April 29, 2010 will be the 65th anniversary of the surrender of the Dachau concentration camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden of the 42nd Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army by SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, accompanied by Red Cross representative Victor Maurer, holding a white flag.
German and Hungarian Waffen-SS soldiers had been sent from the battlefield, still wearing their camouflage uniforms, to keep order during the surrender. While the surrender was taking place, American soldiers in the 45th Division were already inside the SS garrison, next door to the concentration camp, and were killing Waffen-SS men and German Wehrmacht soldiers while they had their hands in the air.
The photo above shows German soldiers being shot after they had surrendered. The building in the background on the right is a hospital. Wounded Wehrmacht soldiers in the regular German Army were dragged out of the hospital and shot with their hands in the air.
After accepting the surrender of the Dachau concentration camp, Brig. Gen. Henning Linden took 2nd Lt. Wicker and the Red Cross representative, Victor Maurer, to pose beside the “death train,” which was parked outside the concentration camp. On the train were the dead bodies of prisoners who had been evacuated from the Buchenwald camp; the train had been strafed by American planes and the prisoners riding in open railroad cars had been killed. In the photo above, 2nd Lt. Wicker is the third man from the left.
In the last months of World War II, the Germans had been preparing for the surrender of all the camps. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had negotiated the surrender of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British. The sub-camps of Buchenwald had been evacuated and the prisoners marched to the main camp. Buchenwald prisoners who were considered to be dangerous were sent to Dachau to delay their release as long as possible; these were the dead prisoners on the infamous “death train” which caused the American soldiers to go berserk and kill the Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent to help with the surrender of Dachau.
In the months leading up to the surrender of the Dachau camp, 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker had been carrying out other assignments, away from the main Dachau camp, and had only recently returned.
From March 28, 1945 to April 2, 1945, Wicker had supervised the evacuation of prisoners from Neckarelz, a sub-camp of Natzweiler, to the Dachau main camp. Between April 5th and April 15, 1945, Wicker had supervised the evacuation of around 1,700 prisoners from Hessental, another sub-camp of Natzweiler, to München-Allach, a sub-camp of Dachau. Allach was liberated by units of the 42nd Rainbow Division on the morning of April 30, 1945.
At some point between April 15th and April 29th, Wicker was placed in charge of training “Kampfgrüppe Süd” (Combat Group South), a 250-man scratch unit formed from the guards who had formerly served at Neckarelz, Kochendorf and Hessental, all of which were sub-camps of Natzweiler. These were the soldiers who were left behind when the staff members of the Dachau concentration camp escaped on the night of April 28, 1945, wearing civilian clothes as a disguise.
On April 26, 1945, Eduard Weiter, the last Commandant of Dachau, had left the camp with a transport of prisoners who were being evacuated to Schloss Itter, a sub-camp of Dachau in Austria. For two days, former Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss was in charge of the Dachau camp before he left on April 28th along with most of the regular guards and administrators in the camp.
In the photo above, Brig. Gen. Henning Linden is standing on the bridge near the Dachau gate, trying to control the liberated prisoners. 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker is the tall German soldier on the left.
Wicker’s mother had arrived at the Dachau SS garrison, next door to the concentration camp, on April 12, 1945 to visit her son. Wicker’s fiance and her two-year-old son by Wicker had also come to visit him and were staying in the town of Dachau. After this last family get-together at the Dachau SS garrison on the morning of the surrender, Wicker’s family never saw him again.
On April 28, 1945, Victor Maurer, the Red Cross representative, had tried to persuade 1st Lt. Johannes Otto, the adjutant of Commandant Weiter, not to abandon the camp, but to leave guards posted to keep the prisoners inside until the Americans arrived. When Lt. Otto declined to remain in the camp, SS-Untersturmführer Wicker was then recruited by Maurer to accompany him to the main gate of the Dachau complex to formally surrender the concentration camp.
No one knows when, how or even if, Wicker was killed. His family was never notified of his death; his mother eventually reported him as a missing person to the International Tracing Service of the International Red Cross. Neither Brig. Gen. Linden, nor Victor Maurer, the Red Cross Representative, mentioned anything in their reports about what happened to 2nd Lt. Wicker or his aide after they surrendered the camp.
The photo above shows the bodies of SS men who were killed during the surrender of the Dachau camp. The SS bodies are on the left, and a pile of naked bodies of the prisoners is on the right.
Dachau was never a “death camp” for Jews; after 1942 all Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other “extermination camps” in the east. The Jews who were at Dachau when the camp was surrendered were the survivors of the camps in the East. They had been working for the last three or four months in the sub-camps of Dachau and had only recently been brought to the main camp to facilitate an orderly surrender. Some of the Jews at Dachau had arrived only the day before.
Dachau was mainly a camp for Communist political prisoners and captured Resistance fighters who were fighting as illegal combatants under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. The Resistance fighters could have been legally executed, but instead they were put to work in the factories at Dachau and other camps in Germany.
The Americans gave guns to the prisoners and allowed them to shoot the German guards. There was complete chaos in the camp after the surrender and no one tried to stop the prisoners from killing the camp guards. Some of the guards were shot in the legs by the Americans, so that they couldn’t escape from the prisoners who beat them to death. The photo above shows a guard who appears to have been shot in the leg.
For the next month or so, newspapers all over the world will carry the story of the “liberation” of the Dachau concentration camp. There will be reports of “bodies stacked like cordwood” ” and the universal cry of “How could human beings treat other human beings like that?” There will be stories of the Jews in the camp who were near death, but were saved by the American liberators.
What you won’t hear or read about is the typhus epidemics at Dachau and all the other camps in Germany during the last 5 months, nor about the “Dachau massacre” when German soldiers, who had nothing whatsoever to do with the conditions in the camp, were murdered in cold blood with their hands in the air. What you won’t hear about is how the US military covered up the story of the Dachau massacre and kept this war crime a secret for around 45 years. If you do read anything about the soldiers who surrendered the camp being killed, it will be include something about how these soldiers “deserved to die.”
Update, Sept. 6, 2010: Another blogger linked to this blog post and you can read what he wrote here:
What really happened to the staff and guards at the Dachau Concentration Camp after it was liberated in 1945. Remus says “good enough for them”. This site is by an apologist, apparently.
His blog ends with a paragraph about the French Resistance. In France today, a person can be put into prison for “approving of a war crime.” What the American liberators did at Dachau was a war crime under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. Remus should be cautious about saying “good enough for them” about the victims of a war crime. A man who lived in Belgium was put into a French prison a couple of years ago for “approving of a war crime.”