Murdering the sick

The SS regarded sick prisoners as a nuisance and a threat. During the war, prisoners who could not quickly resume slave labour were in grave danger. The SS routinely murdered ill inmates in the infirmary. Among the murderers was Oberscharführer Heinz Wisner, an SS orderly in the infirmary of Riga (Latvia) main camp. Max A., a German Jew deported to Riga in late 1941, gave the following testimony during a post-war investigation into Wisner’s crimes.

036 – Survivor Max A. on murderous SS selections in the Riga infirmary

The calorie allowance was inadequate and so it was inevitable that people gradually lost weight. For example, I can remember that if I was out with the external work detail I belonged to and I was out of sight, I pulled up beetroot from the ground and ate it raw. Our physical decline was accelerated by the fact that the work was extremely hard and we were put under merciless pressure during it. I can remember instances where fellow prisoners fell asleep at the cement mixer and then collapsed. It happened to me too. This gradual decline in health due to malnourishment caused me to develop phlegmons […].

After about three or four weeks I managed to get myself admitted to the sick bay, though I was aware that my chances of survival there were very slim. It was obvious that the severely ill and incurables were removed and killed. Even so, it was my only chance of regaining my health in a relatively short time. I was admitted to the sick bay at the beginning of 1944 […].

the prisoner was killed with an injection

The SS orderly Wisner came into the sick bay regularly. […] He went […] from bed to bed, first checking the notes by each bed to see how long the prisoner had been in the sick bay. […] It looked to me as though he was seeing to it that prisoners did not stay in the sick bay for too long. I am not aware of any specific time limit but I think that no patient was allowed to remain in the sick bay for longer than a few weeks. From what I observed, Wisner would speak quietly with [prisoner doctor] S. by the bed of very sick prisoners. In each case, after such a discussion the prisoner was killed with an injection. I have observed this myself in many cases […]. As far as I can remember, in every case the prisoners given injections died within a few hours. […]

I cannot remember any further details that were typical of Wisner’s attitude towards us. I can only remember that all the prisoners in the sick bay trembled when they saw him coming.

Source: Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg, B 162/26148, Bl. 174–82: testimony Max A., 12 February 1980

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes