Camp Reports – Working Camps Berlin

Transcript from copy held at US National Archives.

Source Document: US National Archives Washington (NARA) ; RG 84 Records of Foreign Service Posts ; Diplomatic Posts – Great Britain – Volume 0763

Report of Surgeon Karl Ohnesborg U.S.N. of visits to certain working camps In or near the city of Berlin.

Tuesday, April 4th.

City of Berlin Gas Plant

Three hundred prisoners of war are employed here, forty-six of them are British.

They are comfortably housed in wooden barracks. These buildings are sufficiently large and the quarters satisfactory. The sanitary arrangements are very good, shower baths, sufficient in number, with hot and cold water are available and may be used by the prisoners whenever desired. They are fed by the company and I was informed that the quality of the food had lately improved and there was no ground for complaint. A small gas range was installed in each barrack on which they could cook food sent from home or purchased in the canteen. The privilege of the latter was extended to the prisoners and they were able to buy fruit, soft drinks, cakes, bread, canned goods, herring, bacon and ham at current prices.

The forty-six British prisoners are divided into two working squads. Twenty-five work in the retort room and the remaining twenty-one are employed at manual labour about the yard. Those detailed in the retort room receive one mark fifty pfennigs a day while those engaged in work about the yard receive seventy-five pfennigs daily, The hours for work are the same as those of the German employees, with whom the prisoners work on friendly

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Eighty-two British are employed in a Smelter and easting foundry. Their work consists in manual labor about the plant and in the moulding room. They are quartered outside of the works. The arrangements are very unsatisfactory. Twenty-five are housed in a dilapidated building in the rear of a beer garden. The building is old, unsanitary and the quarters crowded. The sanitary arrangements are crude and very unsatisfactory. The remaining fifty-seven occupy the first floor of a three story building situated in close proximity to the other quarters. The two upper stories, of this building are occupied by German families. The small yard in the rear of the building is bounded by the river which is the only source of water for washing purposes. Drinking water is obtained from taps in the building. Shower baths are provided by the company in a building in the plant. In this second building the men occupy three rooms. The bunks arranged in double tiers. It is overcrowded. There are two sergeants among these eighty-two British. They do not work and are merely detailed at the camp in a supervisory capacity. They occupy a separate room together with a British seaman who acts as an interpreter. The adjoining beer garden and boat house is much frequented on Sundays by Germans and the prisoners are therefore confined to the limits of their own buildings and small yards, last summer on Sundays It was the custom to take them out in the adjoining country for walks and a swim in the river. This I understand is to be continued. The military authorities

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at Döberitz gave permission for recreation, such as football, which was to be played in a field on the outskirts of the town but the local police authorities objected and the plan had to be given up. The men complained of the poor quality of the food and I think this complaint is justified to some degree.

The prisoners receive two marks fifty pfennigs daily, ten additional prisoners were expected in a few days from Döberitz. My inspection has completed after six o’clock and the officials of the plant had left their offices, so I had no opportunity to discuss conditions with them.

There is decided room for improvement in existing conditions.

Wednesday, April 5th, 1916.


Twelve men including one sergeant and one petty officer No 1 are employed by farmers in this village. They are housed together in the same building, the conditions are fairly good. None of them had any serious complaints. Their work is entirely farming and they work without any guard. I found several of them at work alone in the fields, two were absent, having driven to Spandau with a load of produce. They mess with their employers receiving the same food which they have. Sundays they do not have to work and there is much more freedom given these men than is found in camps in connection with manufactories.

They receive a dally wage of fifty pfennigs.

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Nine British, eight of whom wore corporals, art employed by the farmers in the village. They are quartered together in three rooms of a farmers house. The place was clean and conditions very satisfactory. One (German soldier comprised the guard. He lived with the prisoners and received the same ration as they did. None of the British had any complaints. They were paid the same wage as those found at Gladow and the work was of a similar nature i.e. farming.




Twenty-seven British, ten of whom are corporals, are employed here. Their work is chiefly in unloading coal and wheeling it into the power house. They are housed in a specially constructed barrack in one corner of the yard, food is supplied by the company and is of good quality and sufficient in quantity. Shower baths are provided. There is very limited space for recreation but walks on Sunday are to be arranged. They do not have to work on the sabbath.

A daily wage of one mark is paid them. There is no canteen hut they are able to purchase necessaries and extra food etc. from the outside.



Eighteen British were found at work in a large coal yard. The housing conditions were far from satisfactory and the sanitary arrangements not at all good. They are all quartered in one room approximately 18’x 24’ x 9’. This room is in the basement floor of the office building. Double tier cots, such as are used in the German

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barracks, supplied with straw mattresses were siren the prisoners. One of their number was detailed as cook, the kitchen was placed in an adjoining room. They received one mark daily and do not have to work on Sundays. There is much room for improvement in the conditions under which these men live.

Near this coal yard, is a large lumber yard where ten British soldiers were employed. The conditions under which they lived ware much better than the unfortunates who were employed in the former place. The rooms in the second story of a large brick building were allotted for their use, the larger of the two being used as sleeping quarters. Straw mattresses placed on a wooden frame work above the floor, with two blankets comprised the beds. The adjoining room served as a mess and assembly room. Shower baths were to be had when desired. They receive one mark daily as wages and their work consisted in sawing lumber and loading and storing the same. Sundays were free and they were permitted the freedom of the yard.


Thursday April 6th.

Eight British prisoners of war were found at work in a wholesale florists in Charlottenburg. Conditions here were very satisfactory. A large room in the proprietor’s house was allotted for their use. Beds with good mattresses sheets and blankets were supplied. They receive good food. One German soldier comprised the guard. Their work consisted entirely in gardening. Fifty pfennigs per day was given them. Sunday is a day of rest.

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A large hide curing company employed thirty-nine British from Döberitz  camp. Three corporals ware included in this number. Their work consisted in sorting and salting hides and packing them for shipment to a tannery,

A large room in the third story of one of the brick buildings of the plant was fitted up for their use. It was wall furnished and not crowded. Shower baths with hot and cold water ware to be had weekly and the sanitary arrangements were very satisfactory. The food was sufficient in quantity, a small gas range was installed for their use. A schedule of the days routine may be of interest. ^

Arise at                6 a.m.

Coffee                  6.30 a.m.

Begin work          7 a.m.

Breakfast             8-8.30 a.m.

Work                     8.30-12.30 p.m.

Rest and dinner        12.30 p.m.- 2 p.m.

work                  4 p.m.

Rest               4 p.m. to 4.30 p.m.

work              4.30 7 p.m.

The company allow each man three bottles of beer daily and also give them 1 lb of butter or margarine weekly. They receive one mark daily. They do not have to work on Sundays.


The Lazarett in the Alexandrinenstrasse, Berlin


This has been previously been visited by Mr. Jackson of the Embassy and fully described by him. It contained at the time of my visit four hundred and thirty-six prisoners of war, only thirty-six of whom were British. The

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War Ministry has designated this hospital for the reception of those prisoners of war from working camps in the vicinity of Berlin. The majority were suffering from trivial ailments and when discharged from treatment were to be returned to their respective working camps. There were however a few under treatment for wounds and one case of pulmonary tuberculosis. These men had never been in working camp.

A man in a working camp who develops any disease which is of a protracted nature or whose condition does not warrant his being employed is returned to the parent camp from which he originally came.


Friday April 7th


Fifty-three prisoners of war, forty three French and ten British are employed here. Seven British work in a sausage factory. They receive fifty pfennigs daily, fifty of them, forty-three French and seven British, have three rooms allotted for their use. The largest of the three approximately 37’ x 27’ x 12’, is the sleeping quarters. Double tier cots with straw mattresses are supplied four large double windows and a large skylight give good light. The usual controversy exists between the French and British concerning the question of ventilation and the former nationality being in the majority usually carry their point and close the windows and skylight. The two adjoining rooms are used for a mess room and a wash and storage room. Shower baths are Installed in a separate building. Three British, one of whom is a Sergeant, room together. They are employed by a private firm and are engaged in

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slaughtering cattle and delivering meat in a power truck about Berlin. They had previously been receiving one mark fifty per day but since the previous week, because of lack of work, their daily wage had been reduced to one mark.

The food was prepared in a kitchen in the building by French prisoners and the food I was informed was of good quality.

The prisoners do not work on Sunday and walks in the country had lately been instituted and were to be part of the Sunday program. A large courtyard gave them opportunity for football etc.

In all of the working camps visited I was permitted a free inspection of the men’s living quarters and with the exception of the copper smelting plant at Niederschöreweide, I investigated the places of work and the kind of labour, performed by the prisoners.

Their letters and parcels are forwarded from the parent camps. Owing to the fact that they have to be censored and opened there is often delay in receiving them.

The working hours are the same as for the German employees with whom the prisoners of war work without any friction. As a rule no work is required on Sundays. At the gas works and at the smelter and casting plant in Niederschöneweide the prisoners were divided into day and night shifts which were changed weekly. At the former plant every second Sunday they had free while in Nieder-Schönewiede weide four British were required to work on Sunday, this gave each man a Sunday at work every fourteen weeks.

With but very few exceptions all of the British were well clothed and had good shoes. They were supplied with both uniforms and working clothes.

They receive their pay weekly. It is given them in money.

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