Herewith Part III of a teenager's story about having been caught in the teeth of a Soviet Tribunal in Germany after the war. He and his fellow "criminals" were 13-17-year-old German youngsters:
On February the 5th, 1946, in a large hall, proceedings began in the presence of members of the Soviet Army under the leadership of the Brandenburg Military Tribunal, members of the Committee, and an interpreter. A defense counsel was not available for us.
We 29 people from Wittenberge were seated in the middle of the hall in rows of five or six each. To our left, the Soviet public was seated; to our right, along the windows, a heavy guard, armed soldiers, resumed their position. And again, the question: Why such huge display?
It would have been totally impossible to escape from this cordoned?off K.G.~. complex. Apparently, our judges saw it differently. Even a walk to the toilet for us and the girls was not allowed without the company of an armed guard. When one sat on the toilet seat, he stood in the open door and diligently performed his duty.
It was forbidden to talk with one another, even during recess. One of the girls who whispered something to her neighbor was punished. Her punishment was that she had to stand from then on. That gave one of the interrogating officers who arrived late reason to ask the question, "Why do you stand? Is your ass sick?"
The first day was used to establish and record personal data. On the second and third day, we heard the accusations against us for the first time. Each one of us was horrified when we heard what had been composed from statements we had made during interrogations. We realized that the basis of this military tribunal was not facts but suspicions, not proof but conjecture and that, later, the pronouncement of our sentence was a judicial farce.
Some of the accused still tried to correct the false accusations, which always resulted in them being silenced. Apparently, this was not to the liking of the Court, and a rigorous statement followed. "You with name signed!"
When the Court repeatedly charged us with the "deeds that fascists had committed," Karin Clinger, because of her sense of justice and perhaps because of her youthful defiance, said that she witnessed Russian soldiers shooting women and children. That resulted in a flurry of indignation among the Court and the "public." This remark apparently was the reason that she was later condemned to death, which, however, was commuted to ten years in prison. She had to serve the entire sentence, every day of it.
Someone asked for Dieter Bolde. "We'll get him when we think the time is right" was the answer.
The tribunal accused us of membership in an underground organization, agitation against communism and sabotage of the creation of the "New Order." The Bill of Indictment, as it is known today, was already established at the time of our arrest, and the trial was conducted in accordance with Paragraph 58 of the Soviet Penal Code and its 14 sections. Our judges applied those in the broadest sense toward our conviction.
On the 9th of February, 1946, late in the afternoon, sentences were pronounced. The first nine names were read, followed by extremely severely formulated, many pages long accusations and then, "Your punishment is the most severe penalty of the Soviet Union: Death by firing squad."
One girl and both mothers were among them. It is impossible to describe the feelings of the condemned. Not only did the whole world collapse for them, they could not comprehend anything anymore. But all other prisoners were paralyzed as well. Why all that? Why "condemned to death by firing squad"? What did we do?
The next group was called. Frightened looks, worried demeanor everywhere, almost the same accusations. Then the sentence: "Ten years in a work camp." As the last one, Horst Hinske was sentenced to "seven years in a work camp," perhaps only to show some "objectivity" of the Court. He then was the first one who starved to death in Sachsenhausen.
SUMMARY OF THE SENTENCES:
9 "death by firing squad"
19 "ten years in a work camp"
1 "seven years in a work camp"
With handcuffs, and outside the courtroom also with foot shackles, the doomed prisoners were herded to their death row cells in which they, together with 25 to 30 others, had to wait for their execution or maybe a general pardon.
Under extremely difficult conditions and continuous torments and harassments, the condemned 20 youths from Wittenberge, 16 boys and four girls, were transferred, at the end of February 1946, to the penitentiary in Alt?Strelitz. The boys, together with many other Soviet military tribunal condemned, were housed in a large hall.
The girls had to share a cell with Russian women prisoners; however, soon thereafter, they were transferred back to the Soviet Union. Every week, new prisoners arrived so that the penitentiary was soon overcrowded.
At Alt-Strelitz we were allowed to take a shower, for the first time since our arrests. Our clothing was deloused. For that, we had to hang every stitch of our clothing on a hanger and the clothing was then placed in an overheated cell. Meanwhile, we had to stand naked until our clothing was returned to us, which now smelled singed in addition to still being dirty.
Food was now a little better than in Brandenburg but by no means sufficient. As a result, the first of our fellow prisoners died. Some of the prisoners were assigned to work details. They were almost exclusively craftsmen who had to work for Soviet officers and soldiers.
Women had to work in the laundry and in the kitchens of officers and guards. Some of the prisoners had a preferred position in the penitentiary. One, for example, was responsible for the storage depot for food stuff for the prisoners. Instead of executing his duty conscientiously, he and his officer bosses traveled regularly to Berlin to sell food meant for the prisoners on the black market or to trade the food for vodka.
After a short time in Berlin, the officers usually had consumed too much alcohol and were unable to drive the truck home, so our buddy took over the vehicle and returned his charges safely back to Alt?Strelitz. He never thought of escaping, as he repeatedly told us.
He paid dearly for it.
From Sachsenhausen, he was transferred to the Soviet Union but died en route in the railroad box car. The prisoners had to suffer because of illicit deals like this by getting thinner and more watery soup all the time.
From time to time, a commission from Karlshorst came to the penitentiary. Those were frightening days for all of us, because, again and again, already condemned prisoners were subsequently re-sentenced to death and executed.
The girls were able to observe the last trip of death candidates, because their cells were located above the main gate of the penitentiary. Half naked, the condemned had to lie on the floor of a truck, a shovel next to them and soldiers with rifles over them. They were driven to a forest. Then, after they had dug their own graves, they were shot.
For the girls, in addition to the filth and hunger, the months in Alt?Strelitz were accompanied by the disgusting molestations of the officers and soldiers. Because they did not accept the "offers" of "When you love me, you get bacon, bread and vodka," they were punished by being thrown into the detention cell.
The detention cell had no glass panes in the window, so they had to lie in the continuous draft of the cold air. There was water on the floor. There was no bed, no chair, and food was only brought every other day. Even today, while remembering all that, the question comes to one's mind, "How could anyone endure all that? How did we get through it and how did we survive?"
To be fair, it should be mentioned that there were a few Russians who helped in certain situations. For example, a girl from Wittenberge was taken out of her cell in the middle of the night. When she refused to go along, the soldier ordered her to clean the guard's office. "She is a prisoner and has to obey!" When he wrestled her to the floor, she struggled and screamed loudly. That awoke our boys and the other prisoners in the large sleeping hall which was located in the same budding as the women's cells.
The boys pounded against the door and made a hell of a ruckus which the sergeant on duty heard in his office. He came immediately to investigate the reason of the noise. He took the keys to the women's cells from the soldier, escorted the girl back to her cell and did not punish the prisoners in Hall No. 9 for their "revolt."
On September 16, 17 and 18, all prisoners from Alt?Strelitz were moved to the former Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen. Prisoners had to sit on the floor of a truck, chained together and legs spread apart, escorted by armed soldiers with guard dogs.
Tomorrow: Part IV
Thought for the Day:
"The greatest homage to truth is to use it."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
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