Walter B. was 63 years old, mayor of a village in the Mark. Wilhelmine L. (42), head of the National Socialist People's Welfare (NSV) in a suburb of Berlin. Heinz-Jürgen S. (18), apprentice in a company in Erfurt and suspected of being a “werewolf”. Heidemarie G. (16), leader of the League of German Girls (BDM) in a village in Pomerania. Friedrich L. (58), member of the NSDAP.
Like many others, they were all “picked up” in the summer of 1945 and died before Christmas 1945 in the NKVD special camps of Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Fünfeichen and Berlin-Hohenschönhausen. The relatives at home received no news of their fate in these camps. Their whereabouts remained unknown, only rumours were heard years later from released fellow prisoners. However, even they are usually unable to provide reliable information on the cause of death, date of death or place of final resting; in any case, by informing relatives, they risk being sent back to a prison in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR).
For 45 years – from the end of the war in 1945 until German reunification in 1990 – this topic remained taboo in the former GDR. Nobody dared to ask about the people who were taken away by the occupying power in 1945 and had since disappeared without a trace. Only in a few cases did relatives receive official notification in response to their inquiries to the GDR authorities that the missing person had died. However, this sparse notification did not contain any further details or the hoped-for details about their fate.
Emergence of the camps
As the Red Army advances as far as the Elbe, a third camp system - the special camps - emerges in addition to the two large camp administrations for prisoners of war and other prisoners. The special camps in the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ) are under the administration of the Soviet People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD).
The camps were established pursuant to order No. 00315 issued on 18 April 1945. It was aimed at “cleansing the fighting Red Army's rear area of enemy elements”. Until 1950 it is the basis for all internments in the Soviet Occupation Zone and in the later GDR. With this order, the Soviet Union implements the war goal agreed upon in Yalta, namely the “destruction of German militarism and Nazism”. In accordance with the Allied agreements, point 1 of the NKVD order defines the circle of persons to be interned in prisons and camps specially set up for this purpose “on the spot”, i.e. in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany.
Right after the occupation, but also well into the years to come, men and women, young people as well as old people are brought to these camps for an indefinite period of time. The ten special camps in the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany differ greatly: Former concentration camps - like Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald - serve as special camps. The Mühlberg camp is set up in a former prisoner-of-war camp; Weesow on an airfield; Ketschendorf in a housing estate; Hohenschönhausen in a canteen kitchen of the NS People's Welfare Organisation in the middle of Berlin.
Reasons for internment
To date, there is no reliable information on the number of people sent to the special camps of the NKVD between 1945 and 1950. According to Soviet sources, about 123,000 Germans were interned during this period who were guilty of Nazi or war crimes or allegedly violated orders and measures of the Soviet occupying power. Some of the arrests and detentions are carried out according to available lists of Nazi organisations and Nazi divisions, some on the basis of denunciations, but often without any recognisable reason. Around 43,000 prisoners died in the camps, 45,000 are released after the dissolution of the camps in 1950. The remaining prisoners are deported to the Soviet Union, or they are handed over to the GDR authorities in 1950 where they remain in prison. A number of these 14,200 prisoners are sentenced to further prison terms by the GDR courts in the notorious Waldheim trials and are only released again in the course of the 1950s.
Index of the “Combat Group against Inhumanity”
After the end of the war, the GRC Tracing Service receives numerous inquiries about the fate of the disappeared. However, there is almost no way of clarifying their whereabouts. In Berlin, the “Kampfgruppe gegen die Unmenschlichkeit” (KgU) (Combat Group against Inhumanity) compiles about 900,000 index cards with the names of those who have disappeared. In later years, these cards are to become of fundamental importance for the work of the GRC Tracing Service. Since the mid-1950s, this card index has been part of the holdings of the GRC Tracing Service.
Soviet NKVD files
Finally, in 1990, the Soviet Minister of the Interior, Vadim Bakatin, surprisingly announced that the NKVD files would “soon be released”. This announcement met with great interest, especially in the GDR, which still existed at that time. Within a very short time, the GRC Tracing Service receives about 10,000 inquiries. In December 1992, work finally begins in the Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation. Soon afterwards, the GRC Tracing Service has access to first pieces of information.
Since then, the records are being evaluated and affected families receive certainty about the fate of their relatives decades after their death. Decades after their release from the camps, many people have for the first time the opportunity to have their years in captivity confirmed. These records also enable them to initiate a rehabilitation procedure via the Federal Foreign Office or the Saxon Memorial Foundation.
Work of the GRC Tracing Service today
Did a member of your family also disappear without trace after the end of the Second World War in 1945?
Since the fate of many former prisoners remain unsolved to this day, the GRC Tracing Service still accepts tracing requests from relatives.
The Tracing Service is available to you personally in a GRC regional or district branch near you.
In addition, GRC Tracing Service staff members compare index cards from the 1950s with the original lists and data from the Russian archives. In cooperation with the registry offices at the camp locations, death certificates are subsequently issued. In this way, after decades of anonymity, people at least recover their names and personal data.
The GRC Tracing Service has also been able to locate the relatives of Walter B., Wilhelmine L., Heinz-Jürgen S., Heidemarie G. and Friedrich L. and has notified them of their respective deaths in 1945, which the registry offices can now finally certify.
Initiatives against forgetting
The number of inquiries to the GRC Tracing Service from the scientific community for information on individual persons or on the ten NKVD special camps is increasing. In particular initiative groups and committees of the individual camps are working to complete the archive and documentation work on the prisoners and the conditions in these camps while contemporary witnesses are still alive. Numerous committees are therefore currently working on producing documentation about the camps and establishing memorials in the area of the camps.