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4.3 - Testimonies about life of prisonners in a Nazi Camp

Registration at Buchenwald

When prisoners arrived at a camp, they were forced to wait for up to 12 hours before they were processed, then over the next week, thy would be forced from their blocks for roll-call.
This was to deprive them of sleep and during the day, they were worked to death. With all this to contend with, it was no wonder that weaker men died from sheer exhaustion!

A survivor of one of these camps reports on the arrival of a new homosexual inmate:

"He was a young and healthy man. The first evening roll call after he was added to our penal company was his last. When he arrived, he was seized and ridiculed, then beaten and kicked, and finally spat upon. He suffered alone and in silence. Then they put him under a cold shower. It was a frosty winter evening, and he stood outside the barracks all through that long, bitterly cold night.

"When morning came, his breathing had become an audible rattle. Bronchial pneumonia was later given as the cause of his death. But before things had come to that, he was again beaten and kicked. Then he was tied to a post and placed under an arc lamp until he began to sweat, again put under a cold shower, and so on. He died toward evening."

Another survivor writes:
"One should not forget that these men were honourable citizens, very often highly intelligent, and some had once held high positions in civil and social life. During his seven-year imprisonment, this writer became acquainted with a Prussian prince, famous athletes, professors, teachers, engineers, artisans, trade workers and, of course, hustlers. Not all of them were what one might term "respectable" people, to be sure, but the majority of them were helpless and completely lost in the world of the concentration camps.

"They lived in total isolation in whatever little bit of freedom they could find. I witnessed the tragedy of a highly cultured attache of a foreign embassy, who simply couldn't grasp the reality of the tragedies taking place all around him. Finally, in a state of deep desperation and hopelessness, he simply fell over dead for no apparent reason.

"I saw a rather effeminate young man who was repeatedly forced to dance in front of SS men, who would then put him on the rack - chained hand and foot to a crossbeam in the guard-house barracks - and beat him in the most awful way. Even today I find it impossible to think back on all my comrades, all the barbarities, all the tortures, without falling into the deepest depression. I hope you will understand."

One of the survivors recently wrote:
Very little has been written about the tens of thousands of homosexuals who were the damnedest of the damned, the outcasts among the outcasts in the concentration camps. There are really only estimates of figures. During the twelve years of Nazi rule, nearly 50,000 were convicted of the crime of homosexuality. The majority ended up in concentration camps, and virtually all of them perished. As Stefan Lorant in his book I Was Hitler's Prisoner (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1935) observed in 1935, the homosexuals "lived in a dream", hoping that the heyday of gays in Germany of the 1920s would last forever.

Their awakening was terrible - in 1935, a new law legalized the "compulsory sterilization (often in fact castration) of homosexuals." A special section of the Gestapo dealt with them. Along with epileptics, schizophrenics and "other degenerates", they were being eliminated. Yet homosexuality was still so widespread that in 1942 the death penalty was imposed for it in the army and the SS.

In concentration camps, some pink triangles became concubines of male Kapos or other men in supervisory positions among the inmates. They were known as "doll boys"; this brought them certain protection as long as the sex affair lasted. The pink triangles were constantly abused by the SS, camp officials and fellow prisoners. They were seldom called other names than arse-holes, shitty queers or bum-fuckers. They were allowed to talk only to each other, they had to sleep with the lights on and with hands above their blankets. These people were not child molesters; those were considered professional criminals, green triangles.

While men with pink triangles were given the hardest jobs and were being constantly abused for their admitted sexual preference, considerable numbers of "normal" inmates and guards engaged in homosexual acts with impunity - that was an emergency outlet. This double standard was an additional psychological burden for the pink triangles.

The SS considered it great sport to taunt and torture the homosexuals. The camp commander at Flossenburg often ordered them flogged; as the victims were screaming, he "was panting with excitement, and masturbated wildly in his trousers until he came," unperturbed by the hundreds of onlookers. A sixty-year-old gay priest was beaten over his sexual organs by the SS and told: "You randy old rat-bag, you can piss with your arse-hole in the future." He could not, for he died the next day. Eyewitnesses tell of homosexuals being tortured to death by tickling, by having their testicles immersed alternately into hot and icy water, by having a broomstick pushed into their anus.

Himmler, who wanted to eradicate homosexuals "root and branch", had the idea to "cure" them by mandatory visits to the camp brothel at Flossenburg. Ten Ravensbruck women-inmates provided the services with little success. The women here also were told that they would go free after six months, but instead they were shipped to Auschwitz.

The pink triangles worked in the clay pits of Sachsenhausen, the quarries of Buchenwald, Flossenburg and Mauthausen; they shoveled snow with their bare hands in Auschwitz and elsewhere; they were used as living targets at the firing range; they had the dirtiest jobs in all camps. Towards the end of the war, they were told that they would be released if they let themselves be castrated. The ones who agreed were then shipped to the infamous Dirlwanger penal division on the Russian front."
Extracted from: Women in the Resistance and in the Holocaust: The Voices of Eyewitnesses, Edited and introduced by Vera Laska. Greenwood Press, Westport & London, 1983.

The following report from spring 1945 tells of the situation of homosexuals at Buchenwald. It indicates that homosexuals both labored for the war industry and were targeted for mass murder:
"Precisely during the hardest years, they [the homosexuals] were the lowest caste in the camp. In proportion to their number, they made up the highest percentage on transports to special extermination camps such as Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Gross Rosen, because the camp always had the understandable tendency to ship off less important and valuable members, or those regarded as less valuable. In fact, the wider deployment of labor in the war industry brought some relief to this type of prisoner too - for the labor shortage made it necessary to draw skills from the ranks of such people, although in January of 1944 the homosexuals, with very few exceptions, were still going to the Dora murder camp, where many of them met their death."
Jaroslav Bartl, a survivor from Buchenwald, testified in 1962 about the conditions of slave labor for homosexuals in Buchenwald:
"We worked under impossible conditions in the quarry, constantly under the rifles on the SS watchmen and the yelling and beatings of the foremen. Every day there were many accidents, mutilations, and deadly injuries, and scarcely a day went by without one or more prisoners being shot.... I began work in the quarry operating the transport car. It was an iron tipping wagon, which had to be fully loaded with rocks; it took sixteen prisoners to pull the wagon up the steep mountain."
From 1938 onwards, the SS used the gays of Sachsenhausen concentration camp specifically for the most dangerous and exhausting works in the clinker factory for the production of bricks. The 1200 or so gay prisoners in Sachsenhausen had a death rate above average.
"After roll call on the evening of June 20, 1942, an order was suddenly given: 'All prisoners with the pink triangle will remain standing at attention!' We stood on the desolate, broad square, and from somewhere a warm summer breeze carried the sweet fragrance of resin and wood from the regions of freedom; but we couldn't taste it, because our throats were hot and dry from fear. Then the guardhouse door of the command tower opened, and an SS officer and some of his lackeys strode toward us.

"Our detail commander barked: 'Three hundred criminal deviants, present as ordered!' We were registered, and then it was revealed to us that in accordance with an order from the Reichsfuhrung SS, our category was to be isolated in an intensified-penalty company, and we would be transferred as a unit to the Klinker Brickworks the next morning. The Klinker factory! We shuddered, for the human death mill was more than feared."

These words were written by one concentration camp survivor, LD Classen von Neudegg, who published some of his recollections in a German homophile magazine in the Fifties. Here are a few more excerpts from his account of the treatment of homosexuals in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen:
"We had been here for almost two months, but it seemed like endless years to us. When we were 'transferred' here, we had numbered around three hundred men. Whips were used more frequently each morning, when we were forced down into the clay pits under the wailing of the camp sirens. 'Only fifty are sill alive,' whispered the man next to me. 'Stay in the middle -then you won't get hit so much.'

"...(The escapees) had been brought back. 'Homo' was scrawled scornfully across their clothing for their last walk through the camp. To increase their thirst, they were forced to eat oversalted food, and then they were placed on the block and whipped. Afterwards, drums were hung around their necks, which they had to beat while shouting, 'Hurrah, we're back!' The three men were hanged.

"...Summer, 1944. One morning there was an eruption of restlessness among the patients of the hospital barracks where I worked. Fear and uncertainty had arisen from rumours about new measures on the part of the SS hospital administration. At the administrator's order, the courier of the political division had requisitioned certain medical records, and now he arrived at the camp for delivery. Fever charts shot up; the sick were seized with a gnawing fear. After a few days, the awful mystery of the records was solved. Experiments had been ordered involving living subjects and phosphorus: methods of treating phosphorus burns were to be developed and tested. I must be silent about the effects of this series of experiments, which proceeded with unspeakable pain, fear, blood and tears: for it is impossible to put the misery into words."

Dr. Neudegg's recollections are confirmed in many details by the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, adjunct and commander of the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and, later, Auschwitz. Neudegg's account is something of a rarity: the few homosexuals who managed to survive internment have tended to hide the fact, largely because homosexuality continued to be a crime in postwar West Germany.

A full account of the treatment of gay men in the camps is available in Rudolph Höss's Commandant of Auschwitz. Höss joined the SS in 1933, and became Rapport-führer at Dachau in 1935. He did not quite approve of the whippings, but could not figure out what else to do with the Strichjungen - the hustlers and most "obvious" gay men who were rounded up in the city streets and shipped to the camps:

"A constant stream of reports about their activity began to flow from every block. Punishment had no effect whatever."
Höss was later transferred to Sachsenhausen, where he found there were even more homosexuals. He regarded it as an "epidemic" and had them all placed in one block, under a commander who "knew how to deal with them." They were forced to carry out the most difficult work in the camp: pushing metal rollers for paving, working in the clay pit of the Klinker Brickworks. Höss says:
"It was hard work, and each of them had to complete a definite amount of work each day. They were exposed to all kinds of weather, summer and winter, since a stipulated number of truckloads had to be filled daily."
Quotas were regularly raised; men who collapsed were dragged away - often not to be seen again. The alleged idea behind the hard work was to make them "normal". This was supplemented by primitive aversion therapy and medical experimentation having little to do with so-called "cures." Neudegg recalls:
"Experiments had been ordered involving living subjects and phosphorus: methods of treating phosphorus burns were to be developed and tested. I must be silent about the effects of this series of experiments, which proceeded with unspeakable pain, fear, blood and tears: for it is impossible to put the misery into words."
Gay men were given the opportunity to undergo "renunciation tests" under Himmler's orders, but even if the gay men "passed" the test and succeeded in being aroused by the prostitutes provided for them, they were not released. Few of the men gave up their homosexuality. Höss reports:
"Whenever they found an opportunity, they would fall into one another's arms."
"knowing they would never be set free," they suffered additional psychological stress. Their work became even harder, and they died like flies."
Höss observed that many gay men in his camps formed deep and lasting relationships:
"Should one of these lose his friend through sickness, or perhaps death, then the end could at once be foreseen. Many would commit suicide. To such natures, in such circumstances, the friend meant everything. There were many instances of friend committing suicide together."
But on the whole, many of the men with the pink triangles - especially the Strichjungen and the most swishy gays - did not give up without a struggle. As Höss coldly remarks:
"It was often not easy to drive them to the gas chambers."
In every camp in which he served - Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, and Ravensbruck - Höss says there were "many" homosexuals. It is very clear from his account that homosexuals constituted a significant proportion of the inmates: his comments imply that there were nearly as many homosexuals in Dachau as there were Jews, which would have been about 12% of the prison population in 1936. This does not include those homosexuals who arrived at the camps by train and proceeded directly into the gas chambers, nor does it include the SS gay men who were brought to the camps and "shot while attempting to escape."


This is a typical photograph where men were kept in extremely cramped conditions. The slatted beds were designed to hold two people, but in practice, five to six people were common.

The first group of boys arrived at the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 with the Polish prisoners. They were housed in a block of their own and at first did not have to work. Within a short time, a considerable number of them-like so many Russian and Ukrainian youths later incarcerated there-were abominably corrupted by the camp.... Prisoners lacking self-restraint, including even many political prisoners, created abominable conditions, first by homosexuality, then after the arrival of the youths by pederasty.

The so-called Puppenjungen, seduced by tempting offers - good food - or even forced by depraved block elders and kapos, soon played an evil role everywhere. In Buchenwald this situation was worst in 1943 under First Camp Elder Wolff, a former cavalry captain and German nationalist, who grievously abused his position.... Out of the ranks of the Polish youths who had arrived in the camp in 1939, such corruption produced the most shameless toughs and rowdies-real hooligans like those who plagued Soviet Russia in hundreds of thousands after the bad years from 1919 to 1923.

The block seniors and Kapos, or at least the majority of them, all had a young Pole as batman [orderly] or "cleaner," though the main purpose of these lads was as bed-partner for their boss.... These dolly-boys, as they were called in certain other camps, were generally from 16 to 20 years old. All the more praiseworthy was the example of those comrades who unselfishly aided the children and adolescents in the camp whenever they could, and kept them from falling into the clutches of the pederasts.

Josef Kohout, a survivor who recounted his story in the first book-length testimony of a homosexual in the Nazi concentration camps, published in 1972, describes the slave labor at the Klinkerwerk, a clay quarry and brick-works affiliated with the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in early 1940:

"This clay-pit, known among us prisoners as the death-pit, was both famed and feared by all prisoners in all other concentration camps, as a factory of human destruction, and up until 1942 was the Auschwitz for homosexuals. Only we were commandeered for work in the clay-pit, to be hounded to death by the most terrible working conditions, as well as by actual torture. Thousands upon thousands of homosexuals must have lost their tormented lives there, victims of a deliberate operation of destruction by the Hitler regime. And yet till this very day no one has come forward to describe this, and honor its victims."
Kohout was transferred to Flossenbürg on May 15, 1940. He tells of the work that homosexuals were assigned at that concentration camp:
"We gays were assembled into work detachments of 12 to 15 men, led by an SS work leader, a Kapo and a foreman, to work in the granite quarry. This is where the stones were dug and prepared for Hitler's great building projects, for motorway bridges and the like. Great halls were dug into the quarry, where the cutting and finishing of the stones was carried out, and the granite blocks received their final form and possible polishing. The work of quarrying, dynamiting, hewing and dressing was extremely arduous, and only Jews and homosexuals were assigned to it. The quarry claimed very many victims, with the SS and capos often deliberately contributing to the large number of accidents."
The following testimony by survivor, Heinz Heger, describes the living conditions at Flossenberg:
"... Our block was only occupied by homosexuals, with about 250 men in each wing. We could only sleep in our night-shirts, and had to keep our hands outside the blankets, for: 'You queer arse-holes aren't going to start wanking here!'

"The windows of had a centimetre of ice on them. Anyone found with his underclothes on in bed, or his hand under his blanket -- there were checks almost every night -- was taken outside and had serveral 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 prioritised 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', i.e. criminals. They look it, and behaved like it too. Brutal and merciless towards us 'queers', and concerned only with their own privelege and advantage, they were as much feared by us as the SS.

"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 coloured 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 metres of the other blocks. Anyone caught doing so was whipped on the 'horse', and was sure of at least 15 to 20 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 torments inflicted by the SS and Kapos.


"The day regularly began at 6 a.m., or 5 a.m. in the summer, and in just half an hour we had to be washed, dressed and have our beds made up in military style. If you still had time, you could have breakfast, which meant a hurried slurping down the thin flour soup, hot or luke-warm, 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 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 that had just died had to be present, i.e. they were laid out at the end of each block and counted as well. Only after the parade, and having been tallied by the report officer, were they taken to the mortuary and subsequently burned.

"Disabled prisoners also had to be present for parade. Time and again we helped or carried comrades to the parade-ground who had been beaten by the SS 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 many deaths.

"We new arrivals were now assigned to our work, which was to keep the area around the block clean. That, at least, was 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 heavy labour, and to destroy the little human dignity that we still retained. This work continued til 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 SS masters had thought up something much better.

"We had to put 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 shovelling up the snow with our hands, then twenty turns at carrying it away. And so, right throught 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 for us. Our hands were cracked all over and half frozen off, and we had become dumb and indifferent slaves of the SS.

"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!'"
Extracted from: Heger, Heinz. The men with the Pink Triangles. Alyson Publications 1980:34-37.

Lautmann observes:
"Furthermore, homosexuals were at another important disadvantage. They lacked the group support within the camp to maintain moral.

"The prisoners with the pink triangle had certainly shown "precamp" qualities of survival, but they did not get a chance to apply these qualities in the camp. Because their subculture and organizations had been wantonly destroyed, no group solidarity developed inside the camp...Since every contact outside was regarded as suspicious, homosexuals did not even dare speak to one another inside (as numerous survivors have reported in interviews).

"Death rates for homosexuals were much higher, perhaps three to four times higher, than for other non-Jewish categories of prisoners. While their overall numbers are small, their fate in the camps more nearly approximates that of Jews than any of the other categories, except, perhaps, Gypsies. And, homosexuals did not survive for very long. Of those who were exterminated, most were exterminated within the first few months of the camp experience."

The ruthlessness of the Nazis culminated in actions so perversely vindictive as to be almost incomprehensible. Six youths arrested for stealing coal at a railroad station were taken into protective custody and duly placed in a concentration camp. Shocked that such innocent boys were forced to sleep in a barracks also occupied by pink triangles, the SS guards chose what to them must have seemed the lesser of two evils: they took the youths aside and gave them fatal injections of morphine. Morality was saved!.

Buchenwald deads

One man recounts how the Nazi's assumption of power in 1933 limited homosexuals' freedom and created an atmosphere of fear.

"Then came the thunderbolt of the 30 January 1933, and we knew that a change of political climate had taken place. What we had tried to prevent, had taken place. Over the years, more and more of my political friends disappeared, of my Jewish and of my homosexual friends. Fear came over us with the increasingly coordinated pressure of the Nazis.

"For heaven's sake not to attract attention, to exercise restraint. 1933 was the starting-point for the persecution of homosexuals. Already in this year we heard of raids on homosexual pubs and meeting places. Maybe individual, politically uneducated homosexuals who were only interested in immediate gratification did not recognize the significance of the year 1933, but for us homosexuals who were also politically active, who had defended the Weimar Republic, and who had tried to forestall the Nazi threat, 1933 initially signified a reinforcing of our resistance.

"In order not to mutually incriminate ourselves, we decided to no longer recognize each other. When we came across each other in the street, we passed by without looking at one another. There were certain possibilities for us to meet, but that never happened in public.

"For a politicized homosexual, visiting places which were part of the homosexual subculture was too dangerous. Friends told me that raids on bars were becoming more frequent. And someone had written on the wall of the subway tunnel of the Hamburg SBahn between Dammtor station and the main station, Street of the Lost. That was some sort of film or book title. We found this graffiti very amusing, for most of us tried to cope with the thing by developing a sort of gallows humor."

From: Hans-Georg Stumke and Rudi Finkler, Rosa Winkel, Rosa Listen, Homosexuelle und 'Gesunded Volksempfinden' von Auschwitz bis heute (Hamburg, 1981), trans. in Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (New York, 1991), pp. 182-83.

In his book, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals, Richard Plant records a victim's account of his first day at Sachsenhausen:

When my name was called, I stepped forward, gave my name, and mentioned § 175. With the words: "You filthy queer, get over there, you butt fucker," I received several kicks ... then was transferred to an SS sergeant in charge of my block. The first thing I got from him was a violent blow on my face that threw me to the ground ... he brought his knees up hard into my groin so that I doubled over with pain ... he grinned at me and said: "That was your entrance fee, you filthy Viennese swine."
Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps. The prisoners, however, ostracized only those whom the SS marked with the pink triangle. One survivor wrote:
"During the first weeks of my imprisonment, I often thought I was the only available target on whom everyone was free to vent his aggressions. Things improved when I was assigned to a labour detail that worked outside the camp at Metz, because everything took place in public view. I was made clerk of the labour detail, which meant that I worked all day and then looked after the records at the guardhouse between midnight and 2 am. Because of this 'overtime' I was allowed seconds at lunch - if any food was left over. This is the fact to which I probably owe my survival... I saw quite a number of pink triangles. I don't know how they were eventually killed... One day they were simply gone."
Pierre Seel, a French homosexual survivor who remained silent about his experiences for forty years, tells of the work schedule at the concentration camp of Schirmeck-Vorbrüch in the French province of Alsace which was annexed by the Nazis::
"Torn from sleep at six A.M., we wolfed down an indefinable tea and a quarter loaf of stale or moldy Kommissbrot, a kind of military sourdough bread. After roll call, most of us headed toward the valley to smash rocks in the surrounding quarries and load the fragments into tiptrucks. The SS brought in German shepherd dogs to dissuade us from fleeing through the dense forest. Other inmates spent eleven hours a day laboring at the Marchal de Wacenbah factory. Around noon, we were served a clear soup with a slice of sausage. Then work continued until six p.m. Back in the camp, we were systematically searched before reentering our barracks. Two ladlefuls of rutabaga soup ended our day. After a final roll call, our barracks were doubly padlocked, and the night rounds began while the sun had yet to go down behind the mountains."

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