Scrapbookpages Blog

September 29, 2015

The American soldiers who liberated Dachau

Yesterday, a comment was made on my blog about an American soldier, named Jimmy Gentry, who claims to have participated in the liberation of Dachau. I wrote about Jimmy Gentry on this previous blog post:  https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/jimmy-gentry-liberator-of-dachau-concentration-camp/

You can read about the various claims regarding the liberation of Dachau on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauLiberation/LiberationDay3.html

I am answering the comment about Jimmy Gentry on my blog post today.

Begin quote of comment:

“I have no idea who this furtherglory person is, other than a faceless coward. If you are picking apart a story of a Patriot who served this country honorably, Jimmy Gentry, who also was my history teacher, then you are basically nothing more than a worm. Who are you to accuse him of lying? Apparently that’s what worms do. I know for a fact Coach Gentry would never attempt to draw attention to himself regarding his experiences during the War. You should be ashamed. For anyone coming across this blog- warning….it’s garbage journalism.”

End of comment

I went to the website of Jimmy Gentry in order to refresh my memory regarding his claim that he was a liberator of Dachau.

I copied the following quote from his website:

“Off in the distance I saw boxcars lined up with hundreds of dead bodies inside. They looked starved and tortured,” remembers Jimmy Gentry. “I asked another soldier, ‘Who are these people?’ He said, ‘They are Jews.’“

American infantryman Jimmy Gentry had seen combat at the Battle of the Bulge, but it paled in comparison to what he saw that day. “No one told us what we would find. No one explained what our mission was. We saw a wall and that was the entrance to a prison camp like I have never seen.” The camp was Dachau.
End quote from comment

Both the 45th Thunderbird Division and the 42nd Rainbow Division were advancing on April 29, 1945 toward Munich with the 20th Armored Division between them. Dachau was directly in their path, about 10 miles north of Munich.

According to Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, the commander of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Thunderbird Division, he received orders at 10:15 a.m. to liberate the Dachau camp, and the soldiers of I Company were the first to arrive at the camp around 11 a.m. on April 29, 1945.

The 101st Tank Battalion was attached to the 45th Thunderbird Division.  The 101st arrived in the town of Dachau at 9:30 a.m. on April 29th.

Model of Dachau concentration camp shows that it was right next to an SS garrison

Model of Dachau concentration camp shows that it was right next to a large SS garrison where German soldiers were stationed.  There was no wall between the SS garrison and the concentration camp.

Fence around Dachau concentration camp

Fence around the Dachau concentration camp at the time that the camp was liberated (not a wall)

Main gate into the Dachau complex which included the concentration camp

Main gate into the Dachau complex which included the SS garrison and the concentration camp

The photo above shows SS men surrendering to American soldiers who liberated Dachau.  The concentration camp is a considerable distance from this spot.

Railroad track where trains entered the SS camp, not the concentration camp

Railroad track where trains entered the SS camp; trains did not enter the concentration camp

A short railroad branch line, or rail siding, shown in the photo above, was built in 1915 from the train station in Dachau to a gunpowder and munitions factory. In July 1936 when the Nazis acquired all the property of the abandoned gun powder factory, construction began on an SS training camp and garrison, which was built next to the concentration camp that had opened in 1933.

On September 23, 1936 the industrial railroad branch line, that had formerly served the munitions factory, became the property of the Nazis. It was used primarily to bring supplies into the SS camp, but a few transport trains carrying prisoners also arrived on this railroad line, which went a short distance inside the SS camp through a railroad gate on the southwest side of the complex. The railroad tracks did not extend into the concentration camp.

A short piece of the track on this branch line has been preserved as a memorial to the prisoners who entered the Dachau complex by train. The train tracks entered the SS garrison, but not the concentration camp.

The rest of the branch railroad line was ripped out in 1985. The English translation of the sign in the photo reads “Railroad track to the former SS camp where between 1933 and 1945 tens of thousands of prisoners were transported into the concentration camp.”

Railroad track at Dachau complex

Railroad track at Dachau complex did NOT enter the concentration camp

Train with dead prisoners was parked outside the Dachau camp

Train with dead prisoners was parked outside the Dachau complex which included the concentration camp

When the former Dachau concentration camp was turned into a Memorial Site in 1965, the US Army was still occupying the former SS Army Garrison, so a new entrance for tourists was made through an opening in the fence on the east side of the camp, which is shown in my photo below. At that time, there was a high wall which separated the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gatehouse building from the US Army garrison.  That wall was not there when American soldiers liberated Dachau.

Jimmy Gentry: We saw a wall and that was the entrance to a prison camp like I have never seen.” The camp was Dachau.

Entrance into Dachau Memorial Site in 2003 was through this fence

Entrance into Dachau Memorial Site in 2003 was through this fence

There was no wall between the concentration camp and the SS garrison when Jimmy Gentry was there in 1945.  The wall was built when American soldiers occupied the Army garrison for 17 years after the end of World War II.

Prisoners entered the Dachau concentration camp by going through the SS camp on this brick road

Prisoners entered the Dachau concentration camp by going through the SS camp on this brick road

February 27, 2013

New book about Felix Sparks gives a new perspective on the liberation of Dachau and the Dachau massacre

You can read a review of Alex Kershaw’s new book entitled The Liberator here. The liberator in the title is Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division of the US Seventh Army, the first unit to arrive at the Dachau complex, which consisted of an SS garrison and a concentration camp.

It was Sparks who fired a shot into the air to stop the killing of German soldiers with their hands in the air, an event known today as the Dachau massacre.  The Dachau massacre was kept secret for 40 years, and many people today still don’t believe it.

German soldiers being executed at Dachau by 45th Division soldiers

German soldiers being executed at Dachau by 45th Division soldiers

Felix Sparks fires a shot into the air to stop the massacre

Felix Sparks fires a shot into the air to stop the killing of unarmed German soldiers

In the two photos above, note the German soldiers standing against a wall with their hands up; the second photo shows Lt. Col. Felix Sparks firing a shot into the air to stop the massacre.

I received a notice from Amazon today telling me that this new book is out; in the past, I have purchased many books about Dachau and the liberation of the camp.

This quote is from the review of the book which you can read in full here:

….. Kershaw’s exploration of what relentless combat can do to the mind. By Sept. 1944, he notes, more than 100,000 men had been pulled off the line due to combat fatigue.

“According to the U.S. Army surgeon general, all men in rifle battalions became psychiatric casualties after 200 days in combat. ‘There aren’t any iron men,’ declared one army psychiatrist. ‘The strongest personality, subjected to sufficient stress over a sufficient length of time, is going to disintegrate.’ ”

This happens at Dachau. Completely unprepared for what awaits them, and having fought for far too long, some of Sparks’s men crack, and begin shooting and killing unarmed SS men. Sparks manages to stop it, but is held responsible anyway. As fortune would have it, his case winds up on the desk of four-star General George S. Patton in May, 1945.

“There is no point in an explanation,” Patton tells him. “I have already had these charges investigated, and they are a bunch of crap. I’m going to tear up these goddamn papers on you and your men.”

“You have been a damn fine soldier.”

A sentiment this deeply researched and affecting book makes abundantly clear.

I have not read the book yet, so I don’t know if the author mentions that, while the 45th Division was busy killing unarmed German soldiers in the SS garrison that was right next to the camp, the 42nd Division was accepting the surrender of the camp from a German officer.

Surrender of the Dachau camp to the 42nd Division

Surrender of the Dachau concentration camp to the 42nd Division under a white flag of truce

The 45th Division “liberated” the SS garrison, killing wounded Wehrmacht prisoners, along with SS men who had been sent to surrender the camp.  The concentration camp, which was within the walls of the SS garrison, was “surrendered,” not “liberated” in the sense that it was defended and soldiers had to be killed in order to take over the concentration camp by force.

You can read about the surrender of the Dachau concentration camp on my website here.

You can read about the role of the 45th Division in the “liberation” of Dachau on my website here.

The following quote is also from the review of the book:

In France, in the waning months of the war, this almost gets him [Felix Sparks] killed, as he leads a charge to rescue some cut-off forces. As he exits his tank to rescue some wounded, the Germans have an easy shot and Sparks is as good as dead. Astonishingly though, an SS machine gunner by the name of Johann Voss holds his fire. Given the ruthless reputation of the SS, this is a shocking revelation, but Kerhsaw explains: “There was no honor to be gained, said Voss, by drilling a brave officer with 7.2mm bullets as he tried to help his wounded men. Indeed, there was a silent understanding among the SS watching Sparks. Killing him would be wrong.”

So this new book is going to point out that at least one SS soldier fought honorably during World War II?  Was this what caused Lt. Col. Felix Sparks to stop the killing of unarmed German soldiers, about whom Col. Howard Buechner wrote: “Public outrage would certainly have opposed the prosecution of American heroes for eliminating a group of sadists who so richly deserved to die.”

Col. Buechner’s account of the Dachau massacre is quite controversial; you can read about it on my website here.

April 16, 2011

train tracks at Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: — furtherglory @ 11:49 am

Tracks on the right, near the entrance to Dachau camp

Many visitors to the Dachau Memorial site assume that the tracks near the entrance were used to bring train loads of Jews right up to the Arbeit Macht Frei gate.  Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to take a close-up of these tracks because I didn’t anticipate that so many bloggers would mistakenly write about the prisoners arriving at the camp on trains. (more…)

September 1, 2010

Mystery solved: the dead body found at the Dachau gate on the day of liberation, April 29, 1945

Several accounts of the liberation of Dachau mention that there was a dead body lying just outside the only gate into the concentration camp when the 42nd Rainbow Division arrived at around 3 p.m. on April 29, 1945.  These accounts  do not say whether this was the body of a prisoner or an SS guard.  Now the mystery has been solved.  I have just learned that a book by Pierre Moulin entitled Dachau, Holocaust and US Samurais – Nisei Soldiers first in Dachau tells the history of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and explains how the dead body came to be just outside the gate into the Dachau camp.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which consisted entirely of Japanese-American soldiers, is acknowledged by the US Army as the liberators of one of the 123 sub-camps of Dachau, and also as the liberators, on May 2, 1945, of some of the prisoners who were on a death march out of the main Dachau camp. But according to Moulin’s book, Japanese-American soldiers in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were also the first Americans to see the main Dachau camp, on April 28th, the day before the official liberation.

Moulin says that he started the research for his book seven years ago when he talked with Eric Saul and Barbara Distel at the Dachau Memorial site. But it was a providential meeting with Mr. Zouzou Perez, who had been appointed by the Belgium government as President of the Survivors of Auschwitz, who gave him the answers to his questions. Mr. Perez, who was a friend of Moulin’s mother-in-law, put him in touch with Arthur Haulot, a former Belgian political prisoner at Dachau.

According to Moulin, Arthur Haulot was the Vice-President and founder of the International Committee of Dachau in 1944.  Haulot gave Moulin the following information about the DAY BEFORE the liberation:

On the morning of the April 28th 1945, around 10:00 a.m., a first alert very special : 5 times one minute sirens with a short break. This type of alert signified there were enemies in sight. Just a few minutes after it was a second alert of the same type.

But nothing happened. No Americans.

Moulin tells the story of what really happened that day:

As Arthur Haulot was with Pat O’Leary, the President of the International Committee, inside building A, looking out towards the only gate into the concentration camp, they spotted, around 3:00 p.m., an American jeep, followed soon by a second one that came to the gate.

The German guards remained quiet, but the Jeeps left immediately. A Polish detainee saw the Jeeps leaving. He couldn’t resist and ran through the gate after them. The German guards, who had gained confidence after the departure of the Jeeps, shot the Polish prisoner in the head and his corpse fell down against the outside of the gate.

Curiously, the gate into the concentration camp at Dachau had not been locked that day, and the main gate into the Dachau compound was also not locked or even guarded, so that the two Jeeps had entered the compound through the main gate and had driven up to the gate of the prison compound.

Arthur Haulot and Pat O’Leary witnessed the arrival of the American Jeeps, but said that the soldiers never went inside the camp.  According to Moulin, the 45th Thunderbird Division was then ordered to liberate the Dachau camp. Soldiers in the 45th Division arrived early the next morning and entered the SS garrison first.

According to Moulin, the two alerts were never explained as there were officially NO American troops in Dachau on April 28, 1945. The only unit claiming that they were there that day was the 522nd F.A. Battalion.

Moulin wrote: Why  did those men leave without trying to get inside the Dachau prison compound? Because they had received strict orders to leave at once.

This quote is from Moulin’s web site about the liberation of Dachau:

The US HQ had no option and ordered the 522nd Scouts to leave immediately and to keep their mouths shut under Court Martial Threat. The two alerts were provoked by the coming of the two jeeps. They could have pass to the SS camp gate due to the confusion when the SS guards left in a hurry and when the new troops under the command of Lt Heinrich Winker came in the camp.

[…]

So the 522nd F.A. bn of Japanese Ancestry were the first to reach Dachau Main gate on April 28th 1945, but never got inside the camp and couldn’t really be considered as the first liberators. The first official Americans liberators came on April 29th 1945, two journalists Peter Fuchs and Marguerite Higgins came with Will Cowling from the 42nd Rainbow Division and to get inside they have to remove the corps of a detainee against the door. That was the proof that they came after the 522nd F.A. jeeps.

The 45th Thunderbird Division, the 42nd Rainbow Division, and the 20th Armored Division are officially credited by the US Army and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with liberating Dachau on April 29, 1945, but according to Moulin, the first American soldiers to see the Dachau main camp were Japanese-Americans.

Read about which soldier entered Dachau first on April 29, 1945 here.

July 11, 2010

Polish Catholic priest who survived Dachau

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 6:48 pm

I was just reading the online newspaper called The Journal of International Falls, Minnesota and I learned about a Polish Catholic priest who had been scheduled to be executed three hours after American soldiers liberated the Dachau concentration camp.

(more…)

June 17, 2010

People in the town of Dachau didn’t know what was going on in the concentration camp

Filed under: Dachau, Germany — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:14 pm

Nothing makes me more angry than reading a blog post that criticizes the German civilians who lived in the town of Dachau during the time that the concentration camp was in operation.  It seems that every recent visitor to the Dachau Memorial site, who writes about his or her trip, mentions that the people in the town must have known what was going on, but they chose to ignore it.  How come no one ever thinks that maybe the reason that the townspeople didn’t know about the atrocities in the camp is because these things never happened.

(more…)

April 29, 2010

American veterans remember the liberation of Dachau 65 years ago today

Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945 and  nothing makes me angrier than reading the exaggerated stories of  the US Army veterans who claim that they were there that day.  I just sat down at my computer to check the news while I eat my lunch.  The very first story that I read about the liberation of Dachau was an article in The Bay City Times, which you can read here. (more…)

March 17, 2010

Gordon Hogan, Dachau tour guide

Today, I read an article posted on this website with the headline “Genocide, the stench of death and eating lunch in a gas chamber.”

The article is about an Irishman from Tipperary, named Gordon Hogan, who conducts tours for visitors to the Dachau Memorial Site. According to the article, Gordon “is one of the leading tour guides at the Nazi death camp of Dachau.”

The following quote is from the article:

“Gordon, 29, who lives in Munich, knows everything there is to know about the dark history of the horrific Dachau concentration camp.

“So who better to show the camp to the huge number of visitors who come to see it annually than the Templemore artist?”

Who better?  I think maybe someone who knows about the real history of the Dachau concentration camp would be better. The visitors probably already know the “dark history of the horrific Dachau concentration camp.”  What the visitors need is an unbiased tour guide with a Neutral Point of View (NPV) and a knowledge of history.

A visitor to Dachau who took Gordon Hogan’s tour on June 30, 2008 wrote this on his blog:

“… we got to see the actual crematorium and gas room that prisoners would be taken to to kill and later incinerate.  It was a somber place to be but I am very glad to be given the opportunity to witness this place first hand.  The gas room was a serious site.  To stand in a room where at least, I think, about a 1,000 prisoners were gased (sic) to death was a sad place to see.”

Some time ago, I read another visitor’s blog about her trip to Dachau. She didn’t identify her tour guide by name, but she did identify him by his accent; how many tour guides with an “Irish accent” could there be at Dachau? I’m guessing that there is only one: Gordon Hogan.

Regarding the Dachau gas chamber, the blogger wrote this:

The guide spoke of how they cleverly pumped warm air into the room, waited for the poisonous capsule to change to cyanide and then 20 minute for the people to die. Then they moved the bodies into the next room and removed the gold fillings. Finally onto the ovens.

Dachau gas chamber has heating vent near the floor, May 2001

The photo above shows the west wall of the Dachau gas chamber; notice the square vent in the corner near the floor.  This appears to be a heating vent to warm what looks like a shower room.  A portable sign in the corner informed visitors in 2001 that this room was never used as a gas chamber or never put into operation as a gas chamber; the sign was removed in 2003.

According to tour guide Gordon Hogan, poisonous capsules were poured into the Dachau gas chamber through two vents on the east wall of the room, as shown in the photo below.

Two vents on the east wall of the Dachau gas chamber

Close-up of  vent through which cyanide pellets were poured into the Dachau gas chamber

The vents shown in the photos above are on the opposite side of the room from the heater. Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to put the heater closer to where the pellets were poured in so that they would heat up faster?

There are two serious problems with Gordon Hogan’s version of how poisonous capsules were put into the Dachau gas chamber disguised as a shower room.  The first problem is that the American prosecutors at Nuremberg showed a film of the gas chamber in which it was explained that the gas came through the shower heads and the gas flow was regulated by control wheels behind the west wall of the gas chamber, as shown in the photo below. According to the evidence presented at Nuremberg, the poisonous gas was not in the form of capsules.

Still photo from film shown as evidence at Nuremberg

Notice the peep hole in the photo above.  The person who was operating the control wheels could look inside the gas chamber to see when all the prisoners were dead.  There was no peep hole on the opposite wall where Gordon tells visitors that poisonous capsules were poured onto the floor. Shouldn’t the peep hole be on the side where the gas is being poured in?

In the film that was shown at Nuremberg, the narrator said that poison gas was vented through empty light fixture boxes and that the input of the gas was regulated by push buttons which you can see in the black and white photo above.

Empty light fixture box described as a “gas vent” in Nuremberg film

The photo above shows a light fixture box in the northeast corner of the Dachau gas chamber. Note the wiring for the light fixture that was removed. This box was described as a “gas vent” in the film, made on May 3, 1945, which was shown at the Nuremberg IMT on November 29, 1945.

How come the American liberators didn’t notice the openings on the east wall where Gordon Hogan tells visitors that poisonous capsules were poured into the room?  Why weren’t these openings mentioned at the Nuremberg IMT? Could it be that these openings weren’t there until much later?

The film that was shown at Nuremberg, which includes the gas chamber footage, can be seen on YouTube.

The second problem with Gordon’s version of the gassing procedure is that Dachau had four machines that were supplied by the Degesh company, which manufactured the poisonous pellets, but there was no Degesh machine in the gas chamber disguised as a shower room.  The Degesh machines were installed in the four disinfection chambers where the clothing was deloused with Zyklon-B, the same gas that was used for homicidal gassing. These machines automatically opened a can of Zyklon-B pellets, poured them into a wire basket and then blew warm air over the pellets.  After the clothing had been deloused, the pellets were retrieved from the basket, put back into the can and returned to the Degesh company to have more poison put into the pellets.  In Gordon’s version of the story, the pellets would have gone down the six floor drains in the gas chamber and poisoned the whole camp. There were no floor drains in the disinfection chambers for this very reason.

Machine used for putting gas pellets into Dachau disinfection chambers

To me, the big question is why didn’t the Germans use one of these Degesh machines in the homicidal gas chamber where people were gassed at Dachau?

Here is a quote from “The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army, released only days after the camp was liberated”:

“The internees who were brought to Camp Dachau for the sole purpose of being executed were in most cases Jews and Russians. They were brought to the compound, lined up near the gas chambers, and were screened in a similar manner as internees who came to Dachau for imprisonment. Then they were marched to a room and told to undress. Everyone was given a towel and a piece of soap, as though they were about to take a shower. During this whole screening process, no hint was ever given that they were to be executed, for the routine was similar upon arrival of all internees in the camp.”

The official report seems to be saying that either water or gas could come out of the shower heads since “the routine was similar upon arrival of all internees.”  However, the prisoners would not have been fooled; the photo below shows what a real shower room at Dachau looked like. This shower room is in the building that is now the Dachau Museum.  The shower fixtures have been removed.

Shower room in what is now the Dachau Museum

The gas chamber, that was disguised as a shower room at Dachau, apparently did not have shower fixtures that looked like those in the photo above.   When I visited in 2001, the one remaining shower head was just stuck into the ceiling. Sometime after the film was shown at Nuremberg, it was discovered that the shower heads were not connected to any pipes.  But in the film, there were pipes shown behind the west wall of the gas chamber and those pipes entered the gas chamber disguised as a shower room.

If you look through a window behind the gas chamber, you can see that the pipes shown in the Nuremberg film are still there.  The photo below was taken through the window.

Photo taken through a window shows pipes going into gas chamber

If someone were to cut a hole in the 7.6 ft. dropped ceiling of the Dachau gas chamber, would we be able to see water pipes hanging from the real 10 ft. ceiling above? The two rooms on either side of the gas chamber both have 10 ft. ceilings.

After a group of U.S. Congressmen visited Dachau on May 1, 1945, they wrote a report in which they described the ceiling of the gas chamber as being 10 ft. high. On May 3, 1945, when the film that was shown at Nuremberg was made, the ceiling was 7.6 ft. high.

Curiously, no one was ever put on trial for a war crime involving the gas chamber at Dachau.  Autopsies were conducted on hundreds of bodies at Dachau by Dr. Charles Larson, but no evidence of death by gassing was ever found.

The Dachau Memorial Site leaves it up to the individual tour guides to tell visitors whatever they want to about the gas chamber at Dachau.

Holocaust denial is against the law in Germany.  But what about telling Holocaust lies?  Shouldn’t there be a penalty for that also?

March 12, 2010

Martin Zaidenstadt, the fake Holocaust survivor who pan-handled at Dachau

In 1996, author Timothy Ryback visited the Dachau concentration camp Memorial Site and met a Polish Jew named Martin Zaidenstadt, who claimed to have been liberated from the camp on April 29, 1945, after being imprisoned there for three years. In February 2000, a book written by Ryback was published with the title The Last Surivor: In Search of Martin Zaidenstadt.

Martin Zaidenstadt, May 1997

In his book, Ryback revealed that there is no record of Martin Zaidenstadt ever being a prisoner at Dachau. Ryback also revealed the startling information that, before he retired, Martin ran “an independent finance and brokering service.”  So the old guy was apparently loaded, but in retirement he decided to become a pan-handler at the Dachau concentration camp, and beg for money from tourists.

Ryback begins his book by describing how he went to visit Zaidenstadt at his home in the town of Dachau.  Zaidenstadt pulled out a loaded gun and pointed it at Ryback.  On the very first page of text in his book Ryback wrote:

“People in Dachau had warned me about Martin Zaidenstadt.  They said he was a tortured soul, a deeply troubled man.  Some said he was obsessed, others that he was deranged.  Nobody told me that he was armed.”

In 1997, I went to the Dachau Memorial Site for the first time with a friend.  We each went our own way and later met at the crematorium.  My friend told me later that Martin Zaidenstadt had approached him outside the crematorium and told him that he was the prisoner who had posed for the statue of the Unknown Inmate that is located there.  Martin asked for money, but my friend told me that he declined to give him anything.

Statue of Unknown Inmate, May 2007

The statue known as the “Unknown Inmate,” by Fritz Koelle, was erected in 1950 in front of the old crematorium. The model for the statue was Kurt Lange, who was a homosexual imprisoned at Dachau after he was arrested twice under Paragraph 175 of the German law.

Meanwhile, I saw Martin as he was walking away from the crematorium.  He had stopped two American female tourists, but they also brushed him off and refused to hand over any money.  I felt sorry for him, so I approached him and began speaking to him in English.  He perked up right away when he learned that I was an American. He told me that he liked American, British and Canadian people, but he won’t speak to the Germans.

Martin told me that he was a prisoner at Dachau for three years (1942 to 1945), and that he had been coming to the camp every day for 50 years, which would mean that he started pan-handling at Dachau in 1947.  At that time, I didn’t yet know that Dachau had been used as a prison camp for German war criminals from 1945 to 1948.  Nor did I know then that, starting in February 1942, all Jews were sent to the death camps in what is now Poland, not to Dachau. Later, when the camps in the East were closed, the survivors were brought back to Germany, where some of them were eventually sent to Dachau just before the camp was liberated.

I asked Martin if I could take his picture and he agreed, but he wanted me to take the photo in the area of the crematorium, so I walked with him to a memorial stone where he posed.  Then Martin handed me a business card with a rainbow on it; he said that he was liberated by the 42nd Rainbow Division of the US Seventh Army.

I accepted his card and he then asked me for money.  I began to mentally calculate how many Deutschmarks I had left.  At that time, I didn’t  know that my train ticket to Munich could be used for the city bus back to the train station.  I thought that I needed to save some money for the bus for myself and my friend, so I handed him only 5 Marks, which at that time was the equivalent of $2.50 in American money.  He took the money, but grabbed the card out of my hand and walked off with an expression of anger and hatred on his face.  I suppose I should be glad that he didn’t pull a gun on me and take all my money.

In his book, The Last Survivor, Ryback wrote that Zaidenstadt was

“… an elderly man living in contented retirement in a comfortable two-story home on a peaceful tree-lined street with a bus stop (bus #726) at the end of the block.  […] Martin decided to make Dachau his home.  He found a job, married a German woman, and brought three children into this world.  Unwilling to burden his family with the horrors of his past, he discarded his Jewish identify, befriended the locals, including former SS guards who became his drinking buddies, and regularly attended the Catholic church down the street from their home. Martin says that neither his wife, nor any of his three children, two of whom are now physicians, have ever visited the barbed-wire complex on the other side of town where Martin spent the most memorable years of his life.  Until recently, Martin himself rarely stepped foot into the former concentration camp.

Baracke X, the building where the Dachau gas chamber is located

The photo above shows Baracke X, the building where the crematory ovens and the gas chamber are located at Dachau.

Ryback tells in his book about his first meeting with Martin:

I first encountered Martin at the camp on a bitter January day in 1996.  I had brought my father and several visitors to Dachau to tour the camp and afterward to stroll through the old town.  As we entered the tree-lined area that houses Baracke X, the official designation for the extermination unit, I directed my group to the far end of the building, explaining that the compound was originally entered from the west rather than the south.  Visitors, I told them, walk directly into the crematorium room rather than entering the building, as intended, through the disinfectant stalls, into the undressing and holding rooms, and finally into the gas chamber – disguised as a shower – beyond which stand the crematory ovens.

“You are right,” I heard someone say, and turned to see an elderly man standing beside us.  He was wearing a tweed hat with ear warmers, and a heavy coat. “My name is Martin Zaidenstadt.  I come here every day for fifty years.”  He went on to say that he was a Holocaust survivor and that after his liberation from the camp he remained in Dachau.  When I told him that I occasionally wrote about Dachau, he gave me his name, address, and phone number, and told me that I should call on him the next time I was in town.

When Ryback went to visit Martin in his home, he learned that Martin was trying “to break Dachau’s conspiracy of silence about the gas chamber.”

Ryback wrote:

For the last few years, Martin has verbally accosted the tour guides who have promoted the “lie” that the gas chamber was never put into operation.  […]  For his efforts he has been reprimanded by Barbara Distel, the director of the memorial site and archives.

Martin showed Ryback a letter from Max Mannheimer, who was, at that time, the head of the International Committee of Dachau, an organization of former Dachau prisoners who controlled what was said and done at the Dachau Memorial Site.

Ryback quoted from Mannheimer’s letter in his book:

“…I must urgently request that you not interfere in the tours that are being conducted at the memorial site by various professional guides.”

Apparently nothing could stop Martin Zaidenstadt from accosting tourists and tour guides at Dachau, so he was allowed to continue until 2001 when he stopped coming because of illness.  In 2003, the Dachau memorial site removed the portable sign that said in five languages that the gas chamber at Dachau was never used or never put into operation.  Now some of the tour guides tell visitors that the gas chamber was used.  So Martin finally won.

Timothy Ryback went to Poland and did some research on Martin Zaidenstadt’s  previous life, prior to his time in the town of Dachau.  He learned that Zaidenstadt was born in 1911 in the Polish town of Jedwabne.  This is the town that was the subject of a book by Jan Gross, entitled Neighbors, published by Princeton University Press. Neighbors is the story of how the Polish Gentiles killed their Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941 and blamed it on the Germans.  The violence was horrible: the head of a beautiful Jewish girl was cut off and used as a soccer ball by the Polish murderers.

After reading the book Neighbors, I can understand why Martin Zaidenstadt didn’t want to live in Poland after the war. There was a Displaced Persons camp set up at Dachau in 1945, which is probably what attracted Martin to the town.  Several other Jews, including some of the former prisoners in the camp, also settled in Dachau.

Catholic church in Dachau which Martin Zaidenstadt attended

Around a million visitors a year now tour the grounds of the former Dachau concentration camp.  During the ten years or so that Martin Zaidenstadt was begging for money at Dachau, there were at least a half a million tourists every year for a total of around 5 million people.  If only one person in 5 gave a donation of only one dollar to Zaidenstadt, that means that he raked in a million dollars during his pan-handling days.

If Martin Zaidenstadt is still alive in the year 2014, he will be 103 years old.  Strangely, Martin Zaidenstadt does not have an entry on Wikipedia. If he dies, will news of his death be published?

This blog post was last updated on February 2, 2014.