This murder should be special. People died and were killed almost daily in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the Nazi concentration camp near the Reich capital Berlin, even in September 1939. Sadistic SA men arbitrarily herded prisoners into post chains or the electrically charged fence around the prisoner area; The block leader Gustav Sorge, known as "The Iron Man", always did it particularly badly.
But shortly after the beginning of the war, camp commander Hermann Baranowski wanted to stage a murder in a special way. "The SS leadership quietly had a double wall made of thick planks in the carpentry shop, with the space between them filled with sandbags," recalled former "camp elder" Harry Naujocks, who was the top inmate of the concentration camp, so to speak: "On September 15, 1939 this wall was erected on the roll call square between the office and the personal effects room.”
After the usual evening line-up of the prisoners on the roll-call square, which this time was completed in a great hurry, all prisoners had to stand that Friday. Heinrich Dickmann, a prisoner at the time, described the following events in 1972: "Now all the prisoners had to line up, of course we were also around 350 to 400 Jehovah's Witnesses." When they marched into the main camp, they saw a bullet trap opposite the main gate with a few heaps of sand in front of it. "There was a black box next to it." Unusually, the camp SS wore steel helmets and were fully armed.
"Then my brother was brought to the bullet trap with his hands tied," Heinrich Dickmann recalled: The camp commander announced over the loudspeaker: "The prisoner August Dickmann from Dinslaken, born on January 7, 1910, refuses military service because he is a citizen of the kingdom of God. He says: Whoever sheds human blood, his blood shall be shed again."
A crime worthy of death in the Third Reich, as Baranowski further announced: “So he placed himself outside the national community and was shot by order of the Reichsfuhrer SS.” Heinrich Dickmann had to watch as Baranowski turned to his brother and yelled: “Turn around, you Pig!"
Then the concentration camp commander gave the order to fire. Three SS NCOs shot August Dickmann in the back. When he collapsed, an SS officer walked up to him and put another bullet through his head. The supposed coup de grace was fired by Rudolf Höß, who a few months later was to become the first commandant of the newly established Auschwitz concentration camp.
Heinrich Dickmann placed the corpse in the black box with several of his fellow believers. It was the first publicly staged execution in Sachsenhausen; many more were to follow her. But who was the victim? What brought him to Sachsenhausen hell? And how exactly did the death sentence come about?
August Dickmann turned to the Christian community of Jehovah's Witnesses around 1932, when they were still known in Germany as serious Bible researchers. Originally founded in the USA, this group had an astonishing number of new members after 1918. From the end of the war until the Nazis came to power in 1933, the number of members in Germany increased sevenfold, from almost 4,000 to almost 30,000. Among them were the three brothers August, Fritz and Heinrich Dickmann.
Jehovah's Witnesses refused military service for religious reasons. Because they interpreted the words of Jesus: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" so that even as soldiers they should never kill, because the decision about life and death lies solely with Jehovah.
The Nazi regime banned the Jehovah's Witnesses as an alleged Jewish and Masonic conspiracy. In the autumn of 1934, they fought back with protests abroad and a wave of complaint letters or telegrams (in the 21st century one would probably call this "shitstorm"). At the same time, missionary work, the essential element of the Bible Students' faith, was criminalized.
The three Dickmann brothers paid little attention to the ban and the threats. This had dire consequences: Fritz was the first to be arrested in 1935 and taken to the Esterwegen concentration camp, followed by August in 1936 and finally Heinrich in early 1939. According to the current state of research, around 380 Bible Students were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen that year, i.e. almost five percent of all the inmates of this concentration camp at the time.
In August 1939 August Dickmann's official service record was sent to his home address (the usual procedure in the event of a general mobilization); his wife forwarded this official document to her husband's current residence, Sachsenhausen. This unintentionally triggered the chain of events that culminated in the public murder in the camp.
Because August Dickmann was summoned to the camp Gestapo, where he was supposed to sign the service card that had been fished out of the mail. A deliberate humiliation, because concentration camp inmates were not available for conscription and even after they were released, they were often considered “unworthy of military service” well into the war. Dickmann refused, was beaten up for it and sent to the "Bau", the punishment block, where he had to sit in detention under particularly bad conditions.
Hermann Baranowski wanted to make an example: He turned to Heinrich Himmler and asked permission to have the recalcitrant young man executed. The SS chief agreed and ordered Dickmann's assassination without any, even a formal, procedure. It happened on September 15, 1939.
A rumor spread soon after August Dickmann's violent death. Because camp commandant Baranowski suffered a health collapse, possibly a stroke, and died as a result in February 1940. As a result, it was rumored that the Jehovah's Witnesses had "prayed out" the murderer of their fellow believer.
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