Hinzert Concentration Camp

Country Germany
GPS 49° 41' 57.588" N, 6° 53' 36.6828" E
Address An der Gedenkstätte, 54421 Hinzert-Pölert, Germany
Dates Active July 1938 – March 1945

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Hinzert Concentration Camp:

Maurice Jay Gould, Peter Denis Hassall


By Roderick Miller

At least two Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Hinzert Concentration Camp (SS-Sonderlager Hinzert, Konzentrationslager Hinzert) near the town of Hinzert-Pölert in the Trier-Saarburg district of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in southwest Germany. Hinzert was founded in 1938 as a work camp for Germans who were obligated to work for the Todt Organisation on projects near the construction of the autobahn and the Westwall, a defensive wall built on the western borders of Germany. The first SS guard personnel were assigned to the camp even in this early phase. By 1939, prisoners arrested for allegedly avoiding work duties were transported to the camp. After a major fire, the barracks were built anew in August 1939. By autumn of 1939 an SS-Sonderlager (‘special SS camp’) was built as a separate subsection of the camp. Repeat offenders were incarcerated into this SS section of the camp

After the Nazi occupation of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1940, work on the Westwall was stopped and Hinzert became an official part of the Nazi concentration camp system. Political prisoners were deported from Luxembourg from 1941 onwards and the ‘work camp’ increasingly took on the character of a concentration camp. In October 1941, 70 Russian prisoners of war were murdered in Hinzert by poisonous injections. By 1942, in order to justify the cost of the camp, its purpose was further extended to help in the war effort with prisoners falling victim to the Nazi policy of ‘extermination through labour’. Prisoners were deported from throughout Nazi-occupied Europe for this purpose. Polish prisoners who had been caught having relationships with German women were transported exclusively to Hinzert and tested for the possibility of ‘Germanising’ them; those who failed were inevitably deported and executed.

The public road near the camp went between the SS personnel barracks and the prisoner barracks, and local German civilians passing by could observer firsthand the poor treatment of the prisoners. Channel Islander and Hinzert prisoner Peter Hassall personally witnessed German passersby stopping to watch the maltreatment of prisoners by the SS,  ‘all staring and seemingly pleased with the “show” going on inside.’ [1] The climate in the region was known to be especially raw and wet in winter and forcing the prisoners to stand unclothed in the cold was typical of the SS brutality in the camp. Most Hinzert prisoners had been transported there by train and force marched two miles to the camp from the train station in Reinsfeld.

Nacht und Nebel or ‘Night and Fog’ (NN) prisoners were part of a secret hostage program devised by the Nazis as a means of controlling potential resistance in occupied territory. Male NN prisoners were deported from the occupied territories to Hinzert as their first assigned destination. Channel Islanders Maurice Gould and Peter Hassall, both NN prisoners, arrived in Hinzert from Fresnes Prison (near Paris) on 13 June 1942. Peter Hassall was 16 years old and Maurice Gould had turned 18 two weeks earlier.

On arrival in the camp, NN prisoners were assigned numbers that they had to learn in German, for this was how they were addressed from that point on by the SS guards and their collaborative prisoner ‘capo’ guards. Gould was beaten to the ground during his first roll-call for not understanding the French commands of the capo. They then had their heads shaved, were forced to shave the rest of body themselves with dull razor blades — whilst camp personnel ridiculed them — and then they were forced to wash themselves down with harsh chemical disinfectants. Next, they were showered in alternating scalding hot and ice cold water, forced to withstand the extreme water temperatures or be severely beaten. They were given medical reviews and then handed over their clothing and what few private articles they had in their possession to the camp personnel. They then received a black uniform with 4-inch wide yellow stripes sewn on the back of the jacket and the legs of the trousers, and a set of wooden clogs, all of which were ill-fitting.

Gould was assigned number 4372 and Hassall number 4374 and they were initially assigned quarters in Room 5 of the quarantine section of the camp. The room had bunk beds and the prisoners were each given a ‘coarse sheet, two blankets, eating utensils and a large, reddish-brown bowl for soup and coffee.’ The two Channel Islanders were then taken to SS commandant Paul Sporrenberg’s office, where he told them, ‘I have never had any Englishmen in this camp. I called the Gestapo in Trier to find out if you had been sent here by mistake, however, they assured me that it was no mistake, and that you are to be treated the same as any other prisoners.’

Their first meal was a thin, unheated soup consisting of small bits of turnips, potatoes, and no meat. The breakfast the next day was three wafer-thin slices of black bread with a white, synthetic margarine —the only daily ration of bread — and thin ersatz coffee made from acorns. Lunch was more of the yellowish soup comprised of ‘ninety-nine percent water’ and dinner the same watery soup with turnip and potato bits as the day previous. These would prove to be the standard Hinzert fare.

During the quarantine period, Gould and Hassall were re-assigned to Room 2 of the quarantine area. They had a kind barracks boss (Blockältester) from Luxembourg who gave them invaluable advice about how to behave in the camp towards the guards, such details as to how to salute and how to take your hat off quickly so as to avoid an impromptu beating, or worse. They soon learned that daily gauntlet run beatings, random thrashings and constant sadistic harassment on the part of the SS guards and collaborator prisoner capos were a standard feature of Hinzert.

The daily routine in the camp for the NN prisoners was as follows: Reveille: 4:30 a.m.; Coffee: 5:00 a.m.; Roll call/exercises: 5:30 a.m.; Work: 6:00 a.m.; Midday soup: 12:00-12:45 p.m.; Return to work: 1:00  p.m.; Finish work: 6:00-7:00 p.m.; Evening meal: 6:00 p.m.; Assembly and exercises: 6:30 p.m.; Roll call in room: 9:00 p.m.; Roll call and bed: 10:00-11:00 p.m.

Hinzert prisoners performed forced labour in ‘work commando’ groups that were marched out of the camp to do heavy manual labour quarrying stone, on earthworks, or on water drainage projects. The first forced labour assignment for Gould and Hassall was in the Steinkommando, breaking up large boulders into smaller pieces with sledgehammers and chisels, then piling the pieces onto a sledge and carrying them by hand. Another particularly heavy forced labour task was the Kohlenkommando or ‘coal commando’, in which the prisoners, wearing their ill-fitted wooden clogs, had to make four 5-mile return trips pulling a heavy wooden farm cart by hand, filling the cart with hundreds of kilogrammes of coal, and unloading it at the camp.

On Sundays the prisoners were sometimes made to perform forced labour within the perimeters of the camp, but on 21 June 1942, Gould and Hassall had not been selected for work and were allowed to rest. When they stripped naked for the daily lice check, another form of humiliation that the prisoners had to endure from the SS, Hassall noted that Gould’s body had become skeletally thin, worse even than prisoners who had been in the camp for far longer. During a ‘coal commando’ on the following day, a collaborating capo,  the French prisoner André Callaux, beat Gould badly with a wooden club for one of his wooden clogs having fallen off, and insulted him with taunts of ‘Churchill’. Gould eventually collapsed and had to be carried back to the camp on top of the coal cart. Gould was beaten again in the camp infirmary by SS medical orderly Josef Brendel, who accused him of being a ‘malingerer, saboteur and a filthy English pig.’ Gould was unable to leave his bed for several days, but he had grown even thinner and his eyes seemed to be set ever deeper in their sockets. The beatings by Callaux and Brendel had, in Hassall’s words, ‘precipitated my companion towards his death.’

On 24 July 1942, Gould and Hassall were taken from Hinzert and transported to Wittlich Prison, in the Bernkastel-Wittlich district of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Maurice Gould died there on 1 October 1943 as a result of his mistreatment and the lack of medical care for tuberculosis, which he had contracted in prison. Peter Hassall survived to write a detailed account of his experience in Nazi captivity (see Sources and Further Reading, below). It is perhaps one of the most detailed eyewitness accounts of Hinzert Concentration Camp ever written, and certainly the only one to have been written in English.

On 21 November 1944, Hinzert became an official sub-camp of Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The camp was officially abandoned on 2-3 March 1945 as the US Army approached. The remaining prisoners were placed on a forced march in the direction of Buchenwald. Three prisoners were shot by the SS when they were too weak to continue. Eventually small groups of prisoner were able to break away and were liberated by US troops. The few remaining prisoners in the camp were able to hide in the nearby woods until the arrival of the US Army.

Hinzert Concentration Camp incarcerated at least 13,600 total prisoners between September 1939 and March 1945, with an average at 800 prisoners at any given time. According to official counts, around 300 prisoners died in the camp, but French documents refer to upwards of 1000 human remains having been exhumed around the area of the camp after the war.

French collaborator and capo prisoner André Callaux was brought before a French court in Paris in 1948 and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the camp. Hinzert camp commandant and SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Sporrenberg went into hiding after the war. He was arrested in his apartment in Düsseldorf on 2 March 1961 and charged by the state prosecutor in Trier with the deaths of at least 60 prisoners by maltreatment, 9 murders, and the execution of 23 prisoners from Luxembourg. On 21 September he was declared unfit to stand trial and he died on 7 December 1961 in Mönchengladbach. The state court in Mannheim sentenced Josef Brendel to two and a half years in prison. In other war crimes trials, four Hinzert personnel were sentenced to death, five to lifelong sentences in prison, and five others to prison sentences ranging from a few years to 20 years. [2]

The French military used the barracks after the war to store munitions and weapons. Part of the camp’s grounds were soon returned to their original owners, which the Nazis had appropriated in the 1930s to build the camp. In 1946, the French exhumed 217 of the camp’s dead from a mass grave and buried them in a memorial cemetery. Hinzert Concentration Camp did not get official recognition as a memorial until 1986. In 2002, the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament agreed to the building of a documentation and memorial centre and it was dedicated in 2005.

1] All quotes in this article, unless otherwise noted, are from Hassall’s Night and Fog Prisoners (see Sources below).

[2] Hinzert camp doctor Waldemar Wolter was sentenced to death in 1946 by a US Army tribunal for his role in Mauthausen Concentration Camp and hanged in 1947 in Landsberg Prison. Camp capo Eugen Wipf was arrested in Switzerland in 1947 and sentenced to life in prison, but died in prison in 1948. Commandant Hermann Pister was sentenced to death in 1947 by a US Army tribunal for his role in Buchenwald Concentration Camp but died of a heart attack before the sentence could be carried out. A French Military Court handed down a number of sentences for Hinzert personnel in 1948: Anton Pammer and Julius Reiss, death sentences; Alfred Heinrich, Johann Schattner and Theodor Fritz, lifelong hard labour; Ludwig Windisch, 20 years’ hard labour; Julius Günther, 3 years’ hard labour. The state court in Mannheim sentenced Georg Schaaf to 10 years’ prison and he later committed suicide. A court in Munich sentenced Egon Zill to life imprisonment in 1951, but he was freed in 1961 and died in Dachau in 1974. Zill was a senior guard in Dachau Concentration Camp for three months in 1937.  A court in Trier sentenced Hans Krischner and Willy Kleinhenn in 1961 to prison terms of 4 years, 9 months and two years’ hard labour respectively.

Further Reading

Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.

Hassall, Peter D.: Night and Fog Prisoners, self-published testimonial, Canada, 1997. See ‘Sources’ below for a link to the document online.

Sanders, Paul: The Ultimate Sacrifice: The Jersey islanders who died in German prisons and concentration camps during the Occupation 1940 – 1945, Jersey Heritage Trust, Jersey, revised and updated edition, 2004.

Sources

Bader, Uwe: Hitlers ‘Nacht und Nebel-Erlaß” vom 7.12.1941 und seine Bedeutung für die Forschungen zur Geschichte des ehemaligen SS-Sonderlagers/KZ Hinzert’ in SACHOR, Beiträge zur Jüdischen Geschichte und Gedenkstättenarbeit in Rheinland-Pfalz, Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Gedenkstätten und Erinnerungsinitiativen zur NS-Zeit in Rheinland-Pfalz (publishers), Verlag Matthias Ess, Bad Kreuznach, Issue no. 11, 1/96, pp. 38-41.

Benz, Wolfgang & Distel, Barbara (editors): Der Ort des Terrors. Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslager, Volume 5: Hinzert, Auschwitz, Neuengamme. C. H. Beck, 2007, pp. 17-43 (in German).

Engel, Marcel & Hohengarten, André: Hinzert: Das SS-Sonderlager im Hunsrück 1939-1945, Sankt Paulus Druckerei AG, Luxemburg, 1983 (in German).

Hassall, Peter D.: Night and Fog Prisoners, self-published testimonial, Canada, 1997. Available online as a PDF document.

International Tracing Service Arolsen, Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-occupied Territories, 1949-1951.

Megargee, Geoffrey P. (editor): Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. 1 , Part A. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2009, pp. 824-828.

Sanders, Paul: The Ultimate Sacrifice: The Jersey islanders who died in German prisons and concentration camps during the Occupation 1940 – 1945, Jersey Heritage Trust, Jersey, revised and updated edition, 2004.

Schneider, Volker: Auflösung des Konzentrationslagers “SS-Sonderlager Hinzert” 1944/45, Neuhütten (in German).

The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO)
TNA FO 950/1373 (Hassall)

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