Excerpt: Britain’s secret torture centre

  • The interrogation camp that turned prisoners into living skeletons.

German spa became a forbidden village where Gestapo-like techniques were used

Despite the six years of bitter fighting which lay behind him, James Morgan-Jones, a major in the Royal Artillery, could not have been more specific about the spectacle in front of him. “It was,” he reported, “one of the most disgusting sights of my life.”

Curled up on a bed in a hospital in Rotenburg, near Bremen, was a cadaverous shadow of a human being. “The man literally had no flesh on him, his state of emaciation was incredible,” wrote Morgan-Jones. This man had weighed a little over six stones (38kg) on admission five weeks earlier, and “was still a figure which may well have been one of the Belsen inmates”. At the base of his spine “was a huge festering sore”, and he was clearly terrified of returning to the prison where he had been brought so close to death. “If ever a man showed fear — he did,” Morgan-Jones declared.

Adolf Galla, 36, a dental technician, was not alone. A few beds away lay Robert Buttlar, 27, a journalist, who had been admitted after swallowing a spoon handle in a suicide attempt at the same prison. He too was emaciated and four of his toes had been lost to frostbite.

The previous month, January 1947, two other inmates, Walter Bergmann, 20, and Franz Osterreicher, 38, had died of malnutrition within hours of arriving at the hospital. Over the previous 13 months, Major Morgan-Jones learned, 45 inmates of this prison, including several women, had been dumped at Rotenburg. Each was severely starved, frostbitten, and caked in dirt. Some had been beaten or whipped.

The same week that Major Morgan-Jones was submitting his report, a British doctor called Jordan was raising similar concerns at an internment camp 130 miles away. Dr Jordan complained to his superiors that eight men who had been transferred from the same prison “were all suffering gross malnutrition … one in my opinion dying”.

They included Gerhard Menzel, 23, a 6ft German former soldier who weighed seven stones, and was described as a living skeleton. Another, admitted as Morice Marcellini, a 27-year-old Frenchman, later transpired to be Alexander Kalkowski, a captain in the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. He weighed a little over eight stones, and complained that he had been severely beaten and forced to spend eight hours a day in a cold bath.

Prisoners complained thumbscrews and “shin screws” were employed at the prison and Dr Jordan’s report highlighted the small, round scars that he had seen on the legs of two men, “which were said to be the result of the use of some instrument to facilitate questioning”. One of these men was Hans Habermann, a 43-year-old disabled German Jew who had survived three years in Buchenwald concentration camp.



Ian Cobain
Saturday December 17, 2005
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