GERMANY: Dachau Prison

Randy Black says: Christopher Jones may wish to re-think his comment there were no gas chambers at Dachau, based on the following evidence:  Close to the end of 1933, 4,821 registered prisoners had arrived in Dachau. By 1945, 206,206 prisoners had been registered. The total number of dead may never be known. Soviet prisoners of war were summarily executed by the thousands, civilians were assigned by the Gestapo to the camp for "Sonderbehandlung" ("Special Treatment," a Nazi euphemism which signified "killing"), and a great many died in evacuation marches and death marches. These deaths were never registered. The International Tracing Service in Arolson reports 31,591 dead among the prisoners that were registered. (8)

By early 1942, the death rate outstripped the capacity of the old crematorium originally built by Topf & Söhne. The manufacturer's name is quite visible on the doors of the furnaces. <photo 11> <> <photo 12> <>  Plans were drawn up in April, 1942 for a more efficient four-furnace crematory which, from its early planning days, incorporated five gas chambers. (14) <photo 13> <> <photo 14> <> <photo 15> <>  On July 23, 1942, the order was issued from the SS Headquarters in Berlin to commence construction of the crematorium at a cost of RM150,000. (15) <photo 16> <>  
The new crematorium incorporating five gas chambers -- four of which were designed specifically for fumigation and a fifth for homicidal purposes -- was completed in 1943.  -ibid.

It may come as a surprise to many readers that Baracke X incorporates five gas chambers all of which were included in the original design. These were built and exist to this date. Most visitors to the Dachau Camp, drawn by horror to the main entrance of the crematorium and to the large room designated as a disguised homicidal gas chamber, rarely venture beyond these areas. The chamber (room # 8) is located next to a mortuary room, which in turn connects to the large area housing the four huge furnaces.

There are, however, four additional chambers which figure prominently in the original drawings of the new crematorium (Baracke X) . These are located on the southern side of the building and were specifically designed and constructed for fumigation or disinfestation. <photo 26> <> <photo 27> <>  The overcrowding of Dachau brought serious problems to the inmates, the most dangerous of which was lice-borne typhus. These four gas chambers were specifically designed to fumigate clothing, bedding, blankets, etc., using a well-proven technique: hydrogen cyanide gas in the form of Zyklon-B pellets. These chambers were identical in design as those proposed for the same purpose at Auschwitz.

Christopher Jones gave one account of Dachau Prison, which other WAISers said failed to give the grim details,  In her new book, American Heroines, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison devotes a chapter to Marguerite Higgns, the first reporter to enter the camp on its liberation.  Her article confirms that Dachau was indeed equipped to kill. Here is her article:  

33,000 Dachau Captives Freed By 7th Army

110,000 Are Liberated at Moosburg; Nazi Doctor Admits Killing 21,000

By Marguerite Higgins

DACHAU, Germany, April 29 (Delayed) Troops of the United States liberated 33,000 prisoners this afternoon at this first and largest of the Nazi concentration camps. Some of the prisoners had endured for eleven years the horrors of notorious Dachau.  The liberation was a frenzied scene: Inmates of the camp hugged and embraced the American troops, kissed the ground before them and carried them shoulder high around the place. At Moosburg north of Munich the United States 14th Armored Division liberated 110,000 Allied Prisoners of War, including 11,000 Americans from Stalag 7A.  From United States 12th Army Group headquarters came the story of a captured Nazi doctor, Gustave Wilhelm Schuebbe, who said that the Nazi annihilation institute at Kiev, Russia, killed from 110,000 to 140,000 persons "unworthy to live" during the nine months he worked there. He himself, he said, murdered about 21,000 persons.

The Dachau camp, in which at least a thousand prisoners were killed last night before the SS (Elite Guard) men in charge fled, is a grimmer and larger edition of the similarly notorious Buchenwald camp near Weimar. This correspondent and Peter Furst, of the Army newspaper, Stars and Stripes
, were the first two Americans to enter the inclosure at Dachau, where persons possessing some of the best brains in Europe were held during what might have been the most fruitful years of their lives. While a 45th Infantry Division patrol was still fighting a way down through SS barracks to the north, our jeep and two others from the 42d Infantry drove into the camp inclosure through the southern entrance. As men of the patrol with us busied themselves accepting an SS man's surrender, we impressed a soldier into service and drove with him to the prisoners barracks. There he opened the gate after pushing the body of a prisoner shot last night while attempting to get out to meet the Americans.

There was not a soul in the yard when the gate was opened. As we learned later, the prisoners themselves had taken over control of their inclosure the night before, refusing to obey any further orders from the German guards, who had retreated to the outside. The prisoners maintained strict discipline among themselves, remaining close to their barracks so as not to give the SS men an excuse for mass murder. But the minute the two of us entered, a jangled barrage of "Are you Americans?" in about 16 languages came from the barracks 200 yards from the gate. An affirmative nod caused pandemonium.

Tattered, emaciated men weeping, yelling and shouting "Long live America!" swept toward the gate in a mob. Those who could not walk limped or crawled. In the confusion, they were so hysterically happy that they took the SS man for an American. During a wild five minutes, he was patted on the back, paraded on shoulders and embraced enthusiastically by the prisoners. The arrival of the American soldier soon straightened out the situation.

Jim Tent writes: Attempts to convey what was happening at camps like Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, etc. at the end of World War II are challenging because of the sheer chaos and human misery that prevailed at those notorious places. They were originally erected, starting in 1933, as Concentration Camps (Konzentrationslager or KL in German). The even grimmer and highly secret extermination camps (Vernichtungslager or VLs) such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Maidenek, etc. were erected, starting in 1942, exclusively in the East, mostly in Poland.  However, by the winter of 1944/45, streams of prisoners were herded westward (as were Allied POWs), but only into the concentration camps which were t transformed, in effect, into holding pens for slaughter. By this I mean that the concentration camps began to take on the role of impromptu extermination camps, but without the "efficiency" of the so-called industrial killing and disposal methods of the eastern VLs.
The late-war victims were not only to be found in the confines of those camps. I know from personal interviews with colleagues in Bavaria, including one professional historian, Dr. Ursula Huber, (an eyewitness to those events when she was a child) that in late April, 1945, the SS put entire transports of prisoners who had recently arrived from the east into Dachau Camp, but who were now sent elsewhere (anywhere!) by cattle car to places farther south and out of the way of the advancing Allied armies. As a result, thousands of Dachau KZ-Haeftlinge (concentration-camp inmates), wound up in out-of-the-way places like tiny Seeshaupt, a village at the southern end of the large and picturesque Starnbergersee or Lake Starnberg, south of Munich. The SS detachments abandoned those transports of "Dachau" prisoners and headed farther south into the Alps in hopes of escape. As a result several thousand hapless prisoners broke out of their cattle cars in Seeshaupt and searched desperately for something - anything! - to eat or drink. Hundreds expired in those seemingly tranquil, seemingly idyllic surroundings, scores of miles away from Dachau, and yet somehow tied inextricably to that grim place. For those who know where to look for it in Seeshaupt (now a lovely resort town overrun by wealthy tourists), there is a plaque to those "Dachau" prisoners whose lives ended there in April and May 1945 and also to those prisoners who were fortunate enough to hang on to life a little longer and therefore receive Allied succor. These grim events were hardly confined to that one little village. They were repeated in many other obscure places outside the main camps as the perpetrators sought to hide, or at least scatter, the victims of their persecution.

I mention this in hopes of pointing out that attempts to describe events in the spring of 1945 in places like Dachau and the other former concentration camps defy easy description. What is certain is the fact that the prisoners who were lucky enough to be alive when Britons and Canadians in the North (with Free Poles and other expatriates from Eastern Europe), Americans and Free French in the South (with their assemblage of various expatriates), and yes, Soviet forces from the East, overran those camps (whether KL or VL - the circumstances blurred the term), were rightly treated by the camp survivors as liberators. And since there were hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers who saw with their own eyes what those camps and their victims looked like in that lovely spring of 1945 weatherwise(everyone commented that the weather, in obscene contrast to human events, was beautiful), any latter-day fool attempting to say that the Holocaust was a myth will always be confounded and discredited by the first-hand accounts of those hundreds of thousands of citizen soldiers who saw what they saw, recognized it for what it was, and put a stop to it.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 27, 2005