One prisoner, Aaron, son of a Bamberg attorney, died of his injuries a few days later. The official cause of death, which in every other case was agreed upon between the camp commanders and the Special Police, could not in this case be made to appear as “Shot while trying to escape,” or “Found hanged in his cell,” since the body showed no marks of shooting or hanging. The Commander, however, found a way out of this fix: that very night the shed in which the corpse was laid out was burned down. The corpse was sufficiently scorched to destroy the marks of the beating, and the official announcement read, “Died of heart disease.” The body was delivered to the parents in a sealed coffin.
Though it had ancient roots, Nazi ideology was far from a primitive, medieval throwback - it was capable of appealing to intelligent and sophisticated people. Many high-ranking Nazis had doctoral degrees and early supporters included such eminent people as philosopher Martin Heidegger, theologian Martin Niemoeller, and commander-in-chief of German forces in the First World War, General Erich Ludendorff. Hitler appealed with a powerful vision of a strong, united and 'racially' pure Germany, bolstered by pseudo-scientific ideas that were popular at the time.
By mid-1944 those Jewish communities within easy reach of the Nazi regime had been largely exterminated,[367] in proportions ranging from about 25 percent in France[368] to more than 90 percent in Poland.[369] On 5 May Himmler claimed in a speech that "the Jewish question has in general been solved in Germany and in the countries occupied by Germany".[370] As the Soviet armed forces advanced, the camps in eastern Poland were closed down, with surviving inmates shipped to camps closer to Germany.[371] Efforts were made to conceal evidence of what had happened. The gas chambers were dismantled, the crematoria dynamited, and the mass graves dug up and the corpses cremated.[372] Local commanders continued to kill Jews, and to shuttle them from camp to camp by forced "death marches".[373] Already sick after months or years of violence and starvation, some were marched to train stations and transported for days at a time without food or shelter in open freight cars, then forced to march again at the other end to the new camp. Others were marched the entire distance to the new camp. Those who lagged behind or fell were shot. Around 250,000 Jews died during these marches.[374]
The camp physician, Dr. Katz of Nuremberg, was also a prisoner. At first he was well treated because the guards and even the Commander admired his courageous attitude, but after he had witnessed the torture inflicted upon the prisoners, it became dangerous for the Nazis to release him. It was reported later that he had hanged himself in a detention cell—a few days before his anticipated release. His presence in the cell, however, was never explained.
Dachau was mainly a camp for Communist political prisoners and anti-Fascist resistance fighters who were captured in the Nazi-occupied countries. On the day of the liberation of Dachau, the political prisoners were in control, as Commandant Wilhelm Eduard Weiter had left the camp on April 26, 1945, along with a transport of prisoners who were being evacuated to Schloss Itter, a subcamp of Dachau in Austria. Former Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss was in charge of the camp for two days until he fled, along with most of the regular guards, on the night of April 28, 1945.
The logistics of the mass murder turned Germany into what Michael Berenbaum called a "genocidal state".[34] Eberhard Jäckel wrote in 1986 that it was the first time a state had thrown its power behind the idea that an entire people should be wiped out.[h] Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was to be exterminated,[36] and complex rules were devised to deal with Mischlinge ("mixed breeds": half and quarter Jews).[37] Bureaucrats identified who was a Jew, confiscated property, and scheduled trains to deport them. Companies fired Jews and later used them as slave labor. Universities dismissed Jewish faculty and students. German pharmaceutical companies tested drugs on camp prisoners; other companies built the crematoria.[34] As prisoners entered the death camps, they were ordered to surrender all personal property, which was catalogued and tagged before being sent to Germany for reuse or recycling.[38] Through a concealed account, the German National Bank helped launder valuables stolen from the victims.[39]
Throughout the 1930s, the legal, economic, and social rights of Jews were steadily restricted.[83] On 1 April 1933, there was a boycott of Jewish businesses.[84] On 7 April 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was passed, which excluded Jews and other "non-Aryans" from the civil service.[85] Jews were disbarred from practising law, being editors or proprietors of newspapers, joining the Journalists' Association, or owning farms.[86] In Silesia, in March 1933, a group of men entered the courthouse and beat up Jewish lawyers; Friedländer writes that, in Dresden, Jewish lawyers and judges were dragged out of courtrooms during trials.[87] Jewish students were restricted by quotas from attending schools and universities.[85] Jewish businesses were targeted for closure or "Aryanization", the forcible sale to Germans; of the approximately 50,000 Jewish-owned businesses in Germany in 1933, about 7,000 were still Jewish-owned in April 1939. Works by Jewish composers,[88] authors, and artists were excluded from publications, performances, and exhibitions.[89] Jewish doctors were dismissed or urged to resign. The Deutsches Ärzteblatt (a medical journal) reported on 6 April 1933: "Germans are to be treated by Germans only."[90]
In 1935 the Wehrmacht began to build a large military complex close to the village of Belsen, a part of the town of Bergen, in what was then the Province of Hanover.[1] This became the largest military training area in Germany of the time and was used for armoured vehicle training.[1] The barracks were finished in 1937. The camp has been in continuous operation since then and is today known as Bergen-Hohne Training Area. It is used by the NATO armed forces.
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