The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Himmler & Dachau

Snippets from Richard Breitman's work on Himmler

Himmler apparently did not want to rely exclusively upon Eicke and his men to carry out a reign of terror during the military campaign in Poland. Who could be a better choice to organize a parallel force that Eicke's bitter rival, and Himmler's own deputy, Reinhard Heydrich? Years before, Eicke and Heydrich had fought for control over the concentration camps, starting with Dachau, and their enmity had lasted. (Sydnor, Soldiers of Destruction, 22) (Breitman, 66)

Upper Silesia [...] had become a critical region for Himmler. On March 1 he flew from Berlin to [...] Gleiwitz, where he was met by Bracht, von dem Bach-Zelewski, and Inspector of Concentration Camps Richard Glücks. After lunch the group drove about thirty miles southeast across the old border with Poland to the Upper Silesian town of Auschwitz, which was now just inside the expanded Reich and just outside the Government General. There was a concentration camp at Auschwitz, founded in 1940* but Himmler was more interested in future activities there than in the present collection of Poles and supposed criminals.

Auschwitz was already slated for expansion. Heydrich had approved a scheme, formally decreed in early January 1941, by which particular concentration camps would hold prisoners of a certain category. Auschwitz I, along with Dachau and Sachsenhausen, for example, would take in criminals capable of rehabilitation. "Auschwitz II" appeared on a list of concentration camps where dangerous criminals were to be "educated." Auschwitz II was a peculiar designation, because there was then only one camp at Auschwitz. (Heydrich knew more than Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss, who found out only later that his domain would increase.) Himmler had approved a promotion for Höss in January 1941 because of his work at Auschwitz, where, Inspector Glücks had written, agriculture was the main activity. Glücks did reveal one interesting fact - that Himmler had taken a particular interest in Auschwitz. (Einstufung der Konzentrationslager, 2 Jan. 1941, NA RG 238, NO-743. Glücks to Wander, SS Personalhauptamt, 14 Jan 1941, Höss SS file, Berlin Document Center.) (Ibid., 157)

Later that month Himmler had the occasion to visit Dachau. He noticed that a Jewish prisoner was in the infirmary, which violated an order dating back before the war that Jewish prisoners should receive medical attention only if they were indispensable. Himmler now issued an order that all Jews who reported sick should be killed. (Interrogation of Isaak Egon Ochshorn, 14 Sept. 1945, NA RG 238, NO-1934. Ochshorn testified that the Jew was in the infirmary "by accident." Discussion of a general prewar order not to treat Jews, affidavit of Gerhard Oskar Schiedlausky, 4 Mar. 1947, NA RG 238, NO-2332. Himmler's new order also in interrogation of Ochshorn.) By the spring of 1941 he had few inhibitions about putting Jews to death. (Ibid., 159)

The most important postwar account came from Himmler's longtime acquaintance, Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss. In spite of his relatively modest SS rank, Höss had outstanding credentials: World War I service in Turkey and Palestine, a conviction for participation in a political murder during the Weimar Republic, a jail sentence, membership in the Munich section of the Nazi Party since 1922, and years of experience under Theodor Eicke at the Dachau concentration camp. (Glücks to Wander, 14 Jan. 1941, Höss SS file, Berlin Document Center. Höss [sic] affidavit, 14 March 1946, NA RG 238, NO-1210.) (Ibid., 188)

*(From the History of KL Auschwitz, New York, 1982,I, 188, has Himmler, Bracht, Glücks, and Ernst-Heinrich Schmausser going to Auschwitz on 1 March 1941. This last name appears to be an error, since Schmausser was not appointed higher SS and police leader for the region until May 1941, and since Himmler attended a birthday party for Bach-Zelewski, Schmausser's predecessor, in Breslau on the evening of 1 March. Programm für Sonnabend, 1 March 1941, NA RG 242, T-580/R37. On the earlier phase of Auschwitz, see Breitman, pp 93-94)

Work Cited

Breitman, Richard. The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991

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