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October 21, 2010

Did Himmler really order all the prisoners at Dachau to be killed?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 3:25 pm

A few days before I suffered a stroke in July this year, there was a comment on one of my posts that I never answered because I was in no condition to argue about such things after being hospitalized.  The comment made a reference to a message from Reichsfürher-SS Heinrich Himmler, which he allegedly wrote by hand on a plain piece of paper on April 14, 1945 and sent to the commandant of the Dachau camp.  This note was stored in the files of the International Tracing Service in Germany and it was revealed to the public for the first time in March 2007.

The discovery of this note at the ITS in Arolsen, Germany, caused a media sensation in 2007. No order by Hitler or Himmler had ever been found and this note finally proved that the Nazis intended to kill all the prisoners in the concentration camps. On April 14, 1945, Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler had previously authorized SS Colonel Kurt Becher to negotiate the surrender of Dachau and other camps to the Allies because conditions in the overcrowded camps were now totally out of control.  Becher had been involved in negotiating with the Allies in the infamous “Blood for Goods” deal in which the Nazis offered to trade a million Jews for 10,000 trucks.

Allegedly, Himmler immediately RESCINDED his order to turn Dachau over to the Allies in a note hurriedly written by hand, dated 14 April 1945 and 18 April 1945.

Here is a quote from the reader’s comment in July 2010:

…. Because of Himmler’s orders not to let the prisoners survive. They could have been sent West to be handed over to the Allies (US & UK). Can you prove your claim that Himmler’s order in the archives is a fake? Probably not.

No, I can’t prove that “Himmler’s order in the archives” is fake.  However, I can use common sense in forming an opinion that the “order” is fake.

Here is the text of the message, allegedly written by Himmler on April 14, 1945:

A handover is out of the question. The camp must be evacuated immediately. No prisoner must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive. The prisoners have behaved horribly to the civilian population of Buchenwald.

Buchenwald was the name of a concentration camp, not the name of a town, and there was no “civilian population of Buchenwald,” which Himmler would have known. On April 14th, there were around 25,000 prisoners at Dachau, with thousands more arriving every day, as the prisoners from the sub-camps were brought to the main camp. Keeping this mass of prisoners out of the “hands of the enemy” would have been virtually impossible.

Arthur Haulot, a Belgian political prisoner at Dachau, wrote in his diary that he heard about this order, one hour after it arrived in Dachau. Haulot referred to the order as a “pessimistic rumor.” He had heard about it from a German nurse in the camp, who was his lover.  So it seems that Arthur Haulot, who was a member of the prisoner’s organization called the Committee of Dachau, did not believe that the message allegedly from Himmler was genuine.

On April 14th, negotiations for the handover of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British Army had already been in progress for several days. A cease fire had been ordered on April 12th. On the 14th, the date that Himmler allegedly rescinded his order for Dachau, he did not rescind the agreement to turn Bergen-Belsen over to the Allies on the 15th.  Why not?

Note that Himmler’s alleged hand written note read “The camp must be EVACUATED immediately. No prisoner must be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive.”  The note did NOT order the prisoners to be killed.

On April 15, 1945, British soldiers entered the Bergen-Belsen camp, as per the negotiated surrender of the camp. Hungarian troops were sent to Bergen-Belsen to keep order during the transfer of the camp; they were promised that they could return to their lines after six days, but some of them were shot by the British.   Hungarian SS soldiers were also sent to Dachau to keep order during the surrender of the camp, and they were killed by the American liberators.

On my first visit to Dachau in 1997, I purchased a Handbook written by Barbara Distel who was the director of the Dachau Memorial Site at that time.

This quote is from the Handbook written by Barbara Distel, published in 1972:

Every day the prisoners saw the Allies’ bombers in the sky. The mood in the camp vacillated between hopeful impatience and anxious despair. The dominating questions became: What did the SS intend to do with the prisoners who numbered over 30,000? Would the prisoners all be slain before the arrival of the Allies?

After the war it was revealed that the plans had, indeed, existed to kill the inmates of the concentration camp by bombs and poison. On April 14, 1945, Himmler telegraphed the following command to the camp commanders of Dachau and Flossenburg: “There is to be no question of surrender. The camp must be evacuated immediately. Not a single living prisoner must fall into the hands of the enemy.” Representing various countries, the prisoners who had been working loosely together decided to organize an underground camp committee which would try to ensure the survival of the prisoners and, if necessary, organize resistance to SS plans of action.

On April 26th, the secret committee authorized two prisoners to escape from the camp and to find their way to the American troops whose approach could be heard by the roar of the guns. They were to ask them to come to Dachau as quickly as possible. The prisoners were successful and, two days later, the Americans, who had originally planned to capture Munich first, arrived in Dachau.

On that same day, April 26th, the command rang out in the camp to form up in the roll-call square; provisions and blankets were distributed and nearly 7,000 prisoners were forced, under SS guard, to march south.
On the march, hundreds were shot as soon as they could continue no longer, or they died from hunger, cold, and exhaustion as the marches through rain and snow lasted for days and the nights were passed out in the open. The American troops overtook those columns on the march at the beginning of May. Only then, just before the approach of the Americans, did the accompanying SS guards take to flight. Thus, only two days before the liberation of the camp, these prisoners fell victim to a fanatical ideology carried through to its ultimate consequences, in the name of which innocent people were driven relentlessly to their death.

By April 28th tension in the Dachau camp had risen even higher. No new evacuation marches had been made, and the prisoners discovered that the greater part of the SS had disappeared; only the machine guns on the guard towers were still manned.

The prisoners in the disinfection barracks suddenly heard, from their hidden radio receiver, appeals from the “Bavarian Action for Freedom” (Freiheitsaktion Bayern). Soldiers were told to lay down their arms. A short time later, shots and tank alarms could be heard from the town of Dachau. As the prisoners knew that fifty of their comrades from various branch detachments had escaped and were hiding in Dachau, they were full of concern and wondered what could have happened.

Not until after the liberation did they learn that these prisoners-in-hiding and some citizens of Dachau had taken the call of the “Bavarian Action for Freedom” as the signal for the occupation of the Dachau city hall. An SS unit, returning unexpectedly, forced them to give up their plan. In an exchange of shots in the city hall square, six resistance fighters were killed. The following morning, the first American tanks reached the city of Dachau.

Note that Ms. Distel wrote that “Himmler telegraphed” the order.  Arthur Haulot wrote in his diary that the order was sent by telex.  The order that is stored in the files of the International Tracing Service is a hand written order that was not signed by anyone.  We know what was written on paper, but not what was in the telegraphed message.  Note that Ms. Distel quoted the order with a different wording.

Barbara Distel might have been refering to the testimony of Bertus Gerdes at the Nuremberg IMT when she wrote:  “After the war it was revealed that the plans had, indeed, existed to kill the inmates of the concentration camp by bombs and poison.” Gerdes testified at Nuremberg that Ernst Kaltenbrunner had ordered the sub-camps at Landsberg am Lech and Mühldorf to be bombed to kill all the prisoners.  This plan was never carried out and the prisoners in these sub-camps were evacuated to the main camp.

We may never know the truth because Himmler allegedly committed suicide after he was captured by the British and the Commandant of the Dachau camp also allegedly committed suicide after he led a group of prisoners out of the Dachau main camp to a sub-camp called Schloss Itter.

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