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May 1, 2010

Prisoners tortured in bunker at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:20 am

The tour guides, who show visitors around the former Dachau concentration camp, always mention how the prisoners were tortured in the bunker, which was a prison within the Dachau prison camp. Torture is usually a means of getting a person to confess, and according to testimony at the American Military Tribunal proceedings against the staff members of the Dachau camp, torture was, in fact, used to obtain confessions. But it was the SS men who testified that they were the ones who were tortured to force them to confess, not the prisoners who were tortured.

Room in Dachau bunker where prisoners were interrogated

A sign in the interrogation room in the bunker at Dachau tells visitors that this room had double doors and cavity walls to prevent cries from being heard as the prisoners were tortured. There is no mention of exactly how the prisoners were tortured.

This quote is from a blog about a recent tour of the Dachau Memorial site:

This picture is in the bunker, which was where the “worst” of the prisoners were tortured, often until they died or committed suicide.

I took this photo in the Dachau bunker, May 2001

And this quote from another blog:

The bunker was an area were the SS (protective squad) would brutally torture prisoners. The inmates would often be imprisoned in the bunker for up to eight months. They had little food and no interaction with the outside the world. The cells were extremely tiny and without windows. In the bunker, SS guards would brutally beat prisoners into false confessions or drive them to commit suicide.

Actually, the bunker was where the important prisoners were kept in individual cells at Dachau; they could leave their cells and walk around the camp during the day.  All the cells had windows, as you can see in the photo below.

Dachau bunker is on the right, Museum is on the left

AFIK, the tour guides never mention the names of the prisoners who were tortured. The most famous person who claimed that he was tortured at Dachau is Gustav Petrat, an SS guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp who was convicted of being a war criminal by an American Military Tribunal conducted at Dachau. Petrat wrote a last statement before he was executed at Landsberg am Lech; you can read his statement here.

Gustav Petrat claims that he was tortured by American soldiers at Dachau

Ironically, one of the accused at the proceedings against the staff members of the Dachau camp by the American Military Tribunal, who testified that he was tortured by American military officers, was Johann Kick.  As the head of the Gestapo office at Dachau, Kick was charged with the specific crime of torturing prisoners in the Dachau bunker between January 1, 1942 and April 29, 1945, during which time Allied nationals were imprisoned at Dachau.

Kick testified about being tortured by Jewish interrogators at Dachau on November 29, 1945, the same day that a film about the Dachau gas chamber was shown at the Nuremberg IMT.

The following testimony at the American Military Tribunal is from Johann Kick:

Q: … will you describe to the court the treatment that you received prior to your first interrogation anyplace?

(Prosecution objection as to whether beating received on the 6th of May could be relevant to confession signed on the 5th of November).

Q: … Kick, did the treatment you received immediately following your arrest have any influence whatever on the statements that you made on the 5th of November?

A: … The treatment at that time influenced this testimony to that extent, that I did not dare to refuse to sign, in spite of the fact that it did not contain the testimony which I gave.

Q: Now, Kick, for the court, will you describe the treatment which you received immediately following your arrest?

A: I ask to refuse to answer this question here in public.

President: The court desires to have the defendant answer the question.

A: I was here in Dachau from the 6th to the 15th of May, under arrest; during this time I was beaten all during the day and night… kicked… I had to stand to attention for hours; I had to kneel down on sharp objects or square objects; I had to stand under the lamp for hours and look into the light, at which time I was also beaten and kicked; as a result of this treatment my arm was paralyzed for about 8 to 10 weeks; only beginning with my transfer to Augsberg, this treatment stopped.

Q: What were you beaten with?

A: With all kinds of objects.

Q: Describe them, please.

A: With whips, with lashing whips, with rifle butts, pistol butts, and pistol barrels, and with hands and fists.

Q: And that continued daily over a period of what time?

A: From the morning of the 7th of May until the morning of the 15th of May.

Q: Kick, why did you hesitate to give that testimony?

A: If the court hadn’t decided I should talk about it, I wouldn’t have said anything about it today.

Q: Would you describe the people who administered these beatings to you?

A: I can only say that they were persons who were wearing the United States uniform and I can’t describe them any better.

Q: And as a result of those beatings when Lt. Guth called you in, what was your frame of mind?

A: I had to presume that if I were to refuse to sign I would be subjected to a similar treatment.

Dr. Wilhelm Witteler, who was accused by the American Military Tribunal of making leather goods out of human skin at Dachau, also testified that he signed his confession after being tortured.

Another torture that is always mentioned by the tour guides at Dachau is the standing cells.  The standing cells, which were in the bunker, were made of wood and they were torn down by the American military after Dachau was liberated, according to the Dachau Museum. Both Johann Kick and Martin Gottfried Weiss, the Commandant of Dachau, testified  that they had heard about the standing cells for the first time at the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal.

A drawing of the alleged standing cells in the bunker is shown below.

Standing cells in the bunker are shown in drawing

In the Dachau Museum, a whipping block, that was used to punish the prisoners, is displayed. Visitors are told that prisoners were given 25 lashes for such minor offenses as having a button missing from their uniform or putting their hands in their pocket.

One visitor wrote this on his blog:

“In the shower room they had set up a table where they used to whip people if they did anything against the rules. The rules included things such as having a dried spot of water on the bowl you ate out of.”

Former prisoner demonstrates the whipping block

The photo above was taken during the proceedings against the staff members  at Dachau by the American Military Tribunal, which started in November 1945.  Notice that the whipping block is an ordinary table, not the actual whipping block, which by that time was long gone because whipping had been discontinued in 1942.

Whipping block displayed in the Museum at Dachau

What visitors to Dachau are not told is that all punishments at Dachau and all the other concentration camps had to be approved by the WVHA economic office in Oranienburg; Rudolf Hoess was a member of the WVHA staff after he was removed as the Commandant of Auschwitz in December 1943.

At the Nuremberg IMT, on April 15, 1946, Hoess testified that punishment on the whipping block was seldom used and that this punishment was discontinued in 1942 or 1943 because Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had given a new order that the SS men were forbidden to strike the prisoners. Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler mentioned in his book entitled What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? that this order was given by Himmler in 1942.

Another thing, that the tour guides never mention, is that a section of the bunker at Dachau was reserved for SS men who were imprisoned for committing a crime.  This part of the bunker has been torn down, but you can see where it once stood in the photo below.

The SS section of the bunker at Dachau was formerly located in this spot

The tour guides at Dachau give visitors the impression that the SS men were allowed to abuse the prisoners in any way they wanted to.  There were actually two prisons for the SS men who broke the strict rules in the camps, and one of them was at Dachau.