Prominent left-wing prisoners

In December 1933, after more than five months in the notorious SA camp Oranienburg (near Berlin), Gerhart Seger escaped and fled Nazi Germany. A few months later, the prominent Social Democrat (SPD) politician (he had been elected to the Reichstag in 1930) published his recollections in exile, prompting furious reactions from Nazi officials. The following extract details abuses against prominent left-wing prisoners, who were blamed for the economic and political failures of the Weimar Republic; any prisoners who were also Jewish were particularly vulnerable.

006 – The German political prisoner Gerhart Seger on SA abuses in Oranienburg

Since the establishment of the camp the commandant was Sturmbannführer [Werner] Schäfer from Oranienburg […]. He [had] worked as a minor bank official and, on the side, was active as organizer and leader of an SA Sturmbann [unit]. In this capacity he became commandant of the concentration camp set up in the area of SA Standarte 208.

Dachau SS photo of imprisoned Social Democrats and trade union officials with a demeaning placard (July 1933)

Gedenkstätte Buchenwald

Schäfer is a veritable underling of a person. His hatred of Social Democrats is boundless. He enjoys practicing it by insulting helpless prisoners, who, following the camp rules, have to stand to attention in front of him […]. Schäfer did not often let himself go to indulge in physical maltreatment by beatings, but he was all the more generous with the imposition of disciplinary punishment: confinement in a dark cell, postal and visitors’ bans and detailing to penal squads […].

Sturmbannführer Krüger from Trebbin was, until October, the chief sadist of the Oranienburg camp. Employed by the Secret State Police he held interrogations in Room 16 […]. One is reluctant to put on paper the full scale of this not yet 30-year-old SA leader’s crimes of unbridled raving sadism, of physical ill-treatment and moral torture of the prisoners […].

raving sadism, physical ill-treatment, moral torture

Krüger felt especially strong when there were National Socialist visitors to whom he could present us. Like a self-important tamer in a small touring circus he would then stride around the camp, summoning the “VIPs” of the camp and introducing them to the visitors with vile remarks. “Just look at these shepherds! This here is another overfed mayor of the SPD! This Jewish swine here opened his filthy trap against our Führer!” and other insults of this kind – and the prisoner always had to silently stand at attention and let himself be abused! In October, for reasons not accurately known to us prisoners, Krüger was removed […]. But the “tradition” of Room 16, which he created, continues to exist.

The person continuing it is Sturmführer Stahlkopf, who already was a keen participant in all crimes in Krüger’s day. While Krüger had a certain daredevil brutality, Stahlkopf is the type of the creepy, particularly infamous sadist, whose character has a downright unimaginable vileness. […]

A special peculiarity of Sturmführer Stahlkopf was that at night, when he was slightly drunk, he would collect prisoners from the dormitories in order to beat them or to put them through some drill in the courtyard. This he did above all with the unfortunate members of the so-called Jewish company, which existed for a while and to which the former leader of the Social Democrat Party in the Prussian Diet Ernst Heilmann had been detailed during his stay in the Oranienburg camp.

Source: G. Seger, Oranienburg (Karlsbad, 1934), pp. 27–31 (emphasis in the original)

Translation: Ewald Osers