Daily matters

The Camp was strictly organised. As soon as prisoners entered the camp they were put on record. One had no longer a name but a registration number that had to be worn on the clothing. In this way it was clear to what group they belonged according tot he camp management. From then on the number was the way by which the prisoners were adressed. Every prisoner obtained a soldier’ shirt, soldiers’ underpants, a pair of soldiers’ trousers, a pair of “voetlappen” (tatters for use as socks), a tunic and in winter an overcoat and a pair of puttees. The prisoners had wooden shoes. All clothing consisted of disused uniforms and sizes did not matter. The uniforms were worn by several prisoners after each other and they were not laundered in between. Often the dirt and the blood of the previous wearer was still present!

Parades

In the PDA the parades were most notorious. The prisoners had to fall in ranks on the sandy parade ground. Next step was the dressing which meant that the ranks had to be exactly straight. The guards took their time to get it just right. Then a lot of German commands followed: Hats on, hats off, eyes left, eyes right. Also penal exercises were a daily routine. It meant that prisoners had to lie in the mud and make knee – bends.

Punishment

During the parades prisoners that had been ‘misconducting’ during the day were even more punished. For hammering in discipline physical violence became a standard in the camps’ regime. The tortures were not according to a system but were based on random actions by the camp management. Because no one was accountable to the outside world concerning what happened in the camp, the management could do as it pleased. A much applied punishment in the PDA was Am Tor stehen (standing at the gate). In this case the gate was the gate between the camp section for the guards and the section for the prisoners of the PDA. At first there was a simple hedge of barbed wire between these sections. In the second period is was made into a masonry gate with a sentry house. Next tot his gate was an area measuring 3 by 50 meters, traced out with a double fence of barbed wire. This area was called the rose garden. It was used as a place for punishment. Prisoners had to stand here for hours on end, sometimes for days. Standing still, nothing else, in all kinds of weather.

Other kinds of punishments were the deprivation of food, and beatings with a cane. These beatings were given in the presence of other prisoners. Prisoners that were heavier punished were place in the bunker. This was a building made of concrete having cells. A prisoner here was shackled on hands and feet using iron chains.

Labour commands

Apart from the torture and the violence hard labour was one more means the camp management used to imprint the needed discipline into the prisoners. Prisoners were grouped into working parties. In the first period of the camp the work that had to be performed by those parties concerned mainly the expansion of the Camp. Several groups of prisoners were involved in building the barbed wire fence, chopping wood, cooking, spud bashing etc. In a ‘good’ working party the prisoners were less maltreated and less pressed into working hard. Purely to keep themselves alive many prisoners shirked from labour and tried to ‘arrange’ something edible. The Jewish prisoners were mostly delegated to the ‘heavy’ working parties. Every false step, or supposed false step meant a bashing for the prisoner. All working parties were led by the Arbeitsdienstführer (chief labour), a camp – SS man. Each working party had its own leader, called Vormann (leader). These were prisoners themselves, in charge of a small group of forced labour prisoners.

Outside the PDA, just across the road, a shooting range was built. In the foot of the Amersfoortse Berg (our local mountain) a long, straight ditch was excavated. The dug out sand was used at first in building the masonry huts (second half of 1942).

Later on the sand was piled up near the lower part of the range to form an embankment. The digging was done by hungry, often mistreated prisoners. They were allowed to use tools of a primitive kind. The prisoners digging were often punished prisoners or Jewish prisoners. They had to dig at high speed. The sand was moved in wheelbarrows and boxes that were carried by two men. If the speed of moving was not high enough or something went wrong, or if the guards just felt doing so, the prisoners were kicked and beaten. In this outdoor working party the prisoners were forced to work all days, Sundays exepted, for nine hours. Add to this the parades. Other outdoor working parties were employed at Soesterberg airport or in factories in Amersfoort. Some working parties provided wood for the camp. There was the Grobholzkommando and the Feinholzkommando. The first working party felled the trees and lugged the trunks to the camp. The second working party chopped up the trunks in order to fire the stoves, to sell it as firewood or to make it into wooden toys. This was a job for the ALBA – Kommando.

Food

Not only the labour was very hard in the first period of the camp. On top of that the food for the prisoners was also very bad. From August 1941 till March 1943 the PDA was a hunger camp. The prisoners received a quarter of a small loaf of bread, a small bit of margarine, a tiny bit of cheese and sometimes some jam. Very seldomly they got a bit of sausage. The lunch consisted of about half a liter of cabbage soup of bad quality. These meals provided about 1300 – 1400 calories per day for each prisoner, while a normal grown up man needs about 2500 calories per day. The lack of food combined with the hard labour caused the prisoners to become extremely thin, it destroyed resistance and caused depression and degradation. The hunger also caused many thefts of food. Food was stolen from the kitchen but also from fellow prisoners. Driven by hunger the prisoners turned into thieves and fighters. Some tried to escape. Caused by bad hygiene and the lack of food many prisoners suffered from hunger oedema, infections, badly healing wounds, dysenteria and complete enervation. In the end of January 1942 thirty percent of the prisoners suffered from hunger oedema.

The management of the camp did nothing to improve the situation in the camp.

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