gross rosen gluecks

Gross Rosen: Visit of Gluecks Inspector of Concentration Camps (Bundesarchiv)

The history of the Gross- Rosen concentration camp began on May 11, 1940, when the SS concern Deutsche Erde-und Steinwerke GmbH (DESt) bought the quarry near the village of Gross- Rosen in lower Silesia, from Margareta Hay for 500,000 Reichsmark. Today it is known as Rogoznica, Poland.

To provide the cheap manpower needed to work the quarry, a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was set up in the summer of 1940, under the name 'Arbeitslager Gross- Rosen. The first transport of 100 prisoners arrived from Sachsenhausen on August 2, 1940; another 100 arrived before the end of September. There is no accurate information on subsequent transports. These early prisoners had been registered and assigned numbers in Sachsenhausen. Initially, they worked in two detachments, Steinbruch und Barackenbau - stone quarrying and barracks construction.

Gross- Rosen became an independent concentration camp on May 1, 1941, according to a May 10, decree from the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA). The former sub-camp prisoners automatically became the first prisoners of the new camp. There were 722 of them initially, including 255 German 'professional criminals,' 271 Poles, 110 German and Czech political prisoners, and 73 so-called 'asocial' prisoners, among others.

The DESt representatives were not satisfied with the progress in starting up the quarry, their company had purchased, and they attributed the delays primarily to the small number of prisoners in the camp. Separating the sub-camp from the distant Sachsenhausen main camp would make prisoner procurement and further expansion easier.

The first camp commandant was SS- Obersturmbannführer Arthur Rodl, who performed this role from May 1, 1941, to September 15, 1942. He was succeeded by SS-Hauptsturmführer Wilhelm Gideon, from September 16, 1942, to October 10, 1943. Gideon was succeeded from October 11, 1943,until the camp's evacuation in February 1945, by  SS- Sturmbannführer Johanes Hassebroek.

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Gross -Rosen : Commandant Arthur Rodl - in white jacket - with members of his staff (Bundesarchiv)

Just as was the case at other concentration camps, the Gross- Rosen headquarters staff consisted of five branches and at October 1941, this was as follows:

I. The aide-de=camps's office headed by SS- Oberscharführer Eugen Tillig

II. The Political Department headed by Kriminalsekretar Richard Treske

III. The Protective Detention Camp headed by SS-Untersturmführer Anton Thumann

IV. Administration headed by SS- Oberscharführer Willi Blume

V. Health Services headed by SS-Untersturmführer Friedrich Entress

In addition to these a sixth, the Training Division was headed by  SS- Oberscharführer Johann Ziegler.

Branch III, which oversaw the Protective Detention Camp, played the most important part in the life of the prisoners was managed by Anton Thurmann, who had held the post of Camp Leader of the Gross Rosen labour camps, was the Leader of the Protective Detention Camp until February 1943. Thumann went on to serve in Lublin, Auschwitz and Neuengamme. Concentration Camps. He was succeeded by SS- Obersturmführer Walter Ernstberger who supervised a Rapportführer Walter Schwarze, who was succeeded by Helmut Eschner,a Work Assignment Supervisor, who directed prisoners employment and several barracks block supervisors.

Because of the camp's expansion and the accompanying need for increased administrative efforts, the Schutzhaftlagerführer and the Rapportführer gained more and more power and thus greater license to act. This trend reached its peak under Commandant Hassebroek, who inspected the sub-camps frequently.

The Political Department also played a special role. It took its orders directly from the Reich Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin, but it also worked with the Breslau (today Wroclaw) Gestapo office; it was under the camp command only on an administrative level. The Political Department chief, Treske, interrogated prisoners, was responsible for maintaining prisoner files and oversaw the various jobs of the Political Department which included registering, discharging and executing prisoners.

Studies undertaken at many institutions, based mainly on prisoner numeration, have shown that from May 1941, to the end of that year the population almost doubled to 1,487 prisoners. By July 15, 1942, there were 1,890 prisoners.  We know that 5,293 more prisoners were registered in 1942; 25,167 more in 1943; 73,367 more in 1944; and 5,180 more from January 1945, until the evacuation - for a total of more than 110,000. However, some categories of prisoners, such as Soviet Prisoners of War (POW's) and transferees from Auschwitz were not included in the Gross- Rosen camp records at all; when these are included, the consensus is that the total number of prisoners who passed through Gross- Rosen Concentration Camp was approximately 120,000. Still that figure does not tell us how many were present in the main camp at any one time, since many of the prisoners, including all of the 25,000 women who were sent to Gross Rosen, were sent from there on to the sub-camps.  

When Gross -Rosen was being established, the policy for sending prisoners there was different than at other camps. National police units could not send prisoners to the camp directly; until the end of 1941, only prisoners from other concentration camps were to be sent to Gross- Rosen. In the following years, however, the number of prisoners sent to Gross- Rosen from Gestapo or SIPO (Security Police) units constituted approximately half of the entire population. Approximately one-third or more of the prisoners had come from other concentration camps. Of that number the majority were from Auschwitz - about 20,000, Plaszow - about 2,500, and Flossenburg - about 1,400, while smaller transports came from other concentration camps.

The prisoner population was quite varied in its makeup, German prisoners were the largest nationality group during 1940 and 1941. Starting in 1942, the proportions changed, and German prisoners became a minority; Poles and Russians became the most numerous, followed by French, Dutch, Hungarians, Austrians and many others. Most of the Poles were arrested and incarcerated as suspected partisans, while most Soviet prisoners had been forced labourers who had somehow violated regulations. All the non-German prisoners were classified as political opponents of the Third Reich and were labelled with a red triangle; they were the largest prisoner category because of the large numbers of prisoners from every corner of Europe. Germans continued to dominate the prisoner hierarchy; but not all the prisoner functionaries were German. Most of the Germans were classified as 'professional criminals,' asocials, or political prisoners.

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Gross -Rosen: Visitor's to the camp

Commencing in 1941, Soviet Prisoners of War (POW's) from various Stalags were transported to Gross-Rosen. The largest of this kind of transport consisting of 2,500 to 3,000 prisoners arrived in October 1941. Most of these Soviet POW's were killed by the camp's medical personnel within a few weeks, who administered lethal injections; later, the same method was used to kill other prisoners, who were unable to work. The SS personnel who took part in executions received awards and extra pay for their roles in this. Other Soviet POW's died as a result of neglect and abuse. They were given no bedding and barely half of the normal rations given to other inmates.

Jews were the most badly treated group of prisoners in Gross-Rosen. Up until October 12, 1942, at least 285 Jews passed through the camp. They were often kept at work after the other prisoners had been dismissed. They received none of the privileges that other prisoners did, and the others were forbidden to aid them in any way. The Jewish prisoners received the most beatings, were given the hardest work, and were often denied medical care. Under these circumstances, some Jews succumbed quickly, committed suicide, or were selected for murder, as part of the 14f13 programme. On October 12, 1942, the last 37 living Jewish prisoners were sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. From then until the camps were being liquidated there were no Jews at the Gross-Rosen main camp.

A new category of prisoners appeared in the camp, beginning in 1944: prisoners from the so-called 'Nacht -und- Nebel' decree. The 'Night and Fog' decree was issued by the Chief of the Armed Forces High Command, Wilhelm Keitel, was designed to use arrests and deportation to stem the growth of the resistance movement in Western Europe, particularly in France. In the autumn of 1944, approximately 1,575 French, Belgian, and Dutch prisoners arrested in the 'Night and Fog' decree were sent to Gross-Rosen. More people arrested due to this decree wound up in the camp during January 1945; the total was at least 1,730 people.

Teenage prisoners were also incarcerated in the Gross-Rosen camp. In the early years this was a small group, but starting in 1943, many young Poles and Russians and later young prisoners from other nationalities found themselves in the camp. They were all put in one barrack and used in light forced labour. Starting on December 1, 1943, a separate unit, a so-called 'Arbeitserziebungslager,' or 'work education camp', was established within Gross-Rosen. The prisoners of that unit were a totally different group; they lived in a separate barrack - barrack 22 and received numbers beginning with 0, with no indication of nationality. The Breslau Gestapo was in charge of sending prisoners to the 'work education camp', as well as releasing them. Although the term spent in the camp was short - in theory it could last up to 56 days - it was a very hard time for the prisoners. At least 163 of them did not survive their terms. Additionally, prisoners frequently had to stay in the concentration camp after their terms had been served in the 'work education camp'. During the camp's existence, at least 275 prisoners suffered this fate.

The living and working conditions at Gross-Rosen were horrible. The rations consisted of a couple of small slices of bread per day, plus a little margarine, or horse sausage and watery soup. Prisoners slept on straw sacks that teemed with lice and other vermin, as did their clothing. Bathing facilities were limited or non-existent. Almost all the labour was in the quarry; it was exhausting, dangerous work that broke the prisoners down in a short space of time.

The camp personnel, though officially forbidden to abuse prisoners, frequently tortured and humiliated them in any number of ways: beating them, throwing them from the quarry walls, making them carry large rocks on the run, or dousing them with water and making them stand in the cold. Conditions improved somewhat from 1943, onwards, as the need for prisoner labour increased, but the difference was marginal, and the working hours and tempo actually increased. There are indications that Gross-Rosen was the only camp, aside from Mauthausen, that the Germans ran as a Category III camp, the most severe classification. All told, conditions in the camp killed at least 7,500 prisoners and possibly as many as double that number.

Aside from the Jews and Soviet POW's, and in addition to those prisoners who died from exhaustion, neglect and abuse, other prisoners fell victim to another Nazi killing programme. Gross-Rosen became a 'special treatment' site for people accused of sabotage, refusal to work, sexual relations with Germans, or other such offences. The local SS brought the prisoners in, at which point most of them were killed immediately: shot, hanged, or given lethal injections. Roughly 375 prisoners died that way.

The brutal conditions at Gross -Rosen led to a prisoner culture that emphasised personal survival above all else. There was little the prisoners, especially the Jews and Eastern Europeans, could do to improve their lot. The Kapo's took care of themselves and their friends and brutalised everyone else. Without connections, the most one could do was to try to avoid drawing attention to oneself.

In its initial months, the Gross-Rosen camp did not have its own infirmary. Only in the autumn of 1940, was half of one barracks designated as a makeshift infirmary. Doctor Erwin Herzum became the first camp doctor in October 1940. He was followed by other doctors including Dr. Karl Babor, who was an expert at administering lethal injections, and the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, who arrived from Auschwitz -Birkenau in January 1945, when that camp was evacuated. The infirmary was moved to a separate barracks in late 1941, due to the growing number of injured and sick. A second barracks was allocated as an infirmary in early 1942, and a third barrack in December 1942. Medical care was minimal, in any case; for the most part, the patients were left to live or die on their own.

Initially, the Gross-Rosen camp did not have its own crematorium. During 1941, and 1942, the bodies of dead prisoners were taken to the crematorium at the cemetery in Liegnitz, now Legnica. In the late autumn of 1942, construction began on a brick crematorium, which was planned for completion by mid-December 1942. A makeshift one, known as a field crematorium, operated in the camp in the interim. It was a portable oven run on oil. Two prisoners did the burning, supervised by SS staff members. Up to 10 bodies per day could be cremated in the mobile crematorium.

Conditions in the camp deteriorated even further in the winter of 1944 -1945, as evacuation transports from camps farther to the East swelled the population to the bursting point. The rations became wholly inadequate. New arrivals were forced into un-completed barracks, where they slept on the stone floors, without bedding. Some barracks were filled to four times their intended numbers. There were no sanitary facilities for the new arrivals, and in any case the barracks were so crowded, and the prisoners so weak, that many of them simply relieved themselves where they lay. The work routine broke down; as an alternative, the prisoners were forced to stand in ranks all day, every day. The death rate skyrocketed, and bodies piled up outside the barracks, since the crematorium could no longer keep pace with the number of deaths.

At the end of January 1945, as the Red Army drew nearer, the camp staff began preparing to evacuate the camp. The evacuation began on February 8th or 9th in stages. The first transport left by train bound for Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The prisoners were packed so tightly into the open freight cars, that they could barely move; many of them died on the way from exposure and exhaustion, and the living stood on the bodies of the dead. Some prisoners jumped from the cars and attempted to flee, only to be shot down by the guards. Other transports soon followed the first, and several hundred prisoners also marched out from the main camp on foot. On February 13, 1945, the Red Army liberated Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp.

Not a single member of the Gross-Rosen camp staff, but several perpetrators were brought to justice in other war crimes trials. The last commandant Hassebroek, was sentenced to death by a British Military Court  in 1948, for the murder of British officers in Gross-Rosen, but in 1949, his sentence was reduced to life in prison, then in 1950, to 15 years. He was released in September 1954. Anton Thumann was executed on October 8, 1946. Dr. Karl Babor evaded justice. He fled to Ethiopia, where he committed suicide, on January 18, 1964.


Encyclopaedia of Camps and Ghettos 1933- 1945, USHMM, Indiana University Press Bloomington and Indianapolis 2012

French L. Maclean, The Camp Men, Schiffer Publishing Ltd 1991

Photographs - Bundesarchiv

© Holocaust Historical Society 2018