers. In their memories, the former gravediggers told that they tried and stole potatoes. Of course, this was not without risk. In his attempt to steal some provision, Machtej Schepel was caught by the police and sent to the Arbeitserziehungslager for eight weeks. When one of the forced labourers found a provision card which could provice 500 grams of butter, he became suspicious. The seller warned the police, who busted him. No one exactly knows what happened to this man.

By the end of April 1945, the forced labourers were liberated by the Red Army. Mostly, they were given a weapon and forced to fight the last couple of days in Berlin. With the start of the Cold War, the usage of forced labours were slowly forgotten during the decades. When the forced labourers were told that the church was their employee after fifty-five years, they were stunned. The men were told they worked for the ‘städtischen Beerdigungsbüro‘ (municipal office for burials). 

The permanent exhibition at the St. Thomas-Kirchhof (Berlin-Neukölln, April 2013).

In 2000, bishop Huber revealed the violent past of the churches and their graveyards. It was the begin of a serious research which was publicised in 2003. In the meanwhile, four former forced labours who were still alive were visited. The churches asked them for forgiveness and gave compensation money for the past. At 1 September 2002, it came to the opening of a memorial at the St. Thomas-Kirchhof. A memorial stone and a memorial pillar with eight information tables remember the grief and the poor circumstances in which the forced labourers worked here. At Volkstrauertag ‘national day of grieve’ at November 14th, 2004, former forced labourer Nikolai Galushkovs visited the historical site. Other forced labourers were interested to visit the site, but mostly too ill to make it till Berlin. In 2005, the book ‘Bist Du Bandit? Das Lagertagebuch des Wasyl Kudrenko‘ (‘Are you a bandit? The daily journal of Wasyl Kudrenko‘) was published. The newest development is the permanent exhibition, which is open during the summer months since 2012.

Memorial stone with the names of all churches which took part in the usage of forced labourers. Berlin-Neukölln, April 2013.

As always, Neukölln is surprising. This time, it taught me that even the church was seduced to use national-socialistic inhumane policy. On the one hand, the Eastern forced labourers who worked here were better off than at other locations. Their allowance to travel without surveillance and to stay away from the camp till 11pm gave these men a certain freedom. On the other hand, some workers were directly sended till death when they were ill and considered to be too old. One thing has to be clarified. As soon as the history of Berlin’s churches became known, the churches acted in a respectful way. Former forced labourers haven’t only been compensated in material ways, also a mental forgiveness is asked. As far as I’ve read, the forced labourers did forgive the church. Unfortunately, it has been too late for many others. In the meanwhile, a memorial stone is erected. Besides, an exhibition is organised. Unfortunately it is only opened between April and September – at Wednesdays and Saturdays from 3-6pm. The former location of the barracks can be found on walking distance from here – although the parcel is not public. At the moment, there is a scrapheap at the location of the barracks.

Recommanded book: Erich Schuppan, Sklave in euren Händen. Zwangsarbeit in Kirche und Diakonie Berlin-Brandenburg (Berlin 2003).

Warnecke & Böhm. Expropriation and forced labour in Berlin-Weißensee.

50th anniversary of Warnecke & Böhm (October 1932). At the front row in the middle: Heinrich Richard Brinns (left) & Georg Dietzel (right)In 1906, the paint and varnish producer Warnecke & Böhm moved from Berlin-Wedding to Weißensee. Four years later, Heinrich Richard Brinns invested an important 150.000Reichsmark in the company. Ever since, the management was shared between Georg Dietzer and Brinns – and the business went prosperous. In 1919, the latter director even build a ‘Palais Brinns‘ (‘Brinns villa’) with 33 rooms in Berlin-Charlottenburg. During the 1920s, the factory grew steadily and erected another production site in 1927. Even during the crisis years after following the 1929 stock crash, the company maintained work for about a hundred employees. Unfortunately, the Nazi regime which took power in 1933 had a huge effect on the paint factory. In despite of his conversion in 1895, the Nazi authorities considered Brinns to be a jew. The Nazi regime pressured Brinns to retreat, but how? And how did the company deal with this Nazi pressure? And what further consequences had the Nazi’s and the Second World War for the varnish and paint industrialist?

Advertisement of Warnecke & Böhm (1930s)

When the Nazi’s took power, the state-owned Berliner Verkehrsgesellschaft (BVG, Berlin Public Transport) was immediatly nazified. In an attempt to ‘Aryanise’ some companies in March 1933, the BVG demanded the retreatment of Brinns – otherwise it would stop their orders for Warnecke & Böhm. Dietzel and Brinns came to a quick approval, since they both understood that the state was the most important costumer. They agreed that Brinns had to stop as an official captain. In return, Dietzel promised Brinns that his interests will be secured. Moreover, Brinns would later work as the companies adviser if it was allowed to do so. In the worst case scenario, Dietzel and Brinns would commonly develop a foreign industry which would be closely related to Warnecke & Böhm. After 23 years of successful co-ownership and personal friendship, Warnecke & Böhm now officially belonged to Dietzel only.

Unfortunately for Brinns, Dietzel abused his power and did not came to his commitment. When Brinns visited the office, a drunk and nervous Dietzel came up with new conditions. Now, Dietzel wanted Brinns to start working as Warnecke & Böhm’s representative in the Netherlands as fast as possible. In the meanwhile, Dietzel would take care of selling Brinns’ villa. A day later, Brinns was called by Dietzel. In this phone call, Dietzel said that no agreements were made after all. Furthermore, Brinns was dictated that he wasn’t welcome to visit the factory or to look for contact anymore. Brinns was definitely set aside, without any rights to get back a fair share of the company.

Regardless Brinns’ talent, the business for Warnecke’s & Böhm kept on doing well now the state-owned companies wouldn’t break their contracts anymore. Shortly before the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, Warnecke & Böhm was given a priority status because it delivered the paint and varnish for U-Boots (submarines) and Junker Ju 88’s (multi-role bombing airplanes). With the status of a Wehrwirtschaftbetrieb (military economy enterprise), Warnecke & Böhm had particular benefits. For example, they were secured in work force and in raw materials. Due to the prosperous contracts, Warnecke & Böhm planned to expand their activities in within Berlin. Although these plans were not completed, Dietzel managed to profit from the Nazi expansion during WWII. Companies were taken over in the Neulengbach (Austria) and Zwolle (the Netherlands). In the case of the Dutch varnish company Klinkert & Co, co-owner Jan Klinkert sympathised with the German nazi’s. As soon the Netherlands were occupied, his co-owning brother Hendrik couldn’t reject his plans without a risk and stepped out of the company. Klinkert & Co had forced labourers in service started to produce varnish for the German army. Dietzel’s Warnecke & Böhm became the biggest shareholder and took over the company’s management. Thereafter, Klinkert & Co started to work with forced labourers.

In the meanwhile, Warnecke & Böhm started to use jewish forced labourers from the summer of 1939 onwards. These men had to do the most unhealthy jobs with the heaviest chemicals. During their effort to clean the chemicals kitchen or the paint jugs, they weren’t protected from the poisonous gas at all. They suffered from headaches and stomaches all the time. Moreover, it was made hard for them to become a new working outfit when it was worn our or the season changed. Jews were not allowed to use the shower facilities, and weren’t given soap to clean themselves either. Milk, which was believed to neutralise the poisonous gass, was only given to ‘Aryan’ labourers. Even when German labourers left over some milk, it was not allowed for jewish labourers to finish it. Jews were not allowed to talk with their German colleagues at all. In May 1942 – Siegfried Berg he asked his colleague for help. In stead of a helping hand, he was given a hit with an iron stick. On top of that, Warnecke & Böhme gave him a fine of 3.58Reichsmark for his ‘lack’ of discipline.

Under these circumstances, jewish men worked Mondays till Thursdays from 7am till 5:50pm – Fridays till 4:50pm and at a Saturday till 12:30. During the War, the work started earlier and earlier. The extra hours which the men frequently made were only sometimes paid with a bonus. Other times, only the minimum wage was given. They were only given unpaid holidays for six days a year. Jewish labourers were only allowed to use the public transport when were injured veterans from World War I or in case they lived over seven kilometers from the factory. They were not housed in barracks which belonged to the fabric, but had to rent a private apartment. When this house-owner was deported, they had to find a new apartment again. This is how also Berlin’s estate market was ‘Aryanised’ from the beginning of the deportations onwards.

When the deportations to extermination camps started in the autumn of 1941, the jewish forced labours at Warnecke & Böhm were replaced. The number of forced labours who worked at Warnecke & Böhm increased rapidly. By November 1942, there were about 300 forced labourers from occupied countries such as Poland, France, Belgium and the Soviet-Union. As always, the forced labourers from East European countries were off worse than forced labourers from West European countries. They had to do the tough or brainless jobs, such as cleaning the factories and its facilities. Also women from East European countries were forced to work, while West European women weren’t brought to Nazi-Germany. Nevertheless, the jews had the most restrictions. They were not allowed to eat at the factories canteen and the factories toilets.

The jewish forced labourers knew that being absent from work due to illness increased the risk of being deported. Therefore, they sacrificed their right on a holiday – as was the case of Paul Eisenstädt. He wrote letters to the direction of Warnecke & Böhm, asking them for an unpaid holiday to recover from his illness. Eisenstädt recovered successfully and continued working at Warnecke & Böhm, but not for too long. During the Fabrikaktion in February 1943, all remaining jewish labourers were picked up from the factory’s gate and concentrated in buildings throughout the city. With the exception of the men who had a ‘privilegierte Mischehe‘ (‘privileged mixed marriage’), all of them were deported to concentration camps and extermination camps. In total, 308 jews who worked at Warnecke & Böhm were killed during the Holocaust – only 61 survived it.

Forced labour camp Ostseestraße/Goethestraße (1943)

In the meanwhile, a camp at the nearby Hamburger Platz was build between from April 1942 onwards. Here, two barracks and basic facilities were build for 160 men and women. As in other camps for forced labourers, the conditions were harsh. The barracks were overpopulated and unhygienic. The camp was nicknamed Russenlager (Russian camp) because it were mostly Soviet (wo)men and Prisoners of War (PoW’s) who were in this camp. A second location for the Russian forced labourers was situated at the corner of the Goethestraße with the Ostseestraße. Here, Warnecke & Böhm took over an already existing forced labour camp with the capacity for 350 inmates. Although the factories were nearby, the inmates were forced to walk in rows under the surveillance of armed guards. Only on Sunday’s, these forced labourers were allowed to go outside without supervision. Nevertheless, they were excluded from public life – they couldn’t eat at restaurants or even make use of public transport. The Hamburger Platz is bombed during an air-raid in November 1943, and again at 18 March 1945. It is not documented how many forced labours died in these bombings. Warnecke & Böhm closed at 20th April – and was liberated only two days later.

Heinrich Richard Brinns & his wife Eva (1930s)

With the loss of his company, Brinns’ bad luck did not come to an end. Throughout the 1930s, his possessions were confiscated by the Nazi regime. In an attempt to save their villa, Brinns and his wife officially divorced in the late 1930s. It resulted in the loss of the last worthy thing which Heinrich Richard Brinns had: his civil rights as a man with a ‘privilegierte Mischehe‘. In 1941, Brinns worked as a forced labourer before he was deported to Theresienstadt (December 1942) and Auschwitz (December 1943) where he was killed in 1944.

After the War, Warnecke & Böhm was in use again only three weeks after the war ended. Since the factory was located in the Soviet sector, it became ‘property of the people’ by February 1949. Due to the lack of houses directly after the war, the Russenlager at the Hamburger Platz were used as private houses. Since October 1945, Warnecke & Böhm subletted the barracks’ kitchen with two additional rooms. Other rooms were let as a storage. When the worst shortages of houses were over, the authorities illegalised and demolished the barracks in 1952. The Hamburger Platz is a regular square ever since. At the other barracks, located at the corner of the Ostseestraße and the Goethestraße, apartments are developed nowadays. In 2004, a book about Warnecke & Böhm was published, which became the base of an exhibition at the Dokumentationszentrum NS-Zwangsarbeit from September 2011 till January 2013. Furthermore, the Palais Brinns is nowadays a dog wellness in an upper-class neighbourhood.

Taken everything into account, the company was put under economic pressure by the nazified companies. Brinns had the fundamental bad luck that Dietzer couldn’t be trusted on his promises, not even in the slightest. Unfortunately, Brinns wasn’t the only man who became victim of Warnecke & Böhm. With the privileges which the company was given, another 369 jews worked for this company in the worst conditions imaginable. Over 80 percent of them did not survive the Holocaust. Another hundreds of foreign forced labourers were abused at the factory. The Russians among them were held in captivity, nearby the fabric. The history of Warnecke & Böhm during the Nazi-reign is better researched and remembered than likewise companies. This makes it an example of the ‘Aryanisation’ and forced labour within an ambitious private industry. Throughout Nazi-Germany and occupied Europe – there is reason to belief that likewise histories took place for many thousands of times more.

The first experience as a forced labour. The Durchgangslager Rehbrücke and its slave trade.

The 'Heizhaus' from Durchgangslager Rehbrücke (Potsdam-Rehbrücke, March 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Before a foreign forced labour arrived in Berlin, he was sent to a Durchgangslager (passage camp). Here, the men were checked for diseases and fleas, registered with a photo and given a professional qualification (for example ‘carpenter’ or ‘farmer’). In the Durchgangslager, the men were picked up by delegates of factories who looked for them. The most forced labours from the Netherlands, Belgium and France were sent to the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke in Potsdam. Other Durchgangslager in Berlin were situated at Priesterweg and Wilhelmshagen. In a way, it was the first experience with the whimsical life as a forced labour. But how much can we reconstruct of what happened here? How were the conditions in these Durchgangslager? Were there already penal commando’s in these camps or was it a relatively easy time?

Map of the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke (May1942)

The order to build 46 Durchgangslager in Nazi Germany came at December the 9th 1941. Although detailed plans to build the camp existed in May 1942 already, the eight barracks and the facilities of the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke were not finished before March 1943. The Durchgangslager Rehbrücke was meant to host 1200 men, though it occured often that 2000 men were kept here at the same time. Two peculiar facilities at the Durchgangslager were the Wirtschafthaus (economy house) and the Entwesungsbarracke (desinsection barrack). The railway tracks went directly to the latter, so the inmates were desinsected before they would see the rest of the camp. The slave trade took place at the Wirtschafthaus, which was the tallest building in the camp. Here, delegates of various companies from Potsdam and Berlin – among them AEG, Argus, Siemens, Borsig or Heinkel – gathered and paid to take the forced labourers with them. Some men were picked up by an employee within a couple of hours after their arrival. Others had to wait up till two weeks. Surprisingly, the Durchgangslager was guarded by a private security company.

Durchgangslager Rehbrücke. Photo between 1943 and 1945.

One Dutch men who came in the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke in May 1943 told: “It was extremely dirty in Rehbrücke. Although there were no mattrasses anymore, there were still bedbugs. You were given only one meal a day – Kartoffelsalat (potatoe salad). When you returned your plate, you were given two slices of bread. The Frenchmen did not understand this because it was said in German, so we returned their plates!”

For the Dutchman Frans Raspé, this salad and two slices of bread were not enough. After refusing to do construction work for the Atlantikwall in the Netherlands, Raspé was sent to Durchgangslager Rehbrücke in 1943. Although another two years of forced labour passed by before he definetly survived the War, Durchgangslager Rehbrücke impressed him the most. Raspé said he was so hungry in the Durchgangslager. Besides, the barracks were overcrowded. There were a lack of beds, which were too small to sleep in with two at the same time. There were no mattresses, sheets or pillows either. In contrast to most men in the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke, Raspé was sent to a dynamite factory in Silesia.

Except from these personal experiences, there is not much basic information known about the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke. It is said that in November 1943, the Rehbrücke camp was shortly closed for forced labourers. Particular public authorities from Berlin who lost their office during an Allied air raid were situated in this camp. In the meanwhile, Durchgangslager Wilhelmshagen was used for the trade in forced labourers. Nevertheless, I haven’t found much proof for this extraordinary detail. It is likely that the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke existed till the very end of the War, although forced labourers from France and Belgium were hardly to be found after the liberation of these countries in the (late) summer of 1944.

Memorial board to the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke (Potsdam-Rehbrücke, March 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

In September 2005, a memorial was revealed to memorise the men who suffered in the Durchgangslager. Frans Raspé, who was in contact with the local authorities since 1999, had the honour to reveal the memorial. The memorial used to be located at the Arthur-Scheunert-Allee but it has been moved to the the station Potsdam-Rehbrücke after it has been vandalised. The former location of the Durchgangslager turned into an industrial yard. Some of the railway tracks and the barracks are visitable, though it is confusing to recognise which barrack is exactly original. Although the Heizhaus (warmth facility) and the desinfection barrack are not broken down, the latter is not publicly visitable either. Unfortunately, the Wirtschafthaus is broken down completely.

Taking everything into account, the Durchgangslager Rehbrücke must have been a sinister experience. Although beatings did not occur yet, one was humiliated at his arrival by the control for fleas and diseases. The food and the overpopulated barrack conditions were not promising at all. For the German industrials, the Durchgangslager was an effective way to hire new labourers. The foreign forced labours to be must have experienced the Durchgangslager as a slave market. Nevertheless, the worst for them was yet to come.

The bloody Klinkerwerk complex. How Sachsenhausen’s infamous subcamp became a full-grown concentration camp.

The Klinkerwerk (1939-1945). ©Gedenkstätte und Museum SachsenhausenLast week I’ve updated about the horrific forms of forced labour in concentration camp Sachsenhausen. The entry ended with the fact that Sachsenhausen had various Außenkommando’s (external units) and Außenlager (external camps). This update will be about the Außenkommando Klinkerwerk which became an Außenlager.

The worst working conditions for Sachsenhausen’s inmates outside the main camp could have been at the Klinkerwerk – which was known as ‘the murderous fabric’. Only 2.5 kilometre away from Sachsenhausen’s gates, a labour complex was developed for its inmates. The main occupation of the Klinkerwerk was a brick-work factory. Curt Lugenheim was its architect, he planned on a concrete factory of 40.000sq.m. consisting twenty-four tunnel furnaces. The bricks had to be produced to realise the megalomanic Nazi building projects in Berlin, a prestigious initiative by Hitler and Albert Speer. How did the working and living conditions develop in the Klinkerwerk? Till which degree was this torture intended by the SS? And how is this place of forced labour and death remembered?

The roll call at Sachsenhausen started at 5pm. Since March 1938, the unlucky unit for the Klinkerwerk was formed and had to form a line. The unit marched in rows of five. Every inmate wanted to walk in the middle and even argued about this position. Standing in the middle had the benefit that one could take a piss while walking with the least chance of being seen by the SS guards. These weaponed guards had gaps of ten meter between them – on each side. Every inmate had the runs, and especially while marching – one could not prevent it from happening. Stepping out to sit aside in the bushes had the risk that an SS guard would shoot you in ‘your attempt to escape’, which was usually the excuse used by the SS when they felt like shooting someone. The march towards the Klinkerwerk was 2.5 kilometre and the inmates had to sing humiliating songs on their way. By the end of the shift, the prisoners brought the dead bodies of their fellow inmates on their way back to Sachsenhausen.

Propaganda photo (Oranienburg, 1940) ©Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen

Propaganda photo (Oranienburg, 1940) ©Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen

Initially, a shooting range for the SS was developed in March 1938. A barrack was build for the SS, as well as earthworks to stop bullets when it missed the target. The workers here were a Strafkommando (penal unit) of Sachsenhausen, consisting of many jews, homosexuals and jehova’s witnesses. Sometimes, the SS drifted an inmate to cross the border’s line – to shoot him in its ‘attempt to escape’. SS men generally liked to use prisoners as a target, resulting daily in death and wounded inmates. In 1939/40, the forced labourers had to dig out the bottom of a two docking sites. They dug eleven meter in the ground while drowning or being beaten till death. Here, most of the fallen were jews, homosexuals and Polish men. When this murderous harbour was build, the work which had to be done here was still dangerous. The inmates had to load and unload the boats with heavy bags of stones, and lost their balance on the landing-stages which bent through. One of these men who lost their balance while unloading a boat was the Polish inmate Edmund Braminski. He was saved from the cold water and brought to the doctors barrack at Sachsenhausen. Braminski had luck after all – someone who knew him told the Nazi’s that he had a technical education. When he left the doctors’ barrack, Braminski worked under relative better working conditions and survived the war. Other men who fell in the water drowned, froze to death or were beaten by the SS for losing their materials. Next to the Klinkerwerk, it came to the building of a SS owned bakery in 1939 and 1941. Here, 80 prisoners were forced to bake 10.000 loaves of bread daily – a number which increased to 43.000 by the end of 1944.

In 1940, another two sites were built around the brick works. One was a laboratory to test the ceramics. Here, more lucky inmates had the opportunity to work under psychically favourable conditions. Most likely, the labourers here were from western Europe. In later years, experiments were done here with ceramic explosives to make more dangerous shells. Secondly, a natural stone processing plant was also realised next to the harbour. This processing plant was intiated by Albert Speer and the unit which worked here was named the Kommando Speer (Speer Unit). For this plant, train tracks were developed up till the factory, which implicates that the harbour was occupied already. When the plans to rebuild Berlin were postponed by 1942, the natural stone process plant changed into a centre were confiscated items from occupied countries were sorted out and loaded on ships again. In this part of industry, 2000 till 2500 inmates were forced to work. Daily, around the ten people did not make it till the end due to torture and starvation. In 1944, the natural stone processing works was also used in the production of Heinkel combat airplanes.

Map of Klinkerwerk's barracks (1941-1944). ©Gedenkstätte und Museum SachsenhausenBy April 1941, ten barracks were developed next to the Klinkerwerk. Barrack 1 was for the labourers in the new Brotfabrik. Barrack 2 and 3 were probably for Polish inmates, barrack 4 for jews. The political opponents were situated in barrack 6. Barrack 9 and 10 were reserved for ‘criminals’ – although the SS guards were not meant with that. They had two offices at the gate of the camp. The other barracks (5, 7 and 8) were mixed with forced labourers from occupied countries, who initially went into hiding but unfortunately were found. With these barracks, the Klinkerwerk became an Außenlager (outside camp) from Sachsenhausen. The daily marches from Sachsenhausen to the Klinkerwerk came to an end. As an Außenlager, the Klinkerwerk also had an own Appellplatz (roll call square) and its own services concerning food, laundry, a barrack for the ill inmates – as well as its own gibbets. In the winter of 1941/42, fourty men who were too weak for work were killed by the SS. Mostly, they were forced to do sports – such as jumping like a frog – before water was poured over them and they would freeze to death. In 1942, a wave of homosexuals were sent from Sachsenhausen to the Klinkerwerk. From July till September that year, around the 200 homosexual inmates were killed. Some of them were beaten up in a fatal way, died in mounted accidents or were executed ‘on their attempt to escape’. After the war, no Nazi has been trialed for these crimes specifically.

Execution at the Klinkerwerk. ©Etienne van Ploeg, 1945In 1942, a Strafkommando was developed with a seperate barrack for them. The windows of this barracks were painted white, so inside tortures would be more secretive. After Walter Hilger organised ‘schnapps’ in his concentration camp Lichterfelde, an Außenlager of Sachsenhausen, he was sentenced to work in this Strafkommando for about seven weeks. Constantly, some of this 40-men unit died – and they had to be replenished all the time. The Strafkommando had to load sand on a truck and fill a pit on the site with this. Men in this unit were beaten all the time and for the smallest mistake – one was not given his daily meal.

At the end of 1943, the arnaments industry was introduced at the Klinkerwerk. At the eastside of the brick-factory, a grenade foundry was build. Day and night, shells were produced – up till 10.000 a day. For this, 30.000 kilograms of metal was used. With the three of them, prisoners had to bring special ‘bags’ with boiling metal to make the shells. These ‘bags’ weight 50 kilograms when they were filled. Pouring the boiling metal in the ‘bags’ or spilling a drop created a small firework of steel splinters. Except from their thin cothes, prisoners were not protected from any of these and suffered often from burning splinters. In an attempt to exterminate them, Hungarian jews were forced to do this work during the autumn of 1944. Because of the forced work in the arnament industry, the number of Klinkerwerk’s inmates rose to 3600 by the end of 1944. Therefore, two-story stone barracks had to be build.

By January 1945, the SS dumped around the 8000 kilograms of ashes in the harbour. The Klinkerwerk became the target of a heavy Allied air raid on April the 10th, in which at least 200 prisoners lost their lifes. The victims were cremated afterwards, or burried in bomb craters. Other victims drowned in the nearby swamp in their attempt to escape the bombs and the camp. After the air raid, the Klinkerwerk was fully destroyed had to close. All inmates were forced to go back to Sachsenhausen again.

1977's memorial for the Klinkerwerk. (Oranienburg, February 2013.) No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserThe first memorial to the Klinkerwerk is erected in April 1977. This brick wall is located on the road towards the Klinkerwerk because the former industrial yard was used by the GDR as a military training ground since 1966. After the Fall, the site became an industrial yard for concrete in 1990 – despite various protests. The site has a protected status since 1996, when also the project started in which the site will develop as a History Park. From 2000 onwards, this site is being build – and it is still under construction. One can already visit parts of the site now. Many information panels inform the visitor since December 2011. Unfortunately, the site of the former production fabric is still not visitable – probably because the bodies of air raid victims can be found here. At the harbour, an improvised memorial of a brick triangle is made in August 2007. It remembers the executions of the homosexuals in the summer of 1942.

The Harbour with the improvised memorial from 2007 (Oranienburg, February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

By the end of the day, working at the Klinkerwerk already was a punishment for the ones who were sentenced to a concentration camp. The SS’ers seemed to form the Klinkerwerk’s units by groups which they hated the most. Marching towards there was already a humiliation. The work was too heavy for all of the inmates and it was known that one could not do this work for a long time. The only exception within the Klinkerwerk complex might have been the laboratory, of which little is known (or shown). Within the Klinkerwerk, there was even another punishment unit – which increased the chance of an inmate to be murdered. That being forced to work in the Klinkerwerk was close to being murdered is illustrated by the execution of 200 homosexuals in the summer of 1942. So to speak, death was all around at the Klinkerwerk – if not by working, it was by torturing and exectutions. In the meanwhile, the complex of the Klinkerwerk expanded. Not only bricks were baked, also shells were produced since 1943. Bricks and shells had in common that they needed a harbour for the materials and ovens for the production. Secondly, the production of bricks and shells were both physically heavy. Most of the work which had to be done at the Klinkerwerk were digging ground, (un)loading ships, working with ovens, draining swamps and building barracks. During the years, the site seemed to be always under construction. The number of inmates increased together with the site’s complex. The barracks, who were build in 1941 for 1500 men, were used by 3000 men before more barracks were developed. After WWII, a memorial for the Klinkerwerk only came after three decades. Sachsenhausen became a memorial site in 1961 – while five years later, the site of the Klinkerwerk became a military training ground for GDR’s army in its total. For that reason, the first memorial was even located at a public place at a traffic road nearby – but not at the original ground. After the Fall, the harbour – in which over 8000 kilogram of ashes is dumped – wasn’t given any memorial but again used for an industrial enterprise in the concrete business. After protests, the former camp finally had a memorial status in 1996 – definetly saving the remaining SS barrack from 1936 and the former Brotfabrik which are not visitable either. Now, the development of a History Park takes over 15 years already. Nevertheless, the site is already an interesting place to visit since the information panels were revealed in December 2011. In my opinion, the History Park is a promising project which clarifies the layered complexity of a concentration camp with the Außenkommando’s and Außenlager.

Information panels at the former Klinkerwerk. At the background, the SS barracks from 1936. (Oranienburg, February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

Forced labour in Sachsenhausen. Weapons and toys, death and rescue.

'Arbeit macht frei' (Work will liberate). The infamous gate of Sachsenhausen. Background: the roll call square, the former location of the gibbets and GDR's monument (developed in 1961). Oranienburg, February 2013. No © needed. Photo by Joep de VisserAs soon as the Nazi’s took power, they developed concentration camps for their political opponents. Especially around large cities, the largest camps were build. In 1936, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was opened nearby Berlin. In the following nine years, 200.000 (wo)men were detained here – generally with 30.000 at the same time. Initially, most of the imprisoned men were political opponents. In addition, thousands of Gypsies and Jews were sent to Sachsenhausen – as well as relatively many homosexuals. The systematic executions on this site became infamous, such as the execution of at least 10.000 Soviet Prisoners of War (PoW’s) in the autumn of 1941. Besides there were many executions of resistance fighters in occupied countries and famous bank robbers. Due to a lack of hygiene, various diseases made people suffer and die. On top of that, there were fatal ‘medicines’ tested at inmates, which poisened them. There was even a gas chamber build, of which is unknown how many men were gassed in it. By the end of the war, tens of thousands did not survive Sachsenhausen. The exact number will never be known.

Arrival of the Soviet PoW's in Sachsenhausen, 1941. ©BundesarchivIn despite of this murderous function of the concentration camp, forced labour was the core business of the inmates’ daily life. Initially, prisoners were generally released after working hard. It was randomly decided if and when someone was allowed to leave Sachsenhausen again. The infamous words ‘Arbeit macht frei‘ (‘Work will liberate’) – which also was found at the gate of Sachsenhausen – refers to this forced labour. In later years, it was unlikely that one could leave Sachsenhausen as a free man. The prisoners stayed or were sent to another camp. What kind off forced labour took place in Sachsenhausen? In what did it differ from other forced labour camps? And how is the forced labour within the concentration camp remembered?

Forced labour in Sachsenhausen went through many phases. At its opening in the summer of 1936, the camps facilities were build. Especially at the SS quarters at the southside of the camp, there were still many buildings to be build. Initially, the most inmates of Sachsenhausen were German political opponents. In March and June 1938, the ‘Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich‘ (Operation work-shy Reich) took place. Around the 6000 men were sent to Sachsenhausen – particularly men who could work but were considered to be ‘work-shy’ such as beggars and (small) criminals. Also, German labourers who didn’t agree on the little payment for the tough working standards in the Third Reich were sent to Sachsenhausen. Sinti and Roma were a target group of this operation – 500 of them were arrested. Also, Jews were arrested for being ‘work-shy’ – which is cynical since many of them lost their job due to racist Nazi laws. Another wave of jewish men came to Sachsenhausen after the pogrom of November 1938. It is known that many of these Jews stood for 24 hours at the Appellplatz (roll call square) with the thinnest clothes at -20°C. Hundreds of limbs had to be amputated, which was only allowed at a special jewish hospital. Jews were not given any medication in general.

At the Industriehof (Industrial yard) at the westside of the camp, various fabrics were build in 1938. Here, thousands of prisoners did skilled forced labour for the Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke (DAW, German Equipment Factory) and SS’s commercial enterprises in twelve hour shifts. The various fabrics build to produce mechanics, to saw and to produce furniture, cases, window frames and even toys which were brought and sold on the free market. By 1942, it came to an increase of weapon production in these fabrics. On the same site, there was a Schuhfabrik (shoe factory) located since 1942. Here, not only the skilled labours were exploited – but also the property of those who were murdered. During the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe, 150 train cabbins with shoes and clothes of killed Jews brought to Sachsenhausen and recycled in this Schuhfabrik. Skilled labourers who had experience in the clothing industry worked in this fabric. At its beginning, hidden money and valuable belonings were found in the clothes and exchanged between the forced labours and their SS guards. When the camp direction found out about this black market, it came to a strict control of this part of forced industry.

Painting of the Schuhläuferkommando by a Sachsenhausen inmate. ©Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum

One of the most senseless and absurd battalions to work for were located at the Appellplatz. Here were the Schuhläuferkommando (shoe walking battalion) and the Stehkommando (standing battalion) situated – doing the most useless work in front of the two gibbets who were often in use. The standing battalion was forced to stand up – doing nothing. After many hours without a break, the battalion must have been hungry – and it was nothing but a painful torture. It must have been an absurd view seeing these men in heavy rain, snow and the summertime. Sometimes, they had to make the Sachsengruß (Saxon greetings) – in which they had to kneel down at the rough ground and lay their hands in their necks for several hours. For the standing battalion, it was forbidden to go to the barracks for a toilet. They were forced to use a bucket in front of their inmates – if the SS cared to bring one. Behind the standing battalion, the Schuhläuferkommando had to fulfill their punishment for minor offences against the camp’s rules. These men were forced to test shoes on a 700 meter long strip which was developed in 1940. This strip had a variety of surfaces – such as sand, grit, broken stones, gravel, clay and bond stone. Regardless the weather and time of the year, the shoes were tested. The shoes were numbered and changed daily – and it happened often that one was given too small shoes for causing pain. The group consisted of 120 men – a number which increased to 170 by November 1943. Then, the Kommando also was forced to carry useless sandbags. The Kommando walked 40 kilometers a day in a high tempo. The SS was paid by the shoes’ producer for using ‘their’ labour force. In the meanwhile, the SS guards were given much power to punish imprisoners randomly, the way they wanted.

As WWII proceeded, an increasing number of the inmates came from occupied countries. Fourty different nationalities have seen the camp from its inside. Being placed at a ‘favourable’ working condition could save ones life. Once, a Dutch inmate named Ab Nicolaas saw that the SS asked for a pianist. The one who replied positive, had to pick up dead bodies in the camp. Ab Nicolaas decided that he would make up a lie – and tell the SS that he was a house painter. Nicolaas succeeded, and he worked inside an air raid shelter at the SS camp. Nicolaas had clearly better working conditions than other prisoners. He was given twice as much rations and had daily a nice, warm meal. The negative side was that he would be surrounded with miserable SS members and had to paint ‘gasty’ decorations. Ab Nicolaas remembered that he had to draw a man and a woman walking into the forest, holding hands – though the man brought a shovel to kill and bury her. Nicolaas understood that this was telling much about the mentality of the SS commanders. Other ‘favourable’ working conditions were in the camp’s kitchen. The work was done inside, near to the warm pits – and was not as dangerous as the work at the industrial quarter. Although Sachsenhausen’s menu was not much of a luxury, it created work for 360 potatoe peelers by March 1942.

Map of the counterfeiting barrack (1942-1945). ©Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum

By the end of 1942, all jewish men were sent to Auschwitz because das Altes Reich (The Old Empire, meaning the German homeland) had to be fully ‘Judenfrei‘ (‘clean’ of Jews). By the end of 1942, the only Jews who were imprisoned in Sachsenausen were secretly held in barracks 18 and 19. These men had experience in the bank industry and graphic arts and were used as a counterfeiting. This group had to falsify stamps, banknotes and personal documents. This counterfeiting battalion was 142 men at its largest and they falsified £134 million. They were given huge privileges – such as allowance to listen to the radio and to see entertainment. They also had a weekend – and they could even play ping-pong with their SS guards. Although by November 1942, a unit of jewish men who had experience in the watch industry was formed in Auschwitz – they were only sent to Sachsenhausen in February 1943. They had to repair broken watches which were stolen from murdered Jews. This group was secretly held in block 42 and consisted of 160 workers. It is likely that they were also given certain privileges, though not as many as the counterfeiting battalion. Also, a small number of jews survived by working in the Schuhfabrik.

As said before, doing work inside a fabric was favoured over the work outside. The battalion which were feared the most were the corps-bearing unit, the latrine battalion and the unit which worked in the brick works – located 2 kilometers outside the camp. The SS commanders decided who would work for which battalion. Because all the inmates had to wear a triangle on their clothes which revealed their nationality, race, sexuality or criminal record – Jews were an easy target for the antisemite guards of the concentration camp. Also were Soviets usually forced to do ‘easy’ work in stead of technical work, according to the Nazi stereotypes that Eastern people are unintelligent. Generally, half of the inmates were Soviet PoW’s. They were not treated according to the Geneva Conventions, which secured other PoW’s (such as the Italian) to be safe from forced labour.

Location of the Industriehof and its remainings (February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

After WWII, Sachsenhausen has been used for many situations. The Soviets used the camp to imprison former Nazi’s since August 1945. Among the Nazi’s were also many social-democrats and opponents of communism detained. The shoe factory kept its initial function till 1950. The Soviets left Sachsenhausen that year, after another 7000 men passed away – mostly in the cold winter of 1946/7 in which was a food shortage. The GDR used the former concentration camp as a military training ground and a rubbish dump. With the development of a megalomanic memorial, Sachsenhausen became a GDR’s memorial site by 1961. The systematically executed Soviet PoW’s and the German (communist) political prisoners were considered to be the most important group of victims. After the Fall and the German unification, the memorial site developed to a more balanced memorisation of the victims. More information is exposed about the fate of the Jews and inmates of foreign countries. Although the many executions still seems to be central at Sachsenhausen, references to forced labour are everywhere around. At the southeastern corner of the memorial site, barrack 39 is situated. Here, the daily life of the inmates is the central topic. This is where the most experiences with forced labour are told. At the end of the barrack, one can find a panel with voices of twenty inmates, telling their experiences with forced labour specifically.

Twenty stories about forced labour in Sachsenhausen. Located at barrack 39 (February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

Taking everything into account, the forced labourers in a concentration camp as Sachsenhausen were generally more of a victim of Nazism than other forced labourers. The inmates were never recruited because of Nazi sympathies or by propaganda – but they were arrested and hated by their guards. Unfortunately, the Nazi’s gave much power to the SS guards who would torture the inmates on purpose. This cruel punishment is the main difference between Sachsenhausen’s forced labour and other forced labour camps. An illustrating case is the useless suffering for the Stehkommando and the Schuhläuferkommando. Hunger, fatal diseases, torture and executions were more in sight than in other forced labour camps. Also, the concentration camp was forced to work with remainings of other extermination camps – such as ‘recycling’ the shoes, clothes and watches from gassed, killed and executed victims. Of course, there were also similarities with other forced labour camps. For instance, much industrial labour in the arms industry was done and – as anywhere else – Jews, Sinti and Roma and Soviets were treatened the worst. The only escape for them was through being lucky and being forced to do (high) skilled labour. Perhaps did the Nazi’s realise the economic value of Jews when they definitely lost the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943, when the watchmaking battalion was sent to Sachsenhausen after various months. Although this might slightly relativate the Nazi’s dogmatic pattern of racial hierarchy, we have to remember that this was an exception. At Sachsenhausen’s memorial site it seems that initiated executions are remembered primarily – and forced labour secondary. I still wonder till which level Sachsenhausen’s forced labour was part of these initiated killings. After all, it is clear that the words ‘Arbeit macht frei‘ were as useless and absurd as the labour which it referred to.

It is also important to clarify that thousands of Sachsenhausen’s inmates were forced to work outside camp. Already in 1938 onwards, with an rise in 1942 and 1944 satellite camps with barracks were developed. They were located in Oranienburg, Berlin and further away. Next week I will tell about one of these camps in detail.

The Schönholzer Heide. From ‘Traumland’ to forced labour camp.

Christmas 1944, Polish labourers. © Museumsverbund Pankow

Polish labourers, Christmas 1944. Could be a propaganda photo. ©Museumsverbund Pankow

The Schönholzer Heide once was a popular public park with various bars and a former Schloss. During the early years of national-socialism, it even became a lunapark. But when the war broke out, the site hosted 2500 labours who were forced to work for the Deutschen Waffen- und Munitionswerken (DWM) and the Bergman Elektrizitätswerke – a sister company from Borsig. With its 2500 people by the end of 1942, the Luna-Lager became the second biggest forced labour camps in Berlin. What do we know about the history of the Schönholzer Heide and what remembers this remarkable place nowadays?

The Himalaya Rollercoaster in Traumland, 1930s. ©Museumsverbund Pankow

Initially, the Schönholzer Heide developed as a park by the end of the 19th century. The urban population was able to stop at S-Bahnhof Schönholz since 1877. Here, one could enjoy the spacious park next to the station. At the Schönholzer Heide, various bars and a casino came up. Since 1882, a shooting fellowship was situated in the former Schloss Schönholz. They developed a shooting run with a saloon, a campfire place and a puddle to fish. Yearly, a cultural event Rakatak took place in June. In the 1920s, Berlin expanded and the Schönholzer Heide became a part of the city. Now, a tennis court and a football pitch were build. A luge run was developed in 1927, on an artificial hill made out the earth which was won by the construction work of the metroline U2 between Nordring (now: Schönhauser Allee) and Vinetastraße. In 1922, the silent film Marie Antoinette (Das Leben einer Königin) was recorded in the Schloss Schönholz and the Schönholzer Heide, as well as Ein Tag Film (1928). In 1936, the lunapark at Halensee had to remove for making place for something that was related to the Olympic Games of that year. The attractions were brought to the Schönholzer Heide, among them the Himalaya rollercoaster which was a tremendous 18 meter high. The new lunapark was given the name Traumland (Dreamland) and also brought a Biergarten by the Franziskaner Brau München and a stage where Lilliputians acted as artists. There was a weekly firework show named Schönholz in Flammen each Wednesday.

Traumstadt Liliput at the 'Traumland' lunapark Berlin. 1930s. No © needed.

By 1940 it came to a sudden end of this joy. After the start of World War II, Nazi Germany brought Polish workers to Berlin and made them work in the arms industry. The lunapark was closed and the DWM could developed a camp here. Günter Quand, the head of the DWM and more arnament industries, already had experience with building forced labour camps to let imprisoned (wo)men work for him. By 1943, Quand even developed a concentration camp with forced labourers around Hannover. The development of the forced labour camp at Traumland in the summer of 1940 must have been somewhat spontaneous, since the first forced labourers slept in the restaurant of Schloss Schönholz for over a year. These Polish (wo)men were told that they would go to Berlin and are given a learning programme for several weeks. And even by the end of 1940, many of them believed so.

The DWM fabric was located directly at S-Bahnhof Eichborndamm in Reinickendorf – three stations away. The work was done in two – sometimes in three shifts. On 04:30am daily, the labourers had to attend for a roll call at a central square. Since November 1940, church attendences were organised for the many catholic Polish labourers. It was Joseph Lenzel, the priest from the nearby church, who took this initiative. Already after the first attendence, he was questioned by the Gestapo. The official cause was that the authorities couldn’t control who was Polish or not – because not all of the attenders weared the ‘P’ badge on their clothes. By January 1941, Lenzel was arrested – first he was forced to labour, then he was killed in the concentration camp Dachau in Juli the same year.

Memorial for Joseph Lenzel. At the background, the St. Georg church. Berlin-Pankow, February 2013. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

By the begin of 1942, many more labourers were forced to work for the DWM and to live at the Luna-Lager – as it was called. The restaurant became too small so it came to the construction of wooden barracks. First, six barracks were build for 1260 people, then another fourteen barracks for another 1200 people. By the end of that year, the forced labour camp consisted of 380 French, 539 Polish, 380 Croatian and 1168 Ostarbeiter (Russian, Belorussian and Ukranian) forced labourers – a total of 2467. The barracks were seperated with barbed wire and guarded. For washing, the Soviets were given less soap than others – so they fitted the Nazi propaganda of ‘dirty people’. Women stole chemicals from the factories, not without serious risk. Although there was a doctor for the camp, he barely supplied medicines. The French labourers were treated better and given nearly the same amount of provisions as the German labourers. All labourers were forced to buy a welfare card and eat together at the barracks. Usually, the meal was a tasteless soup with bread, potatoes or with beets. By 1943, Italian prisoners of war joined the camp. It is said that they were guarded heavily and harassed more than others. The wooden barracks did not shelter the labourers during the bombardments which increased from the summer of 1943 onwards. For shelter, the labourers initially had to dig ditches outside the barrack. Later, bunkers were build. By a heavy allied air raid in February 1945, a bunker was hit – 32 French, 15 Soviets and 3 Croatians lost their lifes. By the end of the war, 97 imprisoned had not survived – among them were twelve children.

Abandoned bunker, part of former forced labour camp at the Schönholzer Heide (Berlin-Pankow, February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser.

Today there is not much at the Schönholzer Heide which directly shows that there have been a lunapark or a forced labour camp. The map I’ve got shows that the fields where the most barracks stood are now used as a football pitch. A number of overgrown Müllkippe (trash hills) confuses you – and so do the remainings of a open-air theater which was build in the 1950s. A bunch of stones amidst the hills may reveal that the Schloss Schönholz may have stood here – unless the lonely water pump does so. Somewhat further, an abandoned barrack reveals that here was once a shelter during air raids. A memorial stone in front of a catholic church is dedicated to Joseph Lenzel. It is situated a ten minute walk within the neighbourhood. One memorial at the Schönholzer Heide is the grave for 350 people. Among them are forced labourers, German civilians, Wehrmacht soldiers and even SS soldiers. Other forced labourers who did not survive the war were given graves across the city – for instance at a graveyard in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen, at two graveyards in Marzahn, the Friedhof XII in Pankow – and the French state graveyard in Berlin-Frohnau. A special graveyard is developed for 13.200 Soviet soldiers. They were given an Ehremal (site of honour) at the northern side of the Schönholzer Heide, build between May 1947 and November 1949. This memorial is currently being reconstructed and may be reopened this summer again – I promise to update about it. In the meanwhile, an information table is situated at the northern side of the Schönholzer Heide since 2009.

Graveyard at the Schönholzer Heide (Berlin-Pankow , February 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

Taking everything into account, we have seen here a public park with a touch of the Wild West turned into an amusement park, a forced labour camp and mainly into a graveyard now. At the Schönholzer Heide may have situated the second largest forced labour camp in Berlin – there is little that remembers about that era nowadays. Also I’m a bit disappointed in what is known about the cause of death for most of the fallen forced labours, as well as the exact reputation of the camp’s guards. As far as there is information about the forced labour camp at Schönholzer Heide, it raises more questions than it answers them. As long as the site is a bit confusing and the Sovjetehremal is under reconstruction, the Schönholzer Heide has lost nearly everything from its diverse history. Till then, the Schönholzer Heide is mostly a nice, public park – close to the crowded city.

Recommanded book:
Museumsverbund Pankow, Die Schönholzer Heide. Von einer Vergnügungsstätte zum Gedenkort (Berlin 2007)

The Evil History of the Tempelhofer Freiheit. The concentration camp and the forced labour – the remembrance and the future.

Tempelhof's forced labour camps during the Second World War. ©Archiv EADSWith its 386 hectare in the middle of the city, the former airport Tempelhof has played a major role in the city’s history. The airport already catched attention when it was opened by 1927 – and when Ernst Sagebiel developed the impressive design in the late 1930s, the Americans closely looked with. During the air-bridge with Berlin, Tempelhof was the biggest of the three airports to stuff the hungry mouths of West Berlin’s population. Now the airfield is public space since 2008, the Tempelhofer Freiheit attracts many barbecuing families, air-kite boarders and it hosts a free, public garden. The questions arises: what is the dark side of this innocence?

When the airport was still a field for foot-drilling in 1900, a military prison with 156 dungeons was erected in front of the police station across the road. After the First World War it changed to a regular prison under command of the police, till it was closed by the end of the 1920s due to the low hygienic standards which didn’t fit a humane democratic state anymore. When the nazi’s took over the power, this lack of hygiene was not considered to be disadvantage – on the contrary. The Gestapo used the Columbia-Haus as a prison as soon as they could. By July 1933, 80 men were imprisoned again – a number which grew till 450 by February 1934. Seen the 156 available dungeons, the limit was crossed over tremendously. Initially, the problem of overpopulation was solved by equiping the SA guards with weapons. Molestations with deadly result followed by itself. By December 1934, the prison was handed over from the Gestapo to the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager (IKL – the inspection for concentration camps) and turned officially into the only concentration camp on Berlin’s soil.

On the right: the 'Columbia-Haus' (Photo between 1900-1918). ©Hans Ulrich Schulz

As a concentration camp, the Columbia-Haus was guarded by the SS. Various SS officers have been fired for being ‘too weak’ and were replaced by more fanatic SS officers who later made carreer as commanders of Nazi Germany’s biggest concentration camps. The prisoners of the Columbia-Haus were still brought to the HQ of the Gestapo at the Prinz-Albrecht-Straße – where they were questioned and tortured. The Columbia-Haus was closed by 1936 – the imprisoned men were generally sent to the newly opened concentration camp Sachsenhausen. The Columbia-Haus was demolished in 1938 – during the building of the new Tempelhof airport’s building. Through the two years of its existence, 8- or 10.000 men have been imprisoned in the Columbia-Haus. Most of the imprisoned men were political opponents of the nazi’s – with a remarkable imprisonment of homosexuals in 1935. The most famous prisoners were Ernst Thälmann and Erich Honecker. When a prisoner happened to be jewish, he was tortured more.

Tempelhofer airplane production. ©Archiv EADS

Propaganda photo of the Tempelhofer airplane production. ©Archiv EADS

In the meanwhile, the contemporary airport building was constructed by the design of Ernst Sagebiel. In the airport building’s western wing, the reparation of damaged airplanes took place. In the eastern wing it came to mass production of 2000 Sturzkampfflugzeuges (Stuka’s, dive bombers) which were tested on the airfield. Initially, the production of the airplanes was done by German workers. During the autumn of 1940, Polish women were sent. French Prisoner of War followed in 1941, as well skilled labourers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and Italy. Some of them were recruted by propaganda and went totally voluntarily others were forced by their employers – who were pressured by Germans. By 1942, the so-called Ostarbeiter (Eastern worker) from the Soviet Union were forced to work at the Tempelhof Airport. Another year later, also western men were forced to work for the nazi’s. By 1944, over 2000 forced labourers worked in the production of airplanes which bombed their own occupied countries.

For these 2000 forced labours, there were about 20 barracks. The worst faith was of the jewish labours. They were forced to stay in a guarded barrack which was surrounded with barbed wire and searching lights. Their barrack was one kilometer away from their working place – and the only toilet which they were allowed to use was situated there. Also labourers from occupied eastern countries were Unfrei (unfree). In contrast to what them was told during their recruitment, they were not allowed to take place in Berlin’s public life and they were not given money but vouchers. The western labourers were Frei – and they had a (scanty) salary too. If they had the energy and money to walk around and go to bars, they were judicially allowed do to so. The barracks were located at the northeast border of the airfield. Hedges between the barracks avoided contact between ‘different’ groups of forced- and slave labours.

As one can expect, the work most have been close to slavery – for the one group even more than the other. The work was done 24/7 without any public holidays. There were only two shifts, meaning that an average working day took 12 hours. It happened that one was forced up to three shifts in a row. By the end of 1943, the airport’s old building was destroyed during and air raid. Although the new building with its reinforced concrete was better proofed against bombs, much of the forced labour was done now in the underground levels of these buildings. During 1944, most of the production moved outside Berlin – in underground camps in what is now the Czech Republic. Still, forced labour took place at Tempelhof till the 25th of April – only a few days before the airport was liberated by the Soviet Army.

Memorial site for the Columbia-Haus' victims. Background: eastern wing of Tempelhofs airport building. Berlin-Kreuzberg, January 2013. No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser

The post-war history of Tempelhof – being the central airport during the ‘air-bridge’ in 1948/9 – is worth writing a whole entry about, which I might do later. When it comes to the memorisation of the Columbia-Haus and the forced labour camps, no memorial was erected to remember the victims of the Columbia-Haus before December 1994. Klaus Wowereit – who was not Berlin’s mayor by then yet – had the honour to reveal it for the public. Since July 2012, two information panels at the previous location of the Columbia-Haus are developed to inform anyone who is interested. Up till nowadays, no memorial for the forced labours is developed yet. On the contrary – the former airfield became public space in 2010 and is now named Tempelhofer Freiheit. According to the Förderverein für ein Gedenken an die Naziverbrechen auf dem Tempelhofer Flugfeld (Association for a memorial to the Nazi crimes on Tempelhof’s airport) this is respectless towards the many victims of both the concentration- as the forced labour camp. With this argument, they try to pressure a memorial for the victims before other city planners develop a new neighbourhood on the airfield.

Taking everything into account, there is no doubt that the liberating role which Tempelhof played during the air-bridge ‘won’ over the destructing days not even five years before. That the airfield is now named Tempelhofer Freiheit might be ironic and slightly forgetting the past, though one can hardly deny that the 386 empty hectare amidst the city gives a liberating feeling nowadays. Nevertheless, I want more information and awareness about the dark days of this historical site. On top of this all – I don’t think that there is a better place to remember the Nazi victims than at the place where freedom houses now.

Fence seperating the Columbiadamm with the Tempelhofer Freiheit. Berlin-Kreuzberg (January 2013). No © needed. Photo by Joep de Visser