Category: News

And it’s over…

I ran out of time (again). There were too many changes needed in the dissertation in order to make it acceptable for my committee, and not enough time to complete them.

I am taking some time off from this research, but will be back next year. I would like to turn the research into a book of some sort.

Thanks to all who commented and supported this research.

A new argument, a new focus, a new chapter.

It’s kind of late in the game, but at least I’m here.

I’ll skip all the dramatic events from the past few months, and just say, I have two more months to finish edits to this dissertation.

I was forced to realize that my previous itteration of the dissertation did not have a clear historical argument (ie, it did not argue for or against anything that other historians wrote about).

Without going into detail, there is a new Chapter One. Basically completely rewritten. Here:

Dissertation is live and on line

I am in the final stages of editing… hopefully. The plan is to finish this summer, defend in September, and graduate in December 2016.

Now that I have all of the chapters written, and they just need some work (apparently lots and lots of work), I have put the text and images online in their own website.

A write up of the technology and decissions made in the site will be forth coming.

All of the primary sources that I reference are also online and available. The process and decissions for creating this repository will be in a following blog post.

All of the incremental changes made to the “official” version of the dissertation can be seen in the GitHub repository for the dissertation text.

There is still a lot to work on. Another 20 books of supporting material to read through and incorporate into the text.

Grammar and style to fix…

Overwhelming, but nearing the end.

The Writing Stack: Zotero -> Scrivener -> ODT -> Docx -> Markdown -> HTML

Scrivener to Markdown and HTML

How to write in Scrivener and display in HTML, Markdown, ODT, or Doc and keep the footnotes and images.

This is the process I use for getting my chapters out of Scrivener and formatted into Markdown and HTML for putting on the web. Markdown for Github, and HTML for a static website, and Doc for turning in to advisors and the Library.

Write it

Use Scrivener to bring all of the notes and sources together in one place.

Note it

The process of writing actually begins while reading through books and looking at original source documents. For each source (whether book, document, image, or web page) I create an entry in Zotero. With an entry in Zotero, I create a child-note for that entry and take notes in that child-note. I always include the page number in the notes for easy referencing later. A typical note for an entry in Zotero looks like this:

Kaj Björn Karbo (July 4, 1920)

{ | Karbo, 1947 | | |zu:312:A6J3JADD} 

page 1,
1400 men were supposed to wash in half and hour at 20 faucets.
Longest roll call was 4 hours because a couple of men had escaped.

page 2,
Relationship to Kapos was bad, also to Russians, and somewhat so to other nationalities.
Kapos were German, Russian, Polish and Czech

page 3,
Punishments consisted of beatings with boards from a bed and truncheon. 
Stretched over a bench and held by four men and then beat

page 4,
Was part of many different work commands. In January 1945 was Schieber, 
the lowest rung of prison hierarchy. He was in charge of a 16 man work 
gang. they helped German civilian workers build a factory for synthetic fuel.

The part in curly braces { | Karbo, 1947 | | |zu:312:A6J3JADD} comes in handy later when adding citations in Scrivener.

Compose it

With all of the notes taken (for now, it can be a never ending process), copy and paste the relevant notes in the correct section of the Scrivener outline. Basically, each idea gets its own ‘page’. This boils down to each paragraph, more or less, on its own ‘page’.

Export it

First step is to export the chapter from Scrivener.

  • Export it as the OpenOffice (.odt) format. Give it a name like chapter2.odt.

Scan it

To get the footnotes into the correct format (MLA, Chicago, etc), we’ll scan the .odt file with Zotero. This creates a new file.

  • Open Zotero, click the gear, and select ‘RTF/ODF Scan’.
  • Select the file you created above (chapter2.odt).
  • Create a new name and place to save it (chapter2-citations.odt)

Cite it

The Zotero scan converts all of the coded citations from Scrivener into ‘normal’ citations.

from this: { | Blanke-Bohne, 1984 | p. 16 | |zu:312:KMQEIBU0N}

to this: Blanke-Bohne, 1984.

To get it into a different citation style, we’ll open up the file in LibreOffice and change the citation style using the Zotero ‘Set Document Preferences’ menu.

from this: Blanke-Bohne, 1984.

to this: Blanke-Bohne, Reinhold. "Die unterirdische Verlagerung von Rüstungsbetrieben und die Aßuenlager des KZ Neuengamme in Porta Westfalica bei Minden." Dissertation, University of Bremen, 1984.

After the changes finish (could take a while), then save the document as a Word, make sure to do a ‘Save As’ .docx file (chapter2-citations.docx).

Fix it

Only the .docx format is supported by pandoc for extracting images, so we’ll need to use Word as the final format before converting to Markdown and HTML. Frankly, it also has much better grammar and spell checking.

Open the .docx in Microsoft Word and fix up any formatting issues.

I also turn this version in to my advisors for review.

Convert it

In the terminal, we’ll use the pandoc command to convert the file to Markdown and HTML.

This will convert the .docx file to a markdown file, extracting the images and putting them in a ‘files/media/’ directory.

The images are named incrementally in the order they are encountered in the document. The images are given a default name, keeping the extension. If I had four images in the file (two jpegs, one png, and one gif), they would be extracted and named like so: image1.jpeg, image2.jpeg, image3.png, image4.gif, etc.

We’ll have to go in and fix the tables and check for other formatting issues.

pandoc --smart --extract-media=files -f docx -t markdown_github chapter1-citations.docx -o

Next we can create an HTML file using pandoc and the .docx file.

pandoc --smart --extract-media=files --ascii --html-q-tags --section-divs -f docx -t html5 chapter1-citations.docx -o chapter1.html

This creates an HTML file with the images linked to the files in the files/media/ directory and the footnotes converted to hyperlinks.

Version it

Now these files can more easily be tracked with a versioning system, like git, and the HTML files can be uploaded for a static website version of the
dissertation. Styling can easily be applied if used in a Jekyll site.

For sharing on Github, there are two repos, main and gh-pages.

main repo

The main repo is simply the chapter directories with each of the document versions and the extracted media files. Once edits and conversions are done, this is updated with a simple

git add .
git commit -m "Updates chapter X"
git push

gh-pages repo

The gh-pages repo contains the files needed to convert the html version of the doucments into a Jekyll based static website. The trick here is to get all of the updates from the main repo into this gh-pages repo. This is accomplished with doing the following command while checked out in the gh-pages branch.

git checkout master -- chapterX

Before I can push the new changes to Github, I’ll need to fix a few things in the html version of the chapter.

First is to add some YAML front matter. I add this to the beginning of the HTML version.

layout: page
title: Chapter X

Second, update the path for the images so that they will work. I open the file in Vim and do a simple search and replace:

:%s/img src="files/img src="..\/files/g

Now I can update the gh-pages branch and the site.

git add .
git commit -m "Add updates from chapterX"
git push

70 Year Commemoration at Porta Westfalica

During May 5-10, I was once again in Porta Westfalica, Germany. The town of Porta Westfalica held a 70 year anniversary commemoration event, in honor of those who were slave laborers there during World War II, and especially those who died under the extreme and inhumane conditions.

May 5, 2015

Despite striking train workers, I made it to Porta Westfalica from Hannover airport. The first place I visited was the cemetery in Lerbeck where the mass grave site of a number of prisoners who died at the camp was located. Babette Lissner, who put together the event, and picked me up from Bückeburg where I was stranded by Deutsche Bahn because of “obstructions” on the tracks.

Memorial grave site in Lerbeck Cemetery
Memorial grave site in Lerbeck Cemetery
Large memorial stone in Lerbeck Cemetery. (52.2521973,8.9411383)
Five grave stones of prisoners. (52.2524109,8.9394665)

Protestant cemetery
Porta Westfalica-Lerbeck
Lerbecker Kirchweg
32457 Porta Westfalica

The site had recently been cleaned up, and it looked quite nice. One amazing story I heard while there was about the groundskeeper in charge of the cemetery during that time. As he saw so many bodies buried in the grave, with no apparent regard for record keeping, he took it upon himself to record how many people were buried on a given day, and the location in the mass grave. This document survived in the church or state archives, and became extremely helpful many years later. In 2009 the nephew of Albertus de Raaf from the Netherlands, a prisoner who died at the camp in December 1944, came to exhume the remains of his uncle in order to return them to the Netherlands to be buried next to his own father, Albertus’ brother, both of whom were prisoners in the camp. In order to find where Albertus was buried, Babette and others looked at the death records of the camp to find when Albertus died, then looked at the notes created by the cemetery worker to find the location in the grave.

More about Albertus (called Bertus) his life, and his journey back home can be found on the family’s website:

Memorial information sign in center of town. (52.2400284,8.9220934)
Memorial information sign in center of town. (52.2400284,8.9220934)

May 6-7, 2015

These two days I mostly spent finishing up my presentation and doing some more research. I met again with Babette Lissner where she told me about Marianna Dumkel. As a 16 year old girl living in Porta Westfalica in 1944-45, she and a friend would need to walk across the foot bridge over the Weser river connecting Hausberge and Barkhausen (part of present day Porta Westfalica). This was the same bridge that the prisoners kept in the Hotel Kaiserhof in Barkhausen would use each morning and evening. Marianna saw them each day, their emaciated bodies, rags for clothing in the cold of winter. Her heart went out to them, and despite the risk if caught, she would sneak bread to them as they crossed the bridge.

I also met with Michael Althoff, a local expert on the tunnels. He later gave me a copy of a C.I.O.S. report detailing the findings of the tunnel and factories by a joint British and American research team. An invaluable find and worth the trip just for this document.

I had a brief tour of the Bremse Berg with Herbert Wiese. This was a sort of rail track on the side of the mountain used to ferry goods and people from the upper tunnel system to the lower and vice versa. There is a “secret” entrance to the tunnel system here, and we noticed it was uncovered. Thinking that someone might be down there, we yelled down that we were the police, and they should come out! No one did.

road leading to upper system
road leading to upper system
pillars on bremsberg
pillars on bremsberg
former entrance upper system (52.2428017,8.9234896)
former entrance upper system (52.2428017,8.9234896)

Update, June 22, 2015: Originally, there was a picture of one of the ‘secret’ entrances including the GPS coordinates for the location. After a concern was raised, I decided to remove the picture and the coordinates. I don’t believe making the location available on this site would have caused any issues, but I also don’t want to be held responsible in any way for having provided the information if an accident were to happen.

I’m 100% sure the city knows of this ‘secret’ entrance, and would close it if they felt the need to, whether or not I left the picture and GPS coordinates on the site. One argument for leaving the information in place would be that many people accessing the tunnels would force the city to do something. In the short term that might look like sealing the tunnel closed. In the long run they could open the tunnels to the public.

I believe there is a better way than trying to force the city’s hand, though… Peaceful petition for public access. If you would like to visit the tunnels, I strongly encourage you to petition the city of Porta Westfalica to make access to the tunnels available to the public.  Let them know how many people are interested in visiting this site. When those in charge have a large number of people expressing interest, then they will have the data to show those who hold the power that opening the tunnels to the public is something that should be done.


May 8, 2015

We had a lunch with members of the KZ-Gedenk- und Dokumentationsstätte Porta Westfalica, city officials-including the mayor-and all of the invited guests, which included myself, my mother and aunt, the Hochstadt family from Australia, the de Raaf family from the Netherlands, the Bleton family from France, and the Strozyk family from Poland. The last four families are descendants of survivors of the concentration camp.

After lunch there was a brief opening meeting at city hall, and then a wreath laying ceremony at the memorial in Porta Westfalica.

The Bletons (wife and son of Piere Bleton)
The Bletons (wife and son of Piere Bleton)
The Hochstadts

That evening was a concert at the local Catholic church.

Concert at local Catholic Church. (52.240934, 8.922179)
Concert at local Catholic Church. (52.240934, 8.922179)

May 9, 2015

The big day of the conference. I presented the following paper in German. It was the same presentation as that given at the AAG conference in April, just two weeks earlier.

AmmonShepherd-Presentation [PDF]

[German version coming soon]

20150509_112042 20150509_112051

A great paper was presented by Danish historian Jens-Christian Hansen. He spoke about the Danish prisoners kept at Hotel Kaiserhof. He recreated the floor plan of the hotel. One interesting point he made, was that the prisoners who were taken because they were asocial (homosexual, mentally ill, etc.) were statistically more likely to die because they were totally unprepared for capture and life in prison. Those who were resistance fighters were more prepared, knowing that they had a high likelihood of being captured, tortured and sent to a prison camp. Before being sent to German concentration and work camps, they had already spent several months in Danish prisons.

I also translated a short statement into German for one of the Hochstadt’s to present at the conference. It was a touching and moving speech.

The text and video of the conference will be available on the KZ-Gedenk- und Dokumentationsstätte Porta Westfalica website.

Later that evening was a reading with Jennifer Teege, who found out in her 30’s that she was the grand daughter of Amon Goeth, a mass murderer and SS officer (portrayed in the film Schindler’s List). Since I was there, and my name is similar to her grand father’s, I asked Jennifer if she knew why he was named Amon. She did not know. My name has two m’s. Here is a lengthy write up about Jennifer Teege’s story:

May 20, 2015

This was the day we were able to tour inside the tunnel. It was remarkable to see the size of the system. Our group was mostly the English speakers, so I helped translate for our tour guide (Michael Althoff). The pictures here speak better than words.


Later that evening, I went on another walking tour with Herbert Wiese and the English speaking guests, again acting as translator at times. We visited the Jewish cemetery up the hill and learned more about the town of Porta Westfalica. We went to the entrance of the upper system where the Hochstadt’s wanted to retrace their mother’s steps back to the women’s camp in Hausberge. We met Rainer Fröbe at the entrance, and he provided much more information and in much more detail than I could have.

(52.2371642,8.9508522) [pics of hausberge camp]

Apparently, the women prisoners were marched through town in order to reach the tunnel entrance. After the women of the town complained, the prisoners took a different path through the woods.

I left the next day for other parts of Germany. All in all it was a great week. I learned a lot and now have a greater sense of what I need to do to finish the dissertation.

Looking at the data

I presented the following at the Association of American Geographers Annual meeting on April 21, 2015. I titled the presentation, “Placing Space in the Experiences of Forced Laborers at Porta Westfalica”

What follows is the paper with the images I used in the presentation. This will turn into the presentation I’ll give in Porta Westfalica on May 8, and a journal article this summer, and eventually a chapter of the dissertation.


Location is important for human interaction and growth development. Being able to place ourselves in a location and being able to recall the location of things and events is also critical for our ability to remember. As one psychologist put it, “memory for location is a fundamental aspect of human functioning. Without the ability to remember locations, children and adults would be unable to carry out even basic tasks, such as getting ready for school or preparing a meal.”[1] Indeed, it seems the visual aspect of remembering is integral for recalling memories made with sight. Studies have shown that a person’s memories are affected when they lose their vision, eventually leading to losing memories, “even well-rehearsed and well-consolidated childhood memories, are lost because the relevant visual information, which is a key part of the memory information, is lost.”[2] When vision is lost, the memories made with that vision erode until they are forgotten completely. New memories can and are made, but without the visual component.

Events and experiences are more accurately remembered, and remembered with more detail, when influenced by strong emotional stimulations (such as during traumatic and stressful events). More so, such memories are strengthened by and even depend upon the visual component. During highly traumatic or stressful events the visual awareness is sharpened, hence ones surroundings, ones location and spatial awareness, become more important. Remembering the place helps us remember the event. This is arguably the case for why many holocaust survivors recall so vividly, and invariably include in their autobiographical accounts, the place names of where traumatic events happened.

Often, survivors put great emphasis on recalling with the place where seemingly unimportant events happened, like which town they travelled through on the way to a prison camp. Zsuzsa Farago a 24 year old female Jew from Hungary, for example, could not remember the date when she left Auschwitz for a labor camp, but she did remember several details about the location. “I don’t remember exactly anymore, I believe that we were transferred sometime in the Fall. We were taken to Reichenbach. There was a telephone factory there. I believe that belongs to Czechoslovakia today, then there were Germans. Far away from the city there was a camp, and that’s where we were. And we worked in the factory there.” Specific time aspects seem to fade quicker than spatial aspects of memories.

At other times, the survivor’s grasp of the time was just as acute as their location. Eva Gescheid, a 20 year old female Jew from Hungary, described her journey to Auschwitz and later to Porta Westfalica with such detail. “We travelled for four days and nights, unspeakable suffering, because there were 70-80 people transported in closed cattle-cars. There was absolutely no water. After four days we came to Auschwitz… It was March, rain and snow showers raged. We possessed only one blanket each, which provided only a little protection. Six days and nights we traveled and suffered the torments of hell. Finally we reached Porta. We were unloaded and again left without food; this for two whole days.”

Before I even had the data, I wanted to do some kind of spatial analysis. That’s like buying a car just for the experience of changing a tire, or more accurately, putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Nevertheless, I was certain that there was some spatial context to analyze, for everything happens somewhere, and looking at the somewhere can help us understand more about the events. I also had a tendency to focus too much on the tools and methodology, so it was important to remember that the spatial plotting tools and the data points were not the analysis, but only tools used to analyze.

The first step in gathering data was to determine the scope. With hopes of finding plentiful events, the scope was narrowed to focus only on the time that a survivor was encamped at one of the Porta Westfalica labor camps, Barkhausen, Lerbeck or Hausberge, and their accompanying work site. As I began to assemble the data, looking at the interviews and deciding what elements to track, I began to ask questions that I was hoping the data would be able to answer. Some initial questions I had were: Were there more bad memories than good? Or, given the circumstances, were there any good memories? In terms of percentage, which gender had more or less than the other of good or bad experiences? What were the age ranges of the prisoners? Where were the majority of the inmates deported to? Where does most of the violence and death happen?

The final question seemed to have the most potential of being answered once I started going through the data to pull out events. I was also able to find that there were indeed good experiences had in the concentration camp. Only after I gathered the data and began to try different ways of graphing and mapping the data did more questions arise. Most surprising were the number of gender based questions that arose from looking at the data. Some of these questions included the following: Which prisoner had the greatest number of events? Since the number of male and female interviews were comparable (6 female and 8 male), which gender had the greater number of events and why? Was one gender apt to have more experiences with certain events than the other?

Other location-based questions arose as well. Although seemingly obvious, where did the majority of work related, violence, and death events happen? Which location had the most events? I was also interested in seeing what patterns or information stood out that was not anticipated.

The data points come from an original pool of 25 transcripts of interviews or other written accounts by survivors predominantly taken during the 1990s. Only 14 ended up having events that could be used in this study. While most of the accounts contained plenty of spatial references, only 14 had such references while recounting their time at the Porta Westfalica camps. Females accounted for 6 and males for 8 of the accounts used in this study. A total of 90 events were found in the 14 accounts.

Number of events recorded by gender.
Number of events recorded by gender.

I was hoping the accounts would be replete with retellings of events and graphic descriptions of the locations where they happened. It would have been great if the survivors were able to describe in detail where they were standing at any given point and had a plethora of events to recount. In reality, the events were much more general and quite vague. Instead of someone describing where exactly in the camp or tunnel they were standing when an event of violence happened, the event was reported more generally; an act of violence happened. For example Tadeusz Kaminski, an 18 year old Polish prisoner in Lerbeck reported that “the camp elder was a German, a sadist without any feeling. Even early in the morning before roll call he would beat the prisoners without mercy. He had a riding crop always with him and would beat as the feeling came.” No specific location is given, just that violence would happen.

A number of limitations of the data should be addressed. First is the limited number of accounts used in the study. Fourteen is admittedly a small number compared to the 2,970 prisoners at the three camps, and therefore all interpretations and conclusions are given in light of a decided lack of representation. Nevertheless, the results that do come from the limited data are instructional and can, arguably, be reflective of the larger number of experiences at the camps.

Second, a number of the accounts were taken from legal depositions or questionnaires where the intent was to show the brutality and inhumanity suffered at the camp. While these accounts may have a tendency to skew the resulting events towards the violent and negative, it can rightly be argued that due to the nature of the camps the overwhelming experiences would be that of violence, death and work.

Third, in some cases I may have been more general and forgiving as to what constituted an event than I was for other accounts. This was not a conscious choice, but is rather an acknowledgement of human error.

Limiting the events to their time in Porta Westfalica severely truncated the experiences of the survivors. Generally, only a third or less of the entire account was about the survivor’s time in the Porta Westfalica camp.

Lastly, the locations of the events were not specific enough to generate a unique latitude and longitude coordinate. Locations were given one of five sets of coordinates that correspond to the Barkhausen camp (as the barracks, sickbay, roll call and bathroom), the tunnel entrance on Jakobsberg (as the worksite for Barkhausen), Lerbeck (which contained all locations), the approximate location of the Hausberge camp (as the barracks, sickbay, roll call and bathroom locations), and the top of the Jakobsberg as the worksite for Hausberge.

I began the process of recording events by making a list of locations and events that I thought would show up in the accounts. My initial list of locations included bathroom, barrack, roll call, worksite, and sickbay; and events like food, work, sleep, life, hygiene, violence, good, death, and sick. The final list of locations and events did not change much. In most cases, determining an event was pretty straightforward. For example, Eva Gescheid frankly described, “we possessed no shoes.” That describes an aspect of life, so easily fits in the life event. The location is less clear. If this is to mean that they had no shoes at all, period, their whole time in the Hausberge camp and adjacent worksite under the mountain, then this event could apply to all locations. In the instances of avocation, food, life and sleep events, I placed all of these in the ‘barracks’ location.

Sometimes the event and location are clear, as is the description of a death retold by Anton Daniel Cornelis van Eijk, a Danish prisoner of war at Lerbeck. “I sat in Lerbeck for six months, and in these six months, so far as I know, two people died.” He then recounts the story of a young Polish man, 28-30 yrs old, who was hanged because he called a camp elder (Lagerältester) a communist. A few prisoners, perhaps Russians, helped with the hanging. Apparently he was not completely dead when they finished, so he was taken to the sick bay where he was given an injection of gasoline which caused him to die. Here both the location and the event are known.

Survivors by age and gender.
Survivors by age and gender.


In looking at the data, a number of interesting patterns arise, answering many of our questions from above regarding gender. As noted, only 14 interview accounts out of 24 held information that made it into the study. Again, that’s not to say that the other account did not hold important and interesting data, but they did not recount any experiences that related to Porta Westfalica specifically. The number of interviews ended up being pretty evenly split with six female accounts and eight male accounts. This is rather interesting as there were nearly twice as many male prisoners (1,970) as there were female (1,000). Unexpectedly, the number of accounts from the Barkhausen camp (4) is equal to the number from Lerbeck (also 4). With nearly three times as many inmates at Barkhausen (1,300) as at Lerbeck (500), one would think more accounts would come from Barkhausen. Again this points to the limitations of the study, in that a proportionally representative number of accounts from Barkhausen were not available. The average age of the survivors at the time of internment was 25.5 years of age. Two survivors, Dmitrij Iwanowitsch Zwagorskij and Pierre Lecomte did not have enough data to determine their age at the time.


Total pages by survivor.
Total pages by survivor.


The total number of pages in each survivor’s account is also telling. Males totaled 229 pages of accounts, while females totaled 181 pages. Each survivor averaged 30 pages of interview transcript, although that number is a bit misleading. Only three individuals actually surpassed 30 pages of interview, three women and one man. Vincent Lind, a 20 year old political prisoner from Denmark, accounts for half of the men’s page count at 161, and by far the most pages of any survivor in the study. Zsusza D Fargo and Györgyné Zsuzsa Polgar Papp, both 24 year old Jewish women from Hungary, had 62 and 60 pages respectively, and Klari Sztehlo Neumann, a 23 year old Jewish woman from Hungary was the final survivor over the average with 38 pages.


Number of events recorded by survivor.
Number of events recorded by survivor.

Comparing total page count with the number of events in the study is also enlightening and somewhat counter intuitive. While Vincent Lind and Zsuzsa D. Farago do indeed have the most number of events represented in the study, Zsuzsa Papp, who had the second most total number of pages, only provided one event to the study. Likewise, Axel Christian Hansen, a 44 year old political prisoner from Denmark, and Anton Daniel Cornelis van Eijk, a 41 year old prisoner of war from Denmark, each contributed 14 and 13 events respectively, while only having 10 and 6 pages of account respectively. This simply shows that the number of pages in the account do not necessarily predict the number of events reported.


Number of events by type of event and gender.
Number of events by type of event.

Looking at the events related by gender also uncovers an interesting dichotomy. While males had at least one record in each event, the female accounts mainly centered around three events: work, life and good experiences.

According to the few accounts available, women spoke predominantly about life in the camp, talked about the work they were forced to accomplish, and related a few good experiences. Interestingly, life experiences only had one less than work experiences, 9 and 10 respectively. This seems to indicate the women were more focused on the work and living conditions while at Porta Westfalica. For the women, only one instance of violence was recorded.

As anticipated, men focused their accounts mainly on work and violent experiences, followed by good and life experiences. Also as expected, 51 events—over half the total number of events—speak of negative experiences, with surprising 11 instances of good events happening. Surprisingly, there were not as many accounts of death as expected. With a higher percentage rate of deaths than the parent camp of Neuengamme, I expected there to be more death events in the accounts than was represented. Vincent Lind and Anton Daniel Cornelis van Eijk provide the only male accounts of death, and Klari Sztehlo Neumann and Zsuzsa Farago provide the two accounts of female death in the Hausberge camp.


Number of events.
Number of events.

Turning to spatial representations of the data show an equal number of interesting patterns. Work events are the most numerous (26), followed by violence and life events (16 each), good experiences (11), and a surprisingly small number of death events (6). Not surprisingly, at the three labor camps, work events are the most numerous.


Number of events by location.
Number of events by location.

Placing these events where they happened provides more insight. As one might expect, most of the work events happened at the work location. Two exceptions are more related to placing events that are really roll call experiences, rather than work experiences in the the work event category due to lack of a roll call event category.

One of the main questions I had was where did the violence happen. I speculated that most violence occurred near the camp rather than at the work site, in that the SS guards would rather their prisoners work and therefore refrain from violent actions. This assumption assumes that most violent actions came from prisoner guards, but in actuality, violence most often came from fellow prisoners, specifically those with some position like the Lagerältester. Indeed, all seven accounts of violence in the work place came from fellow prisoners. Only two cases of violence at the barracks where perpetrated by camp guards. All three violent events during roll call were carried out by SS guards.

An almost equal number of good experiences as violent experiences at the worksite, and to a lesser extent the barracks. The surprising number of good experiences come from three individuals, some describing the beauty of the landscape, some describing positive interactions with other inmates or civilian laborers, or even a positive interaction with a Gestapo officer.

Perhaps obvious, only negative events happened in the sickbay; three deaths, and one each of violence, sick and bad.

The barracks had the most number of different events, most likely allowing to the barracks being the only other place rather than the worksite where the inmates were allowed to go. At the work site, as seen in the graphs, was mostly concentrated on working. The barracks allowed for a larger variety of action.


Number of events at places.
Number of events at places.


Looking at the different camps also shows patterns. Lerbeck had almost double the number of violence than either Barkhausen or Porta Westfalica (worksite), possibly because Lerbeck included living and working conditions, but had less than half as many accounts of work than the work site at Jakobsberg.

Attempts were made at mapping the various events and the location, but due to the small number of locations, the maps do not reveal much more than the graphs.

Size of circle shows number of events.
Size of circle shows number of events.

Data and graphs are freely available and searchable at!/

A further spatial study arose while reading through the interview accounts. Central to all remembrances was the complete circle the survivors made in terms of their journey; from initial confinement to internment and transportation to various camps, and the journey back home. The next spatial project will use Omeka and Neatline to create an interactive journey of several survivors. As the narrative of the journey is told, the locations will be displayed on the map, and visitors will be able to follow along on the map as well as with the narrative.

The project will be hosted at

One final thought and caution to keep in mind when doing spatial projects with such sensitive and emotional data is that plotting and graphing the data can abstract the humanity from the survivors, as they become dots on a map rather than people. Care must be taken to keep the humanity in these spatial humanities studies.


One way to do that is to always reference the names and use examples of their experiences.


[1] Jodie M. Plumert and Alycia M. Hund, “The Development of Memory for Location: What Role Do Spatial Prototypes Play?,” Child Development 72, no. 2 (March 1, 2001): 370–84, 370.

[2] David C. Rubin, “A Basic-Systems Approach to Autobiographical Memory,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 14, no. 2 (April 1, 2005): 79-83, 80.

Watermarking and OCRing your images

I have accumulated nearly 2000 images, all scans of documents, relating to the dissertation. One goal of the project is to make these documents open and available in an Omeka database. In order to more correctly attribute these documents to the archives where I got them, I need to place a watermark on each image.

I also need the content of the documents in a format to make it easy to search and copy/paste.

The tools to do each of those steps are readily available, and easy to use, but I needed a script to put them together so I can run them on a handful of images at a time, or even hundreds at a time.

To layout the solution, I’ll walk through the problem and how I solved it.

When at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial Archive near Hamburg in the summer of 2013, I found about 25 testimonials of former inmates. In most cases I took a picture of the written testimonial (the next day I realized I could use their copier/scanner and make nicer copies). So I ended up with quite a number of folders, each containing a number of images.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 10.52.38 AM

So the goal became to water mark each of the images, and then to run an OCR program on them to grab the contents into plain text.


There are many options for water marking images. I chose to use the incredibly powerful ImageMagick tool. The ImageMagick website has a pretty good tutorial on adding watermarks to single images. I chose to add a smoky gray rectangle to the bottom of the image with the copyright text in white.

The image watermark command by itself goes like this:

width=$(identify -format %w "/path/to/copies/filename.png"); \
s=$((width/2)); \
convert -background '#00000080' -fill white -size "$s" \
-font "/path/to/font/file/font.ttf" label:"Copyright ©2014 Ammon" miff:- | \
composite -gravity south -geometry +0+3 - \
"/path/to/copies/filename.png" "/path/to/marked/filename.png"

This command can actually be run on the command line as is (replacing the paths to images the font file, and copyright text of course). I’ll explain the command below.

The first line gets the width of the image to be watermarked and sets it to the variable “width”. The second line gets half the value of the width, and sets it to the variable “s”.

The third line starts the ImageMagick command (and is broken onto several lines using the \ to denote that the command continues). The code from ‘convert’ to the pipe ‘|’ creates the watermark, a dark grey rectangle with white text at the bottom of the image.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 1.40.12 PM


Most of the images I have are of typed up documents, so they are good candidates for OCR (Optical Character Recognition), or grabbing the text out of the image.

OCR is done using a program called tesseract.

The tesseract command is relatively simple. Give it an input file name, an output file name, and an optional language.

tesseract "/path/to/input/file.png" "/path/to/output/file" -l deu

This will OCR file.png and create a file named file.txt. The -l (lowercase letter L) option sets the language to German (deut[sch]).


The Script

The script is available at my GitHub repo:

Here is how to use the script.

Download the ocrwm file and put it in the directory that has the image files.

Open the file with a text editor and set the default label to use in the watermark. If desired, you can also specify a font file to use.


On the command line (the terminal), simply type:

bash ocrwm

At it’s basic this will make a “copies” directory and put in there a copy of each image file (it will find images of the format JPG, GIF, TIF, and PNG in the directory where you run the command).


To OCR and Watermark the images do:

bash ocrwm -ow

This will make the copies as above, but will also create a directory named “ocr” and a directory named “marked” and add respective files therein.


You can also create a single pdf file from the images in the directory like so:

bash ocrwm -pow


Adding the l (lowercase letter L) option allows you to set the text in the watermark.

bash ocrwm -powl "Copyright ©2014 Me"


There is an option to not copy the files. This is useful if the files have been copied using this script previously (say you ran the script but only did water marks and not OCR, then to just do the OCR you can run the script again but not have to copy the files again).

bash ocrwm -co




Here are things to look out for when running the script.

By default, the script will run the OCR program, tesseract, with German as the default language. You can change that to English by deleting the “-l deu” part on the line that calls tesseract. The list of language abbreviations and languages available are in the tesseract manual (or on the command line type).

man tesseract


A few times I had PDFs as the original format to work with. In most cases these were multi-page PDFs. In order to use the script with these, I first needed to break out each page of the PDF and convert it to a PNG format. See here for a reason to choose PNG over other formats.

The ImageMagick command ‘convert’ will take care of that:

convert -density 600 -quality 100 original.pdf newfile.png

Depending on how many pages are in the PDF, the command can take quite a while to run. For a 30 page PDF, it took my laptop about 5 minutes. The end result is a PNG image for each page incrementally numbered beginning with zero. If the PDF above had four pages, I would end up with the following PNGs: newfile-0.png, newfile-1.png, newfile-2.png, newfile-3.png

Now I could run the ocrwm script in the directory and get OCR’ed and watermarked images. In this case I could leave off the ‘p’ option because I began with a PDF with all pages combined.

bash ocrwm -ow


Feel free to download the script, make changes or improvements, and send them back to me (via the github page).


History and Maps

I have been reading up on Geographical Information Systems/Sciences. There seem to be a number of flavors of combining history with maps and geographical data and methodologies. The various terms I have run across are Historical GIS, historical geography, cultural geography, spatial history or spatial humanities.

Here are the list of books I would like to tackle, with the first two being the most important for my research.

  • Knowles, Anne Kelly, Tim Cole, and Alberto Giordano. Geographies of the Holocaust. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
  • Gregory, Ian, and Paul S Ell. Historical GIS: Technologies, Methodologies, and Scholarship. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Black, Jeremy. Maps and History: Constructing Images of the Past. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.
  • Bodenhamer, David J., John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris. The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.
  • Daniels, Stephen, Dydia DeLyser, J. Nicholas Entrikin, and Doug Richardson. Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Dear, Michael J. Geohumanities: Art, History and Text at the Edge of Place. London: Routledge, 2011.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Hillier, Amy, and Anne Kelly Knowles. Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands, Calif: ESRI Press, 2008.
  • Knowles, Anne Kelly, and Amy Hillier. Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Pap/Cdr. ESRI Press, 2008.
  • Pickles, John. A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping, and the Geo-Coded World. London: Routledge, 2004.

I also started working through some of the interviews to pull out locations. This required me to first figure out what I was looking for. I decided to look for eight specific “locations” and map those on a map of the camp. My goal is to see if where these events happen influence why they happen. Or if there is any correlation or outliers after mapping the data.

I had a neat idea while reading one book: visualize what people knew geographically during a certain time. So the map represents the lands and info that a person/people knew about. Say a person from 1820’s England. Their “map” of the world would include Europe, eastern US, maybe a few other countries, but exclude Antarctica?, Irabian peninsula?, Madagascar?, Thailand?, India?

GSA 2014 – DH Panel

I recently participated in the annual German Studies Association Conference. (On a side note, my last professor at ASU, Dr. Gerald Kleinfeld started the GSA.)

I was delighted to be on one of two DH panels at the GSA. Since I don’t have anything noteworthy finished or started with my dissertation, I spoke about how the humanities can and should learn from the Open Source community. Specifically, the humanities can learn three things from the Open Source community, more particularly from how the communities that existed to create the Internet and open source software. The three points I talked about in the paper were:

  • Freedom of information, ability to share and collaborate on research in open and unrestricted ways
  • Ability to find more sources
  • Ability to allow a wide range of interested individuals to participate

Here is an HTML version of my presentation (unfortunately I used boring PowerPoint…):

[Presentation in OpenDocumentPresentation (LibreOffice)]

[Paper in Doc]

[Speaking Notes in PDF]

In the spirit of Open Source, I should have posted these much earlier before the conference and let interested individuals make comments, corrections and additions. But, as is all to common with me, I waited until the last minute and didn’t even finish until the day before. Nobody else does that, right? 🙂

The experience was great. I met some people, got some ideas, learned some things… Most importantly I got some ideas from Paul Jaskot about how to do the “digital aspect” of my dissertation. Details to follow in another post.

The Final Stretch

But not really. I’m no further than before, but the end is in sight, because I have to finish by January 2016 no matter what. I also have the opportunity to write up my dissertation work for a journal article, and that is due in summer 2015. So I have to be done by then. I will also be presenting my work at a conference in April 2015, so most of the work and write up has to be done by then.

So, you see what I’ve done? I’ve given myself strict deadlines by promising to have the dissertation done by a certain time. I’m holding myself accountable!

So, even though this is the final stretch, it’s still the whole race, practically.

I made a list of all the things that need to happen by the end of November.

  • Read through DH, GeoHistory, historical GIS books.
  • Fix the Omeka/Wiki/Scripto installation
  • Watermark all images
  • Import all images into Omeka
  • Contact Natalia Dudnik (GMU) about learning module for using Scripto
  • Contact UVA German department about learning module for using Scripto
  • Go through 5+ survivor testimonies and pick out all the uses of “place”
  • Figure out database schema to use while going through survivor testimonies
  • Finish chapter 1 about Germany getting ready for moving factories underground
    • Summary (numbers) of bombing raids (on Germany and Britain): total killed, total bombs, etc
    • bombing raid example of Britain
    • Bombing raid examples for Germany
    • Whole section on bombing’s goal of decreasing war production
      • plans, goals for Allied bombing of which factories, which areas of production to target
      • A couple of examples of factories being bombed, the view from the workers, the owners, the gov. Details about destruction, loss of production, work required to rebuild.
    • Big Week section needs to be flushed out.
      • Why Big Week important for this dissertation (it was the kick in the Nazi pants that got them seriously working towards moving factories underground.)?
      • goals
      • where they bombed and why
      • stats on bombing outcome
      • Flesh out big week experience as told by US pilot (better would be to have German perspective, or both)
    • More on Jägerstab
    • Rüstungsstab
    • SS building programs
    • Dispersal plans
    • Slave labor usage

I have also committed to blog more. Each week. Whatever I’ve done. I’ll write about that, or just post what I have written.