Holocaust Memorial Day
70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation
70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation
|Main entrance gate to Sachsenhausen concentration camp (photo: ac)|
Pink Triangles: Arrival at Sachsenhausen
By January 1940 the complement for the transport was made up, and we were to be taken to a camp. One night we were loaded thirty to forty at a time into the police wagons, and driven to a freight station where a prison train was already waiting. This train consisted mainly of cattle trucks with heavily barred open windows, as well as so-called cell wagons. These were also cattle trucks, but divided up into five or six cells, similarly barred, and set aside for the worst criminals.
I was placed in one of these cells, together with two young men of about my age. We remained together the whole journey. This lasted thirteen days, and proceeded via Salzburg, Munich, Frankfurt, and Leipzig to Berlin-Oranienburg. Each evening we were put off the train and taken to a prison to spend the night, sometimes by truck, but other times on foot. If we went on foot, we had to march in long heavy chains. These gave a ghostly rattle, like a slave caravan in the depths of the Middle Ages, and passersby would stare fixedly at us in terror.
The cells in the cell wagon only had proper room for one person, with a wooden table and bench. That was the entire furniture, not even a water jug or chamber pot. We were fed only in the evening, at the prisons where we stopped overnight, also being given there a large piece of bread to take on the train the next day. If the train was to stay clean, then we could only attend to the wants of nature at night. [...]
When we reached the Oranienburg station, we were again loaded up a ramp onto trucks and driven to Sachsenhausen camp. [...] As soon as we were unloaded on the large, open parade ground, some S.S. NCOs came along and attacked us with sticks. We had to form up in rows of five, and it took quite a while, and many blows and insults, before our terrified ranks were assembled. Then we had a roll call, having to step forward and repeat our name and offense, whereupon we were immediately handed over to our particular block leader.
When my name was called I stepped forward, gave my name, and mentioned Paragraph 175. With the words. "You filthy queer, get over there, you butt-fucker!" I received several kicks from behind and was kicked over to an S.S. sergeant who had charge of my block. The first thing I got from him was a violent blow on my face that threw me to the ground. I pulled myself up and respectfully stood before him, whereupon he brought his knee up hard into my groin so that I doubled up with pain on the ground. Some prisoners who were on duty immediately called out to me. "Stand up quick, otherwise he'll kick you to bits!" My face still twisted, I stood up again in front of my block sergeant, who grinned at me and said: "That was your entrance fee, you filthy Viennese swine, so that you know who your block leader is."
When the whole transport was finally divided up, there were about twenty men in our category. We were driven to our block at the double, interrupted by the commands: "Lie down! Stand up! Lie down, stand up!" and so on, from the block leader and some of his men, then having once again to form up in ranks of three. We then had to strip completely naked, lay our clothes on the ground in front of us, with shoes and socks on top, and wait - wait - wait. It was January and a few degrees below zero, with an icy wind blowing through the camp, yet we were left naked and barefoot on the snow-covered ground, to stand and wait. An SS corporal in winter coat with fur collar strode through our ranks and struck now one of us, now another, with a horsewhip, crying. "This is so you don't make me feel cold, you filthy queers." He also trod deliberately on the prisoners' toes with his heavy boots, making them cry out in pain. Anyone who made a sound, however, was immediately punched in the stomach with the butt end of his whip with a force that took his breath away. Almost sweating from dealing out blows up and down, the SS corporal said, "You queers are going to remain here until you cool off."*
Finally, after a terribly long time, we were allowed to march to the showers - still naked and barefoot. Our clothes, which had already had nametags put in, remained behind, and had vanished when we returned. We had to wash ourselves in cold water, and some of the new arrivals collapsed with cold and exhaustion. Only then did the camp doctor have the warm water turned on, so that we could thaw ourselves out. After the shower we were taken to the next room, where we had to cut our hair, pubic hair included. Finally we were taken, still naked - to the clothing stores, where we were given underwear and were "fitted" with prison clothing.'This was distributed quite irrespective of size. The trousers I received were far too short, and came only just below my calves; the jacket was much too narrow and had too-short sleeves. Only the coat fitted tolerably well, but by mere accident. The shoes were a little too big and smelled strongly of sweat, but they had leather soles, which made walking a lot easier than the wooden soled shoes that many new arrivals received. As far as clothing went, at least, I didn't do too badly. Then we had to form up again outside our block and have its organization explained to us by the camp commander. Our block was occupied only by homosexuals, with about 250 men in each wing. We could only sleep in our nightshirts, and had to keep our hands outside the blankets, for: "You queer assholes aren't going to start jerking off here!" The windows had a centimeter of ice on them. Anyone found with his underclothes on in bed or his hands under his blanket - there were checks almost every night - was taken outside and had several bowls of water poured over him before being left standing outside for a good hour. Only a few people survived this treatment. The least result was bronchitis, and it was rare for any gay person taken into the sick bay to come out alive. We who wore the pink triangle were prioritized for medical experiments, and these generally ended in death. For my part, therefore, I took every care I could not to offend against the regulations.
Our block senior and his aides were "greens" - that is, criminals. They looked it, and behaved like it too. Brutal and merciless toward us "queers," and concerned only with their own privilege and advantage, they were as much feared by us as the S.S.. In Sachsenhausen, at least, a homosexual was never permitted to have any position of responsibility. Nor could we even speak with prisoners from other blocks, with a different-colored badge; we were told we might try to seduce them. And yet homosexuality was much more rife in the other blocks, where there were no men with the pink triangle, than it was in our own. We were also forbidden to approach nearer than five meters of the other blocks. Anyone caught doing so was whipped on the "horse," and was sure of at least fifteen to twenty strokes. Other categories of prisoner were similarly forbidden to enter our block. We were to remain isolated as the damnedest of the damned, the camp's "shitty queers," condemned to liquidation and helpless prey to all the torments inflicted by the S.S. and the Kapos.
The day regularly began at 6 a.m., or 5 a.m. in summer, and in just half an hour we had to be washed, dressed, and have our beds made in the military style. If you still had time, you could have breakfast, which meant hurriedly slurping down the thin flour soup, hot or lukewarm, and eating your piece of bread. Then we had to form up in eights on the parade ground for morning roll call. Work followed, in winter from 7-30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and in summer from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a half-hour break at the workplace. After work, straight back to the camp and immediate parade for evening roll call. Each block marched in formation to the parade ground and had its permanent position there. The morning parade was not so drawn out as the much-feared evening roll call, for only the block numbers were counted, which took about an hour, and then the command was given for work detachments to form up.
At every parade, those who had just died had also to be present; that is, they were laid out at the end of each block and counted as well. Only after the parade, having been tallied by the report officer, were they taken to the mortuary and subsequently burned.Disabled prisoners had also to be present for parade. Time and again we helped or carried comrades to the parade ground who had been beaten by the S.S. only hours before. Or we had to bring along fellow prisoners who were half-frozen or feverish, so as to have our numbers complete. Any man missing from our block meant many blows and thus further deaths. We new arrivals were now assigned to our work, which was to keep the area around the block clean. That at least is what we were told by the NCO in charge. In reality, the purpose was to break the very last spark of independent spirit that might possibly remain in the new prisoners, by senseless yet very heavy labor, and to destroy the little human dignity that we still retained. This work continued until a new batch of pink-triangle prisoners were delivered to our block and we were replaced. Our work, then, was as follows: in the morning we had to cart the snow outside our block from the left side of the road to the right side. In the afternoon we had to cart the same snow back from the right side to the left. We didn't have barrows and shovels to perform this work either - that would have been far too simple for us "queers." No, our S.S. masters had thought up something much better. We had to put on our coats with the buttoned side backward, and take the snow away in the container this provided. We had to shovel up the snow with our hands - our bare hands, as we didn't have any gloves. We worked in teams of two. Twenty turns at shoveling up the snow with our hands, then twenty turns at carrying it away. And so right through to the evening, and all at the double! This mental and bodily torment lasted six days, until at last new pink-triangle prisoners were delivered to our block and took over from us. Our hands were cracked all over and half frozen off, and we had become dumb and indifferent slaves of the S.S. I learned from prisoners who had already been in our block a good while that in summer similar work was done with earth and sand. Above the gate of the prison camp, however, the "meaningful" Nazi slogan was written in big capitals. "Freedom through work!"
*The slang word for homosexual used here is "warmer Bruder", literally "hot brother", which gives occasion for a lot of vicious puns.
Excerpt from The Men with the Pink Triangle by Heinz Heger (alias), translated by David Fernbach, Alyson Books, 1980.