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Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 11   28-Aug-1997   Retribution for escaping
The serious consequences of an escape that are absent from Simon Wiesenthal fairytale-like stories may originate not only from the direction of the camp administration, but also from the direction of fellow prisoners:

To begin with, there were killings of one prisoner by another, for example, as an act of revenge.  If a prisoner had broken out, then during the search, because one did not know where the prisoner was hiding perhaps in the camp itself the whole camp had to line up on the parade grounds.  That often lasted for hours and sometimes a whole day.  The prisoners were tired and hungry, and this long standing, sometimes in the cold or rain, excited them very much, so that when the prisoner was recaptured the other prisoners out of revenge, for his having brought this upon them, beat him to death when the opportunity presented itself.
Georg Konrad Morgen in The trial of German major war criminals: Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal sitting at Nuremberg Germany, His Majesty's Stationery Office, Part 20, 07-Aug-1946, p. 388.

A further discussion of escape is available in the 03-Sep-1997 letter to Simon Wiesenthal titled Reprisals against relatives.

August 28, 1997

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Salztorgasse 6
1010 Vienna
Austria


Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

I think that you will not find it hard to agree that Nazi treatment of Ukrainian prisoners was harsh, and the imposition of "collective responsibility" made escape unthinkable.  Here, for example, is the testimony of Petro Mirchuk concerning his imprisonment at Montelupich in Krakow:

One day we had an opportunity to escape.  While we were working [in a garden outside the prison walls], one shift of guards completed their time and left, but the next shift didn't come to replace them.  When the day was over and it was time to go back to the prison, we realized that there were no guards.  We were alone with only a fence around us.

When we started to discuss what we should do, we remembered the German policy of collective responsibility.  ...  Those who were caught trying to escape would be executed, and for everyone who did escape twelve or twenty others would be executed in his place.  We decided not to try to escape.

We saw an SS guard passing the place and called him and asked him to take us to the prison.  He was startled because no one had ever asked him before to be taken to the prison.  When we explained what had happened, he called the police administration and a truck came to take us back to the prison.

One of our friends found himself in a similar situation.  He was taken every day by one of the guards to work in his apartment in town.  He was accompanied by an armed guard both to and from the apartment.  However, one day no guard came to take him back to the prison.  The wife of the guard didn't know what to do, so he decided to walk.  It was not far to the prison, and when he arrived, he knocked on the door and asked to be let in.  Again, there was confusion, but when he explained, he was taken to his cell.  Of course, he had come to the decision to return to the prison because of the collective responsibility.  He would not take the opportunity of saving his own life by condemning his friends to death.  (Petro Mirchuk, In the German Mills of Death: 1941-1945, Vantage Press, New York, 1976, pp. 20-21)

However, Mr. Wiesenthal, your own wartime experiences seem to have been with a kinder, gentler type of Nazi.  You escaped and were recaptured not once but several times, and yet you obviously were never executed, and you never report other prisoners being killed in retaliation for your own escape.  Let me ask you now if there has not been a gap in your biographies, and that in fact other prisoners were killed as a collective punishment for any of your several escapes?  If not, then how do you explain the repeated leniency of the Nazis toward your repeated escapes?

In fact, "leniency" is hardly the word for it.  In one case, the Nazi response strikes me as closer to "indulgence."  Here is the case I am thinking of:

After a few hours, the Jews were brought before SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Friedrich Warzok, the camp commander....  He walked past the prisoners and stopped in front of Wiesenthal, whom he greeted as "one of my old guests."  He wanted to know how Wiesenthal had escaped.  ...  He told Wiesenthal to come with him, and gave brief orders to shoot the other Jews.  At the Kommandantur, Warzok introduced Wiesenthal to the other SS man as "the lost son who has come back."

"You thought I would have you shot, like the others, didn't you?" he asked Wiesenthal.  "Here people die when I want them to die.  Back to your old barracks.  No work, and double food rations for you."

Wiesenthal walked through the camp, unable to comprehend anything.  Warzok, who was responsible for the death of at least seventy thousand people, had let him live, with double food rations.  (The Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs, Edited and with an introductory profile by Joseph Wechsberg, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1967, p. 39)

I must say, Mr. Wiesenthal, that in reading such a passage, I too am overwhelmed by the feeling that now I am "unable to comprehend anything."  You are brought back to the place of your escape, and you are not executed along with the other Jewish prisoners, but instead are relieved of work, and are given double food rations?  What a difference between the way you were treated upon being recaptured, and the way Petro Mirchuk and the other Ukrainian prisoners expected to be treated!

Really, Mr. Wiesenthal! At best, you have to admit that your biographies are carelessly written.  They give the distinct impression that the Nazis treated you not as a regular Jewish prisoner, but as a prized informer or collaborator.  Fortunately, you are now able to correct this impression by providing a more accurate account of what happened.

I look forward to receiving your reply.


Sincerely yours,



Lubomyr Prytulak


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