There are several approaches to the question of gas chambers in Dachau, states Prof David Meier
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Dachau Gas Chambers


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Author: David Meier

Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999

THERE are several approaches to the question of gas chambers in Dachau. As a first, I would point to Concentration Camp 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 Gutman/Berenbaum work 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 Nuremberg trials.

Lastly, there is Henke's Die amerikanische Besetzung 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 time.

-- David A. Meier

Associate Professor of History
H-Antisemitism Moderator
Department of Social Sciences
Dickinson State University



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