Yesterday I blogged about how the residents of the town of Dachau did nothing to help the prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp. Or at least, they didn’t do enough. This makes visitors to the camp today very angry.
Today I am writing about how the citizens of Dachau were punished by the American liberators because they had allegedly ignored the suffering of the Dachau prisoners.
According to Harold Marcuse, in his book Legacies of Dachau, after the liberation “a group of Dachau Nazi elite was forced to tour the Dachau crematorium on 8 May 1945.” There they were made to look at the naked, emaciated bodies of the innocent victims of Nazi barbarity, piled up in the mortuary room right next to the gas chamber.
Young boys in the Hitler Youth were brought to the camp and forced to look at the corpses on the Death Train.
A film, made during a visit of German citizens to a concentration camp, was included in a movie called Todesmühlen (Death Mills). This movie was part of the re-education program for the German people, who were made to feel personally responsible for what happened in all the concentration camps.
According to Sybille Steinbacher, who wrote a book entitled Dachau: The Town and the Concentration Camp, the US Army commandant of the town after the liberation spoke angrily to the 30 Dachauers on the day that they were brought to see the camp. He told them, “As punishment for the brutality that the town tolerated next door to it, it should be sacked and turned into ashes!”
Steinbacher’s book was written and published in German under the title: Dachau, die Stadt und das Konzentrationslager in der NS-Zeit: Die Untersuchung einer Nachbarschaft (Munchner Studien zur neueren und neuesten Geschichte) It is no longer in print.
The Dachau town priest, Father Friedrich Pfanzelt, who was among the visitors, pleaded with the Americans not to destroy the town. In a series of articles in 1981, a Dachau newspaper, The Dachauer Nachrichten, wrote about how the priest saved the town: “On his knees, the prelate pleaded for mercy for Dachau.”
According to Peter Wyden, author of The Hitler Virus, 90 percent of the residents of Dachau were Catholic. Regarding Father Pfanzelt, Wyden wrote: “Then, from the pulpit of his St. Jacob’s Church three days later, the priest set in motion Dachau’s great trauma, the protestation of innocence, the denial of guilt that would never leave the community.”
Of all people, Father Pfanzelt should have been aware of the atrocities committed inside the Dachau concentration camp. According to Wyden, “For years the SS had extended him the privilege of conducting Sunday services in the KZ. And he had reciprocated with many ingratiating letters (which Steinbacher found) and had taken pride in his cordial relations with most of the camp commandants.”
Father Pfanzelt died in 1958 without ever confirming or denying that he had saved the town from the wrath of the Americans.
From 1942 until the end of the war, the parish of St. Jakob had organized a large-scale project to send food packages to the prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp. Farmers and business owners in Dachau donated food and medicine to the prisoners, which the SS allowed them to send to the camp. But it wasn’t enough. The photo below shows French Resistance fighters after they were liberated from the camp.
In the last days of the war, the Nazis released many of the clergymen in the camp, a few weeks before the American Seventh Army arrived to liberate the camp. The German and Austrian priests who were released from the camp on March 27, 1945 came to the parish church of St. Jakob’s where they were cared for until they were strong enough to get back to their homes.
The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army devoted a lot of space to “The Townspeople of Dachau.” According to the Report, the townspeople would tell the Americans: “Wir sind aberall belogen worden.” (We have all been lied to.)
According to the The Official Report, the townspeople admitted to the Americans that they knew the camp existed, that they saw work-details of inmates passing through the streets under guard on their way to the 12 work sites in the town, that “in some instances” (particularly in the years 34 and 35) the SS behaved brutally – towards the townspeople.
The townspeople would say, “Was können wir tun?” (What could we have done?)
According to The Official Report, “this statement would seem to represent the most popular attitude in the town of Dachau at present.” The townspeople told the Americans that in the last years of the war, large numbers of the concentration camp guards were men who had been drafted into the SS against their will. German prisoners in the Dachau camp were also recruited to fight on the battlefield with the Waffen-SS in the last days of the war.
The following quote is from The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army:
Several inmates also told the story of how, in last October, a whole SS Regiment was recruited – from of all sources, the inmates of Dachau Concentration Camp. These men were all Reichsdeutsche and under 40 years old. They were given no choice. [...]
Although the population as a whole realized the utter bestiality of the SS and the nauseating occurrences beyond the barred gates of the Camp, they were afraid even to say anything – much less do anything – because the shadow of the Camp hung over them as well. [...]
These people admit that the town as a whole did a thriving business as a result of the presence of the Camp and its attendant SS “Bonzen” (Big Shots) – and it is perhaps not without significance that the most outspoken anti-Nazis were people who, so to speak, could afford to be so by reason of the fact that their business did not bring them in daily contact with the SS.
The day before the Dachau camp was liberated, acting Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss had opened up the well-stocked warehouses in the SS Training Camp, and the food and other supplies were distributed to the starving inmates by the Americans. Dachau residents had to fend for themselves, and were forced to provide food for the released prisoners as well.
After the Dachau camp was liberated, the American army appointed Dachau resident Hans Zauner as acting mayor, according to Harold Marcuse, who wrote that the outraged occupying soldiers required the townspeople to supply clothing and foodstuffs for the liberated inmates, and threatened the acting mayor with dire consequences if he did not fulfill the quotas.
The mayor was forced to give coupons for free clothing to the ragged survivors, which soon exhausted the stocks of Dachau’s two largest clothing suppliers, according to Marcuse, who also wrote the following about the aftermath of the liberation:
In his memoirs Zauner described how on 1 May two soldiers, without a word of warning or explanation, pulled him out of his office, pushed him down the stairs and set him on the hood of their jeep, whereupon they took the 59-year-old for a “joy ride” around the hilly town. Eventually the GIs brought Zauner back to city hall and let him dismount.