Theodor Aichholzer was lucky to survive long years of imprisonment in concentration camps. Maybe it was God's planning, so that he had the opportunity to do what he had done throughout the time he spent in the KZ: trying to save lives without consideration of his own life.
His “luck” began in the granite quarry, where a big and heavy block falls on his feet and squashed one of his toes.
This happened because he was condemned to four month special hard work in the Strafkompanie [punish company] for nothing. The forced labour in the quarry of Flossenbürg was already enough for most inmates to come to death, but the work in the Strafkompanie could not be compared with anything else.
Fritz Selbmann [prisoner n° 81], former minister in the German Democratic Republic and inmate in Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg, wrote in his book:
"…the labour in this Strafkomapanie like in other camps is hardest deadly slave work. The prisoners primarily are employed in transportation of stones. The stones are carried on the back or moved in barrows from one side to the other in the quarry. All work is done running. From morning to evening with a short break at noon , the prisoners run through the quarry carrying the heavy stones or pull the heavy barrows. There is no time to relax or for a rest… the guardian is a killer without conscience, SS Rottenführer Woitach from the Sudetenland and Henlein movement… he has a interminable hate against political prisoners… he is a killer with heart and soul…every time the prisoners pass him by he hits them with a bat…… every morning at dawn the torture starts again. One has horror of what the new day will bring again..." (Fritz Selbmann: Die lange Nacht, 1961)
Working in the Strafkompanie with a smashed toe was impossible so Theodor decided to visit the camps doctor, which almost was a very bad idea and often ended in the crematorium in similar conditions. A prisoner who were infirm, sick or incapable of work was without value and was in general recommended for extermination by the head of Abteilung V [division 5], the Standortarzt (Chief MD, direct under Amtsgruppe D in Oranienburg. Under his command were the dentists, doctors, chemists and medical orderlies).
But Theodor had no choice. To stay in the quarry in that condition would have lead without doubt to his end.
After visiting the Krankenrevier [medical block] the doctor gave him a 3 day vacation ticket, from which Theodor said: “this could be compared with winning a lotteries jackpot today”. But be aware, often this ticket was given only to cheat the poor prisoners and one was called a few moments later and the ticket given was cancelled.
So happened, the doctor let call Theodor again – he thought that he had lost his ticket. One can only try to imagine the thoughts and feelings a prisoner had in that moment "My god - ticket cancelled? - With my hurt feet I can not work in the quarry! - Now what? - Will they kill me now? - Is this the end?"
But the doctor asked what he can do and so he answered: everything. A paper was thrown over the table and he were asked what that paper was. It was a prescription but not valid for some reason. Theodor gave the correct answer and from now on he worked as a Krankenrevierschreiber [writer] in the same medical block with a new given nickname: Mistbiene [manure-bee].
In this position, although not with a status of a Kapo, he had a certain power within the Krankenrevier which he used up to the utmost possible limit.
For example every day when the prisoners came back from the quarry, when new prisoners arrived or when prisoners were already on their way to execution, Theodor stood at the fence of the Krankenrevier and selected prisoners which were in severe physical conditions and needed urgently medical attention or mentioned that this or that prisoner still would be a valid worker after medical treatment and a short rest.
One of them was Alfons Gorbach, former canceller from Austria [1961 - 1964], which was a political [red-winkel] prisoner in KZ Flossenbürg 1944 and had a severe disability. His right leg was amputated after be wounded on Nov 5, 1917 during the First World War. Securely he would have had not survived the forced labour in Flossenbürg without help. Theodor did not know him at that time, for him he was an inmate like so many others who needed immediate help to save his life.
If one of the sadistic wardens would have get knowledge about a prisoner with a wooden leg, one can easily imagine what would have happened to this guy. But not all wardens were like the work supervisor of the Strafkompanie SS Rottenführer Woitach so they need to be mentioned too, because not all of them were bad. In March 1940 the wardens from the 2. warden company were not from the SS, but members of the Reichs-Kriegerbund [state-warrior union] (declaration from Karl Neimann SS Hauptsturmführer, Oslo-Akershus Jan 9, 1946 Gef. Nr. 4585 B II FS 4). They and the regular SS troops [Waffen-SS] were strict but just, although a lot of them fall into the same behaviour after being a short time in the camp. A huge difference in prisoner treatment could be observed between them and the SS-Totenkopf-Sturmbanns of Flossenbürg. They were likely more ready to treat the prisoners with cruelty and in dreadful manner.
The centre of real terror was present in the command line of the Abteilung III [division 3]. The Schutzhaftlagerführer [commander of the prisoners], in representation of the KZ commander, and immediate superior of the prisoners in conjunction with his SS men and the Kapos decided over life and death depending on their daily whim.
And Theodor said that there was a third generation of wardens, with a great part of volunteers, perverse, mind distorted and despotic people from Sudetenland and Austria, which could not be compared with nobody. When life in the camp had only little value, with them the value was reduced to nothing. Their behaviour against the inmates had reached the top of what mankind can do to it self.
Pater Johann Maria Lenz, inmate N°14233 of KZ Dachau wrote in his book - Christus in Dachau - about the Kapos a valid statement for all concentration camps:
" ... for inferior humans there were many reasons, to get a status as a Kapo. Such a reason was the ‘cyclist politics' - bow to the superiors and be able to trample on the inferiors... also sadism hardly found a better opportunity to out-rave itself. Furthermore the desire to command and to be important - school master instincts and the need for being an authority... we proletarians! and in the camp?... if they succeeded to creep up only one stage over the others - immediately they transformed to malicious and fastidious Lagerbonzen [Kapos]... nowhere in the camp, the internal human being revealed himself so much as under the “big bosses”… who was not a mental nobleman, rapidly and shameless sunk down into the depth of the fierceness ... "
An example of what the SS wardens were capable to do is that on Christmas Day 1944 they hung several inocent russian officers beside a big glittering Christmas tree on gallows especially built up there and prisoners were forced to sing Christmas songs beside that tree and at the same time observe the hunged men.
On January 15, 1945 there were 2564 male and 515 female wardens (Bundesarchiv Abteilungen Potsdam, Mikrofilm Nr. 14428). Their number increased significantly after the evacuation of the KZ Auschwitz and Buchenwald up to and over 4000 wardens.
But there were also some of the SS wardens which prefered to be transfered to the front line with a possible death in battle, before they had to observe and be a part of what happened here.
By the way it must be mentioned that also not all Kapos were cruel. Especially the Austrian Kapos did in general not live on cost of the prisoners instead acted as there protectors. Karl Pfeiffer prisoner n° 305 from Vienna was one of the good guys. He was block eldest on Block 2 where Theodor was put up.
Between Theodor and Karl Pfeiffer a certain friendship developed. Mutual help benefited both in the concentration camp. Even 25 years after liberation of KZ Flossenbürg, Theodor received a letter from Karl asking him for help:
“Dear Theodor, my best wishes to you and your dear family. Many years I have not seen you… I am 70 years old, very sick and I am now not able to work and have only a small income... I have applied for indemnification of imprisoning in the KZ, but my application was denied because 'Arolsen' certified me a green winkel… I had a red winkel but 'Stäubchen' gave me a green one, when I came four months in the Strafkompanie with you... maybe you remember my winkel and can testify for me… when I think back, you had suffered enough (Kübler)… with me in Block 2 you had a better life…I hope you are very well and sound…awaiting your answer... your friend Karl Pfeiffer " (letter dated: Sept 22, 1970)
The work in the latrines was comun for the Strafkompanie. Latrines were generaly open and four meters deep pits. These pits always running off were emptied at night by prisoners, who for this work had only small buckets available. Sometimes Theodor was forced to use his metal eating bowl instead of the small bucket for this work. It also happened that a prisoner falls into a pit and it was forbidden to take him out. After the work had been done and the pit had been emptied, then one was permitted to remove the corpse.
Isolation through postal blockade and this way making prisoners feel to be forgotten from their relatives, was a technique to break the willpower of the inmates. Psychological damage was achieved by this method, as letters were the only way to have contact with the outside world and their families over years.
Rarely Theodor received a letter from his mother. In one of them the desperate mother wrote that she will send a letter to Mr. Hitler and plea him to free her son because he has done nothing what would deserve his imprisoning. As letters were opened and read, a SS man hit Theodor in the face with a key ring and broke one of his teeth. The SS man exclaimed that he had to instruct the bitch of his mother, that Hitler is only to be referred by our Führer and not Mr. Hitler. Theodor met this man later again in a war crime trail and could not withstand the internal impulse to slap his face right in the courtyard. As Theodor was later asked what he has to state against this man, he answered: nothing. The U.S. defender clapped his shoulder in a paternal manner and said: Gentleman.
The doctor's round (Visite) which was also abused as an indirect „selection procedure” was always a nerve-racking event for Theodor. The camp physician passed by the patient beds and said "one" or "two", whereby one of them meant "live" and the other meant "die" for the respective prisoner. Theodor changed the number for "die" so often as only somehow possible to "live", but he had to watch out that the camp physician did not remember a certain patient. This was a dangerous situation and sometimes he was in big peril and could only with largest trouble out-talk himself with the fact that by mistake he understood the wrong number he had written down.
The "Bock" [whipping trestle], a feared and hated inventory in the concentration camps was used for punishment of so-called violations of the camp rules but also for satisfying the perverse minds of some SS men.
The flogging punishment was one of the heaviest castigation but legally there was even a complaint right for the sentenced, but first inmates did not know this and second nobody would have even only thought of accusing an SS man of a lie. In order to prevent arbitrariness of an individual guardian and justify it as regular punishment, the flogging had in general to be executed in front of the “Schutzhaftlagerführer”, the SS staff and block inmates after approval of the camp commander. The execution of this punishment by several torturers should make abusing impersonally and anonym and accustom the members of the SS troop to such kind of execution of sentences.
The poor inmate was lashed down to it with some tie-bands, his chest flat and downward and the feet forward or in the opening for the feet of the trestle (see photo and drawing to the right).
5 up to 25 beatings were then applied on his
with stick, whip or “Ochsenziemer” [made of raw hide]. In a circular from April 4, 1942 the chief of “Amtsgruppe D” ordered the proceeding, arranged by Himmler and chief of the German police, that if the additional word “verschärft” [intensified] was added to the sentence, the punishment had to be applied on the naked buttocks. The flogging often hits also the back and kidney region, sometimes provoking severe permanent damage and sometimes the death of the victim.
The inmate had to count loudly each impact, which lead to more hits when the condemned could not articulate the right number because of the pain he felt. After the execution of the sentence, the bloody wounds were brushed-in with iodine to prevent infection, but this was more likely done to torture the poor victim again. And finally the punished had usually to say " Hr. Lagerführer, Häftling Nr. xxx 25 Hiebe dankend erhalten ” [Mr. camp leader, prisoner n° xxx received twenty five blows with gratitude].
Theodor received this punishment several times but once a perverted "SS-Rottenführer" had the idea to change the flogging target from his
to the sole of his feet applying 10 blows with a stick.
....to be continued