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Some Consequences of the Schmelt Organization as experienced by affected individuals

written by Amalie Mary Reichmann-Robinson - (KL Gross Rosen #47746, KL Flossenbürg #63905) and Bernard Robinson information about the author

he measures and administrative structure by which the German occupiers of southwest pre-war Poland, united to the Reich as East Upper Silesia (OOS), systematically impoverished, enslaved and ultimately murdered the Jewish population is well understood by virtue of a number of general Holocaust studies.
Outstanding among such research, and specific to this subject, is Prof. A. Konieczny's masterful work: "Jewish Forced Labor in Silesia Within the Framework of the Schmelt Organization".  Prof. Konieczny's study sets forth clearly the initial varied approaches to the "Jewish Problem" in annexed East Upper Silesia during the first year of German occupation. RFSS Himmler's resolution of the administrative confusion was accomplished by the appointment of SS-Oberführer Albrecht Schmelt, on 31 October 1940, as "Special Emissary of the RFSS & Chief of German Police for the Employment of Foreign Nationals in Upper Silesia (Sosnowitz)". In a rapid series of decrees, (now) SS-Brigadeführer Schmelt ended the unpermitted employment of Jewish individuals in all private and public enterprises, registered all Jewish citizens by work ability and strengthened the authority of the Central Jewish Council of Elders through which his orders were henceforth to be communicated and enforced.

he number of forced labor camps was to be greatly increased; the purpose of Jewish labor was henceforth to be unpaid service for the German military. Within weeks of assuming control of the assigned area, the Schmelt Organization had impoverished, terrorized and demoralized the annexed region's 100,000 Jewish population. Post-war investigations [1] by Bundesrepublik authorities indicate that Schmelt's Organization consisted of fewer than twenty persons. Schmelt had coordinated the police-terror powers of the Gestapo, SA, Staatspolizei, Jewish police and, in final readiness, military authorities to enforce complete obedience to his orders. Now began a modern-day equivalent of open slave marketing. In the annexed East Upper Silesia area, inquiries to existing defense-related factories and plans for new military-related production requirements were centralized in the Schmelt Organization. Employee requirements for these undertakings were categorized. Simultaneously, a ruthless conscription for slave labor of the entire able-bodied Jewish population began. Movement from the area of those not capable of labor (children, sick, infirm) was forbidden. Unknown to them, a Final Solution of mass murder awaited.

uring 1941, levies of young Jewish persons were sent to an evolving system of work camps in Silesia. However, the majority of Jewish Labor was first employed in local (Trustee) work sites. In these sites German "Trustees" were appointed as work managers for confiscated Jewish properties in charge of Jewish employees. Among the work sites most clearly remembered by Jewish survivors were the Wehrmacht uniform and shoe operation headed by Alfred Rossner in Bedzin (Bendzin), a smaller facility in the same city headed by Loicz (with Jewish technician Silberschatz in actual charge) and, in Sosnowitz, the Wehrmacht uniform factory headed by the German Trustee, Held. Rossner was a memorable individual according to Jewish survivors. He had been wounded while serving the Wehrmacht in WWI, had likely been a Communist in the 1920's, but had managed to be appointed Trustee of expropriated Jewish property in Bedzin (Bendzin). At considerable personal risk, he displayed a sense of humanity to his Jewish employees in a world seemingly gone mad. In late 1944, he was executed after having been found hiding several Jewish individuals. Another major "Treuhandler" activity within the OOS was the "Werkstätte für Verarbeitung von Filz- und Lederabfälle", run by a German named Braun from Breslau [2].

he enterprise employed 2,000-2,500 in three locations: Sosnowiec (Sosnowitz) (largest), the headquarters factory in Bedzin (Bendzin) (5-600) and Dombrowa (smallest). The shops utilized waste leather and felt to repair military boots and to manufacture children's fleece slippers, shoes, sandals.  Jewish persons who secured a Permit for near-slavery employment at Trustee facilities believed they had secured exemption for themselves and families from "Aktions", that euphemism for the periodic murder of the non-productive Jewish population. Until the August 1943 liquidation of the last OOS Ghetto at Sosnowitz-Srudula, their belief was justified. However, they had not considered the implacable commitment of individuals of authority within the NSDAP such as Heinrich Himmler, Adolph Eichmann or even Rudolph Höss to have the Wannsee's "Final Solution" carried forward without exception. During the final evacuation of Jewish persons in the summer of 1943, all OSS permit holders were sent to other labor camps or perished in near-by Birkenau's gas chambers. An exception was made for a few hundred able-bodied Jewish men who were assigned, from August 1943 to early 1944 to search and clean the former Ghetto areas. They, too, were then sent to other slave labor sites or murdered at Birkenau. 

eginning in the summer of 1941, there arose administrative wrangles between Höss, Commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Schmelt. Höss put forward [3] the posture that the Organization consistently violated the RSHA order for "complete liquidation" of all Jews, while he (Höss) diligently carried forward the Final Solution's mass murders. A particularly bitter point between the two NSDAP officials was Schmelt's success in receiving permission from Himmler, at the insistence of the Munitions Ministry to "extract" 10,000 able-bodied Jewish persons enroute to "liquidation" in Birkenau from assembly points in West Europe (Drancy, Mechelen, Westerbork). Höss complained that the interruption of the death transports at Cosel in Silesia, where the Organization enjoyed authority, and removal of able-bodied Jewish persons from the transports delayed the orderly schedule of murder at Birkenau. He complained to higher RSHA authorities that the Organization's actions "caused further interruptions and distractions". He was particularly indignant that the Organization secured additional able-bodied Jewish individuals from the transports by replacing them with dying or dead substitutes from the Organization's existing work camps. 

he focal point of the Organization's East Upper Silesian slave system was the unfinished Jewish Trade School on Skladowa St. 2 in Sosnowitz. Young Jewish men and women were assembled from the OOS and held there for a period of several days to some weeks. The means to secure their presence varied from volunteers who had been convinced their unpaid labor for Germany would alleviate the dreadful plight of their families, to individuals ordered by their local Council of Elders to report for forced labor under threat of severe penalties to themselves and their families, to young persons forcibly kidnapped from their homes or the streets. Within the closed Du-lager, a Jewish administration was established headed by Oskar Schanzer and a female assistant, Herta Goldfinger. Goldfinger, an attractive native of Prague, had earlier converted to Catholicism on a Jewish High Holiday. She bitterly resented her identification as Jewish; her strong anti-Jewish sentiments led her to be named "Judinnälteste" at FAL DWM/Grünberg as well during the first 500-km Death March in the winter of 1945. Both Schanzer and Goldfinger survived the war. Silesian enterprises directed their requirements for Jewish slaves to the Organization's Sosnowitz office.

uthorized industrial officials were allowed to visit the Du-lager and select from among the assembled prisoners those whom they wished as slave-employees. Financial arrangements concerning the slaves were concluded with Schmelt's Organization, acting as Trustee for the RFSS. Working conditions, rates of compensation etc. were negotiated by the industrialists with Schmelt's group which acted as owners of the property involved; viz. the human beings/slaves dragooned by the Organization. In Sosnowitz, too, was located the Central Council of Elders, under the direction of Moses Merin. Thus, the Organization was tightly controlled with few personnel and close proximity of its assisting sections. This report concerns itself with some of the individuals affected by the Organization's activities.

lthough the number of labor camps under the Organization's control at the beginning of 1943 is reported [4] to have exceeded 100 and the number of those forced to labor within them to have exceeded 50,570, only four locations and the fates of 2,100 young Jewish workers (mainly women) are studied here. These are (1) Gruschwitz Spinnerei/Grünberg, (2) Gruschwitz Weberei/Neusalz, (3) Kramsta-Methner-Frahme Weberei/ Bolkenhain and Landeshut and (4) Deutsche Wollenwaren Manufaktur/Grünberg . The eyewitness accounts [5] are likely typical of the events which befell the entire roll of Schmelt Organization's victims. A major aim of this study is to discover the names of Schmelt's victims; to reduce the use of impersonal words "victims", "prisoners", "Jews" and replace these with personal names, anecdotes and, if possible, with photos. An additional effort has been made to identify those perpetrators who carried forward the unparalleled system of impoverishment, slavery and mass murder on a helpless society. An unsettling discovery (for the author) of this latter effort has been the banal, seemingly normal, personal life and appearance of completely evil persons.

Gruschwitz Spinnerei/Grünberg n.s.

he provincial town of Grünberg, 120 km southeast of Berlin, was the most northerly Silesian location of the Organization's slave system. Early in February 1942, one hundred young Jewish women were transported by rail from the Sosnowitz Du-lager to the cotton yarn spinning mill at Grünberg. The prisoners were housed in a shed across from the factory. The storage shed had been converted for use as a barrack for prisoner-workers. The fellow workers at the Gruschwitz Spinnerei included local Germans and forced laborers from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. Housing was in separate barracks for the various ethnic groups. The camp's administration was: SS-man Tanzer (Commandant of the facility); a 50-ish German spinster, Helene Obuch (Prison Camp Commandant); Master Hoffmann (works foreman); Nurse Lene and her three assistants, Lidia (a Volkdeutsch) and two young Grünberg girls, Gertrude and Lilli. The latter four offered clinic-type health care for the entire facility, including Jewish women prisoners.

mmediately upon the arrival of the first one hundred Jewish women prisoners, Frau Obuch designated Anni Kampner, an attractive 30-year old Jewish prisoner from the Teschen area, as Jüdinnälteste, Jadzia Weinstock and Jadzia Altmann to work the kitchen (the camp's best position). All other female prisoners were assigned to work at the cotton-yarn spinning machines. There were wash facilities and single-occupant bunks within the barrack. Work was performed in three 8-hour shifts beginning at 6, 2 and 10 (evening). Food was meager [6] , being 3/4 liter watery coffee and a sandwich of margarine in the morning, two slices of bread/margarine and potato soup at midday, two slices of bread/margarine or marmalade and further thin vegetable soup in the evening. After roll call on Sundays, a heavier soup was served for dinner. Lucky prisoners found small pieces of horse meat within. The prisoners were soon ravenously hungry...continually. In a few cases, fellow-working German employees would arrange a bit of food for the increasingly-emaciated Jewish girls, always at great risk of punishment to themselves as well as to the recipient Jewish prisoner. Censored postcards home and incoming mail, even packages, were allowed the prisoners at specified intervals. The withholding of this privilege was a dreaded form of collective punishment.

n 21 June and 26 August, 1942, transports of 50 and of 100 additional Jewish slave-women from the OOS arrived. Each group brought to the inmates news of the murder and deportation programs then underway. Among the 16-25 year-old women, friendships formed. The concept of "Camp Sisters" arose. In these deep, platonic friendships, the prisoners substituted the loss of murdered parents and families with commitments to fellow prisoners which lasted to the sharing of life and death. The young women, mainly from traditional, religious, apolitical families, deeply felt the loss of families, even beyond the recognition, beginning in the Spring of 1943, that they, too, were destined to labor until deemed medically unfit. They knew they would then be murdered. The pervasive sense of emotional grief, the constant fear, meager intake of food and increasing caloric output demanded by the imposition of "norms" induced a physical condition among the women-slaves equivalent to anorexia. An estimated 90% of these healthy young women lost the ability to menstruate during their incarceration. Among the women survivors interviewed, almost all have commented on post-liberation reproductive abnormalities. A characteristic, universal among the women prisoners in the four camps studied, was the maintenance of religious practice. Largely by memory, the prisoners knew the dates of Jewish holidays and the practices enjoined thereby. A number of survivors commented that the religious belief helped maintain a sense of humanity which the camp system sought to destroy.

t Gruschwitz, as at each of the camps studied, there were periodic "selections" of those prisoners whom the administration deemed physically unable to continue the work level required, or who were deemed (without substantiation required) inept at their work, defiant or uncooperative in demeanor. The selection procedure was administrative perfection. Each 6 to 8 weeks, either Heinrich Lindner or Alfred Ludwig of the Schmelt Organization or SS-men Müller or Krause, representing the section of the NSDAP wishing to reach an immediate "final resolution" of the Jewish Problem, visited each of the Organization's forced labor camps. Their purpose was to purge the labor camps of those slaves whose production potential was arbitrarily considered inadequate.

o minimize disturbance among fellow slaves and preclude knowledge among non-Jewish workers, the young Jewish women marked for murder were unmolested at the camp or work site. The selectees were not examined or subjected to untoward behavior; they were simply told, on the day following their (unknown to them) selection for extermination, they need not again report for work. At first, the selectees were told they were being sent home to recuperate; later they would be required to rejoin forced labor. There had been precedent for this subterfuge since, in 1940-41, there had been returnees from Wehrmacht labor camps and knowledge of this practice had been widespread. Great was the joy of the first selectees at the prospect of family reunions. The prisoners soon learned that the first selectees never arrived in the OOS, but simply disappeared. From later arrivals, they learned of Birkenau and its gas chamber/crematorium system. The selectees were at leisure within the barracks for one to four days until transportation arrived to remove them for their journey to death. When the true purpose of their removal became known to the prisoners, the days of waiting, of seeming normality, were excruciating. Perhaps the reader of this will picture her/his 20-year old daughter sitting quietly, sentenced to death, alone..... Each "deportee", was the flower of some family, the 'light of the life' of some parent. Soon she would be destroyed in the bloom of her womanhood......Nelly Ebbe, whose family had been deported from Wiesbaden to Poland in 1937 and then taken to slave labor at DWM/Grünberg with her three sisters, worked as one of two Jewish girls in DWM camp's administration. One of her tasks was to type and file the lists of "deportees" from the Gruschwitz, DWM and Neusalz forced labor camps.

oday, a charming and alert lady of impressive recall, she remembers that, every two months, she compiled lists of deportees to Birkenau. The death lists normally held 40 to 60 names. Dora Waga and Batshewa Elbaum are two selectees who survived such selection-deportation. In their interviews, they related their experiences within this human disposal system Ms. Waga, a strikingly beautiful woman 50 years after her liberation, told of having a spot upon her lung being detected in the frequent X-ray examinations at DWM in the summer of 1944. She recalled, with indignation, the withdrawal of her fellow prisoners from contact with her once her "selection" became known [7]. She expressed her resignation to death, being convinced earlier that none of the prisoners would survive the war. Ms. Waga described a series of journeys by truck and rail in which other young Jewish women selectees from other camps were added to her transport at FAL Langenbielau (the central collection point for condemned female prisoners) until their arrival at the train debarkation ramp at Birkenau. Apparently, the manifest describing her transport's already-selected-for-death status had not reached Mengele at the ramp. She, with other young women, were selected for death or labor by Mengele's usual glance-inspection. Her tubercular condition not being apparent, she was selected for forced labor. In a series of incredible happenstances, she survived the slave labor and subsequent Death March from Birkenau to Ravensbrück. She was denied entry to the United States because of her tubercular status. The disease has been in remission. Batshewa Elbaum was an undersized 15-year old when sent, with her sister, to forced laborin DWM.

wo years later, a finger was cut off in an industrial accident. She was severely beaten for her "sabotage" and sentenced to "deportation" for her "crime". She, too, described the series of journeys by truck to collect small groups of other deportees. The last stop for her was at ZAL Ludwigsdorf, near KL Gross Rosen. Here, she was held for a short time while a final transport was assembled for delivery to Birkenau. A German Communist Kapo told the scrawny prisoner, "You are too young to die!" and hid her in his labor gang. Ms. Elbaum is alive and well in an Israeli kibbutz at this writing. In our conversation, she reminisced about the other, less fortunate, girls of her death transport.

Gruschwitz Weberei/Neusalz n.s.

he Gruschwitz Spinning mill in Grünberg was an affiliate of the main facility at Neusalz, 22 km. south. In late September, the consolidation of work into the main plant began. In small groups, the Jewish women were transferred to the main facility. At 9:00 A.M. November, 1943, the last 118 Jewish women prisoners from the Gruschwitz spinning mill in Grünberg, stood at attention near the front gate of the Gruschwitz Weberei in Neusalz. Unknown to them, they were pawns in the on-going administrative struggle between the Organization and the RFSS over the fate of able-bodied Jewish prisoners. The smaller, textile-related forced labor Silesian camps (i.e., Gruschwitz-Grünberg, Sagan, Bolkenhain, Landeshut, etc.) were being closed and the prisoners directed to larger enterprises or to death at Birkenau. Between 15 September and 1 November 1943, Gruschwitz-Grünberg had been closed and the inmates sent to other forced labor sites. The words of prisoner Alicia Lipcitz notes: "The new camp director is a 50-year old woman with smoothly combed hair tied in a knot called Frau Pache: we call her Pachowa. On the gate at the entrance of the camp is written in half circle 'Welcome to Neusalz Camp'. Under this: 'Work Makes Life Sweet.' ".

he camp itself is a little town with barracks in even rows. About 800 women from the ages of 12 to 50 live here. They are Jewish women from different towns. Several of the girls are beautifully dressed. Others are in rags. Over a dozen of them stand out from the others. They have been fed like fattened geese. They are the cooks and camp personnel (administration). "The Judenälteste is Mitzi Mehler, a 20-some-year old blonde Venus. Rarely is it possible to meet such a beautiful woman. She is a Jewish woman from Kattowitz and is said to be a good person.....". In general, the conditions in Neusalz are poor. In a room where there are 18 to 20 girls living, there are 3 or 4 bowls and 5 or 6 spoons and not enough beds. When the girls go to lunch at 11:45, they don't have anything in which to collect the food. For the time being, I work on the night shift. During the day, I sleep in the bed of Edzi Kaszowski, but I cannot sleep because the girls are arguing the whole time. About what do they argue? About a pot, about a bowl, about a spoon."

hursday, November 18, 1943. Here is a description of the camp. There is a large field on which 14 barracks stand. Besides that, there's a brick building where there is a large kitchen and several cooking cauldrons. On the other side of the brick building, the Grünberg "devils", as Rywka calls us, live. The camp's personnel consists of 7 cooks. Fela Bader is the head cook. She's an 18-year old girl who leads 900 Jewish girls by their noses. Next, Ewa Messer, the former Judinnälteste from Deustche Wollenwaren Manufaktur, sent here for committing some kind of crime in the camp has potato-peeling duty; Sala, who's deaf and dumb, was sent to the kitchen by lucky fortune and not to Birkenau to be destroyed. Anni Grünberg, Hela, Gizela and Tola - those 7 are the camp elite. They walk around in 3/4 meter-high stockings with tassels. "There are 3 tailors who constantly sew in the sewing workroom, unfortunately mainly for the camp's personnel. The three are Sala Lustiger, Mina and Prysterowa, who is an old woman more German than Jewish. Her daughter, Hanni Prysterowa, is the nurse in a separate hospital barrack. She puts on bandages but there's no lack of abscesses here. Every 2nd person suffers from carbuncles. There are often abscesses because of pollutants encountered at our work."

he nurse, Hanni Prysterowa (a fat girl), puts on iodine or cuts abscess with regular scissors and if the operation is not successful, there is the camp dentist to take care of it - the old maid Esta Bodner originally from Auschwitz and, before that, from Germany. Sick people who get an infection, she gives them an injection and sends them to the other ward. She does that on her own, without Pachowa's order. There are 2 tailors, the sisters Selinger. At least, they are useful because they also repair torn shoes. There are 3 cleaning women. The remaining personnel who run the camp are the Judenälteste, Mitzie Mehler; the office worker Cyla Mirowska; the policewoman Rywka Goldbrun, a girl from Sosnowitz whom the prisoners call "Queen Rywka". Conditions at FAL Neusalz were more severe than at the smaller Grünberg site. Beatings were more common, work norms more onerous, punishments more severe, selections for "deportation" more frequent. New arrivals brought details of the final clearing of Jewish populations from the cities of the OOS. Despair was prevalent when understanding spread that none of the prisoners' families now lived.

n 8 April 1944, 120 Hungarian women prisoners arrived in Neusalz from selections in Birkenau. Unlike the original slave laborers from annexed OOS who still wore their civilian clothes and retained items from their homes, the Hungarian women arrived with striped light canvas concentration camp uniforms; their heads shorn, with no personal belongings, their spirits demoralized. A few weeks after arrival of the Hungarian prisoners, the camp received a shipment of clothing which was to be shredded so that yarn could be spun from the re-generated material. A number of the Hungarian women prisoners recognized items of clothing belonging to their family members murdered at Birkenau. An emotional scene ensued with the women clutching garments belonging to family members.In mid-June, Camp Commandant Pach(owa) advised Judinnälteste Mehler that, effective 19 June 1944, the camp would undergo a change of administration: henceforth it would be a branch of KL Gross Rosen. The SS would thereafter be in control.

fter a few days, approximately 50 German women, mostly former unmarried workers at the Neusalz Gruschwitz Weaving Mill, appeared wearing the uniform of SS members. They had been absent for almost two months undergoing orientation and a six-week training course at KL Ravensbrück, the infamous women's concentration camp north of Berlin. These former plant workers constituted the bulk of the SS guards. They worked in three 8-hour shifts. On 6 July, a delegation of four SS men arrived at the facility. Each of the 897 Jewish women prisoners was required to disrobe and individually enter a room in which the four SS men were seated at a table. SS women guards stood at each end of the table. In the center of the room, a large circle was drawn on the floor. In the center of the circle was a chalked "X". In the words of one of the surviving Jewish prisoners: [8] "In the middle of the room, a circle had been made on the floor....drawn with chalk. Every 10 minutes, another girl stands in that circle dressed as was Eve. "The girls at that age are embarrassed to even see their bodies in a mirror. Now they have to go naked around the circle in the presence of 4 men. "God, aren't we people too? They buy and sell us like cattle." It is necessary to agilely walk on the chalk circle several times and put your arms up, get down on your knees, and display your chest, your breasts. "One fat SS-man comes up and pats the girl on the back. He measures the girl's chest, he looks inside their mouths to see the state of their teeth. He checks their muscles, their thighs and he measures them. On their backs, the German writes categories A, B and C. "Category A is for the most healthy and most beautiful ones. Category B is for those of average health and those who receive C are afraid that any day they will be sent away in a transport to the ovens of Auschwitz. After the detailed check is over, the Germans hand the women prisoners tin numbers to be worn on their chest and orders them to return to their rows (of waiting assembled prisoners). .............The (KL Gross Rosen) number given me on my tin tag is 48633."

onditions at FAL Neusalz now became very difficult. Beatings were more frequent, even for the slightest infraction. Work norms were increased. Women SS guards were everywhere. Prisoners now had to request any movement or the slightest need to a SS woman guard with the military-type phrase: "I report myself obediently to request......" The new Camp Commandant, SS woman Gersch(owa) imposed a series of harassing raids and regulations, the cumulative effect of which was to exhaust the prisoners. To quote survivor Alicia Lifscitz again: "We received imprinted numbers which had to be sewn on the left side in front to replace the former gold Jewish star. But on our backs, we had to cut out a large rectangle from our garments, 25 cm wide and 15 cm high. we were given material with blue and gray stripes which we had to sew in the cut-out rectangles in the backs of our garments. In this manner the patches on our backs could be seen from afar as a badge of the inferiority of the Jewish race." The entry of the SS into the facility ended all contact between the Jewish slaves and the local fellow workers. There had been instances of compassion shown individual Jewish women by German women and men of honor.

ll such contact dissolved in fear of the SS. By late January 1945, the entry of the Russian Army onto German soil was known to the prisoners. Morale among the SS-women guards visibly slackened. On the 15th, preparations were begun to evacuate the camp. Clothing from Birkenau, which had been destined to be shredded as raw material, was now distributed to the prisoners; blankets were cut and sewn into trousers, but shoes were lacking. Many of the prisoners possessed only clogs. The sub-freezing January weather boded ill for anyone without proper footwear .......and a majority of the prisoners lacked this important item.On 16 January, while the Neusalz prisoners (and at other prison camps, other inmates) prepared for evacuation, Hitler had returned to Berlin, never to leave. On the 17th, the German garrison in Warsaw surrendered to Berling's 1st Polish Army. On the 19th, Russian soldiers entered pre-1938 Silesia while other Russian troops entered East Prussia. Gauleiter Hahnke declared the cities of Glogau and Breslau to be "Fortresses" and mobilized their entire populations to defend the Fatherland.On the January 17, the high SS- and Police Leader in Breslau, Ernst Heinrich Schmausser, responding to Himmler's previous "contingency plan A" ordered the immediate evacuation of all work camps lying east of the Oder.

n Neusalz, on the morning of 22 January 1945, the order was given to evacuate the Jewish prisoners. Each was given 2 loaves of bread, several small packets of margarine and jam. Not knowing if they were to be murdered or would ever survive, many of the women wrote notes of farewell on the walls, on beds, on paper within their barracks. They identified themselves and their families in Polish, Hungarian, German.... even in unknown rescuers, hoping that somehow, somewhere a family member would learn of their once-presence in the Gruschwitz Weaving Mill at Neusalz. The Jewish women prisoners, numbering 897 at the June 1944 SS take-over and augmented to approximately 1,000 by transports of Hungarian women from Birkenau, were divided into 3 groups. Lightly guarded by Heimwehr draftees and SS women, the prisoners marched forth into the unknown. Very few would survive the next 100 days.

Journey to Hell Neusalz to KL Bergen Belsen

anuary 1945's winter was exceptionally cold. The treks set out with no logistics; that is, without provision for food, shelter, medical provisions en route. Within a few days, the women SS guards left; control was now by a small group of older Heimwehr men, as few as two to each of the three prisoner segments.The route of march was generally on secondary, rural roads; major roads were for military traffic. The rate was 20 to 25 km daily. The first direction was west through Freystadt to FAL Christianstadt. At FAL Christianstadt, referred to as "Todtenstadt" by the prisoners, they saw for, the first time, results of complete brutality. Unburied bodies of women slaves lay scattered about. Near-skeleton living former prisoners lay among the deserted buildings. The stench of garbage and bodies was overwhelming. FAL Christianstadt had been the site of ordnance manufacture for the Wehrmacht. Ironically, the beneficiary firm of the slavery, hunger and lingering death of the women prisoners was Nobel Dynamit. The prisoners had been Czech, Polish, Hungarian Jewish and non-Jewish women. The prisoners had been forced to hurriedly evacuate to KL Bergen Belsen shortly before the arrival of the Neusalz trek. The chemicals involved in ordnance production had caused severe respiratory problems among the women slaves; as a result many had been unable to undertake the 400-km march to Belsen. These were hurriedly shot; bodies lay scattered about the camp. Other prisoners had scattered to safety and then returned to the deserted facility.

he Neusalz trek encountered these women, now dying of hunger and cold in an emptied camp. The trek remained two days, three nights, and then was pressed to move on. Left behind, with the dying FAL Christianstadt women were Neusalz prisoners for whom the first trek had proved exhausting.That proved to be their death sentence when, a few days later, the FAL DWM evacuation trek, led by the murderous Breslauer Schutzpolizei Oberwachmeister, Karl Hermann Jäschke, arrived. The Neusalz trek marched on to Bad Muskau, Weisswasser...past Bautzen and Dresden. The march route intertwined that taken by the FAL Grünberg evacuees. Corpses from that Death March lay strewn along the road. Escapees from the Grünberg march found their way to the Neusalz trek. A bizarre such incident occurred in the vicinity of Dresden when Ruth Rottenberg, an escapee from the FAL Grünberg (DWM) trek was recaptured, together with two other girls. The captors discussed shooting them on the spot, but decided to bring them to the local jail. There, they were told that a new prisoner trek of Jewish women (the Neusalz trek) was expected the following day. The three young escapees were added to the FAL Neusalz marching group. They had escaped from one Death March only to be added to another. Communities en route were required to furnish one or two barns each night as shelter, together with potato soup for supper and breakfast to the march column. Unlike the behavior of guards in other treks, the Heimwehr guards of the Neusalz trek pressed few difficulties upon the women. The cold, the lack of accommodations, the long marches and scarce food were difficulties enough, even for the elderly guards. A number of survivors relate that they departed the line of march to beg sustenance from farmers, returning always to the trek, without interference from the few Heimwehr guards.

n this fashion, the march proceeded with a smaller number of women who died or were shot than was the case with more rigorous guarding in other evacuations. The final march route, through the Vogtland hills and across the steep, freezing Erzgeberge was slow and difficult. The total march route was more than 450 kilometers. On 8 March 1945, the 45th day of the trek, 869 survivors [9] reached FAL Zwodau in the Czech Sudetenland. FAL Zwodau, an auxiliary women's camp of KL Flossenbürg, had been established on 19 June 1944 with 100 eastern European slave laborers. The work function was to serve a nearby Luftwaffe instrument manufacturer, Hakenfeld AG. As the fighting lines contracted from both West and East, the Zwodau prisoner population increased greatly. The final Prisoner List to KL Flossenbürg, dated 13 April 1945, counted 1,617 inmates. The prisoners were Jewish and non-Jewish women, including a considerable number of German women prisoners who carried the green KL triangle indicating recidivist criminals.More than numbers of inmates, however, in describing the chaos and confusion in FAL Zwodau in February-May 1945, is its use as a woman-prisoner transit camp. Hence, the FAL Neusalz trek remained In FAL Zwodau only 9 days. The Jewish and German prisoners of the FAL Helmbrechts trek (described below) remained only 2 days. The FAL Freiberg prisoners (referenced below) remained 50 days from their 26 Feb arrival, the FAL Gundeldorf (described below) women prisoners remained in Zwodau for 45-55 days before being sent away. Numerous witnesses [10] have testified to the chaos, horrific conditions, typhus and mass murders during Feb. to May 1945.

n February 1945, the camp administration consisted of SS Oberscharführer August Jordan, who had recently been seconded from his Luftwaffe posting, his assistant SS Oberscharführer Streiter and approximately 15 SS men and 15 SS women guards.Indicative of the confusion at FAL Zwodau, was the episode in which the camp was evacuated on 27 April 1945 with AL Tachau as goal. During a three-day trek, a large number of women prisoners unable to maintain the march tempo, were shot. Abruptly, Jordan learned that the US military had taken Tachau and the diminished trek returned to Zwodau. Massacres of prisoners there continued to the last day of the war. Zwodau was taken by American troops on 8 May 1945. The FAL Neusalz arrivals remained in Zwodau nine days until the 17th of March. Four women of the trek died [11] there (Chaya Mass, age 42, Maria Miordowik 16, Leontin Steiner 45, Susie Wenger, age unknown. RIP: you are remembered.) Typhus was rampant; many of the 865 remaining Neusalz women were now seriously ill and/or exhausted. They were taken by truck to KL Flossenbürg, which for ten years had been solely a men's camp. The women's 450 km winter trek, the lice, under nourishment, ragged clothing, lack of bathing, shorn heads did not produce a beauty parade for the male inmates.The prisoners were taken to an isolated large barrack "on a high hill" within the Flossenbürg complex. There, they were given "reasonable" food and a chance to wash. Their lice-filled rags were taken. In return, they were given a grotesque assortment of women's evening wear and odds of men's clothing. To quote a participant : "Several received blood-red dresses and even white ones. And thus the procession of dressed, live corpses returned to the camp, to the barracks, with (male prisoners) clapping along the way as if it were a masquerade". The women were locked in the single barrack for eight days. Typhus raged as a result of the filth and exhaustion of the Death March and the prior FAL Zwodau conditions.

n the 25th of March they were taken to a small rail station and locked in closed freight and coal cars. Prisoners, particularly those in the closed cars of coal dust, suffocated. Little water was provided; the conditions were nightmarish. 70 to 100 women were packed in a wagon. Window openings were tightly sealed. There was no room to relieve bodily functions. The stench, crowding in the darkness, the craze for water led to a horrific death rate. The women had no idea if they would ever be released or if this were their final agonizing death of suffocation and thirst in the darkness. For long periods, the train would stand silently. After seven days (judged by the little light and darkness seen though cracks), the doors were flung open. They had arrived in Hell.Begging for water, the surviving women were driven by dogs and SS men on a long march to KL Bergen Belsen. Entering, they witnessed staring "musselmen", heaps of corpses everywhere. They were taken through a series of camp sections to a final barrack. Again, Alicia Lipcitz is quoted: "They ordered us to wait. In the last camp is a mortuary. From that mortuary, they throw out the naked bodies onto carts. The girls from the first rows are given the task. One takes a body by the hands and the other by the legs and they throw it onto the cart. After the carts are full, they drive off and they return again empty. Was this a factory of death? The bodies of men, women and children are heaped everywhere. Several of them are still breathing, but the German orders that they be thrown onto the cart. One of the Hungarian girls recognized her brother among the bodies and she cried: "Jano". In that finally-empty mortuary, the Neusalz transport is accommodated."

o historians of 1939-45 Europe, KL Bergen Belsen's conditions of typhus, lack of water, chaos, musselmen, heaps of dead are well-documented. There is filmed footage for disbelievers.The Neusalz evacuees' three weeks of imprisonment and months of subsequent disease in Belsen led to an estimated (by interviewed survivors) 80% death rate of those who began the Death March.The desk-bound murderer, Albrecht Schmelt, had called down a life of suffering and a death of torment upon thousands of innocent men, women, children. He cheated justice by suicide on 17 May 1945 in Schreiberhau, Kreis Hirschberg, Silesia [12]


[1] Ermittlungen: V 205 AR-Z 78/60, IV 405 AR-Z 1/64, V 205 AR 1496/67, V 205 AR 8308/67, bzw Begl. Abs 2 ARs 242/77, pages 2867-8

[2] Protocol by Gertrude Goldstein, 13 June 1947, Kattowitz

[3] V 205 AR 1496/67. pages 2708-9. See Exhibit A for listing of Schmelt's Organization

[4] Begl. Abs 2 ARs 242/77, page 2863. Bericht der Inspektors für Statistik bei Reichsführer SS, signed by Himmer 27 March 43

[5] Exhibit B: List of Interviewees

[6] According to Prof. Konieczny's study (pp 101), the Organization's food cost allowance was 90 pfennings per slave per day.

[7] An identical reaction by fellow prisoners to a re-captured escapee, Mascha Silverstein, from DWM is related in a diary kept by Fela Sheps of Dombrowa. The story both of Silverstein and the maintenance of Ms. Sheps' prison thoughts and experiences are more incredible than fiction. Ms. Silverstein died in KL Bergen Belsen in late April 1945; Ms Sheps died 10 May 1945 in Volary, Czechoslovakia 3 days after liberation by the 5th Med Btn, US Army. Both Ms Waga and the Scheps diary relate, in identical terms, the aversion and fear-of-association manifested by other prisoners toward selectees of punishment.

[8] Alicia Lifscitz Part III, pp 40

[9] See Exhibit XX for specifics

[10] 410AR-A 60/1967 Bände I,IV,VIII,IX,X,u.B

[11] KL Flossenbürg prisoner list

[12] Nachstehender Bildung gilt als Beglaubigte Abschrift Nr.4374, Berlin den 22 April 1955. Auch Eidesstattliche Versicherung von Augenzeugner Otto Girbig gegeben 25 Februar 1955 unter Beglaubigung in Kapstadt, Süd Afrika.