12. With the Political Commissar

    It was at this stage in our imprisonment that political interrogations began. They were held mostly at night or after we had finished our work. One by one, with the aid of a card file that had been set up, every prisoner was systematically put through questioning. The main purpose was to search out SS members and any other men who could be suspected from the data of having committed crimes against humanity.
    A secret organization existed within the camp, comprised mainly of German prisoners who had always been communists. They had the task of overhearing our conversations and keeping the Commissar informed. In doing this, they used a very sneaky but effective method. On suitable occasions they would begin political conversations in the rooms or during work breaks, during which they either complained mightily about the Bolshevist system or boasted about their own "heroic deeds" in occupied Russia - how they had set vlllages on fire and "liquidated" prisoners. Cleverly they introduced Nazi turns of expression into their speech, all with the intention of drawing comrades out of their reservations and inducing them to make some incriminating remark.
    Many comrades who fell for these tricks would then be extremely surprised one day to be called before the Commissar and told as consummate truth that they had, at such and such a place and such and such a date, mistreated prisoners, killed civilians, set houses on fire, etc. During such interrogations, whoever did not immediately admit to the crimes which had been read before him would be forced to do so with all sorts of barbarities. Here are just a few examples of many:
    One sergeant from the Army Panzer Troop, who wore a black uniform, was accused on account of this uniform of having been an SS man. When he denied this, he was thrashed with a table leg and then locked in the ice bunker for two days without food. He was then newly interrogated. Again he refused to sign the paper which was laid before him. Again he was beaten and thrown in the ice bunker for three days with only bread and water. At the third hearing, he was conspicuously treated with great friendliness. The Commissar led him into the kitchen, and offered to let him eat whatever was available. He would be allowed to eat as much as he wanted, if only he signed. When even this method did not produce the desired results, he landed in the ice bunker again for another five days. Completely exhausted, sick in both body and heart, they dragged the broken man again before his hangman. He did then what many did, just to get some peace. He signed.

    A certain Mr."F" stood on a list of war criminals which had arrived from Moscow. There was a prisoner of the same name in our camp, who also somewhat fit the external description given on the Moscow wanted list. He too was beaten, locked up, and tortured for so long that he finally gave into the demands of the Commissar as well.
    An older soldier was accused by an alleged eyewitness of having previously been an SS member and of having changed into a Gl uniform shortly before he was taken prisoner. During an investigation, pictures of himself as a soldier with Russian prisoners had been found. He was locked up several times and beaten in the usual manner, after which his interrogators hit upon an especially fiendish method of torture. They clamped his fingertips between the door and made him stand as long as he could under this unspeakable pain. In an unguarded moment, driven to the very edge of despair, he ran then to the window to throw himself out from the second floor, but they caught him and pulled him back at the last moment.
    The unmerciful methods and the general spy tactics used on individual comrades led to a tortuous fate for many innocent men. The realization that they had been wrongly judged caused many of these ignominiously betrayed prisoners, who had been sold for Judas money, to lose their sanity. There were also perfectly villainous creatures among our ranks, who most likely had something to hide themselves, and therefore tried to lay all the suspicion on others. We would never have believed that some prisoners could condemn one of their own countrymen to certain death just for a bit of bread, an extra ration of soup or a somewhat more comfortable life.
    Everyone who was branded, both guilty and innocent, was assigned together to the so-called "stool pigeon brigade". These men were penned together, like cattle, in large numbers in tiny rooms with only one grilled overhead light. They were no longer allowed to leave the camp or often not even their rooms for days. They worried for months over the uncertainty of their fates because nothing conclusive was ever done with them, and they were also tormented by the fear that they would be accused of even more crimes. The evil practices of these denunciations were carried out in the dirtiest manner.
    Later, the prisoners in the "stool pigeon brigade" were carried off in specially guarded and barred GPU (Soviet secret police) wagons \ to where, no one knew. The fate of these prisoners is still unknown to this day \ most likely, not one of them ever returned home again.
    Once in May 1947, I heard that these men, at least the ones who could not disprove the claims that had been set against them, had been gathered together in a central transit camp and judged (after further interrogations) then and there by a Russian military tribunal and sentenced to forced labor in Siberia.  Many probably died or were "misplaced" after being assured that they would be sent home "but not right away".

    But back to the camp. One day, I was at the gate, ready to march out to the work area. Suddenly there came the order "Inspection!". A large watch commando appeared and examined each of us from head to foot. They had discovered that some prisoners were engaged in active black-market trading with civilians in the shafts.
    Men who were found guilty were beaten on the spot and sentenced to three months detail with the punishment brigade. This punishment brigade differed from the other brigades mostly by the fact that its members received much less to eat (400 grams of bread and a smaller amount of soup). They also had to work two hours longer and were always assigned to the hardest labor. As mentioned previously, this brigade was billeted in their own block, which had additional barbed wire and much stricter observation.
    Day after day of working in the damp mines combined with the substantial decrease in rations served to make punishment brigade men ready for the hospital in no time at all. The only way to get out of this brigade before one's time was to distinguish oneself through special accomplishments and irreproachable self-control. Only with such men was there some hope for the success of a so-called "plea for mercy" accompanied by the recommendation of the commanding Natschalnik. Every day, these prisoners projected the same pitiful image of disconsolation.
    Each day, even before the gates opened for our departure, many of these men collapsed from sheer weakness. No one bothered about them until the work brigades had left the camp. Then, the brutal work inspector would arrive to inspect the new "offerings" up close, and a number of Russian officers would join in, mostly to make fun of the pitiful men doubled over with cold and hunger.
    Like cattle, these poor men were assaulted by officers' boots and asked derisively what they needed and why they did not want to work. Most of them did not even have the strength to answer, not that they would have wanted to, knowing that these men would not have believed or cared about anything they said anyway. So they lay like dogs in the snow, in the cold of the Russian winter, and wondered whether this would be their last hour on earth.
    The work inspector would continue clamoring with rage. Human beings meant nothing to him, especially those who were prisoners. Sick prisoners did not even exist.

    Spring came again to Russia. Our sufferings abated with thedisappearance of the winter frost and cold, which had made life especially difficult. The survivors were happy to have overcome yet another winter.  In spite of our misery, many of us continued to hope that we might be lucky enough to spend the next winter at home.
    In the daily reports, there was always news of heavy street fighting in Berlin. Once I accidentally ran across an issue of "Free Germany," which reported heavy street fighting in my home state of Saarland as well - especially near my hometown in Saarlouis.  It was dated December, 1944.
    During one evening roll call, the German propagandist announced that the surrender of Germany was now only a question of time. The combined allied forces (or the "second front" as they were referred to by the Russians) had already conquered Germany up to a narrow strip in Nordschleswig, and most of the country to the East was already occupied by the Red Army.