Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by stoatman, May 14, 2005.

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  1. This short piece is divided into multiple posts, to include photos more easily. I'm doing this from memory, so if anything's incorrect, I apologise

    When I went to Munich last week for work, sorry, I mean a paid week of beer, I hadn't expected to go to Dachau. I, to my shame, was not even aware that the camp was near Munich. I also hadn't anticipated writing a sort of photo-essay about it, so did not take nearly enough photos of the right things to do this, but I'll do my best.

    Dachau was the only concentration camp to survive the whole of Hitler's regime. It was set up at the town of Dachau, about 20 minutes by train outside Munich, which was in many ways the centre of Naziism: it was here where Hitler staged the "beerhall putsch" that landed him in prison.

    When the nazis gained power more-or-less legitimately in 1933 (the elections were rather freer and fairer than a Bob Mugabe effort today), most people thought that the NS (National Socialist) regime would follow the example of its predecessors and would last a few months before falling. As part of the terror which swept the nation to maintain power, this first concentration camp was hastily built, initially for opponents of the regime such as Communists (political prisoners wore red triangles). Other initial intakes included career criminals (green triangles), antisocial elements (black triangles) and homosexuals (pink triangles). Not only were genuine criminals confined in the camp, but many others never convicted of a crime were held in so-called "protective custody" for the safety of the Reich (sound familiar?). Many of these were family and acquaintances of convicted Communists, others simply members of other opposition parties (the Soviets did a similar thing in GULAG, but at least usually tortured a phony confession out of their victims first).

    The western press was invited to view the "success" of the camp at maintaining order in the Reich after more than a decade of turmoil. What they saw, however, was a "potemkin village". During the time that the journalists were present, food was plentiful, flowers were planted, and discipline was seriously relaxed. The machine guns in the towers were explained away. The most stereotypically rough and evil looking men were paraded in front of the journos to prove that the Nazis were right.

    The press, being journos and therefore not terribly bright, bought it. But as soon as they had gone, things returned to normal.


    The prisoners arrived from all around the Reich by train, and had to walk from the train station to the gates of the camp. The inhabitants of Dachau town at best turned a blind eye to this, at worst believed their new Overlords that the people were genuinely criminals bent on the destruction of Germany.

    Their entry to the camp was through an impressive gatehouse. This was used by the SS as a guardhouse, and there were also facilities for the Gestapo to interrogate its prisoners. The gate, as in many labour and death camps within the NS sphere, is cynically marked with "Arbeit Macht Frei" - "Work makes [you] free".

    Attached Files:

  2. On the other side of the gatehouse is the Appellplatz, where prisoners were made to stand for hours on end several times a day to be counted. Often, punishment beatings and executions by various methods were carried out here in front of the whole prisoner population. The building off to the left (behind the large memorial) housed the camp offices, stores, kitchens and bathrooms. Off to the right were the barracks.

    Attached Files:

  3. Behind the admin building was the Bunker. This was the prison camp's prison, and contained a very large number of cells, and also the SS defaulters' prison, which was more barrack-style accomodation. Executions (of both ss-defaulters and prisoners) were carried out by shooting and hanging in the courtyard between the bunker and the admin building. Punishments such as pole hanging were also carried out here, as well as in the shower block when they ran out of pole space and started to hang people from hooks on a beam. Pole hanging consists of having your hands tied behind your back and then being hung from them on a pole, for an hour at a time.

    The British intelligence officer abducted from Holland in 1939 (Capt. S. Payne Best, IIRC) was kept in the bunker as a "special prisoner" - he had 3 cells joined together and was allowed comforts and did not have to suffer the privations of the other prisoners.

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  4. When my wife and I went to Dachau, several years ago, it was a very somber experience. You could "feel" the pain/suffereing of the people there. It was VERY QUIET, very awe inspiring, and an experience I shall never forget.

    I shall also never forget how people died during this war and in those concentration camps. Totally unacceptable and we should never forget, nor should we ever forgive.
  5. I'll finish the rest of the piece later, btw (this post will then be edited out [edit - no it won't!])
  6. I look forward to the next installment Stoaty ,

    Thanks for what you've posted so far.

  7. I remember visiting Dachau three years ago. German military personnel serving in the area are compelled to visit Dachau as part of their training.

    The blood trench on the south-eastern(?) side of the camp was particularly sinister.

    I don't believe that Dachau is a particularly German phenomenon rather than a human phenomenon. Britain and other nations were fortunate to not to have the political and social preconditions that led to such dark developments in Germany and Russia.
  8. *edited for derailing Stoatman's thread*

    Sorry Stoatman, this thread deserves better.
  9. Very disturbing place. I used to go when ever I visited Munich for the Octoberfest.
    I agree with Phil, very quite, unaturally so, as is Belsen which I visited a couple of times when on route to Hamburg.
  10. The story continues...

    The barrack blocks had several phases of accomodation, and reduced in level of comfort as the years rolled on. Initially, although the bunks were still 3-tiers high, they had straw mattrasses and checked blanket covers. Each group of prisoners had two rooms - a sleeping room and a day room. Extreme discipline was enforced: the pine plank floors of the barracks had to be polished to look like parquet, the lockers had to be sanded to look like they were freshly planed, and the straw mattrasses had to be shaped to be absolutely rectangular (a highly unnatural shape for a sack of straw), and all the bunks had to be absolutely identical. Failure to pass an inspection would lead to beatings and pole-hangings.

    As the years progressed, the barracks got simpler, and more and more people were squeezed in (IIRC each barrack was designed for 600 and ended up holding 2000), with people sleeping in the floor and several on each bunk.

    Each barrack also had basic ablutions such as toilets and places to wash, but usually no soap or towels were provided.

    Living in these conditions caused diseases such as typhus and dysentry to spread rapidly, and many people died as a result of these, as well as dying from beatings, hangings, shootings, and electrocutions (suicide on the wire).

    The picture is of a barrack room recreated to show the 3rd and final phase of barrack design

    Attached Files:

  11. To keep all these people in, there was the wire. An 8m strip of grass was laid in front of it as a "no-go zone", where the guards in the towers could shoot on sight. For this they would receive extra pay and leave, and as a result would often shoot prisoners from the tower who were breaking the rules. There is one anecdote from the early phase of the camp about two prisoners squaring up to each other near one of the huts, whether for show or to fight. A guard in a tower sees this and fires his rifle, killing both men with a single shot. The guard gets a bonus and some leave. The next day, the two names are read out as those who are to be freed: the camp bureaucracy hadn't caught up with the fact that they had been shot.

    Sometimes guards would throw a prisoner's hat into the no-go zone, and tell him to go get it. This was also common practice in the GULAG in the Soviet Union, and would of course result in the demise of the prisoner. The alternative for the poor man would have been to have been beaten to death for refusing a guard's order.

    Anyway, in this strip of grass was a ditch, and then beyond that an electrified fence, on which some prisoners would commit suicide. The guard towers were situated behind the fence, and beyond them was a wall.

    Despite the precautions, there were indeed escapes under the electrified fence & over the wall, although not many. It is from early escapes such as this that the world started to hear of the horrors of what was just an internment camp.

    A small section has been reconstructed, and is shown in the photos below.

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  12. To deal with the bodies of those executed, the suicides, the attempted escapes, and the deaths from disease, a crematorium was constructed just on the other side of the canal. The ashes from the crematorium were buried in pits.

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  13. Once the deaths from disease and the executions of russian POWs on the SS shooting range nearby got too much for the crematorium, another, larger one was built. On the left at the far end are disinfection chambers for disinfecting clothing with Zyklon B (Prussic acid - hydrogen cyanide). Moving right, there is a disrobing room. Further right are the "showers", marked with "BRAUSEBAD" ("SHOWER ROOM") above the door. This is the gas chamber, and is provided with fake shower heads in the ceiling. On the outer wall are two chutes through which the Zyklon B pellets were poured. Further right was a death chamber into which the bodies were moved, then the crematorium itself, and lastly a second death chamber, into which bodies of those dead from the camp were brought.

    It should be noted here that Dachau was never a death camp, and the gas chamber was never used for mass-slaughter in the way that they were in Auschwitz and many others. The chamber here was used for experiments, so many people did indeed die there, but they were never used on any eral scale. Neo-Nazis claim that the chambers were constructed after the war to fabricate crimes, but this suggestion is simply foolish. People were also transported from Dachau to another concentration camp in a castle nearby to be gassed on a reasonable scale.

    In the grounds of the crematoria were also some execution sites where people were hanged and shot. The shootings took place on the pistol range just to the right of the crematoria, where a ditch was constructed to hold all the spilt blood. It is here that some captured British SOE women met their fate with a pistol shot to the base of the skull before being burned in the crematorium.

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  14. Epilogue:

    When the Americans discovered the camp they were shocked, and at least 17 of the SS guards were summarily shot. Due to the disease risk and to prevent the prisoners from pillaging the surrounding countryside, initially the SS guards on the towers were replaced with American ones, but the regime inside changed dramatically: no more beatings, and food and medical supplies arrived. The risk of being shot whilst trying to escape remained, however, both to retain order & avoid a mass breakout. It thus became a displaced persons camp.

    Once it had fulfilled this duty, it became an internment camp for Nazi war criminals run by the Americans. Both the barracks and the bunker were used for this purpose, and it remained a US run facility until it was turned over to the Bavarian government in the 60s or 70s IIRC.

    After the war, the "Dachau Trials" were conducted which tried many of the officers responsible for what had happened there. Many were hanged, but a few had prison terms imposed.

    A source on the Dachau Trials including many photos: http://www.hhs.utoledo.edu/dachau/
  15. Not true and this story has been discredited by a number of historians. Off the top of my head, the actual figure for Germans killed at Dachau by the liberators was around 20-30. Still not good, but of a considerably different order of magnitude than the '500' or so quoted by neo-Nazis and revisionists to 'demonstrate' the moral equivalence of the Waffen-SS and the US Army.