Nacht und Nebel
"Night and Fog" redirects here. For the 1955 film, see Night and Fog (film). For the 2009 film, see Night and Fog (2009 film).
Nacht und Nebel (German for "Night and Fog") was a directive (German: Erlass) of Adolf Hitler on 7 December 1941 signed and implemented by Armed Forces High Command Chief Wilhelm Keitel, resulting in kidnapping and forced disappearance of many political activists and resistance 'helpers' throughout Nazi Germany's occupied territories, principally in Western Europe. Anyone guilty of endangering the "security or state of readiness" of German forces and who was not to be summarily executed simply vanished into the "night and fog" of Germany. It was a specific punishment for opponents of the Nazis in occupied countries and intended to intimidate local populations into submission by denying families and friends of "les disparus" all knowledge of what had happened to them. To this day, it is not known how many people were seized as a result of this order.
Even before the Holocaust gained momentum, the Nazis had begun rounding up political prisoners from both Germany and occupied Europe. Most of the early prisoners were of two sorts: they were either prisoners of personal conviction (belief), political prisoners whom the Nazis deemed in need of "re-education" to Nazi ideals, or resistance leaders in occupied western Europe. Up until the time of the "Night and Fog" decree, prisoners from Western Europe were handled by German soldiers in approximately the same way other countries did: according to national agreements and procedures such as the Geneva Convention. Hitler and his upper level staff, however, made a critical decision not to have to conform to what they considered unnecessary rules.
On 7 December 1941, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler issued the following instructions to the Gestapo: "After lengthy consideration, it is the will of the Führer that the measures taken against those who are guilty of offenses against the Reich or against the occupation forces in occupied areas should be altered. The Führer is of the opinion that in such cases penal servitude or even a hard labor sentence for life will be regarded as a sign of weakness. An effective and lasting deterrent can be achieved only by the death penalty or by taking measures which will leave the family and the population uncertain as to the fate of the offender. Deportation to Germany serves this purpose."
On 12 December, Keitel issued a directive which explained Hitler's orders: "Efficient and enduring intimidation can only be achieved either by capital punishment or by measures by which the relatives of the criminals do not know the fate of the criminal." He further expanded on this principle in a February 1942 letter stating that any prisoners not executed within eight days were "to be transported to Germany secretly, and further treatment of the offenders will take place here; these measures will have a deterrent effect because - A. The prisoners will vanish without a trace. B. No information may be given as to their whereabouts or their fate."
The Night and Fog prisoners were mostly from France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. They were usually arrested in the middle of the night and quickly taken to prisons hundreds of miles away for questioning, eventually arriving at concentration camps such as Natzweiler or Gross-Rosen, if they survived. Until 30 April 1944, at least 6,639 persons were captured under the Nacht und Nebel orders. Some 340 of them may have been executed. The 1955 film Night and Fog uses the term to illustrate one aspect of the concentration camp system as it was transformed into a system of labour and death camps.
The reasons for Nacht und Nebel were many:
 Treatment of prisoners
The Nacht und Nebel prisoners' hair was shaved and the women were given a convict costume of a thin cotton dress, wooden sandals and a triangular black headcloth. The prisoners were often moved apparently at random from prison to prison such as Fresnes Prison in Paris, Waldheim, near Dresden, Leipzig, Potsdam, Lübeck and Stettin. The deportees were sometimes herded 80 at a time with standing room only into slow moving, dirty cattle trucks with little or no food or water on journeys lasting up to five days to their next unknown destination.
An average day for the prisoners was to be awakened at 5:00am and made to work a twelve hour day with only a twenty minute break for a scant meal. At Stettin prison, Polish prisoners were forced to sing Nazi songs and given the choice either to hang their companions or be hanged themselves. When the Allies liberated Paris and Brussels, the SS decided on revenge while they still could and many of the Nacht und Nebel prisoners were moved to concentration camps such as Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, Buchenwald concentration camp, Schloss Hartheim, or Flossenbürg concentration camp.
At the camps, the prisoners were forced to stand for hours in freezing and wet conditions at 5:00 every morning, standing strictly to attention, before being put to work all day. They were kept in cold and starving conditions many with dysentery or other illnesses and the weakest were often beaten to death, shot, guillotined, or hanged. When the inmates were totally exhausted, after having worked for 12 hours a day, or if they were too ill or too weak to work, they were then transferred to the Revier ("Krankenrevier", sick barrack) or other places for extermination. If a camp did not have a gas chamber of its own, the so-called Muselmänner, or prisoners who were too sick to work, after being maltreated, under-nourished or totally exhausted, were often murdered or transferred to other concentration camps for extermination.
The result, even early in the war, was the facilitating of execution of political prisoners, especially Soviet military prisoners, who in early 1942 outnumbered the Jews in number of deaths even at Auschwitz. As the transports grew and Hitler's troops moved across Europe, that ratio changed dramatically. The Night and Fog Decree was carried out surreptitiously, but it set the background for orders that would follow. As the war continued, so did the openness of such decrees and orders. It is probably correct to surmise, from various writings, that in the beginning the German public knew only a little of the insidious plans Hitler had for a "New European Order". As the years passed, despite the best attempts of Goebbels and the Propaganda Ministry with its formidable domestic information control, there can be little doubt from diaries and periodicals of the time that information about the harshness and cruelty became progressively known to the German public.
Soldiers brought back information, families on rare occasion heard from or about loved ones, and allied news sources and the BBC were able to get through sporadically. Although captured archives from the SD contain numerous orders stamped with "NN" (for Nacht und Nebel), it has never been determined exactly how many people disappeared as a result of the decree. Keitel later testified at the Nuremberg Trials that of all the illegal orders he'd carried out, the Night and Fog Decree was "the worst of all." The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg held that the disappearances committed as part of the Nacht und Nebel program were war crimes which violated both the Hague Conventions and customary international law. In part because of his role in carrying out this decree, Keitel was hanged in 1946.
 Text of the decrees
Directives for the prosecution of offences committed within the occupied territories against the German State or the occupying power, of 7 December 1941.
Within the occupied territories, communistic elements and other circles hostile to Germany have increased their efforts against the German State and the occupying powers since the Russian campaign started. The amount and the danger of these machinations oblige us to take severe measures as a deterrent. First of all the following directives are to be applied:
 Notable prisoners
 See also
A personal account of a person who survived as a "Night and Fog" prisoner four months in Gross-Rosen and a year in Natzweiler:
 External links
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