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December 16, 2011

What was it really like in Dachau? Ask the Jews!

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:35 am

A regular reader of this blog, who has his own blog here, recently wrote in a comment that “Dachau was THE HILTON of KZ Camps.”  Not according to the Jews who were sent to Dachau on November 10, 1938, following the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. (Pogrom is a Polish word which means an event in which ordinary citizens use violence to drive the Jews out.)

Photo on display in Dachau Museum was taken in 1936

This quote is from David Solmitz, the son of Walter Solmitz, who has written a book about his father.  You can read the full story here:

Solmitz said when his father was arrested Nov. 10, 1938, in Munich, he correctly predicted that things would get worse.

Walter Solmitz detailed that he and the 200 others in his barracks were awakened day after day at 4:45 a.m. to face hours of degradation, threats, chores, roll calls and marching. Many collapsed and suffered from frostbite. Punishment, he wrote, consisted of isolation in darkness, being hung upside down from a tree for several hours and being struck with a cane.

Walter Solmitz believed that six men in his barracks died during his six-week imprisonment. Walter Solmitz was released Dec. 21, 1938.

Walter and his wife, Elly, who was instrumental in freeing her husband, made their way to the United States and eventually to Brunswick.

Elly Solmitz was “instrumental in freeing her husband” because she arranged for the family to leave Germany. Approximately 30,00 Jewish men were arrested on the night of November 9, 1938, allegedly for their own protection, and taken to the 3 major concentration camps in Germany, including 10,911 who were brought to Dachau and held as prisoners. The majority of these Jews were released within a few weeks, after they promised to leave Germany within six months; most of them wound up in Shanghai, the only place that did not require a visa, because other countries, except Great Britain, refused to take them.

Kristallnacht was the night that German citizens smashed windows in Jewish shops and set fire to over 200 Jewish Synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic. Ninety-one people were killed during this uncontrolled riot which the police did not try to stop. That night, Hitler and his henchmen were gathered at the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer hall in Munich, celebrating the anniversary of Hitler’s attempt to take over the German government by force in 1923; Hitler’s failed Putsch had been organized at the Bürgerbräukeller.

Joseph Goebbels made a speech that night at the beer hall in which he said that he would not be surprised if the German people were so outraged by the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan that they would take the law into their own lands and attack Jewish businesses and Synagogues. Goebbels is generally credited with being the instigator of the Kristallnacht pogrom.

In anticipation of such violence against the Jews by the Nazis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had invited 32 countries to a Conference in Evian, France in July 1938 to discuss the problem of Jewish refugees. The only country which agreed to allow Jewish refugees as immigrants was the Dominican Republic; 5,000 German Jews emigrated to the Dominican Republic before the start of World War II. The American Congress refused to change the US immigration laws, passed in 1920 and 1921, to allow a higher quota of Jewish refugees from Germany to enter, although America did start filling the quota under the existing laws for the first time. The American immigration laws were finally changed in 1948 after the Jewish homeland of Israel became a reality.

According to information given at the Dachau Memorial site, some of the first Jews to be murdered at Dachau were Ernst Goldmann, Arthur Kahn, Erwin Kahn, Karl Lehrburger and Wilhelm Aron. Herbert Hunglinge committed suicide to escape the unbearable conditions in the camp.

The first Commandant of Dachau, Hilmar Wäckerle, was charged with murder for the deaths of Louis Schloss on May 16, 1933 and Dr. Alfred Strauss on May 24, 1933. Wäckerle was never put on trial, but he was dismissed from his position as Commandant and transferred to another camp.

On August 7, 1933, Felix Fechenbach, another Jewish prisoner at Dachau, died in the camp after being punished. He was a newspaper editor from Detmold.

After Wäckerle was dismissed because of his cruel punishment of the prisoners, the new Commandant, Theodor Eicke, issued a new set of rules for the camp in October 1933. The SS guards and administrators were forbidden to strike the prisoners or to punish them on their own authority. Punishment for such offenses as stealing or sabotage had to be approved by headquarters, which was at first located in Dachau, but was later moved to Oranienburg near Berlin.

According to Martin Gilbert, author of a book entitled “Holocaust”:

“News of individual Jewish deaths in Dachau continued to reach the West. On October 10 (1933) Dr. Theo Katz who had worked in the camp hospital was killed. Also in October, Dr. Albert Rosenfelder, a Jewish lawyer, disappeared while in his cell, and was never heard from again.”

According to information in a display in the bunker at the Dachau Memorial Site, Dr. Albert Rosenfelder was among the first people to be arrested by the Nazis in March 1933; he was sent to Dachau on April 13, 1933.

Dr. Rosenfelder was well known because of his involvement in a criminal court case in which the defendant, a non-Jew named Huszmann, was accused of a murder in which the motive was said to be “unnatural lust.” The murder victim was 20-year-old Helmuth Daube whose body was found in front of his home in Gladbeck, Germany in March 1928. His throat had been cut and his genitals were missing; there were wounds on both hands, and a stab wound in the abdomen, although no blood was found near the body. Huszmann was acquitted and subsequently Julius Streicher, the notorious editor of an anti-Semitic newspaper called “Der Sturmer,” made the outrageous statement that Daube’s death had been a “ritual murder” committed by Jews.

The Dachau bunker exhibit says that Dr. Rosenfelder was responsible for Streicher being sent to prison in 1929. Streicher had been convicted of “libeling the Jewish religion under Paragraph 166 of the Weimar Penal Code” and his newspaper was banned for a time. No one knows if Dr. Rosenfelder’s disappearance was the result of a revenge murder or if he escaped, or was secretly released and allowed to leave Germany.

According to an unnamed former Jewish prisoner, who had been sent to Dachau on February 4, 1938, the Jews received far worse treatment than the other prisoners in the camp. Martin Gilbert quoted from an account published in Paris in 1939, which was written by this unnamed prisoner after he was released from Dachau:

The Jewish prisoners worked in special detachments and received the hardest tasks. They were beaten at every opportunity – for instance, if the space between the barrows with which they had to walk or even run over loose flints was not correctly kept. They were overwhelmed with abusive epithets such as “Sow Jew”, “Filth Jew” and “Stink Jew”. During the working period, the non-Jewish prisoners were issued with one piece of bread at breakfast – the Jews with nothing. But the Jews were always paraded with the others to see the bread ration issued. […] When, during great heat, it was allowed to fetch water for the working detachments, it sometimes happened that the Jews were forbidden to drink.

In spite of this, the Nazis continued to release Jewish prisoners from Dachau, even though the Jews would then tell the world about the atrocities committed in the camp. According to Martin Gilbert, author of “Holocaust,” there were 15,000 Jews from Austria sent to Dachau and Buchenwald in June 1938, following the Anschluss of Germany and Austria. One of the Jews, who was in Dachau during this period and was later released, reported that “In June (1938) a Jew was brought here under suspicion of ‘race pollution’. He was so ill that we had to wheel him into camp on a wheelbarrow, and to wheel him to morning and evening roll-call, as the doctor would not put him on the sick list. In a week he was dead.”

Around 8,000 of the 30,000 Jews, who were taken into “protective custody” on Kristallnacht were allowed to enter Great Britain without a visa and thousands more went to Shanghai, where no visa was required. Altogether, more than 50,000 German Jews found safety in Britain before World War II started, including 10,000 Jewish children, who were sent on Kindertransports, according to Martin Gilbert.