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The SS guards

The commandant was in charge of both the main camp and its satellite camps. Neuengamme concentration camp was organised in different departments, among them headquarters, the political department (Gestapo), the department for managing the prisoners’ barracks, the coordination of work details, the administrative department, the medical department, training and the guard squads.

The SS guards at the prisoners’ barracks were systematically instructed to treat the prisoners inhumanly. Concentration camp prisoners were to be handled as enemies of the state, criminals and “anti-social elements”. The fight against the “enemies within” was compared to the fight against the “enemies from outside”. Especially brutal SS men were promoted as a reward for their behaviour. The prisoners’ barracks was surrounded by barbed wire which was electrically charged at night. Guards watched over the prisoners’ barracks and marched the prisoners to work.

Neuengamme concentration camp had three commandants: Walter Eisfeld (1940), Martin Weiß (1940–1942) and Max Pauly (1942–1945). The commanders of the guard squads reported to the leader of the SS Death’s Head Units (SS-Totenkopfverbände) in Oranienburg and received their orders from the SS Leadership Office (SS-Führungsamt). Three and sometimes four guard squads, consolidated to form a battalion (Sturmbann), performed guard duties both in Neuengamme concentration camp and with the work commandos outside the camp.

In 1944/45, additional guards for the satellite camps were recruited among non-SS members from the Wehrmacht, the navy, customs, the police and the Reich’s railway company (Reichsbahn). The guard squads were taught that their job was to protect the Reich's "internal" front". They were instructed that the prisoners were base criminals who were to be treated extremely severely—something at which the SS guards in the prisoners' barracks excelled.

SS guards from the concentration camp march through Neuengamme. Photograph taken on 9 November 1942. (ANg)
SS guards from Neuengamme (1943).
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