As the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945 comes closer, I expect that there will be a lot of blog posts, such as this one, written by people who have visited the Memorial Site, who will ask why the residents of the town of Dachau did not rise up and liberate the death camp that was right in their back yards. Why didn’t the citizens of Dachau try to stop the gassing, torture, starvation and humiliation of the Jews in the concentration camp?
The citizens of Dachau could drive past the wall around the camp, which faced Alte Römerstrasse, and see the guard towers shown in the photo below.
In today’s world, even the murder of one innocent minority person is cause for a mass protest, as in the Trayvon Martin case. Why didn’t the citizens of Dachau protest when the first Nazi concentration camp was opened at Dachau in March 1933?
I wanted to know the answer to this question myself, so in 2001, I went to the town of Dachau and stayed there for a whole week.
Before the Dachau camp was opened in its present location, prisoners were rounded up and put into temporary prisons set up in many cities in Germany. The building shown in the photo below was where political prisoners, who opposed the Nazis, were rounded up in March 1933 and housed in the town of Dachau before the Dachau camp opened.
This was way back in 1933, when there were 12 Jews still living in the town of Dachau. Why didn’t the Jews in the town lead a protest march?
As the saying goes, you had to be there in order to understand why the citizens of Dachau didn’t protest the round-up of political prisoners in Germany.
On March 20, 1933, just eleven days after becoming Munich’s Chief of Police, Heinrich Himmler called a press conference to announce the establishment of the Dachau concentration camp. The concept of a concentration camp was invented by the British during the Boer war. The German people had never heard of such a thing, so why should they protest?
The next day the press announced: “On Wednesday, the first concentration camp, with a capacity of 5000, will be established in the neighborhood of Dachau. Here all Communist party officials, and as far as the security of the State requires, those of the “Reichsbanner” (uniformed wing of the Social Democratic party for purposes of self-protection) and of the Social Democrats will be interned…”
Heinrich Himmler was acting under his authority as the Chief of Police in Munich. Most people know that Himmler was the Reichsführer-SS. Chief of the Munich Police was his second job. This requires some explanation, so bear with me.
The beige building on the left in the photograph above houses various government offices in the town of Dachau. This building’s historical significance relates to the take-over of the town on March 9, 1933 when the Nazis seized control of all the state and local governments in Germany after gaining control of the federal government in Germany’s last Congressional election on May 5, 1933. All state and local offices in Germany had to be supervised now by a member of the Nazi party. Heinrich Himmler was given the job of supervising the Munich Police.
On that day, March 9, 1933, SA and SS troops marched into the town of Dachau and hoisted the party flag of the Nazis with its swastika emblem over the beige building, which was the District Administration Building. A Nazi flag was also put on the Old Town Hall, which is shown in the previous photo above. The people of the town didn’t protest because they thought of Hitler and the Nazis as their saviors from the Communists, whom they thought to be much worse.
The Nazi take-over of Germany was the culmination of a chain of events that began with a fire on the night of February 27, 1933 which burned the Congressional building, called the Reichstag. The day after the fire, a “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State” was announced by German President Paul von Hindenberg. This document suspended the seven sections of the Weimar Constitution which guaranteed the civil rights of the German people. The decree also ended state’s rights with the statement that “if in any German state, the measures necessary for the restoration of public security and order are not taken, the Reich government may temporarily take over the powers of the supreme authority in such a state in order to restore security.” Although intended to be an emergency measure, the decree was never rescinded. (Many people believe that the burning of the Reichstag was a “false flag” operation, perpetrated by the Nazis themselves, so that they would have an excuse to take over the country.)
Why didn’t the citizens of Dachau rise up and immediately protest the Nazi take-over of the town on March 9, 1933? As I said before, you had to be there. The photo below tells the story.
The grave shown in the photograph above is the final resting place of four men of the Freikorps Görlitz, a militia group which fought the Red Army of the Communists in 1919. The names on the grave stone shown above are 2nd Lieutenant Bertram, Muskateer Labuke, Private Hauk, and Gunner Hilbig. They were killed near the village of Pellheim, just outside the town of Dachau, on April 30, 1919. They were engaged in a battle against the Communists who had set up a Soviet government in the state of Bavaria, after overthrowing the imperial government, under their Jewish leader Kurt Eisner, on November 7, 1918.
The memorial stone for the men who died while liberating Dachau from the Communists was set in place on April 29, 1934. Ironically, on this same date, eleven years later, the American Seventh Army liberated the political prisoners, who were their Communist allies, from the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau.
Many of the men who later became top Nazi leaders fought with other divisions of the Freikorp, including Heinrich Himmler. Born in 1900, Himmler was too young to join the German army in World War I, but he did fight with the Freikorps in their defeat of the Bavarian Soviet Republic.
Bavaria was the largest of the German states. What would Americans have done if Texas had been taken over by Communists, led by a Jew, and turned into a Soviet State?
The first 200 prisoners brought to the Dachau camp on March 22, 1933 were Communists who had been taken into “protective custody” because they were considered to be “enemies of the state.”
But I digress. To get back to the story of Dachau, 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. On August 7, 1933, Felix Fechenbach, another Jewish prisoner at Dachau, died in the camp after being punished. This was the point when the 12 Jews living in the town should have started a formal protest and shut down the Dachau camp.
Wäckerle was never put on trial, but he was dismissed from his position as Commandant and transferred to another camp.
After Wäckerle was dismissed because his severe punishment of the prisoners had resulted in several deaths, 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. (more…)