Category Archives: War

Caccamo, Cefalu and Castelbuono

dscf6723In my last week on Sicily, I potter along the northern coast. The S113 runs close to the shore, criss-crossing the railway line, which does the same, providing wonderful views out to sea and occasionally I can spot the volcanic Aeolian Islands. However, I manage to drag myself away from the coast and venture inland to the mountains where the Normans erected some pretty impressive castles.

dscf6633The first of these dominates the town of Caccamo. Built in the 12th century, it is a memorial to the art of defence. Thick walls, steep approaches, plus twists and turns all combine to confuse would-be attackers. Not to mention the boiling oil, sling shots and arrows that any invader would have to face if they did get that close.

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Captives were slung into the prison cells where they doodled on the plaster walls until they were freed or, more often, killed. There’s also an oubliette for those unlucky enough to be forgotten and left to starve to death in the dark hole.

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On the scenic terrace above is a plaque which details the story of two prisoners who escaped the hangman’s noose by using sheets as parachutes to jump from the walls. One died and the survivor, badly injured, was put back into the prison until the lord of the castle felt that he should be freed for his bravery, or perhaps his stupidity!

 

 

Most of the rooms are decorated with period pieces, such as furniture, clothing and arms. They are also being used to exhibit artwork by Sicilian artists.

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dscf6683In the small chapel I learn of another gruesome tale. Undesired guests were brought here believing they could pray, but when they knelt at the altar, a trapdoor opened and they fell onto spikes in the chamber below. It is commonly known as the ‘Trick Room’.

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dscf6726Leaving behind the medieval torture tales of Caccamo, I head back to the coast and the town of Cefalu, which sits below a rocky promontory known as La Rocca. I’m here to see the cathedral, built by Roger II in gratitude for his safe landing during a violent storm. The 12th century Duomo features an apse with a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, much like the one in Monreale, but overall I’m disappointed with the visit.

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More interesting is the Saracen lavatoio, a stone wash house near the beach which I arrive at just before a large school party of Palermo teenagers.

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dscf6768I head back into the mountains to see the beautiful castle of Castelbuono, although it’s not actually that beautiful and, after Caccamo, is a real let down. Even the fact that the chapel on the top floor houses the skull of St Anne is not enough to hold my interest.

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Luckily, the 14th century Church of Matrice Vecchia charms me. The interior is not that special but a trip down into the crypt causes my jaw to drop. The walls are covered with amazing 16th and 17th century frescos depicting Christ’s life from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. They are so vibrant in colour that I find it hard to believe that they haven’t been retouched.

 

 

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Another charming aspect of the town is its determination to be eco-friendly. Greengrocer trucks selling local produce are parked at the edge of town, a water dispenser offers locals (and me) the chance to recycle bottles and fill them with cheap, clean water (5c per litre) and best of all, donkeys patrol the streets to collect the rubbish. Unlike the 5* hotel at Eze in France, Castelbuono wants to retain these cheap and cheerful animals instead of replacing them with electric golf carts!

 

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In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor – The Mani

plf-and-goatI’ve been reading the book ‘Mani’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor (affectionately known as Paddy) in order to prepare for visiting this region of the Peloponnese. Paddy was a nomad, like me. He left home aged 18 and walked through Europe to Constantinople (now Istanbul) and then onto Greece. In 1958, he visited the Mani, travelling by bus, boat and on foot, while I am making my journey in a motorhome. In 1958 the region was still remote and cut off from modern life but now there are good roads around the coast and through the mountains as well as down to the tip of Cape Tenaro, the most southerly point in Greece.

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dscf2938Contrary to everyone else and also Paddy, I am travelling around the Peloponnese in a clockwise direction which means I start my tour of the Mani in Gythio where Paddy ended his. He described it as having Victorian charm and as being full of life with wirelesses, motorcars, law courts, schools and greengrocer scales. He stayed at the Actaeon Hotel, which still exists today and overlooks the small island of Marathonisi (Fennel Island). It is believed to be Kranae, where Paris took Helen after abducting her and they spent their first night together. Today the island is accessed by a narrow harbour wall which is barely wide enough for Trixie.

dscf2933In the centre is an 18th century tower house, surrounded by pine trees, which was formally the home of the Grigorakis family and more recently a museum of the Mani. However, the museum has now been relocated to the former girls’ school at the other end of town. It’s a very educational place, with interesting exhibits about the traditional Mani way of life, a lifestyle that still existed 60 years ago when Paddy first arrived.

dscf2979As I leave Gythio it starts to rain and sets in for the afternoon, so I drive to the small port of Kotronas to wait out the bad weather. Paddy was also left waiting in Kotronas, though he needed to shelter under a fig tree from the hot summer sun until the steamer to Gythio arrived. He noted the fishermen making nets along the shore and I also find piles of netting on the dock but it’s the commercial plastic kind. He also found a fierce bandit-like kapheneion keeper who has luckily been replaced by a charming lady who now runs the bizarrely plush bar overlooking the harbour.

dscf3030The new road takes me south and across the saddle of the mountain ridge to the village of Vathia, sitting proudly on a hilltop overlooking the west coast. Paddy met a young girl called Vasilio, carrying a lamb around her neck, who came from the village and invited him to stay in her home. Her family owned one of the tallest tower houses and they dined on the roof in the cool breeze, hauling up chairs and food by rope, and Paddy even slept there overnight. From his eagle’s nest he observed Vasilio’s sister threshing on a sledge pulled by a horse, a mule and a cow, circling a stone disc, while their mother sat weaving. It’s hard to imagine such activities taking place in the 21st century when we can buy bags of flour at the supermarket and ready-made clothes from the shopping mall.

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Today Vathia has sadly been abandoned and most of the towers are in a perilous state of semi-collapse, though it is possible to wander around them and even inside them without any difficulty.

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dscf3025I leave the village of ghosts and drive south to Cape Tenaro which Paddy rounded in the caique ‘St Nicholas’ (a Greek sailing boat). I’d barely seen another car on the roads for the last two days so imagine my surprise when I get to the end of the Mani and find another British motorhome. Michael and Judith were rather shocked too.

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dscf3043Paddy had sought out the entrance to Hades, where Orpheus had searched for Eurydice, using his lyre to put Cerberus to sleep, and Hercules had dragged the hell dog out of the underworld. There are other entrances to Hades, such as the Nekromanteion of Ephyra. He swam from the boat to a cave that could have been the spot. Given the strong winds blowing across the cape there wasn’t much chance of me following him, but the three of us seek out the ruined church built on the Temple of Poseidon and the beautiful mosaic floor of a Roman villa, part of a larger Roman settlement, before walking out to the lighthouse. We are rather surprised to find a lone Navy guardian posted there as I had believed it to be unmanned. He is equally surprised by the arrival of three British tourists but doesn’t seem to mind us sitting there, enjoying the views and watching the ferries and cargo ships pass around the point.

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dscf3060It is a bit too windy to stay at the cape so I drive down to Geromelinas where Paddy also spent a night. He dined at a local house where some sailors were also eating. When the hostess gave him some water with his coffee (as is the Greek custom), he noted that it had a slight taste of wine. Apparently a barrel had split above the cistern and the wine had slowly leaked into the water. When Paddy asked to pay for his meal he discovered that the sailors had already settled the bill. Such was Greek hospitality in those times before the commercialism of tourism took hold. I enjoy a ¼ litre carafe of rose in the local hotel where the four members of staff are clearly excited about having an off-season client. Unlike Paddy, I have to pay for my wine and the manager even short-changes me. It’s still ridiculously cheap so I ignore what I hope is just an error on his part.

dscf3068The next day I drive up to Areopoli, the capital of the Deep Mani and still the largest town in the region. The main road is lined with ugly garages and supermarkets but I strike off into the old cobbled streets trying to imagine how it was 60 years ago. Paddy describes the small cathedral as being surrounded by mulberry trees with a whitewashed cupola and a tapering belfry. I locate it in a small square but the mulberry trees have been replaced by cars and the church is no longer white.

dscf3089There is one tale in ‘Mani’ that has gripped me more than any other and I stop at the tiny coastal resort of Limeni to try and verify the story. When Paddy was there, he was researching the miroloyia (funeral dirges), created and sung at the graveside by Maniot women. He is introduced to Eleni who sings a miroloy about an English airman who was shot down at Limeni during WWII and was buried by the local villagers. It mentions the Church of Saint Saviour, amongst the olive trees.

dscf3113I find three small churches in the village of Limeni. The first is close to the main road and in ruins and the second is next to the restored tower house of the Mavromichalis clan, and appears to be a family chapel. The last is out beyond the port at the point and is the only one to have a cemetery but there are no more than half a dozen graves and none belong to an English airman. Unhelpfully, none of the churches are named and my scant knowledge of iconography means I am unable to identify them from the icons inside.

dscf3103I stop for a drink in the nearby village of Nea Itilo and ask the friendly taverna owner, who speaks very good English, about the story of the airman. Eva goes to get her brother Ilias, who then goes to get Ioannis, an 86 year-old resident who may know about the tale. The old man speaks no English but Ilias translates for me. Ioannis was small boy, tending goats in the hills, when the British fighter plane dived at a German boat. It struggled to pull up, having been damaged by return fire and crashed into the bay. The pilot washed ashore in pieces but the navigator / gunner survived for 3 days before succumbing to his wounds. They were buried at the small church at the point but later removed by the British and returned to the UK, which explains why there are no gravestones in the cemetery.

dscf3117-2It’s incredible to find someone who still has first-hand knowledge of this event and I am humbled to meet Ioannis and hear his story. Later, I meet Panayotti fishing next to Trixie. He happens to be the President of the village and invites me for a drink later at the taverna. There, I get to experience the same Mani hospitality as Paddy and I’m not allowed to pay for anything.

 

 

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The last town on my tour of the Mani is Kardamili, one of the first places that Paddy experienced after travelling over the Taygetus Mountains from Mystras. He describes it as a castellated hamlet of the Mourtzinos clan, possibly direct descendants of the Palaeolgi, the reigning dynasty during the Ottoman Empire. I find the fortified settlement beyond the old town, recently restored and now opened as a museum of Maniot life. The bargain €1 entry fee gives me access to the tower with its ladder-like steps and I finally get to experience tower living as Paddy did all those years ago. Sadly, I’m unable to access the roof.

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Following a cobbled footpath beyond the Mourtzinos tower, towards Agia Sophia, I also find the tombs of Castor and Pollux (the Gemini twins), as Paddy did before me. Though, as he said, they seem a bit short for such heroes!

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dscf3226Paddy described Kardamili as,

…….too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously damaged by tourism.

Sadly, that no longer is the case for the town has become quite the tourist resort with everyone advertising rooms and the supermarket shelves filled with overpriced ‘local’ products. It can only get worse since they filmed ‘Before Midnight’ here in 2012, the last part of the Sunrise/Sunset trilogy, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I wonder if Paddy is turning over in his grave at the thought of his primitive and hospitable Mani becoming just like any other seasonal tourist region.

 

The Tooth Railway and the Massacre of Kalavryta

dscf3265It’s an early start as I head inland using a rack and pinion railway which has been in use for over 100 years. The 22 km line which climbs from sea level Diakofto to 900m Kalavryta was built by Italian Engineers at the end of the 19th century. Originally steam trains puffed their way up to collect minerals from the mountains and brought them back down to the sea port. However, today I’m riding in a modern, air-conditioned carriage powered by diesel.

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dscf3299Ten minutes into the journey, the conductor takes over from the driver who collapses on the back seat, sick or hungover? I’m not sure. A local woman is continually crossing herself which only adds to the tension. Luckily, the journey through the narrow gorge is quite spectacular and distracts me from the other problems. The train curves around the sheer rock faces, through tunnels and over rusty iron bridges as the Vouraikos River tumbles beside and below us. The train is assisted by the rack and pinion for the steepest sections and it is these ‘teeth’ which give the line its name of ‘Odontotos’. It takes an hour to reach our destination and the town of Kalvryta is still shrouded in low cloud.

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dscf3319While I wait for the sun to burn off the mist, I visit the museum which is housed in the former primary school opposite the station. Exhibits provide information about the massacre which took place here on the 13th December 1943. In retaliation for the shooting of 78 German soldiers captured by the ELAS resistance fighters, the villagers of Kalavryta were rounded up and held in the school. All the men over the age of 13 were then led up to a hill above the town and mown down by machine guns. Those who didn’t die immediately were finished off with a head shot.

dscf3304Meanwhile, the school was set on fire with the women and children still inside. Luckily they managed to escape, only to discover their men had been murdered and their houses burned to the ground. Over the next few weeks they buried the dead, some where they lay, others they dragged down to the cemetery and buried there. Then they had to survive the harsh mountain environment with no food and only the clothes on their back. Survivors tell their stories in a moving documentary video and personal possessions of the dead are displayed in glass cases: damaged pocket watches, identification documents and even a wallet with a bullet hole through it.

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dscf3340The mist has cleared by the time I leave the museum and I walk up to the hill where the massacre took place. It is marked by a huge white cross, surrounded by the graves of those buried there and large stone memorials inscribed with the names and ages of the schoolboys who perished. A total of 468 men and boys were slaughtered in this place. Back down in the main square, the clock face on the church is permanently fixed at 2.34, the time of the massacre.

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dscf3361During the return train journey, I sit in the last carriage with only the conductor and a local man for company (I notice that the driver has been replaced). Despite a sign saying the windows should not be opened, they don’t seem to care and I manage to get some great footage as the train trundles back down through the narrow gorge. As we descend, I can’t help but think of another similar massacre which occurred in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, southern France, on the 10th June 1944.

642 innocent men, women and children were also killed for revenge and the village remains undisturbed, capturing the moment that life ended in those streets.

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The Stairs of Death – KZ Mauthausen

For some reason I seem to keep passing former Nazi concentration camps and each time I see the sign KZ, I am compelled to go in and try to understand how this sad period in our European history occurred and also learn about the people who suffered and often died within the walls.

dscf2196Mauthausen, like Le Struthof in France, was established above a quarry. Much of the stone was used in building the camp which has more of a fortress structure than either Le Struthof or Dachau. Prisoners were forced to carry the stone up a steep flight of steps called the ‘stairs of death’ due to the number of prisoners who died during this task. Others ended their lives by being pushed off the high cliffs at the so called ‘parachute jump’.

 

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Like the other camps, Mauthausen had a small gas chamber and a crematorium where prisoners were regularly executed and disposed of. 190,000 prisoners from 40 different nations passed through the camp gates and at least 90,000 never left, having been worked to death, fatally tortured or executed. Records are difficult to find as many were destroyed by the Nazi SS before they left and stolen by prisoners as souvenirs or by locals who were embarrassed about the horrors which took place in their town.

dscf2182According to the number of deaths, by nationality, listed on a stone plaque at the entrance gate, there were 17 British prisoners at Mauthausen and I want to learn more about them. There is nothing in the comprehensive museum exhibition but a helpful young man leads me through the ‘Room of Names’ and outside to an area behind the crematorium where a plaque lists the names of 40 Dutch and 7 British prisoners who were captured behind German lines and transferred to Mauthausen where they were executed on the 6th and 7th September 1944. The British men were mostly SOE wireless operators working with the local resistance.

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Before I leave, I drive down to the quarry where I find another plaque at the foot of the ‘stairs of death’ dedicated to the 47 murdered men. What a horrible place to die.

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dscf2284Further south I come across one of the many satellite camps at Ebensee. Whereas Mauthausen was one of the first concentration camps to be opened to the public as a memorial to the victims in 1949, the camp at Ebensee lies hidden beneath a village which used the foundations of the prisoner huts on which to build houses and apartments. All that remains are the stone entrance gate and a small memorial garden on land that was used for mass graves. It seems strange that anyone would want to live in such a place but next to the memorial garden children are playing on the swings and filling their digger trucks with fallen autumn leaves.

dscf2293Ebensee concentration camp was focussed on building 7.6 kms of tunnels in the adjacent mountains where fuel was produced and the A9/A10 rockets were developed. The camp is quite far from the main town which lies at the bottom of Lake Traunsee. I wonder if the tourists who visit to take boat trips or scale the mountains in the cable car realise what is just down the road.

 

 

The Hussite Rebellion

dscf1968Located in the main square of Prague, beneath the tower of the old town hall, is a huge monument. I had no idea who the man in the monument was or why he was honoured in this way until I visited the town of Tabor, 90 kms south of the Czech capital.

 

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In 1402, Jan Hus was appointed rector of Charles University in Prague. A Roman Catholic who was influenced by the teachings of Oxfordshire priest John Wycliffe, he began giving popular sermons that called for the reform of the Catholic Church. He was angered by the power and prosperity that they held and the selling of religious items to fund the papal wars. In 1411 he was excommunicated and fled south to preach to the peasants of southern Bohemia. However, the Catholic Church grew unhappy with his defiance and ordered him to Constance where he was burned at the stake on 6th July 1415.

dscf2044His followers continued their beliefs and the town of Tabor became a centre for their ideology. I learn more about the Hussites and their fight against the Catholic Church in the Hussite Museum, located in the old town hall in the centre of the fortified town. There are a lot of interesting displays and complex models of battles fought. There are also a series of cartoons to appeal to younger visitors and I am aided by an audioguide which translates all of the exhibition panels and is included in the entrance fee.

dscf2029It’s hard to visit the museum or walk around the town without bumping into Jan Zizka, a Hussite and influential military captain who declared himself ‘the Warrior of God’ and led many successful attacks on the troops of Catholic King Sigismund of Bohemia in the early 15th century. He is often depicted riding a horse with a patch over one eye where he lost his sight during a battle and for the last three years of his life he was actually blind. He may have lost his vision but he is well known for never having lost a battle.

dscf2023The Hussites proved to be a formidable force and succeeded in defeating the Catholics in many battles resulting in a change to the laws giving them more religious freedom. During the 30 Years War, at the battle of White Mountain in 1620, the Czech and Hungarian allied armies retreated and catholic forces executed 27 protestant nobles, displaying their heads along the Charles Bridge in Prague. The resulting 1648 Peace of Westphalia meant that most Bohemian properties were given to catholic families from Austria, Spain, France and Italy and all forms of Protestantism were outlawed. Despite this, opposition to the Catholic Church continued and even today only 10% of Czechs are Roman Catholic.

 

 

Nuremberg – Nazi Rally Grounds and Courtroom 600

Nuremberg, or Nurnberg as the locals call it, became the city of the Nazi party rallies for the Third Reich and, as I am parked on the edge of the 11 square kms which make up the former rally grounds, it seems silly not to take a look.

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dscf1399On the 27th February 1933 the Reichstag in Berlin burned down. Officially, the fire was set by a Dutch communist but there are many conspiracy theories about this historic moment. For it was this event that gave the socialist party the excuse to remove political opponents and place them in concentration camps, such as Dachau which was established on 22nd March 1933.  Then on the 10th May 1933 book burning took place at the University, destroying the works of communist authors such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. The Nazi party politics were gaining strength and they needed a place to showcase their support.

dscf1430With the help of architect Albert Speer, Hitler proposed to build huge structures and parade areas in the city of Nuremberg. The central axis of the Rally Grounds was Grosse Strasse (Great Street). 2 kms long and 60 m wide, the street was constructed with 60,000 granite slabs, many of which were provided by prisoners of the concentration camps set up for just such a task. At the end of the war it was used by the U.S. army as a temporary airstrip and today it serves as a car park during major city events.

dscf1404A large congress hall was proposed to seat 50,000 people but it was never completed and, despite many proposals for new uses of the site, it has never been developed. However, one wing holds a concert hall while the other houses the Documentation Centre, a modern museum with exhibits explaining the creation of the National Socialist Party and their reign of terror, leading up to and during WWII. I’m given a useful audioguide which translates all the display boards into English as well as synching with any video footage.

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dscf1418On the way back to the motorhome I visit Zeppelin Field, so called because a Zeppelin airship landed there in 1909. During the 1920s a large sports and leisure park was built here but in 1933 it became the main parade ground for the Nazi troops. A couple of years later, Albert Speer oversaw the creation of a new square complex with a monumental grandstand inspired by the Pergamon Altar in Berlin and allowing the Fuhrer to look down upon 20,000 supporting members of his party. Today the area has reverted to its use as a sports field while the grandstand, blown up by allied troops after a victory parade, provides a good spot to watch the sunset, though sadly the locals don’t care to clean up after their sundowners.

dscf1433After the Allies secured victory, it was necessary to hold a trial for the war criminals. Luckily the Palais de Justice in Nuremberg was not badly damaged during the allied bombing of the city in 1945 and so it was chosen as a suitable place to set up the court. The adjacent prison also proved useful to house the accused during the trial. I’m lucky to be able to visit courtroom 600 where the trials took place as it is still regularly used today. It had to be modified in 1945 to accommodate the press and provide suitable lighting for the proceedings to be recorded, but it was later restored to its original state.

dscf1441The Nuremberg trials were based on the 1864 Geneva Convention Rules of War and conducted in the same manner as the UK and US law courts of the time. Robert H Jackson was appointed Chief Prosecutor and the accused were allowed defence lawyers. The first trial took place in November 1945. The Nazi ideals had been to Germanise eastern territories whilst removing former inhabitants, many of whom were sent to concentration camps to die or be executed. Leading Nazi politicians were held accountable for the atrocities and the 21 accused men included Goring, Hess and Speer.

dscf1443On the 10th October 1946 their sentences were read: 12 death by hanging, 3 life sentences, 4 long term imprisonment and 2 acquitted. Those who were acquitted were released but quickly rearrested by the German authorities and placed in work camps. Goring escaped the hangman’s noose by committing suicide only 2 hours before the execution. Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler took the same way out at the end of the war and so were never tried for their crimes.

From the window of the exhibition area I can still see the site of the prison cells and the gymnasium where the accused were executed, but the old prison buildings were replaced with more modern ones in the 1980s. 12 more trials took place and the Nuremberg principles that were used then, now form the basis of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Interestingly, my interest in the Nuremberg Trials was sparked many years ago by the Hollywood film “Judgement in Nuremberg” which starred one of my favourite actresses, Judy Garland, in an unusually serious role for her.

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Work Will Set You Free – Dachau Concentration Camp

Having already gained some understanding what life was like in a concentration camp at Le Struthof, in France, I now find myself in Dachau, only 29 kms from Munich and the site of the first Nazi Work camp which was to become a model for the 20,000 camps and sub camps set up during Hitler’s regime. His mantra “Work will set you free” is sculpted into the iron entrance gate, although this is a reproduction as the original was stolen in 2014.

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Despite a hefty parking fee, entry to the site of the camp is free. However, I pay €3 for an English language guided tour which turns out to be 2.5 hours long and very good value for money. Our group is made up of 50% Americans, with some Canadians, Israelis, a French man and a couple from Singapore. I am the only Brit and I receive comments from both the guide and the Americans regarding Brexit.

dscf1270The tour starts outside, where it is bitterly cold and a reminder of the harsh conditions often experienced by the prisoners. But the chilly weather was nothing compared to the torture inflicted by the guards who, according to our guide Bernd, were treated no better than pigs. He is very passionate about the history of the camp and recites quotes from both guards and prisoners to give us an idea of just how awful life was in KZ – Dachau. He also regales us with interesting facts such as the uniforms for the notorious SS were designed by Hugo Boss.

dscf1291We move into the former maintenance building which is now a museum filled with detailed information boards about life in the camp, both in German and English. For visitors from other countries, audioguides are available, enabling everyone to benefit from the experience. There are a large number of school parties and Bernd explains how it is part of the German school curriculum to visit such places and although I later see some schoolgirls visibly upset by the experience, there are plenty of students who seem unable to comprehend the scale of torture and death which occurred in the camp. 206,206 men were imprisoned there between 1933 and 1945 and about 40,000 died in the camp including more than 4,000 in the two months before liberation and another 4,000 Russian POWs who were executed because the Nazis believed they were not protected by the Geneva Convention. Interestingly, Bernd’s father, a German soldier during WWII, survived 4 years in a Russian POW camp.

dscf1293The Dachau camp was initially for political prisoners who opposed Hitler’s regime but following the Nuremberg anti-Semitic laws up to 12,000 Jews were sent there. Once the war began, prisoners from invaded countries such as Czechoslovakia and Poland were transferred and the prisoners were sent to local work camps to provide free labour for aircraft manufacturers such as Messerschmitt, Zeppelin and BMW (who still have factories in Dachau). Additionally, medical experiments were conducted on the prisoners to understand better the effects on airmen who might be shot down in icy sea water or had to fly the new fighter jets at altitudes of 20,000ft. Very few of these human guinea pigs survived.

dscf1274In the warm library of the protestant church, one of several religious places of worship to be built on the site, Bernd explains to us how the prisoners were numbered and categorised. Different coloured triangular patches were sewn onto their prison ‘pyjamas’ to indicate their religious or political beliefs.

  • Red – political
  • Green – professional criminal
  • Blue – German
  • Brown – gypsies (Roma or Sinta)
  • Black – outcasts (beggars or street musicians)
  • Pink – homosexuals
  • Purple – religious
  • Yellow – Jews

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dscf1280We end our tour at the Crematoriums, one of which contains a gas chamber. Interestingly, it was never used for the mass extermination of Jews, as at the Auschwitz camp in Poland. The Nazis were not keen on having ‘Human Liquidation Systems’ on German soil. During WWII up to 6 million Jews were killed for their religious beliefs. The genocide of the Jews was decided on 20th January 1942 during a meeting of senior officials in Wanasee, led by Reinhard Heydrich and classified as the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’ I recently read the novel Fatherland by Robert Harris which imagines a 1960s Germany after WWII has been won by Hitler and is a detective story with the previously mentioned meeting at the centre of the plot.

dscf1301When the Americans liberated the camp on the 29th April 1945, there were approximately 30,000 prisoners there, 5 times as many as the camp was designed to hold. The GIs found train wagons full of dead bodies of prisoners being transferred to the camp who had not survived the journey, another 2,226 died following liberation, many due to the rich food given to them by the American soldiers, according to Bernd. Bizarrely, it seems that they were killed with kindness.

princess-noorWhilst Dachau is very different from Le Struthof , there are also many similarities. The camps were both built to provide a labour force. They both initially held political prisoners and later resistance fighters, some of whom were executed at the sites. 22,529 prisoners were transferred from Le Struthof to Dachau and 14,828 in the opposite direction as the prisoners were traded like slaves. But the most interesting fact for me was that four female British SOE officers were sent to each camp to be executed there. At Dachau this included Indian Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayatkhan, who was working as a radio operator in Paris.