This morning, having nothing better to do, I decided to check out other people’s blogs. I use wordpress to do my blog and I used their software to find other blogs. WordPress directed me to blogs that I might find interesting, based on my own history of blog posting. That’s how I found this blog post entitled Dachau and My Heavy Heart with this statement:
In truth, one concentration camp is no different from another. If there were any significant differences between Dachau and Auschwitz, it had to be the numbers who never walked out of the camps. But a death is a death; it doesn’t make it less painful for me just because the numbers are fewer in Dachau.
My first thought was to scoff at this, but then I realized that this blogger is right. The significant difference between Dachau and Auschwitz is the numbers. The first report, released by the American liberators, gave the number of deaths at Dachau as 238,000, while the first estimate of the number of deaths at Auschwitz, given by the Soviet liberators, was 4 million.
“But a death is a death,” as this blogger correctly noted. There was one big typhus epidemic at Dachau which started in December 1944 and quickly got out of control. There were two typhus epidemics at Auschwitz, but when the Soviet liberators arrived, there was no epidemic in progress. How many of the deaths at Dachau and Auschwitz were caused by typhus?
My fellow wordpress blogger wrote:
The pathway led to entrance of Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and I was really dragging my feet, dreading what was to come as I approached closer and closer to the site. Without having any part of the site in sight, I was already feeling my heart grow heavier by the second. It wasn’t going to be easy…
And it wasn’t. Truth is, there isn’t much to be seen that will really evoke strong emotions in one, but I’ve already long established the fact that my fertile imagination is probably the single major bane of my existence.
This is the difference between other bloggers and myself. I approach everything with an analytical mind, not with emotion. I’m like the character named Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory TV series — I have no emotions when comes to visiting historical sites.
The first time that I visited Dachau in 1997, the entrance to the camp was through a hole in the fence on the east side, as shown in the photo below.
The original Museum at Dachau, which was shown to visitors from 1965 until 2003, had very large dramatic photos, like the one below.
There have been a lot of changes at the Dachau Memorial Site over the years. It seems to me that the Site now panders to tourists who want to have an emotional experience when they visit.
Regarding the death statistics at Dachau, a sign that was put up outside the crematorium in 1945 said, “This area is being retained as a shrine to the 238,000 individuals who were cremated here. Please don’t destroy.” Since there were also 5,380 dead prisoners at Dachau whose bodies were buried on Leitenberg hill before the camp was liberated, this would mean that the death toll at Dachau was over 243,000. Since the total number of registered inmates at the main Dachau camp was 206,206, according to the camp records, this means that the US military claimed that there were 37,000 more deaths than the number of prisoners who were registered. Yet, there were almost 32,000 cheering survivors who greeted the American liberators.
Later, a new sign was placed at the crematorium by Phillip Auerbach, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, who had been appointed the Bavarian Commissioner for Racial, Religious and Political Persecutees and the Commissioner for Restitution. This sign read “In the years from 1933 to 1945, 238,756 people were cremated here.” The Rev. Martin Niemöller, a former prisoner at Dachau, saw this sign in November 1945 and was very upset by the high number of alleged deaths in the camp.
There were 31,951 deaths at the main Dachau camp during the 12 years that the camp was in existence, according to a report made by the International Tracing Service at Arolson, Germany in 1977. The Tracing Service is part of the International Red Cross. This report was based on death records meticulously kept by the Nazis.
Today, visitors to Dachau are told that the total number of deaths was 41,000, adding another 10,000 deaths to the official number.
Paul Berben, a prisoner in the camp, wrote a book entitled “Dachau, the Official History 1933 – 1945,” in which he stated that 2,888 prisoners had died at Dachau in January 1945, 3,977 prisoners had died in February, 3,668 had died in March and 2,625 had died in April, for a total of 13,158 in the first four months of 1945. (Paul Berben’s book is no longer the official history of Dachau.)
In the month of May 1945, an additional 2,226 Dachau prisoners died after the camp was liberated, in spite of the excellent care given to them by American military doctors. There were 196 more deaths in June before the typhus epidemic was finally stopped by the use of DDT and the vaccination of all the prisoners.
At the American Military Tribunal held at the Dachau camp in November 1945, the prosecution stated that 161, 939 prisoners had been processed through Dachau between 1940 and 1945 and that over 25,000 of them had died. According to the figures in Paul Berben’s book, the exact number of prisoners who died at Dachau during this period was 27,839.
The US Seventh Army report stated that an estimated 229,000 prisoners had been processed at Dachau since the camp opened on March 22, 1933 including around 7,000 who had arrived in the last three weeks of April, 1945. The camp records showed that 206,206 prisoners had been registered in the camp in the 12 years that Dachau was a concentration camp, but in the chaos of the last days before the camp was liberated, some prisoners were not registered.
The death statistics at Auschwitz have also been downgraded, from an initial estimate of 4 million down to 1.1 million, including 900,000 Jewish deaths. Auschwitz was a transit camp, as well as an extermination camp. The Jews who were sent to the gas chamber were not registered and neither were the prisoners who were sent to another camp, after arriving at Auschwitz. The train records have never been found, so it is impossible to know the total number of people who arrived at Auschwitz and the total number of prisoners who were gassed.