Minna G and Albrecht von E


Minna G and Albrecht von E


Minna G and Albrecht von E's account of the events at Salztorstraße, cemeteries in Kassel in the week following the bombing.



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Record 75


Translated from the original in German: Present are Mrs Minna G., née O., born 16 January 1898, a clerical officer of the City of Kassel, formerly of Salztorstraße 3, and the Director of the City Gardens (since 1 December) Albrecht von E., born 3 October 1911 in Eisenach (of Wurmbergstraße 76). Mrs G. works for the office for burials and is responsible for the section for victims of bombing raids. They make the following statement:
Mrs G. starts by relaying her memories: After the big raid last year, we had been told that the air raid shelter would be extended. But that did not happen and so we spent the night in question in the shelter near the lock at the roller weir. Two years ago we had the explosive bombs, then the flood resulting from the destruction of the Eder Dam, and now the big attack of 22 October. We were showered with explosives and incendiaries right from the beginning of the raid. Hafenstraße was on fire, all the ships along the riverside and the wood depots in front of the lock; everything was on fire. The whole of the roller weir was immediately destroyed. It had already been destroyed once on one side in 1942. We could not get out from our little shelter. Even the fences were on fire. Edeka, the wholesaler’s, had taken a heavy direct hit where the air raid shelter was, eight or nine people were killed there. The shelter itself withstood the impact, however, only in the depot next to it did were people killed. When most of the raid was over, we got out to see whether anything could be saved. The sluice house was burnt out, nothing could be saved in the second house and in the third house we threw some bedding out of the windows. That was my house.
The whole smoke and the rain of ashes from the fire had collected in our low-lying part of the city and we could not see anything of the city. We kept our shelter closed so that the gas could not come in. Until morning. Then I headed off and made my way through the heavily battered city to look for my office. On Friedrichsplatz, about 50 dead bodies had been lined up and when I went through the old town, where Freiheiter Durchbruch is, people were carrying the dead out from the cellars. Everywhere burning, smouldering, destroyed buildings, blocked streets.
We had worked out exactly what needed to be done in case of an air raid. But all these measures were completely irrelevant. Before the attack, we had eight mortuary vans on the go and one rescue vehicle belonging to the Karl Hospital. But of these nine vehicles, seven were destroyed by fire during the night. The other two were in the workshop for repairs and that is why they survived. But for practical purposes, they were not available either. The number of people killed could not yet be established in the morning. But it could be assumed with some certainty that it would be several thousand. The storage facilities for coffins had been destroyed completely with the exception of some smaller ones in the suburbs. All documents in the office in the town hall and in part of the cemeteries too had been destroyed. The only ones to survive were those in the safe of the town hall, the lists of people who had died and the cards and death certificates. After a meeting with our Head of Department, Dr Voßhage, it was clear that we could only transport the corpses with trucks. The trucks seconded by the army and all the other organisations were under the control of the air protection command. We in the burial office were trying to find transport leaders for moving the casualties among the council employees, but we were informed that the truck drivers would receive their instructions from the air protection command. Because the phone lines were not working, the direction of the burials had to be done from the main cemetery. The plots for such an eventuality had been identified long before in the main cemetery, in Bettenhausen and all the other suburbs. So as to reduce transport problems, it had been decided before that all casualties this side of the Fulda should be taken to the main cemetery and those on the other side of the Fulda to Bettenhausen.
Director von E. had been sent to the air protection command by Dr Voßhage because we constantly received messages from the highest air protection command regarding the recovery of corpses which were to be taken away immediately. And from there, I was supposed to get the removal [of bodies] started. Once I got there, however, I was told that the mayor and his transport unit would take charge of the removal immediately. But that unit was very busy with removing furniture from the streets, to transport people and to bring foodstuffs. The vehicles were therefore not available for removing dead bodies. Army vehicles were not used for removing dead bodies until Sunday afternoon, however, when the action group met and the assistant secretary from Berlin ordered the army to use their soldiers and vehicles to remove corpses.
In the meantime, soldiers on fatigue duty were used on cemeteries (main cemetery, Bettenhausen and Rothen-ditmold) to dig graves so that the casualties which had been brought, could be buried immediately. By Sunday noon, a big trench had been dug on each of the cemeteries. We could only start burying the dead on Monday morning.
Now one truck arrived after the other. We will remember this for the rest of our lives. The first ones discharged their sad loads into the mortuaries and chapels of rest. These were full very quickly so that the bodies had to be unloaded in the open air next to the graves. One vehicle after the other arrived, I can’t bear the sound of a truck anymore. Piles of bodies lay on the trucks and accumulated in the cemeteries.
It was of course impossible to bring in thousands of coffins and we could also not bury people in individual graves. We therefore had to create communal graves. The dead were buried without coffins. In the first few days the order was: ruthless burials without consideration of the wishes of relatives, on the nearest cemetery. On 25 October it was still possible, with the few staff of the burial office and the hard-working soldiers, to commit the dead to the ground in an orderly fashion, namely the identified bodies with their tags could be put shoulder to shoulder in the trenches after they had been given serial numbers and entered into the lists of the dead. We buried about 80 people on the main cemetery on the Monday. On Tuesday, 26 October, the army was ordered not to touch the corpses anymore but only to dig graves and to shovel them up. While truck after truck arrived with their sad load, the few staff of the burial office – Mr Walter and Mrs Dietzel – were unable to bury people as fast as they arrived. Our work was made more difficult by the hundreds of relatives who were always around us and who constantly approached us with their questions and wishes and who were looking for their dead relatives. In order to get German people to cooperate at all with the burials, Mr von E. and I always had to lead by example. This meant that Mr von E. stated the names and details of the dead and Mrs G. entered them into the burial lists. We had asked that the stoker of the crematorium, Mr Oetzel, be freed from his duties with the auxiliary services so that he could help us. He and the foreman Walter did their duty unstintingly until the last day. Towards noon, Mr von E. had eight French prisoners of war come from the municipal parks and gardens department under the command of his foreman Becker. They had been promised a payment of 10 marks per day but they argued that they could not handle the dead bodies without rubber gloves. This seemed reasonable because the bodies were sometimes in a terrible state. On the Tuesday, the first signs of decomposition became visible. All the stores of rubber gloves of the burial office had been destroyed in the fire. The air protection command refused at first to supply some from their ample stores. A truck driver of Mayor Sempf from Wildungen brought help and supplied us with twelve pairs of surgical gloves. Party comrade Sempf had come to collect his nine dead relatives and in the process had learnt of our difficulties. Only when Mayor Schimmelpfeng made urgent representations, did the air protection command supply us with twenty pairs of rubber gloves from the stores of the decontamination squad.
Then the French worked dauntlessly and the burials went faster but because of the great number of dead still not fast enough. This was also because the majority of the newly arrived bodies had not been identified. The bodies may well have been identified where they had been found and had been tagged with cards; documents, wallets and so forth had been taken off them but during the transport some of the tags had been lost because the bodies had been stacked three or four high and some tags had become illegible because of the blood, the dirt and the corpse water. Because many of the dead had died through suffocation, their faces were purple and unrecognisable. Some bodies were as small as dolls. We were also brought tubs with bones. With a fairly large number of staff, the detective force worked frantically to make identifications possible. We had started originally to work carefully and nearly with the exactitude of peacetime but already on the third day, we could no longer proceed that way and we could only note distinguishing marks. We also took jewellery which could be removed, gave the body an identification number and buried them. For us at the burial office it was difficult that the detective force at first refused to take the jewellery of bodies which had already been identified. It was because of this that the wife of …, who had been decorated with the Knight’s Cross, was buried with all her family jewels. Wallets with large amounts of money also ended up in the graves. One man had a wallet with at least 6000 RM in it. It’s all been buried.
In the meantime, the commissioner for the defence of the Reich had issued an order to the effect that relatives who were willing to make their own graves for their dead, could bury them on existing family plots. Where coffins could be found, it was permissible to transfer the bodies to cemeteries further away. This made our work at the burial office more difficult and more stressful.
On 26 October, the military command of Kassel had given the order that fallen soldiers could also be buried in communal graves. They demanded that on every day the office should by 4 pm produce a list with exact details of the soldiers who had been buried. Because the memorial cemetery was only 200 metres away and because we were unable to do the work demanded of us, we separated out the fallen soldiers and left their burial to the army. This was decided on Thursday, 27 October. From Thursday, the soldiers who had been working on the cemetery, were withdrawn. Instead, decontamination units from the auxiliary services arrived and Italian military internees. They had to dig graves, put bodies in them and close the graves. It took a few hours and beatings with sticks (by the SS guards) until the Italians agreed to do the work. During the day it became clear that the cemetery could not take all the dead.
Because Bettenhausen had more space, the main cemetery was closed for further arrivals and all the trucks with dead bodies were directed to Bettenhausen. There was also the trench which had been dug in Rothenditmold so that transports could also be directed there. The air protection command felt that we were not burying the dead fast enough. First Lieutenant Felix appeared on the cemetery on the Thursday on behalf of the air protection command to enquire why, after five days, we had buried only 800 bodies? It was not possible to proceed any faster, not least because of the work of identifying the corpses. After he had gone, Major Füllhase demanded in person from Mayor Schimmelpfeng that the dead be buried faster, without identification. ‘Danger of epidemic’ had been mentioned in a meeting of the action group and now the pressure by the air protection command became unbearable. Mayor Schimmelpfeng and the municipal doctor, Dr Gasse, appeared about noon on Thursday so as to see for themselves how the dead could be buried faster. Neither listing people nor the work of the police identifying people could be changed, if we did not want to dissolve the bonds of an orderly burial. Moving the earth was already difficult because we were working on two trenches. We did this in such a way that soil excavated from one trench was used to cover the filled trench. The low motivation of the Italians did not help either.
And then came the terrible order which we had tried to resist, to bury the dead in two layers. All our endeavours did not help because the Mayor and Dr Gasse ordered us public health officers to speed up the burials in this way. It was a direct order, otherwise we would not have done it. As a result of this process, we could report on Saturday at 2 pm that we had buried 2125 bodies and that we had no unburied bodies left in the main cemetery – but we can’t get over the fact that with a little calm from the air protection command, it would have been possible to bury the dead shoulder to shoulder. It would only have taken a couple of days longer and people would at least be clear about the resting place of their loved ones.
From Friday, the public were not allowed into the cemetery so that the danger of an epidemic was limited to a small number of people.


Vermisstensuchstelle des Oberbürgermeisters der Stadt Kassel, “Minna G and Albrecht von E,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8741.

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