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August 6, 2012

More about the only Irish prisoner at Dachau

I am continuing my research on John McGrath, the one and only Irish prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp.  I found this website which tells about the hotel where the 137 VIP prisoners from Dachau (including John McGrath) were liberated after they were taken out of the Dachau concentration camp on April 26, 1945 and sent to the South Tyrol.

I also found a copy of a letter which was supposedly written, by John McGrath on April 14, 1945, to Sigismund Payne Best who was also a VIP prisoner at Dachau.  The letter, which is signed “J. McGrath, Lt. Col. R.A.  P O W 1135,” is on this website.

This quote is from McGrath’s letter to Payne Best:

I am a prisoner of war. I was wounded and taken in France and in 1941 they transferred me to a Camp for Irishmen, where I was Commandant. The Germans had some wonderful schemes for all the Irish soldiers and to make a long story short I smashed it all and a number escaped. When I came to Sachsenhausen [concentration camp] I was told that I would probably be shot unless I gave information as to who assisted us from the outside, however, I sat tight and here I am.

So it seems that McGrath, who was a POW, was sent first to the “Irish camp,” then to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp because of his activities in the “Irish Camp” and finally to the Dachau concentration camp. Sigismund Payne Best was also a prisoner at Sachsenhausen before he was transferred to Dachau, but the two were not allowed to talk to each other in either of these camps.

I still don’t understand how John McGrath rated VIP status and was taken with the VIP prisoners to the South Tyrol.

You can read the list of the names of the prisoners who were taken to the South Tyrol on Wikipedia here.  In the case of Sigismund Payne Best, he was imprisoned because he was involved in “the Venlo incident” and Hitler hoped to put him on trial after the war.

In his letter to Payne Best, John McGrath was very critical of Richard Stevens, who was also involved in “the Venlow incident.” The following quote is from McGrath’s letter:

In confidence I should tell you that I have absolutely no use for the man who was taken with you, Stevens. I think that he is the biggest Rotter that I have ever heard of. It is a long story and goes back to 1941 when I was taken to Berlin on my way to the Irish Camp just outside the City. There I met a young German officer who was married to a girl in Ireland and who was at Trinity College, Dublin for 5 years. He was in the background of your case and knew everything. He was very willing to talk as his wife wished to return to Ireland to live and he wanted a job there. He knew that I was connected with a lot of companies and could probably assist him. He asked me if I knew Stevens and gave me some of the facts.

I find it strange that prisoners at Dachau could write letters to each other “in confidence,” and these letters were not censored by the staff at Dachau. Or was McGrath writing this letter in hopes that it would be read by the SS men at Dachau?

Large room in the Dachau bunker where Richard Stevens was held as a prisoner

From 1943 to 1945, the room shown in the photo above was the private prison cell of Richard Stevens, who was arrested at Venlo in Holland on November 9, 1939, along with Captain Sigismund Payne Best on a charge of conspiring to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the German government.  Both Stevens and Payne Best were initially imprisoned at Sachsenhausen, but Payne Best was supposedly transferred to Buchenwald. On April 9, 1945, Captain Payne Best was allegedly brought from Buchenwald to Dachau two days before the Buchenwald camp was liberated by American soldiers. On that very day, there was a bomb that hit the Dachau camp, killing Georg Elser, who was a prisoner in the bunker.  I previously blogged about Georg Elser, the man who tried to kill Hitler, here.

Both Richard Stevens and Payne Best were among the VIP prisoners who were taken to the South Tyrol on April 26, 1945 three days before the American liberators arrived at Dachau.

In his memoirs, Captain Payne Best said that Dr. Sigmund Rascher had confessed to him that prisoners were gassed at Dachau. He claimed that he had met Dr. Rascher at Buchenwald, but testimony at the Nuremberg IMT revealed that Dr. Rascher was held in a Munich jail before he was sent to Dachau and was never at Buchenwald. Dr. Rascher was the man who had been in charge of conducting medical experiments at Dachau for the German Air Force, before he was arrested and charged with illegally adopting children and then claiming them as his own.  I previously blogged about Dr. Rascher here.

1 Comment

  1. Sorry but Sigmund Rascher was indeed imprisoned in the Buchenwald Bunker. Not only Payne-Best states this in the “Venlo incident”, he is confirmed by the memoirs of Isa Vermehren (“Die Reise durch den letzten Akt”).
    In fact, Rascher was imprisoned in the SS-baracks in München Freimann till the end of February 1945. Then he was transfered to Buchenwald and from there via Schönberg im Bayerischen Wald to Dachau. His transfer to Buchenwald was initiated by a “Strafverfügung” which Himmler signed 14th February 1945.
    You will find a detailed description of Raschers life in my book “Der Untergang des Hauses Rascher”.
    Hubert Rehm

    Comment by Hubert Rehm — August 7, 2012 @ 8:39 am


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