Scrapbookpages Blog

August 23, 2013

The number of Jewish prisoners at Dachau: Figures don’t lie, but liars figure

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:05 am

Almost every news story, or website, that you will ever read, mentions that 2/3 of the prisoners at Dachau were Jews.  This is very misleading; it implies that Dachau was a camp for Jews, instead of a camp that held mainly political prisoners.

When the Dachau concentration camp was liberated on April 29, 1945, there were 2,539 Jews among approximately 32,000 survivors in the main camp, located just outside the town of Dachau.  By what slight of hand does 2,539 figure out to be two thirds of 32,000?

Political prisoners at Dachau after the camp was liberated

Political prisoners at Dachau after the camp was liberated

According to Paul Berben, a former prisoner, who wrote a book called Dachau: 1933 – 1945: The Official History, there were 67,649 prisoners in the main Dachau camp AND IT’S 123 SUB-CAMPS when the last census was taken on April 26, 1945, three days before the US 7th Army arrived to liberate the MAIN camp.  Most of the Jews were in the sub-camps, not the main camp.

Many of the sub-camps, which Berben refers to as “Kommandos,” had already been evacuated and the prisoners had been brought to the main camp at Dachau.  Before the evacuation of the sub-camps, there were virtually no Jews in the main camp.

The largest number of prisoners in the whole Dachau system were classified as political prisoners, who numbered 43,401; the majority of the political prisoners were Catholic. The political prisoners included Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists, spies, and anti-Fascist resistance fighters from the Nazi occupied countries such as France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Dachau survivors pose in a barracks building after they were liberated

Dachau survivors pose in a barracks building after they were liberated

There was a total of 22,100 Jews in the Dachau system on April 26, 1945 and most of them were in the sub-camps. Many of the Jews in the main camp had just arrived a few days before from the sub-camps that had been evacuated.

On April 26th, approximately 3,400 Jews had been death-marched out of the main camp, headed south toward the mountains where it is believed that the Nazis intended to hold them as hostages to use in surrender negotiations with the Allies. Another 1,735 Jews had been evacuated from Dachau by train on April 26th.

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.

Women prisoners who had recently arrived at Dachau

Women prisoners who had recently arrived 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 the Dachau main camp, which had been originally designed for 5,000 men. By the time that the American liberators arrived, there were over 30,000 prisoners in the main camp, although the exact number was unknown.

According to Paul Berben’s account, the prisoners who arrived at Dachau were particularly numerous in 1944, as the inmates in other camps were evacuated from the war zone. He wrote that the last prisoner number at the end of 1943 was 60.869.

By the end of 1944, the last prisoner number was 137.244, which indicates that 76,375 new prisoners were brought to Dachau in 1944; most of them were sent to the sub-camps to work in the factories. The last prisoner numbers registered at Dachau were around 161.900. It was at this point that life in the Dachau concentration camp began to deteriorate.

In the final desperate days of trying to evacuate prisoners from the camps to prevent them from being released by the Allies, there were around 6,000 prisoners brought to Dachau from Flossenbürg, Buchenwald and Leipzig. These prisoners were not registered at Dachau, nor given a number, according to Paul Berben.

Throughout the 12 years that the Dachau camp was in existence, there were approximately 206,000 prisoners brought to the main camp and it’s 123 sub-camps.  There were 31,951 recorded deaths.  The Dachau Memorial Site estimates that there were at least 41,000 deaths, including the deaths, during the last days, which were not recorded.

In her speech at Dachau on August 20, 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the following:

“At the same time, this place [Dachau] is a constant warning: how did Germany reach the point of taking away the right of people to live because of their origin, their religion… or their sexual orientation?”

Dachau was primarily a place where the right of people to live was taken away because they were political enemies of the German government, or their right to live had been taken away because they had broken the law, for example, the law known as Paragraph 175 which made it a crime to have homosexual sex in public.  Most of the prisoners at Dachau were Catholic, but they were not imprisoned because of their religion.  There were numerous prisoners at Dachau who were incarcerated because they were fighting in a war as illegal combatants.