Anna Seghersâ€™ novel “The Seventh Crossâ€ (Das siebte Kreuz), published in 1942, describes an escape from a fictitious concentration camp in the town of Westhofen. The escape is set in 1937, at a time when the real concentration camp in the neighboring town of Osthofen had already been closed for three years. Unlike the novel, there were no deaths in the real Osthofen Concentration Camp.
Nevertheless prisoners were humiliated and tortured in the Osthofen concentration camp. They were forced to go hungry, work hard and were constantly fearful of their fate. Anna Seghers realistically describes the reasons that were given for arresting political opponents of the Nazi regime in Rheinhessen, a province of the Peopleâ€™s State of Hesse, which Osthofen was part of at that time. Based on her own experience, she describes the different reactions of the local population to the early stages of the Nazi regime, its ideology and the arrest of friends and neighbors.
The strict organization of the Osthofen SS division is reflected in the novel. The division served as a model for the Communist-hater Zillich and his men in Anna Segherâ€™s second novel “A Price on His Headâ€ (Der Kopflohn), published in 1933. The novel describes the rise of National Socialism in a village in Rheinhessen.
Zillich also appears in the novel “The Seventh Crossâ€ as the warder of the Westhofen concentration camp. The character is taken up again by Anna Seghers in a 1945 novella entitled “The Endâ€ (Das Ende). Here, after the end of World War II Zillich attempts in vain to escape punishment for the atrocities he committed. Rejected by all friends and relatives and without any prospect of help, he commits suicide by hanging himself from the crossbeam of a window frame.