Night and Fog is the name of a French documentary film, which you can read about on Wikipedia here. The documentary uses the expression “Night and Fog” to refer to prisoners who were deported to camps during World War II.
But I’m not writing about the use of the expression “Night and Fog” in a documentary film. I’m writing about the Nacht und Nebel erlass given by Hitler on December 7, 1941 and later used by General Wilhelm Keitel, who was prosecuted at the Nuremberg IMT for the crime of making use of this directive by Hitler, which the Allied prosecutors maintained was a violation of the Hague Convention.
The phrase “Nacht und Nebel” comes from the writing of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Germany’s most famous poet and novelist, who used this expression when describing clandestine actions concealed by fog and the darkness of night.
Many people today mistakenly think that the term “Night and Fog,” as used by the Nazis, meant that prisoners were condemned to die and their relatives were not notified of their deaths. The real meaning of the term “Night and Fog,” with regard to the Resistance fighters who were captured during World War II, is that these prisoners were sent to concentration camps and their relatives were not told where they had been sent. For all the relatives knew, their loved ones had just disappeared into the “night and fog.” The purpose of this order was to put fear into the Resistance fighters and discourage civilians, in countries occupied by Germany, from fighting as illegal combatants in a Resistance movement.
The following quote is from Wikipedia:
On 7 December 1941, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo:
“After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer [Hitler] that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose.
This quote is Robert E. Conot’s interpretation of Hitler’s order, from his book Justice at Nuremberg:
A court-martial had the proper deterrent effect, Hitler declared, only if the sentence was death and carried out within eight days of the crime. Preferably, Hitler would have done away with courts-martial altogether, for, he believed, “court-martial proceedings create martyrs. History shows that the names of such men are on everybody’s lips, whereas there is silence with regard to the many thousands who have lost their lives in similar circumstances without court-martial proceedings. The only weapon to deal with terror is terror.” Therefore, in every case of resistance in which the perpetrator was not condemned to death – even if he or she was acquitted! – “the disappearance of the accused without a trace” was to be effected. “No information whatsoever may be given about their whereabouts and their fate.”
My inspiration for a post on this subject is a new blog, written by Paula Fynaut, who is putting her father’s memoirs on the Internet. Her father was a N.N. (Nacht und Nebel) prisoner at Buchenwald.
The main camp for Nacht und Nebel prisoners was at Natzweiler in Alsace, a province which was annexed by Germany during World War II, but is now in France. When the Natzweiler camp was abandoned in September 1944, the N.N. prisoners were transferred to Dachau.
The photo above shows some of the French Resistance fighters who were prisoners at Dachau when the camp was liberated. They had previously been N.N. prisoners in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp until it was abandoned in September 1944.
Natzweiler-Struthof became the main camp where French Resistance fighters were held, starting in the Summer of 1943. Many of the N.N. prisoners were intellectuals who were the leaders of the Resistance movement in their countries.
One of the Nacht und Nebel prisoners at Natzweiler was Dutch resistane fighter Pim Boellaard, who was captured on May 5, 1942 in the Netherlands. In September 1944, he was transferred to Dachau where he survived typhus and was liberated on April 29th, 1945 by American troops.
On September 24, 1943, the German RSHA decreed that all “Germanic” N.N. prisoners would be sent to Natzweiler. This included around 500 N.N. prisoners who were sent from Norway to Natzweiler, and also a group of Dutch resistance fighters. There were also women who were N.N. prisoners; they were sent to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück, or to Mauthausen, or even to Auschwitz.
The Nacht und Nebel prisoners were not allowed to send, nor to receive, mail and packages from friends and relatives, but the Norwegian N.N. prisoners did receive Red Cross packages, which they shared with the other prisoners.
The Nacht und Nebel classification was a plan that was designed to combat resistance activity. Many of the N.N. prisoners at Natzweiler were members of the FTP, the French Communist resistance organization, which was particularly active in fighting against Fascism beginning in 1942. Others were partisans who fought in the FFI, the French Forces of the Interior, which was the resistance organization of Charles de Gaulle. General Frere, the commander of the ORA, the Organization of Resistance Army, was also deported to Natzweiler.
The photo below shows a Cross of Lorraine, which was the symbol of the Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (FFI), one of the French resistance groups. This cross is located between two of the terraces where the Natzweiler barracks formerly stood. Lorraine is a province in northern France that was annexed into the Greater German Reich after the surrender of France in June 1940.
The following quote is from a book that I purchased at the Natzweiler Memorial site. These words were written by François Faure:
Here is a precise figure on mortality in concentration camps, taken from an official document: out of the 167 French men of the first three trains of July 1943, only three of us are left…I really think that there, on those few square yards that we watered with our blood, and, why not confess it, with our tears, we reached the bottom of human misery. But it was also there that, on the verge of despair, in the warmth of the friendship, or the brotherhood, of the solidarity which brought us together, French people, FTP or FFI, communists or gaullists, all of us “terrorists” as the S.S. said, all of us, N.N. and condemned to disappear in the mist and in the night, found the reasons and the strength to live…
By September 1944, there had been 24,000 people turned over to the SD (Security Police) by the Wehrmacht, the regular German Army, as a result of the Nacht und Nebel decree signed by Keitel. According to his testimony at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, Keitel claimed that he was not aware that the Nacht und Nebel order was used for anything except Wehrmacht soldiers who had been court-martialed.
As quoted by Robert Conot in his book, Keitel testified as follows at the Nuremberg IMT:
I learned here for the first time of the full and monstrous tragedy, namely, that this order, which was intended only for the Wehrmacht and for the sole purpose of determining whether an offender who faced a sentence in jail could be made to disappear by means of this Nacht und Nebel procedure, was obviously applied universally by the police, and so the horrible fact of the existence of whole camps full of people deported through the Nacht und Nebel procedure has been proved.
The Nacht und Nebel prisoners were not marked for execution. On the contrary, they were prisoners who had not been condemned to death in the first 8 days after their capture. Except for not being able to communicate with the outside world, N.N. prisoners were treated the same as other concentration camp prisoners, and could only be killed on direct orders from Oranienburg, the headquarters of the concentration camp system.
The N.N. prisoners were confined to the camp in which they were imprisoned, and not allowed to work on “kommandos,” or work parties, outside the camp. For this reason, at Natzweiler and Mauthausen, they were not among the prisoners assigned to work in the quarries.
A Norwegian Nacht und Nebel prisoner named Arne Brun Lie was among the inmates at Natzweiler; he survived and was evacuated to Dachau where he was liberated by American troops in April 1945. After the war, Arne Brun Lie wrote a book entitled Night and Fog, which told about the atrocities in the Natzweiler camp, including the execution of women and children in the gas chamber there. I have not read his book, but I assume that he did not write that female N.N. prisoners and their children were gassed at Natzweiler.
I previously blogged about the Natzweiler gas chamber here.