Friday, October 28, 2011

The Angel of Death (Germany #12)

MUNICH--Our tour did not include a visit to Dachau, but because it was located nearby and served as the prototype for the other Nazi concentration camps that followed, I feel I must deal with it before saying anything else about Munich. But no words can adequately express the horrors that occurred there.
According to our museum guide at the Nazi rallying grounds in Nuremberg, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) while in prison for his failed putsch when he tried to overthrow the government in 1923. But he got a light sentence and was soon out again and on his way to committing arguably the most monstrous crimes in human history.
Our guide said the autobiographical book is very boring--until page 314, where Hitler says Germany needs room to expand in the east; therefore, we must kill 30 million Russians! He also says we must gas the Jews because they’re running both the Soviet Union and all the western banks. The absurdity of these charges did not prevent Germany from attempting to carry out Hitler’s design, and indeed many millions of both Russians and Jews perished because of them.
Almost immediately after coming to power in 1933, Hitler began setting up the means to achieve his goals; i.e., concentration camps. Almost every community in Germany had members taken away to these camps. There were three types: political prison camps, labor camps, and death camps. Political prisoners survived longer than those in other camps. Prisoners in labor camps were systematically starved and worked to death, on average within nine months. Death camps, obviously, were for immediate execution.
Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described Dachau as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners." The entrance gate carries the words “Arbeit macht frei,” meaning "work will liberate." From 1933 to 1938, the prisoners at Dachau were mainly German nationals detained for political reasons. Later, it was used for prisoners of all sorts from every nation occupied by Germany. We may never know how many people died there, but it’s estimated at over 200,000 from more than 30 countries, two-thirds political prisoners and the rest Jews.
The task of deciding which arriving prisoners were to be killed and which were to become forced laborers was performed by a physician who was a member of the SS, or “Schutzstaffel,” a major paramilitary organization under Himmler’s command. This "Angel of Death," Dr. Josef Mengele, is even more infamous, however, for performing grisly human experiments on camp inmates, including children.
Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize Nazi concentration camps. It was the second camp to be liberated by British or American forces, making it one of the first places where these previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world.

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