The defeat of the 'Wehrmacht' which had been predicted again and again by the members of the resistance organization of the camp, changes the life of the Dachau prisoners. All of a sudden, their lives become too precious to be lost or wiped out. After the Stalingrad disaster in Winter 1943, and with the proclamation of the 'Total war', all reserves have to be activated for the production of arms. The prisoners of all concentration camps in Germany are now employed in war industry. In Dachau the SS turn their plant into an arms production and repair site. For the first time, groups of prisoners accompanied by their SS guards leave the camp to work in other arms and war supply factories. Instead of suffering the usual harassment, the prisoners are now exploitet like slaves. The roll calls become reduced to a minimum ("flash calls") and the food seems to get somewhat better.
However, work outside of the camp not only has disadvantages. For the first time the prisones have contact with the Dachau citizens who, for the most part, are showing sympathy. Great efforts are made by some to help the prisoners with food and with forwarding their mail. Especially women perform in a most admirable way.
As the war goes on, other camps are established, such as the camp in Allach close to the BMW plant. The airraids of the allies, which were primarily directed to the centers of industry in and around Munich, forced the officials to transfer all crucial arms production to remote places. Close to them additional camps are set up and finally these small camps are found all over Southern Germany. Yet life in those camps is often like hell. Starvation and deadly deseases - such as typhoid fever - kill many prisoners. The expression of "Extermination by drudgery" eventually becomes a common slogan.
The advance of the allied troops in Winter 1944/45 brings new hope to the prisoners but at the same time, they are confronted with severe problems. Day by day, loads of prisoners from other concentration camps arrive in order to hide away the living proof of the Nazi terror from the eyes of the enemy. Terribly exhausted people form Auschwitz, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, emaciated by endless walking, starvation, freezing temperatures and thurst, crammed into box cars, they all reach the camp with their last reserves of strength. The majority of them look like death. Their sight is so merciful that the comrades try to help with food and blankets - often in vain. Much too fast death takes its toll among the newcomers.
Moreover, the old detainees of the Dachau camp soon need to fear for their own lives, although the front of the Americans does not seem to be far away and the thunder of the shells can be heard quite close: the typhoid fever is raging in the camp. Also, the SS are planning to send thousands of detainees to the alpine region of "Ötztaler Alpen" in order to erect an alpine fortress. The prisoners, among them Germans, Russians and Jews, try to obstruct the orders of the SS wherever possible, but on April 26, 1945 the 'death march' for approximately 7000 prisoners starts, which means a cruel end to many of the prisoners - only hours before the arrival of their liberators.
While chaos is growing among the SS during these last hours before the arrival of the US army troops, the International prisoners committee, the secret resistance organization, takes control of the prisoners. The members of the committee tell their comrades again and again to try and keep cool for not to give their guards a pretext for a massacre.
At the same time, prisoners experienced in handling weapons - among them fighters who had been in the Spanish civil war - are smuggled outside. They join with a group of citizens of Dachau directed by the previous camp inmates Georg Scherer and Walter Neff, who are trying to stop the planned death marches. When the "Freiheitsaktion Bayern" (Bavarian freedom initiative) under the leadership of Rupprecht Gerngroß broadcasts on April 28, 1945 to resist the NS officials, the Dachau resistance group opens the attack. The rebels attack the city hall, disarm the police and trigger the sirens for "Tank raid warning". This signal should make the camp SS believe that the Americans were arriving. And indeed, the irritated camp guards stop the evacuation of inmates. Unfortunately the rebels are caught by the attack of an elite unit of the SS. They are fighting. Most of the rebels are able to escape. Six dead persons - three inmates and three citizens - remain on the scene.
More and more the SS are losing control of the camp and finally they leave - not without evacuating their prominent prisoners, like pastor Martin Niemöller, General Halder, General Thomas and Mr. Kallay, former Prime Minister of Hungary, to Southern Tyrol, where they are finally liberated by the Americans at the hotel "Pragser Wildsee".
Meanwhile the communist detainee Karl Riemer from Nuremberg and some of his comrades escape from the Dachau camp in order to get help. Under risk of his life, Riemer crosses the war lines until he reaches the American troops, which at that time are in the vicinity of Pfaffenhofen. While he tries to convince them to start their march on Dachau the liberators have already started to move towards the camp. On April 29, 1945 the town is taken by units of the 7th US army and the camp is finally liberated. 32.335 prisoners celebrate their arrival. However, the terror continues to claim its toll: In the days following liberation, another 3147 prisoners die from their deseases and from weakness.
Translated by Marlene Hoffmeister
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