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February 20, 2010

Shutter Island – Dachau flashbacks

Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited new movie Shutter Island opened on February 19, 2010.  I was there when the doors opened because I was very anxious to see how the flashback scene of the Dachau massacre would be portrayed.

I previously posted some photos of the movie set for the Dachau flashbacks.  It turns out that the Dachau scene was completely changed and those photos are no longer valid.

Before I saw the movie, I foolishly thought that Teddy Daniels, the main character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, was having nightmares about Dachau because he felt some guilt or remorse about shooting German Prisoners of War in cold blood.  It turns out that the fictional Teddy Daniels is a German-hater and he was traumatized by seeing the dead bodies of prisoners who had died in the typhus epidemic at Dachau, not by what he refers to as the “murder” of the guards.

In the film, there is a German doctor at the Shutter Island mental hospital, played by Max von Sydow, who looks German, but according to some of the reviews, he is actually Swedish in real life.  As Teddy Daniels is talking with Dr. Naehring, played by von Sydow, Teddy suddenly starts speaking German out of the blue.  In real life, Leonard DiCaprio speaks fluent German, which he learned from his German grandmother. The German words are not translated, but most people will catch the German word Konzentrationslager, which means concentration camp in English.

Teddy’s purpose in speaking German seems to be that he wants to express his hatred for German doctors by reminding Dr. Naehring of the experiments done by the Nazis. Teddy is angry that a Nazi doctor was allowed to emigrate to America after the war. The Nazi doctors did experiments on the concentration camp prisoners and some of the doctors were brought to America to continue their experiments.  In another scene, Teddy Daniels says that Nazis provoke him.

There are several flashbacks of Dachau, lasting about 10 seconds each, before the main flashback, which shows the murder of the guards.  The first flashback is triggered when Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck are listening to some German music.  Chuck asks Teddy: “Brahms?”  and there is a ten second pause during which we see the bodies of a couple of dead children at Dachau, before Teddy answers, “No, Mahler.”

Just the thought of anything German triggers mental pictures of Dachau in the mind of Teddy Daniels.  Lucky for him, they weren’t listening to Wagner, or he might have had a hemorrhage and dropped dead on the spot, ending the movie right there.

If there were any dead children at Dachau when the American liberators arrived, no one took a photo of them. The dead children that Teddy Daniels sees are his own children, but we don’t know this at this point.

Another flashback shows concentration camp prisoners, wearing striped uniforms, standing with their hands touching the barbed wire at Dachau.  The electricity was off in the camp because  Dachau had been hit by an American bomb on April 9, 1945, but a generator was still maintaining the electricity in the barbed wire, and a few prisoners died when they ran to the wire and touched it as soon as they saw the American liberators.  The photo below was taken after the electricity was turned off.

Real life photo of Dachau prisoners touching the barbed wire

Very early in the movie, Teddy Daniels mentions that the barbed wire around the mental hospital grounds on Shutter Island is electrified; he explains that he knows this because of some past experience he has had with electrified barbed wire. This is the first reference to his participation in the liberation of Dachau.

Then there is a brief flashback which shows a German officer lying on the floor with his face bleeding, as Teddy Daniels looks at him with an expression of extreme hatred on his face.  It appears that Teddy has shot the German officer. We know that the officer is lying on the floor of an office room at Dachau because we have seen earlier flashbacks of papers flying all over the office as American soldiers go through the camp records.  Yeah right, like the American liberators bothered to look at the records at the camp before shooting the guards who had surrendered!

In real life, the American liberators confiscated the records at Dachau, then put up a sign at the crematorium which said that 238,000 prisoners had been burned in the ovens at Dachau.  It was not until many years later that the American military turned the Dachau records over to the Red Cross.  The total number of prisoners registered at Dachau during the 12 years that the camp was in existence was 206,206.  In addition, there were around 7,000 prisoners, who arrived in the last couple of days before the camp was liberated, that were never counted.

In another flashback, we learn that the wounded German officer, that Teddy saw, was the Commandant of Dachau and that he had tried to kill himself shortly before the American liberators arrived.  This didn’t happen in the real life story of Dachau.

The last Commandant of Dachau, Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, allegedly killed himself a few days after the camp was liberated. He had escorted a group of prisoners to a sub-camp in Austria, and then allegedly shot himself when American troops arrived.  I don’t buy the story of his suicide.  I think he was killed for the same reason that Heinrich Himmler was killed by the British after he was captured.  The Allies didn’t want to put any Germans on trial who might tell the truth about what had really happened.

After Weiter had conveniently committed suicide, the previous Commandant of Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss, was put on trial by an American Military Tribunal, although there were no specific charges against him and several prisoners testified in his defense.  He was convicted and hanged; his crime was that he was the Commandant of Dachau.

The main Dachau massacre flashback shows the American liberators entering the Dachau concentration camp through a gate with a large sign that reads “Arbeit macht Frei.”  I guess someone told Martin Scorsese: “You gotta show the Arbeit macht Frei sign because that is the universal symbol of the Holocaust, known by everyone in the civilized world.”

Unfortunately, the scene does not show anything resembling the real Dachau gate house; the sign is just hanging there, like at the Auschwitz main camp.  In the movie, the buildings inside the Dachau camp are brick; the whole scene looks like Auschwitz, not Dachau.

Real life Arbeit macht Frei sign on Dachau gate

In real life, the first shots of the Dachau massacre did not take place inside the Dachau concentration camp, but in the SS garrison that was next door to the camp.  The first SS soldiers were shot before the Americans even saw the dead bodies in the camp, and before they saw the gas chamber. It was the sight of the bodies on the “death train” that caused the American soldiers to lose all control and murder the guards. In the movie, the guards are killed before the Americans see the “death train.”

Dead bodies piled up at Dachau crematorium

The photo above, taken in May 1945, shows the bodies of Dachau prisoners who died of typhus AFTER the camp was liberated. There were up to 400 prisoners dying each day in the typhus epidemic; the photo shows some prisoners still wearing their striped uniforms, which indicates that they died after the camp was liberated.

Railroad gate and tracks at Dachau

The soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army actually entered the Dachau SS garrison through the railroad gate, into the SS garrison, which was open because the “death train” was part way inside the garrison.  My photo above, taken in 2001, shows the location of the railroad gate and a short section of the tracks, which have been preserved as a memorial to the prisoners.

Real life execution of German soldiers at Dachau

The photo above shows the execution scene inside the SS garrison at Dachau.  Note the hospital in the background on the right. There were other executions of German soldiers in various locations inside the Dachau camp.

In the flashback scenes, there is great emphasis placed on the snow at Dachau.  The ground is covered with snow and the bodies are frozen and encased in ice.  The most visible bodies are a woman and a young girl. None of the photos taken at the liberation of Dachau show dead bodies of women or children.

There had been some snow flurries at Dachau, but it was not snowing on April 29, 1945, the day that Dachau was liberated. It did snow on May 1, 1945 at Dachau. The snow seems to be symbolic because it matches the ashes that fall in other flashback scenes.

The actual shooting of the guards at Dachau was so short that it was impossible for me to identify the uniforms that they were wearing.  The German guards were lined up against a barbed wire fence and shot by a number of American soldiers who were firing rifles.  The first shot was fired at a guard who was trying to run away.  The excuse that the  real life American liberators gave for shooting Prisoners of War at Dachau was that “they were trying to get away.”

In real life, the regular guards at Dachau had fled the night before the liberation of the camp, and there were 128 SS soldiers in prison at Dachau who were released and forced to guard the camp until the Americans arrived.

The general impression that most people have is that the SS men, who guarded the concentration camps, were allowed to abuse or murder the prisoners any time they felt like it. Actually, any SS man who did something like that was put into a wing of the camp prison at Dachau that was reserved for the SS. There had been 128 SS men in the prison the day before Dachau was liberated. That part of the prison at Dachau has long since been torn down and the tour guides tell visitors that the inmates were beaten for something as minor as having a button missing on their uniform.

The surrender of the Dachau camp is not shown in the movie, and viewers are led to believe that the SS men at Dachau had to be shot by the American liberators because they were defending the camp.

The German soldiers, who were murdered at Dachau, included Wehrmacht soldiers in the regular army, as well as Waffen-SS soldiers who were sent from the battlefield to surrender the camp to the Americans. The Wehrmacht soldiers were dragged out of a military hospital and shot by the American liberators.

In one scene in the movie, Teddy Daniels says that after seeing Dachau, he knew what men are capable of doing to other men.  This trite expression is repeated by every tourist who gets anywhere near Dachau; it makes me want to scream every time I read it or hear it.  But in the movie, it has some significance, as viewers will learn at the end of the movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio should win an academy award for best actor for his performance in this movie.  The movie is good, but not that good; it is too contrived.

February 13, 2010

The bombing of Coventry … and Dresden

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 11:08 pm

A few years ago, I was sitting in an airport in France when an older woman sat down beside me.  She had recognized me as being possibly British.  If you see anyone with blond hair in France, you can be pretty sure that they are not French.

She introduced herself to me and said that she was from Coventry. Then without any prompting from me, she said that she was a child during World War II and that she was there when Coventry was bombed several times because of the munitions factories in the city.  This was news to me.  I had always heard that Coventry was bombed by the Germans for no good reason, but only once, because there was nothing there of any military importance.

February 13th is the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden by British and American planes.  The bombing of Dresden is usually  only mentioned with the word Coventry in the same sentence, as in “The Germans in Dresden got what they deserved because the Germans started it by bombing Coventry.”

I have since learned that Coventry was an industrial city of about 320,000 people when World War II started; the city  had metal working industries, including factories that made airplane engines and, since 1900, the city was noted for its munitions factories. The most devastating bombing raid on Coventry occurred on November 14, 1940; the raid lasted more than 10 hours and left much of the city in ruins.  The bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe destroyed a 14th century cathedral, which has since been restored. Three quarters of the factories in the city were also destroyed, along with around 4,330 homes.

The estimated number of people killed in the bombing on the night of November 14th varies between 380 and 554, with hundreds more injured, for a total of around 1,000 casualties.

I have been to Germany many times, but never to Dresden.  I can’t stand the thought of standing where so many people were burned to death 65 years ago today. I couldn’t even finish David Irving’s book about the bombing of Dresden.   In all the news stories today, the number of people killed in the bombing of Dresden is given as 25,000.

In Berlin, there is a bombed out church that has been preserved with a new modern building right beside it, as shown in the photo below.

Ruined church in Berlin that is now a memorial

The German people today love to hang their heads in shame over what their ancestors did in World War II,  and they never miss an opportunity to acknowledge German guilt in starting a war that killed 60 million people.  It is considered politically incorrect to say that you are proud of being German.  The Germans don’t display their country’s flag, nor do they sing their national anthem.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he gave the Germans back their pride after their defeat in World War I and look what that led to:  the killing of 6 million Jews and around a half a million Gypsies.

Inside the ruined church in Berlin is a memorial to the bombing of Coventry and a memorial to the brave Soviet soldiers who liberated Berlin in 1945.

Coventry memorial inside ruined church in Berlin

Cross in ruined Berlin church in honor of Soviet soldiers who liberated Berlin from the Nazis

While I was inside the ruined church, taking these photos, I was followed around the whole time by a young Gypsy boy who was begging for money.  The church was filled with German tourists, but he had targeted me, probably because my camera served to identify me as a rich American.  He didn’t speak a word of English, so I had to rely on my limited German.  “Geh weg!”  (Go away.) He refused to leave me alone and I appealed to some of the German tourists to speak to him in German for me, but they respectfully declined.

I didn’t want to give this boy any money because he was dressed better than I was, and he was obviously young and healthy, perfectly able to work.   I tried to explain this to him, but he couldn’t understand what I was trying to say, so I finally just left the church.

February 8, 2010

Dachau Gives Answer to Why We Fought

Filed under: Dachau, Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:19 pm

The photo above shows the front page of the 45th Division News, an American Army newspaper, published on May 13, 1945. The soldiers in the 45th Thunderbird Division of the U.S. Seventh Army were the first liberators to arrive at the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945.  The first thing they saw was a train with 39 cars, filled with dead bodies.

They were so angered by the sight of these dead bodies of prisoners, wearing striped uniforms, that they immediately started killing the first German soldiers who surrendered to them inside the SS garrison which was right next to the Dachau concentration camp.  The photo in the middle of the newspaper shows Thunderbird soldiers looking inside one of the railroad cars. The photo at the bottom shows Thunderbird soldiers sitting in Hitler’s apartment in Munich.

The newspaper article begins with these words:

Thunderbirds who last week still wondered why we fought the Germans and their beliefs got their answer at the Dachau prison camp where death claimed victims by the carload and murder was a wholesale sadistic business.

The headline about “Why We Fought” is reminiscent of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous quote, after he saw Orhdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, on April 12, 1945, the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.  Eisenhower said:

The American soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for, until they saw the concentrations camps, then they knew what they were fighting against.

The 45th Thunderbird Division soldiers didn’t know and didn’t care why that train loaded with corpses was at Dachau, nor did they care how these prisoners had died. The soldiers made up their minds that they would take no prisoners; they entered the SS army garrison, next door to the concentration camp, through the railroad gate, and proceeded to kill every German soldier that surrendered to them with his hands in the air, no questions asked.  Geneva Convention?  Never heard of it!

In November 1945, when the staff members of the Dachau camp were put on trial by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau, the first prosecution witness was asked about the victims on the train.  The Dachau staff was being tried only on charges related to the death and mistreatment of Allied nationals, and the witness didn’t know what country the dead prisoners on the train were from.  The American prosecutor quickly moved on to another subject.

The massacre of the German soldiers at Dachau was kept secret for 40 years.  No one knows how many were killed but it was somewhere between 17 and 520. The families of the dead German soldiers were not notified of their deaths; if they asked, they were told that their family member had escaped when Dachau was liberated.

The American Army took over the SS garrison and stayed there for the next 28 years.  There are rumors that the German soldiers who were killed in the “Dachau massacre” were buried in a mass grave on the grounds of the former Army base after their dog tags had been removed.

A new movie, Shutter Island, which is due to be released on February 19, 2010, will show a flashback scene which will depict the Dachau massacre.

If you go to Dachau, notice that there is a plaque on the wall of the gatehouse in honor of the 42nd Rainbow Division, which also participated in the liberation of Dachau, but there is no plaque for the 45th Thunderbirds.

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