Civilians at their daily work

Contact with civilians, civilians following orders, hall 8

„[…] Contacts between the deported women and civilians occurred only during working hours and under rigorous observation of hierarchical rang orders. The Siemens workers for example only had contact with one particular supervisor and only for important reasons to do with the work. There normally was a „Bande Rouge“ person responsible for liaising between both categories, be it to assign jobs, note absences or to note down observations. […] The civilian was only following orders given to them by their superior: collecting facts to press charges and then, the proper Pilate, washing their hands in innocence, the case now being out of their jurisdiction. It does not matter if the slave was punished with twenty-five lashes of the whip or cane, if with shooting, release or selection; for them it was only important to have followed the rules. The civilians working in the factory were absolute sticklers to the rules[…].“

– Lidia Beccia Rolfi, * 1925, Italian; Siemens: October 1944 – April 1945, Hall 8

Engineer or SS-man?

„[…] This civilian engineer should have been an SS-man. He had no compunction about reporting prisoners „unwilling“ to work to the guard supervisor and demand an official report. […] For him it seemed a given that prisoners had no claim to human rights. […]“

Magarete Buber-Neumann, * 1901, German; Siemens: from winter 1942/43, Hall 1

Nauseated, nice civilian

„[…] It happened that we had no water in the camp and so had to come to work unwashed. In most cases you were not allowed to wash yourself a little; it was only after this condition continued for a few days that we were allowed to wash our hands and faces under the tap, but this was not as a concession to us but because civilians were nauseated by us unwashed prisoners, as they put it […] There were also civilians who behaved  very decently and humanely towards us prisoners, only they couldn’t let that on, as they were threatened at every meeting  that they would be brought to a KZ too if they had private conversations with these prisoners, these “vermin of the people”. […]“

– Inge Wodrig, * unknown, German

Master Krszork

„Master Krszok was a civilian, but an inveterate Nazi. He treated the imprisoned women roughly and harshly. […] Soon I noticed however, that he was not so much about the work but more about the fact that he didn’t have to go to the front and could weather out the war at home.

Gusta Fučiková, * unknown, Czech; Siemens: from September 1943, Hall 8

No punishment

„[…] In reality the punishments never came, in part also because the supervisor overseeing us was a civilian of German-French origin who was capable of the language too; the other one was Master Strauss whom I always remember because he got on so well with my sister and me. “I guess between Strass and Paganini, there’s got to be friendship“, he would say. With him, who only spoke German, we got on with very few words and he taught us through gestures how to repair, to adjust and dismantle and reassemble devices that we had to build: he showed us how to do the work and we repeated his gestures. If something didn’t work, we would call him and he’d help us.”

Bianca Paganini, * 1922, Italian; Siemens: November 1944 – April 1945, Hall 21

Friendly supervisor

„I was lucky to get Frau Hintze, one of the friendly ones, as my supervisor. She often brought us some food or took care of our letters by taking them with her to Berlin and posting them from there. That was an especially big help for us.“

– Bianca Paganini, * 1922, Italian; Siemens: November 1944 – April 1945, Hall 21

A humane person

„My friends in our work area and I were lucky, as our bald-headed and bent-over Meister Alfred Nitschke, a Berliner and a father of two, was a humane person. He hardly observed us at all. He would even warn us when the guard, who was walking up and down the walkway in the middle of the hall all day long, was coming close. Sometimes we were able to try – while discussing procedure with the female German Masters at length – to damage little individual parts and sabotage them, but carefully of course. Meister Nitschke even reported to some of us how the Red Army was advancing towards the west.“

– Marija Jacenko, * unknown, Soviet Union / Ukranian; Start of work at Siemens unknown,  Hall 4

„I worked in a large open-space office in a work hall. I had to record manufactured workpieces and make graphic representations. My immediate superior was a civilian employee named Gerstenberger, an old Social Democrat who assured us that he had to live in similarly bad conditions in a nearby barrack. He had been transferred here for disciplinary reasons. He did what he could for us. Occasionally he would steal potatoes and share some of his bread with us. […] Our top boss was called Grade. I initiated a search for him later, but he was never found. If a woman was bending over with pain, he would come at her with a cane and beat her until she would crawl back to her stool. If a comrade – we had to wind the finest, hair-thin wires onto a spool – would break the wire three times, he would count that as sabotage. In such cases the prisoners were disposed of.”

– Johanna Sohst, * 1915, German, “half-Jew“; Siemens: Summer 1944 – April 1945, Hall 2

The survivor Lidia Beccaria Rolfi reports about her encounter with a civilian guard:

„[…] for me the first woman in the camp since my arrival who was neither deported nor part of the SS. This civilian, a Fräulein (Miss, TN) Masalski, was a department supervisor, and theoretically she was supposed to show me how to do the work, but she didn’t want to come close to a person infested with lice. […] When the demonstration – held at a safe distance – was over, Fräulein Masalski would return to her station, lose interest in me and let me put her rushed demonstration into practice by myself.“

She further reports about the harassment she endured from a female SS guard and the reaction of a civilian guard:

„[…] but it also happened that a guard amused herself in harassing a deportee she didn’t like. And the SS guard in my hall frequently ordered me out, grinning, to unload coal, while the civilian guard could have very well intervened by saying she needed my work, but she kept out of it.“

– Lidia Beccia Rolfi, * 1925, Italian; Siemens: October 1944 – April 1945, Hall 8

Paganini about a civilian Siemens worker in hall 21:

„[…] Meister Strauss, who I remember always, because he got on so well with my sister and me. „I guess you’ve got to get along if you’re Paganini and Strauss“ he would say. {168} […] he taught us with gestures how to repair, to adjust, to disassemble and reassemble devices that we had to make: he showed us how to do the work and we repeated his gestures. If something didn’t function, we would call him and he would help us.“

– Bianca Paganini, * 1922, Italian; Siemens: November 1944 – April 1945, Hall 21