Crematorium. Photograph: Louis Schnakenburg, 1945. (MDF 11166)

Death

Death on a barbed wire fence. Drawing by Vladimir Petrow, no date (after 1969). (ANg)

Prisoners were confronted with death on a daily basis. They saw their fellow prisoners dying or dead, and they lived in constant fear of dying themselves. Prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp were beaten to death, drowned, hung, shot or poisoned with gas. They starved or died because of the insufficient clothing, sleeping quarters and sanitary conditions. They died from a lack of medicine or because they were denied medical assistance, from physical overexertion while working, or from mistreatment.

In 1942, the SS began carrying out public hangings as a punishment and deterrent. The police and the judiciary also used the concentration camp for carrying out executions. After any gold teeth had been removed, the bodies were usually burned. In the beginning, this was done at the municipal crematorium in the Ohlsdorf cemetery, then Neuengamme concentration camp began using its own crematorium in 1942. Relatives of the deceased could request an urn supposedly with the ashes of their loved ones in return for a fee.

“My comrade was beaten so badly in the brick factory […] that you could see black gouges on his body when he took off his shirt. The next morning, he and I were walking in the column to work when he said good-bye to me and told me to give his mother his regards if I survived. Then, he took two steps away from the group. A shot was fired […] my fellow countryman fell to the ground.”

Anatoli Nikitisch Korschikow from the Soviet Union was a prisoner in Neuengamme concentration camp from August 1942 to 1944. (Letter from 1986, ANg)