by Julia Gotz May. 07, 2010 12339 views

These photos were taken on a short trip to Germany to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. More pictures from Dachau here. [photoblog.com]

In the days before liberation, trainloads of prisoners were sent from the slave labour camps to central camp Dachau. The allied forces did not know the trains carried prisoners. They were understood to be military transports, and so the allies fired on them from the air. The guards ran away from the trains, leaving the prisoners trapped in the box cars. Most of those packed inside were killed or injured. A group of workers, including my father, were walked to the site with shovels to dig a mass grave and unload the dead and dying from the train. My father said that unloading that train is one of his worst memories of the war. Here we are walking to the site.

The man on the right, Bernard Marks, was one of the prisoners on the train. He was nine years old. He, like my father, was a slave labourer at one of the work camps at Kaufring. He was the youngest one - children were sent directly to the death camps. But Bernard was big enough to work. Bernard's father was also on the train, and he was injured, but managed to survive.

Our wonderful volunteer guide, Leutenant Colonel Gerhard Roletscheck, is an engineer in the German Airforce. He has deep knowledge of everything that happened in the region during the war. He takes us to sites where there is no sign or marker for what took place, such as the locations of the slave labour camps.

Here we are at the gravesite for the nazis and collaborators who were executed for war crimes. the grave next to my father is the burial place of the last commandant of Dachau work camp 1, where my father was. Just around the corner is Landsberg Am Lech Fortress Prison, where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.

My father tells the story of a camp commander who loved music. There were many outstanding musicians among the prisoners. He gathered them together, got instruments for them, and told them they must rehearse his favourite music to perform a concert for him. That commander was replaced with another. He came upon the room where the musicians were rehearsing. In a rage he struck them and smashed up all the instruments. “Back to work lazy swine”. My father comments “That commander did not enjoy music”.

This was a very sad place for my father - the mass grave site for the slave labourers from Dachau labour camp 1. The idea of the labour camps was ‘death by work’ - to kill the workers by starvation and exhaustion, then replace them. This place is the memorial site for so many people my father knew from his hometown and the ghetto in Lithuania.

His kindness and insight were a great gift to us.

The site of labour camp 1. Nothing remains. Bernard's father was a taylor. He's telling the story of how one of the prison commanders got his father to make a dress for his wife. Skills like these were often crucial to survival. My father had learned metalworking in the Kovno Ghetto, and those skills made him useful in the labour camp.

A part of what the labourers built - a huge aircraft assembly plant, five stories high, built underground. the walls were concrete three meters thick.

Here we are seeing the original walls that my father and Bernard worked to build. Twelve men at least are entombed within the walls - men who fell into the concrete and remained there. the building is massive, and because it is underground, there is no way to show it's size. trains drove through it, loading and unloading materials. It is currently in use as a military facility, five stories deep.

Ethan listens.

Here we are at the foundation walls, inner and outer.

Bernard, a child of 8, would sabotage the building process whenever he could by putting rocks on the track that carried the carts of gravel, causing the gravel to spill. A boy's spirit of resistance. (sorry for so many pictures not properly in focus. it was dark there)

At the selection point where children were sent to death camps and the men to the labour camp, there was a string that showed the minimum height. When Bernard stood to be selected, his father saw he didn't reach the line on the string. His father gestured to him to straighten up, and at the moment that the officer looked, Bernard lifted his heels so he reached to the height marked by the string. His father had just saved his life: he had passed the selection instead of being sent to the death camp of Auschwitz. When the war ended, Bernard had missed five years of school, yet he went on to graduate as a Electrical-Nuclear Engineer in the United States, and worked on an Apollo space mission. My father also went on to complete university (in a new language for both of them) as an Electrical Engineer. They had in common that incredible determination to succeed.

I am adding this photo, taken by my brother, Ruven Gotz. I am so touched to have this picture.

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There are 7 comments, add yours!
David Cardona 7 years, 2 months ago

Awesome report and excellent shots as always!! Thanks for sharing!

7 years, 2 months ago Edited
Stormfish 7 years, 2 months ago

a wonderful and touching reportage. i most like the casual focus on this one single man, his survival an evidence of hope.

how many lives did he have to live, for people the nazis killed? it makes my stomach jump each time when being confronted with the reality of my ancestors.

7 years, 2 months ago Edited
Mark 7 years, 3 months ago

Fascinating post.

7 years, 3 months ago Edited
Moira 7 years, 3 months ago

Touching report.

7 years, 3 months ago Edited
Eddied125 7 years, 3 months ago

Very sad, heartwarming though, the messages given here are good ones. It's essential that history remembers, but all need to learn from history, not repeat the same mistakes, which sadly is being done throughout other countries. Julia, I know it must of been difficult, as there were probably no good memories at all for your father. Thank you for sharing. Very nice.....

7 years, 3 months ago Edited
Tortoise 7 years, 3 months ago

Deeply moved. Thank you for this.

7 years, 3 months ago Edited
Carol 7 years, 3 months ago

Absolutely stunning...love the story...love the photos.♫♫♫♫

7 years, 3 months ago Edited
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