Jews in the Dachau camp

Dachau was never an extermination camp for Jews, but from the very beginning, Jews were killed there. Some of the first Jews to be murdered at Dachau were Ernst Goldmann, Arthur Kahn, Erwin Kahn, Karl Lehrburger and Wilhelm Aron. Herbert Hunglinge committed suicide to escape the unbearable conditions in the camp.

The Commandant of Dachau, Hilmar Wäckerle, was charged with murder for the deaths of Louis Schloss on May 16, 1933 and Dr. Alfred Strauss on May 24, 1933. Wäckerle was never put on trial, but he was dismissed from his position as Commandant and transferred to another camp.

On August 7, 1933, Felix Fechenbach, another Jewish prisoner at Dachau, died in the camp after being punished. He was a newspaper editor from Detmold.

After Wäckerle was dismissed because of his cruel punishment of the prisoners, the new Commandant, Theodor Eicke, issued a new set of rules for the camp in October 1933. The SS guards and administrators were forbidden to strike the prisoners or to punish them on their own authority. Punishment for such offenses as stealing or sabotage had to be approved by headquarters, which was at first located in Dachau, but was later moved to Oranienburg near Berlin.

According to Martin Gilbert, author of a book entitled "Holocaust":

"News of individual Jewish deaths in Dachau continued to reach the West. On October 10 (1933) Dr. Theo Katz who had worked in the camp hospital was killed. Also in October, Dr. Albert Rosenfelder, a Jewish lawyer, disappeared while in his cell, and was never heard from again.

According to information in a display in the bunker at the Dachau Memorial Site, Dr. Albert Rosenfelder was among the first people to be arrested by the Nazis in March 1933; he was sent to Dachau on April 13, 1933.

Dr. Rosenfelder was well known because of his involvement in a criminal court case in which the defendant, a non-Jew named Huszmann, was accused of a murder in which the motive was said to be "unnatural lust." The murder victim was 20-year-old Helmuth Daube whose body was found in front of his home in Gladbeck, Germany in March 1928. His throat had been cut and his genitals were missing; there were wounds on both hands, and a stab wound in the abdomen, although no blood was found near the body. Huszmann was acquitted and subsequently Julius Streicher, the notorious editor of an anti-Semitic newspaper called "Der Sturmer," made the outrageous statement that Daube's death had been a "ritual murder" committed by Jews.

The Dachau bunker exhibit says that Dr. Rosenfelder was responsible for Streicher being sent to prison in 1929. Streicher had been convicted of "libeling the Jewish religion under Paragraph 166 of the Weimar Penal Code" and his newspaper was banned for a time. No one knows if Dr. Rosenfelder's disappearance was the result of a revenge murder or if he escaped, or was secretly released and allowed to leave Germany.

By February 1942, when the roundup of all the Jews in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe began, most of the Jews had been released from Dachau and the other camps in Germany, or they had died during their imprisonment. Martin Gilbert mentions that Peter Spatz, who was sent to Buchenwald during the Kristallnacht arrests, was later transferred to Dachau, where he died in 1940.

According to an unnamed former Jewish prisoner, who had been sent to Dachau on February 4, 1938, the Jews received far worse treatment than the other prisoners in the camp. Martin Gilbert quoted from an account published in Paris in 1939, which was written by this unnamed prisoner after he was released from Dachau:

The Jewish prisoners worked in special detachments and received the hardest tasks. They were beaten at every opportunity - for instance, if the space between the barrows with which they had to walk or even run over loose flints was not correctly kept. They were overwhelmed with abusive epithets such as "Sow Jew", "Filth Jew" and "Stink Jew". During the working period, the non-Jewish prisoners were issued with one piece of bread at breakfast - the Jews with nothing. But the Jews were always paraded with the others to see the bread ration issued. [...] When, during great heat, it was allowed to fetch water for the working detachments, it sometimes happened that the Jews were forbidden to drink.

In spite of this public relations disaster, the Nazis continued to release Jewish prisoners from Dachau. According to Martin Gilbert, author of "Holocaust," there were 15,000 Jews from Austria sent to Dachau and Buchenwald in June 1938, following the Anschluss of Germany and Austria. One of the Jews, who was in Dachau during this period and was later released, reported that "In June (1938) a Jew was brought here under suspicion of 'race pollution'. He was so ill that we had to wheel him into camp on a wheelbarrow, and to wheel him to morning and evening roll-call, as the doctor would not put him on the sick list. In a week he was dead."

Jews in Baden-Baden who were arrested on Kristallnacht

In November 1938, there were 10,911 Jews brought to Dachau, after they were taken into "protective custody" during the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. On the night of November 9th and 10th, the windows in all of the Jewish stores were smashed and merchandise was thrown into the street. All of the Synagogues were burned. The name given by the Nazis to this destruction was Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass. Another 20,000 Jews were sent to either Sachsenhausen or Buchenwald after Kristallnacht.

Most of the Jews arrested after Kristallnacht were released within a few weeks after they promised to make arrangements to leave Germany. Around 8,000 of the 30,000 Jews, who were taken into "protective custody," were allowed to enter Great Britain without a visa and thousands more went to Shanghai, where no visa was required. Altogether, more than 50,000 German Jews found safety in Britain before World War II started, including 10,000 Jewish children, who were sent on Kindertransports, according to Martin Gilbert.

Walter Loeb was arrested in Karlsruhe on Nov. 10, 1938 during Kristallnacht; he was 22 years old. According to a news article, he spent a year in the Dachau concentration camp before being released in 1939. He arrived in the United States in 1940, and served in the U.S. Army

According to a news article by Noah Rosenberg, 19-year-old Werner Kleeman arrived at Dachau concentration camp on November 20, 1938, following his arrest during the Kristallnacht pogrom.

In October 2009, almost 71 years later, Kleeman returned to Dachau for the first time. But, on this occasion, he was escorted to the gate by a friend and welcomed by the Dachau museum's director, Gabriele Hammermann, who had cordially extended an invitation to Kleeman to visit and speak as a "memorial witness."

In his article, Noah Rosenberg wrote that on Kleeman's prior visit to Dachau, Kleeman said he had "Nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, nothing to do but stand on the parade ground 12 to 16 hours a day in cold weather" and worry, as people were "dying all day long."

Kleeman was released after spend 30 days at Dachau and came to America, courtesy of a distant Midwestern relative. On his return visit to Dachau, Kleeman spoke of his induction into the American Army, which sent him back to war-torn Europe, where he played a hand in Germany's defeat, ultimately arresting the German officer who had thrown him into Dachau.

Rachel Zimbler's father, an Austrian Jew in Vienna, who was arrested the day after Kristallnacht, managed to get out of Dachau after only 48 hours. A month later, on Dec. 10, her father put Rachel and her brother on a "kinder transport" which took the children to Holland.

A few of the Jews arrested after Kristallnacht remained in Dachau for as long as 3 years before they were released, as late as 1941, on the condition that they leave Germany immediately, according to Theodor Haas, a Dachau survivor who was among the Jews taken into "protective custody" on November 9, 1938.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Theodore Haas, conducted by Aaron Zelman, founder of the organization called "Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership." Haas was living in America and was a member of this organization at the time that he gave this interview.

Haas still has nightmares about the persecution he endured as a Jew in Nazi Germany. He survived the Holocaust only because he was released from Dachau in 1941, two years after World War II started, but before plans for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question" were made on January 20, 1942 at the Wannsee Conference. In February 1942, deportation of all the Jews to the death camps in Poland began.

The interviewer, Aaron Zelman, asks the questions and Theodore Haas answers:

Q.) How did you end up at Dachau? How old were you?

A.) November 9th, 1938 was Kristallnacht -- The Night of
Broken Glass -- The night Synagogues were ransacked and
burned, Jewish owned shops destroyed; I guess you could call
it the night the fires of hell engulfed the soul of humanity.
I was arrested November 10th, "for my own personal
security." I was 21 years old. My parents were arrested and
ultimately died in a concentration camp in France. I was
released from Dachau in 1941, under the condition that I
leave Germany immediately. This was common procedure before
the "Final Solution."

Q.) What did you think when you were sent to Dachau? What
did you know about Dachau beforehand?

A.) My first thoughts were those of many others: "The world has
gone mad." I knew that the life expectancy at Dachau was
relatively short. I knew beforehand that inmates were
abused. The horror of Dachau was known throughout Germany.
People (Germans) used to frighten their children, "If you do
not behave, you will surely end up at Dachau." A famous
German comedian, Weiss Ferdl, said "Regardless how many
machine gun towers they have around K.Z. Dachau, if I want
to get in, I shall get in." The Nazis obliged him; he died
at Dachau.

Q.) How did you accept the fears of Dachau?

A.) Due to the constant hunger and extreme cold weather, one
becomes too numb to even think of fear. A prisoner under
these conditions becomes obsessed with survival; nothing
else matters.

Q.) What were the living conditions like in Dachau?

A.) We were issued one quarter of a loaf of bread. That was
to last three days. In the morning, we picked up, at the
kitchen, a cup of roasted barley drink. There was no lunch.
At dinnertime, sometimes we got a watery soup with bits of
tripe or some salt herring and a boiled potato. Our prison
clothes were a heavy, coarse denim. They would freeze when
they got wet. We were not issued hats, gloves or underwear.
The first night, about 500 prisoners were stuffed into a
room designed to hold 50 (Believe me, it is possible). Later
on, we were forced to sleep on straw. As time went on, the
straw disintegrated and we became louse infested. The guards
delighted in making weak and ill clothed prisoners march or
stand at attention in rain, snow, and ice for hours. As you
can imagine, death came often due to the conditions.

Q.) Do you have residual fears? How do you feel about German

A.) I have nightmares constantly. I recently dreamed that a
guard grabbed me. My wife's arm touched my face, and I
unfortunately bit her severely. German re-unification, in my
opinion, will be the basis for another war. The Germans,
regardless of what their present leadership says, will want
their lost territories back, East Prussia, Silesia, and
Danzig (Gdansk). My family history goes back over 700 years
in Germany. I understand all too well what the politicians
do not want the people to be thinking about.

Q.) You mentioned you were shot and stabbed several times.
Were these experiments, punishment or torture?

A.) They were punishment. I very often, in a fit of temper,
acted while the brain was not in gear. The sorry results
were two 9 mm bullets in my knees. Fortunately, one of the
prisoners had a fingernail file and was able to dig the
slugs out. In another situation, I was stabbed in the
washroom of room #1, Block 16. Twice in a struggle where I
nearly lost my right thumb. A German prisoner Hans Wissing,
who after the war became mayor of his home town,
Leinsweiler, witnessed the whole situation. We stayed in
touch until a few months ago, when he died.

Q.) Do you remember some of the steps taken by the Nazis to
de-humanize people and to make them feel hopeless? How were
people robbed of their dignity?

A.) If you had treated an animal in Germany the way we
were treated, you would have been jailed. For example, a
guard or a group of them would single out a prisoner and
beat him with canes or a club. Sometimes to further
terrorize a prisoner, the guards would form a circle around
a prisoner and beat him unconscious. There were cases of a
prisoner being told to report to the Revier ("Hospital") and
being forced to drink a quart of castor oil. Believe me,
this is a lousy, painful, wretched way to die. You develop
extreme diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and severe dehydration.
If the Nazis wanted you to live and suffer more, they would
take measures to rehydrate the victim.

Q.) What was the routine like at Dachau?

A.) Three times a day, we were counted. We had to carry the
dead to the square. Each time, we had to stand at attention
in all kinds of weather. We stood wearing next to nothing,
had weak bladders, while our tormentors had sheepskin coats
and felt boots. The bastards really enjoyed watching us
suffer. I remember how the guards had a good laugh when one
of them "accidentally" let loose with a machine gun, killing
about 30 prisoners.

Q.) What did people do to try to adjust to Dachau? Keep
their spirits up?

A.) There were some actors, comedians, and musicians among
us. Sometimes they would clandestinely perform. One of the
musicians got hold of a violin and played for us. To this
day, it remains a mystery how he got his hands on a violin.
I still keep in touch with other prisoners. I am a member of
the Dachau Prisoners Association. Each year I go back to
Germany to visit.

Q.) Did people ever successfully escape? Do you remember
acts of bravery?

A.) Nobody escaped, only in the movies does the "hero"
escape. Guards received extra leave time for killing
prisoners that got too close to the fence. I do, however,
think all prisoners were heroes in their own way. Especially
the German prisoners, for they would not acquiesce to the
Nazis. They suffered greatly too.

Q.) Did the camp inmates ever bring up the topic, "If only
we were armed before, we would not be here now"?

A.) Many, many times. Before Adolph Hitler came to power,
there was a black market in firearms, but the German people
had been so conditioned to be law abiding, that they would
never consider buying an unregistered gun. The German people
really believed that only hoodlums own such guns. What fools
we were. It truly frightens me to see how the government,
media, and some police groups in America are pushing for the
same mindset. In my opinion, the people of America had
better start asking and demanding answers to some hard
questions about firearms ownership, especially if the
government does not trust me to own firearms, why or how can
the people be expected to trust the government? There is no
doubt in my mind that millions of lives could have been
saved if the people were not "brainwashed" about gun
ownership and had been well armed. Hitler's thugs and goons
were not very brave when confronted by a gun. Gun haters
always want to forget the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which is a
perfect example of how a ragtag, half starved group of Jews
took up 10 handguns and made asses out of the Nazis.

End of Interview

Dachau Life

Commandants at Dachau

Prisoner classification

Prisoner Badges

Labor Allocation at Dachau

Priests at Dachau

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This page was last updated on November 13, 2009