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The order of the day

The working day began at 4:30 in the summer and 5:30 in the winter. The prisoners got up at the sound of a gong and carefully tidied their living quarters. Next, they attempted to wash and relieve themselves before drinking their “coffee” or “tea.” At the sound of a second gong, they ran outside to the roll-call square, where they lined up in rows of ten by block. The prisoners were counted during roll call. If the numbers did not add up, roll call was prolonged. This could be especially tormenting for the prisoners, particularly in bad weather. Finally, the order came to form up by labor details. The prisoners walked out to working groups, with musical accompaniment in the form of marches played by the camp orchestra.

Prisoners laboring in places several kilometers distant did not participate in the roll call—they left for work earlier. Nor did the prisoners from such internal labor details as the hospital, kitchen, or orchestra attend roll call. Morning roll call was abolished in February 1944, in order to maximize the time spent laboring. From then on, the second gong was a signal to form up by labor details.

Prisoners performed various kinds of labor inside and outside the camp boundaries. From the end of March 1942, the minimum working day numbered 11 hours. This time was extended in the summer and shortened in the winter. The break for the noon meal lasted from 12 until 1 o’clock. Depending on the time of year, it might be extended to 2 hours or shortened to half an hour. In the early days, a roll call followed the noon meal, but this was abandoned over time.

Prisoners returned to the camp under SS escort before nightfall. They frequently carried the corpses of those who had died or been killed while laboring. The evening roll call began at 7 o’clock and, as in the morning, could be prolonged by discrepancies in the number of prisoners. After roll call, the prisoners received their evening bread with its accompaniment. They had free time after the evening meal. Until the first gong, the signal for everyone to return to their quarters, prisoners waited their turn for the washrooms and toilets. They could also receive mail (and, after 1942, parcels) or visit acquaintances in other blocks. The second gong, at 9 o’clock, announced the nighttime silence.

Prisoners did not have to labor at all on Sundays and holidays, which they spent tidying up their quarters, mending or washing their clothes, or shaving and having their hair cut. They could also attend concerts by the camp orchestra and, every other week, send official letters to their families.