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March 13, 2011

The mystery of the “standing cells” at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 7:01 pm

Tour guides at the Dachau Memorial Site tell visitors about the “standing cells” which were allegedly located inside the “bunker,” as the camp prison was called.  The bunker is still there, but according to the staff at the Memorial Site, the standing cells were torn down by the Americans who liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.

It would have made sense if the Nazi administrators of the Dachau concentration camp had torn down the standing cells to get rid of the evidence of their crimes, but why would the American liberators of the camp destroy the evidence of one of the worst atrocities at Dachau?  The decision to try the Germans as war criminals had already been made, even before their war crimes had been committed, so why would the Americans destroy the evidence before the men were put on trial?

With all the evidence of the standing cells gone, how do we know that these cells realy existed?

Our knowledge of the standing cells comes from the former prisoners, who testified about them under oath at the American Military Tribunal, which started in November 1945.  Why couldn’t the Americans have waited for a mere six months before destroying the evidence?  They could have at least taken a photo of the standing cells, which could have been shown as proof during the trials conducted by American Military Tribunal at Dachau.

A film, which was made by the Americas on May 3, 1945  showed the Dachau gas chamber. This film was used as proof of the Dachau gas chamber at the Nuremberg IMT.  I know that film was scarce during World War II, but was film so precious that the Americans couldn’t even take one photo of the standing cells?

I took the photo below in the Dachau bunker in May 2001. It shows one of the regular cells and a poster which shows how three regular cells were divided into standing cells. The red color on the walls is paint.

Poster shows how the standing cells were created in the bunker

The walls of the alleged standing cells were made out of wood and each standing cell was 2 ft. 6 inches square. Prisoners who had been condemned to this punishment were put into a standing cell for 72 hours at a time with no light or air.

When I visited Dachau in 1997, the bunker was not open to tourists. It was not until the year 2000 that the bunker was opened to visitors.

According to information in one of the exhibit rooms in the bunker, a Soviet prisoner named Yuri Piskunov, was confined to one of the standing cells for 10 days in October 1944, but there is no mention of what crime he had committed. He had previously been a prisoner in the Mauthausen concentration camp, but was transferred to Dachau in November 1943.

Mauthausen was the only Class III camp in the Nazi system; it was for prisoners who were the worst offenders by Nazi standards. Dachau was a class I prison and was considered much more lenient than Mauthausen.

Piskunov survived and was still alive when the bunker exhibit opened in 2000.  As far as I know, Piskunov did not testify before the American Military Tribunal in 1945; maybe he couldn’t speak German or English, and they didn’t have a Russian translator.

As far as I know, Dr. Neuhäusler, a Catholic Bishop who was a “special prisoner” with a private cell in the Dachau bunker, did not testify in any of the post war trials either.  Dr. Neuhäusler was allowed to leave his cell in the bunker and walk around outside, so he must have known about everything that was going on, inside and outside the camp prison.

Dr. Neuhäusler wrote a book in which he said this, regarding the standing cells:

“the prisoner was compelled to stand for three days and three nights and was given only bread and water; every fourth day he came into a normal cell, ate prisoner’s fare and was allowed to sleep for one night on a plank bed. Then three days’ standing began again. Such were the abominations which the prisoners had to bear from the sadistic Nazis.”

Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen, who was an SS judge, did an investigation of the Dachau camp in May 1944 and found everything in order, according to Paul Berben, a prisoner in the camp who wrote the Official History of Dachau. The standing cells must have been built some time after this inspection, as Dr. Morgen would not have tolerated such abuse of the prisoners. Dr. Morgen had arrested 5 of the concentration camp commandants after his previous investigations, and two of the commandants had been executed by the Nazis.

Martin Gottfried Weiss had previously been the Commandant at Dachau and he was the acting Commandant when the Dachau camp was liberated; the new Commandant had left a few days before, with a transport of prisoners, who were taken to a sub-camp in Austria. On November 1, 1943, Weiss had been transferred from the Dachau camp to the Majdanek camp in Poland; he replace Karl Otto Koch, who had been arrested and brought back to Buchenwald to stand trial in a special court conducted by Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen.

Dr. Franz Blaha identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss on the right

Dr. Franz Blaha, a former Dachau prisoner who is shown on the left in the photo above, testified at the American Military Tribunal about the standing cells inside the bunker at Dachau. In the photo, he is shown as he identifies Martin Gottfried Weiss in the courtroom.  Note that Weiss is unshaven and looks haggard while Dr. Blaha appears to be in good condition.

Dr. Blaha said that the standing cells were so small that one could not sit down in them, but could only stand up, and possibly just bend the knees a little. Dr. Blaha testified that he himself had never been punished in the standing bunker, but he had brought the dead bodies of Russian and Polish prisoners out of the standing cells several times during 1944 and 1945.  Dr. Blaha also testified at the Nuremberg IMT that he had done autopsies on the bodies of thousands of prisoners who had been gassed at Dachau.

In a pretrial hand-written statement, Emil Mahl, a Dachau Kapo who was on trial himself, corroborated Dr. Blaha’s testimony. According to Mahl’s statement, imprisonment in a standing cell meant eight took place for ten hours during the night, and in some cases, for two to three nights without food or drink.

At the American Military Tribunal, Martin Gottfried Weiss was finally called to the witness stand to defend himself on December 10, 1945, almost a month after the trial began. Under direct examination by American defense attorney Douglas T. Bates, Weiss told about how he had improved conditions at the Dachau camp when he became the Commandant in 1942. He said that he had abolished the cruel punishment where prisoners were hung up by their arms, and also the standing punishment where prisoners had to stand outside for days without food.

In his testimony, Weiss claimed that he was not responsible for the “standing bunker” and that he had heard this term used for the first time at the trial.

According to the Dachau Museum, the Dachau bunker was used to imprison suspected German war criminals between June 1945 and August 1948; as many as five German prisoners were put inside each prison cell in the bunker. Each of these cells was intended to be big enough for only one man, and had only one bed.

The most famous prisoner, among the German war criminals who were held in the bunker after World War II ended, was Erhard Milch, a Field Marshall who was the number 2 man in the German Air Force. He was brought to the Dachau bunker the day after he testified on behalf of his superior, Hermann Göring, at the Nuremberg IMT. Milch was a prisoner at Dachau between 1946 and 1947; his crime was that he had refused to testify against Göring.

Johann Kick, the chief of the political department at Dachau from May 1937 to April 1945, was in charge of registering prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and notification of relatives. It was also his job to see that executions ordered by the Reich Security Main Office were carried out at Dachau. He was one of the 39 others who were tried by the American Military Tribunal, along with Martin Gottfried Weiss.

Rudolf Wolf, a prominent witness for the prosecution, testified that, after being interrogated by Kick, prisoners were sent to the standing bunker. In answer to a question about the bunker, put to him by American prosecutor Lt. Col. Denson, Kick testified that he “never knew such a thing existed. I found out about it only here.”  Kick also testified that he had been tortured by the American interrogators, but apparently even after being tortured, he would not admit to the existence of the standing cells.

The infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did have standing cells in the basement of the prison building called Block 11. They were removed after a short time by Arthur Liebehenschel, who was the Auschwitz Commandant from November 10, 1943 to May 19, 1944, but have been reconstructed for the benefit of tourists. The standing cells at Dachau, if they ever existed, have not been reconstructed.

The photo above shows a punishment cell at the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace. This cell was big enough for a prisoner to sit in, but not big enough for a prisoner to stand up or lie down. Prisoners who broke the rules in the Natzweiler camp were put into these cells for three days with nothing but bread and water. After the Natzweiler camp was closed, some of the political prisoners were brought to Dachau, including the British SOE agent Albert Guerisse, who became the leader of the prisoners group known as the International Committee of Dachau.

After Dachau was liberated, the former concentration camp was turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 and Dr. Georg Konrad Morgen became one of the prisoners. He told historian John Toland that he was tortured by the Americans in an effort to get him to say that Ilse Koch, the wife of the Buchenwald Commandant, had made lampshades out of human skin, but he refused, even after several beatings.

One of the prisoners at Dachau, when the camp was liberated, was a woman named Eleanor Hodys, who had formerly been a prisoner at Auschwitz.  The story of E.H. was told in Chapter 5 of the Official History of Dachau, written by the Americans. (Her identify was protected in the Official History by using only her initials, not her name.) All of the events described by E.H. happened at Auschwitz, not at Dachau, so why was this included in the history of Dachau? Maybe it is because she mentioned the “standing cells” in Block 11 at Auschwitz. Did the Americans learn about the “standing cells” for the first time from E.H. and decide to include them in the list of atrocities at Dachau?

E.H. told the American liberators that she had once been put into a standing cell herself — for NINE WEEKS.  How could anyone survive for nine weeks in a standing cell like the cells that have been reconstructed at Auschwitz?

Eleanor Hodys allegedly had an affair with the Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoess, who was removed from his job because of the claims of Eleanor Hodys.  Hoess returned to Auschwitz in May 1944 in time to supervise the gassing of 400,000 Hungarian Jews in only 10 weeks, according to Holocaust history.

The photo below shows a reconstructed standing cell at Auschwitz.  I took this photo in 1998 when I was there with a private guide and there was no one else there, so I could take all the photos that I wanted.

Reconstructed standing cell at Auschwitz

The 1998 photograph above shows the reconstructed entrance to one of the 4 standing cells (Stehzellen) in prison cell #22 in the basement of Block 11. These 4 cells were 31.5 inches square; there was no light coming in at all, and no heating or cooling system.

Prisoners had to crawl into the standing cell through a tiny door, as shown in the photo above. Metal bars at the entrance allowed guards to open the door and look inside the cell. There was no room to lie down nor to sit down in the cell; prisoners had to stand up. The floors of these cells were covered with excrement left by the occupants.

Prisoners who were being punished were allegedly put into these cells at night, and in the morning taken out to perform a full 10-hour day of work. The reconstructed door, which is shown in the picture above, opens into Cell #2; there is another cell to the right of the door, which you can see in the photo. To the left in the picture above, you can see the edge of the door into Cell #1 on the left, which gives you an idea of how small these cells were. Imagine the problem of removing a dead body through the tiny door of one of these cells!

After Arthur Liebehenschel replaced Rudolf Hoess as the camp commandant on December 1, 1943, he ordered the standing cells to be torn down.  Or did he? Were the standing cells at Auschwitz allegedly torn down because they weren’t really there, just like the non-existent standing cells at Dachau were allegedly torn down by the Americans?

I’m suspicious about everything told about the concentration camps.  I’m from Missouri, the Show-Me state.  I want to see the proof!

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