Read an Excerpt
American Samurais - WWII Camps
By Pierre Moulin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Pierre Moulin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Dachau Concentration Camp
Adolf Hitler was just named Chancellor of Germany. On March 21, 1933, he signed the "Sondergerichte" forming an exceptional court to judge the opponents (No Jury, No lawyer)! The very same day, the chief of the Hitler Police, Heinrich Himmler, announced in the newspapers, the opening of a Concentration camp created to receive the enemy of the state, near Munich, inside the little town of Dachau.
The day after the official opening on Thursday March 23, 1933, about sixty inmates came inside the buildings of an old explosive manufactory, closed after the Treaty of Versailles. In the beginning of 1935, the first political prisoners came into the camp and from then, a small number of criminals would stay on.
Dachau was the Nazi's oldest concentration camp. It was built in 1933 and made to « Welcome » 5.000 inmates. It was made to serve as a prisoner's camp for Jews and for the German opponents of the Third Reich. Later, it will become the training camp and the center of organization for the other camps.
The number of inmates increased perceptibly in 1937 after the German annexation of Austria and Czech-Slovakia. In the middle of 1937, the inmates lived a critical period as the S.S. began the building of a huge camp planned for a long time. For over one year, with horrible working conditions, the prisoners razed the former buildings to set up the camp of the S.S. and the new compound for the inmates. Officially, on August 15, 1938, the concentration camp of Dachau was finished and in 1939, it had the same aspect as today.
The concentration camp shapes a rectangle of 300 meters wide and 600 meters long. Railroad tracks, coming from the Dachau's station, allowed the trains of detainees to come to the north side of the camp. In the west, stands the main camp of the S.S., connected to the concentration compound by a large road which leads to the only door of the camp, the "Jourhaus".
The guard-house led into a big doorway, locked with heavy iron bars, where stands a door, carrying the ironic inscription:
« Arbeit macht frei » (Work brings freedom)
Everybody coming into the camp has to go through this door.
In the basement, are the offices of the recorders and the guard's rooms. The first floor hosts the S.S. Authorities, the Chief of the Camp and their lieutenant's offices and the office of the "Gestapo".
Coming inside, on your right hand side, is a huge 200 meters long building, with two aisles of 60 meters each, where are the vital installations for the life in the camp, the "Wirtschaftsgebäude." On the roof, in big white letters shows:
"Es gibt einen weg zur Freiheit. Seine Meilensteine heißen: Gehorsam - Fleiß - Ehrlichkeit - Ordnung Sauberkeit - Nüchternheit - Wahrheit - Opfersinn und Liebe zum Vaterland".
(There is a way to freedom. His milestones are called: Obedience - Application - Loyalty - Order - Cleanness - Sobriety - Sincerity – Devotion and Love to your country)
This management building contained department stores, rooms for the personal belongings of the inmates, a giant shower installation for 150 people, a top quality kitchen, cellars, wash-house, closing stores, shoes and laundry depots, workshops for the shoemakers and the tailors.
Between this building and the south fence, starting from the "Jourhaus", a street goes to the prison, the "Bunker", where cells were made for the punished. In 1933, the "Bunker" contained 10 to 12 cells. They built a new structure with 50 to 60 cells without windows. And finally, the most famous « Bunker » was able to « welcome » 120 detainees. In this special building lived the "Honorary prisoners" who I will speak about furthermore. The east wall of the « Bunker » is one of the executions sites of the camp.
Starting from the management building, a way led, through flowers-beds, to a huge open place where roll calls and the disciplinary exercises were carried out. Everyday, the workers' columns started from the "Appellplatz" (roll call place), and came back from work in song. During some recreation times, the place served as a sport field and here, the loud-speakers proclaimed Hitler's victories.
A strip of 3 meters wide surrounded the com- pound, the "Neutral zone" which was prohibited to crossover. Behind, a 2 meters 50 wide ditch of 1 meter 20 deep reinforces the "anti escape" dispositions. A concrete wall with electric barbed wires protects the formation. In the West side, a deep channel, full of water, connected to the river Amper which flows in 500 meters, closed the camp.
At the strategic points, 7 guard-towers stand loaded with two S.S. sentinels on sentry duty day and night, ready to fire, the machineguns pointed to the inside camp. The towers with their platforms were marked by capital letters, the A rise above the "Jourhaus". Their positions allow them to be able to shoot any site in the camp. No one could escape their fire. At night, powerful mobile headlights scan the camp. At the single sign of movement in the Neutral Zone, near the ditch or the barbed wires, and they open fire without warning, and the prisoner who was here was killed, at once.
In the far north of the camp, lay the decontamination building, an angora rabbit farm, the Garden's Office and in 1943, the "sonderbau" (brothel). In fact, in the summer, Himmler gave order to build some bawdy-house so called "sonderbau" (Special House) to resolve the sexual problems, fight against vices counter-nature and to increase the workers' productivity. The "personnel" was recruited inside the Ravensbrück concentration camp, with the opportunity to be free for the women who could stay six months at work. On mid December 1944, one polish and twelve German girls were registered.
From the roll call place, we go to the prisoners' barracks through a beautiful 300 meters long and 30 meters wide alley, bordered by poplars, "Lagerstraße" nicknamed by Edmond Michelet the "rue de la Liberté" (freedom street). On both sides, serial barracks named "blocks", in between was 10 meters wide "Blockstraße" (Block street).
The first two blocks show letters, west side B and C, East side D and E. The following barracks were numbered right inside, odd from 1 to 29 and left inside, even from 2 to 30. Built in wood and cement plates, the blocks were 90 meters long and 10 wide. Inside the blocks B and C stand the canteen, the museum, the camp office and the library.
In the S.S. canteen, which was run by the prisoners, you could sometimes find food and cigarettes at very expensive prices. The S.S. made big money on detainees. Beets jam, rolled oats, cucumbers, raw sauerkraut, carrots, snails, and so on, all not very fresh, but welcomed by the hungry inmates.
The S.S. got the singular idea to create a museum for the visitors. In this museum, pictures, wax or cast sculptures showed all the types of Dachau's detainees. All the opponents hostile toward the Regime were there in uniform and in prisoner's clothes. The criminal section with bodies covered by scars and tattoos were in place. Jews strongly pictured steeling their people and racketing. Also, the S.S. presented to the visitors the prisoners who had physical disorders.
The library was very well-stocked with the books stolen from the detainees. After 1942, the inmates used to read a lot, due to the cooler politic towards the prisoners.
The camp secretary's office ran past the detainees, checked the main camp as well as the "outside commandos", keepping the attendance book. Mail was delivered in each block. Everyday a report was made to the chief of the camp. The secretary's office prepared the lists of prisoners' transportation chosen by the S.S. and transferred them to other compounds. The work's office running with the S.S. dispatches the outside as well as the inside work. Inside this office, translators for all languages were on duty.
East blocks D and E host the hospital: the "revier". Medications were given by the prisoners, S.S. doctors and surgeons, as well as people who knew nothing on this matter, all from distinct nationalities. Several inmates died following shots in the heart or tortures make up by the "Capos" who had the right to dictate life and death on the sick people.
In 1940 the « revier » had to be expanded to blocks 1, 3 and 5. From 1942, the increase of the inmate's number caused the hospital expansion. In September, the "Revier" 7 blocks connected together by a long closed corridor. Then, the blocks 11, 13 and 15 were annexed to the hospital which contains up-to-date medical installations and dentistry.
Inside some rooms, they dissected dead bodies to determine the cause of the death: « blood disorders or embolism??!! » There is also a morgue where dead bodies and human skeletons were kept.
When there was no more space, the dead bodies were pilled up in the street, then carried to the crematorium. During epidemics, they pull up the corpses like sack of flour on a truck nicknamed the marsh express (Moor-express).
Then came the quarantine blocks where the newcomers were placed as well as the one's who were waiting for their assignments. Those barracks were isolated from the others and the life of the inmates was quite different. The newcomer stayed around 4 to 6 weeks, inside these blocks. It was not for hygienic purpose but to prepare the detainee to his new prisoner's life. He must learnt fast the ranks of the S.S. and the marching songs.
The quarantine personnel were particularly beastly and initiated the newcomer to teach him that he had no more rights. He is submitted to everything who wears a S.S. uniform. The bad treatment received, on the arrival, at the politic section, the S.S. attendance, sometimes the bad jokes, vexations, and rudeness coming from the other inmates made the first days inside the camp a real torture.
The prisoners' money was placed on his arrival on an account as well as the money he could get after. He can withdraw a maximum of 15 Reich Mark (RM) per month. As some detainees disposed tremendous amount of money, especially during the first years, the S.S. realized very fructuous financial operations. From 1942, a free-gift coupon system allowed some prisoners to hold more money. The money should be used to buy articles in stock, mainly food, at the canteen, a source of huge benefits for the administration of the camp. Sometimes, the inexperience of the newcomers was used to steel their money. They took their spoon and they had to pay for another with their own money.
Just before the end of the quarantine, the S.S. organizes a last revue. The newcomers executed military training and had to prove their knowledge of the marching songs and the ranks of the S.S. This little game could play one or two full days, and deal with heavy blows ... During this revue, the men were selected and assigned to the work commandos. The prisoners able to work got some space in the barracks called free-blocks.
Both sides of the 'Freedom Street" stand 30 barracks numbered from 1 to 30. Blocks 2 and 4 were models barracks, occupied by Germans. These "muster blocks" (exhibit blocks) were perfectly cleaned when some especial visitors were coming. They gave a nice image of the conditions of life inside the camp. This first blocks played their propaganda role to perfection. Two barracks owned a very special function, the Block 15 was named the penitentiary company and the Block 30 the disabled ones.
Barrack 15 was considered to be the block with the most severe punishments, mainly made for Jews, and until 1940 for the priests, Jehovah's Witnesses and unsocials. The barrack hosted the prisoners caught in escape or willing to escape. The blocks 15, 17 and 19 were finally isolated from the rest of the camp with barbed wires becoming the disciplinary company. The watching personnel was composed with the worst selected among the S.S. and the criminals.
Inside the barrack 30 the S.S. put together, in the last days, all the prisoners unable to perform work of any kind because of their age, their disabilities or simply because of their status. What happened in this block could not be described. The S.S. decided to let them died from natural causes. These poor guys received lighter soup, their coats and their clothes were taken off, then their blankets. They laid five in two beds connected.
In December 44, a S.S. guard, finding the atmosphere insalubrious, took off the windows which caused series of bronchitis, pleurisies, and pneumonias. Then typhus came into block 20 on January 22nd, 1945. In one day 120 deaths were counted inside the block 30.
Mgr Neuhäusler wrote:
"What's happened from the end of December 1944, on January and February 1945 at the Dachau's concentration camp constitutes one of the worst frightful tragedy of the history of all concentration camps"
All of the other barracks were designated to the prisoners. The block made to host 208 men contained two equal parts with its entrance. Each part contains two sets of dormitory, living room (staube), toilettes and lavatory. The detainees sleep 52 superimposed bunks two by two, per room. Everybody has a closet and a stool to sit on one of the four tables in the living room warmed, by a ceramic stove in the center. In the hall were placed the shelves for the shoes. The lavatory was built with two circular basins with faucets. And inside a 5 by 3 meters room were two lines of toilettes where your needs have to be met in the most complete promiscuity.
When the number of 208 men per block was respected, the common life stayed still acceptable. But as the population increased, the situation deteriorated quickly. In fact, at the beginning, Dachau was never made to become a mass extermination camp.
The number of the inmates changed because of the different transports and of course with the systematic extermination policy of the camp. During the war, between 20.000 and 30.000 prisoners stayed in the camp, almost five times the maximum capacity planned.
To complete the description of the camp, we must add the barracks and the buildings located outside the barbed wires fences which played a great role for the inmates in their concentration life. The first obligatory step for the detainee was the "Politische Abteilung" (political section) which had his office held near the gate of the compound. Here was decided about the prisoner's belonging with the Gestapo instructions and methods, which include all cruelty refinements.
Another noteworthy compound is the crematorium built in the beginning in 1940 it had a single wooden barrack with only one oven. In anticipation of mass exterminations, the Head administration of concentration camps ordered a gas chamber to be built in Dachau. On March 17, 1942, was sent a very detailed design for the making of the « Barrack X ». On July 23, 1942, the general inspection of the S.S. building asked for the building of the Barrack X (one gas chamber and one crematorium.)
It's a typical installation, an undressing room, a shower room "special » and a morgue. Just on the side stood a crematorium with four ovens.
The commando selected to build the gas chamber, was invited to sabotage the installation, bythe clandestine political section on that time. Karl Wagner from Stuttgart, capo of the commando succeeded to delay the work so well that the deadline was not respected. On October 1944, the commando « builder and repair » got the order to set up the pipes for the gas chamber.
First of all, a shower room with 12 disguised pommels. The necessary bronze pieces were replaced by stones and were sent outside the camp in secret. With great ability, the commando, (with Karl Nonnengeser from Munich, the soviet Iwan Gordejew, and a polish guy), succeed superbly. The gas chamber could never work because of them, fully aware of the terrible outcome which could have followed their courageous sabotage.
The crematorium, in opposition, worked. Some more efficient ovens were built with double doors, to diminish the burning blast effect when they opened the oven to put the bodies inside. They were four ovens able to hold 7 or 8 corpses in regard of the skinny bones bodies of the detainees. A cremation needed around two hours.
In the hall of the building where took place the cremation, there were some hangings and some hooks fixed inside a beam. Outside the crematorium, a primitive installation made by a small spoil heap in front of which the prisoner fell in his knees and where he was shot by a bullet in his nape of the neck, a small line drawn in the sand, drank the blood.
Excerpted from American Samurais - WWII Camps by Pierre Moulin Copyright © 2012 by Pierre Moulin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.