Stories from the S.S. Mount Whitney – We Must Never Forget

On February 13, 1947, forty men from the S.S. Mount Whitney, including seagoing cowboys, ship’s officers, and veterinarians, boarded trucks in Nowy Port, Poland, bound for the Stutthof Concentration Camp. What follows comes from the account written by Rev. Oscar E. Stern for the booklet “Horses for Humanity” about this last Mount Whitney livestock trip. [Be advised: the following content may be upsetting to sensitive individuals.]

Guard tower and barracks, Stutthof Concentration Camp, February 13, 1947. Photo by Wilbert Zahl.

“Traveling over roads literally strewn with the wreckage of military trucks, tanks, and guns, for a distance of about 30 miles, we turned into a brick gateway which looked more like the entrance to a park or a hospital than anything else. But beyond the imposing headquarters which was also built of red brick were the long rows of barracks, barbed wire enclosures, towers from which the grounds were guarded, all silently bearing witness to the horribly cruel persecution and deaths dealt out to many helpless and innocent people who had been imprisoned there.

“Our guides were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Krol who had been imprisoned at Studthof [sic] for 3 years during which time three of their five children died. As we went about we received from them a somewhat detailed account of what had taken place.

Photo by Wesley Miller.

“The barracks were large unheated rooms made to house 150 people. The sleeping quarters were the bare floor with one blanket for each person. Toilets were fixed at intervals about a quarter of a city block apart. The barracks were connected by narrow corridors, making enclosed passage to all. The camp was put into operation before all the buildings were completed. The inmates suffered from exposure, wounds from cruel beatings, sickness, and always hunger, until death made its inevitable claim to the extent of 200 lives a day. Those who died within the barracks were buried beneath the floors of the unfinished barracks, where they remain to the present time.

“Separate quarters were maintained for men and women. All suffered alike the bitterness of organized torture. Many were forced to dig their own graves and then as they stood beside the trenches they had dug, they were shot down by a firing squad. All that the Nazis had to do was throw dirt over the warm bodies.

“A gas chamber, a cement enclosure 9×21 feet was the most effective mass killer. It destroyed as many as 150 lives at a time. The helpless victims were first stripped of their clothing, given a hot shower and then diabolically, were forced into the gas chamber by fellow prisoners who in turn were forced to their dreadful task by the Nazis. The Poles* were packed into the gas chamber until there was no room for more. Within 15 minutes after the door was closed and the gas turned on, all those inside were dead.

Photo by Wesley Miller.

“Nearby were the ovens where the bodies were cremated. . . .

Photo by Wesley Miller.

Photo by Wesley Miller.

An eloquent monument to the dead still stands on the grounds in the form of a huge pile of shoes in the shape of a squat pyramid, 30 feet square, 15 feet high. The countless thousands of shoes were covered by a blanket of new-fallen snow. As we stood before them it was hard to believe that they once warmed living feet.

Photo by Wesley Miller.

“The Poles have erected two large wooden crosses, one over the gas chamber, one over the ovens, as memorials to the beloved dead. [Note the oven photo above.] From time to time they place wreaths beneath them and garlands of flowers and they observe together a five minute period of silent communion. We and all who have seen carry etched forever in our minds the grim picture of the almost unbelievable crimes of misdirected German soldiers who at the end paid for their deeds with their lives.”

* Internees came from more countries than Poland.

For additional accounts see the Wikipedia and Holocaust Museum pages.

Next post: the long trip home.


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