Beatings, hunger, diphtheria: nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s reminiscences of his 1945-’46 internment in Allied prison camps
The following entry will be the final excerpt posted from nationalist writer Ernst von Salomon’s post-War autobiographical novel Der Fragebogen, the end of the ‘Monthly Fragebogen’ series which has continued over the past year. I’m not sure what will replace it, at this point, but something will – having to maintain a regular monthly posting pattern has been very useful, even if the content hasn’t always been the most popular. The entry below comprises a number of extracts taken from the final quarter of van Solomon’s novel, in which he describes in detail his detainment by the Allied military authorities in the Natternberg, Plattling, and Langwasser civilian internment camps from 1945-’46 on the charge of being a “big Nazi” and a “security threat”. von Salomon was left deeply embittered by this experience and by his ill-treatment at the hands of the American GI’s, not least because he had long associated with members of the Resistance and had additionally risked his own safety by sheltering his half-Jewish lover Ille Gotthelft (who was herself arrested and detained for a period alongside him!). Natternberg especially was notorious for being a particularly poorly-run camp, and the ill-treatment which internees suffered (starvation and beatings were common, and disease was especially rife, exacerbated by what seemed like a deliberate lack of medicines) created a deep, overriding cynicism in the author about the supposed humanitarian intentions underlying the American war effort. I have extracted a number of different segments from this section of the novel to try and give readers an idea of what life was like for German detainees in these camps, since it is an aspect of WWII which seems to be very frequently glossed-over. It is often difficult to engender sympathy for the plight of Germans interned by the Allies (not to mention for those ethnic-Germans displaced from their ancestral homelands in Silesia and the Sudetenland), considering the well-known conditions in German-run concentration camps, but the reality of what occurred should regardless not be ignored. Ernst von Salomon’s novel provides a rare and very personal insight into what life was like for those Germans who were imprisoned in the wake of their nation’s defeat.
As we drove across Munich all the inmates of the truck were silent. We passed through the horribly smashed city, through ruins. I looked at Ille. She sat in the back of the jeep, and the dust had covered her face with a grey film. She had removed her hat… Now she was crying, and her tears made little channels through the dust on her face. We drove through Munich, heading north… We saw a sign marking a road fork that led to Plattling. So we must be nearing the Danube valley. One of the two teachers amused himself by peeping through a slit in the canvas that separated us from the driver and announcing the names of the villages through which we passed. We sat, tired, sweaty and silent, in the truck and he announced:
At once the truck left the main road and drove along a farm track. Suddenly I saw an American soldier seated behind a machine-gun. Then we passed a high, barbed-wire fence, with behind it squat, grey-green barrack huts. The track turned sharply and we stopped. The jeep had drawn up immediately behind the truck, and I could look straight down at Ille. She raised her eyes to mine and smiled. All at once there seemed to be a great many American soldiers milling about the two vehicles. One went up to the jeep and grinned at the driver, saying with a nod of his head towards Ille:
The MP said:
“No – internee.”
The expression on the soldier’s face changed instantly. Grabbing Ille brutally by the arm he pulled her to her feet, shouting:
“You dirty ––––– . . . mak snell! Mak snell!”
Then he pushed her out of the jeep. She stumbled and fell. Her little case landed on top of her. She looked anxiously up towards me; her eyes were filled with a helpless astonishment.
I jumped up. At the same moment we were surrounded by a horde of yelling, screaming American soldiers. I was hit on the leg with a rifle butt. A hand grabbed my ankle and pulled me from the truck, so that I fell full length on to the ground. Behind me the others in complete confusion were jumping down. I clambered to my feet and picked up my bag. Somebody kicked me among cries of: ‘Mak snell!’ I ran towards Ille. With her case in one hand and her now filthy hat in the other she hurried past me, pursued by a screaming, swearing soldier who was attempting to tread on her heels.
With extreme haste we were pushed into single rank. We stood, Ille and I side by side, with our backs to the barbed wire and facing a barrack hut. We were breathing heavily, utterly confused and deafened by the yells of the soldiers who surrounded us with their rifes and pushed us into line. I dared not look at Ille. In front of me stood a very young soldier with black hair and unnaturally blue eyes who screamed at me, though I could not understand a word. Ille whispered:
“Keep still! Quite still!”
Now the soldier screamed at Ille. She did not reply. She whispered at me:
“Keep calm! Keep absolutely calm!”
For a while nothing happened except that the soldiers continued to mill about us, yelling. Once an officer walked past, but he did not glance our way. He entered one of the huts. Then a non-commissioned officer came out of the hut. He had four stripes on his sleeve, and he read out our names from a sheet of paper. Then he too disappeared. The vehicles in which we had come drove off and I felt a pang, as though something irrecoverable had vanished. The sergeant or whatever he was reappeared and summoned the first of us into the hut. This was Hartwig, the parachute soldier. He marched at the normal rate towards the hut, his little bundle tucked under his arm. At once the screaming began again: ‘Mak snell! Mak snell!’ Suddenly the sergeant seized him and pushed him across the threshold; he stumbled into the hut, and the door closed behind him. A couple of soldiers hurried across to the hut windows and peered in. They were joined by others. All at once they began to yell and jeer in the most horrible way, jumping up and down for pleasure and pushing their fellows away from the window so that they might get a better view. We heard the sound of dull thuds and screams coming from the room.
We stood there as though paralysed. My throat was dry. Ille was close beside me and I could feel her arm tremble. I dared not glance at her now. She was staring straight ahead, her lips tightly closed, the muscles in her cheeks flickering.
Then Hartwig came out, sprawling as though kicked. He stumbled, and in his arms he held a few pieces of underclothes. He was barefoot, his face crimson, and blood trickled from his mouth. He ran blindly – Mak snell! Mak snell! – and with their rifle butts they drove him to a spot on the right. The Americans shouted for joy when he dropped one of the pieces of clothing he was carrying. He bent down to pick it up, but a kick in the backside sent him on. The door opened again, and a pair of boots was flung out which landed at Hartwig’s feet. Then the sergeant stepped outside. He held the list and was smiling. With a friendly expression he read the next name.
The scene was repeated, exactly as before. I whispered to Ille:
“They won’t strike us!” but I did not believe this.
Feverishly I considered what I should do. It was not with my head that I thought – my head seemed emptied. It was within my breast that my thoughts struggled with one another. In my heart I knew that we would be beaten, but Ille would not be beaten, Ille, a woman, Americans don’t beat women, and yet Ille would be beaten, and I must fight back if I went in before her, and I dare not fight back if I should go in before her, no one might fight back who went in before us because then they would only beat the others all the harder, so only the last one might fight back, oh, how was it possible to know what was the right thing to do? And suddenly I was furiously angry with Ille, with the fact she was here, that she just complicated everything – and at the same time I knew that she complicated nothing, since in any case there was nothing I could do. That was what was so frightful, I could do nothing, nothing more than what I did, which was to tremble uncontrollably at the thought that they would beat Ille as they beat Herr Alinn, the old man who now came out of the hut with crimson face, his trousers falling down, barefoot.
Now my name was called out. I picked up the leather case from Bolle’s – with which ‘it’ had all begun – and made an effort to walk normally. Then I hear Ille scream:
I ran and only received half the force of the blow with the rifle butt aimed at my crutch. The sergeant seized my arm, as he had seized the arm of all the others, and hurled me through the door. At the same time he stuck his foot out so that I would trip. Then he kicked me hard in the backside. But I managed to maintain control. I stumbled but I succeeded in entering the room without falling over.
In the hut the officer, who had walked past us earlier, sat on a bench, his legs thrust out wide apart before him. He was a man with a pale pimply face and reddish hair. Another, younger officer stood before me, small and thin with a tuft of black hair. On the floor lay scattered various objects, suitcases, shoes, coats, overcoats, underclothes. A soldier was seated at a typewriter. I could not tell how many soldiers there were in the room, but at least one stood in each corner.
The officer shouted at me:
“You are a Nazi!”
At the same moment I was struck on the right side of the face and I remember thinking: ‘He’s left-handed.’ While he struck me I noticed that the gesture made his hair fly and that the other officer, seated on the bench and looking at me attentively, did not cease from chewing his gum. Now the small, dark officer shouted:
I understood and raised my arms, feeling at the same time utterly furious with myself that I should have obeyed him so promptly. The officer shouted in German:
“Take your shoes off!”
I leaned down to do so, and of course lowered my arms. At this moment they all fell upon me.
Life is strange and world is bad!
True enough, Thomas Wolfe had once described how he had been beaten up in prison when under arrest for drunkenness. He had been beaten because he resisted, but it was not the beating that he had resisted. He had been beaten because he had resisted being put in the same cell with negroes. He had written nothing about the pain. And, curiously, it did not hurt at all. It really was most odd the way I felt no pain, nothing save dull thuds, as though my body had become deaf to sensation. I thought how I must tell Ille this before she came in here, how the blows don’t hurt at all. Now I felt teeth in my mouth. They had come out quite easily, floating in blood, and the blood had a viscous taste to it, like honey from which the wax of the comb has not been purified. Parts of me had come away from my living body. I had to work out how it was that I felt no pain. It must be my anger. Yes, of course, that was it, anger had so stretched my skin that my whole body was a drum, which accounted for the way the blows reverberated dully and nothing more. This meant neither more nor less than that for the moment I was in a state of hysteria. But that was untrue. I was not angry at all. I had to a certain extent a feeling of wild triumph, in the first place because it didn’t hurt, strike me as they would it didn’t hurt, so what was the point, what was the effect? No. I had this feeling of triumph because it was not I who was doing evil, naturally, that must be it, it was this officer who was so angry, not I. His hair flew, his eyeballs were bulging and bloodshot, and he really and truly was foaming at the mouth. I had always held that to be a figure of speech, but here I saw it, this poor, silly swine actually had foam on his lips, so obviously he was in a far worse state than was I. No pain and no anger. A feeling of triumph at the foam on his lips. Now they were pulling my trousers off. That’s far worse. Why, though? Why? There’s no reason why this should be much worse, what could it be that made me feel it to be so? The soul! Ah, yes, the soul, for the soul’s reasons it is much worse. The Tyrolean peasants, they knew about such things, they were nearer to them than I. It is anguish of the soul that deadens the pain of the body, it is not anger but grief. Stop, stop, in that case the sensation of triumph is the sensation of suffering triumphant . . . dare I go so far as that, I, I of all people? Suffering is certainly not creative, or is it? It exalts, sooner or later these wretched youths will get tired. Are they beating me much longer than the others, or does it just seem so to me? So suffering exalts? It’s lucky these Americans wear rubber-soled boots. With hob-nailed ones that kick on my elbow would really have hurt, right on the funny-bone like that. Hob-nailed boots have always been the symbol of German brutality, how about rubber-soled boots for America? Somone must have had a half-cooked egg in his bag, the whole floor’s smeared with yolk of egg, my hands too, and blood, red and yellow, the national colours of Baden. Eggs, too, are sensitive. Look at that, the whole time, quite instinctively, I’ve been covering the lower part of my body with my arms. Ah ha, that’s the explanation, the simple explanation why no man tries to defend himself when he’s being beaten up. His most primitive instincts force him simply to protect his most vulnerable part. In the Königshof cellar Ille covered her head with her arms. Why the most vulnerable spot, it’s not true, be honest, the most cherished part is what he protects, the head is equally vulnerable – ah ha! so you covered the lower part of your body, not your head. Be honest! Don’t worry, some time they must stop, they’re panting, the soul is hell. Dostoevsky was beaten too, in the condemned cell, and never mentioned it, why not? It can be read between the lines of his Memoirs but he never said so. Could a blow, could the simplest use of force violate a taboo? A manly taboo? A human taboo? Is human dignity the taboo? Is my dignity perhaps now damaged because I am being struck? Not mine, Ille’s perhaps – oh, God! will they beat Ille too? Of course not, Americans don’t beat women, don’t believe it, of course they’ll beat up Ille, with lust, that’s obviously part of it – their dignity, what, their dignity! – their dignity can no more be damaged than mine – but mine is killed, befouled, defiled if they beat Ille – mine, mine, mine, not Ille’s – oh, God! will they never stop?
I was pulled to my feet. I lay there and they even pulled me to my feet, I staggered, I stood, they even supported me most kindly, one on my left and one on my right. The officer held an amulet in front of my face, a little child’s bracelet which had been Ille’s and which she had once given me. She was always so superstitious. She had sewn up the poor, thin little silver chain, from which hung a putto in the style of Raphael, into a silk bag. I was to wear it always.
“What’s this?” the officer asked and his mouth was still flecked with foam.
I said with difficulty:
“What does that mean?”
“It’s supposed to bring me luck.”
I wiped the blood from my mouth. I had spat out my teeth. With my tongue I felt the holes in my gums. The officer dropped the chain to the floor. Slowly and with evident relish he placed his heel on it and tried to grind it to pieces. But he was wearing rubber-soled boots. He took a rifle and banged at the chain with the butt. He took a great deal of trouble over this, going over the whole chain until it was flattened. Then he kicked it aside with his toe. While he was doing this they all stared at me and sneered.
The officer on the bench had not moved the whole time. He sat there, his legs wide apart, his hands in his pockets, chewing his gum. He was clearly the senior-ranking soldier in the room. I said slowly, clearly, and in English:
“You are no gentleman!”
The officer burst out laughing. He slapped his thighs with amusement and cried:
“No, no, no! We are Mississippi boys!”
The man at the typewriter pushed a sheet of paper towards me and said:
I was engaged in pulling up my trousers. I took a step forward and was immediately struck. I was determined to sign nothing I had not read. It was a statement to the effect that I had eighty marks in my possession. I was not sure whether I had Ille’s money on me, otherwise I thought I had none. I could not remember properly. Then one of them hit me on the head again and at once the hateful, hideous screaming began: “Mak snell! Mak snell!” This was the refrain with which these youths worked up their excitement – and I signed. I was outside at once. I wished to reach back for my Bolle suitcase, but I couldn’t. The sergeant shoved a pile of odd clothes and objects into my arms and gave me a kick. I stumbled out, followed by yells and screams. I must have presented an extraordinary spectacle as I hurried across to join the others. And Ille was now alone. I threw her a look which I intended to be encouraging. I don’t know if I succeeded. The sergeant shouted Ille’s name. She picked up her case and walked quickly on her high heels to the hut. The sergeant seized her arm and pushed her roughly into the room. So far as I could see he did not kick her.
For a moment I felt utterly empty. Ille once told me that she had had the same sensation when she heard the first whistle of a falling bomb. I closed my eyes, trying to give the maximum keenness to my sense of hearing. When I heard nothing I compelled myself to open my eyes. The soldiers at the window were not yelling and screaming but were pressing about the glass even more eagerly than before. More soldiers joined them and either pushed the others aside or stood on tiptoe to peer over their heads into the room.
What was happening to Ille in there? What was happening to Ille in there? The soldiers giggled and pushed about the window, leaning forward and greedily peering in. What was happening to Ille in there? There were at least six men in the room. Seriously I calculated how long it would take six men to rape Ille and whether this was indeed possible, until everything went red before my eyes. Why was I standing here? Why did I not attack them, indifferent as to what might happen to me? What was I imagining? That they wouldn’t dare? What? Yes, of course, in this very moment I lost my dignity, man’s most priceless possession, and lost it for ever. Since Adam it is the law that the man protects the woman, therein lies his dignity I had been able to protect Ille, for ten years I had. Now I could protect her no longer. At this moment I was morally castrated. According to the healthy concept of Eastern peoples, the conquered lose both their freedom and their women. The Abyssinians emasculated their Italian prisoners in the first Abyssinian war. At this moment, from a moral point of view, my testicles were being crushed. I did nothing, I was a coward for reasons of commonsense. It was the same alternative, the appalling alternative of the last twelve years, to behave like a fool or to behave like a coward. Nothing had changed. They were worth the same. Their victory was valueless, as was our defeat. I myself was worthless. Ille at least had been able to go on respecting me, up to today. Never again, never more could Ille’s and my relationship be as it had been. She might be able to forget, I never could.
Ille came out through the door, without her case. She held in her arms a bundle of clothes, only a small bundle, and she walked straight across to me and stood beside me. Her face was scarlet. None of the Americans was screaming or yelling now, but their eyes all followed her. She stood beside me and said, loudly and carelessly:
“Imagine, one of them even handed me back my little scent bottle!”
I stared at her and she gave me a quick smile. Her belt was missing. Her dress was buttoned up askew. Her stockings hung down. But the little silver chain about her ankle, her amulet, was there.
The sergeant came out and shouted something. Immediately a big, blond man appeared, wearing short white trousers and a loud, check civilian jacket. He walked up to us and said:
“I am the interpreter. Left turn – march!”
I saw the camp before me. A gate protected by barbed wire opened and we walked through…
…[The Americans] were entirely unpredictable, without method or system, stealing one man’s shoes, giving another a spare pair that did not belong to him. A district group leader from Lower Bavaria, whom I had never clapped eyes on before, was running around in my pyjama trousers, a peasant who could surely have known only of pyjamas by hearsay. My pyjama top they had let me keep. Purely by chance I saw the camp saddler, a former concentration camp guard, cutting up my beautiful suitcase from Bolle’s in order to make a pistol-holster for Lieutenant Baybee, the camp commandant, the smart ‘Mississippi boy.’ They had taken everything away from Dr. Rotfuchs except his sleeping bag, in which he had once slept on the peaks of the Elbruz mountains.
Beneath Dr. Rotfuchs there was a senior finance official, but now his bed was empty. A few days before he had been removed to the camp hospital, suffering from diphtheria. It was said he was extremely ill.
There I lay and stared at the woodwork which supported the roof of the barrack. If I sat up too quickly I would bang my head against the beam. I had chosen a top bunk, under the impression that the higher one was the less dusty it would be; but in place of the dust I was forced to enjoy a surplus of smells. The barracks had been originally built for the National Labour Service, and the room in which I slept was intended to house sixteen men. Now forty-two internees lived here. The three-decker bunks were so closely packed that only one person at a time could pass between them. We had iron bedsteads with wire netting and were in consequence the envy of the rest of the barracks, for they only had simple wooden bunks. Between the beds and the door there was room only for a long table of rough wood and two benches. There was no other furniture in the room.
It stank, it stank abominably. I gave considerable thought to what was worst in this camp, after the hunger and the loss of dignity. It was, of course, this crowded communal life with all that that entailed. It was quite impossible to be really alone even for a single second. There was no corner, nowhere, from which other human beings were not visible, in which one was not immediately joined by other prisoners; two prisoners who had separated in order to be alone would meet one another again immediately.
The average age of the interned men was fifty-one. I would be forty-three in a few days, and so I could consider myself a whippersnapper, practically an adolescent. In our barracks only Rotfuchs, Plettenberg and the teacher Krüger were younger than I. The oldest was Herr Anker, a prison official from Straubing prison; he was the only one in the room who had a fixed job, for he was permanent room orderly He could be relied upon to spare no efforts in ensuring that the room was kept clean, as clean as his prisoners had kept their cells in days gone by. I did not in any way begrudge Herr Anker his opportunity of experiencing for himself what it is like to be a prisoner; but he seemed to find very little fundamental difference between his former way of life and his present one. He looked like a stone gargoyle off some mediaeval cathedral; his must be a persistent type to endure thus throughout the centuries. I should not at all have minded being Herr Anker’s prisoner.
Almost as old as he, was Herr Alinn, though if he were a gargoyle he was a wooden one. There was no flesh between his bones and his skin, and his legs and arms stuck out stiffly with knobbly joints, as though attached to his trunk as an afterthought by a not very skilful workman. The skin on his body hung in loose folds, and his ribs resembled nothing so much as a dishrack on which laundry had been hung to dry. “I won’t go under,” Herr Alinn said: “I can stand a lot, I’m from Westphalia.” But his chances were poor…
…The only articles of clothing issued by the Americans were Italian black shirts, which were so short that they did not even cover one’s navel, and white shorts, likewise of Italian origin. The material of which these garments were made was uncommonly durable, but they had the curious characteristic that when washed the contact with water made them as stiff as boards and thus almost impossible to put on. In such shirts and trousers the Italian army had lived and fought, a circumstance that made us think more charitably and amiably of our former allies. Now that the days were cooler the Americans allowed the internees to wear their own long trousers; they insisted, however, that we should wear the short Italian ones over the top, so that we should be instantly recognisable for what we were. With grown-up men the effect was extremely undignified, and I preferred to freeze…
…There was a trench, there was a pole, and above the pole, luxurious afterthought, there was a crooked roof. On the pole, packed tightly side by side, squatted the grey-haired and sullen internees like so many broody hens. Beside the ditch stood an inclined gutter, made of thin planks joined with tin, the recipient for less important excretory produce; in order that there be no possible misapprehension concerning the nature of this installation, a sign had been erected next to it with the single word: Pissrinne. Four men could use this urinal at once, constantly under pressure from those awaiting their turn behind; should the man who was there be unable to keep his place and be forced to take a step to the right – while performing his salubrious natural functions, it splashed more but at least it gave the impression that the queue was moving more rapidly – a triumph of the German genius for organisation.
Most of them were bare from the waist up with a filthy cloth in one hand, ready as soon as they had secured the most urgent relief to join in the struggle for the washing facilities. They stood in serried ranks, advancing step by step, their bodies, still warm from sleep, packed close together; the smell of humanity is not always a delight to the human nose. Shortly before reaching the urinal I would expel all the air from my lungs and with averted head would draw a deep breath which I would attempt to hold until I had finished – for the stench of the urinal was worse than the smell of the bodies. The urinal and the ditch were a shimmering white, covered with corroding bleach, an endless quantity of bleach. There was plenty of bleach; indeed bleach was the only thing of which there was enough, since the Americans were crazy about hygiene. They did not provide toilet paper.
The washing facilities consisted of three long tables in the open air, each with eight taps. When all of them were turned on at once there was only a feeble trickle of water. Here, as every morning, there was a great crush. Most men contented themselves with filling an old tin can and taking it off on one side in order to perform their ablutions there – very few had soap. For a time Rotfuchs had had the job of carting coal into the American’s kitchen. He had managed to steal a cake of soap and a razor from the cook, which he shared with me. We shared everything – I had a little piece of looking glass.
The whistle blew, the whistle for roll-call. Slowly the camp began to move, very slowly, the prison camp slow-march that had evolved from exhaustion and a need to conserve energy, a time-killing pace that must have struck the alert young Americans as thoroughly comical.
The alert young Americans did not strike us as comical. I had yet to see someone in the camp laugh when the abnormally fat American cook appeared at the door of his cook-house and bawled: “Come and get it!” and from all the doors of the Ami barracks there poured GI’s screaming, yelling, pushing each other, tripping one another up, laughing and punching, as though Santa-Claus had tipped out a sackful of naughty boys. Apparently they found everything terrific fun; the internees stood by the fence, their faces wooden, watching them and wondering why they were constantly in such uproariously high spirits. Evidently one had to have a well-developed appreciation for jokes in order to understand the American sense of humour – humour that seemed to consist chiefly in yelling, shouting and punching. Knocking a fellow down, what a capital joke! And what a joke, too, for the one on the ground! He would roll about and laugh and then join enthusiastically with five of his fellows in knocking down a sixth, ha, ha, what a joke! I could see very well that there, too, some code of honour must be in existence, a code according to which being hit no more implied a loss of dignity than it does among children. Perhaps they would really have found it fun if one of us had attempted self-defence. Perhaps they despised us all the more because of their perpetual inability to realise that in us some remote, strange discernment was at work giving us a sensation almost of bliss at the realisation that at last, at last and for once, injustice was not on our side.
On one occasion Rotfuchs called me over to the wire in a state of high excitement. He had a tendency to stammer when excited. “Th-th-that c-could never happen with us, b-b-by G-g-g-god!” he cried and pointed to the American camp commandant who was quite calmly boxing a sentry’s ears, first one ear and then the other in the standard way, the huge, beefy lieutenant striking a small, thin, Italian GI. It was incomprehensible to old Rotfuchs: yet when I asked him what he had done when that other lieutenant had knocked out his teeth, he told me that he had just stared at him with all the hatred of which he was capable. I did not believe Rotfuchs capable of unusually violent hatred, although it was he who had gone to considerable trouble in order to find out the names of the men who had beaten him – they were the same who had beaten me.
Almost without exception everybody entering the camp was beaten up; the Americans called that ‘a workover.’ Even those internees were beaten who were simply transferred to Natternberg from some other internment camp (where they had already been through it). Even the generals were beaten who came here from prisoner-of-war camps. The Americans slit the tops of their high boots – just like that, for no apparent reason. Though there probably was some explanation why the commandant’s dog ran about all day with a Knight’s Cross tied around its neck; yet if there was an explanation it was unlikely to be particularly commendable to soldiers in any part of the world…
…Langwasser Camp was on the ground where the National-Socialist Reichsparteitag used to be held. We could see the towers and the enormous, half-completed buildings rising from the Field of Mars. The block in which I lived was congested, the barracks close together with between them latrines which dated from the period of the great parades. The barracks themselves were quite new and for all intents and purposes unfurnished. I was grateful for my blankets. The only place we could go outside was a strip of ground immediately next to the wire, and I walked round and round it. We were strictly forbidden to leave our barracks by night. This was hard on the more elderly gentlemen with unreliable bladders. If they attempted to visit the latrines at night the sentries opened fire. Breathing heavily, the old men would remain crouched on the lavatories, often for hours on end, until at last dawn broke and they dared to leave. When the block-leader lodged a protest, the commandant gave a humorous reply. He announced that the sentries were strictly forbidden to shoot into the camp and that every inmate had the right to report a breach of this order provided that he could give, first, the exact hour at which the shot had been fired, secondly, the name of the sentry and, thirdly, could produce the bullet which he had found within the camp perimeter. As it happened the sentries ceased shooting from then on; they threw stones instead.
Camp Langwasser near Nuremberg finished me. I walked round and round inside the wire fence and with shame I realised that I had reached the end of my strength. We began to be starved once more. In Plattling we had been given what remained of the food destined for the prisoners-of-war, but now our rations were reduced to the minimum again, as in the early days at Natternberg. All thought reverted to the subject of food. There was no longer any discussion. The internees lay about in their barracks, or in the sunshine that had now grown weaker, and stared across at the Third Army’s main food depot, which was just beyond the wire. Covered by huge rubber tarpaulins were mountains of supplies, and when the wind was in the right quarter we could enjoy the delicate aroma of dried fruit. This supply depot was looked after by negro soldiers, good-natured boys with whom the SS men got on very well. “You second-class, me second-class,” the negroes would say, and they would give us food whenever they dared. But they were frightened, since they were badly treated if they were caught. The inexhaustible SS had formed a drainpipe patrol, which slipped under the road through the drains and brought back cases of food stolen from beneath the rubber tarpaulins by the same route. When the cases turned out to be full of potato chips the disappointment in the camp was great, and at one time we had an abominable glut of pepper. These raids ceased, too, when after a thunderstorm the pipes filled with water and some members of the patrol were drowned.
This camp finished me. I had nothing to do. I was utterly apathetic and uninterested when I was summoned to the main block for a ‘final interrogation.’ There were about a hundred internees waiting outside a barrack-room, of whom the only one known to me was Herr Alinn. He was interrogated ahead of me. The American officer thumbed through Alinn’s file and then asked:
“Are you still of the opinion that Poland began the war?”
I was very curious to see what answer the stubborn old Westphalian would give. Herr Alinn swallowed heavily. Then he said:
“I must admit that I did once express such an opinion. But since then I’ve been frequently informed that I was wrong.”
The officer said:
“You silly fool! Roosevelt started the war! Back in 1933! You can go!”
I should never be so presumptuous as to doubt the word of an American officer.
I was asked:
“Why didn’t you join the Party?”
“I didn’t know enough about it.”
I was told:
“Worse luck for you. If you had we’d have set you free a year ago. You can go.”
…We were beaten and chivvied on our way back to the station exactly as we had been on our way up. In the train the doors were locked. We were guarded by Americans now, and we almost died of heat and suffocation. When the train halted high-spirited GI’s amused themselves by filling empty cans with urine which they poured into the crowded cars through cracks in the roof. On our way to Regensburg Camp we were struck and kicked just as we had been from Langwasser Camp to the station. Those who collapsed were carried by pitying inhabitants of the suburbs into their houses. Then a truck appeared, and they were quickly carried away. We were as hungry at Regensburg as we had been at Natternberg, but we had more room in which to move about… The next morning I was ordered to the gate with all my possessions. “Mak snell, mak snell!”
I left everything behind. It was a point of pride with me not to take anything that had belonged to the Americans. I divided my blankets. I put on the clothes I had been wearing when I was arrested, the grey flannel suit now grotesquely large for me, my utterly torn and tattered shoes.
By the gate were assembled about a hundred men, the same who had been summoned for the ‘final interrogation’ at Nuremberg. It went alphabetically. The last arrangements took about ten minutes per man. When Herr Alinn returned with his papers in his hands I asked him to show me his release. It was a single, mimeographed sheet on which were about a hundred names. At the head of the sheet was nothing save the information that the following internees were to be released. Subject: Release of erroneous arrestees.
So I was to be released as an erroneous arrestee.