The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Was Dachau an extermination camp?

4. If Dachau was in Germany and even Simon Wiesenthal says that it was not an extermination camp, why do thousands of veterans in America say that it was an extermination camp?

The IHR says:

Because after the Allies captured Dachau, thousands of G.I.s were led through Dachau and shown buildings alleged to be gas chambers, and because the mass-media widely, but falsely, stated that Dachau was a "gassing" camp.

Nizkor replies:

In the sense that tens of thousands of people were starved to death and sporadically killed in it, yes, Dachau was a death camp. The term "extermination camp" should probably not be applied to Dachau, because that is generally taken to mean one of the large camps in occupied Poland where mass gassings were performed (see question 3).

What is not in question is that the gas chamber did exist. The Allies captured the memo sent from Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau to Himmler, which read (see Kogon et al., Nazi Mass Murder, 1993, p. 202):

As you know, the same facilities [gas chambers] have been built at the Dachau concentration camp as at Linz [Hartheim]. Whereas the "invalid transports" end up in certain chambers anyway, I ask whether we cannot test some of our various combat gases on specific persons who are involved in the action. Up till now there have only been animal tests or accounts of accidental deaths in the manufacture of these gases. Because of this paragraph, I have sent this letter marked "Secret."

An American reporter made a movie showing the gas chamber very soon after the camp's capture, showing how it was labelled "Brausebad" ("showers") despite having no shower facilities.

The question of whether the gas chamber can be proved to have been used has not been definitively answered. Some historians say that there is no question: it was never used. Some say that the question is still open. It comes down to two testimonies: that of a British officer named Payne-Best who says he heard Dr. Rascher speak of gassings, and that of Dr. Franz Blaha, who testified under oath to experimental gassings. For more information, see Kogon et al., op. cit., pp. 202-204, and Blaha's testimony in Trial of the Major War Criminals, 1947, vol. V, pp. 167-199. Dr. Charles Larson, a forensics expert, also examined gassing victims at the camp, saying "only relatively few of the inmates I personally examined at Dachau were murdered in this manner."

Holocaust-deniers, of course, only present the point of view which says that it was never used. They often quote from a 1960 letter written by the director of the Institut für Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History), in Munich (see Die Zeit, August 19, 1960, p. 16):

No Gassing in Dachau

Neither in Dachau nor in Bergen-Belsen nor in Buchenwald were Jews or other prisoners gassed.

The letter of course confirms that mass gassing did take place in the larger camps. Holocaust-deniers don't like to mention that part. They also don't like to mention that, since 1960, the Institut has performed more research and has come to a new conclusion. They now say:

...a gas chamber was established [in Dachau] in which...a few experimental gassings were undertaken, as more recent research has confirmed.

Finally, the "mass media," for the most part, states the facts: that Dachau was used for gassing on a very small scale. Whether the term "gassing camp" is appropriate would probably depend on context. If the IHR can present a cite in which a newspaper or magazine has printed an inaccuracy, let them do so. It won't be the first time, nor the last, that something was erroneously printed. If Holocaust-deniers think errors in newspapers help prove that the Holocaust did not occur, they are obviously deluded.

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