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After a short truck ride through Riga we arrived at Kaiserwald, the feared camp I had tried so long to avoid. We were met by SS men who ordered us off the truck shouting “schneller, schneller” (faster, faster). Pushed and prodded with sticks and truncheons by German and Polish inmates, we were driven into and out of showers so quickly we barely had a chance to get wet. Striped prisoners’ pajamas were thrust at us. We always had to move on the run—to and from the showers, to and from roll call, to and from the barracks, and so on—constantly dodging jabs and indiscriminate blows while the guards and Kapos (in concentration camp argot a privileged inmate or trustee, usually a gentile, used to control other inmates) screamed “schneller, schneller!” In the concentration camps, as part of the systematic degradation we also lost our names—in Kaiserwald I became prisoner No. 10021. Our numbers were imprinted on small rectangles of white cloth on the left breast next to an identifying triangle. Jews had a yellow triangle, criminals green, and political prisoners red. To complicate chances for escape, diagonal white crosses were painted on the fronts and backs of our jackets. Stripes adorned the sides of our pants. We were issued round visor-less caps, which we had to doff smartly to salute any SS who passed. Concentration camp Kaiserwald was a complex of a number of barracks organized into three separate sections. The first, at the main gate, was the administrative section, which housed the SS staff and the guards. The guards generally were non-German SS troops—Latvian, Ukrainian, or Lithuanian. We had little contact with the guards except when they accompanied inmates on outside work details. Behind the administrative building were the women’s and men’s sections, separated by double rows of barbed wire fence. Construction of the camp had started in early 1943, using inmates from other camps. Five hundred gentile prisoners had been im- & KZ Kaiserwald  128 THE WAR AND POSTWAR YEARS ported from concentration camp Sachsenhausen for this purpose. They worked and lived under terrible conditions. When Jews from the Riga ghettos started to arrive in late summer of 1943, only 60 percent of the original inmates were still alive.46 Kaiserwald was under the command of Obersturmbannführer (colonel ) Albert Sauer, previously a construction entrepreneur from Berlin. He had a staff of German SS but relied heavily on German political and criminal inmates for the internal administration of the camp. We already knew many of the German SS from the ghetto and other camps, where they had earned a well-deserved reputation as murderers. The German SS were very visible in the camp. They verified the results of the head count during roll calls and often strolled through the camp looking for an opportunity to amuse themselves by making trouble. Heading the hierarchy of inmates was the Lagerältester (head or senior of the camp), usually a German criminal or political prisoner. The Germans, both men and women, constituted an aristocracy among camp inmates. Many of the men were career criminals (Berufs Verbrecher), and most of the women were convicted prostitutes. These women, placed in charge of the women’s camp, continued to ply their trade, drawing their clientele from among the SS and the German inmates. Ranking below the Germans were the Polish and Ukrainian inmates . At the bottom of the pecking order, receiving all of the abuse and beatings but very little food, were the Jews. My recollections of Kaiserwald are not as clear as those from the ghetto. I stayed in Kaiserwald about six weeks, but the immutable routine of the camp made all days seem alike. The daily routine started with wake-up shouts at 4 A.M. and roll call at 5 A.M. I remember mostly the interminable roll calls, the cramped barracks, and the narrow bunks that made sleeping a nightmare. The roll calls, mornings and evenings, involved repeated counting of inmates and were intentionally arranged to cause maximum harassment and discomfort. While standing at attention for hours we were counted, recounted, and counted again. If the counts did not agree (and frequently they did not), we were counted over and over, all the time required to stand at attention. There were repeated commands of “caps off” and “caps on.” If these moves were not executed smartly to the liking of the SS, we were punished by being required to squat and remain in that...


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