August 21, 2017

1950. Soviets Shut Down Internment Camps in East Germany

NKVD Internment Camps Shut Down After Five Years
A column of German prisoners is led by Red Army soldiers through a ruined village near Stalingrad, December 1942 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 25, 1950 (recorded to air later)

In the middle of January, General Vasily Chuikov, Soviet High Commissioner for Germany, announced that Russian occupation authorities were liquidating three internment camps in Eastern Germany.

Camps that were a political embarrassment to Germans and Russians trying to sell Communism here. Camps whose names already were notorious under the Nazis and which were becoming equally so under the Communists.

Buchenwald. Sachsenhausen. Bautzen.

Chuikov's announcement said that 15,000 persons in these camps would be set free to return to their homes. Another three and a half thousand would be held as criminals. The USSR would keep 649 others for major war crimes against the Soviet Union.

The Communist propaganda ballyhooed this as a great show of humanity and generosity by the Russian occupying power—propaganda that political prisoners and opponents of the satellite regime will not agree with.

These are the pictures of some of the people who know something of the so-called generosity of totalitarianism. They were taken in at a headquarters of an organization called the "Fighting Group Against Inhumanity," an association of former war prisoners, internees, and persecutees formed to expose terror behind the Iron Curtain in Germany.

The first thing they do when they check in is to put down the names of comrades who they know have died behind the barbed wire.

Every day women come here to check on husbands, sons, or relatives.

Some of the prisoners were in fairly good shape, particularly if they had good jobs in the camps, like in the kitchen. Others are slated for TB hospitals—and probably early death.

The Fighting Group Against Inhumanity has figures that disagree with General Chuikov's. They say that out of 180,000 persons interned in 1945—five years ago—90,000 died behind the wire, and that 30,000 have been deported to Russia and disappeared. Those now returning every day by the hundreds are only what's left.

The three young men here, all in their early twenties, were arrested for trying to cross the Russian zonal border without the proper papers. They were accused of being spies and spent four years in the camps.

The Russians gave them good shoes when they were released, but the clothing has something to be desired. The coats they call "Sokolovsky" Mäntel; the hats "Kotikov" Mütze.

Life in the people's democracy is, it seems, more strange than wonderful.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 25, 1950

Transport trucks continue to pile up at the Helmstedt autobahn checkpoint today in what is being called a "creeping blockade" of road traffic in and out of Berlin.

Russian transport authorities are allowing only a half-dozen trucks an hour to come through.

Today something new has been added. Transport trucks trying to return to the Western zones from Berlin also are being held up. So now there are queues of heavy trucks lined up on both sides of the Russian zone border. Currently no more than a hundred loaded trucks are waiting to get in, and about half that number trying to get out. Also this morning four barges were stopped on the inland waterway out of Berlin. Railroad traffic is normal.

One Berlin Communist newspaper denies that there is any blockade or slowdown. Western reporters who say there is are "attempting to create tension and unrest."

Two weeks ago Russian occupation authorities announced they were liquidating three concentration camps in their zone and returning more than 15,000 Germans to their homes. The move is designed as a goodwill gesture to win public opinion toward the East.

This morning I spent several hours talking with some of the men and women returning from Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Bautzen.

It was a strange sight, this long after the war, to see war prisoners again. Some were fat and healthy, others were emaciated and tubercular. Some were teenage kids picked up making illegal border crossings and held as spies.

There was one new category—a middle-aged machine worker. He was arrested three years ago when his machine jammed and was ruined. For this he was sent to the coal mines to work out the cost of the machine—30,000 rubles. But in the mines he was denounced as an unreliable person and sent to Buchenwald. Strangely enough, he was included in the recent amnesty.

He is the only inmate I ever found in favor of a concentration camp—otherwise, he said, he would still be in the mines instead of walking free as he is today.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.