In Memory of an Astonishingly Courageous Man
“The death of one man is a tragedy,” Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is said to have told U.S. ambassador Averill Harriman. “The death of millions is a statistic.”
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we remember the millions murdered by the Nazi’s, I would like to draw your attention to just one.
An astonishingly brave man named Erich Mühsam.
ARRESTED BY THE NAZIS
In 1934, after describing the Nazis as Mordbuben (murder-yobs) and Kriegshetzer (warmongers), the Communist novelist and pacifist Erich Mühsam was arrested and shipped off to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
A fellow prisoner described the results of the beatings he received on a daily basis, ‘His glasses were smashed and his teeth knocked…He developed a cauliflower-ear, with a large blister appearing out of his ear-hole. He was left for eight days in this condition without medical attention.
FORCED TO DIG HIS OWN GRAVE
On another occasion, he was forced to dig his own grave. He was stood against a wall, making him believe he would be shot. They then ordered him to sing the Nazi Horst Wessel song. Instead, Mühsam sang the Internationale, the Communists’ song. His torturers dragged him back into the hut, and when he commenced writing to his wife, one of them bent his thumb back, dislocating it, saying, “Now write to your wife!’’
MURDERED TO LOOK LIKE SUICIDE
After July 6th, 1934, the camp was taken over from the S.A. 150 S.S. men and Mühsam’s ill-treatment became even worse. Aware they intended him to die as a result of beatings, overwork and starvation, he warned his companions they should not believe any claim by the authorities that he had committed suicide.
In the afternoon of the 10th July 1934, Mühsam was ordered to report to the guardroom, where SS-Sturmführer Ehrat handed him a rope and said: ”You have until early morning to hang yourself. You understand clearly what I mean, that is to hang yourself by the neck? If you don’t carry out this order, we’ll do it ourselves!”
A concentration camp survivor shows me her prisoner tattoo, the ID number used by the Nazis to identify their victims.
Mühsam returned to barrack where he informed the other inmates that, having survived months of suffering, he was in no way prepared to take his own life. At 8.15 in the evening he was escorted to the administration building, and never returned. ‘The following morning, he was found hanging by a cord in latrine number four. His feet were dangling in the hole of the latrine-seat. The knot was skilfully tied in a manner which the half-blind Mühsam could not possibly have accomplished.’
Today, if on no other days of the year let’s take a moment to remember Erich Mühsam and the millions of men, women and children who were murdered alongside him.