Punishments and harassment

If work was not completed with complete concentration, precision and in the demanded volume, prisoners of the Siemens facility were subjected to often unwarranted or unreasonable punishments, which could be delivered as brutal beatings, starvation for up to a week, having to stand to attention for hours or random humiliations.

„Unlike regular workers, the Siemens prisoners were not allowed to visit the privy when they needed to. There were certain times allotted for this, during which the prisoners walked out in whole lines. As nearly all prisoners had chronic bladder infections or diarrhea problems, because of the malnutrition or because of having a cold all the time, this came to be an awful, torturous and degrading procedure. An especially bad case was when a prisoner begged a guard to be allowed to go to the toilet before the allotted time. She was not given permission and so she had to soil herself. She needed to go again after that, begged for permission and got a “no” again. She then walked to the heating system in the hall, sat down on a coal bucket and removed her trousers. The supervisor, Master Lombacher, saw this and called the guard so she would punish the “culprit”. He stood and watched while the woman, who was standing, soiled, with her skirts lifted, was hit in the face with her dirty trousers by the guard!”

– Rita Sprengel, * 1907, German; Siemens: November 1942 – October 1944, hall 2

„[…] Some of the prisoners received parcels from home, the contents of which they would take to their work stations and put in their drawers as they couldn’t leave them unattended in the camp – unfortunately there was a lot of stealing. On one of the next days they would discover that these things – like soap, a comb, a mirror, underwear and shoes too, had been stolen from this supposedly safe hiding place. The hall supervisor of the facility had checked the hall after work, thrown everything into the ovens, and the prisoners, despite their pleading, were not given their belongings back, everything was burned. On the contrary, we were threatened with being reported, as we had to have known that taking anything into the factory was forbidden, but we just had no safe places to keep things. “

– Inge Wodrig, * unknown, German; Start of work at Siemens unknown, hall 8

„[…] I worked at a machine in hall 2 and coiled thin wire onto small reels. Our work was checked by civilian master craftsmen, and when they noticed that it was not good, they would report that to a guard. The guard would note down the camp prisoner number and pass the report on to the camp office, so the punishment could be decided on from there. The punishment was this: while the work detail was marched to lunch, the punished prisoner had to stand in front of Frau Binz’ office, with no lunch. And when the detail returned from lunch, the punished woman had to return to work without food. For a whole week you would get no lunch.“

– Vallentina Bugajewa, * 1924, Soviet Union/ Ukrainian; Start of work at Siemens unknown, hall 2

„Then the following happened: We were given a root vegetable soup which was so woody that it would have stuck in your gullet, so it was inedible. A German […], brought a case of relays for me to check. […] Her name was Anni and she was a very nice guy. She put down the box for me to check, handed me a piece of wood and said that this was the desert after our woody lunch, and she smiled at me. That moment, an SS guard came past and started beating her. The SS woman asked me what we had talked about, and I answered that we had only talked about work, as one relay had not been quite right, that she hadn’t managed to completely work it over. She wanted to beat me too but I caught her hand firmly in mine. Then the boss came, Herr Brimer the department supervisor, and asked what was going on. I explained everything to Herr Primo and the guard let go of me. But the German she had reported, got 25 lashes on her ass for that. She could neither sit nor lie down for two weeks, and had to do her work standing up.“

– Lisa Kammerstätter, * 1906, Austrian; Siemens: approx. from November 1942, Hall 3, second hall unknown

„Once I had to go to the night shift, but my teeth were hurting terribly. The girls advised me to stay in the barracks as there were hardly any controls. The master craftsmen still noted that I wasn’t there and reported it to the camp leader who came to the barracks the next morning and asked me why I had not gone to work. I told him that my teeth were so sore that I couldn’t come to work. He gave me a terrible blow and said that those weren’t pains at all, and then he beat me terribly until I was bruised all over. Then he harried me outside where I had to tidy up around the barracks until the evening, and after that I had to go on night shift in the factory.

It was February when I secretly dried a piece of underwear on some pipes in the factory.

That, in any case, was strictly forbidden, but we still managed to dry many a piece there. I was unlucky, the guard caught me and reported me to the camp leader who sent me to the main camp where I had to stand with my face to the wall from six in the morning until 8 at night, not moving and without any food. It was very cold, there was an icy wind. I came back to the barracks totally exhausted. It is difficult to put into words how I managed to survive back then.“

– Jožica Fajdiga (nee Benčič), * 1926, Slovak; Siemens: September 1944, Hall unknown

„[…] First it was the turn of a young Belgian. The guards ripped the underwear off her body, pointing victoriously to the sealing rings.

The Belgian tried to explain that she was forced to help herself in this way and gave the Nazi a disgusted look. But he threw himself on top of her, beating her however and wherever his strikes would land. The girl kept on getting up and throwing him looks of indescribable hostility. He threw her to the ground and kicked her with his shiny boots. Her face was covered in blood in a short while. She didn’t protest, which made her tormentor attack her even more, he got even more angry.

We were standing with Micka in the middle of the prisoner group and saw everything, that they were looking for the sealing rings, so we quickly took them off and – I don’t know how – hid them. That’s why they didn’t find any of the bands on us or on the ones who did the same as us. But we all received stinging slaps in the face. The Belgian nobody saw again after this. It was said that she was transferred to the original camp. She had paid for us all.“

–  Marija Šavli, * unknown, Slovak; Siemens: approx. from autumn 1944, hall 5

„[..] When we got back to the camp, again the summons and the order: As we had not worked enough and had behaved inappropriately, a day of fasting, a day without food! Yet another strike to make us bend. But they were wrong about us. We walked back to the barracks with pride, and this was our victory. For the weaker comrades we still had some baked food, the rest of us had to hold out without. And we held out.“

–  Erna Muser, *1914, Slovak; Start of work at Siemens unknown, hall 8

„[…] Each drop in attention led to blunders which were spotted in the controlling, and for which the ‘responsible’ prisoner was taken to account. Such mistakes led in all cases to swearing, either with or without the participation of the SS – sometimes with the worst kind of swearing and the vilest of words. They could also – and did – lead to ‘reports’ of sabotage. These reports earned you the bunker punishment, a punitive shaving or the block. The Siemens supervisors were informed, particularly about the form of the bunker punishments, in detail. […]“

– Rita Sprengel, * 1907, German; Siemens: November 1942 – October 1944, hall 2

„[…] Some women were also punished for not working properly. Maybe they were thrown out and went to some prisoner detail that was much, much worse for them. […]“

– Irma Trksak, * 1917, Austrian; Siemens: End of October 1942 – January 1945, hall 3, then the most senior in the Siemens factory

„[…] Suddenly I heard a loud, mean swearing behind my back. He{the commander of the Siemens camp} was roughly beating a 50-year-old French woman with his fists. Her face was quickly covered in blood. Then he wrangled her to the water pipe. „Sabotaging pig! Wash yourself!“ He had beaten her because she had not been working. He waited for her in the middle of the barrack. When she came back, he began to beat her again, as a deterrent to others, until she broke down. He twice kicked her with his boots and then ordered a stretcher to be brought. Two comrades took her back to the to the original camp. She never came back. […] In front of the entrance to our camp, a prisoner was standing on a table. They had put a sign around her neck, saying “I have stolen”. She was nearly snowed under already. Under disheveled hair peeked a bruised face with blood all over it. The arms hung dead, lifeless at her sides. It was obvious she was going to collapse soon. […] When she had come into the kitchens to fetch the pails, she had taken a potato. She too never returned.“

– Vida Zavrl, * unknown, Slowak; Start of work at Siemens unknown, hall 8

„I had a sitting task, but there were prisoners who had to stand at machines all day. Beatings were the order of every day. The SS guards beat with their fists, with a cudgel, sometimes an iron bar, a comrade was so badly beaten she lost consciousness. We had to carry her back to the camp.

The civilian workers beat us for any minuscule thing, because of insolence, because of work errors and for any reason that offered itself. There were also punishments for which the women had to stand outside in the rain for hours. I myself had to stand outside a few times for punishment, for up to four hours. You had to stand to attention, but the guards didn’t watch that all the time.

[…]With regard to the work I would like to add that you could be accused of sabotage very quickly. It was enough just to touch this little precision switch, which was very delicate, with insufficient care, and you earned two lashes. In severe cases, a woman would be hanged. […]“

– Janina Pawlak, * 1914, Poland; Siemens: April 1942 – November 1944, hall unknown