Dachau 2023—Lessons to be Learned

Since 2017, I have been writing and researching the evils thrust upon Europe and beyond by the NSDAP or in short Nazis, but I had never visited a concentration camp until last Sunday—4 June 2023.

I will not just write about Dachau but include the place I visited the day before—Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München—the National Socialists Documentation Centre.


I selected the Dachau Concentration Camp to visit rather than Auschwitz Concentration Camp because, historically, Dachau was the first concentration camp built. It started here. Dachau was established on 22 March 1933, only a few weeks after Hitler and the Nazis had seized power.

I will not go into great lengths on the history of the place. I have written about it several times before. I will focus more about my observations, emotions and experiences of my visit.

We had an Irish tour guide. The tour started in Munich at the Marienplatz and from there on the train to Dachau town.

When we arrived, I could not help but notice how picturesque and pretty Dachau town was. Straight away, I saw a paradox of beauty and evil. When we arrived at the KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, the Dachau Memorial Centre, it was explained to us that we should not refer to it as a concentration camp but—as a former concentration camp. It is now also officially a cemetery, as estimated remains of 20,000 prisoners are buried and scattered over the site. One thing I found bizarre—but also something I could understand—was the location of the shop and cafe—they were at the complex’s entrance.

The gate at the entrance of the camp is a replica.

The gate in Dachau went missing in 2014. In 2016, it resurfaced in Bergen, Norway. There, it had been heavily exposed to the elements and could no longer function as a gate. In the meantime, a local blacksmith had made a replica, which is currently still in use.

What puzzled me about the story is that the original gate weighs about 100 kg, so it needed more than one man to steal it. Secondly, they had to climb over the outer gate of the Dachau complex and then move the stolen gate over the fence. Thirdly, the adjacent previous SS camp, which now is home to the Bavarian Riot Police, they didn’t hear or see anything, Call me cynical, but I doubt that very much.

The original gate is now on display in the former camp.

While walking around the premises, I did notice a few ladies wearing quite revealing clothes. Now I am the last man on the planet who would generally not have a problem with that, but there is a time and a place, and this was not the time nor the place.

I could have taken hundreds of photographs, but out of respect for the site, I took only a few shots where I knew I could tell a story.

As you enter the camp, one of the first things you would see [photo above] is the grassy verge and the watchtower. If prisoners stepped on the grass, the tower guards would fire upon them. Sometimes prisoners would deliberately step on it, knowing it was suicide. That was the level of desperation many in Dachau had.

Prisoners faced torture in many ways. One of the cruellest was when put on a bench face down and beaten with a club. They had to count every beat they received in German. A mistake led to the beating starting over. Eventually, the punishment was limited to 25 whacks, but the sadistic guards were such that they found a way around it. They would have more guards do the beatings— meaning it was 25 beatings per guard.

Although murder by gassing was sporadically at Dachau, it did happen. When I stood in the middle of the gas chamber, I did become overwhelmed. To me, it is still hard to fathom the evil of it. It could take up to 20 minutes before people would die. I could have taken pictures in the gas chambers but didn’t out of respect.

On 13 September 1944, there was an execution of four women at Dachau Concentration Camp. The four: Yolande Beekman, Elaine Plewman, Madeleine Damerment, and Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan—were agents of the Special Operations Executive. A Dutch prisoner at the camp reported that Noor, in particular, had been singled out and beaten near death before being shot.

Before execution, the four women were tortured in the crematorium, facing the ovens where eventually their bodies would end up. I found one of the most disturbing aspects. Murdering is one thing, but why the mental and physical torture before that?

The tour lasted 3 hours. Over the next few weeks, I will write more about it, but as I said earlier, I also visited the Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München’ the National Socialists Documentation Centre.

Das NS-Dokumentationszentrum München

Munich is associated with the rise of National Socialism like no other city and where the Das. NS-Dokumentationszentrum Münich [NSDAP] was founded. The tour of Munich and National Socialism was also about the documents of the city’s Nazi history.

I will not go into depth on all the details, but I want to touch on a few things. Firstly I was impressed with the museum. It gave me some food for thought, mainly that we have to relook at how we teach the Holocaust. Yes, Dachau was the first concentration camp built by the Nazis, but the Holocaust started with antisemitism, bigotry, racism, indifference and intolerance and all these ‘ingredients’ are plentiful again.

The museum exhibited a post-World War I and Weimar Era. Between 1924 and 1929, although a conservative city, Munich was an apolitically and socially diverse city. Life was good, albeit funded by loans given by Americans and British institutions. The differences between the majority conservative population and the more liberate-minded citizens—have never been addressed. However, there was an upswing of prosperity, and it seemed not to matter. When the financial crash happened in 1929, causing the Great Depression, ending the city’s economy. Münich became divided again. It wasn’t unique to just Munich but to other German cities.

It will have escaped no one that diversity and inclusivity are all the buzzwords today, and I don’t say this to be sarcastic. If we don’t address the differences between different groups of people and acknowledge the fears and concerns on all sides, diversity and inclusivity are just—buzzwords.

One group of victims of the Nazi regime were homosexual men. I noticed one photograph that I describe as ironic. It was what the Nazis saw as true Germanic art, unlike the degenerate art by mainly Jewish artists.

It was a photograph by Hitler’s photographer, Heinrich Hoffman, of statues of naked men [see above] and two men, in particular, holding hands, nude! I will leave it to you to interpret that one for yourselves. However, I think it’s obvious. There is a new upsurge of violence against the LBTQ community in several countries, and governments are introducing similar laws to those from 1930s Germany.

The above photograph is from 1938, and at first glance, it looks like an innocent, everyday picture of a young boy standing outside a hairdressing salon. His mother might work there, or perhaps he’s resting while she is getting her hair done. Look closer at the sign in the bottom left corner. It states, “Jews not welcome.”

I also visited the Jewish Museum in Münich. One thing that struck me was the persecution of Jews, in one way or another, since the 13th century. For us to ensure a Holocaust will never happen again, we need to find out what the root is for all that hate. As Primo Levi once said, “It happened, and thus it can happen again.”

I will do a follow-up in a few weeks because I have too much material to write on Dachau that I couldn’t possibly write up in just one post.



The Return of a Hero

Sometimes, because of my criticism of my fellow Dutchmen and women, I do forget that there were a great number of heroes too. Men and women who risked their lives to speak out against the Nazi regime and help others in need. The last few days, I have tried to get a bit of a balance. This post is about another one of those heroes.

Dean Jozef Teulings was already negative about National Socialism in the 1930s, and he remained so during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In his sermons, he advised his parishioners to try to get out of compulsory labour. On 22 April 1942, Teulings was arrested by the SD because he had taken propaganda posters for the Youth Storm, the Dutch equivalent of the Hitler Youth, off the wall of a school.

The arrest was photographed from the window of the rectory

On 28 April 1942, the Sicherheitsdienst arrested Teulings. He was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp and imprisoned for three years. In the camp, he celebrated his twenty-fifth year of priesthood in the presence of a large audience of other interned priests.

In August 1944, his Nijmegen parish received the last sign of life.

After the liberation, on 5 May 1945, Chaplain Schellekens, Chaplain Wim van Helden and border guard officer Van der Krabben decided to travel to Dachau to see if they could find Dean Teulings and also Rector Rooyackers from Den Bosch. They arranged for a car, papers, materials and petrol and arrived in Dachau after the two-day journey.

The Allies did not allow them entrance to the camp because of typhus. The next day they manage to enter. They came across a French priest who told them he had seen Dean Teulings that morning. They also meet a Dutch resistance fighter named Pim Boellaard.

When they pass Barrack 20, to their amazement, they encountered—a seriously weakened but still mentally strong—Dean Teulings, who they manage to smuggle out with a ruse, together with Pim Boellard and Rector Rooyackers. On Sunday, 13 May 1945, around seven o’clock in the evening, the message arrived in Nijmegen that Dean had returned to town.

He was welcomed home festively in his church on Groenestraat in the Hazenkamp district of Nijmegen. Still wearing his prison uniform, he climbed onto the pulpit and addressed the parishioners.




Dachau Liberated

In a few weeks, I will be going to Munich for a few days. When I am there, I will also go to Dachau. In a way, I am looking forward to it, but I am also dreading it.

Dachau was the first concentration camp built by the Nazis. It opened on 22 March 1933. Twelve years, one month and one week later, the US Forces liberated the camp.

The troops were horrified by what they saw. Below are just some testimonies.

A letter by Sgt. Horace Evers

Dearest Mom and Lou,

Just received your 19th April letter and was glad to hear you all are well and the tractor business is still intact.

So you went to N. Y. and had a big time. I’d give most everything to be able to see Lou with his pants rolled up and a baby cap on. Gawdamighty. Did Mom get a jog on and smoke weeds? Have you even learned to smoke, Mom?

A year ago today I was sweating out shells on Anzio Beachhead, today I am sitting in Hitler’s luxuriously furnished apartment in Munich writing a few lines home. What a contrast. A still greater contrast is that
between his quarters here and the living hell of Dachau concentration camp only 10 miles from here.

I had the misfortune of seeing the camp yesterday and I still find it hard to believe what my eyes told me.

A railroad runs alongside the camp and as we walked toward the box cars on the track I thought of some of the stories I previously had read about Dachau and was glad of the chance to see for myself just to prove once and
for all that what I had heard was propaganda. But no it wasn’t propaganda at all. If anything some of the truth had been held back. In two years of combat, you can imagine I have seen a lot of death, furious death mostly. But nothing has ever stirred me as much as this. I can’t shrug off the feeling of utter hate I now hold for these people. I’ve shot at Germans with intent to kill before but only because I had to or else it was me, now I hold no hesitancy whatsoever.

The first box car I came to had about 30 of what were once humans in it.

All were just bones with a layer of skin over them. Most of the eyes were open and had an indescribable look about them. They had that beaten “What did I do to deserve this?” look. They had that beaten, what did I do to deserve this?” look. Twenty or thirty other box cars were the same. Bodies on top of each other no telling how many.

No identification as far as I could see. And then into the camp itself. Filthy barracks were suitable for about 200 persons and held 1500. 160,000 persons were originally in the camp and 32,000 were alive (or almost alive) when we arrived.

There is a gas chamber and furnace room in one barracks. Two rooms were full of bodies waiting to be cremated. In one room they were all nude, in the other they had prison clothes on, as filthy as dirt itself.

How can people do things like that? I never believed they could until now.
The only good thing I noticed about the whole camp was the scores of SS guards freshly killed.

Some of the prisoners newly freed could not control themselves and went from German to German and bashed their heads in with sticks and rocks. No one tried to stop them for we all realized how long they had suffered.
I guess the papers have told you about the 7th Army taking Nuremberg and Munich by now. Our division took the greater part of each place and captured many thousands of prisoners. We also liberated Russian, Polish and British and American prisoners by the thousands, what a happy day for the people.

Well enough for now
Miss you all very much
Your Son,

Hilbert Margol
Early the morning of 29 April 1945, two months after our 21st birthday, my twin brother, Howard, & I, after seeing a trainload of boxcars, containing many dead bodies, entered the nearby Dachau Concentration Camp. We witnessed some unforgettable sights while not understanding what caused the same.

A personal account by Felix L. Sparks Brigadier General
At 0730 on the morning of April 29th, the task force resumed the attack with Companies L and K and the tank battalion as the assault force. The attack zone assigned to Company L was through the city of Dachau but did not include the concentration camp, a short distance outside of the city.

Company L was designated as the reserve unit, with the mission of mopping up any resistance bypassed by the assault forces.

Shortly after the attack began, I received a radio message from the Regimental Commander ordering me to proceed immediately to take the Dachau concentration camp. The order also stated: “Upon capture, post an airtight guard and allow no one to enter or leave.”

As the main gate to the camp was closed and locked, we scaled the brick wall surrounding the camp. As I climbed over the wall following the advancing soldiers, I heard rifle fire to my right front.

The lead elements of the Company had reached the confinement area and were disposing of the SS troops manning the guard towers, along with a number of vicious guard dogs. By the time I neared the confinement area, the brief battle was almost over.

After I entered the camp over the wall, I was not able to see the confinement area and had no idea where it was. My vision was obscured by the many buildings and barracks which were outside the confinement area.

The confinement area itself occupied only a small portion of the total camp area. As I went further into the camp, I saw some men from Company L collecting German prisoners. Next to the camp hospital, there was a L-shaped masonry wall, about eight feet high, which had been used as a coal bin.

The ground was covered with coal dust, and a narrow gauge railroad track, laid on top of the ground, lead into the area. The prisoners were being collected in the semi-enclosed area.

As I watched, about fifty German troops were brought in from various directions. A machine gun squad from Company L was guarding the prisoners. After watching for a few minutes, I started for the confinement area.

After I had walked away for a short distance, I hear the machine gun guarding the prisoners open fire. I immediately ran back to the gun and kicked the gunner off the gun with my boot.

I then grabbed him by the collar and said, “What the hell are you doing?” He was a young private about 19 years old and was crying hysterically. His reply to me was, “Colonel, they were trying to get away.”

I doubt that they were, but in any event, he killed about twelve of the prisoners and wounded several more. I placed a non-com on the gun and headed toward the confinement area.

It was the forgoing incident which has given rise to wild claims in various publications that most or all of the German prisoners captured at Dachau were executed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The total number of German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly did not exceed fifty, with thirty probably being a more accurate figure.

The regimental records for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau.

During the early period of our entry into the camp, a number of Company men all battle-hardened veterans, became extremely distraught.

Some cried while others raged. Some thirty minutes passed before I could restore order and discipline. During that time, the over thirty thousand camp prisoners still alive began to grasp the significance of the events taking place.

They streamed from their crowded barracks by the hundreds and were soon pressing at the confining barbed wire fence. They began to shout in unison, which soon became a chilling roar.

At the same time, several bodies were being tossed about and torn apart by hundreds of hands. I was told later that those being killed at the time were ‘informers.’

After about ten minutes of screaming and shouting, the prisoners quieted down. At that point, a man came forward at the gate and identified himself as an American soldier.

We immediately let him out. He turned out to be Major Rene Guiraud of our OSS. He informed me that he had been captured earlier while on an intelligence mission and sentenced to death, but the sentence was never carried out.

Within about an hour of our entry, events were under control. Guard posts were set up, and communications were established with the inmates.

We informed them that we could not release them immediately but that food and medical assistance would arrive soon.

The dead, numbering about nine thousand, were later buried with the forced assistance of the good citizens of the city of Dachau.

On the morning of April 30, our first battalion resumed the attack towards Munich.

At this point, I should point out that Seventh Army Headquarters took over the actual camp administration on the day following the liberation.

The camp occupation by combat troops after that time was solely for security purposes. On the morning of April 30, several trucks arrived from Seventh Army carrying food and medical supplies.

The following day, the 116th and 127th Evacuation Hospitals arrived and took over the care and feeding of the prisoners.



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Pastor Abraham Rutger Rutgers—Forgotten Hero

I do despair at times when I see how many of my fellow Dutch citizens, were so willing to help the Nazi regime. I know it is easy for me to judge because I was never put in a similar situation. But it is still a puzzle to me that a nation known for its tolerance had so many intolerant citizens.

However, there were also a great number of Dutch men and women who did defy the Nazi occupiers and paid for it with their lives, Pastor Abraham Rutger Rutgers was one of them.

Abraham worked successively as assistant pastor in Düsseldorf in the period 1908-1909. Works as a minister in Tubbergen from 1910, in Lochem 1914-1919, followed by an honourable emeritus status of two years. Later, he worked as a preacher in Usselo in 1921 and Rotterdam during the period from 1932 to 1942. Already his work as a reformed assistant preacher in Düsseldorf (1908-1909), Abraham turned out to have a militant character. His actions against the injustice that some Dutch workers suffered there resulted in his expulsion from Germany. At an early age, Abraham was a convinced anti-militarist, but after a visit to Spain in 1938, he returned to his anti-militarist convictions. As early as 1933, he protested – with other theologians – against the persecution of the Jews in Germany. After the German invasion in May 1940, he fiercely and fearlessly denounced all the injustices of the occupiers from the pulpit. He considered himself called, there and in his catechism, to speak without any restriction and did so. He called Germany a purely imperialist power and Seyss-Inquart a traitor.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reich Commissioner for the Netherlands

On Sunday, September 1, 1940, the day after Queen’s Day, he held a formal Orange (Dutch Royal family are the House of Orange) service, where the entire municipality under his leadership sang the Dutch National anthem with open doors. Fortunately, it ended well. After being called to account several times by the Sicherheitsdienst was arrested on Wednesday, 11 June 1941, after his sermon of Sunday, June 1, 1941 (Whit Monday), and after interrogation in the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen. It was a difficult time for him there. The loneliness, the and uncertainty, the powerlessness drove him to despair. It was only after almost three months that his wife was allowed to visit him for the first time. He stood behind bars like a predator in his cage and burst into tears when he saw his wife, Josephine. Fellow prisoners said that he was of great support to them. After four months of solitary confinement in Scheveningen, he was transferred to camp Amersfoort on Tuesday, October 28, 1941. In Amersfoort, he preached clandestinely on two Sundays. After 14 days, Abraham went to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where he arrived on Friday, 28 November 1941.

On 2 April 1942, they tortured him to death in Dachau.

His resistance wasn’t by using violence or weapons but by using words, uttering his opinion. His words were deemed offensive, even offensive enough to be tortured to death. Let this be a warning.




Holocaust in Colour

Two prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp. 1945

Generally, I don’t care for colourized photographs, especially not those from the Holocaust. However, I did come across a few striking depictions of that dark era.

A former prisoner holds a human bone from a large pile of other bones from the Buchenwald concentration camp’s crematory. 1945.

An emaciated 18-year-old female Russian prisoner stares into the camera during the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp in 1945, her face hollow from hunger.

Above is a young woman whose face has scars and plasters because of a beating by the SS guards. But despite being unable to open her eyes fully from the swelling, she is photographed smiling two days after the British military entered the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in April 1945.

After the liberation, SS guards are lined-up for execution by American troops at Dachau.



Dachau 1933-1945

State prosecutor Albert Rosenfelder, at the front of the picture

Hitler had a vision for an empire that would last a thousand years. It only lasted 12, but in those 12 years, he and his Nazi party did more damage than any empire before.

On 30 January 1933, Von Hindenburg appointed Hitler chancellor. “It is like a dream. The Wilhelmstraße is ours,” Joseph Goebbels, the future Minister of Propaganda, wrote in his diary. Wilhelmstraße in Berlin was recognised as the centre of the government in Germany.

On 23 March 1933, the Reichstag met in Berlin. The main item on the agenda was a new law, the ‘Enabling Act.’ It allowed Hitler to enact new laws without interference from the president or Reichstag for four years. It gave Hitler and the NSDAP absolute power in Germany. The day before that on 22 March, in a picturesque town called Dachau—20 Kilometers north of Munich—the first concentration camp was opened.

A press release stated:
On Wednesday the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with accommodation for 5,000 people. All Communists and—where necessary—Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries, who endanger state security, are to be concentrated here, as in the long run, it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons, and on the other hand, these people cannot be released because attempts have shown that they persist in their efforts to agitate and organize as soon as they are released.

The camp stayed open until 29 April 1945, when it was liberated by the US Army.

In those 12 years, the camp had 10 camp commandants:
• SS-Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle (22 March 1933–26 June 1933)
• SS-Gruppenführer Theodor Eicke (26 June 1933–4 July 1934)
• SS-Oberführer Alexander Reiner [de] (4 July 1934 –22 October 1934)
• SS-Brigadeführer Berthold Maack (22 October 1934–12 January 1935)
• SS-Oberführer Heinrich Deubel (12 January 1935–31 March 1936)
• SS-Oberführer Hans Loritz (31 March 1936–7 January 1939)
• SS-Hauptsturmführer Alexander Piorkowski (7 January 1939–2 January 1942)
• SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiß (3 January 1942–30 September 1943)
• SS-Hauptsturmführer Eduard Weiter (30 September 1943–26 April 1945)
• SS-Obersturmbannführer Martin Weiß (26 April 1945–28 April 1945)

Rudolf Höss, later commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau, learned much from Theodor Eicke at Dachau. Facing trial and likely execution in Poland for his crimes during World War II, Höss recounted a flogging he witnessed in Dachau. It was Eicke’s order, Höss remembered, that at least one company of SS personnel be there when the punishment was carried out:

“Two prisoners had stolen cigarettes from the canteen and were sentenced to twenty-five blows of the cane. The soldiers lined up in a U-shaped formation with their weapons. The punishment bench stood in the middle. The two prisoners were presented by the block leaders. The commandant put in his appearance. The camp commander and the senior company reported to him. The duty officer read the sentence and the first prisoner, a small, hardened, lazy man, had to lie down across the bench. Two soldiers from the troop held his head and hands firmly while two block leaders carried out the sentence, alternating after each blow. The prisoner didn’t utter a sound. It was different from the second one, a strong, broad-shouldered, political prisoner. After the first blow, he screamed wildly and wanted to tear himself loose. He continued screaming to the last blow, even though the commandant told him repeatedly to be quiet.”

In January 1941, the leader of the Dutch Nazi party, Mussert, was invited to Munich by Himmler. Goal: to enthuse the NSB leader to the SS. The Dutch NSB delegation included Mussert, Van Geelkerken, Rost, Feldmeijer and Zondervan. On 20 January 1941, a surprise tour awaited: a day at the Dachau concentration camp. The visitors were shown nice-looking aspects of the camp: model dormitories, good sanitary facilities, and a kitchen that produced good quality food that everyone tasted and thought was the usual prison fare. In March 1946, Mussert says in the cell barracks in Scheveningen, “So I was in Dachau in 1941. It was beautiful. People were in the free air: they painted, baked, and gardened. They looked good and smiled. Of course, I found that out later, I saw the exhibition section.”

Although they did not have the same level of evilness as the NSDAP, the NSB were nevertheless willing participants in the Holocaust. Mussert may not have been fully aware of what was going on in Dachau in January 1941, since it was reasonably early on in the war, but he knew exactly what the fate of the Jews was later on and he facilitated the occupying Nazi regime in any way he could.

Beginning in 1942, Nazi doctors performed medical experiments on prisoners in Dachau. Physicians and scientists from the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and the German Experimental Institute for Aviation conducted high-altitude and hypothermia experiments, as well as experiments to test methods of making seawater potable. These efforts aimed to aid German pilots who conducted bombing raids or who were downed in icy waters. German scientists also carried out experiments to test the efficacy of pharmaceuticals against diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Hundreds of prisoners died or were permanently disabled as a result of these experiments.

While these medical experiments happened behind closed doors, new evidence of ominous intent became visible in the layout of the camp itself. In 1942, a new crematorium was constructed, supplementing the existing one erected two years earlier. This new crematorium, named Barrack X, was fitted with four furnaces, a disinfection section, and, most chilling in retrospect, a gas chamber. Generally, the SS utilized the crematoria to immolate the bodies of inmates who died in the camp. They also hanged or shot inmates involved in resistance activity there (the whole area was separated from the prisoners’ barracks by a wall). Despite all the labour and resources expended, the SS thankfully never implemented the mass gassing of human beings at Dachau.

The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 200,000.

The number of prisoners who were murdered in the camp and the subcamps between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000. This number does not include those who were killed there between 1933 and the end of 1939, as well as an unknown number of unregistered prisoners. Also, a great number committed suicide. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known.

As late as 19 April 1945, prisoners were sent to KZ Dachau; on that date, a freight train from Buchenwald with nearly 4,500 was diverted to Nammering. SS troops and police confiscated food and water that local townspeople tried to give to the prisoners. Nearly three hundred dead bodies were ordered removed from the train and carried to a ravine over 400 metres away. The 524 prisoners who had been forced to carry the dead to this site were then shot by the guards, and buried along with those who had died on the train. Nearly 800 bodies went into this mass grave.

On 26 April 1945, prisoner Karl Riemer fled the Dachau concentration camp to get help from American troops and on 28 April, Victor Maurer, a representative of the International Red Cross, negotiated an agreement to surrender the camp to U.S. troops. That night a secretly formed International Prisoners Committee took over the control of the camp. Units of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Felix L. Sparks, were ordered to secure the camp. On 29 April, Sparks led part of his battalion as they entered the camp over a side wall. At about the same time, Brigadier General Henning Linden led the 222nd Infantry Regiment of the 42nd (Rainbow) Infantry Division soldiers including his aide, Lieutenant William Cowling, to accept the formal surrender of the camp from German Lieutenant Heinrich Wicker at an entrance between the camp and the compound for the SS garrison. Linden was travelling with Marguerite Higgins and other reporters; as a result, Linden’s detachment generated international headlines by accepting the surrender of the camp. More than 30,000 Jews and political prisoners were freed, and since 1945 adherents of the 42nd and 45th Division versions of events have argued over which unit was the first to liberate Dachau. But one thing that can’t be argued, what the liberators found was something that stayed with them for life.

One disturbing aspect about all of this is that the torturing and killing happened within the boundaries of German law.







Titus Brandsma—Catholic Friar Murdered in Dachau

drawing made by John Dom in Kamp Amersfoort.

I have written about Titus Brandsma before, but I thought the fact that I am going to visit Dachau in a few months time, I thought it would be a good time for another post on the Dutch Catholic Friar. He also has a connection to Ireland, where I live now.

Titus Brandsma was born in the Netherlands on Feb. 23, 1881. His parents named him Anno Sjoerd Brandsma and he grew up in the rural setting of Oegeklooster in the province of Friesland. His family lived on the proceeds of the milk and cheese produced by their dairy cattle.

His parents, who ran a small dairy farm and were devout and committed Catholics, a minority in a predominantly Calvinist region. Except for one daughter, all of their children (three daughters and two sons) entered religious orders.

The grounds of the Franciscan friary in Megen where Brandsma did his high school studies. From the age of 11, Brandsma pursued his secondary studies in the town of Megen, at a Franciscan-run minor seminary for boys considering a priestly or religious vocation.

Brandsma felt a calling to the religious life and joined the Carmelite monastery in Boxmeer, Southeastern Netherlands, in 1898, taking his father’s name, Titus, as his religious name.

Although the Carmelites are known for separating themselves from worldly affairs and engaging in contemplative prayer, Brandsma felt called to a second vocation, journalism, that would draw him into the drama of interwar Europe.

Brandsma was ordained to the priesthood on June 17, 1905. After studying in Rome, he returned home to work in the field of Catholic education.

When the Catholic University of Nijmegen was founded in 1923, he joined the faculty, rising to become the institution’s Rector Magnificus, or head, in 1932. With fears of a second world war rising in Europe, Brandsma was asked by his superiors in Rome to undertake a lecture tour of Carmelite foundations in the United States in 1935.

To improve his English, he visited Ireland, staying with Carmelite communities in Dublin and the picturesque coastal town of Kinsale. Titus Brandsma stayed with his Irish Carmelite brothers at Whitefriar Street in Dublin and Kinsale, Co Cork. He later wrote with warmth about his time in Ireland where he met, among others, the president of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State Éamon de Valera. The same Éamon de Valera would offer condolences to the German people after Hitler killed himself.

After Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940, the authorities imposed severe restrictions on the Church. They ordered Catholic schools to expel Jewish students, barred priests and religious from serving as high school principals, restricted charitable collections and censored the Catholic press. The Dutch bishops asked Brandsma to plead their cause, but without success.

He came to the notice of Nazi authorities even before their occupation of the Netherlands in 1940 as he had written critically of National Socialism at the Dutch Catholic University of Nijmegen, where he was a professor and the press. Accused of being an ally of communism, he was dubbed by the Nazis as “the Dangerous Little Friar”

During the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis he actively opposed the publication of Nazi propaganda in Catholic newspapers and in the press generally. In his role as an adviser to the Archbishop of Utrecht he encouraged Dutch bishops to speak out strongly against the persecution of Jews and the infringement of basic human rights by Nazi occupiers.

In January 1942 he delivered a letter from the Catholic bishops to editors of Catholic newspapers in the Netherlands instructing them not to comply with a new law requiring they print Nazi advertisements and articles. He was arrested by the Gestapo at the Carmelite priory in Nijmegen.

The friar was taken to a prison in the seaside town of Scheveningen, where the interrogating officer demanded to know why he had disobeyed state regulations.

“As a Catholic, I could have done nothing differently,” Brandsma responded. The officer, Captain Paul Hardegen, later asked Brandsma to express in writing why his countrymen scorned the Dutch Nazi party.

“The Dutch,” the friar wrote, “have made great sacrifices out of love for God and possess an abiding faith in God whenever they have had to prove adherence to their religion … If it is necessary, we, the Dutch people, will give our lives for our religion.”

After being held prisoner in Scheveningen, Amersfoort, and Cleves, Brandsma was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp, arriving there on 19 June. His health quickly gave way, and he was transferred to the camp hospital. He died on 26 July 1942, from a lethal injection administered by a nurse[of the Allgemeine SS, as part of their program of medical experimentation on the prisoners.

The nurse, known as “Titia,” testified that Brandsma gave her his rosary. When she responded that she could not pray and did not need it, he encouraged her to recite the second part of the Hail Mary, “Pray for us sinners.”

“I started laughing then,” she recalled. “He told me that, if I were to pray a lot, I would not be lost.”

Brandsma is honoured as a martyr within the Catholic Church. He was beatified in November 1985 by Pope John Paul II. His feast day is observed within the Carmelite order on 27 July. On Sunday, 15 May 2022, in front of more than 50,000 people from around the world, Pope Francis canonized Brandsma and nine other saints at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome.




I’m Still Here: Real Diaries of Young People Who Lived During the Holocaust

The title of this post is from a 2005 documentary produced by MTV(yes MTV) It stars a number of famous actors reading excerpts from diaries of young people who lived during the Holocaust, most of them were murdered.

The full length movies is included in this post, but I also picked out 2 excerpts of two of the diarists mentioned in the documentary.

The first one is from the diary of Dawid Rubinowicz., dated April 10,1942. The reason why I picked that day is because April 10 is my birthday. Dawid Rubinowicz was born 27 July 1927 in Krajno, Poland, and murdered in September 1942, aged 15, in the Treblinka extermination camp. He was a Polish Jewish boy. His diary was found and published after the end of World War 2.

April 10, 1942

“They’ve taken away a man and a woman from across the road, and two children are left behind. Again it’s rumored that the father of these children was shot two days ago in the evening. …The gendarmes were in Slupia and arrested three Jews. They finished them off in Bieliny (they were certainly shot). Already a lot of Jewish blood has flowed in this Bieliny, in fact a whole Jewish cemetery has already grown up there. When will this terrible bloodshed finally end? If it goes on much longer then people will drop like flies out of sheer horror. A peasant from Krajno came to tell us our former neighbor’s daughter had been shot because she’d gone out after seven o’clock. I can scarce believe it, but everything’s possible. A girl as pretty as a picture—if she could be shot, then the end of the world will be here soon.”

He was still 14 when he wrote this. What strikes me in his words is that he talks about Gendarmes. Let that sink in for a second and think of it what you like. I know what it means but if I say is I know I will be getting emails from certain organizations threatening me with legal actions, because the truth is not there to be told.

The second excerpt is from the diary of Ilya Gerber. It is dated November 27,1942, 80 years ago today.. He was 18 at the time. The excerpt is about life in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania. Ilya was murdered on April 28, 1945, on the verge of liberation, Gerber was shot and killed while marching forcibly from Dachau to Wolfsratshausen, Germany. He was not yet 21 years old.

November 27, 1942.

“I haven’t written since the nineteenth because there was no very important Jewish news, except that brigades have lately been smuggling in [food] not in their pockets, and not in little packages, but in fact in whole bundles… Mostly, when the ghetto commandant stands by the gate, the bundles or packages are confiscated and you sometimes feel his whip. But if he is not there it costs you whatever it takes to grease the palm of the partisan [Lithuanian auxiliary serving the Germans] or the policeman and you pass through undisturbed.”

Similar to Dawid Rubinowicz’s observation Ilya makes a reference to partisan, what that means is mentioned in the excerpt too, I don’t know if it was added by Ilya or of it was added later to put it in context for the readers. But also if you read between the lines you will recognize the implication of this.



Karl Amadeus Hartmann— Protesting Against the Nazi Regime Through Music

Today marks the 117th birthday of Karl Amadeus Hartmann. He was born on 2 August 1905 in Munich and came into contact with art and music at an early stage. He studied trombone and composition at the Staatliche Akademie der Tonkunst in Munich from 1924 to 1929.

He hated Nazism and Hitler and anything that ranked extreme socialism and communism. A fellow composer, Udo Zimmermann, said about Hartmann, “His concept of life oriented towards humanity is inscribed in all his scores. A warning in view of the atrocities of this world, but also resistance from the heart: revocation of the spirits, love and life.”

His compositions were often politically charged, as Hartmann was a socialist who staunchly opposed the Nazis and fascism. During World War II, Hartmann half-poisoned himself to avoid military conscription.

He voluntarily withdrew completely from musical life in Germany during the Nazi era, while remaining in Germany, and refused to allow his works to be played there. An early symphonic poem, “Miserae” (1933–1934, first performed in Prague, 1935) was condemned by the Nazi regime but his work continued to be performed, and his fame grew abroad. A number of Hartmann’s compositions show the profound effect of the political climate. His “Miserae” (1933–34) was dedicated to his friends…who sleep for all eternity; we do not forget you (Dachau, 1933–34), referring to Dachau Concentration Camp, and was condemned by the Nazis. His “Piano Sonata 27 April 1945,” is about the thousands of prisoners from Dachau, whom Hartmann witnessed being led away from Allied forces at the end of the war.

Just three days before the liberation of the Dachau camp, the SS forced approximately 7,000 prisoners on a death march from Dachau, south to Tegernsee. During the six-day death march, anyone who could not keep up or continued was shot. Many died of exposure, hunger, or exhaustion. American forces liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp on 29 April 1945. In early May 1945, American troops liberate the surviving prisoners from the death march to Tegernsee.

Solly Ganor, a survivor said about the march, “We could see the furtive parting of curtains as German civilians peered out at us. To our surprise, a few of them came out and tried to offer us some bread, but the result was disastrous. Hundreds of starving inmates would descend on the benefactor, often knocking him or her down. The bread was immediately torn to pieces, and the guards set upon the mob. Each time this happened several more bodies were left by the side of the road.”

After the fall of the Nazi regime, Hartmann was one of the few prominent surviving anti-fascists in Bavaria whom the postwar Allied administration could appoint to a position of responsibility. In 1945, he became a dramaturge at the Bavarian State Opera and there, as one of the few internationally recognized figures who had survived untainted by any collaboration with the Nazi regime, he became a vital figure in the rebuilding of (West) German musical life. Perhaps his most notable achievement was the “Musica Viva” concert series, which he founded and ran for the rest of his life in Munich.

He died on 5 December 1963 in Munich.

Although Hartmann is one of the greatest German composers of the 20th century, he is forgotten in the English-speaking world.




Jerry Himmelfarb—“What a Jewish G.I. Thinks About Aid to Europe’s Needy”

Jerry Himmelfarb was a GI from Buffalo, New York. He wrote this letter to his Rabbi about his experiences. It is one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever read.

Jerry, serving with the U.S. Army in Germany, wrote to Rev. Harry H. Kaufman, Cantor of Temple Beth El, telling of what the J.D.C. is accomplishing in alleviating the desperate plight of his Jewish brethren in Europe. The letter, in full below.

May 15, 1945

Dear Cantor,

You’re going to find this a strange letter. I think, perhaps, you will not understand why I write such a letter—until after you have read it. I have written my parents a similar story. Now I write you—for a little different reason. You’ll see what I mean by some pages from here.

The Seventh Army has authorised us to write—has allowed us to say—that we’re in Munich. I’m there now. Munich—Hitler’s cradle city. It’s damaged and quiet. We’re near Berchtesgarten, but I haven’t been there.

We’re also near Dachau—remember Dachau? It’s Jan Valtin’s Dachau—Jan Valtin of Out of the Night. Remember? Dachau—an early mystery place of Nazism. But there remains no aura of a mystery today. No, it’s all clear—so very clear.

I met a Polish Jew the other day. He had been liberated from Dachau. He was twenty-four years old—and looked fifty. His face looked fifty—his body was about as healthy looking as a normal patient at Harrisburg, Penn. He had no teeth—but they hadn’t fallen out. Hitler’s S.S. were the dentists. He was just one of the lucky ones. There were other unfortunates.

I haven’t seen Dachau—but all I say is true—I swear it on my own life. Disbelieve me—call me a liar—if you dare! There were found some fifty, fully-loaded boxcars—loaded with bodies. I saw a picture of one—it was overflowing. We buried—with bulldozers—some 4,000. They were from the railroad cars and from rooms in the camp where they were stacked like cordwood covered with lime. We spoke to a Pole who had been forced to throw his parents into the incinerator. And how would you like to hear about these incinerators—it makes for nauseous reading. There was a plaque in front of each one saying something about “ashes to ashes” being better than “dust to dust.” Some compensation for the victims, eh? And they were run in a very businesslike fashion. It was necessary to burn 250 bodies each day to keep the furnaces in good working order. How was the quota met? Easy. They always had at least 150 on a list. But the rest were gotten like this.

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These prisoners were divided into groups of sixteen. These sixteen slept on four shelves, approximately six by six, with six inches of clearance between shelves. Any infraction by one of the sixteen resulted in the death of all of them. And infractions were easy. Under the S.S.—the trained beasts—the quota was always met. And how were they killed? No outright death for them—oh, no! They walked or were pushed, through a door when they fell through a four-by-four hole in the floor to the cement floor some fifteen feet below. There a noose was thrown about their throats and they were hung on hooks on the wall to meet their God. If any still lived after a reasonable length of time—a “man” with a heavy mallet crushed their skulls. The room—hooks on the wall—accommodated fifteen. Then the furnaces. The heat generated was not wasted, by the way. It was piped to the S.S. barracks for warmth – the barracks, where the S.S. troopers celebrated their 10,000th killing by drinking toasts from the scoured skulls of their victims. A lovely people—the Germans!

And don’t let me forget to tell you about the wife of the Commandant of one of these camps—not Dachau, another one—there were plenty in Germany. She loved the beautiful knick-knacks in her home. So any prisoner who bore tattooing on his or her body was stripped and taken before this woman for her O.K. Then death—next skinning, and curing the skin—and a new lampshade or book cover adorned the lovely lady’s home. What’s wrong—don’t you believe me? Take my word for it—you have to believe me—those who were tattooed can’t tell you!

And that isn’t all. We have some 5,000 people in hospitals here. We’ve lowered the death rate to seventy-five a day. And we have statistics to prove that of these seventy-five—some forty-five are Jews. And even though only 8,000 of the 38,000 prisoners of one camp were Jews—the deaths were some 40% or 50% Jewish. The chaplain told us that the other day—after his return from services conducted over that common grave of 4,000—there were bound to be some Jews in it—we didn’t know how many. Which brings me to the point of this letter.

The chaplain told us about the American Joint Distribution Committee’s borrowing $10,000,000 on their name—and about setting a goal of $46,000,000 for this year. He asked us to contribute what we could. And he asked us to write our families a letter. I did, but I write to you, too, because you can reach more people. He didn’t suggest a letter like this—I guess it was the farthest thing from his mind. I just decided it was the best kind. Eloquent pleas are swell things—but pictures are better. Maybe this wasn’t a very pretty picture—I didn’t want it to be. I tried to make it as disgusting, as revolting as nauseous as possible without leaving the bounds of conventional decency—without distorting the truth. Believe me, I have done neither. Every word is true. I swear that before God.

I know of some people who say, “that money goes into the pockets of the black-coated, pie-hatted men with beards.“ I thought so once, too—until I learned this. While the chaplain was reciting the services over that common grave I spoke of before, a convoy of Swiss Red Cross trucks came in. He spoke to the man in charge. The convoy was leaving some fifty tons of food, medicines, clothing etc.—all loaded and paid for by A.J.D.C.—black-coated men, indeed! The stuff comes here.

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Don’t let anyone believe otherwise. It came here. You can supply more statistics on how many Jews still live in Europe and on what remains for us to do—now that it is too late to save the many. That’s not in my line. Neither is putting in a good old-fashioned touch in my line—but I’m doing it. Here it is. You’ve read it. You can see what I’m getting at. Cantor, I beg you—tell this to the well-fed, well-clothed members of your congregation. Read them what I’ve written. Maybe they’ve seen some of these facts in their papers. I don’t know. So, in case they haven’t, read them this first-hand dope. I know you’re going to mention the J.D.C.’s drive—you always do. I know you’ll have your own plea to make. But consolidate mine into yours, will you please? Jolt them right off their seats. Tell them to do something about the crocodile tears they shed and have been shedding for the past ten years. Tell them to stop that, “how awful, tsk, tsk” talk and start some real talk. Money talks. Don’t give them a chance to say, “But.” It’s too late for “buts” now. Talk is O.K. in its place. The place isn’t here.

We must do something to help these people over here.

We’re not giving only to Jews—I know that. Every poor dog is aided over here. Tell them that, too. If you must get down on your knees and beg them to give, Cantor—do it—for God’s sake—do it! There can be no degradation to surpass what I have seen and heard. And if the complacent doubts why we won this war—while 4,000,000 died—then read them the 94th Psalm. It was news to me—maybe it will be news to them. Maybe that will let the moths out of their purses.

Jerry Himmelfarb