The Museum at the Dachau Memorial Site

Dachau display says prisoners unfit for work were murdered

The photograph above shows a display about how the Dachau prisoners, who were unfit for work, were murdered. I was startled to see this photo, used in a display about the camp at Dachau, because it shows an inmate at Bergen-Belsen, which was initially an exchange camp where most of the prisoners didn't work and the others did only light work. Bergen-Belsen also had a section called the"sick camp" where prisoners from other camps, who were unfit for work, were sent to recover or die. However, the text on the display does identify the photo as one that was taken at Bergen-Belsen, not Dachau.

The camp at Dachau was used as a concentration camp for twelve years, between March 22, 1933 and April 29, 1945. However, it was also used as a refugee camp for some of the 12 to 15 million Germans who were expelled from German territory given to Poland after the war and from what is now the Czech Republic. According to the museum display below, these homeless German refugees lived in the prison barracks in the camp from 1948 to 1965. The first memorials were put up at Dachau in 1960, and the German Displaced Persons were not relocated until 1965, at which time a new museum opened in the former service building. Two barrack reconstructions were built in 1965 after all the old original barracks were torn down.

Display about the German refugee camp at Dachau

Immediately after the Dachau concentration camp was liberated, as soon as the typhus epidemic was brought under control, the former prison enclosure was turned into an internment camp for Germans who were accused of war crimes. The photograph below shows the museum display about this camp.

Display about the prison for Nazis at Dachau

A series of American Military Tribunals was held at Dachau from November 1945 until 1948. Staff members of the camps which had been liberated by the American Army were put on trial for participating in a common plan to commit war crimes. The photograph below shows a display about the proceedings against the Dachau staff members, which were held in the Dachau complex. An excerpt from the statement of Dachau Commandant Martin Weiss is shown in the display. Weiss was one of the few concentration camp Commandants who didn't confess to the gassing of prisoners and he was not charged with this crime in the proceedings against him. However, a display about the Dachau gas chamber in the museum says that it was used a few times. A sign that was in the Dachau gas chamber when I visited in May 2001 has now been removed; that sign told visitors in five languages that the gas chamber was never used, or never put into operation.

Display about the trial of Dachau staff members

Other displays in the museum tell about the men who served as Commandants of the camp. The photo below shows the display about Hans Loritz. The poster says that Loritz joined the SS in 1930 and worked in the Dachau camp from 1933 to 1934. In July 1934, he was transferred to KZ Esterwagen where he was the Commandant from 1934 to 1936, before being transferred back to Dachau. He was the Commandant at Dachau from April 1936 to 1939; he was then transferred to Sachsenhausen where he was the Commandant from 1940 to 1942 before being sent to be the Commandant of a concentration camp in Norway. After the war, he was arrested as a war criminal and imprisoned at the Neumünster internment camp for war criminals, where he committed suicide, according to the museum display.

Display about Dachau Commandant Hans Loritz

Another SS man mentioned in the museum is Heinrich Deubel who was the commandant of Dachau in December 1934 until he was let go for being too lenient with the prisoners. He was also arrested as a war criminal after the war and was held in an American internment camp for Nazis from 1945 to 1948 when the charges against him were dropped.

The most well known Commandant of Dachau was Theodore Eicke, who took charge of the camp on June 26, 1933 and established new rules for the prisoners on October 1, 1933. He was promoted to "head of the Inspectorate for Concentration Camps" and served in this position from 1934 to 1939. According to the museum, Eicke joined the SS in 1930 but in March 1932 he was sentenced to two years in prison for "preparing a bomb attack." He fled to Italy and did not serve his time. He died on February 26, 1943 in a plane crash.

Another display in the museum says that the Dachau camp was closed in 1939 while the SS soldiers trained there. All the prisoners were sent to Buchenwald, Mauthausen and Neuengamme, but were then returned when the camp was opened again.

Dachau was used as an execution site, but the museum uses the term "murdered" instead of executed. For example, one display board says that Gustav Ritter von Kahr was "murdered" in 1934, presumably in Dachau. Another display tells the story of Fritz Gerlich, who was featured as one of the characters in a recent American TV mini-series about the early days of Adolf Hitler. According to the museum, Fritz Gerlich was the publisher and editor-in-chief of a Catholic weekly paper called "Illustrierter Sonntag." In 1932, the name of the publication was changed to "Der gerade Weg." Gerlich was arrested by the SA on November 9, 1933 and put into a Munich prison, although the museum does not explain why he was arrested. On June 30, 1934, he was brought to Dachau and executed the next day on July 1st. This was at the same time that members of the SA were brought to Dachau and executed for their part in the "Röhm Putsch" but the museum does not mention whether or not Gerlich had any connection with the alleged conspiracy between Röhm and representatives of the French government.

The photograph shown below is included in a museum display about the liberation of the camp. The caption says that the man on the ground is a guard in the camp who had disguised himself as a prisoner and was beaten by the other prisoners. The caption also explains that the bodies in the background are those of SS men who are dead or pretending to be dead. The museum does not go into detail about the number of SS men who were killed during the liberation of the camp.

Dachau guard who was beaten by the prisoners on liberation day