Scrapbookpages Blog

April 6, 2012

Dachau survivors were marched toward the Swiss border to be exchanged for German prisoners — David Kaplan’s story

According to a talk given by Holocaust survivor David Kaplan to journalism students at the University of Texas at El Paso, “he felt lucky to have survived the hell he fell into when he was only 11 years old.”  You can read the article entitled David Kaplan – A child in the Nazi concentration camps survives and forgives, written by Ken Hudnall on March 29, 2012, on this website.

I found this part of Hudnall’s article to be very interesting:

When Dachau was about to be liberated by allied forces on April 22, 1945, the camp survivors were marched toward the Swiss border to be exchanged for German prisoners. One morning, the survivors awoke to find their guards gone. Eventually a Wehrmacht Major approached and told them that allied forces were not far away and they should go to the nearest town. Shortly afterward, American soldiers discovered the survivors.

The photo below is purported to be the famous march out of Dachau in the days before the Dachau camp was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945.

Jews and Russian POWs marching out of the Dachau camp

As far as I know, David Kaplan is the first person to say that the march out of Dachau was for the purpose of trading these prisoners for German POWs.  I wrote about the march out of Dachau and some of the survivors of the march on my Scrapbookpages website here.

I read this information in a book entitled The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews:

On 15 July 1944 the liquidation of the Siauliai ghetto [in Lithuania] began.  Around 2,000 Siauliani Jews were transported in four stages to Stutthof and from thence the men were taken to Dachau and the women and children to Auschwitz.  Siauliai survivors in Dachau were liberated by the Americans on 2 May 1945.

The Dachau camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, so the liberation of the Dachau suvivors on May 2, 1945 is a reference to Jews who were liberated from a train out of Dachau or from the march out of Dachau.

In his talk, David Kaplan was very frank about what happened to the Lithuanian Jews, so I tend to believe him that the march out of Dachau was for the purpose of exchanging prisoners.

This quote is from the article by Ken Hudall:

On June 14, 1940 under the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Russia occupied Lithuania, Kaplan’s homeland. At the time, he was eleven years old, living in the town of Kaunas with his father, mother, grandfather, sister and brother. His father was a tailor who employed eight other workers in the creation of tailor made suits. “We lived on the upper floors of the house that contained Kaplan’s Tailor Shop,” he explained.

Even prior to the Soviet occupation his relationship with his father was strained. His father was an alcoholic who beat his wife and then life under the Soviets was harsh. “I was happy when they took him away,” he remarked during the interview. Considered wealthy, his father was ordered to stop work by the Russians, the state would provide. However, Kaplan senior disobeyed and was arrested and sent to Siberia, leaving the family to shift for itself.

In 1941, Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union and invaded Lithuania. However, even before the arrival of German troops a group of Lithuanians began killing Russians and Jewish members of the population. “The partisans attacked the Jewish section of the city and killed over 10,000 Jews,” Kaplan said. On June 22, 1941 the German military arrived in Lithuania and put a stop to the violence.

Amazing!  The partisans in Lithuania attacked and killed the Jews, and when the German military arrived, the Germans put a stop to the violence!

David Kaplan also told the Journalism students about his time in a camp and how he managed to survive, even though he was only 12 years old.  This quote is from his talk as reported by Ken Hudall:

When Kaplan was 12, he was finally sent to the camp where the Jews were divided into two groups. The group on the left, the group to the right went to the barracks. Kaplan was originally selected for death, but he claimed to be an experienced shoemaker, which got him the opportunity to demonstrate his ability. In truth, his ability was minimal, but a kind worker suggested that he shine shoes to speed up the manufacturing process.

I’ve heard stories like this many times.  Children under the age of 15 were routinely sent to the gas chamber, as soon as they arrived at a camp, but many survived by claiming that they were older, or by claiming to be have a valuable skill at the age of 12.  The Nazis were so stupid that they believed that a child of 12 was an experienced shoemaker.

This quote from the article tells about how the Nazis tried to fool the Jews by using Red Cross buses to transport children to the gas chamber:

One morning, Kaplan, then 13, was working in the shoe shop when he saw several red buses with white paint covered windows enter the compound. He watched silently as the children left in the barracks while their parents were working, were rounded up by the guards and herded onto the buses, kicking, yelling and crying. Kaplan stayed hidden in the shoe shop and was spared. The children that were taken were never seen again. When the parents came home and found their children gone, they screamed in desperation and many killed themselves on the electrified fence.

I am familiar with the story, told by several Holocaust survivors, that the Zyklon-B gas cannisters were transported in Red Cross trucks to the gas chambers, but this is the first time that I am learning that children were transported out of a camp, never to be seen again, implying that they were taken to the gas chambers in Red Cross buses.

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was the one who had the overall responsibility for the Nazi atrocities in the concentration camps, and near the end of the war, he was probably thinking about how he could save himself from being put on trial as a war criminal. As part of his unauthorized negotiations with the Allies in the last days of the war, Himmler agreed to release a few thousand Jewish prisoners to neutral countries.

On February 19, 1945, Himmler met with Count Folke Bernadotte in Berlin; Bernadotte was acting on behalf of the Swedish Red Cross in negotiations to release the Scandinavian prisoners from the concentration camps. Himmler was very receptive because he wanted to open negotiations with the West. They reached an agreement by which all the Scandinavian prisoners would be evacuated to one camp, Neuengamme, via “White Buses” which would be supplied by Sweden. Norwegian resistance fighters, who had been evacuated from Natzweiler-Struthof to Dachau in September 1944, were transferred to Neuengamme where they were cared for by the Red Cross in the last days of the war.  Women prisoners at the Ravensbrück camp were also transferred out on Red Cross buses in the last days of the war, as were a few prisoners at the Mauthausen camp.  I previously blogged here about Jewish children who were allegedly taken by Red Cross buses from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz to be gassed.

If the Nazis used Red Cross buses to transport children to the gas chamber, as implied by David Kaplan, this was an unforgivable crime, yet David Kaplan said that “he found it in his heart to forgive the Germans.”

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