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1. Index Number : P.III.h No. 441.

2. Title of Document : Experiences in Twelve Concentration Camps.

3. Date : 1938 - 1945.

4. Number of pages : 8.

Language : German.

5. Author or Source : Irmgard Berger.

6. Recorded by :

7. Received from : the Swiss Jewish Committee, 1955.

8. Form and Contents : The personal report of a young girl who was deported from Stettin to Poland. Stating many details she describes the unbelievable sufferings she has witnessed and gone through herself in twelve camps. Before crematoriums were built, people were suffocated in disinfecting stoves (p.2). “Aktion”: the shooting of 29,650 Jewish men and women at Majdanek from 6am to 9pm, on 30 November 1943 (p.4). 100,000 people were marched to Gross-Rosen through the cold of January 1945 for eight days; the way was shown through thousands of corpses lying on both sides on the road; no food; then they continued the journey by train for another week without food; finally, there were fifty dead in each wagon. And for the next fortnight they had to live under circumstances which made the women kill each other (p.5-6). Typhoid fever (p.5-6).

Together with six boys and three girls, the author succeeded to rescue fifty sick internees from being burnt by the Nazis at the approach of the Americans. Three cyclists pretending to belong to the American Red Cross, followed by others with machine guns (p.7-8); definitive escape. youth transport to Switzerland.

9. References : Radom; Schydlowce, cemetery, transport of 33,800 to Treblinka, Szkollna (p.1), Majdanek (p.1, 4) Plaszow (p.2-3), Wilhelmsburg, (p.3), Auschwitz (p.3-6), Birkenau (p.3, 5), Oranienburg, (p.5), Ravensbrück (p.5-6), Gross-Rosen (p.5), Taucha near Leipzig (p.6-7). Bombed at Magdeburg. Sachsenhausen (p.1).

SS: Dr. Böttcher, Polizeiführer; Hans Schippers, Untersturmführer; Blum, Weinreich, Hauptsturmführer; Kapke, Exekutionsführer (p.1); Untersturmführer Tuman (p.2, 4-5); Hauptsturmführer Gett used to have groups of twenty men strangled in the presence of thousands of internees (p.3); Untersturmführer Müller was in the habit to set his dog on persons who were not working quickly enough (p.3).

Women lacerated by dogs (p.4); Boys from Slovakia torn to pieces by dogs at a performance attended by the Slovakian girls who nearly all went mad and were sent to the crematorium; similar shows were taking place daily (p.4). ‘Himmlers Musterlager’ at Auschwitz, leader Obersturmführer Haessler (p.5).

Physicians: Tilo, Mengele (p.3-5); Obersturmführer Dr. Blanke (p.1-3).

SS Aufseherinnen: Luise Danz (p.2, 6), Erna Ehlert, Alice Orlowska, Meier, Ruth Haselow (p.2, 5), Weber (p.2).

SS Oberaufseherinnen: Elfriede Schröder who killed 5000 children (p.1-3); Zarecka (p.5).

Medical experiments (p.4). Capoes (p.2, 4). Volksstuhm (p.7). Malchow (p.6), camp in Mecklenburg.

Experiences in Twelve Concentration Camps

I, Irmgard Berger, born on 11.09.1927 in Stettin, have experienced the following: We, my mother and 5 children, were deported from Germany to Poland in 1938, my father was forcibly detained in Germany and on 09.09. 1939 he was taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We lived in groups, homeless until 1940, then we were sent to the forced labour camp in Radom, that was under the leadership of SS- and Polizeifuehrer Dr. Boettcher. His deputy was Untersturmfuehrer Hans Schippers. We worked in a weapons factory and in workshops, and the people in charge of the work were Haupsturmfuehrer Blum and Weinreich. The Exekutionsfuehrer, who arranged the shootings with the Ukranians, was called Kapke. Boettcher arranged an Aktion during Purim, at which everyone who was interested in the trip to Palestine was to come forward. Matters were dealt with as if they really were preparing for a trip abroad, but on the very day when they were due to depart, two cars with Ukrainians under the leadership of Untersturmfuehrer Kapke stood ready behind the camp, and they drove the cars containing the “travellers en route to Palestine” to the cemetery in Schydlowce, where 150 people had to dig their own graves, were stripped naked, and were then shot dead. My girl friend, who was actually there, reported this to me, and she was fortunate enough to be able to save herself. There was an expulsion in Radom on 13th January 1942, a so-called deportation. Of 35,000 Jews 1,200 were selected and the rest were sent to Treblinka. This was a camp that had been in existence since 1942 and where thousands of people were killed on a daily basis. As far as I know, people were taken there in wagons, the floor of the wagon opened up, the people fell into ditches and there they were gassed and burnt. I saw with my own eyes how during this deportation small children were grabbed by the legs and flung head first against the wall, so that their skulls shattered and their brains gushed out. Women who were expecting, had their stomachs slit open with swords. Those who were somewhat frail or sick were pushed to the ground and immediately shot dead. Families were forcibly torn apart. This all happened under the leadership of Boettcher, Blum and Weinreich.

Those who were left over after the deportation were taken to a concentration camp on the Szkollna. Selections took place there time and time again. Children, old people, frail people were selected based on their previous ordeals, and they were shot and killed.

On 3rd of March 1942 we were transported to Maidanek - Lublin, on the pretence that we were being taken to a better camp. Meanwhile my elder brother had emigrated, in 1940 he had managed to travel to Berlin and to emigrate to America. We were separated from my brothers in Maidanek, my sister, my mother and I remained together.

When we reached Maidanek, we had to undress fully in front of Obersturmfuehrer Dr. Blanke, senior doctor in Maidanek, and the Oberaufseherin Elfriede Schroeder (the latter certainly had the deaths of around 5,000

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children on her hands), various valuables were taken from us, we were inspected from top to toe, in case we had any hidden valuables. Any rings on fingers, which could not be pulled off, were removed with shears. If anyone had earrings, then the earlobe was simply cut off, it made no difference at all. We were then bundled into a bathing area, where there was hardly enough water to make us wet, then we were bundled out into a cold room, where we had to wait for hours on end until each of us received a torn and flea-ridden shirt that was completely the wrong size, some clothes and heavy clogs. It all happened terribly quickly. If anyone was unable to get dressed in a hurry they were beaten, and then we were bundled in front of the orderly room, where we had to wait all day long, until we had been registered. We each received our own completed records and a death sentence to sign. On arrival at the camp we were separated from the men from the transport and we had no opportunity to speak to them ever again. If we happened to meet the men on the way to work, we were not allowed to look at them, otherwise we would be beaten. Some female supervisors battered the women obsessively, these were Luise Danz, Erna Ehlert, Alice Orlowska, Meier, Ruth Haselow and Mrs Weber. We also had prisoner-capos, women, who were previous society misfits and who were the most despicable people imaginable. The death angel of Maidanek, the murderer of 1942, was called Obersturmfuehrer Tuman. Whenever he crossed the street with his dog, you knew, that he, himself, was going to shoot and kill some victims that same day. Up until 1943 people were suffocated in disinfection ovens, after that crematoriums were built. Various small children were escorted to the ovens by Oberaufseherin Schroeder herself, with promises of chocolate. The men, principally the Jewish men, had a terrible time. German career criminals, who were mainly dressed as hangman-capos in red hangman outfits, took charge of the internal administration of the male camps. Whenever a detachment (whether male or female) went out to work, they received orders to bring back only 100 of the 300. The capos had to kill these people with their bare hands (they weren’t given any guns for this purpose), and the survivors were made to drag the dead all the way back after their hard labour. The capos carried out their executions with glee. The SS men and women roared with laughter, as the bone-weary people towed the corpses back.

At the start of 1943, those people who were deemed to be strong, were transported to Plaszow near Cracow. This was a camp where nearly all the women worked in the stone quarry and where the standards of hygiene were particularly atrocious. Dr. Blanke and Elfriede Schroeder also came to Plasznow together with their staff, and carried on with the same rigmarole as they had in Maidanek. In June, at the height of summer, we were deprived

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of water for 4 days. People, who were working in the stone quarry under the hot sun, had to swelter without water. I was made to work in a brickyard and had to carry out heavy duties on three machines all at the same time, without any eye protection or anything similar, and I had to work 12 hours a day. Hauptsturmfuehrer Gett was the camp commandant, who derived particular pleasure from frequently having 20 men strangled, and thousands of prisoners were made to watch this spectacle. It was impossible to stay alive for more than 3 months with the provisions they gave us there. The work shift leader was Untersturmfuehrer Mueller. He had the habit of walking between the workers with his large dog, and letting the dog molest anybody who was slacking, and in so doing these people were mauled and lacerated. I witnessed this happening. Camp commandant Gett and his staff lived in a splendid palace, which Jews had built for him. They allowed Jews to cook their meals and wait upon them, whilst at the same time allowing others to be trampled by horses or to be killed with revolvers. In August we were then transported from there and taken to a camp in Wilhemsburg, which had been rebuilt, and where 700 women and 1,500 men were made to work in salt mines. The work the women had to do was terrible and not one woman was able to cope with it. The SS Untersturmfuehrers, who supervised the work, laid explosives in these mines, i.e. at the work sites, they then hounded the unsuspecting girls and women into them and thereby killed a very large number of them on a daily basis, and then they boasted about their heroic exploits in the evenings. We were sent to Plaszow again 3 months later, where we worked in a laundry and then, after a short period of time, we were sent to Auschwitz. On arriving in Auschwitz, as a result of a three year spell in concentration camps, we were given the privilege of being the first to be selected for a bath. We were brought into the sauna in order to bathe, and there we had to stand naked for 12 hours in front of men, then Dr. Mengele and Dr. Tilo awaited us, who with the greatest cruelty imaginable, sent people to die with a point of the finger. Most people went to the gas chamber. And the 500 survivors of the 1,300 who arrived, were squashed together like animals, naked, and herded into the so-called hairdressing salon, where various hairs on the head and body were cut off. The fortunate ones who survived, hairless and injured from the beatings, went into a hall, where they were wetted with a little vinegar, herded out again and then handed over to the female supervisors, who looked terrifying, were drunk, and acted in a totally arbitrary manner. On leaving the building they were then marched into the camp wearing their most ridiculous clothing, and at the crematorium they encountered those people who had been selected by the doctor, still standing and waiting, looking at us through their deeply unhappy eyes.

We arrived at the Birkenau B2B camp. Words cannot describe the conditions in this camp. 17 women slept on a plank bed just 2m long. The hunger was indescribable. Whoever went to see doctor or signed in sick, was certain to die. Every day

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Dr. Mengele and Dr. Tilo commenced their selections afresh, and every day new victims were selected. On one day there was a particularly horrendous selection. All the women were pushed in front of the blocks, naked (the terrain was very marshy and a source of malaria), the women’s feet were bound together by the capos, then Dr. Tilo and Dr. Mengele came and ordered them to run. Because this was an impossible thing to do, most of the women couldn’t do as they had been ordered, and so they were torn apart by the Zugfuehrers’ dogs. I lost 3 of my best female friends in this way. It all resembled a play from the time of Nero. On another occasion they made a selection of adolescent boys, who had come to Auschwitz in 1942, from Slovakia, mostly boys between 18 and 22 years of age. The boys were led into a barrack building, where a play was due to be put on. The girls, who also arrived on this transport, were invited to this prologue and they had to sit there and watch, as the boys were gradually led in and torn apart by fierce starved dogs. The girls were often relatives of these unfortunates. They nearly all went mad, were loaded onto muck lorries and taken into the crematorium. This and similar types of theatre was played out in Auschwitz-Birkenau on a daily basis. At that time there was a well-known institution in Auschwitz, where, similarly under the leadership of Dr. Mengele and Trilo, young German doctors used to practice medicine on living human beings. Every day prisoners, who looked as if they were just about still alive, were hauled to that place and there they had their blood taken, a half a litre at a time. This procedure was carried out on myself twice. Others were injected with malaria or typhus. After these injections these illnesses took hold in such a virulent manner, that it was impossible to offer up any resistance. I managed twice, with a lot of effort, to escape from such a fate. However, it wasn’t long before the malaria took hold and we, my mother, my sister and me, were brought back to Maidanek as malaria sufferers at the start of 1944. When we arrived we met just 340 Jewish women from the whole Maidanek community. These were the 350 survivors from the Aktion of 3rd November 1943. On that day 30,000 Jewish men and women had been shot and killed from 6 in the morning until 9 in the evening. The executions were led by Untersturmfuehrer Tuman and took place in the following manner: people marched naked onto the so-called sixth field, the crematorium field, and each of them was provided with just one shot, it didn’t matter whether the shot was fatal or just wounding, they fell into the ditches which Jews had dug earlier. According to statements from the crematorium workers many of these people were still alive 3 days later and they were pulled alive from under the earth and set alight. I heard about this from a young woman, who was present at this Aktion and who was made to watch the death of her husband, without being able to accompany him. The 350 women and 150 men, who were left over after the Aktion, who were all the healthiest and strongest of the many thousands, were provided with an A, which

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stood for Aktionsjuden, and they were sent to the crematorium in Auschwitz at the earliest opportunity, because they had refused to die in the crematorium in Maidanek after what they had experienced. The Maidanek camp was disbanded in October 1944 because the Russians were approaching and we were sent back to Auschwitz. When we arrived back in Birkenau we experienced the same procedure as before, and any short hair which had grown back was once again cut off. This time, however, Mengele did not spare us and he selected my sister as one of those to go into the gas chamber. I managed to get hold of a Russian prisoner of war outfit, to wrap my sister up in a bundle of clothes and so get her away from the crematorium. It was a moment’s good fortune, one second later and it would have been impossible to get my sister out of the crematorium.

When we got to Birkenau, we were selected for a work group for forced labour. I enrolled as a female printer, although I had no idea what the work entailed, and I managed, after being whipped by Oberaufseherin Zarecka, to take my mother and my sister with me. We were supposed to go to Auschwitz to Himmler’s Musterlager (model camp). Obersturmfuehrer Hessler was the leader of this model camp. On the way into Auschwitz model camp we were led through the the so-called FKL (Frauenkonzentrationslager, lit. womens concentration camp), meanwhile we were selected a further 3 times by Dr. Mengele. We remained in Auschwitz until the rapid approach of the Russian Front in January 1945. All of a sudden the SS began to burn various files, and one evening we were ordered to “decamp” and 100,000 human beings left the Auschwitz KZ with all its internees. We always walked in groups and the SS drove us on throughout the night at such a pace that it was impossible to keep up. January cold, snow, attacking aircraft, etc. Anyone who sat down for a minute was immediately shot and killed. The thousands of dead who lay alongside the road showed us the way. We laid down for 8 days. Frozen to the bone and suffering from various illnesses we eventually reached Gross Rosen. Once there we were still not fed in spite of having gone for 8 days without food, placed in open cattle trucks (150 people to a truck) and taken via Oranienburg, where the men were offloaded, to the female concentration camp at Ravensbrück. On arrival we found 50 dead in each truck. However, they had fared better than those who had now arrived in Ravensbrück. Corpses are better looking than the women, who walked about in Ravensbrück. With their heads shaven, in large wooden clogs, famished and covered in spots, in putrid-grey clothes in the icy January cold, they walked in the mud that came up to their knees, and carried heavy stones on their shoulders. They were followed around by female supervisors, amongst them was that Haserlow, the one with the mocking laugh, and she goaded them on with a dog whip. On arrival, however, we were led into a barrack building with other transports from Auschwitz, a barrack building which normally had space for 100 people,

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and 1,500 women were stuffed into this confined space. We had gone for 8 days without water and food, we had eaten only snow in the wagons, and when it did fall, almost all of us got typhoid from the dirty snow, however we were to starve for a further 7 days. There are no words to describe how cramped it was, and the supervisors just stood there and shook with laughter whenever a woman beat another one to death in order to find just a bit of space where she could lay her head. It was impossible to get out of the barrack building because that was tantamount to being beaten to death by your co-habitants. This lasted 14 days. We were led back into the main Ravensbrück camp and after a further 5 days, and after a further selection by the Untersturmfuehrer, we were loaded into wagons and transported away. We breathed a sigh of relief, but not for long. We were taken to Malchow (Mecklenburg). Here there were already a further 1,000 women from Auschwitz, who worked in underground powder factories and who looked like corpses. On arrival, to our horror, we encountered Mrs Aufsehrin Lise Danz who was there as a female supervisor. We knew then that our fate was sealed. This murderer withheld all the food from us and let us starve, albeit we weren’t working. The daily death toll on the parade ground, where, depending on the mood of Mrs Danz we would spend 4 or 5 hours, was 50 women on average. Always observant, she supervised the rows on the parade ground and if she saw a woman who didn’t look presentable, she would pull this person towards her and beat her until she died. Words cannot describe the conditions in Malchow. Death by starvation is the worst type of death, typhoid was rife amongst the people. We slept in a small barrack room, which had previously been used as a horse stable, on the floor with no blankets, which was the ideal breeding ground for epidemics. That lasted 3 months. The death rate and the epidemics became too great, and because the Front was already approaching too close to send the people to the crematorium, Mrs Danz sent 2,000 women to Taucha near Leipzig in the belief that they would be bombarded to death in the wagons. However, luck was on our side and we travelled for 2 days and 2 nights without being caught out by a single bomb. We reached Magdeburg right in the middle of a severe bombing raid on the station itself. Our locomotive was bombed, several SS men were wounded, and yet none of us fell victim to the bombing. Consequently we arrived safe and sound, much to the annoyance of Miss Danz. We were divided into two groups at this point, one part went to Leipzig-Hassag and the other one to Taucha-Hassage, we were in Taucha. The camp was awful however; compared to our previous camp in Malchow this hell seemed like paradise. Every night we had to lie in front of the barracks because of air raid warnings, guarded by the SS, who were scared that we would spy on them. Then the final evacuations started. The camp was disbanded and everything had to be taken further on foot, in no particular direction, in order, as the Germans used to say,

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not to be murdered by the Americans or the Russians. We knew that all this walking meant we were going to die, because the SS took those, who had not died of hunger or frozen to death on route, to a particular place where they were shot down. I undertook, that if I were to die, then it would be in the camp, and that I would no longer carry on walking. We hid in a barrack building and lay there for 3 days. When we looked out with our hearts thumping, only the gravely ill remained in the camp, i.e. those who were unfit for transportation, the SS had partly retreated and the Volkssturm had taken over the camp. Words cannot describe how overjoyed we were from that minute onwards. We believed, and yet we could not believe, that we had been liberated. This was on 15th April. The half-dead started to recuperate, and we eagerly anticipated the Americans, who we could hear firing in the distance. We hoisted flags on top of the SS-Fuehrers’ barracks, flags sewn together from various rags and representing all the nationalities of the 100 people left behind in the camp, and we awaited the American troops with flowers in our hands. However our liberation was not to be that straightforward. On 18th April, three days after the SS had withdrawn, two men came towards us as we were sitting down to lunch, they had been severely burned, and no sooner had they arrived than they fell unconscious. The camp doctor, a Jewish Czech, examined them more closely, and we noticed how these men had burned feet, and that they had fallen unconscious because of the pain. Gasping desperately they told us: Save yourselves from the fires. At that very moment we saw how the Volkssturm men locked up the barracks containing the sick people, chased the others into the barracks, closed the window shutters and began to set fire to the barrack buildings. We were the only 10 healthy people in the camp. Using all our strength we opened the barrack buildings and shouted to people to jump if they could. 6 healthy boys and 4 healthy girls ran from one barrack building to another and saved as many as they could, into the nearby garden, where we covered the sick with grass and flowers, so that no one could know what was there. We managed to save just 50 people, because the SS noticed what we were up to. We immediately started to run away on our own, in order to find cover, in different directions, presuming that the Americans must be somewhere around. We ran approximately 5 kilometres in the awful uncertainty that we didn’t know what would happen to those we had left behind, and in the end we came to a wood, where we thought we could take a breather. However, 3 cyclists, who had red crosses on their arms, came past at that very moment, and straight-faced, they introduced themselves as representatives of the American Red Cross. They asked us to wait a few minutes so that they could bring us food and bandages. Most of us believed this charade. However, some of us used all the strength in our bodies to convince them that this was just another SS hoax. Our words turned out to be true. A few minutes later we saw 10 cyclists with machine guns on their shoulders, who were laughing wildly and getting closer to the wood. We believed

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the game was finally up, yet at the very last moment, we caught sight of a small stream, which flowed nearby. We threw stones and twigs into the stream to build a bridge, we stood with the water coming up to our thighs, and carried across the sick and the frail. We managed to bring everyone across, before the fiends could get to us. We ran as fast as our legs could carry us, and after running for 20 minutes we saw something that was camouflaged, and a ditch in front of us. Because we didn’t care anymore, and because we could no longer summon the energy to run any further, we fell into the ditch, regardless of what might be in it. Our watchword was: either dead or alive. However, we were both astonished and glad at the same time, when we stumbled into the ditch and saw a shocked American soldier there. We were so glad that we didn’t know what to do, we embraced him and that was when we became aware of what was actually happening. The Americans, who were only there as an advance platoon, immediately took us to the village of Doenitz, where we spent the night in a barn, and the following morning we were handed over to some German farmers, who were under orders to give us the run of their houses and homes. But our energy levels were at such a low ebb that we were unable to bear anything other than what we had been used to. A large number of us died by eating too quickly or by eating too much fat, and with that the tragedy just carried on. However, when we arrived in Poenitz, the Czech doctor arranged for several Americans to drive a Red Cross truck to the place where we had hidden the sick in the greenery, and to collect them from there. A German villa was immediately converted into a hospital and American doctors cared for the half-dead people. During the return journey we caught sight of a few people in the wood. We assumed that they were the SS-men who were still looking for us because the whole thing was only a matter of 20 minutes. Once the sick were safe, some of us trekked into the wood with the Americans and there we found several SS-men, who lay hidden, intending to make a foray into the village and thus surprise the Americans from the rear. After we had spent several weeks in Poenitz recovering, we were brought to a hotel in Leipzig for security reasons, where there were already various women who had been rescued from the camps. It was our intention to hunt down our murderers. A short time later we drove to Buchenwald, in order to go from there to Switzerland aboard a youth transport.

I still miss my father Fritz Berger to this day, born 10.10.1889 in Stanislau, and my brother Joachim Berger, born 22.10.1933 in Stettin.

I can claim, with a clear conscience, that what I have described here represents just a very small part of the truly indescribable suffering we endured in 12 different concentration camps.

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