A clothes whip supposedly used at Buchenwald

Richard Henry

Ditsong National Museum of Military History

22 May 2020

Introduction:
On 10 February 1967, the then South African National Museum of Military History received a donation from a Mr/Mrs  Gundelfinger  of a seven tailed whip reportedly used at the Nazi  concentration camp at Buchenwald.  This article looks at the likelihood of it been at Buchenwald.

Historical use:
In France at the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, a small whip of approximate size 20-30 cm was common for corporal chastisement of children and adolescents. The whip usually had a wooden handle of approximately 20 mm in diameter and of 300 mm length.  It had a slightly larger diameter on one side to which six to twelve leather straps (riempies) but sometimes as many as twenty leather strips were attached.  The leather ‘tails’ were attached by whipping cord, a thin leather strip wound around the leather straps or more crudely attached with upholstery tacks.  If attached with whipping cord, the cord was covered with a piece of leather to neaten up the fixture.  The lengths of the tails varied but were about the 350 mm long. These whips were also used to beat the dust out of blankets, rugs and clothing.  They were often hung in the kitchen in a visible position to show any visitors to that home, that the house was kept clean, the children were well disciplined and man of the household had full control.

German military use:
Germany also used similar whips for cleaning clothes and blankets. The Museum’s example has the letters R.A.D. stamped into the wood near the ‘tail’ fixture.  This stands for Reichsarbeitdienst


The male flag with RAD symbol of an pointed spade.


The female flag of the RAD in use 1935-1945:

The RAD
The Reichsarbeitdienst or Reichs Labour Service was a large organisation formed in June 1935 by the injection of massive financial support from the Nazi Germany government to help mitigate the major unemployment in Germany.  Men often served for six months before starting their military service and it was considered an honorary service.

This official, state labour service, served to militarise and indoctrinate the often poorly educated men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 in the spirit of National Socialism. It was compulsory for men, and from 1939, for young women to serve.  On its formation it consisted of 200 000 members. By 1939 this number had risen to 350 000.  There were 33 districts and each district had eight battalion sized (1200-1800) men. Each battalion was divided into six RAD Abteiling (labour) units. They lived in labour barracks with military discipline.  A paramilitary uniform was supplied which had a swastika brassard and the RAD arm badge of an upward pointed shovel blade on the left shoulder of all uniform and great-coats.   The Museum’s klopfpeitsche (carpet beater/ clothes whip) was issued to one of these RAD members to keep their clothing clean. Men and women had to work up to 76 hours a week. During the Second World War, it became an official support arm for the Wehrmacht (German armed forces)

 RAD members working in a field in East Prussia, c 1938 RAD members working in a field in East Prussia, c 1938

RAD units supplied frontline troops with food, ammunition and repaired roads and airfields. They also constructed coastal fortifications such as the Atlantic Wall, laid minefields and guarded prisoners.  Closer to the front line they manned anti-aircraft guns and in emergencies they were used as infantry to supported depleted army units.

The Second World War 1939-1945 German Army Regulations on Cleaning and Maintenance of Uniform and Equipment dated c 1943 states:  “Enlisted men are to obtain by their own means the following commercially available goods and to constantly keep them in usable condition”

  • 1 large clothing brush (Kleiderbürste)
  • 1 stiff brush for removing dirt (Schmutzbürste)
  • 2 small brushes (Auftragsbürste)
  • 1 polishing brush (Blankbürste)
  • 1 clothes whip (Klopfpeitsche)
  • Shoe cream or shoe polish, leather fat, curd soap (Kernseife)
  • 1 pair scissors, sewing and darning needles, darning yarn, black and white and grey thread and various buttons

Each soldier was obliged to keep the uniform and equipment in his possession well and carefully maintained.  Cleaning materials were to be borne by the soldier himself, but could have been issued to RAD members.

Under the heading- Cleaning of uniform pieces the following is stated:

“Wool uniforms items:  Wool uniforms should whenever possible not be washed. They are cleaned by brushing and beating with a clothing whip.  The use of wire brushes is forbidden. Stains can be removed with gasoline or diluted Salmiak (ammonium chloride)”

In pre-war Germany, the Germany Army provided men with both a service and a field uniform. The field uniform was practical and a comfortable fit.  It was warm in cold weather and cool (ventilated) in hot weather.  Other aspects which were included were adequate pockets for individual equipment and ammunition and a colour which blended into the background terrain colour. The cloth consisted of about 30 percent rayon and 70 percent wool.  This composition resulted in little loss in thermal efficiency and wearing quality. By 1943-1944 the wool content of the field uniform had been reduced to about 50 percent and the quality of the wool used was low. These uniforms still had to be kept clean and made to last as long as possible.  Materials for new uniforms were becoming scarce so the correct cleaning by brush and whip still very much applied.

These whips both officially issued ones and privately purchased were plentiful.  There small size allowed them to be carried in the fur covered German Army Tornister (pack).  Combat troops however had to fit a lot of equipment in their Tornister and my research indicates that the klopfpeitsche was not often carried while in the front lines.  While resting in the rear or in reserve units may have, and probably used these whips to clean their uniforms as per regulations.   Second and third line German troops who may have been stationed in a more formal barrack setting most certainly used these whips regularly.  This would have applied to Prisoner of War camp guards as well as concentration camp guards.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp
This is translated as beech forest. Buchenwald was established by the Schutzstaffel (SS) close to the city of Weimar, Germany in 1937 and was one of the first and largest concentration camps.  The majority of the camp guards at Buchenwald main camp were SS men.  They were rotated from front line fighting due to injury, illness or some other administrative requirement.  All prisoners were used as forced labour in the local armaments factories.  Most inmates at Buchenwald camp were males; females were mostly at the sub camps.  There were an estimated 56 545 deaths at Buchenwald of the 280 000 prisoners who passed through the camp and its 139 sub camps. The sub camps were set up close to the factories and by the end of the war there were 2 700 Luftwaffe (air force) personnel working as camp guards at Buchenwald and the sub camps.  The SS received close to 100 million Reichmarks in revenue between June 1943 and February 1945 for the inmates forced labour .

The concentration camp guards were expected to use physical force to show and strengthen the Nazi ideology and to create the illusion that they were a superior Aryan race who was masters in control of all situations.  Men of the SS were known for their brutality as many had serves on the Eastern Front and had witnessed much death, and brutality of war. Some were sadistic and evil but even decent men who served in the Luftwaffe and were sent to the camp as guards – over time became more brutal themselves.  Both the SS men and the Luftwaffe guards had access to klopfpeitsche whips.

An inmate at Buchenwald points out one of the SS personnel to the American forces who liberated the camp in April 1945An inmate at Buchenwald points out one of the SS personnel to the American forces who liberated the camp in April 1945

Did one of these men previously serve in the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD) and use the Museum’s klopfpeitsche issued to him, at Buchenwald as a whip on the inmates?   This is possible but impossible to prove.  These whips were readily available for the instantaneous lash out at a concentration camp inmate for the slightest perceived or imagined wrongdoing.  They were not really suited for sustained or heavy beatings.  Other whips such as bull whips as well as wooden clubs, batons and rifle butts were used for more vicious beatings, mostly by SS guards.

Quite a few of these whips have been sold by militaria dealers around the world and many were reputedly used by concentration camp guards from the most notorious camps.

Conclusion
These whips were standard issue and equipment for the German Army.  The Museum’s example stamped with the Reichsarbeitdienst (RAD) mark may have been used at Buchenwald as claimed but this cannot be proved.

References:
Source documents:
South African National Museum of Military History Acquisition Register Vol 1 – acq number 14816
South African National Museum of military History Donors Files- Donors letter 1673a

Books:
Angolia, JR & Schilicht,A Uniforms and Traditions of the Germany Army 1933-1945 Vol3 R James Bender, San Jose, 1987

Blogs:
Rgt.bogspot.com  (Sicherungs-regiment 195)  accessed on 02/05/2020

Internet:
www.google.com klopfeitcsche meaning  from educalingo
www.scrapbookpages.com  Lt Jack Taylor testimony
www.warrelics.eu/forum/konzentralunslager/ss-concentration -camp-whip-13584-2
Wikipedia          RAD
Wikipedia          Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Wikipedia          Concentration Camp Guards
You Tube         www.derestezug.com packing a Tornister
You Tube          Panzersoldat1

Article Verified by
S R Mackenzie
Director
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