Scrapbookpages Blog

May 12, 2018

The Dachau concentration camp

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 12:57 pm

The History of Dachau

“During the Holocaust, Germans extinguished the lives of six million Jews and, had Germany not been defeated, would have annihilated millions more. The Holocaust was also the defining feature of German politics and political culture during the Nazi period, the most shocking event of the twentieth century, and the most difficult to understand in all of German history. The Germans’ persecution of the Jews culminating in the Holocaust is thus the central feature of Germany during the Nazi period. It is so not because we are retrospectively shocked by the most shocking event of the century, but because of what it meant to Germans at the time and why so many of them contributed to it.”

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust

Gate into Dachau concentration camp, 1945

Dachau is a name that will be forever associated with Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust. Opened on March 22, 1933 in a former World War I gunpowder factory, just outside the 1200-year-old Bavarian town of Dachau, the Dachau concentration camp was one of the first installations in the Third Reich’s vast network of concentration camps and forced labor camps throughout Germany and the Nazi-occupied countries.

Although there were other spontaneous camps (wild camps) set up in Nazi Germany around the same time, Dachau was the first of these camps to be called a “concentration camp” and it was the first to use SS soldiers as the guards. The other camps used SA soldiers (Storm Troopers) as guards.

Throughout its history, Dachau was primarily a camp for men; it was used to incarcerate Communists, Social Democrats, trade union leaders, religious dissidents, common criminals, Gypsy men, homosexuals, asocials, spies, resistance fighters, and others who were considered “enemies of the state.” It was not a death camp for the genocide of the Jews, although there were Jewish prisoners at Dachau.

During its 12-year history, Dachau had 206,206 registered arrivals and there were 31,951 certified deaths. Many of the Dachau prisoners, including Jews, were released after serving an indeterminate sentence. The Jews were always kept isolated from the other prisoners and were treated far worse than the others.

Dachau was the place where many famous, high-level political opponents of the Nazi government were held near the end of the war. Just before the camp was liberated, there were 137 VIP prisoners at Dachau, including the former Chancellor of Austria, Kurt von Schuschnigg, and the former Jewish premier of France, Leon Blum. They were evacuated to the South Tyrol in April 1945 on three separate trips, shortly before soldiers of the American Seventh Army arrived to liberate the camp.

Although Dachau was in existence for 12 years, most people know only the horror described by the soldiers in the 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division and the 45th Thunderbird Infantry Division after they had liberated the camp on April 29, 1945. Three weeks before, on April 9, 1945, a bomb had hit the camp, knocking out a water main and the source of electricity. There was no running water in the camp and drinking water had to be brought in by trucks. There was no water for the showers, nor any water to flush the toilets. There was however, one last vestige of what the camp had been like before Germany was bombed back to the Stone age: fresh flowers in a vase in the undressing room for the gas chamber.

The prisoners were not starving because there were 5 truck loads of food, which had been brought in by the Red Cross, although it had to be cooked over wood-burning stoves. Just before the guards and SS officers left the camp on April 28th, they turned the food warehouses in the SS garrison over to the prisoners.

The evacuation of prisoners from the sub-camps to the main Dachau camp had begun in March 1945, in preparation for surrendering the prisoners to the Allies. The evacuated prisoners had to walk for several days to the main camp because Allied bombs were destroying the railroad tracks as fast as the Germans could repair them. The few trains that did bring prisoners to Dachau, including a train load of women and children, were bombed or strafed by American planes, killing many of the prisoners.

The first thing that the American liberators saw at Dachau was the “death train” filled with the dead bodies of prisoners who had been evacuated three weeks before from Buchenwald; the train had been strafed by American planes, but the soldiers assumed that these prisoners had been machine-gunned to death by the guards after the train arrived. After the war, Hans Merbach, the German soldier who was in charge of this train was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau.

Most of the prisoners in the sub-camps of Dachau were Jews who had survived Auschwitz and had been brought on trains to Germany in January 1945 after a 50-kilometer death march out of the camp. By the time that the survivors staggered into the Dachau main camp in the last weeks of April, they were emaciated, sick and exhausted. Other Jews at Dachau in 1945 had been brought from the three Lithuanian ghettos in the Summer of 1944 to work in the Dachau sub-camps. The American liberators got most of their information about the Dachau camp from these Jews who had only recently arrived and were eager to tell their stories about abuse at the hands of the Nazis.

Since March 1945, around 15,000 new prisoners had been accommodated in a camp that was originally designed for 5,000 men. By the time the liberators arrived, there were over 30,000 prisoners in the camp. There was a typhus epidemic in the camp but the Germans had no DDT, nor typhus vaccine, available to stop it. Up to 400 prisoners per day were dying of typhus by the time that the Americans arrived. There was no coal to burn the bodies in the ovens and the staff could not keep up with burying the bodies in mass graves on a hill several miles from the camp.

At the Bergen-Belsen camp, a sign had been put up outside the gate to warn the British liberators that there was typhus in the camp, but there was no sign at Dachau since there was no danger to the Americans who had all been vaccinated against typhus and other diseases before going overseas. The American liberators assumed that the emaciated bodies that they found piled up in the camp were the bodies of prisoners who had been deliberately starved to death.

The name Dachau became a household word for Americans following World War II. This was because it was the only major Nazi concentration camp in the American occupation zone in western Germany. Bergen-Belsen was in the British zone of occupation and Natzweiler was in the French zone. Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were in the Soviet zone of occupation in eastern Germany and Mauthausen was in the Soviet zone of Austria.

All the major death camps were behind the “Iron Curtain” and few Americans had even heard of them before the fall of Communism; the six death camps, Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Chelmno were all located in what is now Poland, and they were controlled by the Communists. For many years in America, Dachau was the name most associated with the Holocaust, not Auschwitz.

The excuse for setting up concentration camps, including the Dachau camp, was the hysteria following the burning of the Reichstag, which was the Congressional building in Berlin, on the night of February 27, 1933, only four weeks after Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Hermann Goering accused the Communists of starting the fire in protest of the appointment of Hitler as the Chancellor and the scheduled Congressional election to confirm his appointment, but the Communists claimed that the Nazis had set the fire themselves in order to begin a reign of terror. The arrests of Communists and Social Democrats began even before the fire was put out.

After President Paul von Hindenburg was asked by the Nazi-controlled German Cabinet that night to use his emergency powers under Article 48 of the German Constitution to suspend certain civil rights, 2,000 leading Communists throughout Germany were imprisoned without formal charges being brought against them and without a trial. They were held in abandoned buildings such as the camp in an old brewery in Oranienburg; this camp was rebuilt in 1936 as the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On March 21, 1933, Communists in the town of Dachau were imprisoned in the building which now houses the New Gallery for modern art. Other Communists were sent to prisons such as the federal prison at Landsberg am Lech, where Hitler himself had formerly been a prisoner after his failed Putsch in 1923.

The first prisoners brought to the old gunpowder factory at Dachau on March 22, 1933 were 200 Communists, including some of the members of the Reichstag, who had been taken into “protective custody” and had, at first, been sent to the Landsberg am Lech prison near Munich.

After the Reichstag fire, the Congressional election took place on March 5, 1933 as scheduled. The Nazis won the most seats and they were able to put together a coalition government to form a majority, which confirmed Hitler as the new Chancellor.

On March 7, 1933, an important law was passed by the newly-elected German Congress, which called for all high-level government officials in the German states to be appointed by the Nazis and for all state government positions to be supervised by the Nazis in the event of an emergency. Germany was already in an emergency situation and Article 48 of the German Constitution had already been invoked. Under this new law, Heinrich Himmler was appointed the acting Chief of Police in Munich, although his real job was Reichsführer-SS, the leader of Hitler’s elite private Army.

As the acting Police Chief, Himmler announced the opening of a Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) at Dachau in a news conference on March 20, 1933.

The concept of a concentration camp was not originated by the Nazis. The following quote is from Wikipedia:

Although the first modern concentration camps used to systematically dissuade rebels from fighting are usually attributed to the British during the Boer War, in the Spanish-American War, forts and camps were used by the Spanish in Cuba to separate rebels from their agricultural support bases.

Theodore Eicke, who became the second Commandant of Dachau in June 1933, is called the “father of the Nazi concentration camp system” because all subsequent camps used the rules and regulations which he wrote for the Dachau camp.

The first commander of Dachau, Hilmar Wäckerle, was dismissed from his position by Heinrich Himmler after charges of murder were brought against him by a Munich court for the deaths of several prisoners who had died after being severely punished. Another Dachau Commandant, Alex Piorkowski, was also dismissed by Himmler and was expelled from the Nazi party for breaking the strict rules set by Eicke.

An office was set up at Dachau in 1934 to administer all the camps; this office, called the WVHA, was later moved to Oranienburg near Berlin. All punishments of prisoners in all the Nazi camps had to approved by the WVHA. All punishments for women prisoners had to be approved by Heinrich Himmler himself.

On March 23, 1933, the German Congress passed another important law, called the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler the power to rule by decree in case of an emergency. On that day, Germany still had a President and as Chancellor, Hitler was not yet the undisputed leader of Germany. The next day, on March 24, 1933, front page headlines in The Daily Express of London read “Judea Declares War on Germany – Jews of All the World Unite – Boycott of German Goods – Mass Demonstrations.” The newspaper article mentioned that the boycott of German goods had already started.

The following is a quote from the Daily Express of London on March 24, 1933:

The whole of Israel throughout the world is uniting to declare an economic and financial war on Germany. The appearance of the Swastika as the symbol of the new Germany has revived the old war symbol of Judas to new life. Fourteen million Jews scattered over the entire world are tight to each other as if one man, in order to declare war against the German persecutors of their fellow believers. The Jewish wholesaler will quit his house, the banker his stock exchange, the merchant his business, and the beggar his humble hut, in order to join the holy war against Hitler’s people.

In America, the boycott of German goods was announced on March 23, 1933 as 20,000 Jews protested against Hitler’s government at the City Hall in New York City. On March 27, 1933, a mass rally, that had already been planned on March 12th, was held in Madison Square Garden; there were 40,000 Jewish protesters, according to the New York Daily News. The next day, on March 28, 1933 Hitler made a speech in which he deplored the stories of Nazi atrocities that were being published in the American press and announced a one-day boycott of Jewish stores in Germany on April 1, 1933 in retaliation.

The following is a quote from Hitler’s speech on March 28, 1933:

Lies and slander of positively hair-raising perversity are being launched about Germany. Horror stories of dismembered Jewish corpses, gouged out eyes and hacked off hands are circulating for the purpose of defaming the German Volk in the world for the second time, just as they had succeeded in doing once before in 1914.

In spite of the Jewish “holy war” against the Nazis, there were no Jews sent to a concentration camp solely because they were Jewish during the first five and a half years that the Nazi concentration camps were in existence. Jews were sent to Dachau from day one, but it was because they were Communists or trade union leaders, not because they were Jewish. The first Jews to be taken into “protective custody,” simply because they were Jews, were arrested during the pogrom on the night of November 9th & 10th in 1938, which the Nazis named Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

Kristallnacht was the night that German citizens smashed windows in Jewish shops and set fire to over 200 Jewish Synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic. Ninety-one people were killed during this uncontrolled riot which the police did not try to stop. That night, Hitler and his henchmen were gathered at the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer hall in Munich, celebrating the anniversary of Hitler’s attempt to take over the German government by force in 1923; Hitler’s failed Putsch had been organized at the Bürgerbräukeller.

Joseph Goebbels made a speech at the beer hall in which he said that he would not be surprised if the German people were so outraged by the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan that they would take the law into their own lands and attack Jewish businesses and Synagogues. Goebbels is generally credited with being the instigator of the pogrom. (Pogrom is a Polish word which means an event in which ordinary citizens use violence to drive the Jews out.)

Approximately 30,00 Jewish men were arrested during the pogrom, allegedly for their own protection, and taken to the 3 major concentration camps in Germany, including 10,911 who were brought to Dachau and held as prisoners while they were pressured to sign over their property and leave the country. The majority of these Jews were released within a few weeks, after they promised to leave Germany within six months; most of them wound up in Shanghai, the only place that did not require a visa, because other countries, except Great Britain, refused to take them.

In anticipation of such violence against the Jews by the Nazis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had invited 32 countries to a Conference in Evian, France in July 1938 to discuss the problem of Jewish refugees. The only country which agreed to allow Jewish refugees as immigrants was the Dominican Republic; 5,000 German Jews emigrated to the Dominican Republic before the start of World War II. The American Congress refused to change the US immigration laws, passed in 1920 and 1921, to allow a higher quota of Jewish refugees from Germany to enter, although America did start filling the quota under the existing laws for the first time.

After the joint conquest of Poland, by Germany and the Soviet Union, in September 1939, numerous Polish resistance fighters were imprisoned, including 1,780 Catholic priests. When the Catholic Church complained about the harsh treatment the priests received in the concentration camps, all the priests were moved to Dachau because it was the mildest camp of all. Dachau was designated as the main camp for Catholic priests who had been arrested on various charges, including child molestation, and a total of 2,720 from 19 different nations were sent there. The priests did not have to work in the factories and were given special privileges.

The most famous priest at Dachau was Leonard Roth who was a prisoner there from 1943 to 1945.

Regarding Father Roth, the following was written by Harold Marcuse, the author of “Legacies of Dachau”:

The camp administration gave him the “black triangle” badge of the “asocials” because he was accused of homosexual conduct as well as anti-Nazi activity. He was one of the few priests imprisoned in the Dachau KZ to survive the work caring for inmates dying of highly infectious typhus at the end of the war. Roth remained in Dachau as a priest for the SS men interned there by the US Army after July 1945. When that internment camp was dissolved and the Bavarian government converted the camp to housing for German refugees from Czechoslovakia in 1948, Roth remained as their “curate” (he had been demoted from priest status). A stern but well-liked pastor, he worked tirelessly to better the living conditions of the refugees. Around 1957 he joined the Dachau camp survivors’ organization as a representative of the priests who had been imprisoned in the camp. By 1960 he was in heated conflict with the Catholic hierarchy in Bavaria. Relieved of his post in the refugee settlement, he took his own life.

Also among the Dachau inmates were 109 anti-Nazi Protestant clergymen, including the Reverend Martin Niemöller, one of the founders of the Protestant Confessional Church. Niemöller had been tried in a German court and convicted of treason; after being sentenced to time served, he was first sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin, then later to Buchnwald and finally to Dachau. After the war, he continued to preach against the Nazi regime, including making a speech before the American Congress.

Niemöller is famous for the following words which he spoke many times:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie die Juden holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Jude.
Als sie mich holten, gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Russian Prisoners of War were sent to Dachau. On Hitler’s orders, Russian POWs who were determined to be Communist Commissars were executed at Dachau and other major concentration camps in Germany. The Communist Soviet Union had both political Commissars and military Commissars whose job it was to keep their citizens or soldiers in line. The military Commissars were stationed behind the front lines in order to urge reluctant Soviet soldiers forward since only one out of every 5 men had been furnished with a rifle. The Soviet soldiers were expected to pick up a rifle after another soldier had been shot; those who tried to retreat were shot by the Commissars. If captured, the Commissars were under orders to organize an escape or otherwise create havoc in the POW camp.

Throughout its 12-year history, Dachau was predominantly a camp for non-Jewish adult males. At first, the few women who were sent to Dachau lived with German families in the town of Dachau and worked as servants. In 1944, Jewish women were brought to Dachau from Hungary, but most of them were then transferred to some of the 123 Dachau sub-camps to work in German factories. Other women at Dachau were non-Jewish prostitutes who worked in a camp brothel for the inmates, which was set up in 1943. There were 11 prostitutes at the camp when it was liberated.

Resistance fighters and high-ranking Communists from France, Belgium, Albania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and many other countries were also brought to Dachau. Several captured British SOE agents, and even one American in the OSS, a secret agent who was working with the French Resistance, were imprisoned at Dachau during the war.

According to Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, there were 11 Americans at Dachau at some time during its 12-year history.

Frank Cappabianca e-mailed us the information that his grandfather Frank Machnig spent some time as a POW at Dachau after he was captured by the Germans following the D-Day invasion.

Prisoners at Dachau and the other Nazi concentration camps wore badges which indicated their classification. Most of the prisoners at Dachau wore a red triangle to indicate that they were political prisoners. German criminals in the camp wore a green triangle.

The political prisoners at Dachau were the Resistance fighters from many countries which Germany had conquered, but there were also German Resistance fighters, according to a book entitled “That was Dachau” by former Dachau inmate Stanislav Zámecník

The following quote is from “That was Dachau” by Stanislav Zámecník

The anti-Hitler movement inside Germany, which included German communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, was the largest indigenous resistance movement of any country during the whole war. Only in Germany was an attempt made to assassinate their leader. Around 800,000 were sent to prison at one time or another for active resistance to the regime. While the western allies did all in their power to help other resistance movements, ie in France and the Netherlands, they did nothing to help or encourage the movement in Germany which in all probability could have ended the war sooner. But the Allies were intent on unconditional surrender and refused to make any deals at all with Germans. Accordingly the Allies viewed all Germans as bad, not only Nazis.

Dachau was never a camp that was specifically intended for murdering the Jews; the Nazi plan was to consolidate all the Jews into ghettos, from which they were later sent to the death camps. German Jews were sent to the Lodz ghetto in what is now Poland where they worked in factories until 1944; those who could no longer work were sent to the Chelmno death camp. In 1942, the Jews who were still living in Germany were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic and from there to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In January 1941, Dachau was designated a Class I camp and Buchenwald became a Class II camp; Mauthausen and Gusen in Austria were the only Class III camps in the Nazi system. The Class I designation meant that treatment of the inmates was less harsh and that prisoners had a better chance of being released. Dachau was the best of the Nazis camps, as far as the treatment of the prisoners was concerned.

According to testimony given at the Nuremberg IMT, approximately 150 Dachau inmates were forced to participate in medical experiments conducted by Dr. Sigmund Rascher for the German Air Force, and about half of them died as a result. The subjects for these experiments were allegedly German “professional criminals” and Soviet POWs who were Communist Commissars, sentenced to be executed on the orders of Adolf Hitler. One Jew, who had been condemned to death for breaking the law against race mixing, was used in these experiments.

Prof. Dr. Klaus Schilling, a renowned expert on malaria, was persuaded to come out of retirement in order to conduct medical experiments on approximately 1,200 Dachau prisoners in an attempt to find a cure for malaria after German troops began fighting the Allies in North Africa. Hundreds died as a result of Dr. Schilling’s experiments, including a few who died from malaria and others who died from other diseases after being weakened by malaria. The subjects for the malaria experiments were the Catholic priests in the camp because they were not required to work, and would not be missed in the labor force if they died.

In February 1942, the Nazis began systematically rounding up all the Jews in Germany and the Nazi-occupied countries, and transporting them to what is now Poland or the area that is now Belarus, in a program of extermination, which had been planned at the Wannsee conference on January 20, 1942. The title of the conference was “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”

After the evacuation process began in February 1942, there were only a few Jews left in any of the camps in Germany, including Dachau. On April 29, 1945 when Dachau was liberated, there were 2,539 Jews in the main camp, including 225 women, according to the US Army census. Most of them had arrived only weeks or even days before, after they were evacuated from the Dachau sub-camps, mainly the Kaufering camps near Landsberg am Lech, where they had been forced to work in building underground factories for the manufacture of Messerschmitt airplanes.

In April 1942, at the same time that the Jews were being sent to the death camps in the East, a new brick building called Baracke X was planned for the Dachau camp. It was designed to house a homicidal gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, and four cremation ovens. The new Baracke X also has four disinfection gas chambers, designed to kill lice in clothing with the use of Zyklon-B, the same poison gas that was used to kill the Jews in the homicidal gas chambers at Majdanek and Auschwitz. The clothing was disinfected in all the Nazi camps in an attempt to prevent typhus which is spread by lice.

Construction on Baracke X began in July 1942, using the labor of the Catholic priests who were the only prisoners not forced to work in the factories at Dachau. The building was finished in 1943, but a sign that was put in the gas chamber in 1965 inexplicably informed tourists that this room was never used for gassing people. By May 2003, the sign was gone and a poster on the wall of the undressing room next to the gas chamber said that the gas chamber “could have been used” to kill prisoners.

The Dachau museum mentions in one of its displays that 3,166 “terminally ill” prisoners were transported from Dachau to Hartheim Castle near Linz, Austria where they were murdered in a gas chamber there, beginning in February 1942.

A letter from Dr. Sigmund Rascher to Heinrich Himmler, the head of all the concentration camps, which makes a reference to a facility like the one at Hartheim which the Nazis were planning to build at Dachau, is the best proof that the fake shower room in Baracke X was actually a gas chamber. A copy of this letter was displayed in the gas chamber building in May 2001, but it was later moved to the Dachau Museum.

When the death camps in what is now Poland had to be abandoned, as the Soviet troops advanced westward, the Jewish survivors were brought back to Germany and crowded into camps such as Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, which did not have enough room to accommodate them properly.

Typhus, transmitted by body lice, which had been prevalent in the ghettos and death camps in occupied Poland throughout the war, now spread to the concentration camps in Germany. After January 1945, conditions in all of Germany and Austria, including the concentration camps, became intolerable due to the chaos caused by the intensive Allied bombing of civilian areas in all the major cities.

Just west of the concentration camp at Dachau, a large SS army garrison was set up in 1936 on the grounds of the former gunpowder factory. This facility, which was four or five times the size of the Dachau prison camp, included an officers’ training school where German SS soldiers were educated to be administrators. Some of the famous graduates of this school were Adolf Eichmann, who became the head of Hitler’s Race and Resettlement office, and Rudolf Hoess, the infamous Commandant of Auschwitz, who confessed that 2.5 million Jews had been gassed while he was in charge there, from May 1940 through November 1943.

Beginning in 1936, most of the old gunpowder factory buildings were torn down and the prisoners were forced to build a new camp with 34 barrack buildings, a gate house and a large service building. Two rows of poplar trees were planted along a main camp road; the service building and all the barrack buildings had flower beds in front of them.

Also in 1936, a new camp called Sachsenhausen was built to replace the former “wild camp” that had been set up in an abandoned brewery in Oranienburg in 1933. The camp in the old brewery was the place where the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was first erected. When the new Dachau gate house was finished in June 1936, this slogan was put on the iron gate. The words mean “work will set you free.” According to Rudolf Hoess, who was on the Dachau staff in 1936, the slogan meant that work sets one free in the spiritual sense, not literally.

The existence of the Dachau concentration camp was far from a secret; visitors were frequently brought to the camp and given a tour in the years before World War II started, including some American prison officials. Heinrich Himmler even brought his small daughter, Gudrun, to visit the Dachau camp.

Himmler had a college degree in Agriculture and was interested in the health movement which began in Germany. He established a large farm just outside the Dachau camp where some of the prisoners worked. According to this news story, experiments were done on the farm to find out why potatoes had become so vulnerable to pests and early decay. Herbs were grown for use as medicine and vitamins were extracted from plants.

Fermented blackberry and raspberry leaves from the Dachau farm were used to create German tea, reducing dependency on imports. Work was done on growing German pepper and gladioli flowers were grown in great quantities for their vitamin C. The gladioli leaves were dried and pulverized, then combined with a mixture of spices, beef fat and cooking salt to make a food supplement for SS soldiers.

Himmler was way ahead of his time in his knowledge of plants that could be used as medicine; he planted fields of primroses in a first attempt to extract evening primrose oil for use as medication.

On the Dachau farm, there were herds of cows in 1,850 acres of pastures, tended by up to 800 inmates, whose task was to gather the dung for testing in the camp gardens. A special compost was devised to speed the growth of healing herbs, and there were also experiments using worms to improve the soil.

Beginning in 1943, a series of 123 sub-camps were set up near the Dachau main camp. The worst of these sub-camps were the 11 camps near Landsberg am Lech, which were named Kaufering I – XI; Kaufering was the name of the railroad station where the prisoners arrived by train. Beginning on June 18, 1944, Hungarian Jews from the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau were brought to the Kaufering camps to work on construction of underground factories where airplanes were to be built.

By March 9, 1945, a total of 28,838 prisoners had been brought to Dachau and then transferred to the 11 Landsberg sub-camps. Approximately 14,500 prisoners died in these camps. In April 1945, the Kaufering camps were evacuated, except for the Kaufering IV camp where sick prisoners were left behind. Kaufering IV was liberated by American soldiers two days before the main camp was liberated.

According to a book published by the US Seventh Army immediately after the war, entitled “Dachau Liberated, The Official Report by The U.S. Seventh Army,” there was a total of 29,138 Jews brought to Dachau from other camps between June 20, 1944 and November 23, 1944. This report says the Jews were brought to Dachau to be executed and that they were gassed in the gas chamber disguised as a shower room and also in the four smaller gas chambers, which were designed to be disinfection chambers. The report also says that 16,717 non-Jewish, German prisoners were executed at Dachau between October 1940 and March 1945.

On April 26, 1945, three days before the camp was liberated, there were 30,442 prisoners counted during roll call. On that same day, 1,759 Jews were put onto a train and evacuated, on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. Then 6,887 other Dachau prisoners, half of them Jews and half of them Russian POWs, were marched in the direction of the South Tyrol.

There were an additional 37,223 prisoners counted in the sub-camps near Dachau on April 26, 1945, the date of the last roll call. According to the US Army Report, there were approximately 7,000 prisoners who arrived at Dachau after April 26, 1945 who were not registered in the camp. They were prisoners from the sub-camps who had been evacuated to the main camp. One group of prisoners from a subcamp arrived on April 28th, escorted by Otto Moll, a notorious SS man who had formerly worked in the Auschwitz death camp.

Due to horrific overcrowding and the spread of contagious diseases brought from what is now Poland by new arrivals who had been evacuated from the death camps, the number of recorded deaths at Dachau in the last four chaotic months of the war jumped to 13,158. After the camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945, an additional 2,226 prisoners died from disease in the month of May and 196 more died in June.

The total number of deaths in the first five months of 1945 was almost half the total deaths in the 12-year history of the camp. The death rate in the other Nazi concentration camps also rose dramatically in the last months of the war, as the typhus epidemic spread throughout Germany. American POWs in German camps were saved from the epidemic by booster shots of typhus vaccine sent to them from America by the International Red Cross. The Germans were conducting experiments at the Buchenwald camp in an effort to develop a vaccine for typhus, but had not been successful. After the war, the doctors who had attempted to develop a typhus vaccine at Buchenwald were put on trial as war criminals at Nuremberg in the Doctor’s Trial conducted by Americans.

By October 1944, there was a shortage of coal in all of Germany and the dead could no longer be cremated. A new cemetery was opened on a hill north of the camp, called Leitenberg, where the last Dachau victims were buried in unmarked mass graves. Ashes of earlier unknown victims are buried in the area north of the new crematorium. Markers were placed on the sites of the mass graves of ashes between 1950 and 1964.

On April 28, 1945, the day before the liberation of the camp, Dachau citizens joined with escaped prisoners from the camp in an uprising led by Georg Scherer, a former prisoner who had been released, but was still working in a factory at the Dachau complex. Their attempt to take control of the town of Dachau failed; 3 of the prisoners and 4 of the locals were killed in a battle that took place in front of the Dachau town hall. Georg Scherer survived and later became the mayor of Dachau.

On April 29, 1945, Dachau became the second major Nazi concentration camp to be liberated by American troops, after Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945 by the 6th Armored Division of General George S. Patton’s Third Army.

The last Commandant of the Dachau Concentration Camp was Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, who replaced Martin Gottfried Weiss on November 1, 1943; Weiss was transferred to the Majdanek death camp in Poland.

Eduard Weiter left the Dachau camp on April 26, 1945 with a prisoner transport to the Schloss Itter, a subcamp of Dachau in Austria. Weiter shot himself at Schloss Itter on May 6, 1945, according to Johannes Tuchel who wrote about The Commandants of the Dachau Concentration Camp in his book: Dachau and the Nazi Terror II, 1933-1945.

In May 1944, Martin Gottfried Weiss was appointed the department head of the Office Group D in the SS Main Office of Economic Administration (WVHA) at Oranienburg. That same year, Weiss became the commander of the five sub-camps of Dachau at Mühldorf; when the Mühldorf prisoners were evacuated and brought to the main camp in the Spring of 1945, Weiss returned to Dachau. Fourteen members of the staff at Mühldorf were put on trial at Dachau from April 1 through May 13, 1947 in the case of US vs. Franz Auer et al.

On April 28, 1945, Martin Gottfried Weiss escaped from the Dachau camp along with most of the regular guards; he had been the highest ranking SS officer and the acting Commandant for two days before the camp was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945.

Weiss had previously been the Commandant of the Neuengamme concentration camp from 1940 to 1942. From September 1942 until the end of October 1943, Weiss was the Commandant of Dachau. During his time as the Commandant of Dachau, some of the worst atrocities had occurred, including the building of the gas chamber and the medical experiments conducted for the German air force. In spite of this, several former prisoners testified in his defense when he was put on trial at Dachau in the first American Military Tribunal in November 1945.

Martin Gottfried Weiss should not be confused with another man named Martin Weiss, who was named by one of the prosecution witnesses at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as the man that he saw killing Jews in Vilna, Lithuania in 1941. Martin Gottfried Weiss was the Commandant at Neuengamme during that time.

On April 29, 1945, SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrendered the camp to the 42nd Rainbow Division of the US Seventh Army, which had found the camp on its way to take the city of Munich, 18 kilometers to the south. Accompanied by Red Cross representative Victor Maurer, 2nd Lt. Wicker surrendered the Dachau concentration camp to Brigadier General Henning Linden, commander of the 42nd Rainbow Division, under a white flag of truce. The 45th Thunderbird Division of the US Seventh Army also participated in the liberation of Dachau, arriving at the nearby SS garrison before the 42nd Division approached the installations’s main entrance on the south side of the Dachau complex where 2nd Lt. Wicker was waiting to surrender the camp.

Before reaching the concentration camp, the 45th Thunderbird Division had discovered an abandoned train, with no engine, on a branch railroad line which at that time ran from the Dachau station along Freisinger Street in the direction of the camp. Inside the 39 train cars were the corpses of prisoners who had been evacuated from Buchenwald on April 7, 1945 and, because of heavy bombing and strafing by Allied planes in the last days of the war, had not reached Dachau until three weeks later, two days before the American soldiers arrived.

Most of the regular SS guards and the administrative staff had fled from the camp the next day and there was no one left to oversee the burial of the bodies. No precise figures are available, but the train had started out with approximately 4,500 to 6,000 prisoners on board and between 1,300 and 2,600 had made it to Dachau still alive. Some of the dead had been buried along the way, or left in rows alongside the tracks. The gruesome sight of the death train, with some of the corpses in the open cars riddled by bullets, so affected the young soldiers of the 45th Thunderbird Division that they executed Waffen-SS soldiers stationed at the Dachau garrison after they had surrendered.

SS soldiers in guard tower B on the west side of the concentration camp were ordered to come down and were then shot by the American liberators, even though the tower was flying the white flag of surrender and the guards in Tower A had already surrendered without incident.

After the regular guards had escaped from the camp on the day before the liberation, 128 SS soldiers who had been imprisoned in a special wing of the Dachau bunker were released and ordered to serve as guards until the Americans arrived to take over the camp. 2nd Lt. Wicker had stayed behind when the other guards escaped because his mother was staying at the Dachau garrison, visiting him. Wicker’s mother reported him missing after the war, and it is presumed that he was killed after he surrendered the camp to the Americans.

Prisoners in the camp were given guns by some of the liberators and were allowed to shoot or beat to death 40 of the German guards while American soldiers looked on. The German Sheppard guard dogs were shot in their kennels. The bodies of some the dead SS soldiers were later buried in unmarked graves inside the garrison, after their dog tags had been removed; their families were not notified of their deaths. Some of the bodies of the executed SS soldiers were burned in the ovens in the crematorium at Dachau.

Upon entering the camp after the surrender, the American liberators, and the news reporters accompanying them, were horrified to discover over 900 dying prisoners in the infirmary barracks. According to the court testimony of the camp doctor, as many as 400 prisoners were dying of disease each day in the final days before the liberation.

Accompanied by Communist political prisoners, who served as guides, the Americans toured the prison camp and were shown the building, just outside the barbed wire enclosure, which housed the homicidal gas chamber disguised as a shower room. The Americans heard eye-witness accounts from Dachau survivors who said that prisoners had been gassed to death in the fake shower room; they also heard stories of how prisoners had been shoved into the crematory ovens while still alive. Bodies of fully-clothed dead inmates were found piled inside the new crematorium building and many more naked corpses were piled up outside. Outside the disinfection chambers, there was a huge pile of clothing waiting to be fumigated with Zyklon-B gas pellets.

There were no charges of killing prisoners in a gas chamber brought against the accused in the proceedings against the staff members of the Dachau camp, which were conducted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in November 1945, although a film of the gas chamber was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on November 29, 1945, while the Dachau tribunal was in progress. This documentary film was taken by the Allies, under the direction of famed Hollywood director George Stevens; it showed the pipes through which the gas flowed into the gas chamber and the control wheels which regulated the flow of gas that came out of the shower heads.

The top Nazis on trial at Nuremberg were stunned and claimed that they were hearing about the Dachau gas chamber for the first time. Some of the footage from this film is currently being shown at the Dachau Museum, although in May 2003, the staff at the Memorial Site was telling visitors that the Dachau gas chamber had actually been designed so that the introduction of poison gas was done by pouring Zyklon-B pellets onto the floor of the gas chamber through two chutes on the outside wall of the building.

Several of the “special prisoners” in the bunker were shot just before the camp was liberated, including Dr. Sigmund Rascher, who had formerly conducted experiments on condemned prisoners in the camp for the German Air Force. Dr. Rascher had been arrested and imprisoned in Munich after it was learned that he had illegally adopted two children and told everyone that these were his own children.

Georg Elser, who was imprisoned at Dachau as a suspect in the attempted assassination of Hitler on November 8, 1939, was allegedly shot around the time that an Allied bomb hit the camp on April 9, 1945 and his death was blamed on the bombing. General Charles Delestraint, a Dachau prisoner who had been the leader of the French Secret Army in the Resistance, was allegedly executed at Dachau on April 19, 1945, although no execution order from Berlin was ever found. Four female British SOE agents were also allegedly executed Dachau, although the execution order was never found.

After the German surrender on May 7, 1945, the American Army took over the barracks of the SS garrison and set up a command post called Eastman which they occupied until 1973. On the orders of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, all available American soldiers were brought to Dachau so that they could be eye-witnesses to the existence of the homicidal gas chamber, disguised as a shower room.

Many of the naked corpses found in the camp were left out until May 13, two weeks after the liberation, so that American Congressmen, newspaper reporters and as many American soldiers as possible could view the horror. Thirty male citizens from the town of Dachau were brought to the camp and forced to view the rotting corpses, even though the typhus epidemic was still raging in the camp, and the Germans had not been vaccinated.

Young boys of the Hitler Youth were brought to see the dead bodies on the train. Mutilated corpses of SS guards, who had been killed by the Americans after discovering the train, were lying nearby. Before the corpses in the camp were finally given a decent burial, the stench could be smelled up to a mile away, according to the American liberators. When the bodies of the typhus victims were finally taken to the cemetery on a hill called Leitenberg for burial by the citizens of Dachau, the horse-drawn wagons had to be driven slowly though the town, on the orders of the American military, so that the town’s people would be forced to confront the horror of what the Nazis had done.

Rabbi Eli Bohnen was the Jewish Chaplain of the 42nd Rainbow Division; he arrived at Dachau on April 30, 1945 along with Rabbi David Max Eichhorn of the US Army XV Corps, who conducted the first Shabbat at Dachau on May 5, 1945.

After the liberation of Dachau, the commanding officer of the Rainbow division, Major General Harry J. Collins, made sure that the Jewish survivors were taken care of properly. Some of the Jewish survivors were given private housing in homes in the town of Dachau after their owners had been evicted. In some cases, the home owners were allowed to live in the attic of their homes, but they were forbidden to remove any of the linens, china or silverware, which had to be left for the use of the new occupants. A few of the Jewish survivors settled in Dachau permanently after the war.

In the first few days after the liberation, the town’s people were forced to scrounge for food and deliver it to the camp inmates. The two bakeries in Dachau had to deliver wagon loads of bread for the starving inmates. Major General Collins, with the help of Rabbi Bohnen, made sure that the former Jewish inmates of Dachau received the best rations, including kosher foods.

All of the food in the army warehouse of the SS garrison was given to the inmates, although there was a food shortage also in the town of Dachau. There were 1,268 prisoners, who died after the liberation, that were buried in individual graves by the Dachau residents at Waldfriedhof, the town cemetery, on the orders of the US Army.

The liberated inmates had to be kept in the camp until the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. The Americans used DDT, a new insecticide not being used in Germany, to kill the lice in the camp. When the epidemic ended, the concentration camp was immediately turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 for 30,000 Germans who had been arrested as war criminals and were awaiting trial by an American Military Tribunal. Most of them were released by 1948 for lack of evidence, although some were transferred to France for trial.

Former concentration camp inmates of Dachau and Displaced Persons from other camps were housed at the Dachau army garrison, next door to the concentration camp; they were fed by the American Army. Former inmates were paid to be prosecution witnesses in a series of American Military Tribunals that were held on the grounds of the Dachau complex, beginning in November 1945.

In the first proceeding of the American Military Tribunal at Dachau in November 1945, 36 of the 40 accused staff members at Dachau were sentenced to death by hanging. Only 28 of the 36 condemned men were actually hanged.

The American Military Tribunal proceeding against the Waffen-SS soldiers who were accused of shooting American POWs at Malmédy was also held at Dachau, as were the proceedings against the accused guards and staff at the Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Flossenbürg and Nordhausen concentration camps. The proceedings against the infamous Ilse Koch, dubbed the “Bitch of Buchenwald” by the press, also took place in Dachau. As the wife of the Commandant at Buchenwald, she was accused of selecting tattooed prisoners to be killed by her alleged lover, Dr. Waldemar Hoven, so that their skin could be made into human lamp shades to decorate her home.

All of the Dachau proceedings were conducted by US Army Military Tribunals in which the accused were presumed to be guilty; most of the interrogators, prosecutors and judges were Jews, many of whom were foreign-born American citizens. After the Jewish interrogators in the Malmédy trial were accused of torturing the Waffen-SS soldiers into confessing, a Congressional investigation was conducted, and by December 1957, all of the convicted men in this case had been released.

Another Congressional investigation was conducted after General Lucius D. Clay commuted the sentence of Ilse Koch to time served. Gen. Clay claimed that the lamp shades, allegedly made from human skin, were actually made from goat skin.

Immediately after the war, Erich Preuss, a former Dachau prisoner, set up an exhibit in the crematory building, located just outside the barbed wire enclosure of the concentration camp. American soldiers stationed in Germany were brought to Dachau to see the gas chamber, which they were told had been used to murder innocent inmates of the concentration camp. Mannequins were used in a display that was set up to illustrate how the Dachau prisoners were punished on the whipping block. During this time, the former concentration camp itself was off limits to visitors because it was filled with accused German war criminals awaiting the proceedings of the American Military Tribunals at Dachau, and later by homeless German refugees.

The prisoner barracks at Dachau were renovated in 1948 and 5,000 refugees from Czechoslovakia, who were among the 12 to 18 million ethnic Germans that were expelled from their homes after the war, lived in the Dachau camp until 1964 when an organization of Communist camp survivors began demanding that they be removed so that a Memorial could be built in honor of the former concentration camp political prisoners.

A symbolic cornerstone for the International Memorial at Dachau had already been dedicated in 1956 by the International Committee of Dachau. The remaining 2,000 German refugees were moved in 1964 to Dachau East, a new suburb which was created for them.

The first Dachau Memorial building was erected in 1960; it is a Catholic chapel in honor of the priests who were imprisoned at Dachau, including Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Bishop from Munich, who was arrested for objecting to the policies of the Nazi government. With Neuhäusler’s help, a Carmelite convent was opened in 1964 on the site of the gravel pit just outside the north wall of the camp; the convent has an entrance through one of the guard towers. In the same year, the dilapidated barracks buildings, by now vacated by the refugees, were torn down.

A Protestant Church and a Jewish Memorial were dedicated in 1967. The International Memorial with its poignant sculpture, designed by Yugoslavian artist Nandor Glid, was dedicated on September 8, 1968.

A Museum was opened in the Administration building on May 9, 1965, after the original museum was closed in 1953 due to protests by the Bavarian government.

New Museum exhibits were under construction for two years, starting in 2001, and the special section on “The Final Solution” was not open from 2001 to 2003; the Museum was expanded to include the West wing of the administration building. The Museum now tells the complete story of Dachau and there is no section on Auschwitz or other death camps.

An exhibit in the former camp prison, called the bunker, was formally dedicated on January 27, 2000.

In 1973, the American Army left the Dachau complex for good and the former SS garrison area was turned over to the Bavarian government. Most of the beautiful stone SS barracks buildings, which had been used by the U.S. Army for 28 years, have been torn down, and the site of the former SS installation is now being used by the Bavarian Police.

Eicke Plaza, which was a formal garden in front of the main entrance to the Dachau complex, is now a soccer field. New homes and apartments have been built directly behind the south wall of the former concentration camp. There are some nice new homes also built on the street that borders the former SS garrison.

The Memorial Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Mondays and admission is free. It is located east of the town of Dachau, which can be reached from the main train station in Munich in 20 minutes via S-Bahn train number 2 going towards Petershausen.

Until 2005, the entrance to the former camp was located at Alte Römerstrasse 75, a few yards north of where Alte Römerstrasse intersects Sudetenlandstrasse. In May 2005, the entrance was changed so that visitors now enter the camp through the original gate with the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, on the west side of the camp, opposite the old entrance.

The first thing that visitors are told by their tour guides at Dachau is that the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign was put up to taunt the prisoners who had no chance of being set free because the policy of the Dachau camp was extermination through work. Actually, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign was only put on Class 1 camps where prisoners had a good chance of being released. Buchenwald was a Class II camp where the sign on the gate said “Jedem das Seine,” which means “To each his own.” Mauthausen was a Class III camp where the prisoners were designated “Return unwanted” and there was no sign at all.

Bus number 726 runs from the train station in Dachau directly to the Memorial Site, following the route along Freisinger Street, the same street on which prisoners, arriving on transports, were forced to walk 3 kilometers to the concentration camp.

One of the alleged survivors of Dachau is Martin Zaidenstadt, a Polish Jew born in 1911, who settled in the town of Dachau after the war and married a German woman. He lives in a very nice house in the heart of Old Town Dachau, and up until May 2003 he would come to the Memorial Site every day to talk with the tourists. As many American tourists learned, he expected a donation and would get angry if he was handed less than $20. Although Martin told the tourists that he was a prisoner at Dachau for 3 years before the camp was liberated, the staff at the Museum claims that there is no record of him being incarcerated there.

German students over the age of 12 are required to tour a concentration camp as part of the on-going education of the present generation of German citizens in the evil perpetrated by the Nazi regime over 60 years ago. German soldiers are also required to tour the former concentration camps. Most visitors associate Dachau with the death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, although the majority of the inmates at Dachau were Catholics.

Few visitors to the camp bother to visit the town of Dachau which has grown from 13,000 residents in 1945 to 50,000 residents. Dachau is now multicultural and has a diverse population which includes many people who are not ethnic German. Older residents of Dachau are quick to point out that the majority of the people in the town did not vote for Hitler when he ran for President of Germany in 1932.

Dachauers have accepted the fact that their town will always be reviled as the home of the best-known Nazi concentration camp, but they are sometimes resentful that the town of Dachau is always associated with Nazi atrocities. They refer to the town itself as “the other Dachau.” They have pretty much given up trying to persuade tourists to visit the town, since the Holocaust is the only thing that attracts visitors to Dachau today.

May 11, 2018

Fumigation cubicles, where clothing was deloused with cyanide gas, by the Nazis

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 2:22 pm

During the Holocaust, the Nazis used poison gas to fumigate the clothing of the Jewish prisoners in concentration camps. This was done to save lives, not to kill the prisoners.

My photo of Dachau fumigation cubicle where clothing was deloused with cyanide gas

The following quote is from a newspaper article:

In May 1945, the US Army released a photograph of a fumigation cubicle door with a caption that said Dachau prisoners were murdered in a gas chamber here. On the interior wall is the device used to heat the Zyklon B

End quote

No, no, no. The cubicles were used to kill any lice in the clothing of the prisoners — to save their lives — not to kill the prisoners.

Dear readers: You must get over the idea that the Jews were good and the Nazis were bad. The Jews were lying, stealing and cheating, while the Nazis were trying to save Germany from the Jews.

Jews in hiding were killed by the Poles during the Holocaust

Filed under: Auschwitz, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 1:49 pm

You can read this news article, about the Poles killing Jews who were in hiding, at https://forward.com/fast-forward/400897/poles-helped-nazis-kill-most-of-the-jews-in-hiding-during-holocaust/

Begin quote from news article:

(JTA) — According to new research done in Poland, two thirds of the local Jews who hid there from the Nazis did not survive the war, mostly because of the actions of their non-Jewish neighbors.

The figure comes from a two-volume work of 1,600 pages that historians from the Warsaw-based Center for Research on Holocaust of Jews have compiled over the past five years in nine out of Poland’s 13 regions, the Tok FM radio station reported Sunday.

Arriving amid a polarizing debate in Poland over a law that limits rhetoric on Polish complicity in the Holocaust, the study suggests Poles are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths by Jews in the Holocaust — a figure that is significantly higher than previous estimates.

The findings of the research, which were published earlier this year in a Polish-language book titled “The Fate of the Jews in Selected Regions of Occupied Poland,” pertain to the fate of more than a million Jews who went underground to avoid being killed in Operation Reinhard — Nazi Germany’s campaign of annihilation of 3.3 million Jews in occupied Poland.

The issue of Polish complicity in the Holocaust is highly controversial in Poland, where the Nazis killed three million non-Jews in addition to about four million Jews.

End quote

The poor Jews!  They just couldn’t catch a break.

Why can’t old ladies deny the Holocaust if they want to?

Filed under: Auschwitz, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 1:23 pm

The following quote is from this news article: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/05/08/nazi-grandma-ursula-haverbeck-who-denies-holocaust-taken-jail/589613002/

Begin quote

Serial Holocaust denier

During her trial, [Ursula] Haverbeck spoke of an “Auschwitz lie,” claiming it was not an extermination camp, but merely a labor camp. [I believe that Ursula is correct.]

She and her late husband Werner Georg Haverbeck, who was an active member of the Nazi party, founded a right-wing education center called Collegium Humanum. The center was banned in 2008.

Haverbeck also wrote for the right-wing magazine Stimme des Reiches (Voice of the Empire). She used the magazine to express her views that the Holocaust never took place. [I believe that she is correct.]

Under German law, denying the Holocaust constitutes incitement to hatred and can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

This article was originally published on DW.com. Its content is created separately from USA TODAY.

End quote

I believe that having an opinion does not make one a criminal.

May 10, 2018

The story of Bergen-Belsen

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — furtherglory @ 10:39 am

The story of Bergen-Belsen

“In our collective conscience, we have to remember the lessons to be learnt from these events: to ensure that never again should the mass murder of millions of people be possible as it occurred in Auschwitz, in Bergen-Belsen; the genocide of the Jews, the gypsies, in order to ensure that events like these can never be repeated we have to understand why they could happen. We must not forget.”

The quote above was written by Simone Veil, an inmate at Bergen-Belsen from January 1945 to April 15, 1945

Unburied corpses on the grounds of Bergen-Belsen camp

Bergen-Belsen was the name of an infamous Nazi camp which has become a symbol of the Holocaust that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews in Europe more than sixty years ago.

In 1943, Bergen-Belsen was initially set up as a detention camp (Aufenthaltslager) for prisoners who held foreign passports and were thus eligible to be traded for German citizens being held in Allied internment camps.

In December 1944, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp under the command of Josef Kramer, the former Commandant of the Auschwitz II camp, also known as Birkenau.

A section for sick prisoners, who could no longer work in the Nazi forced labor camps, was set aside at Bergen-Belsen in March 1944.

In 1945, when World War II was drawing to a close, civilian prisoners were evacuated from other concentration camps as Soviet troops advanced westward; thousands of these prisoners were brought to the Bergen-Belsen camp which was not equipped to handle such a large number of people.

Finally, Bergen-Belsen itself was right in the middle of the war zone where bombs were falling and Allied planes were strafing the Autobahn and the railroads.

British and Germans troops were doing battle on the Lüneberg heath right outside the camp.

In February 1945, the situation at Bergen-Belsen became catastrophic when a typhus epidemic broke out in the crowded camp.

Emaciated corpses were thrown into mass graves at Bergen-Belsen

By April 1945, the war in Europe was very definitely over. All that was needed now was a formal surrender signed by Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a broken man: his dream of uniting the German folk into a Thousand Year Reich was gone, his health was ruined by Parkinson’s disease and for the past several years, his mental capacity had been increasingly failing. He was holed up in an underground bunker beneath his Chancellery in Berlin, still moving his armies around on a map and unwilling to admit defeat.

The Nazis has gotten their start in 1919, fighting against the Communists in the streets of Berlin; it was now 26 years later and Hitler was not ready to surrender his beloved Fatherland to the Communist Soviet Union and its American and British Allies. He would rather see Germany completely annihilated, and in the last days of the war, he ordered his best friend, Albert Speer, the chief of Nazi war production, to destroy what was left of Germany after Allied bombs had reduced every major city to rubble. Speer ignored the order.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin determine fate of Europe at Yalta

In the last days of the war, Hitler’s second in command, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, had been plotting behind Hitler’s back in an attempt to negotiate a peace with America and Great Britain, with the aim of forming an alliance to fight against the Communists. He knew that half of Germany and all of Eastern Europe, with a population of 120 million people, had been promised to the Communists by American president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. As the leader who was in charge of all the concentration camps (his rank in the SS was equivalent to a 5-star General in the US Army), he planned to use the Jewish prisoners as bargaining chips in his negotiations with the non-Communist Allies.

Himmler was determined to do all he could to hamper the inevitable take-over of Europe by the Communists. To this end, beginning on April 5, 1945, he ordered the execution of Communist leaders being held at the three main concentration camps in Germany: Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald.

Before surrendering Bergen-Belsen to the British on April 15, 1945, Himmler ordered about 7,000 people to be evacuated from the camp. The three train loads of prisoners, which left the camp between April 6 and April 11, were made up of prominent Dutch Jews, Hungarian Jews, Jewish prisoners from neutral countries and Jewish prisoners who held foreign passports. Himmler was hoping to use these prisoners to negotiate with the Allies. The rest of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen were to be voluntarily turned over to the British.

Heinrich Himmler stands below Adolf Hitler at a parade

On April 4, 1945, American soldiers had seen their first Nazi horror camp in Germany, the abandoned forced labor camp at Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald. On April 11, American troops had discovered Buchenwald, which had already been taken over by the Communist political prisoners there. The next day, on April 12, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died and Himmler had renewed hopes of negotiating a surrender to the Americans and the British, but not to the Communist Soviet Union. It was within this context that Himmler began negotiations to voluntarily turn the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp over to the British in early April 1945.

Two German officers were sent to a British outpost to explain that there were 9,000 sick prisoners in the camp and that there was no water after the electric pump had been hit in an Allied bombing attack. The Germans proposed that the British Army should occupy the camp immediately to keep the epidemics in the camp from spreading to the troops on both sides. In return, the Germans offered to surrender the bridges over the river Aller. At first, the British rejected the German proposals, saying it was necessary that the British should occupy an area of ten kilometers around the camp in order to be sure of keeping their troops away from the epidemic, but eventually a compromise was reached and the British agreed.

On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was surrendered to British Officer Derrick Sington, who wrote about it in a small book called “Belsen Uncovered” which was published by Duckworth, London in 1946.

Still photo from a film shows a British bulldozer shoving diseased bodies toward a mass grave

Himmler had not anticipated that the British would film the mounds of dead bodies in the camp and that the film would be shown in movie theaters around the world as proof of the Nazi Crimes against Humanity. Anyone who has ever seen the British film of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen will never forget the sight of British bulldozers shoving thousands of emaciated corpses into mass graves. Or the sight of the living dead, the emaciated prisoners whose bodies were nothing but skin and bones.

As a result of the British Army taking control, Bergen-Belsen became the first Nazi horror camp to become widely known to the American public. After the British revealed the Nazi atrocities to the world, this camp came to epitomize the brutality and depravity of the Nazis who called the German people the Master Race (Herrenvolk) and who were carrying out a systematic plan to kill the Jews and others whom they considered sub-human (Untermenschen).

Thanks to the British Army, which filmed the unbelievable sights that greeted the British when they entered the camp, the grim record of the atrocities exists to this day.

Anne Frank, the most famous victim of the Holocaust, lies in an unmarked mass grave at Bergen-Belsen; the date of her death is unknown. Both Anne and her sister Margot died in the camp during one of the world’s largest epidemics of typhus, a disease which is spread by body lice.

The Journal of the American Medical Association wrote about the epidemic in a 1945 issue:

By negotiations between British and German officers, British troops took over from the SS and the Wehrmacht the task of guarding the vast concentration camp at Belsen, a few miles northwest of Celle, which contains 60,000 prisoners, many of them political. This has been done because typhus is rampant in the camp and it is vital that no prisoners be released until the infection is checked. The advancing British agreed to refrain from bombing or shelling the area of the camp, and the Germans agreed to leave behind an armed guard which would be allowed to return to their own lines a week after the British arrival.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower anticipated that future generations might find it hard to believe the horror that they found when Nazi Germany was liberated by the Allies. He ordered that both the Ohrdruf camp and the Buchenwald camp be preserved for several weeks in the state in which they were found and German civilians in nearby towns were forced to visit the camps to view the piles of rotting bodies.

American soldiers, newspaper reporters and Congressmen were also called in as witnesses to the Nazi atrocities. But it was the British who had the biggest impact on the public conscience when they released their newsreel film of Bergen-Belsen to movie theaters around the world in the last days of the war. This was something that Himmler had not anticipated when he negotiated with the British to voluntarily turn the camp over to them. And he certainly didn’t expect that the staff members, who had voluntarily stayed behind in the camp, would be arrested, or that some of the Hungarian soldiers, who were assigned to help with the surrender of the camp, would be shot by the British.

As early as June 1942, there had been stories circulated by British radio about the Nazi death camps and Jews being killed in gas chambers, but few people in America believed it.

The death camps in Poland had been discovered by the Soviets, starting on July 23, 1944, when the Majdanek camp just outside Lublin was liberated. On January 27, 1945, a day that is now commemorated as National Remembrance Day in Europe, the largest Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau had been discovered by the Soviet army. These stories had been reported in the press, but Americans were still unaware of just how horrifying the Nazi camps actually were.

When the film of Bergen-Belsen was shown in American theaters, it was naturally assumed that the prisoners had been deliberately starved to death or killed in a gas chamber, since the film made no mention of the typhus epidemic in the camp. Nor was it mentioned that the water pump at Bergen-Belsen had been hit by Allied bombs and fresh water had to be brought in by trucks.

When British soldiers were finally allowed, as agreed upon in the negotiations, to enter Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, they at first saw nothing amiss. Smiling, healthy prisoners came out to greet them and some of the 500 children in the camp cheered and waved to them. But as they advanced further into the camp, they were stunned by the sight of over 10,000 unburied naked bodies. The horror was beyond human imagination. The sickening stench of the rotting corpses was so great that British soldiers later claimed that they could smell the camp from a distance of 10 miles.

In the last months of the war, as the Russian army advanced westward, prisoners in the camps in Poland had been evacuated and ultimately 60,000 prisoners had been crowded into the Bergen-Belsen camp which did not have enough space for them. Some of those who were still alive at Bergen-Belsen were walking skeletons. There were a variety of diseases that were rampant in the camp.

The Germans claimed that they had been unable to fix the broken water pump which had been destroyed by Allied bombs, and many inmates were dying of thirst, even though the camp was near a creek. The camp Commandant claimed that the water was not fit for drinking. The camp used cisterns for its water supply, but the water could not be accessed without the electric pump that had been hit in a bombing raid.

The British promptly fixed the broken pump and provided water from the creek for the camp which had been without water for six days. The nearby Army garrison had arranged for drinking water to be brought to the camp by truck, but it was not nearly enough.

Some of the female German guards, who had only arrived in the camp a couple of weeks before the liberation, appeared to be overweight, while many of the surviving prisoners appeared to be starving.

The German Army garrison had facilities for baking 60,000 loaves of bread daily, but they had been providing only 10,000 loaves per day to the concentration camp, while keeping the rest to feed the German soldiers.

The Camp Commandant had to scrounge for food in the countryside which was in the middle of a war zone. According to the British, the camp had been without food for six days, and there were no medical supplies at all.

Women Overseers (Aufseherin)  Bergen-Belsen April 1945

The concept of putting civilians into concentration camps in wartime was made famous by the British in the Boer War at the turn of the century, but it was the Nazis who had taken the idea to the extreme and had incarcerated millions in camps where they were allegedly starved and worked to death under inhuman conditions during World War II.

Although 20,000 women and children had died of disease and starvation in the concentration camp run by the British in South Africa, this was nothing compared to the Bergen-Belsen camp where up to 600 people were dying each day from hunger and sickness during the final chaotic days of the World War II.

The condition of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen was so bad that many of them could not be kept alive even with the best of medical care given to them by the British Army. Approximately 13,000 of the Bergen-Belsen inmates died after the camp was liberated, in spite of the heroic efforts of the British to save them.

The typhus epidemic was raging out of control in the camp, and the British were forced to move all the inmates to the nearby German Army garrison and then burn down the wooden barracks in the camp. Because typhus is transmitted by lice, burning down the barracks was the fastest way to stop the epidemic.

SS men were forbidden to wear gloves to handle the  diseased bodies in the camp
In the days just before the British arrived to take over, the German guards had ordered 2,000 prisoners in the camp to drag the dead bodies to mass graves, using strips of leather or cloth tied to the ankles of the corpses. After the British took control, the German guards were forced to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands, without protective gloves, and 20 of the 80 guards became sick and died as a result. In the film that was shown in American theaters, the British narrator explained that this was done as punishment for the guards.

The British soldiers would not touch the decomposing bodies; instead, they used bulldozers to shove the emaciated corpses into the mass graves. Many of the viewers who saw the British film mistakenly thought that it was heartless German soldiers who were driving the bulldozers.

Leslie Hardman, a Jewish Chaplain with the British troops, wrote a book entitled “The Survivors – the story of the Belsen remnant” (Vallentine, Mitchell & Co. Ltd). He said that he was concerned after watching the bodies being shoved into the mass graves with a bulldozer. He asked the officer in charge if the dead could be treated with more dignity, but was told that the burial was urgent. The officer promised that he would call the Chaplain back to recite prayers when the grave was ready to be filled.

After the liberation of the camp, German civilians from the nearby towns were forced to remove the bodies of the 13,000 prisoners who died afterwards, while the survivors stood by and jeered at them.

The photograph below shows a group of survivors in the background on the left, watching as German citizens are forced, at gunpoint, to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands. German homes in the nearby towns were taken by the British military and assigned to the surviving prisoners after the barracks in the camp were burned down.

German civilians were forced to remove bodies at gunpoint

British sign warns soldiers about typhus epidemic

On May 4, 1945, part of the German Army surrendered to the British on the Lüneberg heath where the Bergen-Belsen camp is located. A few days later, on May 7th, the rest of the German Army surrendered to General Eisenhower.

Eisenhower had been so sickened by the sight of dead bodies on his personal visit to the Ohrdruf forced labor camp near his field headquarters at Gotha, that he stunned the Germans by refusing the traditional handshake after the signing of an unconditional surrender by the German Army on May 7, 1945. World War II in Europe officially ended the next day on May 8, 1945.

Thanks to the foresight of Eisenhower, who ordered that every American soldier stationed in Germany should visit the gas chamber at Dachau, today there is scarcely a person in America who has not heard the stories of the Nazi atrocities first-hand from a relative or an acquaintance. However, it was the British who, by bringing their soldiers to Bergen-Belsen to see the ultimate horror so that they could pass their eye-witness information on to future generations, insured that the world now knows the true extent of what happened at Bergen-Belsen. The film made by the British at Bergen-Belsen has been shown to students in America for over 50 years, so that the nightmare lives on. Bergen-Belsen is a name that has become synonymous with Man’s Inhumanity to Man.

Eight Separate Camps at Belsen

May 9, 2018

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 is back in the news

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 2:45 pm

You can read about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which happened 75 years ago today, in this recent news article: https://forward.com/culture/399002/warsaw-ghetto-uprising-75-anniversary-paul-robeson-and-molly-picon/

The event known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on April 19, 1943 and ended on May 16, 1943. A total of 56,065 Jews were captured by the Germans during the uprising, and around 6,000 were killed during the destruction of the buildings in the ghetto.

The famous photo above is from the photo album of Jürgen Stroop, the Commander of the SS troops who put down the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.

There are 50 photos included in The Stroop Report, which documents the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto during this action.

In spite of the fact that the photo above is included in the Stroop Report, which was compiled during April and May, 1943, it has been identified by Holocaust survivor Tsvi C. Nussbaum as a photo taken after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on July 13, 1943 in front of the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw ghetto, where some Jews had been living as Gentiles.

Nussbaum claims that he is the seven-year-old boy in the photo and that the woman on his left is his aunt. Since Nussbaum and his aunt had foreign passports, they were sent to the Bergen-Belsen detention camp as “exchange Jews.”

The soldier, who is holding a gun on the little boy in the photo, was Josef Blösche; he was put on trial in East Germany after the war and was executed after being convicted of participating in the action to put down the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The photos below were taken during the uprising.

Beginning in June 1942, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had been transported to the Treblinka death camp on the Bug river, near the eastern border of German-occupied Poland, where they were allegedly killed in gas chambers.

Eventually, reports of the mass murder got back to the Warsaw Ghetto and a resistance organization called the Z.O.B. (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) was formed to prevent any more deportations from the ghetto. The leader of the Z.O.B. was Mordecai Anielewicz.

In January 1943, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto resisted the next round-up for deportation to Treblinka; the young Z.O.B fighters fired on German troops as they tried to get the Jews into railroad cars to be transported to the death camp.

The Germans retreated after four days of fighting and the Jews began to prepare to hold out against future attempts to liquidate the ghetto.

The following quote is from the opening statement by Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in which he reads from the Summary of the Stroop Report:

It is the original report of the SS Brigadier General Stroop in charge of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and its title page carries the inscription “The Jewish ghetto in Warsaw no longer exists.” It is characteristic that one of the captions explains that the photograph (the photo shown at the top of this page) concerned shows the driving out of Jewish “bandits”; those whom the photograph shows being driven out are almost entirely women and little children. It contains a day-by-day account of the killings mainly carried out by the SS organization, too long to relate, but let me quote General Stroop’s summary:

“The resistance put up by the Jews and bandits could only be suppressed by energetic actions of our troops day and night. The Reichsfuehrer SS ordered, therefore, on 4/23/1943, the cleaning out of the ghetto with utter ruthlessness and merciless tenacity. I, therefore, decided to destroy and burn down the entire ghetto without regard to the armament factories. These factories were systematically dismantled and then burned. Jews usually left their hideouts, but frequently remained in the burning buildings and jumped out of the windows only when the heat became unbearable. They then tried to crawl with broken bones across the street into buildings which were not afire. Sometimes they changed their hideouts during the night into the ruins of burned buildings. Life in the sewers was not pleasant after the first week. Many times we could hear loud voices in the sewers. SS men or policemen climbed bravely through the manholes to capture these Jews. Sometimes they stumbled over Jewish corpses: sometimes they were shot at. Tear gas bombs were thrown into the manholes and the Jews driven out of the sewers and captured. Countless numbers of Jews were liquidated in sewers and bunkers through blasting. The longer the resistance continued the tougher became the members of the Waffen SS, Police and Wehrmacht who always discharged their duties in an exemplary manner. Frequently Jews who tied to replenish their food supplies during the night or to communicate with neighboring groups were exterminated.

“This action eliminated,” says the SS commander, “a proved total of 56,065. To that, we have to add the number killed through blasting, fire, etc., which cannot be counted.” (1061- PS)

Continue

Marek Edelmann – last survivor of the uprising

Ghetto Heroes

Mila 18

Ghetto Wall

Nozyk Synagogue

The Ghetto

Umschlagplatz

Back to Warsaw Ghetto index

89 year old “Nazi grandmother” finally goes to prison

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 1:47 pm

Ursula Haverbeck, who is a Holocaust denier

It’s about time this criminal was taken off the streets. Imagine a Holocaust denying grandmother being on the loose! What will this vicious criminal do next!!!

The following quote is from a news article:

Begin quote

An 89-year-old woman dubbed the “Nazi grandma” for repeatedly denying the Holocaust was arrested in Germany Monday after she failed to show up to serve her prison sentence.

Ursula Haverbeck had been sentenced to two years in prison for incitement by denying the Nazis’ murder of 6 million Jews between 1941 and 1945.

End quote

Wait a minute! She denied “the murder of 6 million Jews”. The number of Jews killed in the Holocaust is now down to 1.1 million. It is no longer against the law to deny the famous 6 million.

This woman should sue for “wrongful imprisonment”.

May 8, 2018

Jews were allowed to write a letter to their loved ones minutes before they were gassed

Filed under: Auschwitz, Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 4:38 pm

My photo of the gas chamber at Auschwitz

German people have manners and they are famous for being very considerate. I know this because I lived in Germany for 22 months while my husband was in the American Army. I was amazed that the Germans were such nice people, after everything that I had heard about the Germans gassing the Jews. Could it be that the Germans were gassing the lice in the clothing worn by the Jews?

A recent news article  confirms that the Jews were gassed: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2018/04/30/auschwitz-letter-thought-to-be-only-one-its-kind.html

The following quote is from the news article:

Begin quote

That Vilma Grunwald’s letter even exists is extraordinary.

She penned it in the minutes before she was gassed at Auschwitz, addressed it to her husband, and handed it to a Nazi guard who  did the improbable — he delivered it to the man, who was also imprisoned at the camp.

The Washington Post reports she accompanied her eldest child, a 16-year-old named John, who limped, to the gas chambers. The Indianapolis Star has the story of the July 11, 1944, letter, which has for the last four years resided at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I’m always reluctant to say it’s the only such document ever created,” says the museum’s chief acquisitions curator, “but to the best of our knowledge” it is the only surviving letter written at the concentration camp prior to a gassing.

End quote

I have seen a real gas chamber in Jefferson City, Missouri. A real gas chamber looks nothing like the alleged gas chamber in the photo that I took. How come nobody ever tells you that?

 

May 7, 2018

Should Holocaust education be required in American schools?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 4:13 pm

My photo of the holes on the roof of the Auschwitz gas chamber where the gas pellets were poured in

My answer to the question in the title of my blog post is Yes. Holocaust education should be required, but which version of the story? The Jewish version of the Holocaust or the non-Jewish version?

I believe that both versions should be taught, so the students can decide for themselves what they want to believe. By no means should only the Jewish version of history be taught, which is what is going on now.

You can read about Holocaust education here: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/connecticut-lawmakers-vote-to-require-holocaust-education/

When I climbed up on the roof of the alleged gas chamber, to take the photo above, people were screaming at me: “You can’t go up here.” I said, “Yes, I can.” and up I went. They should have said “You are not allowed to climb up there.”

The Bergen-Belsen camp where prisoners died

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — furtherglory @ 3:36 pm

The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945

Bergen-Belsen Commandant Josef Kramer was immediately arrested by the British liberators


The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was voluntarily turned over to the Allied 21st Army Group, a combined British-Canadian unit, on April 15, 1945 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the man who was in charge of all the concentration camps.

Bergen-Belsen was in the middle of the war zone where British and German troops were fighting in the last days of World War II and there was a danger that the typhus epidemic in the camp would spread to the troops on both sides.

Before negotiations with the British began, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), had sent an order on April 7, 1945, directly to the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, that all the prisoners in the camp should be killed, rather than let them fall into the hands of the enemy, according to Gerald Fleming, author of “Hitler and the Final Solution,” who wrote that this order had come from Hitler himself. When this news reached representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, they contacted Felix Kersten, a Swedish chiropractor who had treated Himmler.

According to Fleming, Kersten succeeded in persuading Himmler to reverse the order. When Hitler heard this, he flew into a rage, according to Fleming.

Eva Olsson was a 20-year-old Hungarian Jewess who was sent to Auschwitz in May 1944 and later transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she was liberated on April 15, 1945. After Olsson gave a talk to students at the Canadian WC Eaket Secondary School in Blind River, “The Standard” reported the following from her presentation:

“Six days before we were liberated the Gestapo (Germany’s secret police) had given orders that on April 15, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon all prisoners were to be shot.”

The shootings continued even after the camp was seized, done out of sight of Allied forces.

Olsson explains after the camp was taken a British officer made a declaration. The man said for every prisoner killed now that the camp was taken a German official or guard would be executed immediately.

Hungarian soldiers in the Germany Army, who had been sent to keep order while the camp was transferred to the British, were in fact shot by the British, according to British soldiers who participated in the liberation.

Negotiations for the transfer of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British took several days. Then on the night of April 12, 1945, a cease-fire agreement was signed between the local German Military Commander and the British Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Taylor-Balfour, according to Eberhard Kolb in his book, “Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945.”

An area of 48 square kilometers around Bergen-Belsen was declared a neutral zone. The neutral zone was 8 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide. Until British troops could take over, the agreement specified that the camp would be guarded by a unit of Hungarian soldiers and soldiers from the German Wehrmacht (the regular army as opposed to the SS). They were assured that they would be allowed free return passage to the German lines within six days after the British arrived. The SS soldiers who made up the staff of the camp were to remain at their posts and carry on their duties until the British arrived to take over. There was no specific stipulation in the agreement about what their fate would be, according to Eberhard Kolb.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 15th, British soldiers arrived at the German Army training garrison, next door to the concentration camp, and the transfer of the neutral territory of the Bergen-Belsen camp was made. A short time later, a group of British officers entered the concentration camp, which was right next to the garrison, although the distance by road was about 1.5 kilometers.

The first British units to enter the camp, in a van with a loudspeaker, were from the 14 Amplifier Unit, Intelligence Corps and 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Three of the soldiers on the tanks were Jewish. Chaim Herzog was a young Jewish officer with the Intelligence Corps; he later became Israel’s Ambassador to the UN and then President of Israel. In honor of the part he played in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, an honorary tombstone has been placed near the Jewish Monument at the Memorial Site which is now on the grounds of the former camp.

Child survivors at Bergen-Belsen

According to Michael Berenbaum in his book “The World Must Know,” Commandant Josef Kramer greeted British officer Derrick Sington at the entrance to the camp, wearing a fresh uniform. Berenbaum wrote that Kramer expressed his desire for an orderly transition and his hopes of collaborating with British. He dealt with them as equals, one officer to another, even offering advice as to how to deal with the “unpleasant situation.” That same day, Commandant Kramer was arrested by the British; five months later he was brought before a British Military Tribunal as a war criminal.

On April 8, 1945, around 25,000 to 30,000 prisoners had arrived at Bergen-Belsen from other concentration camps in the Neuengamme area. On that date, there were over 60,000 prisoners in the camp and some had to be housed in the barracks of the adjacent Army Training Center. The Geneva Convention specified that civilian prisoners were to be evacuated from a war zone, and up until this time, the Nazi concentration camps had been either evacuated or abandoned as the war progressed. But because of the typhus epidemic, it was impossible to evacuate all the prisoners from Bergen-Belsen. The camp could not be abandoned for fear that the epidemic would spread to the soldiers of both sides.

Between April 6 and April 11, 1945, three transports of Jews were evacuated from the Neutrals camp, the Star Camp and the Hungarian Camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. These were prisoners who held foreign passports and were considered “exchange Jews.”

Brigadier Llewelyn Glyn-Hughes, a medical officer, was in command of the relief operation. The British had known that there were terrible epidemics in the camp, and that this was the main reason the camp had been surrendered, but they were unprepared for the gruesome sight of the dead bodies, and it came as an enormous shock to them.

In a book entitled “The Belsen Trial” by Raymond Phillips, published in 1949, Brigadier Glyn-Hughes is quoted in this description of the terrible scene that the British found at Bergen-Belsen:

“The conditions in the camp were really indescribable; no description nor photograph could really bring home the horrors that were there outside the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse. There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some in between the huts. The compounds themselves had bodies lying about in them. The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living. Near the crematorium were signs of filled-in mass graves, and outside to the left of the bottom compound was an open pit half-full of corpses. It had just begun to be filled. Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100. […]

There were no bunks in a hut in the women’s compound which contained the typhus patients. They were lying on the floor and were so weak they could hardly move. There was practically no bedding. In some cases there was a thin mattress, but some had none. Some had draped themselves in blankets, and some had German hospital type of clothing. That was the general picture.”

Typhus barracks at Bergen-Belsen had no bunks

One of the survivors who was liberated that day was Adam Koenig, a German Jew, born in 1923. A week after the war began in 1939, Koenig was sent to Sachsenhausen, a camp near Berlin. In October 1942, he was transferred to Auschwitz. Koenig’s parents and four of the eight children in his family died in the Holocaust; his father died at Auschwitz. Koenig survived the death march out of Auschwitz in January 1945, and ended up at Bergen-Belsen where he was among those who had survived after six years of imprisonment by the Nazis. In 2005, on the 60ieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps, 82-year-old Adam Koenig and his wife Maria, also an Auschwitz survivor, were still active in giving lectures to students to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Reverend Leslie H. Hardman was the 32-year-old Senior Jewish Chaplain to the British Forces, attached to 8 Corp of the British 2nd Army when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. Hardman was born in Wales; his father was from Poland and his mother was from Russia. After the war, he wrote a book entitled “The Survivors – the story of the Belsen remnant” (Vallentine, Mitchell & Co. Ltd) in which he described what he saw at Bergen-Belsen.

He wrote that when he first approached the camp, he saw posters which warned “Danger – Typhus.” Once inside the camp he was horrified at what he saw. He wrote that Belsen consisted of several wooden barracks, fifty metres long, poorly constructed and possessing window openings and doorways devoid of windows or doors so that the huts became effective wind tunnels for the freezing winter climate to do its worst. The roofs leaked so that straw scattered on the floor quickly became sodden. The beds were mere planks of wood. Each barrack housed seven thousand, according to Hardman’s account.

Chaplain Hardman wrote that illness was endemic and medical treatment was unknown. Each day the outdoor roll call in freezing conditions lasted for four hours or more and those who fell down were dead. He described the camp as so lice-ridden that the clothes appeared to move on their own. Victims scratched themselves on the struts, which held the hut together and developed open sores and boils, which became infected. And then came typhus with such ferocity that a quarter of all the men and women in the camp died.

Lt. Lawrence Aslen was one of the British soldiers who was there on the day of the liberation of the camp. According to his son, Niall Alsen, his father “arrived some hours after the first troops, but his first impression was that bodies were everywhere, certainly hundreds if not several thousands.” Lt. Alsen told his son that “the scale of the problem just overwhelmed them. There were so many more in the huts as well that it became a priority to get them disposed of to lessen the attrition from disease. Many British soldiers were not vaccinated, but the SMO (Senior medical Officer) of the field hospital ordered emergency inoculations for everybody. Even so, several British soldiers contracted typhus and a severe form of dysentery. Happily none of them died.”

In an e-mail to me, Niall Alsen wrote that as far as his father was concerned, the SS guards at Bergen-Belsen “were utterly evil and depraved murderers who should all have been hanged.” Alsen said that his father described the inmates as lethargic, listless and lost. To them, the British were just another lot of troops sent to guard them and it took several days before many of them believed they were actually free. This transition came when nurses from the field hospital began taking the sick away to a converted barracks nearby, and it was the sight of these women that told them they were liberated. When they began to feed the inmates with high calorie food, it actually killed some of them, who were so unused to real food. Alsen said that his father only really spoke to him about Bergen-Belsen a couple of times. He was too badly traumatized by the experience to talk about it.

Niall Alsen said that his father told him that the photograph of the woman guard, who looks very angry in the phtotograph below, was taken just after the guards had been paraded past the survivors and told that they were to start burying the bodies. Niall wrote in an e-mail to me:

Many of them demurred and protested; possibly this is the moment it was captured on film. A Sergeant told them in German “You bastards created this F***ing mess so you can F***ing well clear it up!”

Female guards at Bergen-Belsen

In answer to my question about whether the British liberators had killed any of the Hungarian soldiers, who were sent to the camp to help with the transition and were promised that they could return to their lines after six days, Alsen wrote the following, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:

Yes, some of them were shot out of hand for mutiny. A burial detail of Hungarians refused to handle the dead bodies. One officer refused to obey the order saying it was contrary to the Geneva Convention. The captain in charge immediately told them they were under martial law and any refusal was mutiny. The officer still refused and so did four of his men. The captain drew his revolver and cocked it, pointing it at the officer’s forehead. The officer still refused and the captain shot him dead. The other four attempted to rush the captain, a somewhat foolish attempt against 8 loaded sten guns in the hands of men itching to use them. All five ended up in one of the grave pits. The officer then reported what he had done to the Colonel who told him not to worry: “You’ve just saved the hangman a job.”

In response to my question about whether any of the SS guards had died from typhus after being forced to handle the dead bodies with their bare hands, Niall Alsen answered as follows, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:

That report is true. They were also made to live in one of the huts in the same filthy conditions as the Inmates and fed the same basic rations; that could also be the reason so many contracted Typhus. However, there are suspicions that two of the more sadistic guards were thrown into one of the huts by British troops for a lark; they were kicked and punched to death. (Death by natural causes?) My father said it was very difficult to control the men from meting out summary justice; perhaps it would have been better if that had happened.

Bergen-Belsen survivors line up for food

Sign put up by the British after Bergen-Belsen was liberated

One of the prisoners who had arrived in Bergen-Belsen in early February 1945, on a transport from Sachsenhausen, was Rudolf Küstermeier, who wrote the following, which was quoted in Derrick Singleton’s book “Belsen Uncovered,” published in 1946.

Begin quote

In the night before April 15 I lay awake and only fell asleep in the small hours. Suddenly I was woken up by one of the Russian workers in our block. “Come, come, quick! There are tanks on the street.” I heard the unmistakable clanking, rumbling noise…From far I heard the tanks pass through the camp entrance and a voice call from a loud speaker van. I knew we were free. I lay there musing. Incessantly I had to fend off fleas and bugs who did not stop torturing me for a minute. I was feverish and my head was heavy and stupefied, but I was aware of the fact that we were free. More than eleven years of imprisonment were over. I lived. I would have a chance to recover. I would be able to participate in the tasks of reconstruction. I did not think of revenge but I knew that the most devilish tyranny the modern world had seen had lost its last footing, and that there would be a chance now for new men and a new life. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude.

End quote

Küstermeier was a Social Democrat who was arrested on November 19, 1933 on a charge of doing illegal activities against the Nazi regime. He was tried and convicted by the Volksgerichtshof (the People’s High Court) and sentenced to ten years in prison. After he had served his time, he was sent to a concentration camp to be placed under protective custody as an enemy of the state. In August 1945, he wrote a report which was included in the book, “Belsen Uncovered” by Derrick Sington.

An excerpt from his report is quoted below:

Then the last phase began. The SS provided civilian clothes and rucksacks for themselves to prepare for their disappearance. They barely entered the huts anymore, and the dreadful roll-calls stopped. Here and there in the camp small groups of prisoners assembled in order to take over the administration if necessary.

But the SS did not intend to leave without an escort. They published an appeal, especially to the Germans and Poles, to fight voluntarily on the side of the SS against the Allied forces. A few days later all the Germans, except for a few who went their own ways, were assembled in a hut, and the majority, above all most of the Block Elders and Kapos, left with the SS on April 14.

It had become known shortly beforehand that an agreement had been made between British and German officers declaring the camp neutral territory. This was not announced officially, but the changes which occurred seemed to corroborate the rumors. Most of the SS men disappeared and in their stead Hungarian troops and soldiers of the German Wehrmacht appeared. The remaining SS had the special task of repairing the camp and especially of taking the dead to the mass graves.

Bergen-Belsen inmates drag a diseased body

Thousands of bodies in various stages of decomposition were lying in heaps all over the camp. As their last task before turning the camp over to the British, the SS began repairing the camp and trying to bury the bodies in mass graves which were dug in a remote spot about one kilometer from the barracks. Between April 11 and April 14, all prisoners in the camp who were still able to work were recruited to help with burial of the corpses. While two prisoner’s orchestras played dancing music, 2000 inmates dragged the corpses using strips of cloth or leather straps tied to the wrists or ankles. This monstrous spectacle went on for four days, from six in the morning until dark. Still, there were 10,000 rotting corpses remaining in the camp.

Corpses are gathered at the site of one of the mass graves

Sick prisoners were moved to the hospital at the German Army base right next to the camp. The photo below shows prisoners who are recovering from typhus and other diseases.

Bergen-Belsen survivors in hospital at German Army base 

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