By Sfc. John M. Holman, U.S. Army of Occupation, Germany
A few Sundays ago, my wife Connie, and I decided we would like to visit Dachau, Germany, a small Bavarian town of some 22,000 people, site of the Dachau Concentration Camp which existed between 1933 and April 1945. We had heard much about this old Camp, but never found the time to go there. It was a very interesting trip, although slightly morbid, from the standpoint of the suffering and death which took place there during its years of operation. Here's the way I saw it and what I learned about the camp.
In March 1933, the first Concentration Camp of the Third Reich was built in Dachau. During the Camp's reign, the prisoners consisted of Christians, Jews, Communists, Socialists, Workmen, Physicians, Professors, but all were considered political prisoners, who were against the ruling system of force and terror. Hard work was the iron rule in the Camp. From 1917 to 1933, an ammunition plant was in operation, but when the Concentration Camp came into use, the old ammunition plant's buildings were built over and new houses for the prisoners and guards were erected. The whole camp was surrounded by electric barbed wire, water ditches, and guard towers to insure that no prisoners escaped.
The new Concentration Camp was built entirely by the inmates themselves using their bare hands to carry the cement and bricks to the site of the new buildings. Ten hours a day the prisoners worked under continual pressure from the guards. All the prisoner-workmen had to work in quick times, as the accelerated work program was set up in that way. Weekdays and Sundays this went on. When one man dropped from sheer exhaustion or from malnutrition, a bucket of cold water was thrown on his face to revive him so he could continue on with his work. All through the year, from the hot sunlight to the cold, wet snow, the building of the camp went on. Many of the workers couldn't continue on and begged to be killed by a bullet. During the construction of the Camp, there was employed a street roller, which required 80 men to pull it, so heavy as it was. Ten hours a day on the roller was a real torture.
During the 12 years of the Camp's operation, this strict law of work and speed was the mainstay of the inmates.
The food was indescribable. For dinner, they received a ladle of water soup, rotten cabbage in salty broth, three small potatoes and a hunk of bread.
Every one got up at 5:00 A.M. in the morning in the winter and at 4:00 A.M. in the summer. After they washed up, they received a quart of black coffee or some gray flour soup. After finishing their eating, they were marched by barracks to the assembly area for roll-call. This usually lasted an hour. When everyone was accounted for, their work details were handed out, and they went about their labors. At 12:00 noon, they were returned to the camp where they were allotted their 1/2 quart of cabbage or carrot soup. At precisely 12:30, they again returned to their work, slaved until 6:00 P.M. Again roll-call was held which lasted until around 8:00 P.M.
For supper they ate 1/2 quart of gray soup or a slice of sausage or a piece of cheese and another hunk of bread.
The punishments were plentiful at the Camp. For such actions as smoking during the work day, or a not well-made bed, or a dish not clean enough, the prisoners were punished in a number of ways: No food for one day, additional work on Sundays or at night, hanging by the wrists, floggings, or even the gallows!
Prisoners who attempted to escape were usually hanged to death. Mass executions by shooting in the neck, took place there daily. In September 1944, 92 Russian war prisoners were executed on this place, where the long blood ditch, covered with a wooden grate, is still to be seen.
The Crematory Area was another ghastly sight where thousands of prisoners were cremated, and their ashes were buried in mass graves, today marked with memorial stones. The Crematorium is still there with wreathes all about the place in memory of those who lost their lives in Dachau. Altogether, some 70,000 people lost their lives in Dachau and its outcamps.
On the 29th of April 1945, the Camp was liberated by the American Forces. The first thing the Americans saw when they entered the camp area on this date, was a train of 50 open railway cars, standing on the track siding which leads into the camp, and in which horribly thin corpses were lying in all postures. Before the Crematory building, they found heaps of corpses which could not be buried or cremated before the Liberating forces arrived, and was allowed to lay where they wer dumped. The task of cleaning the camp was gigantic. The prisoners still alive had to be repatriated as soon as possible. The epidemics had to be curbed immediately. The persons responsible for these misdeeds had to be found and judged. 33,000 persons were the only survivors in the camp, and they cheered with flushed wet faces when the American troops entered the large steel gates on Sunday, 29 April 1945 at 5:45 A.M. Four American soldiers -- one, a woman-journalist in uniform were the first ones to push open the iron gate.
On November 1945, the first of the War Crimes Trials on 40 defendants of the CC Dachau began. Once gain the happenings in the Concentration Camps of the Third Reich rolled up before the shocked visitors of these trials, but they left the inextinguishable impressions, that such atrocities against human beings should never happen again.