Mongo wrote this poetry book in Buchenwald Concentration Camp during 1944-1945.
The book contains four poems, in which Mongo writes about everyday life in Buchenwald, including food, cold, work and roll calls. While many survivors have shared experiences similar to those Mongo references in his poems, the detailed illustrations, the perspective of a young person, and Mongo’s straightforwardness and lack of fear in the words make his book unique.
The writing and illustrations in the book are all in pencil. How Mongo managed to get hold of a notebook and pencil at Buchenwald remains a mystery.
The work was originally written in German, and the language is not always correct or standardised. Some words or phrases in the poems are difficult to interpret and translate in English because they have more than one meaning.
How Mongo managed to get hold of a notebook and pencil at Buchenwald remains a mystery
You come here as a citizen,You’re just a prisoner to them
We were still in bed. In the dead of night the whistle blew and all at once our sleep was through
As we rush quickly through the doorTo work, The Kapo shouts once more
We smell the food from the first floorAs we rush quickly in once more
And over there see what’s to eatToday the food we have is swede
What little food there is we’ve hadAnd yet my hunger’s still so bad
What little food there is we’ve had And yet my hunger’s still so bad
While we don’t know the exact journey it took after Buchenwald, Mongo’s book of poems was discovered in the estate of Georges Hebbelinck, a political prisoner and former inmate of Buchenwald, after his death in 1964. It was donated by Hebbelinck’s heirs to the Archief en Museum van de Socialistische Arbeidersbeweging (AMSAB), which kindly donated it to Kazerne Dossin in 2013, which then loaned it to the Imperial War Museum in London, where it is currently on display in the Holocaust Galleries.
Today the book is very fragile, with pages disintegrating from the spine.
We are grateful to The Imperial War Museum and Kazerne Dossin for their support and for allowing us to share this artefact.
Lovara (sometimes Lovari) is a word that describes a group of Roma people who originally resided in the area of present-day Hungary and Slovakia and are associated with having been horse traders. The term ‘lovara’ is related to the Hungarian word for horse – ‘ló’, meaning a horse dealer. Many Lovara Roma speak a Vlach-Romani dialect and are of Catholic faith. It is believed that they migrated to central Europe and elsewhere increasingly from the 19th century onwards.
Flossenbürg Concentration Camp was established by the Nazis in spring 1938 with an intention to detain males and particularly those classified as ‘asocial’ and criminals for forced labour. Between 1938 and 1945, approximately 100,000 ‘asocial’ prisoners, criminals, political prisoners from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, gay people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews and the Roma and Sinti people were imprisoned at Flossenbürg, of whom 16,000 were women. The SS oversaw prisoner functionaries, which resulted in corrupt and brutal administration and running of the camp. Many prisoners died due to illness, living conditions, forced labour, and arbitrary beatings and punishments as well as shootings. An estimated 30,000 prisoners died in Flossenbürg. When the US Army approached the camp, prisoners from Flossenbürg and those who had recently arrived from Buchenwald were forced to death marches. The US troops liberated the prisoners remaining in Flossenbürg on 23 April 1945.
The Bergen-Belsen camp in the north of Germany was established in 1940 as a prisoner of war camp. In 1943 it was handed to the SS, and it became a ‘detention camp’, primarily for Jewish prisoners, although Roma people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, ‘asocials’ and criminals were also imprisoned. Due to the Allied forces approaching other camps, the population of Bergen-Belsen grew from approximately 7,300 to over 90,000 between July 1944 and April 1945. Already inhumane conditions deteriorated, with diseases spreading rapidly. When British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen on 15 April, they found 53,000 prisoners, the majority of whom were emaciated and suffering from disease. As documented in Richard Dimbleby’s famous broadcast, thousands of dead bodies lay unburied on the ground. Another 13,000 died over the days following the liberation. Ultimately, more than 70,000 people were murdered there.
As Allied troops approached the concentration camps, the Nazis attempted to destroy evidence of their crimes, and this included evacuating the camps, forcing prisoners to walk from wherever they were in Europe towards Germany. Anyone who could not keep up was shot, and, with limited food and inadequate clothing, many thousands died on these enforced death marches.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp was established by the Nazis in 1937 and was one of the largest camps in Germany. Jews, Roma people, political prisoners, gay men Jehovah’s Witnesses and prisoners of war were imprisoned at Buchenwald, as well as ‘asocial’ prisoners who were incarcerated due to their inability to find work. Between 1937 and 1945 approximately 250,000 people were imprisoned at Buchenwald, over 56,000 of whom were killed. Many prisoners died due to illness, malnutrition, executions, medical experimentation, and the hardships of slave labour. In January 1945 approximately 10,000 prisoners – mostly Jewish – arrived at the camp after being forced to endure death marches. In early April, as US forces approached the camp, the Nazi paramilitary group SS began to force inmates on further marches out of Buchenwald. The US Army liberated 21,000 prisoners from Buchenwald on 11 April 1945.
Ravensbrück Concentration Camp was built in 1939 and was the largest women’s concentration camp. A small men’s camp was added in April 1941 and a youth camp, Uckermark, became part of Ravensbrück in June 1942. In total around 120,000 women and children and 20,000 men from over 30 different countries were imprisoned at Ravensbrück, including Jewish and Sinti and Roma people. Around 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners died in Ravensbrück, through starvation, from having been experimented on, from being worked to death, or selected for death for being considered too weak to work. A gas chamber was built in January 1945 and approximately 6,000 prisoners were gassed here. Shortly before the end of the war, the International, Danish and Swedish Red Cross evacuated around 7,500 prisoners to Sweden, Switzerland and France. Around 20,000 prisoners were taken on death marches. The Soviet Troops liberated the camp on 30 April 1945 and found around 2,000 prisoners who had been too sick to go on the death marches.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most infamous of all Nazi camps and consisted of three main camps, known as Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II – Birkenau and Auschwitz III – Monowitz-Buna. There were also around 45 sub-camps around these sites. Over 1.1 million people were murdered at this site, and over 90% of them were Jewish.
In early 1940, Hartheim Castle in Austria was converted to be used as a killing centre for those with physical or mental disabilities (or those perceived to have these). From May 1940, people were killed using carbon dioxide in gas chambers. It is estimated that around 30,000 people were murdered in Hartheim Castle.
Historians estimate that between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti (historically often labelled as ‘Gypsies’) people were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in what is now called the Roma genocide. Many more were imprisoned, used for forced labour or subject to forced sterilisation and medical experimentation. Roma and Sinti men, women and children were already being targeted for persecution and imprisonment before the Second World War. As the Second World War began, the genocide of Roma and Sinti people intensified – including in occupied territories such as Austria. The persecution of Roma and Sinti and the Roma genocide took place alongside the Holocaust that saw the murder of six million Jews.
Dachau Concentration Camp was established in March 1933, initially to house political opponents. Dachau was used as a model for all later concentration camps. In the 12 years of its existence, over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned in Dachau, including gay men, Sinti and Roma, ‘asocials’, criminals, Jews and, later, Soviet prisoners of war. Once the Second World War started, living conditions in Dachau drastically worsened. Approximately 41,500 people were murdered in Dachau; one third of these died in the final six months of the war. Approximately 25,000 prisoners were sent on death marches as Allied troops approached. The camp was liberated by American troops in April 1945.
The Nazis planned the mass-deporation of European Jews to extermination camps in German-occupied Poland. The Jews were forced to gather at local sites, such as a synagogue or town square, and then crammed onto freight or passenger trains, with limited or no food or sanitary conditions. Journeys often lasted several days, and sometimes they took a few weeks. Many of those packed onto these trains died during the journey to the camps through starvation or overcrowding.