Institute for Historical Review
On July 28, 1943, when the first convoy arrived in the beet fields in front of the Tunnel, there was no question of any Revier. They had sent only those prisoners from Buchenwald who were supposed to be in good health, and it was not anticipated that they might fall sick right away: but, should this happen, the S.S. had orders to pay attention only to serious cases, to report them by mail, and to wait for instructions. Naturally, the S.S. never discovered anyone seriously sick; anyone who has been a soldier will easily understand that.
The weather was beastly that year. It rained and rained. Pneumonia and pleurisy ran rampant, and made great inroads among those who were weak and badly treated, who were wet all day long, and who had to sleep at night in damp caves in the rock. In eight days, those unfortunates were doubled up with what the S.S. called a little fever, which seemed to worsen, but they didn't know why. The regulations were that one was not sick unless one had a temperature of more than 39.5°C. (103°F.), in which case one could get a Schonung, or work exemption. Until you had such a fever you had to keep on working, and when you did have such a temperature it meant death.
Then there was what we called dysentery, but which was in reality uncontrollable diarrhea. One fine day, for no clear reason, one was overcome with digestive troubles which rapidly developed into an inability to tolerate anything. There was no remedy: one had simply to wait for it to stop, without eating anything. It lasted eight, ten, fifteen days, depending on the resistance of the sick man, who got weaker, who finally began to fall down, without any strength left to move, even to take care of his needs, and who then succumbed to the fever that accompanied it. This sickness, fortunately easier to detect than pneumonia or pleurisy, led the S.S. to take steps, with what means they had available, to check it. They ordered the construction of a Bud, where, without regard for their temperatures, those with diarrhea were admitted on showing the proper paper and so long as there was space available.
The Bud could hold thirty people. Very soon there were fifty, a hundred, and more, their number ever growing as new convoys arrived from Buchenwald and as the camp grew larger. Generally, the diarrhetics were sent there only in the last stages of the illness, and then only to die there. They were piled together right on the ground, packed like sardines, unmindful of what was under them; it was an epidemic. It got to such a point that for health reasons the S.S. had the first H-Fuehrung pick out a Pfleger, or nurse, to keep order among the sick and help them to keep themselves clean. The job was given to a "green" (naturally!), a carpenter by trade. who had been sentenced for murder. A fine job was done ...!
All the day long people were lined up at the entrance to the Bud. The Pfleger, truncheon in hand, calmed down the impatient ones. From time to time a corpse was brought out of the stench, and a space was made which was jumped at. The number of diarrhetics only increased. When the S.S. saw that the Pfleger was not up to the task, the latter pointed out that he had a lot of work to do all alone, and he was given an assistant of whom the S. S. required that he know his business. The job fell to a Dutch doctor who had been employed, until then, in the work of transporting goods from the station to the Tunnel. From that moment on the Bud became humanized, the Pfleger became Kapo, and the Dutchman worked under his orders, exercising prodigious diplomacy. He managed to save one diarrhetic, whose cure he was careful to conceal in order to keep him by his side as a nurse. With the help of a big supply of charcoal, the diarrhea was checked, the S. S. declared themselves satisfied, and the Bud could be used for something else. The first Revier was born.
In fact, the Dutchman was able to fix it so that as places were left available by the diarrhetics, those with pneumonia and pleurisy with temperatures of 38°C (109°F) and up could be admitted. But, this practice aroused the resentment of his Kapo! He even began to claim that with a little charcoal it would be possible to care effectively for the diarrhetics without hospitalizing them, if they were caught soon enough, and that, therefore, there would be more room for those with pneumonia and pleurisy. The duel was Homeric. An S.S. doctor, who had been assigned to the camp and who had arrived in November along with the officers of a convoy, after having remained indifferent to this conflict for a long time, ended by backing up the Dutchman. And, the building of a Block was begun, the Bud having rapidly become too small.
Then it was the turn of those with nephritis. Nephritis was inherent in the life of the camp: under-nourishment, too many hours standing up, the effects of bad weather, pneumonia, pleurisy, the rock salt -- the only kind there was in Germany -- which the cooks used immoderately, and which, it seems, was harmful because it contained no iodine. Cases of edema were legion; everybody had legs more or less swollen.
It goes away, they said, it's the salt that does it. And no more attention than that was paid to it. When it was an innocuous edema, it did sometimes disappear! When the edema was the outcome of nephritis, one was carried away, one fine day, with an attack of uremia. The Dutchman succeeded in getting those with nephritis hospitalized, too. Another Block had to be built. Then it was the turn of those with tuberculosis, and so on. The expansion continued to such an extent that on June 1, 1944, the Revier was composed of Blocks 16, 17, 38, 39, 126, 127, and 128, grouped around the top of the hill. Fifteen hundred patients could be put there, at one person per bed, or a tenth of the camp's population. Each Block was divided into wards, where related sicknesses were assigned.
Block 16 was the administrative center of the whole structure. The Dutchman was promoted to the rank of Head Doctor. Meanwhile, the S.S. replaced the "green" Lageraeltester with a "red" and there was a great commotion in the H-Fuehrung. The Kapo of the Revier was the first victim of the new Lageraeltester. A plan was set up to catch him in the act of stealing the food destined for the sick. He was sent to the Ellrich camp by way of punishment, and he was replaced by Proell.
Proell was a young German, about 27 or 28 years old. In 1934, he had intended to take up medicine. But as the son of a Communist and as a Communist himself, he was arrested when he was still only a child. He spent the next ten years in various camps.
First he was sent to Dachau where it was due only to his youth that he survived the rigors of that budding camp. Neither the S.S. nor the adult prisoners had their knives out for the youngsters: the first because of a kind of respect for real innocence; the second because of a special tenderness which nourished in them the hope of seeing the youngsters become affectionate later. Thanks to these two circumstances. Proell managed to get into the Revier as a Pfleger and to stay there tor several years. Then, he was sent to Mauthausen in that capacity. The "green" Haeftlingsfuehrung of Mauthausen got rid of him by sending him to Auschwitz, where he was included in the first convoy that was sent to Natzweiler. It was at Natzweiler that he spent his longest time. There he was promoted to Kapo of the Lagerkommando and was attached to the Lageraeltester. The few prisoners who knew him in that camp were unanimous in saying that they never had seen such a brute. A palace revolution in the H-Fuehrung of Natzweiler caused his removal to Buchenwald from whence he was sent to Dora as a confidant of the Communists and Kapo of the Revier.
At Dora, Proell behaved like all the other Kapos -- neither better nor worse. He was intelligent and organized the Revier along the lines laid down by the Dutchman, whom he considered, in spite of everything a valuable assistant because he was competent. To be sure, he did not always follow the moral commandments of medicine. He was brutal, and in making up the army of Pfleger that he needed to carry out the job, he gave preference to the politicals before the professionals. That is how the blacksmith Heinz, who was a Communist and who had managed to get himself into the Revier under the regime of the "green" Kapo as Oberpfleger (head nurse), was completely trusted by him against the advice of all the other medical people. That is also why, to a medical student whose political opinions he knew did not agree with his, he always preferred any lout, German, Czech, Russian or Polish. He had a great admiration for the Russians, and a weakness for the Czechs, who in his eyes had been abandoned to Hitler by the English and the French of whom he was contemptuous. But, he was an organizer of the first order.
In less than a month, the Revier was organized on the lines of the big hospitals: in Block 16, the administration, admissions and emergencies; in 17 and 39, general treatment, the kidney cases and those with neuritis; in 38, surgery; in 126, pneumonia and pleurisy; in 127 and 198 the tubercular. In each Block there was a doctor in charge, assisted by an Oberpfleger; in each ward, a Pfleger for nursing and a Kalifaktor for other duties. For the sick two-bunk beds only, one above the other, with a mattress stuffed with wood shavings, sheets and blankets. There were three diets: the Hauskost, or food in every way like that given out in the camp, for those whose digestive tracts were not affected; the Schleimkost, or thin semolina soup (no bread, no margarine, no sausage), for those who required a low diet; the Diatkost, which every day consisted of two soups, one sweetened, and white bread, margarine and jam, for those who needed building up.
It cannot be said that one was very well taken care of in the Revier. The S.S.-Fuehrung dispensed very little medicines and drugs, and Proell filched from the lot all that was necessary for the H-Fuehrung letting only that which they didn't need filter through to the sick themselves. But, the beds were clean; one rested; and the food ration, although not of better quality than for the rest of the camp, was still more abundant. Proell himself limited his activities as Kapo to one visit which each day was accompanied with shouts and some generously bestowed blows on the personnel and the sick who had been caught disobeying Revier regulations. Life there could have been a contrast to the prevailing conditions in the rest of the camp, if the Pfleger and Kalifaktor, as much out ot zeal and loyalty to tradition as out of fear of the Kapo, had not been bent on trying to make it intolerable.
Every night after roll-call, a mob collected at the entrance to Block 16. Block 16 included, aside trom the administration office for the Revier, an Aussere-Ambulanz and an Innere-Ambulanz. The first took care of the immediate needs of all those who, sick or having met with an accident, did not meet the requirements for being hospitalized; the second determined, after examination, those who should or should not be hospitalized .
Aside from the H-Fuehrung, everyone in the camp was sick, and, under conditions which prevail in the normal world, everyone would have been hospitalized without exception and without delay, even if only on account of their extreme debility. In the camp, the situation was quite the opposite. There, general debility did not count; only those conditions which exceeded such debility were taken care of, and then only under certain extra-therapeutic circumstances or when nothing else could be done. Every prisoner was, therefore, more or less a candidate for the Revier. They had to make a rule that one could apply for admission every four days, on an average.
First of all there were the boils. The whole camp had suppurative furunculosis. the result of the lack of meat and roughage in the food. It was endemic just like the benign edema and the nephritis. There were the sores on the hands or feet or both. Finally there were cut fingers, arms or legs broken, and the like. They made up the patients of the Aussere-Ambulanz and trom June 1, 1944, were in the hands of the Negro, Johnny, whose incompetence as a doctor had finally been recognized at the Buchenwald Revier. In spite of the political pledges that he had given, he was sent to us in a transport, as a doctor, naturally, but with a note stating that it would be more prudent to use him as a nurse. Proell thought that he was just right for the Aussere-Ambulanz, and put him in charge. I learned afterwards that he had been astute enough to get the protection of Katzenellenbogen, that prisoner who called himself an American by origin, who was the general physician of the Camp, and who committed so many extortions that he was considered a war criminal after liberation.
Johnny had under him a whole company of Pfleger, Germans, Poles, Czechs or Russians, who knew nothing whatever of the job they were charged with; they put on dressings, took them off and put them on again when it struck their fancy. For boils or wounds, there was only one remedy: ointment. Those gentlemen had before them pots of ointments of all colors. On the same sore, they one day put the black salve and another day put the red or the yellow, and there was no guessing what determined their choice. Luckily, all of the ointments were antiseptic !
To the Innere-Ambulanz went everybody who hoped to get hospitalized. Every night there were five or six hundred, each one just as sick as the other. Sometimes there were ten or fifteen beds available. Put yourself in the place of the doctor who had to choose which ten or fifteen... The others were sent back with or without Schonung. They appeared the next day and every day until they had the luck to be admitted. Uncounted were those who died before they made it.
I knew prisoners who never went to take a shower because they they were afraid that gas would come out of the pipes instead of water (1). And, then, during the weekly inspection by the nurses of the Block, lice were found on them. Then they had to go through a disinfection treatment that killed them.
I also knew prisoners who never went to the infirmary. They were afraid of being used as guinea pigs of some kind in the medical experiments that rumor had said were being conducted by the S.S. or of being given poison injections. Consequently, they held out and held out against all advice, and one evening a Kommando brought their corpses back to the camp .
At Dora, no medical experiments were performed on the prisoners, and poison injections were not administered, at least not to the common prisoners. Generally, in all of the camps, injections of poison were not used against the general run of the prisoners, but they were used on occasion by one of the two H-Fuehrung cliques against the other; the "greens" used this method as an elegant means of getting rid of a "red" whose star they saw was rising in the eyes of the S.S. staff, or the other way around.
A fortunate circumstance allowed me to get into the Revier on April 8, 1944. For fifteen days I had been dragging around the camp with a feverish body that was visibly swelling.
The swelling had begun in the ankles. "Ich auch, Bloder Hund!" my Kapo said, "du bist verrueckt! Geh mal zu Revier!" (You you're crazy! Get on to the Revier!) And, he punctuated this order with several fist blows. It was April 3rd.
At the Revier I was caught in the mob. After waiting for an hour my turn came to go before the doctor.
"You have only 37.8° (99°F), impossible to hospitalize you; three days of Schonung. Rest stretched out in the Block with your legs up, it will go away. If it doesn't go away, come back again."
As for the rest, for three days I was put at Block cleaning by the merciless Stubendienst. At the end of the period I presented myself again in a noticeably worse state.
Of course you will have to be hospitalized, the doctor said to me, but there are only three vacant places and there are at least three hundred of you, some of them worse off than you are. Another three days of Schonung, then come back...
I began to have a presentiment of the crematory. With resignation, I went back to the Block where my first parcel was waiting for me, thanks to which I got the Stubendienst to allow me to stretch out on my bed instead of making me work.
On April 8, when my turn came, a package of Gauloise cigarettes got me among the three or four chosen ones. And what was bad about it was that I saw nothing irregular in the bribe.
Before getting to the bed assigned me, I still had to leave at the entrance my clothes and my shoes, which were naturally stolen while I was there, and to go under an individual shower which a Polish Kalifaktor kept just as cold as he could.
The shower was the last thing that had to be done. It was supposed to be hot, but when it was not a Czech or a Pole, or a German, the KaIifaktor swore to heaven that the thing was out of order. The number of those hospitalized for pneumonia or pleurisy who died of that treatment is incalculable.
I was in the Revier six times: from April 8th to the 27th; from May 5th to August 30th; from September 7th to October 2nd; from October 10th to November 3rd;from November 6th to December 23rd; and from March 10, 1945 to the liberation. At the first, I lost track of Fernand, who was sent in transport to Ellrich were he died. I was sick that fact was quite plain. In fact. I was gravely ill because I still have not fully recovered. but...
Life in the Revier was regulated in detail. We were up at half past five every day. one hour later than the reveille of the rest of the camp. Then came the washing: no matter what the reason was for one's hospitalization, with a fever of 40°C (104°F.) or 37°C (98.5°F), one had to get up, go to the sink, wash, and, on returning, one had to make one's bed. In principle, the Pfleger and the KaIifaktor were supposed to help those who could not do it themselves, but, with rare exceptions, they simply got the patients to do the chores themselves. with the help of blows. With these chores done, the Pfleger took temperatures, while the KaIifaktor washed down the ward with a hose.
At about seven o'clock, the Block doctor went among the beds. looked at the temperature charts, heard the comments ot the Pfleger, the complaints of the sick, said a word to each one , and gave orders for particular treatment or medicines that were to be administered during the day. If he was not Polish, German or Czech, the doctor was usually a good and understanding man. Perhaps, he trusted the Pfleger a little too much, with the latter treating the sick according to their political views, their nationality their profession or trade, or their generosity with the parcels that they received. Nevertheless, the doctor very rarely allowed himself to be influenced in a bad sense. Rather, his decisions were almost always well intended.
Once in a while someone who was very sick would dare to ask him, "Krematorium?" The doctor might answer: "Ja, sicher ... Drei, vier Tage". ("Yes, that's certain ... in three or four days." ) There was a laugh. He then went on without any consideration of the effect that his reply had on the one concerned . After he finished with the last bed, he left the ward; it was all over. He would not be seen again until the next day.
At nine o'clock, the distribution of medicine. It went very fast since the medicine was generally either rest or diet. From time to time, an aspirin or pyramidon was given out very parsimoniously .
At eleven, soup. ThePfleger and the KaIifaktor ate heartily, served themselves at each issuance and gave the remainder to the sick. It wasn't too bad; there was enough left over to give an honest regulation helping to everyone, with even a little supplement for one's friends.
In the afternoon, a nap until four o'clock, after which lots of talk until the temperatures were taken and the lights put out. The conversations were only interrupted when our attention was drawn to a long line of cadavers which, right under our windows, the Totenkommando people were carrying to the crematorium.
Some favored ones, of which I was one, received parcels: they were a little more pilfered than in the camp because they had to go through another pair of hands before they reached the addressee. The tobacco they contained was not replaced; that was deposited at the entrance, but the Pfleger were obliging, and with a good hand-out, a fair share, one could also get one's tobacco and permission to smoke secretly. In the same way, by sharing the rest, the Pfleger could be gotten to hike-up the temperature readings, and one's stay in the Revier was prolonged.
In summer, the afternoon siesta took place in the open air under the beech trees. The Kommandos working inside the camp looked at us with envy, and we grew apprehensive of the time when we would be cured and back among them.
In October 1944, only very rarely were diarrhetics admitted to the Revier. Every night they came to Block 16, and they were stuffed with charcoal and sent back. Sometimes the trouble disappeared, but it also persisted beyond the calculated eight days and was complicated by some kind of a fever, and then they were hospitalized with all sorts of conjectures as to what it was.
They were collected in Block 17, Ward 8, whose Pfleger was the Russian, Ivan, who said that he was a "Docent" on the medical faculty at Karkhov, and whose KaIifaktor was the Pole, Stadjeck. Ward 8 was the hell of the Revier. Every day it supplied two, three or four corpses to the crematorium.
For every diarrhetic admitted, the doctor prescribed, in addition to the charcoal, a supervised diet: very little to eat, if possible nothing at all, and nothing to drink. He advised Ivan to give nothing the first day, to divide a quart of soup among two or three the next, and so on; a return to a normal diet being determined by the disappearance of the sickness. But Ivan considered that he was there as Pfleger to take care of himself and not the sick men: to look after them was work too hard for him, and, in any case, out of place in a concentration camp. He found it simpler to administer the absolute diet, to divide with Stadjeck the rations of the patients, to feed themselves amply, and to do some bartering with the rest. The poor men had nothing to eat. absolutely nothing. On the third day with very rare exceptions, they were in such a state that they could no longer get up, and they had to take care of their needs right where they were, since Stadjeck had other things to do than to bring them the bedpan when they asked for it. From that moment on they were doomed ...
Stadjeck started to inspect very carefully the bed of the unfortunate man to whom he had just refused to bring a basin. All of a sudden he got the smell and went into a rage. He began by giving the offender a good beating, pulled him out of bed, pushed him to the adjoining lavatory, and there gave him a good cold shower since the Revier must always be a clean place and patients who didn't want to wash themselves, well, they had to be washed .... Then shouting out curses, Stadjeck took off the sheet and cover from the bed and changed the straw mattress. Hardly stretched out again the patient would be seized with grips, would ask for the bedpan again which was again refused, would discharge in the bed, and would be taken once more to the cold shower, and so on and on. Usually, twenty-four hours later, the patient was dead.
From morning to night the cries and pleadings of the poor men who were put under the cold shower by the Pole, Stadjeck, could be heard. Two or three times the Kapo or a doctor happened to pass near during this operation. They opened the door; Stadjeck explained, "Er hat sein Bett ganz beschiessen... Dieser Bloder Hund ist so faul... Keine Warme Wasser." (He completely dirtied his bed the stupid dog is so lazy... and there is no warm water.) The Kapo or the doctor would close the door again and go away without saying a word. The explanation was, of course, unassailable: those patients unable to wash themselves had to be washed, and when there was no hot water...
In the Revier one was kept pretty well informed about the way the war was going. German newspapers, in particular the Volkische Beobachter, were delivered, and everyone regularly listened to the radio. Of course there was only official news, but that came rapidly, and that was something.
We also knew what was going on in the other camps; the poor men who had already been through two or three camps before ending up at Dora, recounted the whole day long the experiences they had lived through. That was how we learned about the horrors of Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Oranienburg, etc. And, that was also how we learned that there were very decent camps.
In August, for ten days, the German, Helmuth, was my bed neighbor. He had come straight from Lichtenfeld near Berlin. There were 900 in that camp, and under Wehrmacht guard they carried on the work of clearing the bombed suburbs: twelve hours of work, as everywhere, but three meals a day, and three good meals (soup, meat, vegetables, often wine), no Kapos, and no H-Fuehrung, consequently no beatings. A hard life, but bearable. One day they asked for specialists: since Helmuth was a fitter, he stood up; he was sent to the Dora Tunnel, where they put rock drilling equipment in his hands. Eight days later he was spitting blood.
Before that, I had next to me a prisoner who had spent a month at Wieda, and who had told me that the 1,500 occupants were not too badly off. Naturally, they worked and had little to eat, but they led a kind of family life: on Sunday afternoons, the villagers came to dance at the outskirts of the camp to the music of the prisoners accordions, exchanged friendly small talk with them, and even brought them things to eat. It seems that that did not last; when the S. S. noticed it, Wieda became as hard and as inhuman as Dora.
But, most of those who came from other camps had only hair-raising things to tell, and the accounts of Ellrich were the most horrifying. They were in an incredible state when they arrived among us, and just one look at them was enough to prove that they were inventing nothing... In speaking of bad concentration camps, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz are cited, and that is an injustice: in 1944-1945, it was Ellrich that was the worst of all. There, one was without a billet, not given clothing, not fed, without a Revier. and all the work consisted of digging under the supervision of the scum of the"greens", the "reds", and the S. S.
It was in the Revier that I got acquainted with Jacques Gallier, called Jacky, clown at Medrano. He was as tough as they came. When anyone complained of the hardships of camp life, he invariably answered, "Me, you know, I've done two and a half years at Calvi: I m used to it." And he went on, "Listen, at Calvi, it was just the same, same work, never enough food, only we didn't get hit so much, but there were irons and solitary, so..." (2)
Champale, the sailor from the Black Sea who had done five years at Clairvaux, didn't contradict him, and as for me, who had earlier witnessed the life of the Joyeux in Africa, I wondered if they weren t right.(3)
On December 23rd I left the Revier with the firm intention never to set foot there again. Several things had happened.
In July, Proell gave himself a shot in the arm of potassium cyanide. No one ever found out why, but rumor had it that he had been just about to be arrested and was in danger of being hanged for conspiracy. He was replaced by Heinz, the Communist blacksmith.
Heinz was a brute. One day he caught a fever-case, who had been forbidden any water, in the act of moistening his lips, and he beat him up so hard that he died as a result. He was said to be capable of everything: in the surgery Block, he undertook an appendicitis operation -- without the surgeon in charge, the Czech Cespiva, knowing about it. The story was told that in the first days of the Revier, under the rule of the "green" Kapo, he had given his attentions to an Algerian whose arm had been crushed between two carts in the Tunnel: he disjoined the shoulder, just as a butcher does with a ham, and instead of anesthetizing the victim, he first beat him up with his fists... A year later, the whole Revier still resounded with the wails of the unfortunate fellow.
Lots of other things were told, too. The patients never felt safe with him. As far as I was concerned, one day at the end of September, he came near my bed with Cespiva, and he decided that to cure me, the right kidney would have to be removed. I at once begged one of my comrades, who had another disease, to give a urine specimen for me, and thus got a negative analysis, which allowed me, as I had wanted, to be sent back to the Kommando. Being incapable of doing the work, I presented myself at the Revier a few days later -- just time enough for the storm to have passed -- and I got in easily.
Everything went well until December, at which date Heinz was arrested, in his turn, for conspiracy, like his predecessor, and he was replaced by a Pole. Caught in the same net by the S.S. were Cespiva, a certain number of Pfleger, among them the lawyer Boyer from Marseille, and some others from the camp. We never learned why about this either, but it is probable that it was for having circulated news about the war which they said they got from foreign broadcasts, listed to in secret, and which the S.S. considered subversive.
With the new Kapo, the Revier was overrun with Poles, and new doctors were put at the head of the Blocks, ours was an illiterate Pole. When he arrived, he decided that nephritis was caused by bad teeth, and gave an order to have all the teeth of all the nephritis cases pulled. The dentist was sent for at once and began to carry out the order without knowing what it was about, but showing his astonishment and protesting. In order to save my teeth, I arranged once more to get out of the Revier with a paper which certified me for leichte Arbeit (light labor). An exceptionally favorable set of circumstances occurred which made it possible for me to serve as the Schwung (batman) to the S.S. Oberscharführer who was in charge of the company of guard dogs which patrolled the perimeter of the camp. I found that the camp had changed considerably when I got back.