We are starting our tour at the entrance of the Memorial.
Upon their arrival at the Neuengamme concentration camp, newcomers were often met with verbal abuse, beating and other forms of mistreatment by the guards. Leonid Kutko, a former prisoner from the Soviet Union, spoke about the arrival at the camp:
“We were first lined up in front of the barbed wire fence and then an SS guard arrived with an interpreter. Before they even reached us, he shouted: “Take your hats off!” And before the interpreter had the time to translate, the SS guard threw himself at us and began to beat us. Then he introduced us to the camp regulations, saying: “There is no life in this camp but mere existence. You will all die here.”
If you look around you can see rows of wire cages filled with stone on both sides of the large square. These mark the places where wooden barracks, which served different purposes, used to stand. In the process of the official admission into the camp, the prisoners were registered and photographed. In the storeroom, they were forced to hand in all of their belongings.
If you look to your right, while standing with your back to the entrance, you will see the place where the storeroom used to be – it is the second row of stones from the place where you are standing. Let us go there.
After the prisoners handed in their personal belongings, they were taken to showers, disinfected and finally had their whole bodies shaved. In the end, they were given special prisoner uniforms and ordered to affix pieces of fabric; displaying their prisoner number and a triangle patch onto them. The guards divided the prisoners into categories which were represented by these triangles. In addition to this, the prisoners wore metal tags with their prisoner numbers around their necks. From this moment on, their identities were replaced by their numbers.
A former French prisoner Louis Martin-Chauffier said the following about his arrival at the Neuengamme concentration camp: “The process of 'dehumanisation' started. We still wore the clothes we had been arrested in, but now they in a sorry state. […]. Naked, sometimes crouching, sometimes lying on our back, legs in the air, in positions which couldn’t be more humiliating, they completely shaved our heads, faces and bodies. In rags, wearing clogs, which wouldn’t stay on our feet – if one of us in our rank lost a clog, and this happened frequently, the culprit was punished with a blow. We looked like the poorest beggars. And he who lives amongst beggars adopts the appearance, and soul of a beggar. He gives up and becomes jetsam in a new world without dignity or hope. Finally he dies a dishonourable death."
After the standard processing procedure following their arrival, the prisoners were assigned to a work detail and that was when their difficult and precarious concentration camp routine began.
Let us go now –to your left- into the middle of the large square you saw directly in front of you as you entered the memorial. This is the former roll call square.