Scrapbookpages Blog

August 5, 2012

The only Irish prisoner at Dachau (updated)

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 2:33 pm

I was recently alerted to a blog post here which shows a photo from my scrapbookpages website.  The photo below was shown on a blog post about John McGrath, the only Irish prisoner at Dachau.  I previously blogged about the Irish prisoner at Dachau here.

Prisoners marching out of the Dachau camp

There were actually two groups of prisoners who were sent toward the South Tyrol in April 1945, shortly before the Dachau camp was liberated.  The photo above shows a group of Jewish prisoners and Soviet Prisoners of War who were marched out of the camp to prevent them from escaping when the camp was liberated.  You can read about them here on my website.

There was another group of VIP prisoners at Dachau who were taken in trucks to the South Tyrol for their own safety in case there was a massacre when the camp was liberated. John McGrath was included in this group, according to Wikipedia. In the list of the prisoners on Wikipedia, John McGrath is included under the category of prisoners from the United Kingdom, which would have included Northern Ireland. There was no category for Irish prisoners.

John McGrath was listed as a Lt. Col. but was this enough to get him into the group of VIP prisoners at Dachau?

Edgar Stiller was an SS man on the staff at Dachau from 1941 to 1945.  Between 1943 and 1945, he was in charge of “special prisoners,” according to an exhibit in the bunker at the Dachau Memorial Site.

On April 26, 1945, Stiller was put in charge of the evacuation of the “special prisoners” to the South Tyrol. Stiller turned all these VIP prisoners over to Captain Payne-Best, who was one of the British prisoners in the Secret Intelligence Service.  Stiller wanted to prevent them from being executed as had allegedly been ordered by Ernst Kaltenbrunner.

But in spite of having no accusations of mistreatment against him, and saving the VIP prisoners from being executed, Edgar Stiller was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1947. He was convicted of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes and sentenced to 7 years in prison, but he was released from prison in 1950.

This quote is from the article on the blog post here:

In the summer of 1945 with the U.S. 7th army sweeping through France and Germany, the SS marched the ‘principal captives’ of Dachau, which included McGrath, to Inssbruck (sic) and then to Tyrol in Austria.

There, lodged in a hotel which had been closed for six years, McGrath and 130 other people were locked away in the bitter cold with little or no food. They were literally on the verge of death.

In an amazing turn of events, the U.S. army tracked the S.S. and the prisoners to Tyrol. Taking them completely by surprise, the U.S. took prisoner the 150 S.S. men who had guarded Dachau

From captured documents, it was revealed that McGrath’s party were not supposed to ‘fall into the hands of the Allies alive’. He had survived death yet again.

I believe that there is an error in the 2nd to last paragraph.  The SS men who had guarded Dachau did not go to the South Tyrol.  They left the Dachau camp on the night of April 28, 1945 and did not get much farther than Munich before some of them were captured by U.S. troops.

I have written on my website about the alleged plot to take the Dachau prisoners to the South Tyrol and kill them.

This quote is from my website:

 On April 26, 1945, three days before the American liberators arrived at Dachau, a transport of 1,735 Jewish prisoners left on a train bound for the mountains in southern Germany. Then another 6,887 prisoners, half of them Jews and half of them Russian POWs, were marched south toward the mountains of the South Tyrol. According to testimony given at the Nuremberg IMT, the march to the Tyrol was part of a plan, devised by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, to kill all these prisoners.

At the Nuremberg IMT, on January 2, 1946, Lt. Commander Whitney R. Harris submitted Document 3462-PS, the sworn interrogation of Bertus Gerdes, the former Gaustabsamtsleiter under the Gauleiter of Munich. This interrogation was taken in the course of an official military investigation by the U.S. Army. During the interrogation, Gerdes was ordered to state all he knew about Kaltenbrunner.

Lt. Commander Harris read part of Document 3462-PSI, beginning with the third paragraph of Page 2, as quoted below from the transcript of the Nuremberg IMT on January 2, 1946:

“Giesler told me that Kaltenbrunner was in constant touch with him because he was greatly worried about the attitude of the foreign workers and especially inmates of Concentration Camps Dachau, Mühldorf, and Landsberg, which were in the path of the approaching Allied armies. On a Tuesday in the middle of April 1945 I received a telephone call from Gauleiter Giesler asking me to be available for a conversation that night. In the course of our personal conversation that night, I was told by Giesler that he had received a directive from Obergruppenfuehrer Kaltenbrunner, by order of the Fuehrer, to work out a plan without delay for the liquidation of the concentration camp at Dachau and the two Jewish labor camps in Landsberg and Mühldorf. The directive proposed to liquidate the two Jewish labor camps at Landsberg and Mühldorf by use of the German Luftwaffe, since the construction area of these camps had previously been the targets of repeated enemy air attacks. This action received the code name of ‘Wolke A-1.'”

“I was certain that I would never let this directive be carried out. As the action Wolke A-1 should have become operational already for some time, I was literally swamped by couriers from Kaltenbrunner and moreover I was supposed to have discussed the details of the Mühldorf and Landsberg actions in detail with the two Kreisleiter concerned. The couriers, who were in most cases SS officers, usually SS Untersturmfuehrer, gave me terse and strict orders to read and initial. The orders threatened me with the most terrible punishment, including execution, if I did not comply with them. However, I could always excuse my failure to execute the plan because of bad flying weather and lack of gasoline and bombs. Therefore, Kaltenbrunner ordered that the Jews in Landsberg be marched to Dachau in order to include them in the Dachau extermination operations, and that the Mühldorf action was to be carried out by the Gestapo.

“Kaltenbrunner also ordered an operation Wolkenbrand for the Concentration Camp Dachau, which provided that the inmates of the concentration camp at Dachau were to be liquidated by poison with the exception of Aryan nationals of the Western Powers.

“Gauleiter Giesler received this order direct from Kaltenbrunner and discussed in my presence the procurement of the required amounts of poison with Dr. Harrfeld, the Gau health chief. Dr. Harrfeld promised to procure these quantities when ordered and was advised to await my further directions. As I was determined to prevent the execution of this plan in any event, I gave no further instructions to Dr. Harrfeld.

“The inmates of Landsberg had hardly been delivered at Dachau when Kaltenbrunner sent a courier declaring the Action Wolkenbrand was operational.

“I prevented the execution of the Wolfe A-1′ and ‘Wolkenbrand’ by giving Giesler the reason that the front was too close and asked him to transmit this on to Kaltenbrunner.

“Kaltenbrunner therefore issued directives in writing to Dachau to transport all Western European prisoners by truck to Switzerland and to march the remaining inmates into Tyrol, where the final liquidation of these prisoners was to take place without fail.”

Rudolf Hoess, the former Commandant of Auschwitz, testified at Nuremberg, as a defense witness for Ernst Kaltenbrunner, that he had no knowledge of a plan to destroy the Dachau camp with a bomb or with poison.

The following quote is from the Nuremberg IMT trial transcript:

DR. KAUFFMANN: It has been maintained here–and this is my last question–that the Defendant Kaltenbrunner gave the order that Dachau and two auxiliary camps were to be destroyed by bombing or with poison. I ask you, did you hear anything about this; if not, would you consider such an order possible?
HOESS: I have never heard anything about this, and I do not know anything either about an order to evacuate any camps in southern Germany, as I have already mentioned. Apart from that, I consider it quite impossible that a camp could be destroyed by this method.

On the blog post about John McGrath, there was also a photo of “the infamous Sachsenhausen camp near Frankfurt.”  Compare the first photo below to my photo of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp gatehouse at Oranienburg.

Gatehouse at Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt

The gatehouse into the Sachsenhausen camp near Oranienburg

There is a place named Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt, but I don’t think that there were two Sachsenhausen concentration camps.  Maybe there was a POW camp at Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt and the gatehouse was very similar to the gatehouse of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp at Oranienburg.

In any case, John McGrath was no ordinary prisoner at Dachau if he was included in the group of VIP prisoners that were taken to the South Tyrol.  These prisoners included men and women who were German royalty. Did Kaltenburnner really order them to be killed?


  1. “John McGrath was listed as a Lt. Col. but was this enough to get him into the group of VIP prisoners at Dachau?” I’d say so, fundamentally the Nazis operated under a ‘no rhyme nor reason’ policy. The fundamental structure of the Nazi party was of paranoia and power. The end of the regime had been in sight since the DD landings. Everyone, including the hierarchy, were covering their backsides. The allied powers, which included Britain, would exact revenge through trials; the hierarchy knew this. It’s all about psychology and saving their backsides at this stage in the war. Stiller had been in Dachau since 1941…just before liberation he decides to ‘save’ prisoners?? It’s the saving of prisoners at this stage in the war is that point that should be questioned. Anyone come forward and said ‘Stiller saved me in 1941?’ Doubt it. He was part of the ‘common plan’ to kill all Jews (therefore not only did he deserve to be prosecuted, but executed).

    I read your blogs and interesting as they are I’m getting a bit peeved at the inferrence that these people didn’t deserve to be jailed, prosecuted or executed.

    Comment by mogseyward — August 24, 2012 @ 4:10 am

    • You asked if anyone came forward and said “Stiller saved me in 1941?” Yes they did. The prisoners at Dachau said that Stiller did not commit any acts of cruelty between 1941 and 1943. From 1943 to 1945, Stiller was in charge of the privileged prisoners in the bunker who were treated exceptionally well.

      This quote is from a page on my website which I wrote in 2001:
      Begin quote:
      According to the exhibit in the day room, shown in the photograph above, there were no accusations of cruelty against Edgar Stiller by the prisoners. Stiller was on the staff from 1941 to 1943 and was put in charge of “special prisoners” between 1943 and 1945.

      On April 26, 1945, Stiller was in charge of the evacuation march of the VIP prisoners to the South Tyrol; he turned all the VIP prisoners over to Captain Payne-Best, who was one of the prisoners, to prevent them from being executed as allegedly ordered by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler.

      In spite of having no accusations of mistreatment against him, and in spite of saving the VIP prisoners from certain death, Stiller was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1947. He was convicted of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes and sentenced to 7 years in prison, but he was released in 1950.
      End Quote

      I didn’t INFER that Stiller should not have been jailed or put on trial, I IMPLIED it.

      Comment by furtherglory — August 24, 2012 @ 8:40 am

  2. Thanks for these comments and clarifications. I am by no means a WW2 historian, I will make the amendments to the article as soon as I get the chance. Best wishes.

    Comment by jaycarax — August 6, 2012 @ 1:33 am

    • You might want to check on the number of VIP prisoners who were sent to the South Tyrol. Some sources say 137 and other sources say 139. I am sure that there were more than 130 VIP prisoners. Also, some sources say the VIP prisoners were liberated by American troops and other sources say they were liberated by German soldiers. I don’t think that they were starving and near death.

      There were several British prisoners at Dachau who were NOT among the VIP prisoners. They had been sent to Dachau instead of a POW camp because they were classified as illegal combatants, not POWs. When the SS men left Dachau on the night before Dachau was liberated, they turned the camp over to the “International Committee of Dachau” which was headed by a British SOE agent who was using the name Patrick O’Leary.

      You might want to look into why John McGrath was included among the VIP prisoners instead of being just another prisoner at Dachau, as were several British SOE agents. He was apparently not classified as a POW by the Germans at the time that he was sent to Dachau.

      Comment by furtherglory — August 6, 2012 @ 6:54 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: