Scrapbookpages Blog

June 6, 2011

Polish Political prisoners at Dachau

Polish political prisoners at Dachau

In the photo above, Polish prisoners celebrate the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945. Today, most people think of Dachau as a death camp, second only to Auschwitz, where Jews were sent to be “exterminated,” but it was actually a camp that was primarily for “political prisoners” who were “Resistance fighters” during World War II. On the day that Dachau was liberated, the largest number of prisoners in the whole Dachau system, including the 123 sub-camps, were the 43,401 “political prisoners.” The majority of them were Catholic.

The “political prisoners” included Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists, and spies, but most of them were anti-Fascist resistance fighters from German-occupied countries, including France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Poland.  The largest group of “political prisoners” was from Poland.

The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army, which was released a few days after Dachau was liberated, listed the following statistics for the Dachau main camp:

Poles: 9,200; Russians: 3,900; French: 3,700; Yugoslavs: 3,200; Jews: 2,100; Czechoslovaks: 1,500; Germans: 1,000. There was also a combined total of 1,000 Belgians, Hungarians, Italians, Austrians, Greeks, etc.

Most of the Jews had only recently arrived from the Dachau sub-camps where they were sent after being brought to Germany from the death camps in Poland.  The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army was based on two days of interviews with the survivors of the camp, including the Jewish survivors who told stories about how they had been treated at Auschwitz.  Today, visitors to Dachau can rent an audio guide to the camp and listen to these stories told by Auschwitz survivors who were only at Dachau for a few days before the camp was liberated.

The official history of Dachau is now a book entitled  That was Dachau  written by Stanislav Zamecnik and published in 2002. Zamecnik was a Polish political prisoner at Dachau from 1941 to 1945.  His book has replaced the old Dachau history, written by Paul Berben, who was also a Dachau prisoner. Berben’s book told too many good things about Dachau; he did not write about the atrocities committed by the Germans, so that’s why his book had to be replaced.

Another book, entitled  Listy spod morwy (Leaves under the Mulberry Tree), written by Polish political prisoner Gustaw Morcinek and published in 1957, is quoted on one of the signs that have been put up for tourists at Dachau in recent years. Morcinek was a prisoner at Dachau from 1940 to 1945.

This quote from Leaves under the Mulberry Tree is on a sign at Dachau:

The particular hate of the SS men was vented [on the Jewish prisoners], they were beaten, hounded by dogs, starved, forced to heavy, trying work, and above all hit with rifle butts and batons until they died under the beating. If someone needed too long to die, a SS man with boots jumped on his chest, the breastbone broke with dry crackle, blood flowed out of the victim’s mouth, and then slowly the body went rigid.

Two days before Dachau was liberated, there were 128 SS men who had been imprisoned in the bunker (camp prison) for crimes committed against concentration camp prisoners; they were released and ordered to guard the camp after the regular guards fled for their lives.  The SS man who killed Jews by jumping on their chests was probably among the SS men in the wing of the bunker that was reserved for the SS men who committed such crimes.  He was probably killed during the “Dachau massacre” so we will never know his side of the story.

You can read all about Morcinek on Wikipedia here.  This quote is from Wikipedia:

In 1914 he (Morcinek) was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army and after 1918 served briefly in the Polish Army. In 1920, when Cieszyn Silesia was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia, his hometown Karviná fell to Czechoslovakia. Morcinek was a pro-Polish activist and thus decided to stay in Poland.
Morcinek spent the years 1936-1939 abroad, in Western Europe.

He returned to Poland shortly before the outbreak of World War II. Morcinek was arrested by the Gestapo on 6 September 1939.  He was initially imprisoned with Wadysaw Dworaczek and the rest of people belonging to the Polish intellectuals from Silesia.   Gustav spent the whole war in the German concentration camps Skrochowitz, Sachsenhausen, and Dachau.  The supposed reason given for his arrest was his “anti-German activity” before the war and the fact that a dog in one of his novels was called “Bismarck.” When he was in concentration camps he was given a choice to sign a Volksliste but refused.

His “anti-German activity” BEFORE the war?  How can that be?  The Poles did nothing to provoke the German invasion of Poland in 1939.  Or did they?  What exactly was his “anti-German activity”?  We will probably never know because it is now politically incorrect to mention something like that.  As far as visitors to Dachau know, Morcinek was a perfectly innocent Polish citizen who was kept, for no reason, in a concentration camp from 1939 to 1945.

But wait! Wikipedia goes on to say, in this quote, that Morcinek was actually engaging in anti-Germany activity:

Morcinek was politically active from a young age. He was an active advocate of joining whole Cieszyn Silesia to Poland. During the interwar period when he was an anti-German activist, some critics accused him of spreading hatred. After the war, he was a supporter of PZPR (Polish United Workers’ Party) and was a member of the Sejm (parliament) from Katowice electoral district (1952-1957).

When I visited Poland for the first time in 1998, my private tour guide drove me through the Polish countryside towards Auschwitz.  The scenery was the same for miles and miles, then all of a sudden, there was a change in the terrain and the look of the houses.  I remarked to my guide: “This looks a lot like Germany.”  To which she replied, “This IS Germany.”  We had just entered the territory known as Silesia.   The reason that Silesia was so important back then was because it was a region with coal and other minerals.  In fact, Morcinek had worked in a coal mine as a young man.  It was because of the coal and other minerals that he wanted Poland to have this important region.

Finally, the big day arrived: Dachau was liberated and the Polish political prisoners got their revenge.  The photo below, which hangs in the Dachau Museum, shows a Polish political prisoner preparing to beat a German to death with a shovel while American soldiers are shown in the background shooting the Germans who have just surrendered the camp. Note that this same man is shown in the photo at the top of the page.  He is the man in the middle, holding up a bottle of wine as the Polish political prisoners celebrate their liberation.

Dachau prisoners prepare to beat a German to death

The American liberators aided the Polish political prisoners at Dachau in their revenge killings by shooting the German guards in the leg so that they could not escape.  The man in the photo above appears to have been wounded in the leg.