An Eye-Witness Testimony

The colourful written statement by a Polish prisoner who surrendered to the Allies in France in July 1944, reporting what he claimed to have witnessed in Sachsenhausen and other concentration camps, and the goings-on at Auschwitz that he claimed to have heard about.

Source: CSDIC (UK) Report SIR 727 [National Archives], August 11, 1944

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... Lt .... who escaped into Allied lines 19 Jul 44.



1. PW is a friendly Polish officer who escaped from the Concentration Camp SACHSENHAUSEN - ORANIENBURG on 14 Jul 44. During his confinement PW had opportunity to see at first hand, and to hear reports of the atrocities committed by Gestapo and SS personnel. He has written an account of those events as translated below.



2. From the time of my capture when crossing the Yugoslav border on the 25 Feb 40 I have been constantly in the hands of both Gestapo and its adjunct the SS. The comparatively long time which I spent in GERMANY gave me an opportunity of knowing the people and their customs. Experiences similar to mine were undergone by my compatriots, and by all foreigners who came into direct touch with the Germans and their new culture.


3. When I arrived at the Concentration Camp in Apr 1940, it numbered about 10,000 internees. Great preparations were in progress for the reception of 4,000 Poles. At the time there were about 1,000 Jews, over 1,500 Czechs, (among them 1,000 students) and approximately 500 Poles; the rest were Germans. Among the Germans one had to distinguish between political internees (usually Communists and social Democrats numbering about 3,000, and the so-called professional criminals (BVs -- Berufsverbrecher) and asocial elements, totalling 4,000. The last-named group became the closest collaborators of the SS personnel.


4. The Jews were treated worst of all until the large transports of Poles began to arrive, whereupon attention was directed to them. This does not mean that the Jews were given better treatment, but rather that they were quietly allowed to die off, and sometimes not even quietly. The internees lived from day to day in expectation of death by torture and in mortal terror of the SS people as well as of the criminal elements among the internees. Every day people walked into the charged wire surrounding the camp in order to commit suicide. These were usually people who had suffered a nervous collapse as a result of terror, beatings and constant torture. The lord of life and death, was the Commandant LORENZ; as high priest, there was the Work Leader SORGE (der eiserne Gustav, see S.I.R. 549 para 15) whose helpers and aides were constantly competing with each other in shameful and murderous deeds. During a two year reign of terror more than 12,000 people died. This is a considerable number when one remembers that no more than 50 SS criminals devoted themselves intensively to this task.


5. The most drastic measures were seen in the Penal Coy, members of which lived completely isolated from the others in two barracks. They were marked for death and no one dared to help them in any way for fear of exposing himself to the same treatment. At the beginning, the Penal Coy did not have to work so that they might be more continually subject to torture. They were turned outdoors from six in the morning until twelve when they were given 15 minutes for lunch and then again until six in the evening. This treatment was used only when they were not being tortured. They stood there for days on end in summer and winter no matter what the weather and were constantly a target for the sadistic SS men. They were often subjected to beatings and kickings from six in the morning until eleven at night without food and drink. Whoever reported sick was beaten to death. Five or more dead bodies were daily carried out of the Penal Coy. The others waited for their turn with an indifferent resignation.

The worst thing was the so-called "sport". SS men armed with sticks took part in these tortures. The internees were forced to run, hop or roll in the mud and were constantly kicked, beaten or prodded with sticks, very often in the face. In this way many of the people received broken bones and ruined internal organs and were made cripples before they died. Especially torturous was the rolling on the wound. To make it more so, the following treatment was applied: Throughout the day the internees received nothing to eat. In the evening they got all their rations at once, and were forced to devour them quickly to be ready at a time which had purposely been arranged early. Then their "sport" started. Because of the constant rolling about they were forced to vomit up what they had eaten and then compelled to continue rolling about in their own vomit to the great delight of the onlooking SS.


7. Frequently the SS would walk along a group of lined up internees and select a few at random. To each of these they would say, "I don't wish to see you here tomorrow". This was interpreted to mean that the selected one should hang himself. Usually he did, because he knew that otherwise he would be hounded into it. Frequently the internees would be placed under showers for hours on end until they collapsed. They were then turned out into the open air where they usually died of exposure. The cooperative criminals never missed an opportunity of helping along these tortures. The shower method of killing was especially favoured in winter time, since success was assured.


8. People who resisted steadfastly these attempts to force them to commit suicide were helped along in the following manner. The internee was stretched out on the floor and held tightly; the nose was pinched shut, a rubber hose forced into his mouth: the water was turned on, and he was drowned in a few moments. Those that were not murdered in this fashion usually died of illness.


9. The SS people who were largely responsible for this were Oberscharführer BOGDALA, FICKERT, SEIFERT who were cell-leaders in the Penal Coy from 1940 to 1942. The criminal internees who helped in these murders have all since died at the hands of the SS.


10 . Beginning of May 1940, 4,000 Poles were delivered and completely absorbed the attention of the sadistic horde. "The murderers of Bromberg have arrived", was the cry. A sort of Penal Coy for the whole 4,000 was instituted where the revengeful sadists could satisfy their passions. Among the 4,000 were about 200 youths aged between 15 and 18 but all were tortured and beaten without regard for age or condition of health. The 200 priests who were among them were not treated any differently. Day after day the gruesome dance of death was initiated and day after day the criminal internees and the SS had their pleasures. This so-called re-education lasted three months and cost the lives of about 600. In this re-education, Oberscharführer SCHUBERT distinguished himself particularly. He killed the well known Polish General ROJA whom he always referred to as "Swine General". Oberscharfü SORGE, NOWACKI and Unterstürmfü CAMPE were not far behind in this ghastly competition.

11 . After three months the Poles were sent out to work, which meant a new method of torture. At work everything was done at the double. Pace setters; usually Germans, saw to it that this was done satisfactorily. The internees who, on account of insufficient food and bad treatment were almost skeletons presented a sorry picture. Most of the internees constantly suffered a gnawing hunger; the hard work and treatment contributed much to this. In their weakened condition they were forced to run and work. The German pace setters as faithful slaves of the SS, were constantly shouting at them and beating them, for which they received preferential treatment. They as well as the SS cell-leaders were allowed to rob their victims:


12. Frequently, when we marched to work, we were stoned by children. Civilian workers and the general populace who looked on never gave the least sign of sympathy or compassion. On the contrary, they imitated our tortures. Now conditions have changed and one smiles at the internees because one has grown soft and attempts to show a different face. For that they needed to be subjected to four years of war and one year of Allied bombardment. It would be too expensive if one had to teach all people gentleness and culture in such a manner.

WINTER 1940 TO 1941

13. The winter of 1940 and 1941 approached slowly. The mortality curve rose steadily and it was suddenly realized that plagues might arise and even in SS circles they became more careful. It was evident that something had to be done in order not to endanger their own skins. The internees began to be hopeful. Only a few of the habitual criminals were downcast upon losing their position as hangmen. But all hopes for permanent improvement were shattered. The Camp Commandant saw fit to provide chlorine and other disinfectants and the danger passed. In spite of this over 2,000 people died in those five winter months of hunger, exposure and disease.

NOVEMBER 9, 1940

14. The Munich Putsch of 1926 [sic] was celebrated. In honour of the occasion 300 Poles were sacrificed. In ORANIENBURG itself Poles were shot.

JUNE 1940

15. The joy of the Germans knew no bounds at the defeat of FRANCE. In order to evidence this properly, the internees were beaten and tortured more than ever They should have cause to mark the news too. New supplies, particularly of Poles, rapidly filled up the vacant places. After the victory in FRANCE many of the SS people were transferred there to carry on their labours.


16. In Oct 41 a few barracks were isolated from the others and hung with a large sign which read: "Russian Prisoners of War - Work Camp".' At the end of Oct the Russians arrived. They were starved, filthy, in tatters and. scarcely able, to walk, and were treated end driven like animals.


17. Until the winter of 1940, dead internees had always been transported to BERLIN in trucks and cremated there, Since, however, the number of dead had risen so considerably, a crematorium was built in the camp, and operated day and night, scarcely able to keep up with the number of dead.


18. Accordingly, in preparation for the so-called Russische Genickschussaffaire four field crematoriums were installed, which were fired with crude oil. In addition a double walled wooden shed was erected. The shooting took place in the following manner: the first Russians to arrive were given nothing to eat, with the explanation that they would be transported to a different camp by car in the evening, where they might bathe, get new uniforms and linen, and a great deal to eat. One can imagine the joy of the poor fellows when they were loaded into trucks to go to the "other camp". The SS people stood by with whips and forced them to hurry. Every half-hour, 50 people were driven off. On the first night, the executions lasted throughout the night, and all the cell-leaders took part in it: The Russians were forced to strip out in the open. At fixed intervals they went into the wooden shed. They first came into a white-washed room where 2 SS personnel in doctors' smocks wrote down their personalia. They then passed through two empty rooms, and stepped into a brightly lighted room where the "council" sat in white robes. The Russian was placed against the wall where his height was to be measured. Through a hole which was then opened he was shot through the back of the neck. The bullets entered the opposite wall which had been specially built for this purpose. The executed person fell forward on to his face and was immediately dragged out through the door into the crematorium. Here they were thrown into a large heap to await cremation. Not all were dead, but that did not seem to make any difference. At the place of execution, gratings were built through which the blood flowed into a drain. in this manner, over 4,000 Russian prisoners were executed in the winter of 1941-42.

19. In order to save rations, the Russians were not fed, even when they had to wait two or more days for their turn. Hundreds died of hunger, others of the constantly growing typhus epidemic .

In Dec 41, I myself saw two corpses which evidenced cannibalism. After these cases occurred, the Russians received something to eat. The Russians who had died of hunger and sickness were loaded on trucks like wood, and driven out to the crematorium. Despite the fact that these were kept burning night and day, they were unable to keep up with the growing supply and the whole camp and surroundings stank of burnt bodies. .

20. As a result in the winter of 41/42 a typhus epidemic broke out. The prisoners and the German soldiers brought back the sickness from RUSSIA and large typhus epidemics were reported from many German cities. All available means were employed to check the spread of the disease, and a six-weeks' quarantine was imposed on the camp.


21. In March to May 42 there were a great many more executions. During this period many German officers and important personages were shot, probably those responsible for the unhappy outcome of the winter campaign in RUSSIA. In Apr, 120 Dutch officers were shot. The Germans were filled with admiration for their courageous demeanour during the execution.

About March 42, 300 Jewish internees were shot. At that tine, they were clearing all the Jews out of the concentration camp SACHSENHAUSEN, and those who were pronounced too weak to travel were simply shot. Many of them were fetched out of hospital, even when they were on their death beds. By May 42, there were not any Jews left in the CAMP. Every corpse was carefully examined to see whether. he might have any gold teeth. If such was the case they were removed and the gold was given to the Camp Leaders .


22. Frequently cripples and incurables as well as those who had been declared unfit for work were gathered into S-Kommandos. These people were sent out of the camp and treated exactly as most mental defectives in GERMANY are treated. They were liquidated by means of injections, and their clothes returned to the camp to serve as mute testimony to their death. I can remember five such Kommandos totalling in all 5,000 men.


23. Several times, experiments with new injections were conducted in the camp, in which German doctors tested out new serums, using the internees as guinea-pigs. I myself was injected twice, with varying effect. In several cases the inoculation sores festered for a considerable time. In Aug 42 an injection experiment was tried on 5 Russian Prisoners of War, who all died within half an hour. At present there are still 12 Jews in the hospital in the camp, ages ranging from 12 to 19 years, who had been brought from OSWIEMCIN to be used in various experiments. Their parents and relatives are dead, either murdered in the concentration camps or in the burning of the Ghetto of WARSAW in Dec 42.


24. In Oct 42, two Poles were hanged because an habitual criminal accused them of sabotage. The two Poles were a teacher and an official who had worked in the DAW (Deutsche Ausrüstungs Werkstatt); a Polish judge was forced to carry out the hanging. At the execution of this punishment, which was to act as a deterrent to the internees, we were all forced to be present as witnesses. In the years 40-41-42, all Poles who had had relations with German women were hanged at public gatherings to which the village inhabitants were invited.

Two weeks after the hanging of the two Poles mentioned above, still in October 42, six Russian Prisoners of War were also hanged, presumably for the same reason, in the presence of all the internees. The internees came to refer to these occasions as "German cultural evenings" .


25. In Jun 42, a case which may be considered typical took place before the eyes of all the internees. A Ukrainian who was over 40 years of age had been accused of sabotage and was to be publicly hanged. He was accused of having cut 20 haversacks to ribbons, but it could not be proved. In order to make the punishment more impressive, he was to receive 50 lashes before being executed. During the carrying out of this sentence, one of the Dutch internees from Cell-block No 9 shouted "Gemeinheit" quite loudly. He was immediately hauled out of the ranks, and threatened with the same punishment. He explained to the Camp Leader KOLB that something so beastly was possible only in GERMANY, and added "I know you too well to expect anything else from Germans". He was thoroughly beaten first and then put in the Penal Coy. He was first declared insane, and will probably also be hanged.


Towards the end of 1942, the proscription of beatings f or SS people and for German internees was issued. The order, which was issued by Reichsführer-SS HIMMLER, and which had to be subscribed to by every SS leader, read in part: "The internee is to be looked upon as the property of the Führer and the State, and to be treated accordingly. For any offences against commands and regulations he will be personally punished most severely by the Führer" and so forth. We assumed the order was issued because of the manpower shortage. GERMANY suddenly needed workers, and became sparing of the internees' lives.

27. From that time on, the conditions, and especially the food of the internees began to improve gradually. Great progress in this direction was made by the permission issued in Dec 42 for receiving packages. Although the internees had to work harder and longer hours, their existence was made more tolerable. German internees began to talk about comradeship, just as the German people now are beginning to talk about democracy. The packages were the cause for this change of heart within the camp, but the terror has remained unchanged to this day, and hangs over the heads of the internees like a sword of Damocles.


28. At OSWIECIN near CRACOW, there is a well known extermination camp for Poles and Jews. 10 crematoriums and 4 lethal chambers operate continuously, and things have been arranged an a mass-production basis. A railway spur leads direct from the camp to the gas chambers, and special trains are run for Jews. The women and children are separated from the men upon a pretext of delousing and bathing, and are taken straight into the gas chamber. Gas chambers are arranged like shower rooms, with the difference that the deadly gas comes from the shower-head. As soon as the operation is complete, large ventilators are put into notion, the dead are carried out on the other side to the crematorium, and a new batch is ready for the "bath", The process is quite rapid, since with practice one has been able to achieve perfection.


29. When the Jews leave their homes, they are told that they are being resettled so that they will be sure to bring along all transportable valuables, thus making it easy for the German SS to pillage them. The shoes and clothes of the murdered persons were sent to various concentration camps to be investigated. Money, gold and precious stones were found, and these furnished the supply for the illegal transactions and corruption among the SS people. (See S.I.R. 692).


30. In the same manner, thousands of Poles were murdered in OSWIENCIN under the pretext of reprisals. Whenever anything distasteful happened in the General Government, innocent people were put into the gas chamber or shot in large numbers.

A large camp for women has been opened in RAISKO to murder Polish women and girls more conveniently. In both camps together, there are more than 50,000 people, among them 20,000 Polish women. RAISKO and OSWIENCIN are among the most terrible concentration camps under German control. The 20,000 Polish women live in unbelievably bad sanitary conditions, and must frequently work harder than the men. The treatment on the part of sadistic German women is easily imaginable. Incidence of disease and mortality in these two camps is very high. That I have experienced and described here of my life in ORANIENBURG would appear as child's play to what takes place in these two camps.

I have described these events very superficially. There are too many crimes to recount them in detail, and they are too gruesome to be described exactly. The criminals who took part in these events are too numerous, and I was able to remember only the names of those who were the worst and bloodiest. After the war one will certainly be able to fill libraries with documentation of these offences .

The following names of SS criminals should be added to those given in the text, and to those included in S.I.R. 692.

Sturmbannführer GRÜNEWALD
Hauptsturmführer SUREN
Untersturmführer SORGE
Hauptsturmführer KILINGER
Untersturmführer GENSIO
Hauptscharführer BOHM
Untersturmführer BRUIN
Unterscharführer LEHMANN


11 Aug 44.


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