Humanities & Social Sciences
Reply-To: H-NET List for History of the Holocaust
Sender: H-NET List for History of the Holocaust
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999
THERE are several approaches to the
question of gas chambers in Dachau. As a first, I would
Dachau 1933-1945 (Munich, 1978).
Page 172 displays a picture of "Baracke X," whose
construction began in 1942 but "was never put into use."
Instead, this publication points to Hartheim Castle as
the place where Dachau inmates were occassionally gassed.
This source states that these larger gas chambers were
finished in 1942 -- which is at odds with my
understanding of this piece of history.
A second approach would be to simply use Hilberg's
Destruction of European
Jewry (1985). According to Hilberg, the
idea of mass killing through the use of gas chambers did
extend to the Dachau camp. This is not a quote from
Hilberg but a reflection on his references to Dachau
throughout his three volume work. A similar argument
could be made using Leni Yahil's
The Holocaust (1987),
Davidowicz's War Against the
Jews (1975), Breitman's
Architect of Genocide
(1991), and Yehuda Bauer's A
History of the Holocaust (1982).
A third possibility comes from the
Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death
Camp (1994). Within this work, Dachau's links with
the Auschwitz camp focus on the designs for a crematorium
(not gas chamber) in the late 1930's. In addition,
Auschwitz camp commandant Hoess got an early taste
for running Auschwitz at Dachau.
One could add that additional SS personnel were also
drawn from the Dachau camp for work in Auschwitz --
including Theodor Eicke.
A fourth approach emerges through Lifton's
Nazi Doctors (1986) and
(much more importantly) Henry Friedlander's
The Origins of Nazi Genocide
(1995). Leaning primary on Friedlander, Dachau played a
key role in the escalating Nazi policies leading to the
gas chambers of Auschwitz. Dachau did not, however,
become a practical component of Auschwitz-style mass
killings with the associated gas chambers.
A fifth possibility is to approach this question from
the postwar perspective. As Lucius Clay talks of
in his memoirs, there were numerous war crimes trials
associated with the Dachau camp.
Denazification and reeducation were integral parts of
these trials just as much as they were a component of the
Lastly, there is
Deutschlands (1995) in which
the final days of the Dachau camp are presented in
some detail and based upon primary sources -- almost
exclusively taken from the American military.
According to Henke, American soldiers executed 346
members of the Dachau camp personnel after discovering
the crematorium and gas chambers. Given the nature of
life in Dachau at the time, the conclusions drawn by
those soldiers about the gas chambers is
understandable. Should the American 45. Infantry
Division be saddled with initiating the rumor of
large-scale gassing operations at Dachau? No. More
significantly, the American authorities on the scene
at the time (G-5) did not report the use of gas as a
means of mass execution at Dachau.
As it turns out, I cannot find the single published
source where it is stated that the gas chambers were
finished after the war. That will take a little more
-- David A. Meier
Associate Professor of History
Department of Social Sciences
Dickinson State University
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