Bad Nenndorf interrogation centre

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The Winckler-Bath in Bad Nenndorf in which the center was established

The Bad Nenndorf interrogation centre was a British Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre in the town of Bad Nenndorf, Germany, which operated from June 1945 to July 1947. Allegations of mistreatment of detainees by British troops resulted in a police investigation, a public controversy in both Britain and Germany and the camp's eventual closure. Four of the camp's officers were brought before courts-martial in 1948 and one of the four was convicted on charges of neglect.

Background[edit]

The British authorities opened No. 74 Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (CSDIC) in June 1945. The camp was based in the Schlammbad (mud bath) complex in Bad Nenndorf, with the former bathing chambers being converted into prison cells. It was the successor to an earlier camp at Diest in Belgium and was run by a combination of military and intelligence officers under War Office authority. Several other CSDIC camps had existed during the war, in the UK at Ham in London and Huntercombe near Henley-on-Thames and in the Mediterranean [CMF]:Rome at Cinecitta, Middle East [MEF] Camp Ma'adi near Cairo, and South Asia, but these had closed by the time No. 74 CSDIC had opened.

The camp was originally intended to hold former Nazis for interrogation, but its remit was expanded to include a number of people suspected of carrying out espionage for the Soviet Union. As well as Germans, these included Russians, Czechs and Hungarians.[1] During the camp's two years of operation, a total of 372 men and 44 women were held there.[2]

Allegations of abuse[edit]

See also: Abuse and Prisoner abuse

From the outset, the camp appears to have had organisational problems. The commanding officer, Lt Col Robin Stephens, noted that its staffing "was generous, but in practice was never filled. Later there was a reduction to the bone. That was inevitable owing to Treasury requirements. Then trouble began. Work was on the increase, demobilisation took [a] heavy toll and replacements were inexperienced." [3]

In January and February 1947, a number of prisoners from No. 74 CSDIC were taken to a civilian hospital in Rotenburg, near Bremen, suffering from frostbite, malnutrition and a variety of physical injuries. Two of the prisoners subsequently died. British medical and military personnel at the hospital were shocked at the poor condition of the prisoners and complained to their superiors, prompting senior Army officers to commission an investigation by Inspector Thomas Hayward of the Metropolitan Police.[1]

In March 1947, the British Labour Party Member of Parliament Richard Stokes visited the camp to perform an apparently ad hoc inspection as part of a long-running effort on his part to promote the welfare of prisoners of war and other post-war detainees. He told the House of Commons that "in cross-examining some of these [prisoners] it may be necessary to indulge in forms of verbal persecution which we do not like, but there is no physical torture, starvation or ill-treatment of that kind." However, he criticised the poor conditions at the camp. The 65 men and four women being held there were mostly in solitary confinement, in unheated cells at temperatures of -10°C; the camp had no coal for heating, so the prisoners had instead been given seven blankets each.[4]

Inspector Hayward's investigation, which appears to have been concluded after Richard Stokes' visit to No. 74 CSDIC, produced a list of serious allegations of abuse. These were later summarised in a Foreign Office memo:

(1) insufficient clothing; (2) intimidation by the guards; (3) mental and physical torture during the interrogations; (4) they were kept in solitary confinement for long periods with no exercise; (5) they were confined to punishment cells, not for any offence, but simply because the interrogator was not satisfied with their answers; (6) in the punishment cells, during the bitter winter, they were deprived of certain articles of clothing, had buckets of cold water thrown into the cell and were forced to scrub the cell floor for long periods, and were assaulted and man-handled; (7) medical attention was grossly inadequate; (8) food was insufficient; (9) discharge of prisoners was unnecessarily delayed; (10) personal property of the prisoners were stolen

Camp 020 [3]

The report caused dismay among British government officials, who recognised the serious damage that the case could do to Britain's international image. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Frank Pakenham, noted that "we are alleged to have treated internees in a manner reminiscent of the German concentration camps." The junior Foreign Office minister, Hector McNeil, told Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin: "I doubt if I can put too strongly the parliamentary consequences of publicity. Whenever we have any allegations to make about the political police methods in Eastern European states it will be enough to call out in the House 'Bad Nenndorf', and no reply is left to us." [1]

The camp's highly secret nature was another complicating factor. The Army cautioned against allowing the Soviets to discover "how we apprehended and treated their agents", not least because it might deter future defectors.[1] However, the affair was still brought before Army courts-martial, though some of the evidence was heard behind closed doors to ensure that security was safeguarded. The camp was closed down in July 1947.

Courts-martial[edit]

Four Army officers were indicted for a number of offences against the Army Act. Charges were brought against Lt Col Robin Stephens, the commandant of No. 74 CSDIC; Lt Richard Oliver Langham, Royal Armoured Corps; Capt John Stuart Smith, Royal Army Medical Corps and Capt Frank Edmunds, Intelligence Corps. Stephens was charged on four counts: conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, failure in his duty as supervisor of the facility, and two counts of disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind.[5] Langham and Edmunds were charged with two counts of disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind, though Edmunds' case was abandoned on a technicality before his court-martial began.[6] Smith, the camp doctor, faced the most serious charges - two counts of manslaughter and fourteen of professional neglect.[5] Stephens, Langham and Smith were court-martialed in three separate proceedings held in Britain and Hamburg between March and July 1948. All of the defendants pleaded not guilty.

Langham[edit]

Lt Langham - who was originally a German citizen - was a member of an interrogation team which included Edmunds. He was accused of having mistreated two former members of the SS, Horst Mahnke and Rudolf Oebser-Roeder, who were suspected of helping to organise acts of terrorism. The two prisoners claimed to have been beaten up, tortured with lighted cigarettes, doused in cold water and subjected to threats. Langham denied the claims and cited medical records that showed that Roeder had not made any mention of his alleged mistreatment to the German doctor at the camp. For his part, Roeder claimed that he had not complained because he had thought the doctor was too "timid".[7] Former Company Sergeant-Major Samuel Mathers testified that there had been no torture, though he admitted to having "pushed [the prisoners] around for a few minutes." [8] Sergeant Edmund Sore told the court-martial that he had been given orders by Mathers to "drive [Roeder] round the cell for about two hours" and Lance-Corporal A.R.S. Hunt testified that the reason given for the treatment was that the two Germans were "part of an organisation which was to start a rising on Hitler's birthday." [9]

Langham's defence complained that the prosecution had failed to prove that Langham had anything to do with the "curious things" that had admittedly occurred at Bad Nenndorf. According to his lawyer, there were numerous inconsistencies between the two prisoners' claims and there was no evidence at all of the more extreme "tortures" ever having been carried out. Langham was said to have had no part at all "in the brutality of April 17, 1946, whether he was duty officer at that time or not."

The court-martial accepted Langham's arguments and on 31 March 1948 he was acquitted on both counts.[10]

Smith[edit]

Capt Smith's court-martial opened on 7 April 1948 in Hamburg. He was accused of having abused nine German detainees during the exceptionally harsh winter of 1946-47, allowing prisoners to be subjected to cruel treatment, including having cold water thrown over them, depriving them of boots and making them continually scrub the cell floors. Two of the nine detainees were said to have died from this treatment.[11]

Over 40 witnesses were called by the prosecution and defence. The court-martial heard accounts of physical abuse from a number of prisoners, some of whom sustained serious physical injuries such as frostbite. One of the former interrogators at Bad Nenndorf testified that some of the Army warders at the camp were themselves ex-convicts.[12] For his part, Smith denied any responsibility for the abuse and described the camp as a "bestial hole" which was "full of people who, unknown to him, were being brutally treated.".[13] He testified that he had been sent one prisoner who was suffering from meningitis but had been unable to obtain an ambulance to transport him to hospital.

The court-martial dismissed three of the charges of professional neglect against Capt Smith before the conclusion of the trial.[14] It found him not guilty of the two counts of manslaughter or six of the eleven counts of professional neglect. However, it found him guilty of five of the neglect charges, and he was sentenced to be dismissed from the service. [15]

Stephens[edit]

The final court-martial was that of Lt Col Stephens, which opened in June 1948. On the first day of proceedings, both counts of disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind were withdrawn, leaving only the counts of conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline and failure in his duty as commandant.[5]

Stephens was uncompromisingly blunt about the prisoners who had made accusations, declaring that "their motives are invariably foul, most of them are degenerates, most of them come diseased from V.D., many are chronic medical cases ... they are pathological liars and the value of their Christian oath is therefore doubtful." He told the court-martial that he had instituted the same basic regime as had operated at Camp 020, a CSDIC facility in London which he had previously commanded with great success during the war. Prisoners were to be treated firmly: "No chivalry. No gossip. No cigarettes ... Figuratively, a spy in war should be at the point of a bayonet." However, physical coercion was forbidden under any circumstances, as it was seen as ineffective: "Violence is taboo, for not only does it produce answers to please, but it lowers the standard of information." [16]

Most of the case was heard behind closed doors due to security concerns. The court-martial concluded on 20 July 1948 with Stephens being found not guilty on all charges.[17]

Closure of the camp[edit]

Three months after the closure of the camp at Bad Nenndorf, a new custom-built interrogation centre with cells for 30 men and 10 women was opened at Gütersloh. Most of the interrogators were said to have served at Bad Nenndorf, causing disquiet in the Government. Foreign Office Minister Frank Pakenham demanded that "drastic methods" should not be employed. However, the Army insisted that the standards applied in British prisons should not be applied to Army interrogation centres in Germany.[1] According to the German newspaper Die Zeit, the failings exposed at Bad Nenndorf resulted in the conditions of prisoners elsewhere in Germany being improved to the point that they were better treated than the civilian population.[2]

Recent information[edit]

On December 17, 2005, the British newspaper The Guardian published an account of the Bad Nenndorf case, based on recently declassified files.[1] The report was followed up on January 30, 2006 by the German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk, based on 800 pages of declassified documents that they received.[18][19] In its April 3, 2006 issue, the Guardian published pictures of the emaciated German prisoners held in Bad Nenndorf, calling it a "cold war torture camp."[20][21] The reports caused a brief political controversy in both Britain and Germany, with some commentators drawing explicit parallels with the mistreatment of prisoners in the Iraq conflict and the war on terror.[2]

On 29 July 2006, neo-Nazis held a rally at the site of the former camp. A coalition of opponents organised a rally in protest, among them the DGB's local chapter.[22][23] A DGB leaflet objects the attempt to "revise history".[24]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Cobain, Ian (2005-12-17). "The interrogation camp that turned prisoners into living skeletons". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c (German)"Tommies als Täter". Die Zeit. 2006-04-04. 
  3. ^ a b Lt Col R.G.W. Stephens (2000). Oliver Hoare (ed.), ed. Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi Spies. Public Records Office. ISBN 1-903365-08-2. 
  4. ^ Hansard, 24 March 1947, col. 1026-27
  5. ^ a b c "Court-Martial Of Colonel", The Times, 9 June 1948
  6. ^ "Alleged Cruelty To Germans - British Officer Charged", The Times, 3 March 1948
  7. ^ "Hanover Court-Martial", The Times, 6 March 1948
  8. ^ "Trial Of British Officer - Former C.S.M.'s Evidence", The Times, 12 March 1948
  9. ^ "Treatment Of Germans Court-Martial Transferred To England", The Times, 23 March 1948
  10. ^ "Lieut. R. O. Langham Acquitted - Not Guilty Of Cruelty To S.S. Men", The Times, 1 April 1948
  11. ^ "Charges Against R.A.M.C. Officer - Conditions In German Camp", The Times, 8 April 1948
  12. ^ "Bad Nenndorf Court Martial", The Times, 14 April 1948
  13. ^ "Army Doctor's Defence", The Times, 29 May 1948
  14. ^ "Officer Cleared On Three Charges", The Times, 28 May 1948
  15. ^ "Court-Martial Findings", The Times, 17 June 1948
  16. ^ Camp 020, ed. Oliver Hoare, pp. 9, 19 (Public Records Office, 2000)
  17. ^ "Colonel Cleared At Court-Martial", The Times, 21 July 1948
  18. ^ Transcript of NDR programme on Bad Nenndorf (Adobe PDF)
  19. ^ (German)"Das Verhörlager Bad Nenndorf 1945-47", NDR.
  20. ^ Cobain, Ian (3 April 2006). "Guardian Special reports - The postwar photographs that British authorities tried to keep hidden". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2006-04-03. 
  21. ^ Cobain, Ian (3 April 2006). "Revealed: victims of UK's cold war torture camp". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2006-08-02. 
  22. ^ Naziaufmarsch 29.07. Bad Nenndorf - mehr als 'nur' eine Nazidemo, another call for the anti-Nazi rally, DGB, Niedersachsen Mitte chapter, 21 July 2006
  23. ^ Rechten die kalte Schulter gezeigt (German: having turned the cold shoulder on the right wingers), Schaumburger Zeitung, local newspaper, 31 July 2006
  24. ^ Bad Nenndorf ist bunt (German: Bad Nenndorf is multi-coloured), leaflet form the DGB, Niedersachsen Mitte chapter, 11 July 2006

Coordinates: 52°20′09″N 9°22′25″E / 52.33583°N 9.37361°E / 52.33583; 9.37361