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May 14, 2011

Spielberg’s documentary “The Last Days”

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 5:22 pm

Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning documentary entitled “The Last Days” is under attack by the website  You can read here the questions that the webmaster Eric Hunt has raised about the stories told by the Hungarian Holocaust survivors in the film. Four of the Hungarians featured in the film survived Auschwitz and one was a survivor of Dachau.

The film opens with the story of Bill Basch, who survived ONE WHOLE WEEK of imprisonment in the Dachau camp.  When the film was first released in 1999, I purchased the book entitled “The Last Days” which tells the stories of the survivors in the film in great detail.  According to the book, Basch was captured while he was working in connection with Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary.  His work for Wallenberg consisted of printing and delivering the passports that Wallenberg gave to the Jews to save them from being sent to a concentration camp. But Basch was actually working with an organization of young boys who duplicated the passports and secretly handed the forged papers out to others.

After Basch was captured, he was sent on a crowded transport train to the Buchenwald camp. At Buchenwald, he volunteered to work with the “10th German Railroad Brigade,” a fancy title which the Germans gave to a group of young boys who were sent out to repair the railroad tracks just after the tracks had been bombed by Allied planes.

This quote is from Bill Basch’s story in the book “The Last Days”:

Even if we survived the Germans, we were in danger from Americans who flew reconnaissance planes to see whether their mission had been successful.  They came down quite low and could see us fixing the railroads that some fliers had risked their lives to bomb.  I think half of us were killed by the Americans.

So the Americans were killing Jews, as well as Germans, as they bombed and strafed everything in Germany to win the war?

Here is another quote from Bill Basch, which is included in the book:

I did this work (repairing the railroads) from December 1944 to March 1945, by which time there were only about forty of us left and the SS made the decision to execute us all.  But some soldiers made a deal with the SS that they would take over our group and march us into a camp (Dachau); not because they were good, but because, knowing that the war was nearly lost, they wanted us to testify that they had saved our lives.

So German soldiers feared that they would be killed by the Americans after Germany lost the war, and they needed Jews to save them by testifying that the soldiers had saved Jewish lives?

In the documentary, a photo of the “death march” OUT of Dachau, just before the Americans arrived, is claimed to be the march TO the camp by the group that Bill Basch was with.  I recognized the photo and was confused about this part of the story.

When the film was released in 1999, Bill Basch was a successful businessman in Los Angeles, CA. As the film opens, we see Bill looking out the window of a train; the scenery is the pristine landscape of Bavaria.  I have been on similar train trips and I have always marveled at the beautiful houses and farms with not a weed in sight.

Bill begins by saying that, in the last days of the war, the Germans were using scarce resources and trains to send the Hungarians to concentration camps even though Germany was losing the war.  He says that killing the Jews was more important to the Germans than winning the war.

In the documentary, there is a dramatic scene that shows Bill Basch walking with his son into the Dachau Memorial Site, through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate.  However, when this scene was filmed, there was a high wall in front of this gate and it was not possible to enter the camp this way.  Obviously, Bill and his son entered on the other side of the camp, just like the other visitors that day and then walked through the gate, turned around at the wall and walked back through the gate into the camp so that  Spielberg could film his dramatic entrance.  This is a very small point, but it illustrates how the whole film is disingenuous.  Why not show the wall and tell viewers of the film that this wall was built by the Americans who took over the Dachau camp and stayed there for 28 long years.

The documentary shows a lot of footage about the Dachau camp, even though Bill Basch was only there for around one week before the camp was liberated.  Bill is shown looking at the cremation ovens at Dachau, as he says that the burning of the bodies was “the most monstrous thing ever devised.”  There is no explanation for why the Germans devised this “monstrous thing.”  The bodies were burned as part of the effort to prevent a typhus epidemic. During World War I, there were four million people who died of typhus in Poland.  A typhus epidemic got started at Dachau in December 1944 after prisoners were brought from the camps in Poland to Dachau.  By that time, the Germans were running out of coal and could no longer burn the bodies.

Curiously, the gas chamber at Dachau is not shown, nor mentioned, in the film.  It is in the same building as the ovens. At the time that this film was made, there was a sign in the gas chamber which said in five languages that the gas chamber was never used.  Maybe the Museum director would not let Spielberg remove the sign in order to film the gas chamber.

In the film, Bill Basch shows his son the entrance to the area outside the Dachau camp where the building with the ovens is located. Wait a minute! That entrance was not there when the camp was in operation.  It was added later for the benefit of the tourists.  Did Spielberg do any research at all before shooting this film?

Basch tells his son that his job in the Dachau camp was to collect the dead bodies and deliver them to the entrance (which didn’t exist when he was a prisoner there), but he was never allowed to enter the area where the crematorium is located.  He explains that prisoners who entered this area never got out because the Nazis never allowed any witnesses to live.

So the evil Nazis killed anyone who saw the ovens?  Why?  Cremation was not a crime.

It would make sense if the Nazis killed the prisoners who saw the gas chamber, but the Dachau gas chamber is not mentioned in the documentary.  Of course, Bill Basch is totally wrong about the prisoners never being allowed into the area where the ovens are located. The bodies were shoved into the ovens by workers who were prisoners.

I was amazed to hear Bill Basch say in the documentary that  he heard the sound of machine guns on the day the Dachau camp was liberated.  He obviously heard the sound of the machine guns as the American liberators shot German soldiers who had their hands in the air.  In the film, Basch says that the Americans held guns on the guards, but didn’t kill them.  He says that the American liberators turned the guards over to the prisoners instead. A short film clip is shown in which prisoners are pulling the hair of a couple of the guards, as Basch says that the prisoners “tore them limb from limb.” The film clip stops before showing that some of the guards were beaten to death by the prisoners, which is what really happened.

I was just starting to study the Holocaust when I saw this film, and it was very confusing to me.  For example, Irene Zisblatt, one of the Hungarian survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, says that the Nazis wanted to have control over when the prisoners would die. Whenever a prisoner would commit suicide by touching the electrified barbed wire fence, the Nazis would shoot 100 prisoners in reprisal, according to Irene.  She did not explain why the Germans would waste bullets during war time when there were four gas chambers at Birkenau plus two old houses that were also used for gassing.

In the documentary, it is pointed out that the Hungarian Jews who were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau were gassed immediately upon arrival.  Just after this was mentioned, the vastness of the Birkenau camp is shown with an aerial shot of row after row of wooden barracks.  At the time that the Hungarians arrived, the camp was being expanded and more barracks were under construction.  None of the survivors of Auschwitz say anything in the film about what kind of work they did in the camp, nor even if they worked while they were there.  This was what confused me.  Why so many barracks if the prisoners were immediately gassed upon arrival, and why weren’t these survivors killed?

Dr. Josef Mengele is not mentioned in the documentary, but we are introduced to Dr. Hans Münch, a kindly looking old man who was still living when the documentary was filmed.  We are told that Dr. Münch was the head of the Clinical Institute at Auschwitz and that he did sterilization experiments on women.  A picture of Block 10 at the main Auschwitz camp is shown; this is where the experiments on women took place.

Dr. Münch said that the women were sent to the gas chamber when the experiments were completed. He explained that the experimental subjects were “secret-bearers” who could not be allowed to live because they were witnesses.

Dr. Münch says in the documentary that someone came to him and asked him to use his influence to save the subjects of the experiments from the gas chamber.  He claims that he saved some of the women by doing endless experiments on them.  Dr. Münch was put on trial after the war, but he was acquitted because he had saved his subjects from the gas chamber by continuing to experiment on them.

One of the survivors featured in the documentary is Renee Firestone who goes to the office at the Auschwitz main camp where she looks up her sister Klara in the card files.  Kindly Dr. Münch tells Renee that Klara’s file card shows “nothing important,” and “everything was good” as far as what happened to her. Klara had been given a “blood test.”

Renee found nothing in the card files on her mother because the prisoners who were sent immediately to the gas chamber were never registered.  Neither were the prisoners who were transferred to a sub-camp.  Auschwitz functioned as a transit camp, as well as a “death camp.”  Prisoners were never taken directly to a sub-camp.  Prisoners were taken by train to Auschwitz where they had a shower and their heads shaved before being sent on to a camp in Germany or to a sub-camp.  This is why there are no records of who was gassed and who was sent to another camp.

May 12, 2011

Demjanjuk convicted under the “common design” theory of guilt

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 7:12 am

I read the news of John Demjanjuk’s conviction in the New York Times here.  The most important thing about his conviction is summed up in this statement:

In the absence of specific evidence against him, the case against Mr. Demjanjuk rested on the prosecution’s charge that anyone working at the camp at the time he was there shared responsibility for its function of systematic murder.

In other words, the legal basis for charging Demjanjuk with a crime was the ex-post-facto law that was dreamed up by Lt. Col. Murray C. Bernays specifically for the Nuremberg IMT, although it was also used by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau.  This is the first time that this legal basis has been used in German courts, thus setting a precedent that can be used in future trials.

Bernays was a Lithuanian Jew who had emigrated with his family to America in 1900 when he was six years old.  Robert E. Conot wrote, in his book “Justice at Nuremberg,” that Henry Morgenthau, Jr., a Jew who was the Secretary of the Treasury and one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s top advisors, had proposed that the German war criminals should be charged and then executed without a trial. But Bernays said, “Not to try these beasts would be to miss the educational and therapeutic opportunity of our generation. They must be tried not alone for their specific aims, but for the bestiality from which these crimes sprang.”

Now 66 years after the end of World War II, Demjanjuk has been tried and convicted on the theory that he is guilty because he was allegedly THERE.  It doesn’t matter if he actually did anything wrong, he is guilty by association.   (more…)

May 11, 2011

90-year-old survivor of Dachau tells his story

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:33 am

Memories of Dachau, as told by Torbjoern Oevsttun, a 90-year-old Norwegian survivor, were written recently by a blogger and you can read his stories here.  According to another post on the blog, “Torbjoern was arrested because he was a member of the Kristian Stein organisation which was illegal, but did not carry a death sentence. They didn’t know about his other activities. If they had he would not be alive today.”  (Torbjoern was fighting illegally with the Norwegian Resistance.)

This quote from the blog tells about executions at Dachau, something that is completely new to me:

An area about a kilometre outside their (Dachau) camp, called Hermansplatz, was the place of execution.  Doomed prisoners were marched to this site daily.  A few managed to escape, but not many.  Torbjoern talked about the daily massacre of hundreds of men.  There were 400 prisoners in each barrack, measuring 10×9 metres.

When the Norwegians arrived in Dachau there were 30,000 prisoners in the camp and more arrived every day.  It looked like the Germans were determined to exterminate as many people as possible.  They began with the outermost barracks and worked their way systematically, killing 400 a day.  It sends chills down my spine when I heard Torbjoern say that their barrack was one day away from being the next target.  But that’s when the Americans arrived.  The day was 29th of April 1945.


May 10, 2011

Who was THE first American liberator to enter Dachau?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:54 am

I’m not asking who was ONE of the first American soldiers to enter Dachau on April 29, 1945; I’m asking who was THE first American to see the Dachau camp.  A few years ago, I wrote a lengthy article about this subject on my web site which you can read here.  Near the end of the article, I wrote this:

On a visit to the Dachau Memorial Site, an American Army veteran named Fletcher Thorne-Thomsen told another visitor that he was the first soldier to go inside the Dachau camp on the day that it was liberated. His story is told on this blog.

This morning, I read a news article about Thorne-Thomsen here. Here is a  quote from the article :

Thorne-Thomsen, an 88-year-old Shreveport resident, was the first American to enter the famed Dachau concentration camp in Germany during World War II. […] He was speaking about his first vision of the concentration camp, describing a trench that was 30 feet deep and as wide as a baseball field, that held numerous dead bodies. The camp also featured a crematorium and a large gas chamber.

Unfortunately, Thorne-Thomsen didn’t have a camera with him, and as far as I know, there is no photo of this huge trench filled with dead bodies.  You would think that someone who arrived later would have photographed the trench.  Where was the Army Signal Corp photographer that day?  How come no one else ever mentioned this huge trench?    (more…)

May 9, 2011

Rancho Seco nuclear power plant is now nothing but two empty towers

Filed under: California — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 6:56 pm

Empty towers at former Rancho Seco nuclear power plant

Update, May 10, 2011:  Japan has announced that they are not going to build any more nuclear power plants; you can read it here.

With all the news about the nuclear power plants in Japan being damaged by an earthquake, I am very glad that the Rancho Seco power plant in Herald, California is now nothing but two empty towers; the power plant was closed on June 7, 1989.  The Rancho Seco power plant was in operation between April 1975 and June 1989.  The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 caused protests in California about Rancho Seco, which finally resulted in it’s closure.   (more…)

The concrete bathtub at the Majdanek death camp

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:28 am

Bathtub inside the Crematorium at Majdanek death camp Photo Credit: PickledPru

This morning, I was reading an excellent article on the PickledPru blog here when I saw the photo above. This quote is from the blog post:

In Majdanek, there is a bathtub.  It was most likely used by the head of the crematorium.  After all, in a building where fires are constantly roaring is the easiest place to get hot water.  It sickened me to see this, and hear this, from the tour guide.  We all walked right up to it.  We all touched it.  We could smell the smells of the room, empty for the last sixty years, thinking of what had occurred there.

Once back in the states, at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is a replica of this bathtub.  It sits behind glass.


May 8, 2011

The War on Terror: What caused it and how did it start?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 10:10 am

I have been in shock (literally) since President Obama announced on TV a week ago that Osama bin Laden had been killed.  It has been 10 years since 9/11 and I have forgotten a lot of the details about what caused Osama to attack America and our subsequent War on Terror.  I had to look it up on the Internet and I found this explanation for the attack on America on Wiki Answers:

…. is it surprising that Bin Laden started a 10 year terror campaign to get US troops out of Saudi Arabia as a result of Saudi dissidents being tortured for opposing the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia following the carnage of the gulf war in which the US government was accused of not only massacring fleeing Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait but also air strikes that collaterally killed Iraqi children and babies in the gulf war where US bombs killed 200,000 Iraqis, destroyed 20,000 Iraqi homes, leveled schools and hospitals.


May 7, 2011

How to tell if you are having a stroke

Filed under: Health — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:08 am

In this morning’s news, I read an article here about stoke patients who call a family member or a friend, instead of calling 911, when they are having symptoms of a stroke.  According to the article, three out of four people don’t call 911.  I didn’t call 911 either when I was having a stoke.  Instead, I awakened a family member who lives with me and he rushed me to the hospital which is only a short distance from my home.  He parked illegally in the ambulance parking space and accompanied me inside, where we went past the waiting room and barged into the office of the nurse who decides who gets treatment first. As a result of having fast treatment, I have recovered completely.

I am writing about this in order to help someone else who might not know how to recognize the signs of a stroke.  You may have seen the ads on TV where a comedian tells people “If your arm is numb, use your good arm to dial 911.”  Should you dial 911 every time your arm goes numb?  Should you conclude that you are not having a stroke if your arm is not numb?  In my case, my arm was not numb and I was not feeling dizzy, which is another symptom that the comedian mentions.


May 6, 2011

Lt. Cmdr. Jack H. Taylor, America’s first Navy SEAL

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 1:06 pm

Jack Hedrick Taylor was a Navy SEAL in World War II, before there was any such thing as a Navy SEAL.  After the war, Lt. Cmdr. Taylor received a Citation for the Navy Cross which described him as “chief of the Maritime Unit, Office of Strategic Services Detachment, United States Armed Forces, in the Middle East, from September 1943 to March 1944.”

Lt. Jack Taylor, the first Navy SEAL

The following quote from his Citation for the Navy Cross describes his heroic exploits during World War II:

Lieutenant Jack Taylor, USNR, personally commanded fourteen separate sorties to the Greek and Balkan enemy-occupied coasts. This activity was carried out despite intense enemy efforts to prevent any kind of coastal traffic whatsoever. Lieutenant Taylor, through clandestine operations, deserving of the highest commendation and careful planning and skillful navigation effected numerous evacuations of intelligence agents, doctors, nurses, and downed airmen. Tons of arms, ammunition, explosives, and other military supplies were delivered to Marshal Tito and other resistance forces through the efforts of Lieutenant Taylor. For three months, at all times surrounded by enemy forces, and on three occasions forced to flee from enemy searching parties, Lieutenant Taylor and his intelligence team operated in Central Albania and transmitted by clandestine radio important information regarding enemy troop movements, supply dumps, coastal fortifications, anti-aircraft installations and other military intelligence of great value to the Allied forces. Parachuting into enemy territory on the night of 13 October 1944, with a team of three Austrian deserter-volunteers, he had personally trained and briefed, he began a secret intelligence mission to Austria. Handicapped from the very start by failure of their plane to drop radio equipment, living in constant danger of capture, and the physical and mental strain on his men, the courage and energy of Lieutenant Taylor prevailed and throughout the remainder of October and November, the mission collected target intelligence of the highest value to the Allies. On 30 November, the eve of their departure for Italy, the party was captured by the Gestapo. Through four months of imprisonment in Vienna and one month in Mauthausen prison camp, he was subjected to the customary interrogation methods of the Gestapo. During his capture, Lieutenant Taylor injured his left arm seriously. With this handicap and also being forced to exist on starvation rations and work at hard labor, he resisted all attempts to force him to divulge security …. the brilliant results of his operations have been an essential aid to the victory of Allied Arms.


May 1, 2011

New book tells about German civilians killing prisoners who were on the death march out of Dachau

Jewish prisoners and Russian POWs march out of Dachau

On April 26, 1945, three days before the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by American troops, 6,887 prisoners were marched out of the camp.  On that same day, the Commandant of Dachau, Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, left the camp with a transport of prominent Dachau prisoners bound for Schloss Itter, a sub-camp of Dachau in Austria. Also on that day, 1,759 Jewish prisoners were put on a train and evacuated out of the Dachau camp.

A new book entitled  The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide, written by Daniel Blatman, has just been published in Germany. Blatman’s book tells about German civilians killing some of the Jewish prisoners on the march out of Dachau and on other death marches.

According to an article on the Spiegel Online website, “The book addresses the broader issue of the death marches of concentration camp prisoners in 1944 and 1945, during the waning months of the war.”   (more…)

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