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April 10, 2015

September 26, 2013

The town of Dachau today — the shame of the concentration camp can never be overcome

In 2001, I went to the town of Dachau and stayed there for a week in a hotel.  At that time, Dachau was still a small, historic town, and I enjoyed my stay immensely. I asked the owner of the hotel which bus I should take to get to the former Dachau camp; she said she didn’t know, so I had to figure it out for myself. The town’s people seemed to be ignoring the former camp, and just living their lives in peace.

Catholic church in the town of Dachau

Catholic church in the town of Dachau

Today, I read in an article in The Independent, which said that young people from Munich are now moving to Dachau and the town has grown to be a city of 45,000 residents.

According to the article in The Independent, which you can read in full here, the town can never overcome its shame, due to the horror of the Dachau concentration camp, which had 800,000 visitors last year.

This quote is from the article in The Independent:

The horror of Dachau takes a little time to sink in. It hits home half way through the former camp’s permanent exhibition on Third Reich terror when visitors are confronted with a piece of slatted wooden furniture that resembles an innocuous child’s toboggan.

Closer inspection reveals that a 4ft-long “bull whip” is lying across the wooden slats. The toboggan, it turns out, is one of the concentration camp system’s notorious “whipping stools” that were used to ruthlessly inflict blood soaked punishment on hundreds of thousands of camp inmates during 12 years of Nazi rule.

Alfred Hübsch, a prisoner in Dachau from 1937 onwards, witnessed the whipping stool in action. His account is on display in the camp museum: “The prisoner’s screams could be heard everywhere,” he writes, “The delinquent had to count the strokes out loud. The numbers were blurted out in terrible pain so the tortured person would slur his words or misspeak. If that happened they would begin beating all over again,” he added.

The “whipping stools” were used for 12 years?  Who knew?

The photo below shows Rudolf Wolf, a former prisoner of the Dachau camp, demonstrating the whipping block during the American Military Tribunal proceedings, where the former SS men in the camp were put on trial.

Former Dachau prisoner demonstrates the whipping table at Dachau trial

Rudolf Wolf demonstrates the whipping table at Dachau trial

The photo below shows the whipping table on display in the Dachau Museum.

Photo of whipping table in the Dachau Museum

Photo of whipping table in the Dachau Museum

Notice that the “whipping block” which is on display in the Museum is a real whipping block, but the table that is being demonstrated by Rudolf Wolf during the AMT proceedings is an ordinary table.  The trial started in Noveber 1945, so why wasn’t the actual whipping block shown during the trial?

That is easily explained: All punishments at Dachau and at all the other concentration camps had to be approved by the WVHA economic office in Oranienburg, where Rudolf Hoess was a member of the staff after he was removed as the Commandant of Auschwitz in December 1943.

At the Nuremberg IMT, on April 15, 1946, Hoess testified that punishment on the whipping block was seldom used and that this punishment was discontinued in 1942 or 1943 because Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler had given a new order that the SS men were forbidden to strike the prisoners. Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler mentioned in his book entitled What was it like in the Concentration Camp at Dachau? that this order was given by Himmler in 1942.

When the American liberators arrived in 1945, they found no whipping table because this seldom-used punishment had not been used for three years.  Are visitors to the Dachau Museum told this?  No, of course not.

This quote is from the article in The Independent:

The whipping stool is merely an introduction to Dachau’s  regime of inconceivable cruelty. Its victims were tortured by “Pole hanging” – a system whereby inmates in groups of 50 were strung up by their hands with their arms tied behind their backs for hours, causing them excruciating pain.

Groups of 50 were strung up?  Did the Nazis take a photo of the pole hanging?  Indeed, they did.  The photo below was shown in the Dachau Museum for years, until it was finally taken down because it was a fake.

Still photo from a Soviet film shows "pole-hanging" punishment

Still photo from a Soviet film shows “pole-hanging” punishment

The photograph above, which I took inside the old Dachau Museum in May 2001, shows a scene at Buchenwald that was created in 1958 for an East German DEFA film. (Source: H. Obenaus, “Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt,” in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8)

This fake photo was not included in the new Dachau Museum which opened in 2003, but all the tour guides at Dachau still dwell at length upon the hanging punishment.  I have not been to Dachau since 2008; perhaps the fake photo has been brought back.

But it gets worse.  This quote is from the article in The Independent:

[The prisoners] were locked in “standing cells” with no room to sit down or turn around for days on end. They were savaged by camp dogs, drowned, shot, worked to death or died from mass overcrowding and the successive outbreaks of disease which plagued the camp before it was finally liberated by American troops in April 1945. The soldiers found hundreds of “ sallow skeletons with large sad eyes”.

Ah, yes, the famous “standing cells.”  Where are they now?  The standing cells were torn down, and now there is only a photo of what they looked like. The photo is shown below.

A diagram of the standing cells in the Dachau bunker

A diagram of the standing cells in the Dachau bunker

Who tore down the standing cells at Dachau and why?  Did anyone take a photo of them before they were torn down?  Not that I know of.  The American liberators of Dachau found out about the standing cells from Eleanore Hodys, a prisoner who had been at Auschwitz, where she claimed that she had been confined to a “standing cell” for NINE WEEKS.  She also claimed that she had had an affair with Rudolf Hoess at Auschwitz.  Hoess had formerly been the Commandant at Dachau, so her story took up about a third of the book about Dachau, which was entitled Dachau Liberated, the Official Report.  Her story may have inspired the claim of standing cells at Dachau.

There was at least one American prisoner at Dachau when the camp was liberated.  What did he have to say about the standing cells, the whipping block and the pole hanging?  Did he write a book about the torture that he endured at Dachau?  Did he ever explain why he was not executed after he was caught, fighting with the French Resistance, in civilian clothes?

The American prisoner at Dachau, when the camp was liberated, was Rene Guiraud.

After being given intensive specialized training, Lt. Guiraud had been parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, along with a radio operator. His mission was to collect intelligence, harass German military units and occupation forces, sabotage critical war material facilities, and carry on other resistance activities. In other words, he was an illegal combatant, according to the Geneva Convention of 1929, and he could have been legally executed.

Guiraud had organized 1,500 guerrilla fighters and developed intelligence networks. During all this, Guiraud posed as a French citizen, wearing civilian clothing. He was captured and interrogated for two months by the Gestapo, but revealed nothing about his mission. After that, he was sent to Dachau where he participated in the camp resistance movement along with the captured British SOE men in the camp.

Two weeks after the liberation of the Dachau horror camp, Guirard “escaped” from the quarantined Dachau camp and went to Paris where he arrived in time to celebrate V-E day.  He never said a word about how he was treated badly at Dachau.

What about the five British SOE agents, who were prisoners in the Dachau camp when it was liberated?  What did they have to say about the horror at Dachau?

One of the prisoners at Dachau, when the camp was liberated, was Albert Guérisse, a British SOE agent from Belgium, who was hiding his identity by using the name Patrick O’Leary. He was one of five British SOE agents who had survived the Nazi concentration camps at Mauthausen in Austria and Natzweiler in Alsace before being transferred to Dachau.

When the American liberators arrived at the gate into the Dachau camp, Guérisse greeted Lt. William P. Walsh and 1st Lt. Jack Bushyhead of the 45th Infantry Division and took them on a tour of the camp, showing them the gas chamber and the ovens in the crematorium. In his book  entitled The Day of the Americans, Nerin E. Gun wrote that Patrick O’Leary (real name Albert Guérisse) was the leader of the International Committee of Dachau, which was in charge of the camp.

What did Guérisse tell the Americans about the horror of Dachau, other than the gas chamber?  Nothing.  He escaped to Paris, along with Rene Guiard.

The information about the Dachau camp, which is told to visitors today, came from the Jewish prisoners, most of whom had only been in the Dachau camp for a few weeks.  They had been evacuated from the sub-camps and brought to the main camp, so that the prisoners could be surrendered to the Americans.  It was the Jewish prisoners who testified at the American Military Tribunal, and wrote books about the horror of Dachau.

Visitors to Dachau today don’t want to hear about what it was really like at Dachau.  They want to see a “horror camp” and a gas chamber. The Dachau Memorial Site caters to the desire of the tourists; it does not tell the true story of what Dachau was really like.

Few tourists visit the historic town of Dachau, which was in existence before America was a country.

 The Gable on the town hall in the historic town of Dachau


The Gable on the town hall in the historic town of Dachau

The photograph above shows a close-up of the emblem on the top of the old town hall. In the round window in the center of the picture, you can see a silver spur. A spur has been used in the Dachau town seal since as far back as 1374.  But who cares about that?  Tourists today only want to see the gas chamber at Dachau, not the historic buildings in the town.

You can see photos of the historic places in the town of Dachau on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauTown/HistoricPlaces/index.html

November 29, 2011

Edwin Ritter, a Lost Airman of Buchenwald, tells about his transfer to Stalag III as a POW

Edwin Ritter was one of the Lost Airmen of Buchenwald, a group of 168 Allied airmen who were accused of being Terrorfliegers (terror fliers) and sent to a concentration camp after their planes were shot down. Most of these airmen were falsely accused of being illegal combatants who were aiding the French Resistance; they were actually legal combatants on bombing missions.

After the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, France was being heavily bombed by Allied planes in an effort to win the war by destroying bridges, railroads, power plants and supply depots. The Allied airmen were falsely accused of dropping supplies to the French Resistance and sent to Buchenwald which was one of the two concentration camps where illegal combatants in the French Resistance were sent.  Edwin Ritter and a few others were not falsely accused; their planes had been shot down while dropping supplies to the French Resistance.

After the Luftwaffe (German air force) found out that there were Allied airmen in a concentration camp, the airmen were taken to Stalag III, which was a POW camp.  When the airmen arrived at the POW camp, there were 10 men who were separated from the group, including Edwin Ritter.

In 1993, Edwin Ritter gave a statement, which his daughter recorded and then transcribed.  This quote is from his statement:

We reached there (Stalag III) and it was the day of Thansgiving, November 24th (1944), I believe it was. We were put into camp and examined by the German commandant and he says, “You know, none of you are righteously permitted to come in here for the simple reason we have no records, no nothin’.” And he said he’s gonna to get the American colonel to come up, which was Goodrich at that time. Goodrich seemed to have everything well in hand.  Him and Colonel Clark.  Goodrich said that he could not let us mingle among the other Americans until we got cleared.  […] Then Col. Goodrich came up with the post commandant, the German commandant, and he says, “We have all of you cleared so we’ll assign you to barracks.”  He said that “although there are ten of you that have to be separated from the rest of the group.”

And my name wasn’t called.  Martini wasn’t called and several others weren’t called.  Bob Johnson wasn’t called.  And, of course, Col. McNichols wasn’t called and we were just wondering why.  Well, of course, being directly involved with the OSS and the Free French Underground, we were liable for continuous prison because we had been found guilty of being saboteurs.  But they were going to clear us and get us mixed up in and amongst our own people, you know?  And they were gonna coach us exactly what we’d have to say, if anything slips up.

Ritter said in his statement that he never got any letters from his wife while he was in Stalag III, the POW camp.  He said that the American military “would not acknowledge that I was there at the camp.”  He said that he “Never got any information from them as to my acknowledgment in the Eighth Air Force or not. But the colonel vouched for me personally because he knew of my training with Westside T. Larson at 90 Church Street in New York in Columbia University. So he vouched for me specially.”  So according to Edwin Ritter, he was sent on missions to aid insurgents in France, and when he was captured, the American military would not acknowledge that he was in the American Air Force.

When the war was over, Ritter was sent first to Belgium, then to France, and finally put on a ship to America.  This quote is from his statement:

And finally we reached our shores thinking that we’d see the Statue of Liberty and into New York Harbor, where the rest were all goin’, but to our surprise and amazement, we were diverted from the convoy and sent to Boston.  Because of the nature of the incident, they deemed it necessary to separate us from the rest of the welcoming committee, and Fred Martini and myself were sent to Boston Hospital to remove the micro film from the bottoms of our feet. […]  That following morning, we were wheelchaired into …. he was wheeled to a Trenton, New Jersey train and I was wheeled to a train head (sic) straight for Chicago (his home town).  And got home thinking, oh, what a welcome and everything else.  I did (get a welcome) from the family, yes: a dead man had returned.  My wife, your mother, was already given my medals and everything else post-humously, as a dead man.  It still didn’t catch up with our government that I was alive.  I was still AWOL until I got into Fort Sheridan and they straightened it out.  They changed the AWOL to MIA due to Col. McNichols and Col. Clark at that time — now Generals, of course.  And they got the government to clear us and give us passes for home.

From the rest of his statement, it is clear that the Army did not acknowledge his service in the war as an illegal combatant who was aiding the French Resistance.  When he became ill, he was not allowed to go to the VA hospital for treatment.  Ritter said that he submitted to several tests in which he was given sodium pentothal  and “they couldn’t believe what they heard from me.”

In this last quote at the end of his recorded statement, Ritter says that the United States would not acknowledge that he was a prisoner in a concentration camp:

And they can’t understand…and today, they can’t understand why the United States government…not the government, but he said, the services, the combined services, will not acknowledge that we were prisoners of war in a concentration camp.

One would think that the US government would have charged the Germans at Nuremberg with illegally putting captured Americans into a concentration camp instead of a POW camp, which was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.  Or was it?  In the case of Edwin Ritter, who admitted that he was on a mission to drop supplies to the French Resistance, it was not a war crime to send him to a concentration camp.

Another documentary with the title Bomber Boys is also being shown currently on British TV.  You can read about it here.  One of the survivors who speaks in this documentary said, regarding his stay in Buchenwald: “Instead of being treated as prisoners of war many were sent to concentration camps and faced the threats of starvation, disease, beatings and the gas chamber.”

There was at least one American in the Dachau concentration camp, but you don’t hear much about that. The story of the Allied airmen at Buchenwald is much better known than the story of an American at Dachau.

This quote is from my own website, scrapbookpages.com:

On the day that Dachau was liberated, there was at least one American, Lt. Rene J. Guiraud, a member of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) who had been arrested as a spy. There were also 5 other American civilians who were prisoners in the camp, according to Marcus J. Smith in his book, The Harrowing of Hell.

Nerin E. Gun wrote that there were 11 Americans imprisoned at Dachau at various times in its history.

According to a newspaper article by Mark Muckenfuss in The Press-Enterprise, Cecil Davis was a B17 pilot who was shot down during a bombing raid, and subsequently sent to a POW camp. He was with a group of American Prisoners of War who got lost while marching through the German countryside in late April 1945; the lost POWs were picked up by a patrol and dropped off at the Dachau “death camp” for three or four days. Davis was assigned to work in the crematorium where he saw the bodies of children that were being burned in “gas ovens.”

On January 26, 2009, Ron Simon, a staff memeber of the Telegraph-Forum, wrote an article about an American soldier, Porter Stevens, who was one of 8 American POWs at Dachau when the camp was liberated. Stevens had spent the last month of his 11 months as a POW at Dachau.

Another American at Dachau on the day the camp was liberated was Keith Fiscus, who was a Captain in American intelligence, operating behind enemy lines. According to a news article by Mike Pound, published in the Joplin Globe on April 29, 2009, Ficus was captured on April 29, 1944 in Austria and held at Dachau for 9 months after first being interrogated by the Gestapo.

The most famous American at Dachau was Rene Guiraud. After being given intensive specialized training, Lt. Guiraud was parachuted into Nazi-occupied France, along with a radio operator. His mission was to collect intelligence, harass German military units and occupation forces, sabotage critical war material facilities, and carry on other resistance activities. Guiraud organized 1500 guerrilla fighters and developed intelligence networks. During all this, Guiraud posed as a French citizen, wearing civilian clothing. He was captured and interrogated for two months by the Gestapo, but revealed nothing about his mission. After that, he was sent to Dachau where he participated in the camp resistance movement along with the captured British spies. Two weeks after the liberation of the camp, he “escaped” from the quarantined camp and went to Paris where he arrived in time to celebrate V-E day.