by Geoffroy de Clercq, survivor of Buchenwald and Wansleben (roll number 31.279),
and President of the "Amicale de Wansleben", La Raudière, 86190 Béruges, France.
Tel. (33) 05 49 53 32 18. Fax: (33) 05 49 53 21 56.
I was 22. For the past 18 months I had been a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. I arrived in Buchenwald concentration camp just before All Saint's Day 1943, and I stayed there for 6 long months. During this time, I did everything I could in order to avoid to work in the "entwasserung" kommando: the "Shovel and Pickaxes" kommando.
In March-April 1944, I became a specialist in making forged admission papers for the "schonung", the rest block. With this admission paper, I was allowed to leave the roll call and go directly to the block 26 where I could recover a while and learn some German.
But everything comes to its end, and one day, after being brutally beaten by the SS, I was sent to the kommando of Wansleben, a small city located between Eisleben and Halle, in Saxe.
During one year I worked as a miner. Me and my poor comrades, we had to dig tunnels and huge rooms in the salt. Later, these rooms were used for making engines for Luftwaffe airplanes. For each of these rooms, dozen of inmates died...
On April, 12th 1945, because the Allied forces were approaching, the SS decided to leave the camp and to transfer all the inmates to the East. We were placed in column by five and we left Wansleben at 5:00 PM. We walked slowly because our health condition was of course not very good... I remember that at 8:00 PM we suddenly heard much shooting coming from the end of the column. We learned soon that the SS were shooting all the inmates who were too weak to walk or who don't walk fast enough.
I was far too weak and I knew I was unable to walk days and nights. I realized that this evacuation was like a death sentence for me so I decided to leave the column and try to escape as soon as possible.
While walking in a small village, I tried to hide in the corridor of a house. But two inmates came and warned me that a guard had seen me. I came back in the column and decided to try to escape later. I finally escaped during the night, at 9 or 10 PM. I jumped over the ditch and I crawled in the fields. I heard some shootings but the guards did not touch me. After a while I finally rested against a hedge. My heart was beating like hell but I realized there were no guards, no dogs after me. I was free! I took a breath and decided to walk to the West, hoping to meet some Allied unit. But something different was waiting for me.
I was exhausted. I slept in the wood and the morning of Friday 13th April I started to walk on a small road leading to the West. Big mistake! Suddenly I was in front of a group of soldiers walking to the center of Germany. It was too late to hide so I decided to walk normally, hoping they would allow me to continue my walk. But a soldier suddenly asked me "Who are you? Where are you coming from? Where are you going?" Speaking a bad German, I tried to explain him I was in an evacuation column and, since I was too weak, I was allowed by the guards to come back to my camp. While I was talking to the officer, I discovered he was a SS. I was in the hands of a SS unit.
The soldier asked to his officer "What to do with him?" And the officer answered "Erschiesen sie ihn". I had no problem to understand what the officer said: it was "shoot him!". The SS soldier forced me to kneel down in the ditch. A strange detail: the soldier was using a French rifle, model 1916 and I though it was sad to be killed by a French bullet. He shot a first time but missed me. I immediately fell on the ground and played dead. I prayed: "Lord, please welcome me in Your Heaven". Suddenly I heard a deafening noise in my head. It was the second shot. My last thought was "I'm dead"!
After a while, I moved my fingers and felt the wet grass, then I opened my eyes: I was not dead! There was nobody around, the SS were far away now. I prayed to the Lord and thanked Him for saving my life. I had a bad wound just under my left ear and another in my jaw and I was bleeding a lot but I was alive. I immediately thought it was too dangerous to stay here so I ran into the fields. Later I met another inmate who escaped from the column. We were taking some rest when a German farmer saw us and threatened us to call the "Vopos", the Popular Police. In the evening we finally reached a small village. While trying to avoid this locality, we discovered it was Wansleben! It was far too dangerous to stay in the countryside so me and my friend decided to come back to the camp. Once arrived in the camp, we saw the SS guards had left and the inmates had plundered the kitchens. We received some white soup and this helped us to recover from our long march.
The nex day, nothing special happened excepting the noise of the battle approaching. One day later, we are liberated by a small U.S. Army unit. They stayed only a few minutes and told us to go to the village. This is what I did and I lived until end of May in the house of a kind grocer who took care of me. My weight was 88 pounds and this good lady did her best in order to help me recover. I received also good care from a German nurse and even today I thank her for that.
End of May, we were transferred by train to Halle and 7 days later I arrived in Luneville, in France. It was on May 31th, 1945. It was my birthday, I was 24. The nightmare was ended.
I started later a military career in the French Army.
Geoffroy de Clercq