The Diary of Remi

Remi Berghman, born on 15 January 1924 in Geluwe a west Flemish town, near Roeselare (Belgium) was arrested on 6 August 1944 in hisr  apartment. From here he is taken him to Roeselare  and then to Brussels.

Together with many  others he  is  taken on foot to the Schaarbeek railway station, where they board  the  train, which takes them to Kahla. 

Remi has recorded his experiences  day after day  in  a  diary. .  This diary consists of  101 pages and  is very detailed and well written. This historically valuable document has now been handed over to our association.

We would like to publish some excerpts from his diary here.

Remi writes…

I was arrested at four o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday 6 August 1944. Then I arrived in Roeselare, where I and others were imprisoned in the seminary of the Catholic Church.  We couldn’t escape.  On Monday my sister came and brought me food.

Then a short visit to the doctor, who declares us suitable for work in Germany.

Then we went  by car  to Brussels, to the  gendarmerie barracks  of  Etterbeek.  Under heavy guard  we walked  from here, on a very warm day, to the train station of  Schaarbeek.  On the way we sing our national anthem and  we are cheered by the people. In the train station,  the Belgian Red Cross hands out food, cigarettes and drinks for the upcoming trip.

Our journey  goes from Brussels to Leuven, via Liege, Maastricht, Herzogenrath, Mönchengladbach, Wuppertal, Hagen, Kassel, Eisenach, Gotha, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena and ends in Kahla.

Finally arrived in Kahla, we have to leave our suitcases and continue on foot. I’m tired.  It has become very warm.  Finally we arrive at the camp, which is only half-finished.

The first few hours were a bitter disappointment… with 40 men in a room, the barrack not finished, no light, no cupboards, tables or chairs. No drinking water, no toilet, no kitchen, nothing…

In the evening our suitcases finally arrive, many items have been stolen.

It is September, the first letters arrive from Belgium and every day we look full of expectation at the list that is hung in the camp  and hope that mail is there for us.

On September 9th I get a small package from home for the first time.  I am so happy because it contains tobacco.   I also know  that  my first letters have been well received.

Belgium has since been  liberated, a moral support for the Belgians in Lager E. The days passes  by and the work and work on the construction site “REIMAHG”  continues at high speed…

On September 18th we drive with 10 men of the Lagerkolonne from Kahla to Hermsdorf.  There we are to dismantle barracks in order to rebuild them later in the camp.   Life  there in the camp is much better, with good food.  I am also allowed in the  city, to pick up the food. So the weeks pass until All Saints’ Day.  Then we go back to Eichenberg.

The weather is getting worse and there is mud everywhere. We go to the mountain, we pass a camp  where there are prisoners.  Barely clothed, hair cut off,  they  get beaten all the time. I can’t watch it…

My thoughts are with my family. The first snow falls on November 12.  The next day the landscape shows itself from  its  most beautiful side and despite the war, at that moment somehowpeace radiates towards us…

It continues to snow. The mood is depressed because two comrades in the camp have died. In memory of you, we sing a song in the evening.

The days are slowly passing, it is getting colder and colder. On Sunday we all have to go back to work, this time on the mountain on the slopes. There is total chaos and no one knows what  to do. Our Lagerführer says we have to work there again the next day. We go back to the camp, singing.

On Sunday, 10 November, the camp will be thoroughly cleaned.

From mid-December 1944 leaving the camp is prohibited. Before,  some of the forced laborers left the camp to work with  farmers for an extraration of food.   This now completely disappears  and the death rate in the camp increases.

This morning again two dead. An Italian who lived in the next room dies in the afternoon. We get  a pine tree and put it in the room, so a little  Christmas atmosphere comes  up.. The  days pass and  the  first day of 1945 I thank God that I still feel good, despite the difficult circumstances. The work continues and we also get a factory badge, which we have to put on our jacket.  If we lose it, it will cost us 25 Reichsmarks. We get a new camp leader. Still, people are dying…

We learn from the camp management that the Red Army is in Germany.

Mid-January 1945, Lager E was restructured,  resulting in the merger of Belgians, Dutch and  French.

On January 30th Gauleiter Sauckel comes into the tunnels and gives a speech. There is water and mud all over the camp.  The number of people working at the Lagerkolonne hast to be reduced. I am allowed to stay. There is jealousy, but I can’t do much about it.  It’s everyone for himself.  

On the 4th of February there is a boxing competition in the camp. A Belgian, world champion in his class, wins  over a  Frenchmann. We are now seeing more and more Allied fighters and bombers in the air.  The Germans seem to have an idea of what lies ahead. We have to go to Bad Berka to  get material. Via  Reinstädt, Lengefeld and Blankenhain, the journey is progressing slowly. We are not back in the camp until the evening.

We get a vaccination against typhoid. A comrade, Gerard, dies.

On February 21, 1945,the  first Me 262 starts from the Walpersberg.

In the afternoon, the first German plane took off from the mountain. A fighter, with two engines. I wonder if this will change anything. We have to go to the Lagerführer. In one corner of the camp there is a dead man, an Italian. He was shot for  stealing potatoes.  More and more planes are flying over us, sometimes very low. We get used to the daily air raid alarms. It has become bitterly cold again. Snow is constantly falling.  Yet again, we get a new Lagerfüher for the camp.

There are more dead in the camp… The typhoid sneaks through the  camp. I also get sick and have abdominal pain.  After a fewn  days I am better. We clean the entire camp again.

The days are getting longer and getting warmer. We all hope thatthe  war is finally over.

We now bury the dead on the  mountain, above the camp. Without a wooden coffin, like animals.  Today, nine people died.  I pray for all those who are close to my heart.

April 1945. The Allied advance in Thuringia begins..

Everywhere we see troops passing by. On April 4th news comes, that work at the Walpersberg is been halted.  Documents are burned and most Germans are already gone. People come to us from other camps. The barracks are overcrowded.

We should  get ready the next day for an march towards Pößneck.  We decide to  hide.  We  are already hearing the cannons in the distance.

On April 12, the American Army is in Kahla. The  “REIMAHG” is occupied and the camps are liberated.

At 11 o’clock we are awakened. American tanks are in Kahla. We hear gunshots and cannons. It’s still a while, but suddenly five U.S. armored vehicles appear at the camp. We are very happy. I have to translate the orders of the Americans from the mayor right away,  which say that all weapons must be surrendered. All over the village white  flags hang out.  Everything we dreamed of, we get from the soldiers… Cigarettes, confectionery, meat…

A few days later, trucks show up to us. We drive towards Eisenach, stay there and  then we drive across Germany.  In Mainz we stand on the Rhine,  around us everything is destroyed.

We continue with the  train and arrive in Luxembourg.  Before there we continue and finally  come  to  Belgium.  We are so excited of going back home.  In barracks near Namur, we are detained for a very short time.  We get new papers,  have a medical examination  and  a check by the police.

The next day we manage to take the train to Kortrijk.  When we  arrive, a lot of people are waiting for us.  Everyone asks where  we come from, if we know anyone.  The girls of the Red Cross help us through the crowd.  Finally I arrive in  Geluwe.   My mother is not at home yet, but this does not take long.

Friends and acquaintances come and ask me. In the evening I can finally wash myself and separate myself  from the clothes I wore in Eichenberg.  This is how my story ends, on April 22, 1945.