A standing cell (stehbunker) was a special cell used in Nazi concentration camps during the Third Reich. It was used as extra and severe punishment within the concentration camp system, being constructed so as to prevent the prisoner from doing anything but standing while held there. In addition, prisoners in the standing cell were denied normal meal rations. Some were large enough for only one person, others held as many as four people.
SA camp kommandant Werner Schäfer had two cells built in the basement of the Oranienburg concentration camp in 1933. The dimensions of the cell were such that a person could only stand there. A prisoner surnamed Neumann was held there for 192 hours and was allegedly driven mad as a result of his confinement there. At times, prisoners were held in small coffin-sized closet in which they could only stand.
The number of prisoners in Dachau concentration camp increased dramatically in the last years of the Second World War. The concentration camp was overcrowded. In fall 1944 the camp command erected standing cells. The stone chambers were similar to chimneys and measured 75 x 80 cm (29.5 x 31.5 inches).[note 1] There was a small hatch on top for air, a narrow door with an iron bar bolted to the cell. The intensified punitive measure saved room and reinforced the punitive agony. Prisoners were thereby deprived shorter time of the forced labor in the camp. There were also standing cells at the Allach subcamp, where the cells were smaller than at Dachau. Some at other camps were bigger, about 90 x 90 cm.
For example, the prisoner K. A. Gross and the Polish prisoner, Max Hoffmann spent days in the standing cell. Hoffmann described it thusly:
It was a terrible state, as I thought that it was over for me, everything was so callous and distant for me. I couldn't lie down, couldn't crouch, the best was to stand, stand, six days and six nights long. [...] You touch the walls on both sides with your elbows, your back touches the wall behind you, your knees the wall in front of you. [...] This is no punishment or pre-trial detention, it is torture, straight forward, Middle Ages torture. I had bloodshot eyes, numb from bad air, I was just waiting for the end.
According to Johannes Neuhäusler, an inmate in the standing cell received a single piece of bread in three days time.[note 2] On the fourth day, the prisoner was removed from the standing cell, given a normal camp meal ration and allowed to sleep on a wooden cot. On the next day, the three-day confinement in the standing cell began anew.
The SS didn't always adhere to the interruption after the third day. The Czech prisoner, Radovan Drazan, spent eight days without a break in a standing cell. Sometimes, prisoners were not even allowed a brief break from the cell, so that they had burns on their bodies from feces and urine.
There were also standing cells at Auschwitz (see photo). Auschwitz survivor Josef Kral testified at the Auschwitz Trials about the standing cells and about how one prisoner was so hungry, he ate his shoe and others drank their own urine.
- Stanislav Zámečník, Das war Dachau. Comité International de Dachau, Luxemburg (2002) pp. 348-350 (German)
- The surfaces were measured after camps had been liberated, using foundation ruins.
- Neuhäusler refers here to two clergymen, Theissig from Aachen, and Johann Lenz.
- Biographical details of Werner Schäfer Forum post, Axis History. Retrieved June 6, 2010
- Glossary entry for Stehbunker Wollheim Memorial, official website. Retrieved June 6, 2010
- Karel Kasak, Cesi v koncentracnim tabore Dachau. in Almanch Dachau. Kytice udalosti a vzpominek, Prague, 1946. Cited in Zámečník, Das war Dachau, p. 349
- Zuzana Mosnáková, "Tschechische Häftlinge im Konzentrationslager Dachau" German Jewish website. Retrieved June 6, 2010 (German)
- "Stehbunker" Audio and script from a concentration camps survivor, Georg Severa. Retrieved June 6, 2010 (German)
- Audio clip of Kral testimony (excerpt) with photos and prisoner drawings Youtube video. Kral's testimony, with German simultaneous interpreter. Retrieved June 6, 2010 (German)
- Photo of vent of a standing cell at Auschwitz Retrieved June 6, 2010 (German)
- Photo of standing cell at Mittelbau-Dora Memorial Site Retrieved June 6, 2010 (German)
- "Interrogation in Block 11" Prisoner drawing of men in the prison block at Auschwitz. (Note: Click on drawing to toggle to a recent photo of the same site.) Retrieved June 6, 2010
- "Natzweiler-Struthof camp prison" Photos and brief description of various cells, including the stehbunker. Retrieved June 6, 2010