Thoughts of Suicide

Merzdorf, Germany

Merzdorf was a work camp under the Gross-Rosen concentration camp system.

In August of 1943, Gerda and some of the other girls at Bolkenhain were loaded into trucks to travel to their new destination of Merzdorf (in All But my Life, Gerda refers to the camp as Märzdorf). (Klein, 144) Gerda describes seeing the camp for the first time by stating, “It must have been about ten that night when we reached Märzdorf and could see the tall factory chimneys rising toward the sky.” (Klein, 145)

Merzdorf was a subcamp of the larger concentration camp system of Gross Rosen. The camp was located in lower Silesia in the Riesengebirge region. (USHMM, 764) It was located just 5 miles north of another work camp that Gerda would later be at, which was Landeshut. (USC Shoah, Klein) The camp was just minutes away from the linen mill which belonged to Kramsta-Methner and Frahne AG. (USHMM, 764) Some of the prisoners would work at the camp, while others would be selected for different jobs.

Gerda describes the working situation at Merzdorf by stating, “Märzdorf was badly organized. There were about a hundred girls, including our group, but few worked at regular jobs, as we had in Bolkenhain. … Then several supervisors would appear to pick a number of girls for whatever work there was to be done. It was like a slave market.” (Klein, 146)

Some of the jobs that the prisoners would be picked to do was brick laying, the flax detail, unload coal, work in the linen factory, or be picked by the Lagerführerin to pull around a child’s wagon as she rode around the courtyard in it. (Klein, 147). While at Merzdorf, Gerda was approached by one of the Nazi guards while she was working in the factory. Gerda pushed away from his advances, but it would result in some cruel punishment later. (Klein, 148) After the incident, Gerda would be picked for one of the worst jobs at Merzdorf, which was the flax detail. Once she had finished her shift, she would be selected for the extra night shift to unload the coal from the trains. (Klein, 149) As the days progressed, this is the first time that Gerda contemplated the thought of suicide. Gerda describes the reason for why she did not commit suicide by stating, “As I gazed down at the tracks, I felt a strange sensation on my neck. Suddenly I realized why it was so familiar. I remembered my thought about death when I stood in my parents’ bedroom shortly after Arthur had left, and how Papa had turned me, grasping my neck to make me look into his eyes, forcing me to promise that I would never give up.” (Klein, 150) That moment gave Gerda the strength to continue on and not take her own life.

Several days later, Gerda was working the flax detail with her friend Ilse. Frau Aufsicht of Merzdorf came down looking for the former prisoners that had worked in Bolkenhain and specifically the girl with the number thirty-two. (Klein, 151) That number happened to belong to Ilse, but she told Gerda to take her spot. When Gerda arrived at the top of the hill she was met by the former director of Bolkenhain. When Ilse came up the hill from her shift, the director made sure that she was included in the group that was taken to their new work camp of Landeshut. (Klein, 152)

There is no exact number of how many prisoners worked at Merzdorf because it was always getting new prisoners and shipping out the sick. The camp remained open until May 8, 1945 when it was shut down. (USHMM, 764). After the camp was closed there is no documentation on what happened to the remaining prisoners in the camp and what might have happened to them. (USHMM, 764)