I previously blogged here about an Irishman who was allegedly a prisoner in the Dachau concentration camp. It turns out that I was wrong in assuming that the Irish prisoner was a British SOE agent who was using the code name Patrick O’Leary. A reader who commented on that blog post yesterday wrote that there was another Irishman who was at Dachau, but so far I have not been able to find out his name.
The reader mentioned in his comment that there were a lot of prisoners brought to Dachau in the last months before the camp was liberated. In fact, there were 7,000 prisoners who arrived in the last days who were not registered.
The Irish have recently become involved in Holocaust lore. There was a Holocaust exhibit in Dublin, which ended on December 17th. You can read about the exhibit here. I blogged about the exhibit here.
The reader included in his comment a link to this article in an Irish newspaper. Here is a quote from the article:
It is known that 10 were arrested, tried and later sent to prison, a labour camp or a concentration camp. Four Irish women were caught and ended up in Ravensbrück. They were Mary Cummins (Belgian Resistance), Catherine Crean, Sr Katherine Anne McCarthy and Sr Agnes Flanagan. Crean died shortly after the camp was liberated in 1945.
Six men were arrested and sent to various camps. Of these, two simply disappeared from the record while another two (Robert Armstrong and Robert Vernon) are known to have been executed by the Germans in 1944 and 1945 respectively.
The Natzweiler camp in Alsace was one of the camps where French Resistance fighters were sent; they were transferred to Dachau in September 1944. Among them was Patrick O’Leary. There could have been a real Irishman in the group that was transferred from Natzweiler.
In the quote from the news article, it is mentioned that “two simply disappeared from the record.” There were a lot of prisoners sent to the concentration camps who “simply disappeared from the record.” They were called “Nacht und Nebel” prisoners because they were made to disappear into the “Night and Fog” which was a term used by Goethe. This was a practice used by the Germans to discourage people from joining the Resistance because Resistance fighters could simply disappear and their families would never hear of them again.
In World War II, it was legal, under the Geneva Convention of 1929, to execute illegal combatants, aka resistance fighters, but instead of doing this, in most cases, the French Resistance fighters were designated as NN prisoners and sent to concentration camps. General Wilhelm Keitel was one of the ten German war criminals who were executed after being convicted at the Nuremberg IMT. One of his crimes was that he had signed the “Nacht und Nebel” decree. According to the Allies, it was a war crime to make people disappear instead of legally executing them. In any case, there is a good chance that the Irish prisoner at Dachau was originally sent to Natzweiler as an NN prisoner and later transferred to Dachau, where his name may not have been recorded because he was an NN prisoner.
After World War II, the Allies made up ex post facto laws (laws after the fact) under which the German war criminals were charged. One of these new laws, that was used by the American Military Tribunals, was the charge of putting Resistance fighters into a concentration camp instead of a Prisoner of War camp where they would have received better treatment. So it was a crime to put Resistance fighters into a concentration camp and keep them alive, in lieu of executing them legally.
During the proceedings of the American Military Tribunals, which were held at the Dachau camp, the defense lawyers were not allowed to mention that the Allies had committed similar acts. If there was any mention of war crimes by the Allies, it was promptly stricken from the record.
In America, 8 captured German saboteurs were sentenced to death and 6 of them were executed in the electric chair. The other two death sentences were reduced to prison sentences after the Germans turned against their country and cooperated with the Americans. Although the 8 Germans had been caught before they had the opportunity to commit any acts of sabotage, 6 of them were executed because they had violated the Laws of War by going behind enemy lines to commit hostile acts without being in uniform. This was the same thing that the French Resistance fighters had done, but the Germans allowed most of them to live.
During World War II, the British executed 15 German spies. The last person to be executed at the famous Tower of London was Josef Jacobs who was captured after he broke his leg during a parachute jump. He was shot on August 15, 1941. Again, he had not been able to commit any acts of sabotage, but he was executed anyway.
The French resistance fighters blew up bridges, derailed trains, directed the British in the bombing of German troop trains, kidnapped and killed German army officers, and ambushed German troops. They took no prisoners, but rather killed any German soldiers who surrendered to them, sometimes mutilating their bodies for good measure. The Nazis referred to them as “terrorists.”
Here are a couple of stories about French Resistance fighters, who lived to brag about their exploits:
Henri Rosencher was a medical student and a Communist member of the Maquis, one of the French Resistance groups. After the war, he wrote a book entitled Le Sel, la cendre, la flamme (Salt, Ash, Fire) in which he described his work as an explosives expert. He was captured and sent to Natzweiler, then transferred to Dachau where he was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945.
The following is a quote from Rosencher’s book, which describes a typical Maquis resistance action which resulted in the death by suffocation of 500 German Wehrmacht soldiers:
On the morning of the 17th of June, I arrived in the area of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, the “maquis” [zone of resistance] under the command of Commander Terrasson. They were waiting for me and took me off by car. The job at hand was mining a tunnel through which the Germans were expected to pass by train. The Rail resistance network had provided all the details. My only role was as advisor on explosives. TNT (Trinitrotoluene – a very powerful explosive) and plastic charges were going to collapse the mountain, sealing off the tunnel at both ends and its air shaft. When I got there, all the ground work was done. I only had to specify how much of the explosive was necessary, and where to put it. I checked the bickfords, primers, detonators, and crayons de mise à feu. We stationed our three teams and made sure that they could communicate with each other. I settled into the bushes with the team for the tunnel’s entrance. And we waited. Toward three p.m., we could hear the train coming. At the front came a platform car, with nothing on it, to be sacrificed to any mines that might be on the tracks, then a car with tools for repairs, and then an armored fortress car. Then came the cars over-stuffed with men in verdi-gris uniforms, and another armored car. The train entered the tunnel and after it had fully disappeared into it, we waited another minute before setting off the charge. Boulders collapsed and cascaded in a thunderous burst; a huge mass completely covered the entrance. Right after that, we heard one, then two huge explosions. The train has been taken prisoner. The 500 “feldgraus” inside weren’t about to leave, and the railway was blocked for a long, long time.
Feldgrau means field gray in English. This was a nickname for German Wehrmacht soldiers who fought honorably on the battlefield. In spite of the fact that this resistance fighter had helped to kill 500 soldiers, he was allowed to live and write a book about his illegal activity in war time. Rosencher was not Irish; he was Jewish.
Another Jewish hero of the French resistance is Andre Scheinmann, who emigrated to the United States in 1953. Together with Diana Mara Henry, he has written a book entitled “I Am Andre: World War II Memoirs of a Spy in France.”
Andre’s family had escaped to France in 1938 after the Nazi pogrom known as Kristallnacht. His parents were sent to Auschwitz during the German occupation of France. Andre had been a soldier in the French Army and was a Prisoner of War when France surrendered; he escaped and joined the French Resistance. There were 40,000 French men and women who collaborated with the Germans, and Andre pretended to be one of them; he became an interpreter for the Germans for the French national railroad. The Nazis never suspected that he was in the French Resistance and that he was Jewish; he was given the job of overseeing the rail system in the Brittany region of France.
As a member of the French underground, second in command of a network of 300 spies, Scheinmann’s job was in intelligence, but he also engaged in sabotage. His resistance network gathered information on German troop movements and reported weekly to the British. The information that they supplied was invaluable to the British Air Force in bombing German troop trains. Scheinmann and his compatriots also blew up trains, killing contingents of German soldiers.
Scheinmann was eventually arrested by the German Gestapo; he spent eleven months in a Paris Gestapo prison before he was sent in July 1943 to Natzweiler as a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner. He disappeared into the Night and Fog of the Nazi concentration camp system, where he was not allowed to communicate with anyone on the outside. At Natzweiler, he was given a cushy job working in the weaving workshop, and because of his ability to speak German, he was made a Kapo with the authority to supervise other prisoners.
Along with many other well-known French resistance fighters, he was evacuated from Natzweiler to Dachau and released by the American liberators. He joined the FFI and remained a soldier in the French military even after the war ended. As a hero of the resistance, he was awarded the Legion of Honor, the Medal of Resistance and the Medal of the Camps by the French government.
These two examples of French Resistance fighters might be similar to the story of the Irish hero who was a prisoner at Dachau.