|Engerhafe Concentration Camp
In March 1942 Dutch workers were placed in a hutment in Engerhafe that was erected by the Organisation Todt. The workers were employed to build bunkers in Emden. In the middle of the village – close by the church, the parsonage and the school – the hutment was based. The country belonged to the church which was seized by the government.
On the 21st of October 1944 about 400 prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp arrived in Engerhafe as the hutment had been vacant in the meantime after the foreign workers had left. The prisoners made the hutment escape-proof with barb wire, electric fences and guard towers and expanded the camp with further huts. In the following days the huts were occupied with approximately 2000 prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp. They were largely political prisoners from Poland, the Netherlands, Latvia, France, Russia, Lithuania, Germany, Estonia, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Spain and Czechoslovakia.
Erwin Seifert, a sergeant of the SS born 14th of October 1915 in Adelsdorf/ Czechoslovakia, was head of Engerhafe concentration camp. Earlier he had belonged to the commandant’s office of Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The guard presumably existed of four SS-men as well as commandeered marines and members of the army.
On the 28th of August 1944 Adolf Hitler ordered the construction of a fortification – the so called “Friesenwall” – after the Allies had invaded Normandy in June 1944. This wall was supposed to be drawn along the coast in two defence lines from the Netherlands to Denmark. Behind the coast line with firing ranges, fox holes and blocking positions trenches were to dig in a second defence line. Aurich city was proclaimed a fortress and supposed to be additionally secured by antitank ditches.
The antitank ditches were four to five metres wide at the surface and two to three metres deep. The sloping walls of the ditches run to half a metre wide bottoms. The Organisation Todt was in charge of the site management for the ditches. Mainly concentration camp prisoners from Neuengamme were deployed for this job since workers were lacking towards the end of the war. They prisoners could be placed in the hutment in Engerhafe which had been proclaimed a satellite camp of Neuengamme.
Living and working conditions
The living conditions in the concentration camp were unbearable. The huts were completely overcrowded, the prisoners slept on bunk beds in thronging closeness where each bed was occupied with two or three men. Despite of cold and wet weather conditions the rooms were not heated. There was only one little absolutely inadequate washing room. The prisoners had no opportunity to shave and they could merely wash face and hands. No toilets were available; instead there was a wooden beam and a hole. Due to disastrous hygienic conditions severe infectious diseases (dysentery) were soon increasingly spreading among the prisoners.
There was no medical supply at all. The single physician among the prisoners possessed neither medicines nor dressing material. The conditions in the hut for the sick men were gruesome. They either lay on the ground or one above the other on simple triple sleepers. Nearly everyone suffered from dysentery. They lay in their own excrements making themselves dirty as many prisoners were not able to move due to entire weakness. An unbearable stench covered the area. Only the sickest were taken to this hut and everyone knew it meant the end for them.
The nutrition was insufficient. Except of a paltry breakfast including a piece of bread, about 20 Gramm margarine, a bit of jam and cold meat, the prisoners only got a thin soup for dinner.
The day for the prisoners began at 4 o’clock in the morning. After breakfast the roll call was carried out at the meeting place. At 6.30 hooked in rows of 5 people they marched to the 2 km train station in Georgsheil where they were further transported to Aurich. From Aurich train station they passed the town going to the work location. Without any breaks they had to work in the antitank ditches until dusk. Often absolutely inappropriate coal shovels were provided as working appliances. It rained almost ceaselessly, so they were up to their knees in water. Utterly prostrated the prisoners were exposed to the arbitrariness and cruelty of the Kapos who pushed and beat them to work harder until they collapsed.
Suffering and dying
Pushed by the Kapos under strict watch, the prisoners audibly scuffed with patten through the city of Aurich.
Some collapsed under the cruel burdens or died at the work location. These were then taken back on a cart to Engerhafe, where they were wrapped up in tar paper and put into a mass grave on the cemetery.
From the 20th of October to the 22nd of December 1944 188 men lost their lives:
They were buried by prisoners on the cemetery next to the church without the involvement of the church or civil authorities. The first burial took place on the 4th of November.
The antitank ditches were finished in late December. On the 22nd of December 1944 Engerhafe concentration camp was closed and the remaining prisoners were brought back to Neuengamme concentration camp.
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After the war
Soon after 1946 the “Union of the Persecutees of the Nazi Regime” („Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes“) took care of the graves. At this time Kuhnert was vicar in Engerhafe, so he and Sundermann from Moordorf as a representative of the VVN were ministering the annual memorial event until 1956 which likely merged into Remembrance Day later on. The way of remembrance after the war has not yet been entirely researched.
In 1952 the French tracing service conducted the exhumation of the dead prisoners. In accordance with the death roll of the church community nearly all corpses could be identified and afterwards reburied, or alternatively conveyed to other cemeteries, partly in their home country.
In 1966 the camp leader Erwin Seifert was charged by the prosecution office in Aurich. Four years later the proceedings were stopped due to lacking provability of the accusation of murder or to prescriptions of other charges.
Erwin Seifert was sentenced to several years of imprisonment in consequence of his offences in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1972.
Since 1st of September 1983 the DGB (German Union Association) has been carrying out an annual rally in front of the mass graves on anti-war day.
Thanks to a group of students under the direction of their teachers Herbert Müller and Joao Neves there has been a memorial on the cemetery in Engerhafe since 1990. The municipality of Südbrookmerland implemented the construction. Prior and essential to the memorial was a thorough research on the instances around Engerhafe concentration camp by Martin Wilken, then subsequently by Elke Suhr and Enno Schmidt.
Further steps towards the association’s founding contained a bigger event for several days in the Gulfhof in Engerhafe in 1994 that included a silent march to the train station in Georgsheil, as well as a series of exhibitions and events for two weeks in 2008.
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