|4.1 - Daily Life of prisonners in a Nazi Camp
4 a.m.: Awakening
You are awakened by the kapo barking at you. Hurry up! You must raise, find your shoes (but maybe somebody stole them which often means death because you'll not be able to work) and start as soon as possible the "bettenbau". From the shapeless straw mattress you'll have to make a perfect bed in a military manner, with blankets made up exactly over the straw mattress. Of course, this is nearly impossible to do and the kapo knows it. The "bettenbau" is just a good opportunity for him to beat the prisoners.
The bed is made now, and it is time for washing. You run out of the barrack and try to reach the sanitary facility. There are only a couple of sanitary facilities for hundreds of prisoners. You have just a couple of minutes for washing. It is nearly time for the morning roll call, and you know the kapos will beat the stragglers, sometimes to death.
You must have your mess-tin in hand. No mess-tin, no food. A kapo gives you approximately 10 ounces of bread and some "coffee". Sometimes, if you are lucky, you'll receive some margarine or a thin slice of sausage with your bread. The "coffee" is tasteless. No sugar and no milk, of course. The bread you just received will be the only solid food you'll receive until tomorrow. If you have strength of will, you'll try to spare it for the rest of the day. The distribution of food is once again a good opportunity for the kapos to have some "fun". Sometimes they throw the bread in the mud, or they push you while serving the coffee, wasting it on the ground. In any case, you'll receive nothing more, and you are also risking punishment for wasting food.
Morning Roll Call:
All the prisoners are lined up in rows of ten. All the prisoners must be at the roll call, including the ones who died during the night. Their poor bodies are aligned in front of you or in front of your barrack. Under control of the SS guards and officers, the kapos are counting the thousands of prisoners. A mistake during the counting and everything must start again, making the kapos nervous and dangerous. During the roll call, you must stand at attention, even if it is raining or snowing. It is forbidden to move or to talk during the roll call. Your poor striped uniform, made from an incredibly rough cloth, does not protect you against the cold weather. Every day, several prisoners catch cold during the roll call and die in the following days. Some others die during the roll call itself. They were too weak to stand at attention during hours. Their bodies, as well as the deaths of the night, will be sent to the crematories after the roll call.
Prisoners standing for roll call at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, circa 1938. This twice-daily ordeal of several hours in all weather was so the SS guards could account for every single prisoner. Roll calls of many hours' duration were used also as camp-wide punishment, often ending in death for the weakest. The prisoners' uniforms bear classifying triangular badges and identification numbers. Homosexual prisoners were identified by pink triangle badges.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #367
Move Off of the Kommandos:
You run to join your work team. You'll leave the camp under the heavy guard of SS and kapos, always barking at you. You'll reach the yard by walk, of course. Maybe you'll have to march off to the beat of the music played by the camp orchestra. Or maybe the SS will order to your work team to sing during the march. Just at the gate of the camp, there is a row of SS waiting for your work team. Beatings, insults, barking again, and again beatings, insults, barking...
If you are lucky, you have received a good tool, a shovel or a pickax. Otherwise, you'll have to work with your bare hands... and this may mean death because you'll not be able to work as fast as the guards request. The day will be long: 12-14 hours of work. The work is very hard, and often useless: to move heavy sand bags from one point to another, to extract and carry heavy stones, to dig trenches or to bore a tunnel. Maybe you are working in a factory but this does not improve your condition of life. This is extermination by work. Everything has to be done as fast as possible, and always with insults and beatings from the kapos and the SS. If a guard thinks you are not working fast enough, you'll be beat up, maybe until you die. Don't even think about stopping for a while or even slowing down. It will be considered as sabotage and this means death.
The brickworks near the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin. At least 1,000 homosexual men are known to have been held at Sachsenhausen between its opening in 1936 and the end of the war. Many perished from the exertions of grueling labor in the brickworks.
Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #154
The Lunch Break:
A signaling whistle: it's the "lunch break". A few minutes later, the signaling whistle again: the "lunch break" is now over.
The work starts again, always at inferno. The afternoon seems harder because you are hungry and you feel you are loosing strength. A prisoner faints and the guards beat him up. If this poor man can't rise, he'll be killed and you'll have to bring his poor body back to the camp, for the evening roll call. A very simble kind of punition is applied: the inmates had to stay at attention during hours, until they faint. They are then immediately executed by an SS, because they disobeyed the orders, not staying at attention any more!
Return to the Camp:
A last signaling whistle: your work team walks back to the camp, and the survivors are carrying bodies of the prisoners who died today. Maybe the guards will order the team to sing. Once arrived in the camp, the SS are controlling your team. It's a new opportunity for them to beat, to kill.
Evening Roll Call:
All the prisoners are lined up by rows of ten. The kapos are counting the prisoners and the dead. If a prisoner tried to escape, all the prisoners will stand at attention at their roll-call place until he is retrieved. The evening roll call takes hours, sometimes even 10 hours, before it is over. The evening roll call is also the moment chosen by the SS for the punishments and the hangings. Sometimes, after a hanging, all the prisoners have to march in front of the gallows to look at the hanged prisoner, as a warning.
The evening roll call is over. You run in order to receive your "dinner": a kind of "soup", just like the one you received at noon. If you spared some bread, you may eat it now, with the soup. Once again, the distribution of food is an opportunity for the kapos to beat the prisoners.
You return to your barrack. In no way you are allowed to leave the barrack during the night. The "blockfürher" is waiting for you and your comrades. The blockfürhers wear green triangles, which means "criminals." They have the right to decide who'll live and who'll die. Maybe he will let you rest until tomorrow morning. But, maybe he'll decide to have some "fun" -- to order exercises like crawling, jumping, running until you faint. Eventually, you are allowed to lie down on your straw-mattress. You are five in a bunk bed, with just one blanket. The barrack is not heated. If a prisoner wants to turn over in bed, all the others have to follow.
You are exhausted. Today, you managed to survive. Tomorrow you have to start all this again -- no sundays, no holidays, no rest but death...