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December 1, 2010

New film about the people in the town of Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:26 am

A new documentary about the people in the town of Dachau has been released by Adventure Film Productions; you can read about it here.  The title of the film, Blue Smoke at Dawn, is a reference to a statement by a “local survivor” who said this in the film:

“You could always tell whether they were burning Russians or Jews. The Russians still had fat on them and turned the smoke yellow. The Jews were skin and bones. The smoke was always blue.”

A local survivor? Why would anyone who was a prisoner at Dachau, and managed to survive, decide to settle down in the town of Dachau?  Wouldn’t a survivor try to go as far as possible, away from Dachau to live out the rest of his life?

The web site of Adventure Film Productions describes the town of Dachau:

BLUE SMOKE AT DAWN is the story of the thousands of Germans who call Dachau their home. In ignorance, fear, shame, or defiance and prosperity, they live within this chilling icon of atrocity. Dachau, “hometown to the Holocaust,” boasts the first watch tower, the first gas chamber, the first crematorium oven — twelve years of concentration camp horror.

The first gas chamber was at Dachau? The gas chamber building at the Dachau concentration camp was not finished until May 1943, but the Jews were being gassed as early as June 1942, according to the British BBC which first broke the story.

The promo for the film, on the Adventure Film Productions web site, continues with these words:

With unprecedented candor the people of Dachau speak out, exposing real German attitudes toward the Holocaust. A shopkeeper, a school teacher, a landscape artist, the mayor, the lone Jew, and many more… All reveal their personal reactions to Dachau: “We’ve become the trash can of German history,” a local teachers fumes. A priest explains why “God chose Dachau.” The mayor calls for forgiveness and reconciliation. The town’s only Jew still recoils in fear of the Third Reich, while the local McDonald’s manager hopes to make “a killing” on the death camp tourist trade. The townfolk of Dachau share their rage, their guilt, their hopes, and their memories.

The town’s only Jew?  Would that be Martin Zaidenstadt?  I blogged about him here.

Few people who visit the Dachau Memorial Site ever go to see the town.  When I went to the town in 2001, there was not much to see, concerning the Holocaust, which is all that anyone cares about now.

On the wall of the passageway through the new town hall in Dachau are two plaques in honor of the Jews of Dachau, but that’s all.

The first plaque, shown in the photograph below, refers to Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against the Jews which started on the night of November 9, 1938.

Two plaques in honor of the Jews at the new town hall in Dachau

Although there was no rioting in the town of Dachau on Kristallnacht, and Dachau had no synagogue that could have been burned, the 12 Jewish residents in the town were all visited by Nazi officials on the night of November 10, 1938 and ordered to leave town before sunrise or risk imprisonment in a concentration camp.

In the following days, there were 30,000 Jewish men throughout Germany and Austria who were rounded up and taken to the three major concentration camps, including 10,911 who were incarcerated in the Dachau camp, until they promised to leave Germany, along with their families.

The second plaque, in the photo above, gives the names of 5 of the 12 Jews of Dachau who didn’t leave Germany, and later died in the Nazi death camps. The names, which are inscribed on the plaque are Julius Kohn, Max Wallach, Melly Wallach, Hans Neumeyer, and Vera Neumeyer. One other Jewish resident whose name was on the list of Jews to be expelled from Dachau was Alice Jaffe who had already moved from Dachau the year before. She also died in the Holocaust but her place of death is unknown. Julius Kohn and the Wallachs went to Berlin after they were expelled. They were later sent to Auschwitz where they died. Hans Neumeyer died in the Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic; his wife’s place of death is unknown.

Dachau is a historic town which dates back 1200 years, but who cares about that today? The two things that impressed me the most about the town of Dachau were the Old Cemetery and the Teufelhart bakery, which I will tell you about later.

The Old Cemetery impressed me because all the names on the tombstones were German names.  This cemetery dates back to the days when the German people had their own country and Germany was not multi-cultural.  There is also a new cemetery in Dachau, called Waldfriedhof, where the German residents were forced to bury some of the bodies of  the prisoners who died AFTER the Dachau camp was liberated.  When I visited Waldfriedhof, there were no visitors in the prisoner section, except me.

Traditional German grave stones at Waldfriedhof

Jewish monument in prisoner section of Waldfriedhof

The Chapel shown in the photos below is inside the Altfriedhof, which means Old Cemetery in German. The cemetery is located on Gottesackerstrasse, which is just off Augsbergerstrasse, one of the two main streets in the town. Gottersacker means “God’s own acre.” This cemetery was started in 1571 after the original cemetery in the churchyard of St. Jakob’s Church was filled up.

Chapel in Old Cemetery in Dachau

Interior of Chapel in the Old Cemetery

The beautiful Baroque chapel, called the Chapel of the Holy Cross, was built here between 1627-1628. This Chapel was dedicated in 1961 to Dachau’s war dead. The first photograph above shows the Chapel with graves in front of it.

The second photo above shows the interior of the Chapel. Notice the names on the walls on both sides under the windows. These are the names of German soldiers from Dachau who were killed in the two World Wars.  (Dachau was a small town of only 13,000 people during World War II.)

Graves in cemetery in Dachau

German cemeteries are very impressive. Each grave looks like a miniature garden with flowers and low shrubs planted over the burial site. Relatives of the deceased lovingly tend to these graves, watering and weeding regularly, not just on Memorial Day. Fresh flowers decorate many of the graves, mingling with the plants and other decorations.

German cemeteries are always beautifully maintained. You will not find a “faded leaf or blighted blossom” anywhere among the graves. It is common in German cemeteries to bury the dead on top of older graves, so you won’t see any graves from the 16th century. There are, however, graves with dates going back to the 1800ies. Some of Dachau’s famous artists are buried in the old cemetery, including Hermann Stockmann.

History buffs will be interested in the grave shown in the photograph below. This is the final resting place of four men of the Freikorps Görlitz, a militia group which fought the Red Army of the Communists. The names on the grave stone shown below are 2nd Lieutenant Bertram, Muskateer Labuke, Private Hauk, and Gunner Hilbig. They were killed near the village of Pellheim, just outside the town of Dachau, on April 30, 1919. They were engaged in a battle against the Communists who had set up a Soviet government in the state of Bavaria, after overthrowing the imperial Bavarian government, under their Jewish leader Kurt Eisner, on November 7, 1918.

Grave of German Freikorps soldiers who fought the Communists in 1919

Many of the men who later became top Nazi leaders fought with other divisions of the Freikorp, including Heinrich Himmler, the man who set up the first concentration camp at Dachau. The first 200 prisoners brought to the Dachau camp on March 22, 1933 were Communists who had been taken into “protective custody” because they were considered to be “enemies of the state.”

The memorial stone, shown in the photo above,  for the men who died while liberating Dachau from the Communists in 1919, was set in place on April 29, 1934. Ironically, on this same date eleven years later, the American Seventh Army liberated Russian prisoners at Dachau, who were America’s Communist allies, along with  the Communist Resistance fighters, who were the majority of the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau.

Grave of Georg Scherer

The photograph above shows the grave of Georg Scherer, a Dachau resident who was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp for five years. After the war, Scherer was elected Mayor of Dachau. Scherer was sent to the Dachau camp on December 22, 1935 because of his anti-Nazi resistance activity, but was released on January 17, 1941. As a prisoner, Georg was living at the same place where he had served an apprenticeship as a lathe operator in 1921 at the German Industrial Works which was located on the site of the former gunpowder factory that became the location of the Dachau camp.

After he was released from the Dachau camp, Scherer continued to work in a factory in the SS camp, right next to the concentration camp. The day before American Soldiers arrived in Dachau, Georg led the Dachau Uprising in which residents of the town joined escaped prisoners in fighting against the SS soldiers. Another prisoner, Walter Neff, also remained at the camp after his release, working as an assistant to Dr. Rascher in his medical experiments. Neff also participated in helping the Dachau prisoners to escape and in planning the uprising.

In case the reader is getting bored with all this, let me make my point right now, so you can skip the rest of this post.  The point is that the town of Dachau has a rich history that goes back 1200 years to when Dachau was a wide place in the road, at the intersection of three roads: the road to Munich, the road to Augsberg and the road to Freising.

Fortunately, the town of Dachau was one of the few towns in Germany that was not destroyed by bombs.  The history of Dachau is intact, but now that history is completely ignored while a million visitors each year go to the Memorial Site at the former Dachau concentration camp.  The people who live in the town have the right to be upset about the fact that their town is now known only as the former location of a concentration camp.

The location of the Freisinger gate into Dachau

Painting of Dachau before it was a village

Painting of a Cattle Market in the village of Dachau

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

The building in the photo below is the Teufelhart bakery. Like the old town hall, which occupies the same spot where the town hall of Dachau has stood for 500 years, the Teufelhart Bakery stands on a site where there has been a bakery for 500 years. In other words, German bakers were making rye bread on this spot long before any European people had ever settled in America. During World War II, the Teufelhart Bakery was one of two bakeries which supplied the Dachau concentration camp with bread; the other was the Bielmeier bakery.

Teufelhart bakery in the town of Dachau

The building at Augsburgerstrasse 8, shown in the photo above, has been owned by the Teufelhart family since 1873. Willy and Marina Teufelhart were the owners of the bakery and cafe when I visited Dachau in May 2001.

The old town hall in Dachau

Close-up of the red fountain in front of the Dachau town hall

The pink-colored old town hall, shown in the photograph above, is a reconstruction completed in 1936. It replaces the previous town hall which was a 1614 reconstruction of the original town hall that had been on this same spot since at least 1486. The Baroque gable is a reproduction of the the one on the previous town hall, built in the years 1614 to 1615.

The red marble fountain in front of the old town hall was designed in 1915 by a Dachau artist named Ignatius Taschner. Taschner used to hang out at the Zieglerbräu with his great friend Ludwig Thoma, a well-known writer who lived in Dachau from 1894 to 1897. The red fountain was erected in 1915 to replace the former town fountain which was moved to the corner of Wieningerstrasse and Freisingerstrasse. That section of Freisingerstrasse is now called Konrad-Adenauer-Strasse.

The close-up of the tall column of the fountain shows the carved figures of men and women wearing the traditional dress of Dachau. One can see a display of these regional folk costumes at the District Museum which is on Augsburgerstrasse, only a few short steps from this fountain.