To‑day Børge was arrested! For 1 1/2 years he has been hiding in a room rented from an elderly lady, who was not suspicious in spite of the fact, that Børge in all that time never went out in the daytime, but let her do all his shopping for him.
But NOW he has been arrested ‑ and only now is the war really over for my five friends and me. Børge is in the City Jail ‑ the same place, where he tortured many others and us. “Your time is up ‑ and now you better answer OUR questions,” said the police sergeant, when Manne was at the City Jail to identify him.
It was in June 1944, that the group was formed. Actually it had existed before the war, but now it became illegal, but where appearance was concerned, there was no change.
We were 6 scouts, who had been inseparable from the time we joined the scouting movement, until now that we were all ROVER scouts in “The Danish Scout Corps”.
The members of the group are:
Sjus: college student 21 years
Mane: clerk 21 ”
Jens: machinist 22 ”
Tarp: photographer 25 ”
Poul: teacher 28 ”
Tjavs: apprentice 19 ”
Poul was the leader of the group. We trained in the use of weapons and explosives, and acted for a time as an intelligence group, until Poul had to go underground, because the Gestapo wanted him. After that the group became an explosives group with Tarp as its leader.
On the 3rd of November, Tarp was arrested together with Fritz ‑another scouting friend, who was in another group. The rest of us went to Copenhagen, where we associated ourselves with “Holger Danske”, the Danish underground.
Jens and Sjus were arrested by the Gestapo on February 2 in Vordingborg, while in action.
Meanwhile Manne and I were waiting in Copenhagen. We phoned the hotel in Vordingborg, and were told, that they were still staying there. That was the 5th of February, and it was Gestapo we were talking to, which we did not know.
Manne had gone into town that day to deliver a load of potatoes, and he came home with the truck around 5 o’clock. In the meantime I had balanced the days sales, and went out to help him unload the empty sacks from the truck.
While we were doing that, a big Buick drove up on the other side of the street, and 5 plain‑clothes men emerged. Because of the noise of the generator, we did not hear them, but Manne had the impression that something was wrong, which he intimated to me, after which he quietly went down the street and around the corner. I was, however, too busy to notice this, so I went into the courtyard with a bunch of sacks.
As I went through the portal to the courtyard I encountered 3 men with flashlights. I lifted my cap, said hello, and asked them if they were looking for somebody. “Keep walking” they answered, and I got a pistol in my back.
They did not have to tell me twice, and I went quietly into the warehouse, where I disposed of the empty sacks, while I quickly considered all the possibilities.
The only way out was through the portal, and the three men were still there, while the fourth one was upstairs ringing the bell to the apartment. My only chance was to put all my eggs in one basket and try to bluff them.
I hoisted some empty crates on my shoulder and went through the portal. The three men blocked my way, but I said politely but firmly “bitte”, and I will be damned if they didn’t move out of the way..
Once in the street I tossed the crates into the truck, told the driver that the men were Gestapo, and to get out of there as soon as I had turned the corner. I then went quietly around the other side of the truck, crossed the street and disappeared around the corner. That, however, was the end of my composure. ‑ My legs were shaking under me as I ran down the street and caught a streetcar to the center of town.
During the evening I managed to get hold of Manne, and we arranged to meet at The Golden Cafe, where we discussed the situation over a snack and a beer. We agreed to contact headquarters and then disappear into the country for a while. No sooner said then done. I went up to the apartment, where headquarters were located, leaving Manne in the street to stand guard. It was about ten‑thirty when the elevator stopped at the fifth floor, and when the door opened I stared into the mouth of a pistol, while three big “Hipo” guys shouted: “Hands UP you big asshole”.
I was escorted into the apartment, where everything had been upended ‑ bullet holes in the walls and evidence of a great struggle.
We later learned, that the apartment had been raided the night before, during which the freedom fighters had shot their way out to the back stairs, and escaped with the loss of one man. The rest of them reached Sweden in good shape.
My pockets were emptied with a speed and elegance that indicated that it was professionals, I was dealing with. They were elated at finding two packages of Queensland cigarettes. My papers were examined, e.g. false identification and streetcar pass in the name of Vagn Aage Jensen.
They asked me, what I was doing there. “I came to buy a pair of skies, and I don’t understand, what is going on.” They were convinced enough to ask me to sit down, while they checked this bit of information. I was seated on a sofa with two other “innocents”. No doubt my explanation would never have stood up, but at that point the doorbell rang, and my heart jumped into my throat. While this was going on Manne had been shadowing “Børge” ‑ the Gestapo man mentioned in the foreword ‑. Børge, however, had been shadowing Manne, and luck would have it, that Børge pulled the gun first, and when the door was opened, Manne entered with his arms raised, followed by Børge, who pointed his gun at me, and asked Manne if he knew me. It was hopeless to deny it, as Børge had seen us together before I entered the apartment building.
This was too much for one of the powerful Hipo guys. “Aha” he said,’” so you are full of lies”. He commanded me to stand up, and at the same time, he hit me in the face with the butt of his revolver, and knocked me to the floor. In order to gain time to think, I feigned unconsciousness, or maybe it was to avoid further blows. I was, however, kicked back to life, and given a lecture to the effect that, although I wasn’t going to live long, at least I was going to learn to speak the truth, before I died.
They now passed around my Queensland, and as I saw my months ration go up in smoke, I asked to have one too, so at least I could get a chance to share them. After all, it was my treat. Manne gave me a reproachful look, as if to say:” You don’t need to hasten your own end”. He was right. I had hoped to impress them with impudence, but got my ears boxed for my effort.
After that we got half an hour with our arms raised, and was then allowed to sit on a stool, while only three Hipo’s watched over us, machine guns at the ready. The rest of them turned the apartment and attic upside down, in the process of which they found German uniforms, passes, and quite a tidy bunch of weapons. This was all packed in a couple of large suitcases.
It was midnight, and our hosts were hungry. Luckily I had brought half a loaf of bread and some butter, and after raiding the refrigerator, they made bacon and eggs. It was a wonderful smell, as they took turns eating. To us they said:” You won’t get anything to eat now, for reasons you will soon find out.”
In the meantime there arrived from the City Jail an “Opel Kadet” together with a couple civil Gestapo, one of whom ‑ a small man with unpleasant piercing eyes ‑ was said to be the chief from the City Jail. Before we could exchange a pleasant “hello”, he hissed:”Sie lugen jah Mench”, and we were handcuffed ‑ the criminals had been caught.
Manne and I were cuffed together in such a way, that we each had a hand free to carry a suitcase.
On the way to the City Jail, we crossed “Raadhuspladsen” ‑ Copenhagen’s main square ‑ , and at the same time as I noted, that the time was 1.35 a.m.. I wondered if and when I might again walk across Raadhuspladsen as a free man.
Once arrived at the City Jail, we were escorted up to an interrogation room by the chief and Børge. The chief sat down expectantly, while Børge began a further examination of our possessions. In my billfold he found kr.250.00, which he promptly transferred to his own. Unfortunately Manne carried on him a piece of paper with the description of a “stikker”, whom we were to have shadowed, and I thought that was the reason they asked him to remove his glasses, while they moved me into an adjoining room, after first having cuffed me, arms behind my back, with a pair of french handcuffs. These handcuffs had the excellent advantages that the more you moved your hands, the tighter they got.
From the adjoining room came the frightening noises of the terrible beating Børge was giving to Manne. I managed to gather my thoughts long enough to note a growing hunger, as we had not eaten since early morning. I was fully aware, that the intention was for me to be weakened from the sounds of Manne’s groans and Børge’s increasingly heavy blows and bad tempered shouts. The groans were interspersed with half choked screams as Børge got even more bestial.
By the light from the keyhole, I could see that the time was 3 a.m. ( I still had my watch ). I started to orient myself a little. Two steps each way was all the room there was. I discovered, that there were shelves on the end wall of the room, and as I examined it closer, I found a bottle, which I pulled to the edge of the shelf, after which I turned around, knocked it over with the help of my mouth, bit out the cork, and smelled it ‑ Ah’ ‑ it was Calleric Punch| The bottle was half full ‑ and I was empty. In no time at all, we had exchanged roles, and I had a much lighter outlook.
About 1 1/2 hours later, when things quieted down next door, and I was fetched from the darkness, I became instantly sober, as I looked around the interrogation room. Manne was gone, but the seat of the easy chair in the middle of the room, was covered in blood, and there were pools of blood all over the floor.
Now followed an interrogation, which I shall never forget. It lasted 3 hours, and it was one beating after the other. My face was decorated, and my backside beaten to a pulp. Needless to say, it was my countryman Børge, who carried out the beatings, and he did it with great care, while the German merely watched approvingly.
Suddenly Børge stopped and asked me:”How long have you known the Gisselbæks”?.
(The Gisselbæks were my landlords in Charlottenlund ). “From the day, I rented a room from them in December”. “That’s a lie, that’s a lie, we know it all”, Børge screamed.”How long have you had an affair with Mrs. Gisselbæk?”. “I really haven’t had an affair with Mrs. Gisselbæk”, I shot back, “considering that Mrs. Gisselbæk is 85 years old, and I am not yet 19, it did not occur to me.
Børge did not answer, but continued to massage my face. These gentlemen had no sense of humor, but the accusation was dropped.
The beatings continued, and the more they beat me, the more lies I told, until in the end, I couldn’t remember my own lies. Finally Børge knocked me out, and when I came to, I mumbled to Børge, that it was possible to squeeze a lemon, till there was no juice left. The German asked for a translation, and after that the interrogation was over.
It was 7 a.m. ‑ my watch was still ticking in spite of everything. I was now escorted down to the duty room where I had to turn over my pipe and tobacco as well as other unimportant items left over from my stay in the interrogation room. I kept my watch ‑ and nobody noticed.
Then I was handed over to the custody of the police‑soldiers and installed in cell 42 on the third floor. This was a so‑called “Pipcelle” with no windows, four naked walls, two mattresses and a chamber pot. A light bulb in the ceiling cast a sharp light both night and day.
I inspected the premises and greeted my cellmate ‑ a young machinist taken in a street raid but actually innocent of any wrongdoing. He had been alone in the cell for four days and was glad to have company again.
I was hungry and it suited me very well that the food was passed around at this time. We each got a bowl containing a small portion of rotten fish and a piece of raw Gherkin. Added to this were a handful of half rotten unpeeled potatoes. My appetite disappeared immediately and I consumed only the few edible potatoes leaving the rest.
My next concern was bed and sleep but before this I rubbed the brass frame of the door peephole clean and used it as a mirror to inspect my damaged head. A gash in the upper lip, one eye swollen shut and the whole head puffed up. I threw myself down on one of the mattresses and went quickly to sleep in spite of the light and my aching head.
Next morning around 9 o’clock we got two slices of bread and a mug of coffee ‑ at 10 o’clock I was dispatched back to interrogation again.
The interrogation was conducted in the same way as yesterday’s. The first time my hands were handcuffed behind me. This time they put me in a straight‑jacket, placed me in a chair and proceeded to again pound on my previously battered visage.
When they had tired of playing with me they released me from the straight‑jacket more dead than alive and Børge remarked : ” Now you will be given a fair chance you ass hole!” and sent for a Hipo‑man of heroic dimensions ‑ a full head taller then me and with a width of shoulders and muscles like a bear.
At that moment I could barely manage to stay upright and the fight could not be categorized as fierce. One blow dumped me on the floor in the opposite corner and when I woke up in cell 42 my cellmate was in the process of cleaning my face with water from his drinking mug.
A couple of nondescript days passed by ‑ interrupted by visits to the toilet morning and evening. Friday, two new captives joined us in the cell, a Janitchar from Peter Kreuder’s orchestra ( a deserter from the German army ) and an anti‑social individual suffering from Gonorrhea.
On Saturday my first cellmate was released, he was so law abiding that he dared not phone a greeting from me to my family. The next day our anti‑social element including his Gonorrhea was transferred to the Danish department.
The atmosphere improved immediately. All that was left was me and the Janitchar singing Peter Kreuder melodies all day long. He was irrepressible, he believed in Germany’s right to expand but not in a dictatorship accomplishing it. A couple of days later he was executed as a deserter, but he left the cell singing.
Already next day new guests arrived. Two prisoners from Neuengamme in Germany, they had originally been incarcerated as so‑called anti‑socials. Both had been picked up in a street round‑up and sent on to Germany because of 15 to 20 year old criminal records. One of them was feeble minded and under the protection of the Danish Mental Health Authorities.
Both had the ultimate hair cut (no hair), had fleabites all over and suffered from dysentery. It did not take long to fill the chamber pot and then the floor had to serve. The stench was unbelievable ‑ Ventilation was non-existent.
The next morning when visiting the toilet on the floor below I glanced through a peep hole in the door next to the toilet and much to my surprise observed Sjus lying down in there ‑ with clean sheets and a pipe in his mouth.
In my consternation I pushed my face against the door ‑ and it swung open. I darted inside and said ” Hello Sjus”. After getting over the chock we discussed our predicaments. He was of the opinion that Jens and I might get away with a stay in Frøslev, but expected himself and Manne to end up in Germany.
I told him about the two inmates in my cell and he was horrified at the thought. His mother had been visiting earlier in the day and had managed to get all the nice things into his cell.
Suddenly we were interrupted by a “Los Los” from the corridor above. The guard was getting impatient so I hurried back after communicating the number of my cell to Sjus.
The next day ( Tuesday ) I was interrogated again but this time in another room and by two other members of the Gestapo force.
The dominant of the pair “Peter Hansen” was a tall thin haired fellow with charming manners. His helper ‑ a short man equipped with double chins ‑ answered to the name of Rudolf. A wonderful pair like Laurel & Hardy ‑ but not nearly as funny.
Peter Hansen immediately assumed a cordial manner with his “Please sit down. Can we conduct our investigation in German to avoid the need for a translator ?”. I agreed to the use of German and Peter Hansen started out with an introductory lecture.
He began by telling me that he had served in the Gestapo in France and Poland before coming to Denmark and that he had never encountered a people so committed to lies as the Danes. ( In my situation I accepted this as a compliment ).
“Everything you have told us up to now is also lies my dear Jorgensen” he said, “but now I will spare you further beatings by reading aloud a few tidbits in order that we can obtain a confession from you !”.
He rummaged around in a stack of reports ‑ extracted one ‑ and proceeded to give a rundown of my activities from the time of my birth to the current moment. I had to admit that they had been pretty thorough. Finally he reached my “criminal career”, and all
the significant events were in fact listed. Upon finishing he asked if I had anything to add ‑ I expressed my admiration for his skill and diligence and assured him that nothing had escaped his scrutiny. Rudolf then prepared the confession ( 3 copies, one for the local headquarters in the Shell Building, one for Berlin, and one intended to follow me in my future travels ). I signed all three copies with the distinct feeling of a performer in a comedy skit, the whole thing was conducted in a very democratic manner, but I could easily imagine the consequences of a refusal to sign.
Peter Hansen now addressed himself to me :”Do you know the penalty for your illegal actions” ‑ “No” I said, ” I have not considered that in any depth”. “Then I will tell you” said Peter Hansen ‑ “You will get a death penalty for it. ‑ Do you want to phone your family ?”. That was a kind offer, which I accepted with thanks thinking that the family might well wonder where I was.
My uncle answered the telephone, he was very surprised and asked a multitude of questions. I did not have permission to answer these and simply explained that I was fine and whatever else I could think of to indicate that my situation was better then it appeared.
Having finished the call I indicated to Peter Hansen that I was not exactly eager to die at my tender young age and asked him if he could do anything to reduce the sentence. He was the head of Gestapo for Lolland ‑ Falster and I knew that to date nobody from that area had been executed.
Peter Hansen promised to attempt to reduce the sentence to a trip to Germany. I was duly grateful for this, but was now very worried about the fate of Sjus, Jens and Manne as their affairs were in worse shape then mine.
The two prisoners left in my cell expected an early release, although one of them might first enter the hospital to get a Hernia operation performed ( He had needed the operation for several months now but had been unable to get it while in Germany ). I handed the other one a long letter to my parents in which I explained the circumstances and my future prospects. He promised to smuggle it out and mail it.
Now I just trudged around longing for the expected transfer to Vestre prison. After interrogation prisoners were normally removed from police head quarters to the regular prison and the atmosphere in the police building was so sinister that a change could only be for the better.
On February the 11th Sjus appeared outside my cell door whispering that the Russians had bypassed Berlin and reached a point 26 km further to the west. I noted it carefully on the wall of my cell and thought : “In two weeks the war is over” ‑ as it turned out that was not the last time I had that thought.
Finally on Friday, February the 16th, the “Wachtmeister” yelled “Aage Jørgensen ‑ alles mit nach Vestre” ‑ the magic shout which if nothing else would get me out of the stinking cell where I wandered 7 steps back and forth as a Lion in a cage.
I got dressed in a hurry and arrived in the duty room where Manne already was waiting together with another prisoner.
We entered the back seat of an “Opel Kadet”, escorted by a 16-year-old Hipo boy equipped with a machine pistol, and were driven out to Vestre prison with two Hipos occupying the front seat.
After having passed through numerous fences the car stopped and we were pushed into the main prison building and placed face against the wall with a machine pistol in the back. After a suitable interval Manne and I were locked‑up in a cell and shortly afterwards joined by two other prisoners. We chatted a bit and assessed each other. It turned out that one of them had been picked up on Aaboulevarden just like us. His name was Chas and he belonged to a different branch of our own organization.
We were let out again after a few moments, pushed down a long corridor and into an office. Here we were supposed to sign a receipt ( a German document ) that we had returned all our belongings originally confiscated in “Vestre Gefaengnis”.
Considering that they had not confiscated anything we figured that it would do no harm to sign.
Then we were marched further down the corridor where we each were handed half a loaf of Rye bread, some butter and a piece of cheese. I asked jokingly if this was the weekly ration ‑ and found later that it was for longer than that.
Finally we ended up in the rear of a group of some 100 prisoners dressed as if their destination was the moon, when we asked what the show was all about ‑ one answered that we were on our way to Germany, another that we were going to Frøslev, nobody knew anything for sure but everybody hoped that it was Frøslev. The time was about 8 PM.
The delay was a long one and we chatted and smoked tobacco if we had any. Manne met an old acquaintance, Kjeld Staunstrup from Nykøbing, and we had a nice chat between us. Eventually at around 11.30 PM commands were shouted to form up in a column 4 abreast.
After a while a couple of functionaries told us that the transportation arrangements had been cancelled and to go ahead and eat the bread, butter and cheese. We did not need to be told twice ‑ most of us dived into the butter immediately and shortly afterwards when ordered to turn in the provisions only gave up a few remnants of the rye bread. The next day the prison had bread‑soup on the menu.
All prisoners were now returned to their cells and those of us without a “room” of own were placed in cell # 539. This was a big work‑room cell already housing 8 other inmates. The fact that we now were 12 did not result in the providing of extra blankets or mattresses, instead we squeezed together on the existing 6 mattresses. No problem! ‑ that was a bunch of real comrades we had joined. One of them offered each of us new ones a cigarette so we managed to end the day with a smoke before we fell asleep.
Next morning we introduced ourselves and began to get better acquainted. As we had not been properly registered as prison inmates we newcomers were not fed that day but luckily for me, last night I had managed to smuggle in my remaining butter and cheese in spite of the body search performed.
Our pipes and tobacco had been confiscated the previous evening but one of our new friends tricked the guards into returning them.
The whole prison was buzzing with rumors dealing with the cancellation of last night’s transport and one of the most persistent indicated that the railway station in Korsør had been blown up. We preferred to believe that one as it indicated that our destination had been Frøslev. Another surmised that Gedser harbor had been mined thus blocking the ferry route across the Baltic. We did not like that one but had to accept it as a possibility.
One of the cellmates had had his hair cut off and I was amused at the sight of his head with small tufts of hair sprouting here and there. He offered several times to remove my hair ‑ to no avail.
We spent the time playing all sorts of card games – we introduced the others to Pirate bridge, and once again created new converts to this excellent game. A major portion was spent in minding the “telegraph” to the neighbour cells. Our next-door neighbor was Steff, a janitchar with Leo Mathiesen, he spent the day signaling for tobacco.
On Sunday, February the 18th, I celebrated my 19th birthday with one spoonful of gravy and two potatoes, the least filling meal yet handed me. This was the first time I had eaten unpeeled potatoes. After this gourmet meal the “bald” fellow ( otherwise called the Goat ) gave me a good cigarette as a birthday present.
In the evening we were told to be ready to leave at a moments notice. This was rather disconcerting, as we had begun to feel quite at home. In a way Manne was relieved ‑ a major part of his activities were still unknown by the authorities, at any moment his house of cards could be blown over ‑ so the further away the better as far as he was concerned.
Before we turned in we had the obligatory trip to the toilet and whom do I see but Tarp perched on the toilet across from me. I make a nonchalant gesture and say “Hello Tarp”. He looks at me as if I had just arrived from the moon. “Take it easy ‑ we are all in here somewhere” I said in a soothing manner and noticed that he had lost all color in the face and if possible was even thinner than before.
Then I had to get on the pot and finish my business – 10 minutes had to suffice for 12 men ‑ so we were in a hurry. A functionary came over with a greeting to Manne and me; we sent a greeting back with him.
We were roused up next morning at 4 am and said our good byes to the others. The “Goat” would like to change places with me in order to see Frøslev.
Things speeded up, we had roll call and were formed into rows and columns. Luckily both Manne & I have Jorgensen as our last name and were therefore still side by side.
After a big German with a big potato in his mouth had called the roll, we were again handed half a loaf of rye bread, some butter and some cheese ‑ and then let out in groups of about 30 men.
A vigilant guard escort marched us through the prison yard, through the various fences and herded us into a black police bus parked outside the prison compound. There were 3 of these buses; the remainders were canvas covered military vehicles. Smaller cars sporting machine gun emplacements were located behind each bus and truck. 106 prisoners were being shipped off ‑ to Frøslev we hoped.
When the column of cars headed towards Køge the morale cooled somewhat but it was still possible to turn off towards Næstved. 5 German police soldiers sat in the back seat across from Manne and me. One of them tried to start up a conversation with us but we ignored him. He wanted to converse with us while escorting us towards a certain death ‑ something that he must have been aware of. We could neither see nor hear him and he got offended and cold.
When we passed Køge and continued south through Sjælland towards Storstrømsbroen the hope of going to Frøslev was almost totally wiped out. There were still a few optimists who believed in the rumor that Korsør railway station had been blown up and that we were going to Frøslev via Warnemunde and the German north coast, even these irrepressible optimists were beginning to have their doubts. We passed the bridge and proceeded south over Falster. Around 9:30 we entered Nykøbing (at the same time my father had finally obtained a visitors permit and arrived in Vestre prison with lots of food ).
We drove along Gaabensevej and Slotsgade, we waved to various acquaintances, and they waved back. Next to Sidenius my younger brother noticed us and we noticed him. It must have been a bit of a chock to him.
In passing through Langgade we slowed down a little and I recognized an unending stream of faces. We drove past Brdr. Dahl and my own home. On one side I saw B.D.’s personnel standing in their entrance way ‑ unaware that their once promising apprentice was just then traveling abroad for the first time ‑ on the other side I could see my mother sitting at the desk in the office and I hoped she would remain unaware of this turn of events as long as possible.
Then we speeded up again and Nykøbing was behind us. Both Manne and I were moody and we absorbed the last sights of the city as long as possible. When Manne attempted to wave to a last acquaintance a rifle muzzle poked him in the stomach wielded by the same soldier who earlier wanted to converse with us.
In Gedser we had a wait of an hour and a half before the ferry left. We managed to stop a passing milkman and purchased butter for all our rationing stamps. Then a sympathetic butcher arrived and I regret that I cannot recall his name. He distributed cigarettes and tobacco and made sure that each bus got a whole liver paste tray and bucket of milk. We had ourselves a solid meal and I shall always remember that butcher for his generosity ‑ it was the last assistance we received until we again were back on Danish soil ‑ apart of course from Red Cross assistance without which we would simply never have made it back.
The ferry arrived and we drove on board. We were kept seated in the cars but were bundled into life‑jackets. Under guard we were one by one permitted to use the toilet ‑ the porthole was too small to escape by.
The ferry departed Gedser around 1:30 PM and arrived in Warnemunde approximately 5 PM and for the first time we caught a glimpse of a city in ruins ‑ later we found it to be a toss‑up whether a city was still standing or had been destroyed.
The busses stopped in front of 2 small french cattle cars and we were unloaded into these with our vigilant guards standing by. 53 MEN per CAR. The cars stank at the outset, but with time it was going to get much worse. We were counted carefully and the car doors were closed and locked. It was pitch dark and we tried to orient ourselves as well as we could ‑ we did find a hatch in each side of the car, it could be opened and provided a hole of roughly 40 x 50 centimeters. We did open these hatches but, after having noticed that our surroundings consisted of endless rows of box cars, we prudently closed them again to escape the attention of our guards, 7 green uniformed police soldiers housed in a 3rd class passenger car coupled to our 2 box cars.
After a couple of hours the train switching began and for the first time became acquainted with the unique German switch maneuvers. A couple of violent jerks caused us to loose our footing and landed us one atop of another in a great big heap. A little later we started on our way ‑ now we opened the hatches and observed in the darkness the contours of ruin after ruin passing by. That was the harbour area. After leaving the city we drove north, it was slow going, and along the whole stretch we saw one well camouflaged factory complex after another. We stopped at each siding to switch and we soon realized that we had not been sent by express delivery as perishable products.
At dawn we realized that we had changed direction and were now headed west towards Lybeck. We managed to orient ourselves from the station names helped by a little pocket map one of us possessed.
We were still on our feet and trying to avoid getting too dirty. One lonely individual still claimed that we were headed for Frøslev via Padborg but in the opinion of the majority our destination was the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg and they figured that we would arrive there sometime that day. We traveled past endless stretches of moor and swamps and a couple of times across a big river, which we figured, was the Elbe River.
However we were not let out of the car that day and had to prepare ourselves to spend another night there. We became less discriminating and took turns sitting on the floor. There was room for about half of us to sit down while the other half had to stay on their feet. The question of sanitary facilities had to be faced ‑ there were none of course ‑ the “big jobs” were deposited on a piece of paper and thrown out of the car. The more liquid stuff was aimed at the crack in the door.
That night we arrived in Hamburg and parked in the huge switch yard and remembering the intensive bombardment this city was subjected to wishing we were somewhere else. For the first time we heard the sinister sound of the air raid sirens but nothing much happened this time around. It was only an early warning signal later replaced by first a full scale alarm, then reverting to the pre‑attack early warning and finally to the terminate alert sound pattern.
Believing that we were destined for Neuengamme and would be let out of the cattle car the next day, we consumed the last remnants of our rye bread, That is, Manne and I shared my chunk seeing that during the night his had been stolen by one of the anti‑social individuals among us. A dirty trick stealing another’s bread under these circumstances.
Sometime before noon the switching started again, we were heading south and the individual, who had still hoped to go to Frøslev, saw his last illusion shattered. Now followed an endless journey, our morale sinking day-by-day, and subjected to treatment worse than that given to cattle.
When we passed Lunenburg even our “hope” of ending up in Neuengamme vanished ‑ now we did not have a clue to our intended destination. We suffered from unbearable thirst. We had had nothing to drink for 2 days and nights and nothing to eat in the last 24 hours. We tried to reason with our guards every time we were stopped on a siding and had chosen as our spokesman a Captain Berg. He tried to involve the guard commander (a plain Corporal) in a dialogue ‑ the corporal explained that his orders were that we had been provisioned for the trip, therefore he could not supply us with anything not even water. AN ORDER is AN ORDER !. These unfortunate German orders which nobody has issued but everybody has received.
We did not accomplish anything that day, the next day around noon he granted us a bucket of water, tapped off the locomotive‑tender and full of oil and dirt ‑ to us it tasted better than champagne. We had one glass available ‑ half of a glass for each ‑ but how it soothed a parched throat.
That day we reached Hannover where we had to pause for a 10-hour air raid alarm smack in the middle of a maximum exposure switching yard. We were not worth the price of a single shot, but our guards believed otherwise. Cruising at high altitude flew an armada of allied planes and there seemed to be no end to them.
Again, this time, we were not the target and eventually the train steamed on ‑ our 3 cars were now coupled into a long military transport train filled with anti aircraft gun emplacements.
We were dirty and unshaven but kept up our morale by singing. We sang all the songs we knew by heart repeatedly. The other car joined in and while the train rumbled along towards “somewhere in Germany” the Danish patriotic songs bugled forth from 106 dry throats.
Night descended and we organized 3-hour shifts. For 3 hours we were sitting or lying down and then spent 3 hours on our feet, eventually we discovered a pattern of sitting packed together with our legs folded up which permitted almost everybody to sit at the same time.
The singing had stopped but Helmer, a young naval officer, started the song Horserød and everybody in both cars joined in the chorus. At the same time we heard a faint rendering of “Deutchland uber alles” from the rear of the train where a couple of cars full of German soldiers were coupled on. Our song, which had been sung by so many Danes from behind the barbed wire fences, was the clear winner and penetrated valiantly out in the night accompanied by the hammering of the wheels on the rails ‑Tradum, tradum, tradadum.
For the third consecutive day we traveled through a Germany, which was both exhausted and panic stricken. Locomotives shot to smithereens and burnt‑out carcasses of boxcars were found in profusion along the tracks. Once we saw a complete military train, which had been tipped off the rails and deposited at the foot of the embankment with the wheels on top.
Most of what we saw was a picture of deprivation ‑ fields lying fallow, cities in ruins and trains perforated by bullets ‑ but contrasting this we saw at every railway stop a man, boy or woman wearing abnormally elegant head gear in strong colors and featuring the German Eagle in gold braid. This was the Nazi symbolic glitter dominating the surrounding poverty and devastation.
At noon on February the 22nd we rolled into a station called Northeim. It was a city with about 10000 inhabitants, but it was a railway nerve center serving 4 different lines with a large repair shop and an extensive switching yard.
We were located in the middle of a train, which apart from our own cattle cars was composited entirely of flat cars mounting anti‑aircraft guns. We were parked at the station platform right in the middle of the whole area and on the adjacent track we had another military train also mounting anti‑aircraft guns serviced by a Hitler Jugend crew.
We were exhausted from hunger and thirst and could detect the aroma of food wafting over from these Hitler‑boys, who ever so often were turning and aiming their guns and who was visibly proud of having 8 white rings painted around the muzzle of one of their guns. Each ring was supposed to indicate a downed aero plane, but we were soon given an exhibition of their courage.
To find out where we were going Captain Berg attempted to engage one of the guards in conversation, the soldier just giggled in a silly sort of a fashion and gave the impression of having been drafted from an asylum for the insane. He was quite prepared to talk but we could not get a sensible word out of him.
Berg gave up getting any information from that individual and instead we tried to study our pocket diary map to see whether we could locate Northeim.
From the hatch on the military train side we could see a big factory. It was about 200 meters away and seemed to be a sugar refinery.
Suddenly we heard the familiar howl of an air raid siren signaling a red alert ‑ at the same time another 3 or 4 sirens joined in to produce the sinister up and down tone of the full scale alert. There were of course others who had heard the warning. Our guard detail did not waste any time in removing themselves from the vicinity of the cars, they jumped down into a ditch 100 meters away, flicked the safety off their machine pistols and trained them on us.
The heroic Hitler‑boys donned their steel helmets and ran off as if pursued by all the demons in hell. We actually appreciated that; if one of them had fired a shot we would have been the recipients of the retaliation.
I shared a position at the hatch with a rowdy from Vesterbro and could hear the buzzing noise from many aero planes. We could see nothing but after three quarter of an hour of this buzz my neighbor suddenly pointed up in the air and yelled “Here they come”.
I looked up and spotted a dozen R.A.F. bombers, which had broken formation to head in our direction.
Immediately following his shout I noticed a dot falling from the first plane ‑ a violent explosion rocked the car ‑ and we dived for shelter on the floor in a wild tangle of arms legs and bodies. One after another the bombs kept exploding making a hell of a racket. I pushed my head under the stomach of a fat businessman thinking “Watch your head, that is the most important part” and being as scared as never before in my 19 years of life.
The bombs were exploding all around us, the car was jumping on the rails, soil and rocks hammered down on the roof and shrapnel whizzed through the car about a meter off the floor. The first chock had dissipated and was followed by reactions varying from individual to individual. Some were cursing the Nazis, others were just cursing in the vilest way they could, some were crying silently and yet others were laughing loudly in a fit of panic.
Personally I was pressing myself against the floorboards with my head tucked under the tummy of the aforementioned businessman and chewing away on a pencil, which I had placed between my teeth. In one short moment my entire life paraded through my mind ‑ and I dispatched a kindly thought for those that had contributed to my past happiness.
The bombardment stopped just as suddenly as it had begun ‑ our reactions were not so easily turned off and we were on the verge of panic. All agreed that we had to get out of this god-forsaken car where we felt like rats in a trap ‑ the sooner the better. A slightly built fellow was pushed into the hatch opening so he could get outside and open the door ‑ but the guards called out ‑ they were still there in the ditch with the machine pistols trained on the car. Nothing could be done, if he climbed out he would be shot ‑ attempting to escape!.
He did not manage to open the doors but in the brief moment with his upper body partway through the hatch he did manage to get a good look at the surrounding countryside.
The sugar refinery was in flames and the entire switchyard nicely cratered. This was almost enough to make us happy again and we took turns at the view hatch to see the refinery walls crumble one after another. A remarkable and deeply satisfying sight.
However, just as we were congratulating ourselves at being alive and unscathed, the whole thing started all over again – and this time it was worse. A new flight of bombers swept in at low altitude unloading their bombs.
I sought cover as before trying to penetrate as far down into the heap of bodies as possible and took care to have something to bite into to avoid busting my eardrums.
The attack seemed to be dragged out this time, and the bomb hits were closer. When were we going to get one through the roof ?
Facing this immediate danger, we forgot our unbearable thirst and hunger as well as the stench of feces permeating the car. The fear of being crippled was overpowering.
The concussions were literally lifting the car off the rails and one time I could see straight through the bottom where the floor boards had temporarily separated from each other.
This time too, the attack stopped abruptly. I know there is nothing strange about that, bombs do tend to descend rather rapidly.
This time the destruction was more widespread. The maintenance shop, which had escaped damage in the first round, had been completely destroyed including whichever locomotives had been present. The station building next to us had received a bull’s eye hit and disappeared from sight. Another building further away had also disappeared. Our locomotive had been derailed and destroyed and a couple of our anti‑aircraft flat cars in the rear of the train had received the kind attention of one of the bombs. About 10 meters away we spotted a dud ‑ a half-ton bomb, which might explode at any moment. Over the whole area torn up sections of twisted rails predominated and all trackage entering or leaving the area were blocked by bomb craters.
When it looked as if nothing more was forthcoming, by the way there was nothing left to destroy, our guards and the Hitler Jugend crew started to brave the open air again ‑ mind you they kept well away from the dud.
The Hitler‑boys climbed up in their gun seats and started to traverse the heavens with their gun sights ‑ maybe they were looking for sea‑gulls.
We investigated our car and found that several pieces of shrapnel had passed through but that the only one to be harmed had escaped with a minor cut in his cheek. This was however only of scant comfort ‑ we had still a way to go and now we all realized what to expect when traveling on the bloody German railway net.
The attack resulted in our remaining in Northeim for a further 3 days. We got switched over to a far corner of the yard; hunger and thirst reared its ugly head and the stench in the car got worse and worse.
Captain Berg again conferred with the guard commander asking for food and information. Regarding food we got nowhere ‑ “We had been provisioned for the trip” he maintained. We did receive the news that nobody had been killed during the attack and that not one civilian target had suffered damage apart from a few smashed windowpanes and loose roof tiles. Well done R.A.F. We also extracted from him that our destination was somewhere in Bavaria.
That was that ‑ as the bird flies we had probably 5 to 600 kilometers to go before we reached Bavaria, undoubtedly a longer and more difficult stretch then the one behind us.
The next day Captain Berg approached the guard commander once more, and this time he, together with an Office Manager Boek from the other car, were lead away for a meeting with the local mayor.
We had collected all available German currency and they were marched off ‑ well covered by machine pistols both front and rear.
We were awaiting their return with anxious anticipation. Would they succeed in obtaining something edible? We had had no food for four days running and nothing to drink for 2 days. The morale was still tolerably good, I overheard a couple of pranksters exchanging remarks as follows: ” Where shall we have our dinner this evening?”
“Hmm, how about Frascati, they serve a Salisbury steak as big as the plate” “Why so expensive? I would prefer Cafe Tivoli and sauerkraut with pork, then we will have enough for a beer or two in Heidelberg afterwards.”
We were not yet in despair but the joking remarks were just a thin veneer covering our anxiety. WOULD WE MANAGE TO GET SOME BREAD?
It was suggested that we should try to get the car cleaned out, but an ex‑war‑correspondent, who had covered the Finland campaign, strongly advised us to leave it alone and not get the bacteria airborne where they could be inhaled. “The danger of contracting a sickness is minimized by just leaving it ‑ and it all helps to keep us warm” he said. We decided to follow his advice; the inhabitants of the other car undertook to muck out all the crap and were shortly thereafter subjected to various epidemic illnesses.
Finally our emissaries returned, but with empty hands. As the car door was opened we just shook our heads in despair. Then it happened ! Instead of prodding Captain Berg back into the car ‑ 2 volunteers were ordered out ‑ and 10 responded immediately.
Needless to say ‑ everybody wanted to stretch their legs. 8 of them were promptly motioned back into the car with guns in their back.
Those guards were really terrified of being clobbered ‑ even this far into their own country.
Captain Berg had succeeded and a shade over half an hour later they returned bringing 110 loaves of rye bread, some sausages and some erzats (artificial) honey. The soldiers confiscated 10 loaves, the sausages and the honey; the rest was distributed as 10 loaves per car per day. That was not the only bright event of the day.
Later in the afternoon the car doors were again allowed open and we were permitted to walk back and forth outside covering a distance of some 2 car length. The whole affair took about 10 minutes ‑ but it was wonderful to again have firm ground under our feet.
That was the end of that ‑ and we were back in our cage enjoying the stench. We managed to keep alive on 200 grams of bread per day ‑ barely. I must not forget to mention that that day we also received a bucket of water ‑ and I doubt that anybody ever enjoyed champagne like we enjoyed that dirty water.
The following day around noon we were coupled into a train and travels resumed after careful navigation past the craters on the exit tracks. We rumbled along the German Train net passing platoons of pulverized locomotives and burnt‑out boxcars reinforcing our expectations of an imminent German collapse. We were reasonably sure that we were either going to die in an air attack ‑ or the war would end before we reached our destination. That we would complete our journey did not seem to be very likely.
The train proceeded southwards. We passed Gottingen and arrived at Meiningen where the railway station had been so thoroughly destroyed that new trackage had been placed on top of the ruins and where a temporary Red Cross Office had been relocated to serve as the station building.
Here in Meiningen we were again switched out to the yard holding area where we lingered for 36 hours. As neighbors we had rows of freight cars and military trains. Some of Hitler’s railway‑boys were walking back and forth between the Red Cross building and their own train, which was, parked close by.
As usual we were weak from hunger and had spotted a kohlrabi on the track a few meters away. Our collective mouth was salivating at the sight and at our gestures one of the boys tried to hand over the kohlrabi but were chased away by our guards. Another boy managed to say “Heute abend wenn es dunkel ist” ‑ they did really try to live up to their promise and were even prepared to give us some water ‑ but our dear guards were on the alert and chased them away.
Our appetite was certainly whetted at the sight of the kohlrabi and we would have enjoyed consuming it piece by piece ‑ it came all to naught and we tried to go to sleep while Helmer sang the song of Horserød as well as he could considering his parched throat.
Hunger, cold and discomfort made it impossible to sleep and the hours of darkness advanced at a snails pace.
The next day we received a bucket of dirty water tapped from the locomotive tender, we drank it greedily the usual half a cup per man.
At noontime we were rolling on. At this time we were headed north, later in the day we headed west, we passed Eisenach and reached Erfurt late at night. As the train rolled on every once in a while I was rocked to sleep only to be rudely jerked awake as the train started switching around at one or another station.
In Erfurt we had a 6-hour air raid alert ‑ this time the attack passed us by although we could hear the bombs detonating in a neighboring city.
One hour after the all clear signal we were on our way and arrived in Weimar. The beautiful old city had suffered very little damage and it was actually a relief to again see intact buildings.
It was not long before we were rolling again. For the rest of that day and all of the night we proceeded at an intolerable slow pace to finally reach Halle, a quite large city as such things go. Again it was the railway station, which had suffered the worst damage. At that particular time the city served as prison camp for a contingent of the Danish police force. In daytime they were put to work in the city and they had relatively few restraints to contend with. They lived in a camp outside the city proper and was transported to town each morning by civilian supervisors and assigned various types of work ‑ sweeping the streets etc.
We left Halle just before they got plastered by bombs for several hours running ‑ again we had just barely escaped death.
We arrived in Leipzig the same day and stayed overnight. Their aggravating habit of parking us in the high exposure freight yards was once again confirmed.
The next day we were constantly gaining altitude ‑ and in spite of hunger and thirst I could not help but enjoy looking at the beautiful landscape. Up and ever up through woods of evergreens with the white bands of wide autostradas ( free ways ) snaking through the forests. Colossal earth dams across valleys and from the top of these we could look down on century old fir trees. One locomotive in front and two pushing in the rear, it was slow going but the trip was very scenic.
We proceeded through peaceful looking surroundings stopping now and then at small stations to load up with milk containers and to unload various kind of luggage. We were now part of a combined freight and passenger train, but the regular travelers made a large detour around our cars to board the passenger cars further down the line. I imagine that the stench was not to their liking.
At one time we had stopped at a beautiful little station with a majestic alpine scenery as a backdrop. Two attractive young women were perched in one of the station windows. We signaled them with various gestures ‑ and much to our surprise got a smile in return. Thus encouraged we asked them, in our perfect textbook German, where we were headed. They had trouble understanding us, maybe we were using a wrong dialect, but when we repeated the word “wohin” while pointing in the direction of travel, they nodded affirmatively and shouted “Hof”. One of our pranksters maintained that this had to be a joke. ( Hof is a brand of Carlsberg beer ). Hof was just what we needed, but not what we were likely to get.
They turned out to be correct ‑ we were on our way to a city called Hof, near the border of Chechko‑Slovakia and high up in the Erzgebirge mountain chain.
Along the way we had seen a number of prisoners of war working to maintain the trackage, we had tried to hail them but none of them seemed to understand our shouts of “Dane” ‑ “Danemark” -instead we made a substitute Danish flag which we exposed to view every time we passed one of these groups. It did help and we received several greetings and good wishes from our “comrades”.
The stench got steadily worse. After all of our paper had been used up we had scrounged an old pail, the bottom had fallen out and the smell it conveyed was literally unbearable ‑ we threw it out.
We tried now a new way to arrange matters. Two men lifted the victim in position to stick his rear end out of the hatch opening while the process was going on. While he sat there we were alerted by watchers at the other hatch that we had pulled in and stopped at the railway station in Hof. The platforms were full of people having to witness the sacred act ‑ an absolute perfect, if unintended, way for us to show our contempt of the “Third Reich”.
We stayed in Hof overnight and continued south the next day still ascending among the mountains and the forests of fir trees.
Late in the afternoon we started a mild descent but not enough to get us off the high plateau and the associated freezing cold. On our way to Hof we had experienced early spring weather with everything sprouting and growing ‑ now we were in the midst of an old winter.
Some time during the night we reached the city of Regensburg and our stopping was again accomplished in a series of violent jerks. In the forenoon we traveled on and crossed the river Donau, it was choked with sunken ships with their funnels and masts sticking up from the water, in one case the stern of a ship was fully exposed.
We were still at high altitude and suffered from the extreme old. In the other car 10 individuals had come down with Diphtheria or Scarlet fever, while our car only had one ‑ a young bicycle mechanic who had contracted diphtheria and was deathly ill. He was foaming at the mouth and was shaking with cold. We had placed him on what blankets we had and had tried to provide what covering we could ‑ but death had targeted him.
None of us were now concerned with our luggage and personal belongings ‑ we placed ourselves in the car as comfortably as possible and were fully occupied with conserving our health and strength.
That day we arrived in Ingolfstadt, it was situated on both banks of the Donau and had suffered heavy bomb damage. It had been a large industrial center and now looked very desolate with its many ruined buildings.
We paused for a couple of hours in the freight yard area and then rolled on. As we were leaving the outskirts of the city the sirens blared out the “Grossalarm” ‑ and a few seconds afterwards we witnessed an intensive bombardment. R.A.F. threw bombs for over an hour and the city literally went up in flames! Once more by a hairs breath!
We had stopped under the shelter of a railway embankment and the “Horse”, as the locomotive was called, had been driven under cover in a nearby forest. Aero planes were overhead all the time ‑ and when there was a temporary pause the Horse came puffing back only to change its mind and return to the shelter of the forest.
A few prisoners, English officers, also with the train were permitted out to stretch their legs. They of course were honorable enemies fighting for their own country while we were dirty traitors revolting against the Third Reich.
Our last piece of bread had been consumed the day before and we were going nearly insane with hunger. At the same time the temperature was well below freezing ‑ and we were very cold. Captain Berg had some medicine in his luggage and we gave the patient some pills, which proved difficult to swallow with a dry throat. Berg himself suffered from a chronic illness and had to have a certain medicine each day. He had a 4 months supply and could expect to survive no longer then half a year without his medicine.
Eventually the attack stopped, the Horse returned and we carried on. It was bitterly cold and it was snowing when we left the burning Ingolfstadt behind us.
The train proceeded at a goodly pace. At 9:30 PM the 2nd of March we arrived at the small railway city of Dachau ‑ about 12 kilometers north of Munich.
Dachau was known to several of us as one of the worst political concentration camps in Germany ‑ it had been established in 1933.
The snow was being whipped along by strong winds. I was standing up in the car ‑ couldn’t sit down, but couldn’t keep standing either. I was exhausted and cold and feared the worst. In the condition we were in, we might well freeze to death, but we fought on even though there seemed no hope of being let out before morning.
We had collapsed helter skelter on top of each other when the car doors were slid aside. The darkness outside was packed with police soldiers and illuminated by a lonely faint platform light.
The transport leader yelled in true Prussian fashion: “If anybody tries to escape you will all be shot immediately”. At that moment the man probably uttered the best joke of his life ‑ we fell off the car more or less like cow plop and none of us were able to run even for 10 steps.
We were ordered into formation 4 by 4, at the rear were our sick, 3 of whom were dying, being carried and supported, while the rest of us took turns with our luggage.
The column started to move along at a slow pace prodded by police soldiers packing machine pistols.
We had two kilometers to go to reach the concentration camp and we practically dragged ourselves along through the snow and the withering cold.
Finally we stood at the gates to “K‑Z Dachau”. The gate opened up into a big barrack like building and above it we saw the Swastika and the German Eagle meticulously crafted in bronze.
We were prodded and kicked through the gate and then counted four by four. If anybody lagged behind a solid Prussian boot in the behind provided immediate encouragement. When we had all passed through the gate the first ranks were facing another gate and the whole ceremony was repeated, thus we passed several more gates and each time we were counted ( Germans are a very thorough and methodical people ) to eventually pass through a large factory complex and reach the final gate leading into the living quarters compound. This was a little city in itself ‑ at that time housing about 30,000 prisoners.
To get to this gate one had to cross a perimeter minefield, which bordered a moat, and a 6-meter high wall festooned with electrified barbed wire surrounding the entire area. Inside the wall was another 20 meters wide mine field and then a 6-meter tall high‑voltage barbed wire fence. On the inside of this fence “Spanish Riders” had been installed (likewise electrified) and in front of these were a net work of zig‑zag trenches where soldiers could get under cover in case of mutiny among the prisoners. It should also be mentioned that tall stone watch towers were located every 50 meters along the wall. The machine guns in these towers were manned night and day and effectively covered every inch of ground inside the compound. Furthermore one had to consider that the factory complex totally surrounded the prison compound, so a successful escape from the compound left another 5 walls to go equally equipped alert guards and electrified barbed wire. Under these conditions escape was doomed to failure.
While waiting in front of this last gate, some of us succumbed to our raging thirst by scooping up some snow to eat ‑ we had had nothing to drink for 3 days ‑ they were immediately warned that the snow was heavily contaminated with all kinds of bacteria.
Having passed the gate (and the inevitable tally) we trudged down one the camp streets and entered a barrack used as a reception area for new prisoners. Here we deposited our sick comrades in one end of the room and stretched out ourselves on the floor enjoying the freedom of being able to lie flat again in spite of the cold. In several places the floors were covered with a layer of ill smelling ground water and in spite of all the warnings some weak souls could not resist drinking it.
Around 3 o’clock the prisoners in the kitchen reported for duty and soon after a couple of inmates brought us a big keg of warm “Coffee” and each a 200-gram hunk of rye bread.
We dug in with a vengeance, but I found to my horror that I simply could not chew the bread. My teeth had loosened so much that I could have plucked them out one by one and my gums were very sore. I gave Manne half of my bread and crumpled up the remainder sufficiently to swallow without chewing.
Our old Nykøbing acquaintance Kjeld Staunstrup gave me a pair of stockings and a handkerchief. I had started this venture with no luggage at all and my outfit was really in a sorry state.
I discovered that there were “Lagerpolizei” present in the barrack hall. Only long-term prisoners were eligible for this exalted position. I struck up a conversation with one of them and he turned out to be a pleasant chap, a young Dutchman who had been in Dachau for 8 years.
He told me that compared to 2 years ago Dachau was now a regular paradise (I found that hard to believe ) and he tipped me off on some current state of affairs conditions.
If one avoided falling ill, a normal human being could expect to survive only 4 months on the food allotments provided ‑ unless of course the individual had been assigned a job in the kitchen, in the Lagerpolizei or similar job allowing the scrounging of a bit more food on the side. He also told me that the camp contained a bordello staffed with young Polish women ‑ prisoners forced into degrading themselves. They were sterilized and in most cases were young girls from respectable Polish families. The bordello was reserved for “Blockaldtester” and similar gentlemen, a situation that did not worry me unduly.
Then he outlined the coming events. For the first 3 weeks we would be located in a quarantine barrack, if we managed that without getting ill we would be moved to the regular barracks ( by the way a preponderance of the barracks were classified as either quarantine or hospital barracks ) and start working in a factory or similar from 7 in the morning to 7 in the evening with 15 minutes for a dinner break. Among the factories there was one that produced spare parts for aircraft and actually most were engaged in the armaments end of things. During the quarantine period I could expect some coffee in the morning, a bowl of soup at noon, and some coffee and 200 grams of rye bread in the evening. Afterwards, when working, the ration was increased to 350 grams of bread per day and a little more soup. Our conversation was conducted in German, which was the international language of the camp.
After all these explanations he requested some tobacco, but I had to disappoint him with my story of the tobacco having run out a full week ago and that our last smoking venture consisted of 25 people sharing a pipe stuffed with the burnt out remnants from all the pipes available.
By the way, he did supply a few tips regarding the work. It was paying work with remuneration in so‑called “Lagerphennig” to the tune of 1 to 4 phennig per week depending on the nature of the work. One could purchase additional soup, some sour marmalade and some 15% soap in the canteen (Yes, they had one of those too). I never did manage to experience all these wonders seeing that I spent all my time in Germany under quarantine.
Dawn had arrived and we noticed an L shaped building across from us. The part of the building closest to us housed the combined communal bathing room and gas chamber and the other branch was the camp kitchen. Painted on the roof of the building in large letters was the message: “The only route to freedom is death”.
At 6 o’clock we observed a platoon of prisoners in their striped uniforms being marched in and we got the first whiff of what was in store. Never had I seen such a group of emaciated, miserable beings. They hobbled along coughing and with their breath rattling in their throats. We had a couple of degrees of frost and they were dressed in their thin prison uniforms, many were barefooted and the lucky ones wore open bath sandals. There were 10 to 11 year old boys and oldsters in their seventies and eighties among them.
Our own senior was 65 years old ‑ Olsen , a retired mechanic from Odense, and we almost had to carry him on our hands to get him through all this alive. He had been taken as a hostage because they could not get hold of his son‑in‑law.
The prisoners were marched into the Gas cum Bath chamber through a door in one end of the building, inside in passing an open window they tossed their clothes out the window in a heap on the ground, ‑ we never saw them again.
At that moment, while we were in a mood of bleak despair, somebody shouted “Achtung!”. By now we had a pretty good idea of the meaning of that particular phrase and tried to stand at attention as well as we could.
The camp commandant and a couple of his adjutants entered. For a few moments he just looked us over and then asked the young Dutch Lagerpolizei where we were from. After receiving the answer “Dane” he singled out a couple of us ( me among others ) and asked our age, profession etc. I realized, for the first time, that I was categorized as “Handelsverkehr”.
Having got this over with and tapping his riding whip against his smartly polished boots he launched himself into a loud lecture using a Bavarian dialect of German, which nobody could comprehend. Afterwards the whole thing was repeated by the Dutchman (in regular German) and translated by a Dane. The gist of it was, that we were going to be stripped but could keep a piece of soap with us ‑ and that if we tried to smuggle a wedding band or anything else for that matter by hiding it in the soap, we would receive 25 strokes with a rubber truncheon on the spot. He had added that apart from the death penalty this was the only penalty used ‑ and that both penalties were in frequent use.
Having enriched our lives with his remarks the commandant left the barrack preceded by yet another shout of “Achtung”.
250 Danes were already in residence in Dachau, having arrived a week earlier from Frøslev. Also present were 3 Danish pastors housed in a special barrack where all imprisoned clergy ended up.
One of these clergymen had been fetched to make a roll call and distribute prisoner numbers. We were processed 10 at a time and sent over in an antechamber to the Gas‑Bath chamber. Manne and I as usual ended up in the same group. I was assigned # 142599 and was now just another number in “K‑Z Dachau”. It was a pretty high number and with only 30,000 presently accounted for, one had to wonder where the missing 112,599 were ‑ I had my suspicions.
The shout from the door was “next 10” so Manne, 8 others and I moved ourselves across the street to the antechamber. We stripped and then handed over all our clothes, which were stuffed into bags. Valuables were handed over at a long counter and both valuables and clothes were listed on a piece of paper, which we then (can you believe it) had to sign as proof of having handed it over ‑ after which both receipt and valuables disappeared below the counter.
Several of us had some difficulty in detaching wedding bands but that was taken care of using a pair of pliers ‑ snip snip and the ring was cut apart ‑ no problem!
All this work and for that matter ALL work performed in the camp was done by prisoners, the general rule being that the more brutality they showed the higher was their rank and their power over their fellow inmates.
We were permitted to keep one pair of shoes and our toilet gear, which in my case consisted of a piece of soap. Still naked we were herded into an adjacent room, which, with its large vats and containers, looked like a cross between a laboratory and a furnace room. With the temperature still well below zero and on bare feet we waited.
I waited there for about an hour until the door was opened for Manne and me, we crossed a corridor to enter the Bath‑Gas chamber. It was a queer feeling being in here, but we were reasonably sure that it was water that was going to be administered seeing that a hair cutting operation was in full swing ‑ it did not seem to make too much sense to cut our hair if they were going to gas us, unless of course they needed the hair to make clothes from ‑ it was in fact carefully collected later.
We were placed on a bench and subjected to the painful procedure it is to have ones beautiful curls cut off by a person wielding a hand‑clipper which without a doubt had cut the hair of thousands before me without the benefit of being sharpened even once. The hair was practically pulled off my head and I was in a melancholy mood as it fell to the floor lock by lock.
In spite of everything I had to laugh at the sight of Manne, without hair he looked totally ridiculous. He did not seem to mind and contributed loudly to the merriment and it suddenly occurred to me that he was laughing at me rather then himself. Nowadays, when the barbers again earn good money trimming my locks, I am grateful that we were able to see the humor in the situation. Our sense of humor was the one thing we had going for us and the only one that the Germans could not entirely erase.
A closer study of this combined bathroom and gas chamber revealed the following. The area was about 20 meters long by 10 meters wide. Benches along one of the walls were handy to keep clothes off the floor when taking a shower ‑ if you were not the clothes were thrown out through a window before entering. The windows were airtight with opaque panes protected by solid wrought iron bars. Hanging from the ceiling was a piping system with about 250 showerheads. One door only in the end wall ‑ and in one corner, a toilet.
Having gotten rid of all hair we paraded past a prisoner sitting on a stool with a bucket of Lysol in front of him. (Elsewhere Lysol is used to disinfect cattle). He had a brush in his hand, dipped it in the Lysol and applied it liberally to all body parts previously sporting any kind of hair.
It caused a burning sensation as it was applied and we hurried right along to get into a line of showers raining wonderful hot water. We washed but were careful to save our own soap as much as possible and instead to use a 15% German soap from a bucket placed on the floor. We were hurried through the showering procedure and then were given a towel to dry ourselves off. (Yes, we got a towel EACH!).
Next came another joke ‑ assigning clothes. They had run out of prison uniforms and the costumes, which were handed out, were out of this world. Storm P (a famous Danish cartoonist) should have been present, he could have produced illustrations so hilarious that they would have topped any of his earlier masterpieces ‑ and he could have used up a 10 meter pencil lead without getting two sketches looking alike.
I was handed a pair of shorts and a shirt, densely spotted with flea and lice excrement. Then a pair of stockings patched together from the remnants of five different pairs. Then the most important items ‑ trousers and jacket. The jacket was way too small ‑ no way to wear it. The pants were too big but that problem was solved by an exchange of pants with a more corpulent Sloth, a farmer from Præstø, who had acquired a pair of green Dutch uniform pants. After this transaction I took the liberty to throw the jacket back in the pile and in spite of protests from the “Clothes‑inmates” (accompanied by requests for tobacco) I managed to find a green military jacket which harmonized (more or less) with the pants and which fitted me tolerably well. To complete my wardrobe I “organized” a green hat from Tyrol.
Manne had been assigned a jacket that could wrap twice around him. “Not to worry” he said, “it all helps to keep warm.”
Having dressed we were chased out into the camp street by SS‑guards. I tried to brush my teeth at a faucet with my index finger. One of the guards considered this to be an unnecessary privilege and asked me to move on, using the normal gentle German phraseology. For two weeks I had not had the opportunity to brush my teeth and replied “Ein Augenblich”, he must have misunderstood ‑ the fellow went ape and kicked me in my behind so I ended up flat in the street, while he cursed and shouted in the resonant and elegant Prussian language.
I did not take the time to clarify his mistake but lined up with the rest of my group. Manne, who had been witnessing the event, did not attempt to brush his teeth ‑ we did not want any further “misunderstandings” to take place.
When we were all lined up we marched across the announcement plaza and down a street lined with 20 barracks on each side. In German these barracks were called “Blocke” and will be referred to as such in the following narrative.
On our way we got a course in “Mutze auf und ab”, i.e. every time we see a German in uniform, we were supposed to straighten up and remove our head gear. If we were in formation we were to keep going, but if single we should stop and stand at attention until the German had passed us. Of course the German would not acknowledge the greeting and would in fact only notice us if we transgressed these rules of behavior. (It was this ceremony that inspired the Danish police men to create a song starting as follows: “Mutzen auf und ab ‑ what a bunch of crap”.)
Finally we arrived at our future “home” ‑ block 19. At this time the first of our comrades had already died. Ill or not, all had been forced through the bath routine and the bicycle mechanic had collapsed and died on the spot. After the bath any others, showing obvious signs of illness, had been taken to the “Revier” ‑ the German name for the camp hospital ‑ where another two died the following night.
The lanes between the barracks on the right side of the street were blocked with tall chicken wire fencing. In a couple of spots including our block sackcloth had been attached to the mesh to prevent prisoners from getting a view of the street. These barracks were the quarantine and/or hospital barracks.
The door to block 19 was opened from the inside by a one‑armed gate‑keeper rattling a huge key bunch. He was equipped with an armband attesting to his important position as “Hilfphortner”.
We marched into the lane, made a right turn and stood at attention. The gate was closed and we now belonged in block 19 with all its attendant horrors. Our new “Vorherre” , Blockaldteste Egon Pirker gave the “welcome speech” concerning mostly a description of the penalties for being caught stealing etc.
By the way our blockaldteste was an unusually nice and clean living representative of the race, and having found out that we belonged to a (“Kulturvolk”) civilized race ‑ he leaned our way to the extent he dared.
A blockaldteste is a prisoner, who in the course of time has advanced to have supervision of an entire block ‑ about 1000 prisoners. He has absolute jurisdiction over the inmates and to curry favour among the SS guards it is best to have a hanging on a regular basis and in general to assist the killing off of fellow prisoners to the extent possible ‑ thus leaving room for more newcomers.
To assist the blockaldteste has a group of “Kapo’s”, on the average 2 to a room. Each block also sports a “Blockschreiber” ‑ ours was titled “Blockschreiber neunzehn”. Include the gate‑keeper who has been mentioned earlier and in block 19 you have named all the people of any consequence.
A few remarks on how the block is subdivided. A block has 2 sections each with its own entrance. Each section consists of 4 rooms, one toilet and a bathroom. We were placed in the northerly section in the two rooms to the right.
The first room had a freestanding stove placed in the middle, a couple of tables and some stools, with the remainder of the room occupied by bunks. The second room was wall-to-wall, floor to ceiling bunks. These bunks were more like shelves, no separating boards between them and only half a meter between the shelves vertically. Between rows of shelves were half-meter wide corridors. We were crammed into these rooms 5 men to 2 bunk spaces.
Manne and I were quartered in the second room, which served as sleeping accommodations for about 300 prisoners in an area of 10 x 10 meters with 3 layers of bunk shelves in the 3-meter height. This packing together of human beings made the atmosphere in the room intolerable.
The earlier arrivals in the block were of 30 different nationalities ‑ mostly prisoners of Latin or Polish origin but all in all representatives from every European nation. We immediately
named all the corridors between the tiers of bunks, the one bisecting the room was called “Bredgade” as it was slightly wider then the others. The one at right angles was called “Smallegade”, while the one where I was located was dubbed “Kapelvej”, seeing that it fronted the windows looking out on Block 21 which was without a doubt a Typhoid block ‑ every morning there were rows of emaciated corpses outside all victims of Typhoid and hunger.
The first few days in this hellhole were terrible. Our nervous tension was sky high and we were vulnerable to all these horrors.
Each of us had received a rusty metal bowl and was it was time for dinner all of us had to squeeze into the corridors between the bunks in the front room where the food was distributed. At the same time the original inhabitants had to retreat to their bunk shelves. We were well and truly squeezed together and latecomers were herded into the mob by a Kapo wielding a serving spoon. The body smell emanated by all these people was indescribable, particularly the stench of garlic coming from the Yugoslavians. I cannot figure out where they acquired Garlic ‑ but they did and always stank of it.
Now the distribution of food started, one by one we proceeded past the food buckets, where a Kapo poured a scoopful into our bowl, which had to be held out in a certain way. Any unfortunate soul who had not positioned the bowl according to the Kapo’s wish received not the soup but instead a blow of the scoop and a whole string of curses. As soon as we had received our measure of soup we entered our room and climbed into the bunks. The soup had to be eaten while lying down, no space available in the corridors.
By organizing the food distribution in this manner the possibility of scrounging a second helping was eliminated. The maneuver of getting into one’s bunk and there inhale one’s food in cramped quarters was quite complicated as it was only possible to enter from the end of the bunk. Well Manne and I managed it without accidents ‑ looked at each other ‑ and started in on the soup. The soup stock was Kohlrabi and turnip leaves and it contained no solids. It was as thin as water and had a “peculiar” taste to it.
Anyway it was consumed in a greedy fashion but it did nothing to satisfy our hunger ‑ and so it went day after day. We had to lap up the soup straight from the bowl ‑ no spoons available.
After dinner we received our first “camp‑rumor”. There were Danes living in the other end of our block! It had to be investigated. We had permission to move around in the camp street so we paid a visit to the second section of our block ‑ true enough we found that about 250 Danes had arrived from Frøslev a week earlier.
We had a great get‑together chatting and exchanging information. They had already made several observations and gleaned useful experience.
They told us that we had to stay quarantined in block 19 for 3 weeks. If we made it that long without certain symptoms of being sick we would be released out into the regular camp area. Then they gave us some details regarding block 21, which was positioned adjacent to our block, and dedicated to patients suffering and dying from Typhoid and Para‑Typhoid. They suggested that we take a look at block 21 through our windows in the morning. Block 17 adjacent to their side of our block was Revier as well and catered to several other illnesses most of them ending in death. The patients were naked and two per bed. Frequently a man suffering from Influenza would be bedmate with a man with running sores and boils. That way each contracted the others illness ‑ nice conditions!!
Our conversation was interrupted by a shouted command of “Antreten” ! We had to immediately form up in ranks in the camp street, and in this instance we had an advantage over everybody else in Dachau, we were simply counted and rarely had to stand at attention for longer then half an hour, while the regulars were often kept at attention for 4 to 5 hours in the muster area.
The full muster required that all prisoners be accounted for; they were counted either in the central muster area, the Reviers, the quarantine area or wherever they might be. Then the checklists were shipped to the office to be summed up, if they did check out the muster was over but that happened only rarely. With the number of fatalities each day it proved to be difficult to balance the account on the first try. Then of course there had to be a recount and many hours could pass by before the books were in order and the muster could be terminated. In the meantime all the poor devils in the muster area had to stand at attention until they finally would get their slice of rye bread and could retire to their bunks. After the muster we marched back in single file formation past the food buckets, held out our iron bowls and received a slug of cold “coffee” and a slice of bread and continued on up into our bunks to devour it. We were actually permitted to eat outside in the camp street, but we dared not suffer the loss of body heat ‑ we were not dressed for a temperature of several degrees below zero. The coffee tasted like water with an odious flavor but hit the spot anyway, we were very thirsty and we did not dare drink from the faucets in the washroom seeing that all water in the camp was contaminated with typhoid. The slice of rye weighed in at around 200 grams and was composited of one third each of flour, sawdust and cellulose ‑ of course it tasted wonderful ‑ I would never have believed that dry bread could taste that good. Every crumb was licked and well salivated before being masticated and swallowed.
Back in Denmark I had had continuous trouble with my stomach and ever since I was 10 years old I had been on periodic diets ‑ on the way down I had been worried about my digestion but it stood up well and I realized that my current strict diet actually had some beneficial side effects.
Dusk descended on our first day in Dachau. A couple of light bulbs were turned on in the ceiling and in the bunks around us rested a very diversified collection of prisoners like sardines in a can. The representatives of the other nations had arrived a few days earlier and in spite of exhausting journey most of us were still reasonably vigorous.
Tito’s troops, the Yugoslavs and the Greeks, jabbered away outdoing a whole cage of monkeys ‑ and they were equally restless, but now one Yugoslavian raised his voice in one of his homeland’s beautiful songs. All the rest of us quieted down and the other Yugoslavs joined him. They sang so beautifully and with such a longing in their voices that the rest of us felt compelled to listen and appreciate the melody. After the Yugoslavs a group of Frenchmen took over. They sang in a slightly lower register, were more sentimental but equally as beautiful performers. A feeling of peace settled over the room and for a time allowed us to forget our misery. The songs sounded well ‑ when one nation had finished another took over. We contributed our own selection of beautiful Danish songs ‑ but nobody surpassed the Yugoslavs with their expressive voices.
Suddenly the singing was interrupted by energetic knocking on the window and the shout of “Licht aus! Licht aus!”. This meant air raid warning ‑ they did not use sirens in the camp, and now erupted a babble of shouts in all the various languages. All the shouting was aimed at the same thing ‑ and the loudest shouting was in Danish : “Sluk Lyset for Helvede ! De skyder gennem Vinduerne” and translated as “Switch off the light ….! They shoot through the windows.” Finally the light was switched off and fierce arguments raged over why it took so long to do. Somebody had to switch off the light but we could never agree on who should sacrifice his energy and calories for the common good. The guards stationed in the perimeter towers had orders to shoot through the windows unless the light had been switched off immediately ‑ as a consequence the whole assembly went hysterical as soon as they heard the knocking and the shout of “Licht aus!” It was nerve wracking and even though my nerves did not suffer any permanent damage to his day a shout of “Licht aus” will get a rise out of me.
Shortly after we heard the familiar rumble of allied squadrons overhead and before the last had passed the first bombs were falling on Munich with the concussions making the barracks tremble ‑ a moment later the sky was red with flames in the direction of Munich.
In this place we were not afraid, as we knew that Dachau was about the safest place in Germany during an attack. The allied knew where their friends were incarcerated. In the past some bombs had hit Dachau but in one case it had been the factory complex and another the gas chamber that was hit ‑ both times precision bombing with no prisoners being hurt.
All around they were complaining about lice and fleas, and Manne was red from bites all over his body. Nothing had taken a bite out of me but they had been tramping across me all night. I was so pleased that my blood was not to their liking ‑ but got wiser, that was only that particular night ‑ two days later I had collected my full share of bites.
We established a daily de‑lousing routine of inspecting each other, both body and clothes ‑ Lice were of serious concern, as they were potential typhoid carriers. Luckily for us Lice were not too common ‑ but at least a couple were detected each day. They are easy to catch as they crawl around rather then jumping like fleas.
Typhoid ( the worst of the epidemics haunting the camp) is transmitted solely by lice. When a louse bites a typhoid victim it contracts the disease itself and dies within a week, in the interim it can infect many new victims. When it bites you it leaves its excrements around the wound, scratching the itch allows bacteria to enter the wound, and at that moment one is infected. During the incubation period (3 days to 3 weeks) the person infected can infect others.
The fleas were not dangerous per se but there were millions of them. A well-established morning ritual was to turn up the collar of your neighbor’s jacket and catch half a dozen fleas in the process. They congregated in virtual layers under collars, in the seams and lining of our clothes. The lice were different they preferred bodily contact and shunned our clothes.
At breakfast after our ablutions we found out that it consisted of a splash of cold “tea” or “coffee” (no way of telling) plus whatever we happened to have left of our rye from the previous evening (that is zilch). We drank the cold substance and looked forward to the dinner soup.
We spent all day lying in our bunks and indulging in visions of ham and eggs and all sorts of other delicacies, once in a while we ventured out in the street ‑ but the cold soon forced us back inside.
Some knowledgeable individuals figured out that our calorie intake amounted to about 400 per day ‑ every day saw us noticeably weaker. In comparison the Germans normally get about 1500 calories daily.
It bothered me to lap up my soup from the bowl so I procured an old spoon in exchange for one day’s ration of bread ‑ paid over 2 days. Manne would rather lap up soup then do without his pittance of bread.
At the time we moved in block 19 a blackboard at the entrance proclaimed “Total 378. Revier 1”, a week later this had changed to “Revier 26”. Diseases were proliferating and only the deathly ill were transferred to the revier. For our own protection we segregated the ill in 2 rows of bunks along one side of the room, to reduce the risk of infection.
One morning I woke up half draped over my right hand bunkmate who showed all the symptoms of typhoid. He was promptly moved to the revier and died there just as promptly. Rarely a day passed without one of the army officers asked us to honor this or that comrade, who had died that day. These messages were delivered during the muster ‑ our engaging blockaldteste permitted it ‑ the announcements were pretty hard to take ‑ and who was going to be next? Usually it only took a couple of days. First symptoms ‑ then off to the revier ‑ dead.
One of the first to go was captain Berg, the one who had done the most to protect us on our trip down. He was tall and lanky. He had been assigned an old Bavarian postal uniform with narrow red trousers and a blue jacket. They had confiscated all his medicine and without it alleviating his chronic illness he had a maximum life expectancy of 4 to 5 months. This had to some degree depressed him and he was not exactly a young man. A couple of days after our arrival he got hit with a triple whammy ‑ Scarlet fever, Diphtheria and Typhoid ‑ 3 days later he was dead. Another wonderful person murdered in a bestial fashion. A bullet would have been more merciful.
The first morning look at block 21 made us want to puke. We were confronted with a row of naked, emaciated and ugly looking typhoid corpses deposited on the dirty slushy ground. All meaty parts of their bodies had withered away under the onslaught of the typhoid ( in German Fleckfieber ). Several of them had also suffered from dysentery and had their lower intestine extruding from their rear end. A Kapo walked down the line of corpses, that day amounting to about 20, kicked open one mouth after another and with a pair of pliers extracted all teeth showing evidence of gold fillings. What a treatment of the dead. Even in death there was no escape from these bandits, who had tortured them when they were alive. A little later in the day a couple of prisoners came over from the crematorium pulling a cart, the corpses were thrown into the cart and the cart pulled over to the ovens. Prior to this the Kapo had written the prison numbers on the chest of each corpse with a piece of blue marker chalk and also attached a nametag to the big toe.
This performance was more then we could take. I had to turn away from the gruesome sight, but as time passed it seemed as if a barrier had been erected in my mind ‑ one became apathetic and was capable of neither surprise nor fright. A few, unable to develop this kind of detachment, went crazy and one individual refused to eat and died after a couple of days had passed.
A farmer from Præstø had scrounged up a chess game; it was in constant use from dawn to dusk.
Compared with other nationalities the Danes enjoyed many advantages ‑ undoubtedly caused by the German snobbish attitude towards other races. We had been permitted to keep our footwear, wool underwear, previously confiscated, was returned ‑ and finally a Russian prisoner, a medical doctor, was permitted to administer to our needs. The Russian had asked for permission as he felt that we as a group exhibited understanding of the need for hygiene and were trying our best to fight the endemic diseases raging in the camp.
This Russian was truly a remarkable individual; his ability to create remedies from nothing was well nigh unbelievable. First of all he was an expert in wounds ‑ and most of us sported both wounds and boils. He made bandages from old newspapers and other goodies and actually cured a lot of boils and enticed our wounds to heal. To stop an epidemic of throat inflammation, which WE had brought into the camp, he inspected the throat of all the Danes every day. He was a polite and very competent doctor who, in his broken German, brought us many news and who, by applying his medical skills, helped us beyond measure. In spite of all his efforts, he had only the limited satisfaction of keeping some diseases in check, once in a while he managed to save somebody when the disease was caught early ‑ concerning typhoid he could do nothing other then diagnose it, it was impossible to cure under these conditions. Only a fantastic amount of will power and stamina from the patient would allow him to survive ‑ it did happen, but not often.
A couple of our own doctors, 2 brothers named Thaysen, were also active ‑ and all together they conducted a nearly hopeless fight against disease. Once in a while a very competent Dutch surgeon paid us a visit. A sizable fraction of Europe’s leading physicians were incarcerated in the concentration camps, they did the best they could but suffered from a total lack of medicines and tools.
At one time the bunks had been equipped with mattresses stuffed with sawdust and wood chips, the sawdust and chips remained and now filled with fleas and lice. We were assigned a thin blanket each, but it was impossible to get a nights sleep ‑ the fleas and the cold prevented it. Many got out of their bunks during the night to visit the toilet and hunt fleas ‑ it was forbidden to be there without “Valid Reason” but then practically everything was forbidden so what!
One of the most aggravating diseases, which spread with the speed of light, was “Scheisserei” ‑ a variety of dysentery causing the victims to visit the toilet at least 24 times per day, and often one did not move fast enough. It made an awful mess ‑ and we had no spare clothes ‑ we settled for rinsing our pants under a faucet and consequently had to wear wet pants, always.
When I myself got the trots it bothered me enough to take truly heroic measures to get rid of it. I succeeded, but the price was high. For three days I did not touch food!. Instead of rye bread I obtained some charcoal from the crematorium. I ate this charcoal until I had black clouds of dust coming out of my mouth ‑ I also scrounged a tube of old dry toothpaste which I ate (not including the tube). I had to exercise all of my will power to persist for the three days in the face of my hunger and exhaustion ‑ but ‑ no more trots.
One of our diversions was to read “Volklicher Beobachter” ‑ Dr.Goebbels propaganda newspaper. The paper was delivered to Blockaldteste Pirker every day and Manne and I often succeeded in snatching it and study it from A to Z ‑ the whole paper was only 2 pages ( front and back ). On Sundays there were actually 4 pages. Not very big ‑ but what they managed to pack‑in of lies. It was very interesting to read Dr. Goebbels personal efforts on the front page; he did not invent the “BIG LIE” for nothing. If we had believed these news from the front to the extent the Germans did ‑ we would have given up all hope of rescue, however, reading between the lines was not too difficult and we managed to follow current events up to a point.
Every word in that paper was studied ‑ including death announcements, always starting with “Fur Fuhrer, Volk und Vaterland todte dem Heltentod”. Every day there was a small column about animal life in the wild ‑ reading that I could almost see the flowers grow and detect the fragrance of the beech forest. From here it was easy enough to determine the ideal way of life.
“Volklicher Beobachter” was not our only source of news. However incredible ‑ even in Dachau there was a hidden radio receiver. We never knew where it was located, but we got the news usually when the Dutch surgeon paid us a visit.
We had several prominent guests staying with us. In solitary confinement we had Pastor Niemoller, the son of Stalin, and King Leopold with family, the latter were somewhat better housed.
It had become a morning ritual to look through the windows towards block 21 and count the dead. The record was 81 ‑ and that was just that block. On the average the daily toll for the entire camp was about a thousand. Towards the end of our stay the crematoria were overloaded and about 6000 were put on ice in a basement somewhere.
One morning a typhoid patient came staggering out in the camp street. Like all of them he was naked and bare footed with only a blanket around his shoulders. Suddenly he collapsed and slid to the ground ‑ but ‑ a Kapo jumped in with blinding speed and grabbed ‑ not the patient ‑ but the blanket, so it would not get dirty, and flung it into the barrack. The prisoner was forced with kicks and pushes to drag himself over into the line of corpses where he immediately had his chest numbered and got his nametag attached to his toe. He was groaning “Lord Jesus, help”, Jesus did not show up and he was carted off to the crematorium together with the “other” corpses.
Among us we had a person presenting a real threat to the Third Reich. He was Russian, blind, crazy and his trousers were missing both legs. All day he wandered up and down the corridors between the bunks singing loudly. He was a real nuisance and tended to make us very jittery ‑ but I still think that killing him was a rather drastic remedy. One morning, when some others and I entered the bathroom, he was hanging by a string from a ceiling mounted water pipe. During the night his comrades had simply strung him up ‑ and that was the end of his suffering. He was cut down and carted off to the crematorium with the rest of the days harvest.
Every day after dinner I ventured a small distance down our block alley, from the end of this alley it was possible to make out the top of some fir trees beyond all the walls. This view contrasted with our miseries and led me to daydream and to contemplate our fate with a little more equanimity. To day I stood as usual looking with longing at the distant firs and imagined myself back to Denmark. When I turned around to go back in, I looked directly into the eyes of a corpse lying in the gutter ‑ the whole mood was destroyed and the realities of Dachau again very much in the forefront of my mind.
Every day some prisoners from the camp were transported to Munich, where they, chained together, were cleaning up the ruins. After such a day of work they arrived back in the camp about 8 PM ‑ and was then forced to stay on their feet in the uncovered trucks for a couple of hours. The SS rationale was quite effective, anybody who was sick but still annoyingly alive ‑ would oblige by dropping dead while still in the truck. Then the trucks were driven to the crematorium and unloaded. Every day their load of dead were around 20 %.
One day a shipment of Poles arrived ‑ women and children ‑ originally some 3000 but now only about half had survived the trip ‑ they were assembled in the central muster yard and mowed down with machine gun fire.
Day after day we went through the same schedule. Morning toilet visit, cold tea or “erzats” coffee, flea and lice hunt, resting in the bunks, soup, walk around in the block alley, resting in the bunk, erzats‑coffee and slice of rye bread, singing, knock on window and “Licht aus”, attempts to sleep.
With the exception of a couple of swats with the ladle one day, when I did not present my bowl in the prescribed manner, I escaped punishment ‑ others were not so lucky, a couple of times prisoners were beaten senseless by the Kapos.
The number of sick grew at an alarming rate, the figure on the blackboard now read “Revier 78” and it increased by 10 or more each day. More and more Danes ended up in the Revier and several died there.
After a 14 days stay in Dachau the weather improved dramatically. The temperature was like a summer day at home and we could sit naked in the alley, sunning ourselves while conducting our hunts for fleas and lice.
To amuse ourselves and to divert our attention from our misery, we started to conduct a series of lectures. In the evening, having chewed our slice of rye crust, one of us gave a lecture. One topic was farming, another clearing of land, and a third about our sale to USA of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin island topic in particular, as told by a Dane who was born there, held a particular significance to us who was striving to keep what little land was left.
After three weeks in Dachau a rumor regarding the Swedish Red Cross was circulating. We did not put any credence to this rumor immediately ‑ we dared not believe.
One of our army captains ‑ Olsen ‑ reviewed front line reports every evening, illustrating the advance of the allies as best he could. We expected the war to be over by April 1st and it was this expectation of the end of the war in 2 weeks time that kept our morale intact. As time passed and we still were clinging to the 2-week deadline some pessimists found the concept of 2 weeks to be rather loosely defined.
From the aircraft factories we scrounged beautiful cigarette holders crafted by the prisoners from aircraft parts ‑ illegally of course. I acquired one myself as a “souvenir” from Dachau.
At 4 AM one morning we were called out for a muster in the barrack street! Now what? “bath” was the reply. Bath! ‑ What did that signify? We were near panic when we were marched over to the Bath chamber.
We were allowed into the chamber fully dressed. Our three ministers from the clergy‑barrack were also present. All windows were shut tightly ‑ and nothing happened. For several hours nothing happened ‑ no explanations ‑ nothing. What was the idea? Bath or Gas?
Suddenly we heard “Achtung” and got orders to remove all prison numbers from our clothes. It could only mean one thing ‑ destruction of all camp files. We removed the numbers and handed them over and waited again for something to happen. It was hard on the nerves. Once more I traced in my memory the events of my brief life and thought of those at home ‑ the ministers prayed ‑ still nothing. It was getting close to noon, in the rest of the camp life went on as usual, but here in the Bath ‑ Gas Chamber stood a small group of Danes uncertain of what was in store for them.
Then a rumor from a prisoner outside the chamber. He reported that Swedish Red Cross buses were parked out in front. We dared not believe it but the fear of being gassed abated somewhat. At noon the door was opened and we received soup from a couple of buckets brought in from the outside. Another couple of hours of waiting and then we were called out and formed up in 4 by 4 columns. 4 men were called into the kitchen and returned with ‑ what on earth was that?
When we realized that each of the four were carrying 4 loaves of Rye bread our silence was broken by wild shouts of glee. Big 8 pound loaves from “Fællesbageriet København” here in Dachau ‑ fantastic.
We now marched back to block 19 where yet another surprise awaited us ‑ all our block mates had disappeared. Where they had gone only the gods knew ‑ it was possible that they had suffered the fate we had thought in store for us in the gas chamber. Instead we were now quartered together with the rest of the Danes and a group of about 100 Norwegians ‑ all of us received Red Cross parcels and EACH of us got an eight-pound loaf of Danish Ryebread.
Believe it, we ate our fill ‑ and suffered the inevitable consequences. Hardly any of us could tolerate the Danish butter and salami after our bout with prolonged starvation.
The rumors concerning the Swedish Red Cross proliferated but were still a subject of ridicule and gave rise to tongue in cheek counter rumors. One proclaimed that outside the camp were 500 donkeys on which we were supposed to ride home. Another topped it by saying that the donkey story was not true, but that he had heard from “A reliable source” that instead there were 500 Swedish 2 seat sports cars chauffeured by Red Cross nurses at our disposition. A third character invented a transcontinental train with sleeping cabins, restaurant cars etc. etc. Our prospects had taken a turn for the better ‑ but in chatting with the Norwegians we were sobered by the tale of their ordeal.
Originally there had been about 500 Norwegians ‑ barely 100 had survived. They had been in another camp, KZ Mathausen, where they had worked in a quarry from 6 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock in the evening in minus 20 degrees centigrade weather. Every day somebody had died in the quarry and when they, using sleds, brought the corpses back to camp in the evening the SS set the dogs on them.
In the turmoil the sleds overturned, and the corpses went rolling down the embankments ‑ when they climbed down to recover the bodies the dogs were set on them again ‑ great fun, for the SS anyway.
Their camp was located on a mountain side on a series of terraces thus allowing a refinement of the muster ritual – the prisoners from the lower terraces had to muster on the top terrace and of course vice versa. Christmas morning 1944 they had their X‑Mas treat, a command was given “Augen hoch” and three of their comrades were hanged in the gallows situated on top of the mountain.
The Norwegians were the proud possessors of some “Lagerphennig” and procured a cask of beer to celebrate the occasion. In the past one had heard “Munchener Beer” described as a wonderful beer ‑ this version of it was as dilute as it could be and still be called beer and it caused no end of Scheisserei.
We spent a couple of pleasant evenings with our Norwegian friends, the moon was shining, the search lights playing tag with the aero planes up above, and we congregated in small groups in the block alley while one person was playing a scrounged violin and another sang solo. We went through some Viennese songs, Mandalay and a very beautiful song from the Spanish civil war.
Now that we had received Red Cross supplies we managed to save some soup every day, which was given to other prisoners in the block. I had made friends and among the mediterranians a particular good one was a Croatian engineer. We described our countries to each other and I shared goodies with him from my Red Cross parcel.
We conducted a chess tournament between Croatia, France, Yugoslavia, Poland, Holland and Denmark. I represented Denmark and managed to win the European title for Denmark. To be quite truthful I do not think that any of my opponents were chess masters in their respective homelands.
Barely a week after having been called out for a “bath” in the middle of the night, we were roused this time at 1 AM. (When Germans have to do something, they prefer to do it in the middle of the night).
This time it was for real ‑ we actually got a bath, got rid of all our old clothes, and got dressed up courtesy of the Danish Red Cross. Then we returned to the ante chamber (adjoining the Gas chamber) where we had our keys and other useless trinkets returned ‑ but we saw no trace of our watches, fountain pens or of our original clothes.
The papers attesting to our having delivered it all to their custody was now in evidence and we had to sign again to signify that everything had been returned. We also had to sign a paper saying that we had been treated well by “Der Fuhrer” and his underlings. We were willing to sign a confession to having murdered the pope as long as we got out of there ‑ so we signed, promptly.
At 7 o’clock in the morning we were standing at attention in the muster area, were marched back and forth a couple of times, stood at attention again, marched again, at attention again ‑ and a couple of hours had gone. Then the commandant arrived to inspect the ranks and those of our sick who could be moved joined us from the Revier. Now that we were about to escape this hell hole all of our Red Cross parcel remnants were dispatched back to the Revier, which still contained about 50 Danes, too sick to be moved.
After the commandant had finished his inspection we were marched out of the camp and stood at attention again. By now the whole performance had lasted about 9 hours. No sign of the Swedish Red Cross and we dared not believe in its presence ‑ not after all our earlier disappointments.
Suddenly a big white painted Swedish bus popped out from a side street, it was followed in short order by a caravan of white‑painted busses and their retinue of repair trucks, supply trucks and tanker trucks. On a signal from the small elegant lead car, the whole shebang stopped right in front of us. I believe that all of us were in tears ‑ I know I was ‑ it was almost too good to be true.
Now things started to move fast. 15 minutes after the caravan had stopped in front of us we were one kilometer outside Dachau. The supply trucks were unloaded and we each received a Swedish Red Cross parcel containing all sorts of goodies such as 40 “Lucky Strike” cigarettes. We sat on benches placed along the sides and down the center of the bus. Attached to the ceiling were 4 hammocks available if any of us needed to lie down. A milk container full of clear harmless drinking water was available and in our parcels were packages of powdered milk and a mug. A glass of milk tasted out of this world ‑ for a whole month we had not dared drink the typhoid-contaminated water around us.
The caravan of buses was manned by Swedish soldiers – all volunteers ‑ and prepared to do anything for us they could. After we had been given a piece of paper to record our names etc. the caravan moved on. We were moving along at 100 kilometers per hour and, having windows this time, got a much better look at the landscape we were passing through than we had had from the cattle cars. Every bus had a non‑uniformed German SS man as escort. Our nurse offered him a cup of coffee right after we had started out ‑ and half an hour later he was in a deep sleep. “Now we will really “prate” ” she said, “I loaded his coffee with a dose of tranquilizer, he will not bother us”. She was really something ‑ and believe me ‑ we told her the full story of Dachau.
We were told that we would be moved to Neuengamme, which was to serve as a holding camp for all Danish and Norwegian prisoners, which still survived in Germany. She did not know whether Bernadotte would succeed in getting us all to Sweden ‑ but she hoped this would be the case. We were somewhat disappointed ‑ granted that Neuengamme was a lot closer to Denmark we had had high hopes of escaping the clutches of the “green” ones altogether. She did mention that the Swedish Red Cross headquarters was situated not far from Neuengamme and that they would monitor our situation on an ongoing basis ‑, which served to comfort us somewhat.
Even though we were not exactly tourists, we still had to admire the beauty of the German landscape. We detoured around all the big cities and used primarily the secondary country roads with the odd stretch of “Autostrada” thrown in ‑ and saw few signs of the terrible effects of the war. Once we did get close to the war ‑ in the vicinity of Nurenberg we passed within 6 kilometers of the front line, along the roads were long columns of war materials engulfed in flames and the continuous racket of anti tank guns indicated that the front line was near. The Swedes kept up their 100-km/h speed and we were soon back in more peaceful surroundings.
3 times during the trip we stopped in a forest and had a picnic lunch while the gasoline tanks were replenished from the tanker trucks. 52 Swedish automobiles, all painted white ‑ quite an imposing sight.
In the forests we also took care of our natural needs and for the first time in a long while had real toilet paper at our disposal. In Dachau we had used up several copies of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” ‑ it had to be good for something.
It was marvelous to be back in a natural environment, sit on a grass-covered embankment and eat crackers with marmalade, cheese or caviar from tubes. After one had complained that the tooth paste was no good, the Swedish caravan leader felt compelled to explain that this was not too surprising to him ‑ in as much as it was Caviar in the tubes, not tooth paste. Shucks. With this scrumptious meal we were served a big mug of real chocolate and a remark that if we liked it we could have refills. We did not need to be told twice ‑ and this kindness ‑ to be treated like human beings again ‑ wonderful.
But, we had to proceed. (2 drivers took turns driving the buses while the 2 motorcycle outriders managed to stay in the saddle for the entire 900-kilometer trip ‑ quite a feat). After 24 hours of driving, only interrupted by stops to top up our tanks, the buses needed gas and we got chocolate, we drove through the beautiful even romantic little village of Neuengamme and soon after into the front yard of KZ Neuengamme.
When I left Dachau my weight was 98 pounds, I had managed to loose 54 pounds in 5 weeks ‑ a very efficient diet. We got out and stood at attention in front of the buses, were counted and put in the charge of a German officer. The Swedes had been in charge of us during the transportation and had told us, that any successful escape would mean that other relocation efforts would be stopped. In spite of plenty of opportunities none of us had even considered attempting escape. We made a left turn and were marched up a road leading to the camp. We had shaken hands with the Swedish soldiers and nurses, said our goodbyes, and were now shuffling along like old men destined for a new round of miseries ‑ even though we expected Neuengamme to be an improvement over Dachau.
We marched past a huge roof tile factory, where the camp prisoners worked, and then past some pretty barracks fronted with beds of flowers ‑ “Not bad” we thought, but these barracks were for the soldiers, and we just shuffled on.
Finally we turned in through a wrought iron gate flanked by low barrack buildings, were counted 4 at a time and were now standing in the Neuengamme muster yard.
We took it easy, sat down on our parcels, and munched on some crackers and jam and then “Jacob” arrived. Jacob was a young Dane with the common name of Erik Jacobsen ‑ he had been elected as spokesman for all Danes imprisoned in Neuengamme. He greeted us and held a little speech describing all the activities which were on the forbidden list (it was a long list) and he ended with saying, that the only way we could gain respect would be to ignore all rules ‑ this was not advice but a request. He made a good impression and we decided to honor his request ‑ we were still in a sanguine mood having been under the protection of the Swedes.
An SS man conducted the muster, a command was given “Fremad march” and we were on our way to our new quarters, block 18 in Neuengamme. Block 18 was, if possible, even more sinister looking then block 19 in Dachau. By nailing some boards together an array of “sand boxes” had been built on the floor ‑ no sand of course and with gangways between them.
Manne and I plus 28 others were assigned a box measuring 3 by 5 meters. The floor was covered with straw and each man was given a blanket. In spite of the crowding it was still preferable to Dachau ‑ better headroom and air circulation and better opportunity for social contacts. The block was one big room with a washroom attached to the rear and behind that a room with a row of toilets. Both facilities could accommodate 10 men at a time ‑ and of course there were “only” 300 of us in all.
The camp gallows was located in the block street and its steps had been worn hollow by the multitude that had ascended them.
The Norwegians were housed in block 19 on the other side of the street, further up in the same street and restricted by an additional barbed wire fence lived the so‑called anti‑socials (among them the son of police inspector Mellerup ) as well as all prisoners who had been caught in trying to escape. These prisoners wore red marks front and back targeting the heart ‑ if they moved beyond established boundaries the guards had orders to shoot them on the spot. Every Sunday three of them were executed by hanging ‑ the day before our arrival had been a Sunday complete with its traditional executions. These executions were a ritual part of the Sunday festivities. Around noon the camp orchestra started off by playing martial marches and at the conclusion of one of these the victims were hung ‑ then followed another inspirational piece of music ‑ the centerpiece (the gallows) were moved off stage to its resting place in the street ‑ and they played foot ball ‑ all this happened in the mustering yard with all prisoners present and accounted for. The camp orchestra consisted of about 30 prisoners, who were fed a little better then the remainder, they played every morning when the prisoners went to work and every evening when they returned. The day the Americans crossed the Rhine they played “Wacht am Rhein”.
Like Dachau we had to be kept in quarantine and could not leave the block street. Conditions for the sick were equally as bad as in Dachau and in our barrack we had already many who had fallen ill. I had to lie down with an inflamed throat and was placed with other patients lying in a row against one of the sidewalls.
When we arrived the block was unbelievably dirty but helped by our Red Cross cigarette supply we started a major renovation effort. We got the room disinfected and painted all over and it became almost livable.
To begin with we had to contend with German blockaldteste and Kapos but we managed to negotiate a deal permitting us to select these worthies from our own ranks and pastor Madsen was elected as our blockaldteste by democratic means.
We were happy to find the flea and lice population to be much smaller then in Dachau but we continued our daily attempts to hunt down the lice. At the moment we had escaped the typhoid epidemic in Dachau ‑ but we had brought some carriers with us and the disease started to spread again with people dying every day from this dreadful disease.
Another ailment took its toll, inflammation of the cranial cavity, a consequence of exposing a naked scalp to a cold environment. Several had to be operated on, a very risky option under these circumstances ‑ in several cases the operation was successfully performed by a French surgeon with assistance of some Danish physicians.
Olsen, our oldest comrade, had to climb into “bed” – the climatic change during our 25 hour trip from summer weather to a rather harsh spring had been too much for him.
Just as we had completed the renovation of our block, at 4 AM in the morning (the usual timing of our surprise events) we were transferred out of block 18 to block 6, which was situated in a swampy hollow across from a big stone building.
From the darkness outside the block we observed other Danes in the process of evacuating a group of Moslems from “Neubau” (the big stone building). The inhabitants had to be moved and the building was to house Scandinavians exclusively ‑ again a response to pressure from Sweden. That evacuation was a truly nasty job, those who could walk had already disappeared from the scene and the rest were taken out, put in trucks and driven away. The Danes came out of the building carrying 2 persons, one under each arm, ‑ living persons ‑ but only skin and bone. After the living had been removed from the premises, another 10 or so corpses, some partly decomposed, were found tucked away in various hiding holes. They had been hidden away by their comrades so they could receive their bread rations.
The food rations were so limited that some prisoners had turned to cannibalism. A couple of deranged Moslems had carved a hunk of thigh muscle off a dead comrade and eaten it.
A hullabaloo now started up in our front ranks. The first contingent to enter block 6 had returned and flatly refused to go back in. When we all had had the chance to view conditions inside, we refused to occupy block 6 in its current state. It was even dirtier than block 18 had been, the floor arrangement was the same, but instead of straw on the floor it had body‑bags stuffed with straw ‑ these body‑bags, made of paper, were partly dissolved by excrements from previous inhabitants, and in several places the groundwater seeped up between the floor planks.
We got hold of Jacob, who started to negotiate with the Germans, and obtained a promise of a load of clean straw and some new bags. The intent behind the bags was that at first it served as a bed for the prisoner, later as a body‑bag for his corpse until it could be disposed of by burning.
We started in throwing all the old straw and the bags out in the street ‑ that is, personally I was sitting on top of my Red Cross parcel trying to cope with a fever of 39 to 40 degree centigrade.
Clean straw and new bags arrived at dawn and were distributed as one bag of straw per man ‑ and I could lie down again. As a group we continued our fight for survival with the resolution that this block would get the same treatment as the one we had left behind. Presumably the Germans were hoping, through us, to make the entire camp livable. There was nothing we could do about the groundwater but we sacrificed our last cigarettes on paint and disinfectant. Our condition started to improve as we now received more and more Red Cross parcels ‑ so many that we could have sustained ourselves on them exclusively. We did not dare refuse the German food ration, a daily helping of soup, cooked up from rotten fish ‑ exported from Denmark by Danish businessmen, who no doubt made good profits along the way.
Neuengamme is located about 18 kilometers south‑east of Hamburg and when this city was bombed, as happened frequently in this last phase of the war, we had to open the windows in the block to avoid shattered windowpanes. During one violent bombardment we were able to read with the light from the burning city.
On a beautiful spring day the camp factory complex was bombed. It was a Sunday and all the prisoners were home in their blocks. Low-lying clouds prevented us from seeing the planes, but we heard their rumble and saw smoke bombs landing in a ring around the target ‑ an oil refinery ‑ and then the bombs hit. The entire refinery went up in big black clouds of burning oil ‑ the whole block was shaking and it was a wonderful sight. Not one prisoner was hurt.
After some time we had the occasional visit from Swedish Nurses. They were extremely helpful, promised to inform our families how we were doing and once even handed out 10 American cigarettes to each of us. Just imagine ‑ American cigarettes in Germany ‑ in Denmark they smoked “Tory”.
One day Bernadotte visited the camp. Together with camp commandant Tupmann he inspected “Neubau” where the Scandinavians each had a hammock and all considered lived tolerably well. As they were leaving “Neubau” Jacob remarked that there were other Danes quartered in block 6. Tupmann tried to dismiss it but Bernadotte insisted on saying hello to our block as well. Tupmann tagged along reluctantly in the company of some SS officers. Bernadotte’s party included several Swedish Red Cross officials.
When they entered our block the “Achtung” bellow caused all of us to stand at attention ‑ Bernadotte however requested us to sit down and asked how we were. The answers were hesitant ‑ but someone did say “godt” ‑ immediately echoed from the rear with “Naa godt og godt”. Jacob directed Bernadotte’s attention to the many ill ‑ we were about 50 in all suffering from everything nameable from typhoid to angina. Bernadotte walked down the entire line, asking each of us about our condition ‑ then he turned around and in our presence gave Tupmann a regular dressing down and demanded that all the patients get into the revier the next day. He also took a sniff from our food bucket but desisted in short order ‑ the stench of rotting herring was a little too much. After the visit we again received a Swedish Red Cross parcel much valued with its content of American cigarettes and cowberry jam.
Another consequence of the visit was Jacob being brought before the commandant to receive 25 lashes on his bare bum ‑ for calling us to the attention of Bernadotte.
A couple of days later we were transferred to “Neubau” to join the other Scandinavians and at the same time a load of medicine were flown in from Sweden. In the course of 24 hours I swallowed 16 Sulphathiazol tablets ‑ it was rough ‑ but the following day my temperature was back to normal.
In Neubau we were each assigned a hammock and our situation improved from day to day. At this time the Allied were so close, that we could follow the advance in detail. Every day platoons of militia passed our windows in the final full retreat. There were boys dragging rifles longer then they were. There was a woman trundling ammunition along in a baby carriage. And there were lots of old men. The best vehicle we saw was a Charabanc filled up with ammunition ‑ and every minute English planes dive-bombed and strafed the whole shebang.
Every afternoon around 4, when we were in formation for the daily muster, we were overflow by 4 English observer aircraft photographing the camp. It went off peacefully for a while, but one day one of the camp’s anti‑aircraft guns started to shoot at the low flying planes.
Our first reaction was to dive for cover even though we had a building between us and the gun ‑ but after that we followed the flight of the planes with the utmost attention. They went straight up and were shortly out of range with no damage suffered. Half an hour later they returned with a fighter-bomber in tow ‑ and then the offending gun crew must have regretted their impertinence before being obliterated by a bomb. There were a total of 8 anti‑aircraft guns surrounding the camp ‑ only the one that had fired on them got bombed. The whole episode resembled the punishment meted out to a naughty schoolboy and a good indication of the superiority of the Allied in the last phase of the war.
Events were moving quickly. The allied forces had only 7 kilometers to go to reach the camp ‑ all discipline had ceased and the camp was in the process of dissolution. A couple of railway cars had arrived with American Red Cross parcels for the other prisoners and, as requested by the camp authorities, we agreed to unload and distribute these parcels ‑ this task could not be entrusted to prisoners on the edge of starvation, individual by individual they would have stolen anything they could lay their hands on. We drove back and forth between the camp and its diminutive railway station using a large truck ‑ we did have a reasonably good time doing this, but the guards at the entrance to the camp had their problems in controlling our coming and going. Every so often they refused to let us back into the camp when their tally sheets showed that they had recorded as many coming back as had left earlier. Then we had the bizarre task of convincing them to permit us getting into a concentration camp ‑ what can one say? One day, while sitting on an embankment in the vicinity of the railway station waiting for the truck to come back, a German SS man addressed me in Danish growling “What should one do, run away ‑ or stay put”. I refrained from answering, as we were not out of the woods yet ‑ it did indicate that his belief in ultimate victory was severely shaken, a typical case of “cold feet”.
One day they shipped out 5000 prisoners. We could not figure out what they intended to do with these poor souls ‑ and a week later they were back, i.e. about half of them. The ones missing had either died from hunger or been shot trying to escape. For 8 days they had been marching around on the roads with nothing to eat. We quickly collected some provisions and sent it over to them, plenty of food so all could have their fill. We then witnessed a terrible scene ‑ in their desperation all 2000 prisoners started to fight over the food with the result that several more succumbed. They were crazy with hunger and the German executioners just stood there jeering them on and let the debacle continue ‑ and there was nothing we could do about it.
The rest of our time in the camp we fed the survivors of this episode from our supplies ‑ seeing that the camp authorities, anticipating evacuation had had the kitchen torn down and destroyed the cook pots.
In our block we had 2 stoves that could be used for cooking. As fuel we used the bottom planking from our bunks. Of course this was strictly forbidden, but worse was the contorted positions in a bunk with half the bottom planks missing. With great difficulty I once liberated a sack of charcoal from the SS. They produced a wonderful heat and I managed to whip up a big serving of goulash from my Red Cross supplies.
I was on my back, in a state of sated well‑being, when a command of silence was given and our Danish trustee asked who had liberated that sack of charcoal. I acknowledged being the perpetrator, a little irritated to have my rest interrupted for such a triviality, but he explained that he admired my resourcefulness in stealing the charcoal and that he hoped that I, for my own sake, would be equally as proficient in getting the sack back where it belonged. The SS crew might inspect our room at any moment and if they discovered the charcoal I could be sure that I would be hanged. I then found out that some idiot had placed the sack prominently next to the stove ‑ I myself had hidden it behind some bunk beds. Well, enough about that, I did succeed in returning the sack to where I had found it ‑ but I had an unusually dry throat until I had accomplished it.
In the meantime several more Norwegians and Danes had arrived. Crews of mixed Swedes and Danes had driven from camp to camp and where they found any Scandinavians they had collected them for delivery to Neuengamme. Among the Norwegians I took one particular one under my wing, he was very weak and could barely walk. His name was Gunnar Ewald Johnsen and his home was in Kristianssand. I installed him in the bunk above me and fed him crackers. Little by little he revived and eventually got well enough to tell me his story.
He was 21 years old and had been captured by Gestapo in 1942 while trying to escape to Sweden. A court of law had convicted him of treason and he was sentenced to death as well as a 5-year prison term for trying to escape. In other words, first he had to serve his 5-year sentence ‑ then he was going to be shot! He had been incarcerated in Dreibergen prison for three years without ever seeing the sun, had been working 14 hours per day on very bad food and with no Red Cross parcels to supplement his diet. Every 4 month he had received one letter from home, and on leaving the prison he had had 40 letters handed over to him, all those which had been denied him during his stay. These 40 letters he now read with real enthusiasm ‑ and I began more and more to regard my own stay in a concentration camp as an “educational field trip”. ( NB! He did get back to his home but died shortly afterwards. )
Of new arrivals were also both Danes and Norwegians from the chain gangs who had worked on clean‑up tasks in the ruins of Hamburg. These prisoners were also in dire straits and constituted only a small percentage of those originally sent to Hamburg.
One felt clearly that the final reckoning was near. Some Danish SS soldiers, held as deserters, were given the choice of either joining a convict battalion destined for the front line ‑ or be shot at dawn. They rediscovered their patriotism ‑ and refused to return to the war. The following morning a few were shot ‑ but the remainders were allowed to live.
Finally either on the 18th or 19th of April they sounded “Panzeralarm” indicating that the Allied tank columns were now so close to the camp, that it could only be a question of a few days before it would fall into their hands. The water supply pipes had run dry, all lights were supposed to be switched off and no matches were to be used after dark. The guards told us that they would shoot at any glimmer of light.
The question of evacuation became critical. From the Swedish Red Cross we had learned that they were working on getting us evacuated to Denmark, but had not yet been given permission.
The evening of the 21st we had orders from the commandant to be ready for evacuation by 4 o’clock in the morning. We had to pack only critically necessary items and be prepared to march. We were not exactly eager to march along the German highway system under current conditions ‑ but we each carefully prepared a food package and then tried to get some sleep.
Most of us had a problem ‑ we could not go to sleep. I was flat on my back recapitulating the events of the last couple of month and thinking of my family at home and of my comrades, wherever they might be. Maybe they were in Vestre prison, maybe in Frøslev ‑ or maybe they had been shot.
In a Red Cross package just a few days ago we had found a Danish newspaper “Politiken” announcing a whole series of death penalties ‑ and we knew that the German terror tactics had taken a turn for the worse. In this paper there had been a description of the bombing of “Shell‑huset” (the Shell Building was used as the local Gestapo headquarters) and one of my comrades saw the name of his daughter among the victims of the tragic hit on the French school. The school was targeted by mistake by the second wave of bombers during an otherwise spectacular successful low-level attack. I could not help but think of the mother back in Denmark, who had lost a daughter while her husband was incarcerated in a German concentration camp.
At 4 AM we mustered in the block street with our few possessions ‑ and the usual came to pass ‑ we waited. The first event happened at 8 o’clock when the Swedes arrived with all their rolling stock and drove off with the sick and the old. At the same time we were told the British were barely 2 kilometers away and that they had given the camp a deadline for its evacuation of 8 PM that evening. From 8 o’clock on anything could happen, the Germans had placed artillery 2 kilometers away on the other side of the camp, thus placing us directly in the firing zone between the two frontlines.
We were also put on notice that more transportation would arrive from Denmark but that there would not be room for all of us.
Around noon some Danish buses arrived. In Denmark the buses had been taken off their regular runs, received a coat of white wash and been dispatched ‑ all within 24 hours.
To avoid panic in securing seats on the buses we needed departure schedule and tried to find our trustees so one could be drawn up. None could be found ‑ believe it or not, all these worthy individuals had departed on the first bus.
Well we managed to agree on a plan in a hurry ‑ and all we young ones were left to be the last out.
Manne and I walked around weighing our options, we seriously considered hiding in a basement until the fighting had rolled past the camp area, a time span of at most 24 hours. We figured that we might prefer returning to Denmark via France and England rather than now while “the green ones” still ruled the roost.
One of buses had brought an official from the Danish Foreign Service Frans Hvass. He supervised the transport operation, saw to it that everybody got a seat ‑ and did not leave Neuengamme until the last Dane and Norwegian had been taken care of.
With our departure postponed, Manne and I made a small fire in the middle of the street to fry some bacon, which we ate together with a couple of hunks of rye bread. We relaxed and waited for the moment when our bald heads again were to travel and see a little more of the world.
Throughout the afternoon buses continued to arrive, but Manne and I did not board them ‑ finally at 5 past 8 (PM) we left the camp on the last bus ‑ 2 hours later Neuengamme were in the hands of the Allied forces.
As we passed through the idyllic little village of Neuengamme in a Danish bus, with a Danish bus driver at the wheel, it suddenly occurred to me, that this was the birthday of Hitler ‑ that we were on our way back to Denmark ‑ and that our return offered a reasonable assurance that it would be Hitler’s last birthday. It was already dark and we drove only about 15 km to reach a Swedish owned property, Friedrichsruhe, where we spent the night in the woods under a clear sky. The Allied could not guarantee the safety of the transport during the night ‑ therefore we drove only during daylight.
Next morning we proceeded via Lubeck and Neumunster seeing that Hamburg was in the process of being invaded.
This trip gave us a good idea of how much the civilian population had suffered. They were ill‑clad and undernourished and everywhere were children begging for scraps of food, ‑ even those, who had suffered the most under the German regime, were reluctantly handing out food to the children. The children were not responsible for the war ‑ but probably suffered more then anybody else.
In passing through a little village we noticed everybody busy collecting flyers (propaganda air drop leaflets) and burning them in a forge. Believing that these leaflets were British I managed to obtain one (I still have it). Actually they were a last desperate exhortation to the German people to resist the enemy ‑ and it was being burnt in the village forge. Obviously there was no mood for further resistance. The contents of the leaflets was typical of German Nazi propaganda ‑ it will suffice to quote the fat headline “Kampf oder Sibirien ! Standhaftigkeit oder Tod ! “.
A punctured tire had slowed us enough to get a good view of the whole convoy ‑ 2 km of white buses ‑ quite a sight.
We stopped for a while in Lubeck and ventured out to view the destruction at closer quarters. Most of the town was relatively undamaged from the bombing but whole city blocks had disappeared.
The old port from the Hanseatic period was undamaged and still sported beautiful flowerbeds here and there.
An old man sold us a whole case of beer for a few lengths of sausage. He was very interested where we were from ‑ arriving as we had in our elegant white buses. When we told him that we were from Neuengamme, he jumped 3 steps backwards and inquired in a shaky voice what on earth we had done to deserve that. We told him that we had been caught going through a red light etc. but his face had become ashen in color on hearing the word Neuengamme ‑ he obviously believed that he was in the company of the worst kind of criminals and made tracks as fast as he could. He might well have had bad dreams that night. What did he, a German civilian, know about Neuengamme that could make him that terrified.
We continued on our travels. In Neumunster we had to literally edge our way through the ruins. The whole city was totally destroyed and only narrow roadways between the tumbled buildings had been cleared to allow traffic to pass through. There were no undamaged buildings and hardly any ruins of more then 5 meters in height. One could truly say that this city had been flattened ‑ and we got an unpleasant understanding of the effects of the Allied intensive bombardments.
Having crossed the Kieler canal and on our way through Holstein we started to run short on fuel. We were driving a generator car and the initial fuel, which had been brought along, did not suffice. We stopped at a small farm and a couple of us went in to see if we could obtain some fuel.
The farmhouse contained only a little old lady. We chatted with her a bit, she offered us a mug of water and asked if we thought the war could last much longer. We assured her that it was going to be over very soon now. Her husband and all three of her sons were in the war, she was half starving and the farm was deteriorating. In exchange for another couple of slices of sausage we got 4 sacks of brushwood ‑ and she was as happy as a child. It had been years since she had last had sausage, she said, at least this kind of sausage. Assisted by this additional fuel we had gas in the tank and could continue.
Russian prisoners of war were kept busy building tank barricades all over the place and intensive efforts were made to prepare for the defense of Denmark. When we drove through Slesvig we were beginning to feel at home in this old Danish county.
In Flensborg people congregated in the streets and many Danes shouted “Velkommen” and “God Rejse”. We noted that the harbour was packed with warships of all sizes.
Then we headed for the Danish border driving through the beautiful beech woods. We were full of anticipation and quite dizzy with happiness when we rolled across the Danish border at Krusaa. A whole mob of people had gathered there to cheer. Most of them had
been there for days patiently waiting for their loved ones and many had traveled a long way in the hope of recognizing somebody among us. We stepped out of the buses and planted our feet tenderly on Danish soil. We embraced total strangers and the questions began to fly, was such and such among us, had we seen so and so ‑ etc..
After having stretched our legs for a while, we again boarded the buses and drove on to the Reunion Stone where the road forked. We now faced the choice of either driving to Frøslev or head for the newly created camp Møgelkjær adjacent to Kolding. This decision was entirely in our own hands ‑ the entire trip from Neuengamme had been accomplished without our German guards, it so happened that in the confusion all the Germans had gotten on the same bus, the bus had suffered some damage somewhere along the way on a side road ‑ our guards arrived at Frøslev one day later and when they were unable to prove that they were guards were refused admittance. Typical German Logic.
As you may already have surmised our choice was Frøslev ‑ primarily because most of us had comrades who might have ended up there. We arrived there about 10 o’clock in the evening ‑ and not one person had chosen to escape. Red Cross had taken responsibility for our delivery and that was more effective then the whole “Wehrmacht”.
Around midnight we entered the camp and were mustered in the yard area illuminated by projectors. Together with several others Manne and I were assigned a place in barrack 18 ‑ a new barrack, which the, not usually industrious, inhabitants of Frøslev had built over a few days when they heard that comrades from the south were coming home.
To have a clean mattress and a clean blanket was pure pleasure ‑ but we did not get much sleep that night. We were far too keyed up with the anticipation of finding other members of our team in the morning. That morning, as soon as the barrack door was unlocked, we dashed out and started hunting. There was no question of a morning muster and all that nonsense ‑ the Germans simply did not know who or how many we were. We galloped around between the barracks whistling our recognition signal ‑ our scout troop song. It was not long before we heard the same melody whistled back in such an inept manner that it had to be Tarp. We followed the sound and, just around a corner of a barrack, ran smack into his arms ‑ shouts of glee and we were informed that both Jens and Sjus were also around. Our jubilation was out of this world. Tarp shook himself inside his overcoat ‑ always cold that one. We slapped his back and accompanied him in going over to barrack H 12, where he was quartered together with Jens, Sjus and one other recognized face from Nykøbing ‑Albert Krøger.
Suddenly Jens came storming in and nearly killed us with his very physical show of welcome ‑ and then both Jens and Tarp started to laugh loudly and persistently. We asked them to shut up ‑ or at the very least to let us share in the joke. They just pointed to our heads and Jens slapped my back and said “Tjavs ! ha ha Tjavs”. It dawned on us that we were bald ‑ and ‑ that it was in fact a pretty good joke ‑ so we joined in. (“Tjavs” translates to “Wisp of hair”) We asked about Sjus and that caused another paroxysm of merriment. I began to think that in some way he might have become bald ‑ but it was much funnier then that ‑ he was working! . Now both Manne and I could see that that was truly funny ‑ so we managed a few honest guffaws of our own.
With Tarp to guide us we found a spot, where we could stand and watch Sjus passing by on his way to work. We waited with great anticipation and soon after he came sauntering along shouldering a shovel, in the middle of a work gang, and meditating on this and that. We almost split our sides laughing. Sjus looked up ‑ and only took a second to shake his drowsiness ‑ then joined in the laughter, except he was laughing at us and our baldness.
None of the 5 of us will ever forget the wonderful days that followed.
At that moment in time Frøslev had become a farce of heroic proportions ‑ and we contributed our share of the entertainment. With 6000 inhabitants the camp was overpopulated ‑ normally it was expected to contain only around 1800 prisoners.
Those of us, who had arrived from Germany, had to fill in our own identification papers with name, birthday, place of birth etc. ‑ it seemed that the Germans had mislaid or lost the original files. Therefore, for the time being, most of us took advantage of the situation and lived under false names.
Only the permanent residents had to work. For 4 hours every second day they dug aimlessly in a couple of heather covered hills bordering the camp. When they marched off to work, they had to pass through several gates and were of course counted each time ‑ and the same rigmarole was repeated when they returned. During the actual working hours they took turns ‑ one third ducked back into camp, through an illegal hole in the barbed wire fence, to play cards in the barracks ‑ the remaining two thirds “worked”. One day, for our own amusement, Manne and I sneaked out of the camp, illegally of course, to join the “workers”. It started out when we, together with Jens, took cover in the heather adjacent to one of the perimeter mine fields and smoked a pipe of tobacco. There were others that had that little trick figured out too ‑ now came a busybody of a SS man and addressed our “Sjakbeis” ( the prisoner in charge of the work gang) with a shouted command: “alles auf die andere Seite”, to which our clever Sjakbeis nonchalantly replied ” Yes we are all present”. This performance was repeated a couple of times to our great (but well camouflaged) amusement. This was a little too much for our SS friend, so he shooed us over to the other side (away from our shovels and watched his wanderings with a keen interest. Then he tripped over a character who came running up with a wheelbarrow. The question, of what the guy was doing there with a wheelbarrow ( which had no business being there ) went unanswered ‑ with great ceremony his name was noted down for a little “trip to Germany” ‑ in the past a very potent penalty, but now of no significance.
Apparently realizing that threats had lost their effect our SS man left the scene, and we could go back to more entertaining projects. We smoothed out a long hillside by filling up the holes with sand, which we patted down with our hands ‑ we created a perfect ramp, very useful if one wanted to roll down the slope. We organized races between 2 man teams ‑ the two grab hold of each others legs and roll down the like some kind of wheel. It was quite entertaining ‑ really.
When we got bored doing that, we built a platform and did back flips into the sand. With these and other daft activities going we had a great time until the work period was over. The green uniformed police soldiers were perched here and there on the ground with their rifles across their knees, now and then indicating their appreciation with shouts and by clapping their hands. Really very cozy!.
We passed the time in Frøslev playing cards and chatting. We were so happy being together again and had so much to discuss that we were almost scared that the war would end too soon.
Every day car convoys left for Sweden and we expected it to be our turn at any moment.
All camp discipline had evaporated. We gathered together in groups and behaved any way we wanted. Although forbidden, one evening 2000 men congregated at the barracks housing women to sing Danish and Norwegian patriotic songs. One Norwegian sang a beautiful duet with a female counterpart on the other side of the barbed wire. It was a very moving experience ‑ and the attempt by some German soldiers to break it up was fruitless and soon abandoned.
We played all sorts of tricks on the Germans. For instance ‑ one morning we were assembled for muster and were waiting for the German officer to arrive on the scene. We were apparently one man short ‑ but that proved easy to fix. We placed a short individual in the rear of the right flank ‑ the German arrived and started counting 5, 10, 15 . 150 etc. ‑ while he was busy counting in the middle of the ranks, the small man crouched down and scuttled down to the left side before again taking a place in the rear of the formation. The count seemed correct and the German was satisfied.
Frøslev turned out to be a super place to eat. Our food was so well prepared and tasty that the Norwegians claimed that it was better then anything they had ever had at home.
Bernadotte visited us one day to inspect the barracks used to house our sick. When he emerged several thousand prisoners had congregated and were whistling “Du gamla du fria” (the Swedish national anthem) while he slowly moved through the crowd. A thank you gesture to Sweden for their help.
The wonderful days in Frøslev were over ‑ and on April the 29th Manne and I parted company from Sjus, Jens and Tarp. This time the mood was light hearted ‑ we were going to Sweden, and we were sure to meet again as free Danes in a free Denmark.
We formed up in an open area behind the German barracks and a chipper Danish girl handed each of us a toothbrush, a piece of soap and half a pound of condiments. This was more like it.
After roll call we boarded Danish buses, they were still in use as Red Cross transport vehicles. With much waving and shouted farewells we started a fantastic triumphant trip through Denmark.
Everywhere we went, people were waving to us and cheering us. The kids were placed on the outskirts of cities and villages with their flowers and beech foliage and in all the cities “Lotterne”(the Danish female civil defense organization) were ready with frenchbread and fried egg sandwiches, beer and food parcels. One place gave us all the post cards we wanted ‑ we jotted down greetings to our friends and relatives ‑ handed the cards back to eager waiting hands, who immediately affixed the stamps and mailed the cards.
In Kolding, one man, sitting in front of us, talked with an acquaintance and found out that his wife and 3 kids had been waiting in Kolding for 3 days and just now had gone back to take care of the house. That was a deep disappointment and he had to ask his informant to convey a greeting ‑ he had been in Germany for 2 years.
A constabulary car pulled us over to the side of the road just as we reached the bridge over Lillebælt ‑ and out of their car popped aforementioned wife and 3 kids. The man in Kolding had told the constabulary about the situation and they had decided to arrange the reunion. The whole scene was too touching for words.
We proceeded on through the countryside of Fyn and a tire was punctured! Our involuntary stop had been noticed in a nearby brewery and they immediately dispatched a case of beer and soft drinks to occupy our attention while the wheel was changed. We felt like we were in paradise.
In Odense we had the culmination of our trip, right out of this world. With flowers and beech branches the line‑up of people along the roads started several kilometers outside the city limits and we had to slow down. In the city we had to inch our way through the cheering crowd ‑ and in the middle we simply had to stop. We simply could not move in that crowd of people and the car was overloaded with gifts of cigarettes, tobacco and even bottles of liqueur. Attached to many of the beautiful flower bouquets were cards signed “a Danish girl” ‑ and one had even attached her poetic writings.
Even Odense had to end sometime ‑ but after having driven on for a couple of kilometers we heard somebody hammering on the roof! We stopped ‑ and found that we had acquired about 20 stowaways ‑ a bunch of small boys, who in the general turmoil had ascended to the roof. We unloaded them, got a last cheer and carried on.
In Nyborg the shenanigans were a repeat of Odense ‑ flowers etc. At the railway station we got off the buses and walked down towards the ferry listening to announcements over the PA system, that relatives and friends could board the ferry with us ‑ and that the return next day would be free of charge. That is service!
At about 10 o’clock we sailed out of Nyborg harbour and we stood lined up at the railing singing “Der er et yndigt Land”, together with the thousands of citizens crowding on the dock apron.
The German soldiers stood at attention and saluted while we sang the national anthem. One of them, who had neglected the proper behavior (he had kept his hand in his pocket), got a dressing down from his superior. Well, the “master race” had learned respect ‑ or acquired a case of “cold feet”.
Our first concern was to wrap ourselves around a big Danish Bøf, a “Grøn Tuborg” and then coffee and wienerbrød ‑ courtesy of the state.
In Korsør we were informed, that our train would be leaving at 5 in the morning, that it already had pulled in to the platform ‑ and that we could either stay in the train or wait on the platform. Access to the platform was controlled by German guards.
When I heard a couple of people called to the telephone via the station P.A. system, I decided to place a call myself. I was stopped when I walked past the German guard but once I had replied :”Nach den Telefon” I was permitted to proceed.
I found my way into the station office where the personnel were busy fielding telephone calls. A young lady asked me if I wanted to place a call ‑ and I did not have to be asked twice. She called Nykøbing 120 and I waited anxiously for a reaction to my call here in the middle of the night. A moment later we were told by the lady in the exchange that Nykøbing 120 was not answering, “my lady” quickly filled in her counterpart in the other end ‑ and 15 minutes later we had contact. They had let the phone ring until most of Frisegade had been aroused ‑ and as luck would have it, one of them had been my mother. I had so much to relate, but the time was short and I had to content myself with a declaration of being in good health and that I was on my way to Sweden.
In a similar fashion Manne phoned his family in Copenhagen and informed them of our arrival at Østerport station next morning. Then we went for a small walk to get a foretaste of the freedom that was about to descend on us.
As advertised at 5 o’clock in the morning we steamed off towards Copenhagen, but in the meantime all sorts of rumors regarding peace had sprung up ‑ the locomotive driver had slowed down at all stations along our route ‑ and when we reached Østerport at nine in the morning we were 300 men short. They had hopped off at various stations and were headed home to mother and the fatted calf. Manne and I had discussed the situation and reached agreement. First of all we felt a responsibility to Red Cross, ‑ second the peace rumor was a rumor not a reality, and to jump ship at this point, complete with prison numbers and as potential disease carriers, made no sense ‑ particularly as we were headed for freedom anyway.
At Østerport Manne greeted his family, they and a lot of other people had shown up on the station platform, and we got further endowed with food parcels and cigarettes.
Then we rolled on to the ferry dock in Frihavnen and for the last time were made to feel that Gestapo was still in control. The German lieutenant in charge of the train guards was demoted and arrested because he had failed to prevent the escape of the 300 missing prisoners. About a dozen of the prisoners were also arrested and shipped off to police headquarters but the rest of us were permitted to board the ferry unharmed. Shortly afterwards the ferry left.
When we passed from Danish to Swedish territorial waters a collective sigh of relief was uttered and when we entered Malmø harbour we stood in the rain lined up along the railing and sang “Du gamla du fria” ‑ while a huge audience of people stood on the dock apron with their heads bared.
In Malmø our first stop was a bathing establishment where we had a thorough scrubbing off and a medical check‑up, we were dressed in clean underwear and military uniforms and that same evening proceeded by train through Skaane to a swimming resort called Loderup in the easterly part of Skaane.
Here we were quartered in summer cottages and had our meals in the big resort hotels ‑ all of the facilities had been confiscated (temporarily) by the Swedish state for just this purpose. We were treated like royalty ‑ we went for long walks, smoked Camel cigarettes and gorged on chocolate. We went sun‑bathing and some of us even hopped into the ocean, although it was still a little cold for comfort.
We received a series of medical check‑ups and about 40% failed the testing primarily from various lung diseases. There were not many left of the original crew of 106 from Vestre prison who still had their health intact.
Knowledge of the German capitulation arrived the evening of May 4th and we all wanted to get back home immediately ‑ but that did not happen ‑ on May 17th we finally returned and when we landed in Copenhagen the authorities provided us with money and ration coupons, enough to allow us to reach our homes without further assistance. Aboard the ferry we said our good byes and wished each other good luck ‑ I also met several other comrades who had obtained sanctuary in other parts of Sweden, among them was a tram driver almost totally enclosed in bandages. He told me that his bus from Neuengamme had been delayed to such an extent that they had had to risk driving at night in order to get
away from the front line, their bus had come under machine gun fire and had burst into flames. They had all jumped straight out through the windows and only had two casualties, but the survivors had all been wounded by a combination of machine‑gun bullets and glass splinters.
He had received a bullet in the back ‑ but was on the road to recovery.
I said a special good bye to the “old” man, Olsen from Odense. He had survived in spite of his age and his affliction (Erysipelas).
That was May the 17th and a week later I was back in the civilian life. My hair grew back, slowly but surely, and I am back to being my old self. Later I visited several of the old comrades and only a few had recovered from our ordeal as well as I had. In too many cases there had been nervous breakdowns, serious cases of Tuberculosis etc.etc.
Well we have peace again and Denmark is a free land ‑ so what is the preferred topic of discussion?
Reconstruction ‑ no way, rather the next war! I wonder if the nations of the earth can keep the peace until such a time that they can unite and declare war on the moon.
I do not believe so, but this war has certainly not converted me to a militarist ‑ if only it has had the same effect on the other survivors, one would assume that we are a step closer to a lasting peace.
But peace is and will probably remain as the interval between two wars. But at the moment we do have peace, and every hour of the day one should appreciate that fact. The most valuable thing we possess and something that at any time can be lost again.
On the 19th of December, 1960, Aage Jørgensen received kr. 874 ($126Cdn)
in compensation for his experiences from the Government of Germany.
Børge Bendahl was sentenced to death. On June 28th, 1951 the sentence was commuted to life in prison.
The following is translated from Jørgen H. Barfoeds book “Redning fra Ragnarok”:
Himmlers last order from April 14, 1945, was that under no circumstances were there
to be prisoners in the concentration camps when these surrendered. The camps were to be evacuated and no prisoner to fall into the hands of the enemy alive.
Therefore the many death marches in Germany and also for the prisoners of Neuengamme.
The commandant Pauly left 300prisoners to clean up. All lists of names, death lists, Gestapo documents and other compromising documents were destroyed in the ovens of the Crematorium. The Gallows were burned and all prisoners’ confiscated goods were loaded into railcars, which- like the prisoners were sent towards Lubeck. Thereafter Pauly and Thuman traveled north and the clean-up crew was sent on their death march, later to be liquidated, so no witnesses would be left.
In Lubeck prisoners were collected from both East and West. 3 ships had been commandeered for the prisoners. It was the luxury steamer “Cap Arcona” built for 1,325 passengers, the freighter “Thielbeck” and a smaller freighter “Athen”.
Already the 20th of April 2,300 prisoners from Neuengamme were placed on “Athen” and 2,600 on “Thielbeck”, while the captain on “Cap Arcona” which was anchored in the Bay, protested against taking so many prisoners onboard since he had no way of providing for them. The courageous protest from Captain Bertram was useless and when on April 26 he had to give in he declared he could no longer accept responsibility for the ship.
The small freighter “Athen” then transferred its prisoners to “Cap Arcona”, and in the following days to the 28th of April the ship was filled with app. 6,500 prisoners, which were guarded by 500 SS-soldiers. The conditions were indescribable for the prisoners, who in the first days were given no food or water. Only on the 4th day were they each given a small piece of bread and a soup, which even for them was no pleasure to eat.
April 30th “Athen” again took back app. 2000 prisoners from “Cap Arcona” and at the same time all 3 ships were anchored out in the middle of the Neystadter Bay. Of course, there were all kinds of rumors among the prisoners and it did not improve the situation that they could see German warships and U-boats surrounding this floating concentration camp.
The illegal resistance group from Neuengamme, onboard “Cap Arcona” decided the 30th of April to take action to takeover the ship, but on the 1st of May they learned from Captain Bertram that Hitler was dead, and this created renewed optimism. A couple of barges, which had come from Stutthoff at Danzig along the coast had arrived and were tied to “Cap Arcona” and “Thielbeck” and also a couple of hundred prisoners from the concentration camp Doar arrived and were placed on “Cap Arcona”.
It was clear that an action would cost many lives and a better solution was hoped for. The terrible conditions cost many lives and the corpses were tossed overboard.
It is difficult to give exact figures of prisoners on the 3 ships, but it is thought that on May 3rd there were app. 2000 on “Athen”, app. 2000 on “Thielbeck” and app.4,600 on “Cap Arcona” plus guards, which means that this floating concentration camp had app. 9,500 prisoners plus app. 700 guards and the crew of the ships. The whole fleet was under the commando of Stutthof’s last commandant SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer Hoppe.
During the night of May 3 the two barges had come loose and were drifting in towards Neustadt. At noon “Athen” was therefore sent to retrieve them. At the same time the prisoners were relieved to see that the German warships and U-boats had disappeared. So at least they were not to be sunk by them.
The catastrophe came in an unexpected way, the allied forces, now approaching the Baltic coast, had English fighter planes scouting and these assumed the ships carried fleeing German troops and called for an attack.
Around 2.30 pm an attack was started against “Athen” which fired back with antiaircraft guns, but as it was soon heavily damaged it hoisted the white flag of surrender. There after the planes attacked the other two ships and both were sunk.
There were indescribable panic scenes when all tried to get out of the cargo holds and into the water. The SS-soldiers fired at the prisoners and it was pandemonium. “Thielbeck” keeled over after 20 minutes and disappeared in the waves, while “Cap Arcona” stayed afloat for an hour.
Here things were not much better as a fire broke out and the main staircase collapsed in fire. There was some lifesaving equipment, but half of it was immediately destroyed and most of the prisoners went to the bottom with the ship or died in the cold water, which was app. 32F
A German mining ship from Neustadt came to help, but they pushed away the prisoners trying to get onboard and concentrated on helping the German soldiers. Those prisoners, who one way or the other reached land were also there shot at by German marines, and it was a wonder that some were rescued. Only from “Athen” were almost all prisoners saved, while from “Thielbeck” only app. 50 survived and from “Cap Arcona” only app. 350 prisoners.
Perished in the catastrophe were app. 7,300 prisoners and app. 600 guards and crewmembers.
When the English entered Neustadts a few days later they found prisoners in their characteristic garbs everywhere, and now things changed dramatically. The Germans were immediately tossed out of the U-boat barracks, which instead were given to the (former) prisoners, who were now looked after and given good food and drink.
Had Count Bernadotte not made his deal with Himmler and at the last moment gotten permission to bring the Danish and Norwegian prisoners out of Neuengamme and (at that time) to Denmark, we would all have been onboard these ships.
Count Folke Bernadotte
Born 1895. Swedish Statesman and Diplomat, who in the last few months of World War 2 organized and carried out, together with the “Swedish Red Cross”, the heroic rescue of circa 21,000 koncentration camp prisoners of twentyseven different nationalities, of whom five to six thousand were Jews. (As a boy of 14 years of age I saw the hundreds of white painted busses transporting the concentration camp prisoners through my home town Kolding, in still occupied Denmark, on their way to safety and care in neutral Sweden.)
On 29 May 1948, the United Nations Security Council, in resolution 50, called for a cessation of hostillities in Palestine between Palestinians and Jews and decided that the truce should be supervised by the UN mediator, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, with the assistance of a group of military observers.
September 17, 1948 Count Folke Bernadotte and the French Colonel Andre P. Serot were assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish terror group called the Stern Gang. The Stern Gang was opposed to UN’s policies, including that Jerusalem should be placed under effective UN control.
Above note on Count Folke Bernadotte is based on information gathered from the Swedish Internet sites: http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/div//folke.html, http://www.yellowtimes.org and many other Folke Bernadotte internet sites.
Svend Berg, Editor
PETER AAGE JØRGENSEN (Tjavs)
Born in Sakskøbing, Denmark the 18th of February, 1926
Father: Olav Jørgensen, Architect
Mother: Gerda, Maiden Name, Michelsen. She was a weaver and among other things she wove the cushion covers for all the chairs in “Folketinget” The Danish Parliament.
In 1939, just after the outbreak of World War 2, the family moved from Sakskøbing to Nykøbing F. and the first few years we lived in a rented house in Frisegade 19. The house was owned by two sisters to the famous explorer Peter Freuchen, whom I often saw – and looked up to! There I was awoken the morning of April 9th, 1940 for, together with the rest of the family, to look out on the street, where the German soldiers were marching by, after having landed in Gedser. That day I will never forget.
I was an enthusiastic boy scout and through scouting I gained lifelong friends. When our illegal group was formed I was 17 years old and I was accepted only because the group consisted solely of scouts, who had grown up together.
After finishing High School (Præliminæreksamen) from Nykøbing Byskole, I became a trade and commerce apprentice at “Dahl Bros.”. Dahl Bros. was located right across from Frisegade 19, where we lived. When two members from our group were arrested by the Gestapo, the remaining group members had to go “Underground” in order to hide from the Gestapo. Hiding was easiest in Copenhagen and that is where we were when Gestapo caught the rest of us, two by two.
After the arrest and interrogation at Politigaarden (Police Headquarters) in Copenhagen and the following stays at Vestre Fængsel, Dachau Koncentration Camp, Neungamme Concentration Camp, Frøslev Camp and finally Løderup in Sweden: I returned to Denmark and was very well received by “Dahl Bros” who arranged it so that I could serve the remainder of my apprenticeship at their Head Office in Copenhagen, and with a pay I could live on. After completing my apprenticeship I was accepted for a two-year course in trade and commerce at Niels Brock’s School. I graduated with good marks and the last year became the pupils representative, which put me in close contact with the School’s leadership, and as a consequence, the School’s director, Aage Rasmussen sent me to “Den Danske Købmandsskole” in London, England and everything paid through scholarships and grants, which he arranged.
Returning to Denmark from London, England I got a position at “Plumrose”. At that time I wanted to go to the Far East, a desire inspired by reading a lot of Somerset Maugham books and it was with going to the Far East in mind, that I had joined Plumrose.
“When the Korean War broke out, Plumrose told me that they no longer wanted to expand into the Far East. At that time Victor B. Strand, owner of Tørsleff, Tom’s Chocolate Factories, etc. etc. was appointed Danish Consul General to India, so I went to see him, and he hired me on the spot to start a company for him in India. However, this was vigoorously opposed by his two Vice Presidents, and I therefore applied to the Danish Ministry of Trade and Commerce to go to India to promote Danish Exports. They told me in essence that the Danish East Asiatic Company could take care of that, but they offered to send me to an obscure country in Africa or to Montreal – my choice. I must admit I had to look at a map to find out where Montreal was located. While all this took place, I had gotten married and our first child had arrived, which prompted me to reconsider my priorities, and I can truly say, that I have never regretted choosing Montreal. We came to Montreal in 1953 and for 4 years I was attached to the Danish Consulate to take care of all commercial inquiries and promote Danish exports in general, while also looking for an opportunity to establish myself on a more permanent basis. This led to a contract with the 4 Danish Rope and Twine factories engaged
in manufacturing sisal harvest twines for export to the large Canadian market. At my recommendation they got together and formed Denmark’s first export association, which was named DANCORD , Danish Cordage Manufacturers Associated. Danish twine acquired a reputation for quality, and prices improved because the Danish factories did not compete among themselves. This went well for many years, but eventually the Danish companies lost this business because they did not invest in new technology, where polypropylene and polyethylene replaced sisal. The Portuguese took the lead, and my company today represents the biggest Portuguese manufacturer of harvest twines, netting etc., and they also today control the Danish production facilities. We are still active selling Danish products, mostly packaging materials from Trioplast Nyborg, the former Nyborg Plast bought by the Swedish Trioplast from F.L. Smith 3 years ago.
The company I started more than 30 years ago with the name Scandan Inc. is today run by my son Steen and he is very helpful easing me into the lifestyle of a retiree.
The account of my arrest and subsequent interrogation by Gestapo and imprisonment in concentration camps, I wrote as a 19 year old in 1945, not for the purpose of publishing but the sole reason for writing it all down was to get all the traumatic happenings which could threaten ones sanity, out of ones system. I was convinced that by forcing oneself to look forward and not dwell on all the horrible, terrible things one had witnessed and by writing them down, I boxed them in, and end of that. The writing served its purpose, today I can think about and talk about the happenings, without problems. Today I even view myself as having had the privilege to witness Nazi Germany’s collapse from the inside, also to have been imprisoned in concentration camps at a time when the German Commander in Denmark, Dr. Best increased the number of executions dramatically, may have been lucky.
In 1944 the Germans executed all in all 42 Danish Freedom fighters. In 1945, when they knew they had lost the war, they executed 36 in the month of March alone and 26 in April. The 25 of April they executed 9, just 10 days before they capitulated. They were not executions, they were murders.
Dr. Best was condemned to death and so was Børge Bendahl, the man who beat and tortured many, including me, but Denmark abandoned Capital punishment before these death sentences were carried out and after a number of years behind bars they were both let out as free men. August 2001.