Scrapbookpages Blog

May 19, 2013

Did a 62-year-old nun with a slegdehammer really make an opening in a guard tower at Dachau for a door into a nunnery?

Earlier today, I wrote a long comment on my blog about a blog post written by another blogger.  My new post today is a continuation of my criticism of what my fellow blogger wrote. I am writing about how the Carmelite convent, just outside of the Dachau Memorial Site, was built.

A Catholic convent was built just outside the north wall of the Dachau camp

A Catholic convent was built just outside the north wall of the Dachau camp

The Carmelite Convent, called Karmel Heilig-Blut, was designed by Josef Wiedemann, the same architect who designed the Catholic Church and its bell tower. The foundation stone was laid by Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a former inmate in the camp, at a ceremony on April 28, 1963. The spot where the convent was built was formerly a pond that was filled with gravel when the Nazis rebuilt the camp in 1937. Construction started in August 1963 and the finished convent was dedicated on November 22, 1964.

This quote is from the blog post which you can read in full here:

To leave things on a slightly less depressing note (although I feel like a post about Dachau is allowed–nay, expected–to be a downer), in the years since the war, a convent has been built adjacent to the camp grounds.The sisters wanted the entrance gate to the convent to be through one of the old guard towers at the far end of the camp, near the various religious monuments, but the Powers That Be (the earthly ones, I mean) kept saying no. “The problem was solved,” our guide told us, “by a sixty-two-year-old nun with a sledgehammer”–thus confirming my belief in the inherent badassery of nuns everywhere. The power of Christ compels you, indeed.

No legal action was taken against the nun; a group of Roma people (gypsies) backed her up and lent their support to the convent’s unorthodox building plans. And the gate to the convent remains there (after a bit of touching up…sledgehammer holes aren’t that pretty) to this day, a symbol that Dachau is no longer an enclosed prison, but an open memorial site.

There may have been a nun wielding a sledgehammer, but I am guessing that the nun was allowed to make the first hole in a guard tower at Dachau, in a symbolic ceremony in 1963, when one of the original guard towers at Dachau was remodeled to make an entrance into the Catholic convent.

Entrance into the convent is through a guard tower

Entrance into the convent is through a guard tower

After Dachau was liberated, the “Powers That Be” were the members of the International Committee of Dachau which is still, to this day, in charge of the Dachau Memorial Site.  Just before the acting Commandant, Martin Gottfried Weiss, left the Dachau camp in April 1945, when the American liberators were on their way, he turned the camp over to this Committee, which was headed by Albert Guérisse, a British SOE agent who had been imprisoned at Dachau because he was an illegal combatant, aiding the French Resistance.

The man in charge of the construction of a convent at Dachau was Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler. As a former inmate in the Dachau camp, he headed the projects to build both the convent and the Church of the Mortal Agony of Christ, which was the very first memorial built at Dachau.

When the American liberators arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945, the majority of the prisoners in the camp were Polish Catholics. According to the US Army census, there were 2,539 Jews in the camp, most of them having arrived in the last days and weeks of the war, after being evacuated from other camps.

A Catholic church was the first memorial built at Dachau

A Catholic church was the first memorial built at Dachau

The name of the Catholic chapel at Dachau is Todeangst Christi. It is usually translated in English as “Mortal Agony of Christ” although the literal translation of the German title would be “Christ’s Mortal Anxiety.” The church was built in 1960 at the instigation of Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a former inmate of the camp who became a Bishop in Munich after the war. Neuhäusler had been arrested in 1941 for breaking one of the laws of the Nazi government by publicly reading the critical writings of Cardinal Faulhaber, who opposed the Nazi regime. He was first taken to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for political prisoners near Berlin and then transferred to Dachau a few months later.

The guard towers at Dachau were torn down after the camp was liberated; the guard towers that you see there today are reconstructions, except for the guard tower which has a door into the Catholic convent, which is the only original tower.

When the Dachau concentration camp was in operation, there were no doors into the guard towers from inside the camp, since this would have allowed the prisoners to break into the towers and kill the guards.

Door into the Catholic Convent at Dachau is through a guard tower

Door into the Catholic Convent at Dachau is through a guard tower

The guard tower, which is now an entrance to the Catholic convent, had to be remodeled to make a door from the Dachau Memorial Site into the convent.  There may have been a ceremony when this door was created.  I can see Neuhäusler handing a sledgehammer to the oldest nun and giving her the honor of making the first blow in the construction of  a new door into the guard tower.

The Jewish Memorial at Dachau was not built until 1967.  It is very close to the Catholic convent, and the Jews have complained about the tiny cross on the convent building, but the cross is still there.

Jewish Memorial at Dachau is very close to the Catholic convent

Jewish Memorial at Dachau is very close to the Catholic convent

Tiny cross on Catholic convent offends the Jews

Tiny cross on Catholic convent offends the Jews

Note the contrast between the Catholic convent and the Jewish Memorial. One is dark and ominous, and the other is light and welcoming.

The Dachau Memorial site has turned into a memorial to the Jews.  Tourists go there to pay their respects to the Jews who died in the Holocaust.  The fact that Dachau was a camp mainly for political prisoners, who were predominantly Catholic, has been completely lost.  The former shower room at Dachau is now explained away as a place where the Nazis tested gassing methods.  The gas chamber is the linchpin of the Holocaust and you can’t have a Memorial to the Jews without a gas chamber.

Dachau tour guides who tell lies should be thrown into prison for 5 years

Before you say that Dachau tour guides don’t tell lies, read this quote from another blog:

One thing I didn’t realize was that the [Dachau] camp wasn’t immediately emptied and shut down following the end of the war. Dachau was a refugee camp until the 1960s. This is so hard for me to wrap my head around–how people had to live in the same camp under still-horrible conditions even after the war was over. Obviously the Nazis were no longer there killing and torturing them, but these people were forced to live in the same barracks where they’d been starved and exposed to the most unhygienic, unhealthy, uncomfortable conditions…and they were still encountering a lot of the same food shortages and unsanitary living conditions. Every day they looked out into the square where the Nazis had lined them up and, guns in hand, told them that they were subhuman. They lived a stone’s throw away from mass graves containing the ashes and bodies of family members and friends, and every day they passed the places where they had been tortured and their loved ones killed.

Did a Dachau tour guide really tell a group of American tourists that the “refugees,” who lived in the Dachau barracks until they were thrown out in 1965, were former prisoners in the camp?  Or did the blogger misunderstand what the tour guide was saying?

The truth is that the “refugees” who lived in the former Dachau camp for 17 years were ethnic Germans who had been expelled from Czechoslovakia. They had been forced to walk to Germany and try to find housing in a war-torn country where every city had been bombed.  They were the lucky ones; these expellees had manged to make it to Germany without being burned alive by the Czechs who drove them out.  I previously blogged about the expellees here.

The guidebooks that were being sold at Dachau, on my many visits there, did not mention the ethnic German expellees.  The German people don’t dwell on their suffering during and after World War II.  No one wants to hear their story.  Today, Dachau is all about the Jews, even though Dachau was not primarily a camp for Jews.

This is another quote from the blog post which you can read in full here:

I can’t tell every story I heard on my tour–they were nearly all horrifying, appalling reminders of what human beings are capable of. It’s enough to say, in a fairly family-friendly blog, that thousands of people were tortured for no reason other than the amusement of their captors. That the Nazis would keep prisoners locked in tiny cells for months at a time–or even a year–only to take them outside in to the sun, blind them, and shoot them. To put it another way: the Nazis would invest the time and expense in keeping someone alive for a year knowing full well that they were going to kill them. They weren’t murdering people to spare the expense of keeping them imprisoned. They weren’t killing them in the heat of battle. They weren’t even doing it for ideology anymore. They were doing it for fun. The idea that people like that have existed at all on this planet is terrifying, but to remember that they were in positions of power–and that they held these positions a mere sixty-odd years ago–is truly chilling.   [….]

I have deduced that the blogger is referring to the bunker at Dachau, the prison within the prison, where the VIP prisoners like the Reverend Martin Niemoeller were held.  These prisoners had small private cells, with a toilet and wash basin, but they did not have to stay in their cells 24/7; they could walk around outside and even receive visitors.  They could read books and one prisoner had a musical instrument.

One wing of the bunker had prison cells for Dachau guards who had abused the prisoners in the camp.  Shortly before Dachau was liberated, there were 128 prisoners in this wing, who were released so that they could assist with the surrender of the camp.

Did this blogger misunderstand what the tour guide was saying?  The bunker was used by the American occupation after the war to imprison alleged German war criminals, with 5 men in each cell that was intended for one person.

Or did a Dachau tour guide really say that thousands of people were tortured at Dachau for the amusement of their captors and that prisoners were killed at Dachau for “fun.”

There were several SS men, imprisoned by the Allies at Dachau, who testified under oath in court that they were tortured to force them to admit to crimes that they had not committed.

The following testimony was given at the American Military Tribunal by Johann Kick, the head of the political department at Dachau. Kick was convicted, sentenced to death and executed for his alleged torture of the Dachau prisoners.

Q: … will you describe to the court the treatment that you received prior to your first interrogation anyplace?

(Prosecution objection as to whether beating received on the 6th of May could be relevant to confession signed on the 5th of November).

Q: … Kick, did the treatment you received immediately following your arrest have any influence whatever on the statements that you made on the 5th of November?

A: … The treatment at that time influenced this testimony to that extent, that I did not dare to refuse to sign, in spite of the fact that it did not contain the testimony which I gave.

Q: Now, Kick, for the court, will you describe the treatment which you received immediately following your arrest?

A: I ask to refuse to answer this question here in public.

President: The court desires to have the defendant answer the question.

A: I was here in Dachau from the 6th to the 15th of May, under arrest; during this time I was beaten all during the day and night… kicked… I had to stand to attention for hours; I had to kneel down on sharp objects or square objects; I had to stand under the lamp for hours and look into the light, at which time I was also beaten and kicked; as a result of this treatment my arm was paralyzed for about 8 to 10 weeks; only beginning with my transfer to Augsberg, this treatment stopped.

Q: What were you beaten with?

A: With all kinds of objects.

Q: Describe them, please.

A: With whips, with lashing whips, with rifle butts, pistol butts, and pistol barrels, and with hands and fists.

Q: And that continued daily over a period of what time?

A: From the morning of the 7th of May until the morning of the 15th of May.

Q: Kick, why did you hesitate to give that testimony?

A: If the court hadn’t decided I should talk about it, I wouldn’t have said anything about it today.

Q: Would you describe the people who administered these beatings to you?

A: I can only say that they were persons who were wearing the United States uniform and I can’t describe them any better.

Q: And as a result of those beatings when Lt. Guth called you in, what was your frame of mind?

A: I had to presume that if I were to refuse to sign I would be subjected to a similar treatment.

The blogger’s description of the Dachau gas chamber and its use is absolutely mind boggling.  If you don’t know anything about the Dachau gas chamber, you can read about it on my website here.

This quote is the blogger’s description of the gas chamber:

There was however, one thing that triggered a gut reaction of sheer fear and despair, and that was the gas chamber. Dachau did not use gas chambers in the same way as many other camps; it was in fact a testing facility to determine the best, most efficient way to kill the most people. (I hate that I had to type that sentence. I hate that there were–and still are– people whose horrible actions gave me a reason to type it.) The Nazis tested a number of variables in the gas chambers at Dachau–how much poison? Should it be pumped in as gas or sprinkled on the floor in another form to be converted into gas by raising the temperature once the prisoners were in the room? How could they most effectively poison loads of people from as safe a distance as possible? Those are the questions the Nazis encountered.

This is the reality that their victims met: The gas chamber at Dachau was made to look like a shower. The men were told they would get a hot shower. They were led into a room with towels hanging on the walls and told to undress. They were then sent into the chamber, which was fitted with shower heads to really sell the illusion. If they asked why it was so hot, they were told that it was the hot water coming up through the pipes. The doors were closed, and the men who had entered would never leave. Their bodies were unceremoniously burned in a crematorium located in the next room, and their ashes were dumped into unmarked mass graves.

Even as a perfectly safe and healthy tourist in 2013, standing in the gas chamber was like standing in a nightmare. The room was dark and low ceilinged and gave the impression that it would crush you if you stood there long enough. It felt claustrophobic even though the doors were open and I was practically the only person in there. And I started to tear up.

Did the blogger actually go inside the gas chamber at Dachau?  Did he see the towel rods in the undressing room?  Did he see water pipes for the showers?  Whom did the victims ask about why the gas chamber was so hot?

Why was the ceiling so low?  Was it because this room was modified by the Americans after the camp was liberated?

You can read about the history of the Dachau gas chamber on my website here.

This quote from the blog post about a trip to Dachau absolutely astounded me:

Our guide, who’s been leading Dachau tours for four years, sent us into the building by ourselves while he waited outside. “I’ve only been in that room once,” he said, “and I have no desire to ever go back.” I heard stories of other tour guides who stopped leading Dachau tours after a year or so because they could not deal with the pain and horror of visiting the camp three or four times a week.

Why wouldn’t the guide go inside the Dachau gas chamber?  Because he couldn’t lie with a straight face?

After reading this far on the blog post, I was not inclined to believe the story, told by the blogger, of the Carmelite nunnery at Dachau.  This blog post is getting quite long, so I will stop for awhile, eat breakfast, and write another blog post about the Carmelite nunnery.