Back in August this year, a group of American imams and Muslim leaders made a trip to visit Auschwitz and Dachau, accompanied by Hannah Rosenthal who is with the U.S. government. The trip was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Center for Interreligious Understanding; the purpose was to combat Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial which is rampant among Muslims who have not had the advantage of Holocaust education.
Following the trip, Ms. Rosenthal wrote a debriefing letter which you can read here.
Her letter begins with this quote:
As Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, I had the special honor of joining the delegation of the Imams and Muslim leaders to Dachau and Auschwitz last month. I went for a very simple reason: Holocaust denial is growing in many places, especially in Muslim countries. Holocaust denial doesn’t just feed anti-Semitism; Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism.
It was this part of her letter which caught my attention:
This was an historic trip. As soon as the imams decided to pray by the Dachau sculpture commemorating the 6 million Jewish lives exterminated, I knew history was being made. When they prostrated to the ground in prayer, every tourist, every passer-by, stopped in their tracks to witness the moment.
The Dachau sculpture that is referred to in the above quote is part of the International Monument. The sculpture is shown in the photos below.
Sculpure in front of the Museum building at Dachau
The dates 1933 to 1945 are the years that Dachau was a concentration camp for anti-Nazis
Close-up of the sculpture at Dachau
The sculpure as seen from the door of the Museum
Contrary to Ms. Rosenthal’s statement that the Dachau sculpture commemorates the 6 million Jews who were exterminated, the sculpture represents all of the prisoners at Dachau, most of whom were not Jewish. Dachau was not a “death camp” for Jews. Remember the Rev. Niemöller’s little poem: “First they came for the Communists.”
In the photos, you can see that the sculpture is not flat, but has a depth of about four feet. Notice the hands of the skeletons which resemble the barbs on a barbed wire fence. The sculpture is approximately 48 feet wide and 19 feet tall. It symbolizes the emaciated bodies of the prisoners who died of starvation and disease in the camp, not the Jews who were killed in gas chambers in Poland.
No one was sent to Dachau, just because they were Jewish, until November 1938. During the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, there were around 10,000 Jews sent to Dachau but they were released as soon as they were able to arrange to leave Germany.
The general roundup of all the Jews did not begin until after the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, and then the Jews were sent to death camps in Poland. Of the 6 million Jews who were exterminated, very few died in the main Dachau camp where this sculpture is located. To say that the Dachau sculpture commemorates the 6 million Jews is an insult to the Communists, British SOE agents, Polish Resistance fighters, and Catholic priests who made up most of the prisoners. The majority of the Dachau prisoners were Catholic Resistance fighters from Poland, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, who were captured while fighting as illegal combatants in World War II.
Between 1945 and 1965, Dachau was first a prison camp for German war criminals who were awaiting trial, and then a refugee camp for Germans who were expelled from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Prisoners from many different countries lived in the Dachau barracks for 12 years, but the German expellees lived in these same barracks for 17 years. The Dachau Memorial Site opened in 1965, after the German refugees were kicked out, and the International Monument was formally dedicated in September 1968.
The sculpture, which is just one part of the large International monument, was designed by Nandor Glid. A competition to find a suitable design was announced to artists who were concentration camp survivors on New Year’s day in 1959. Surviors from other camps besides Dachau were allowed to enter the contest.
Forty-five of the 63 entries were exhibited in November 1959 at the Ministry for Health and Family in Brussels. The final decision, to choose the entry by Nandor Glid, was made by Albert Guérisse, a Belgian Communist who was imprisoned at Dachau after he was captured while working as a spy for the British SOE. Guérisse was the President of the International Committee which planned the Memorial Site and still controls what is included in the Dachau Museum.
When the Dachau concentration camp was in operation, the area where the International Monument is located was covered with grass and there was a flower-lined path from the roll-call square up to the service building which is now the Museum.
The former path is now covered with squares of marble and the grass and flowers have been replaced by a ramp with a zig-zag border around a field of gravel. A wall in front of the museum, at the south end of the path, is the base for the sculpture done by Yugoslavian artist Nandor Glid. This wall obstructs the entrance to the Museum and visitors have to walk across a field of gravel and go around the sculpture to gain entry.
The Dachau Museum building as it looked in 1945
The German words on the roof translate into English as follows: “There is one road to freedom. Its milestones are: Obedience, Diligence, Honesty, Orderliness, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Self-Sacrifice, and Love of the Fatherland.” These words have long since been painted over and the sculpture now blocks the entrance to the building. The sculpture itself represents the kind of art that the Nazis didn’t like, so it is an anti-Nazi sculpture which replaces the Nazi words that were formerly on the roof.