The prominent Communist politician Hans Beimler was taken to Dachau in April 1933. Falsely accused of being a terrorist and murderer, he endured extreme SS violence. Facing certain death, he escaped in May 1933. A few months later, in Soviet exile, he published one of the first eyewitness accounts of the Nazi camps. In the following extract, he describes how the SS had tried to make him commit suicide (guards often preferred this to outright murder in 1933, because the camps still came under judicial oversight). He also recounts the death of his fellow Communist politician Fritz Dressel, one of more than twenty inmates murdered in Dachau in 1933.
At about two o’clock in the afternoon the commandant, accompanied of course by Hans Steinbrenner the murderer, came to call. […] “So, Beimler, how much longer do you propose to burden the human race with your existence? I’ve made it clear to you before that in today’s society, in Nazi Germany, you are superfluous. I’ll not stand idly by for much longer.” Then he shoved a table knife towards me that was lying on the little bench and said: “You weren’t given a knife just to cut bread with. It’s for something else.”
I immediately answered: “Commandant, I’ve been a member of the Communist Party for fourteen years and have fought for my life and the lives of the working class and am not inclined to surrender my life voluntarily now either. If you think I’ve become superfluous then give the order for me to be shot – it will be done. Whether that will change how things turn out is another matter.”
It was the most shattering moment of my life
He then came and stood right in front of me and said: “Well, what do you know. This swine’s getting impudent! Shoot you? No, you pig, you’re not worth a bullet. We’ll starve you to death here.”
I then replied: “Commandant, I’ve been detained for four weeks now and am already three-quarters starved. I’ll survive the other quarter.”
The answers I gave really provoked the murderer Steinbrenner, and I could tell from the face he pulled that he would have liked to strangle me on the spot. He lunged at me, pushing me in the chest and shoving me back against the wall. The impact was very painful and when I called out “Ouch” the commandant said: “How about that! He can shout out too!” And he turned with a smile to Steinbrenner, saying: “Shouting’s not much use. We do things quickly and quietly here.”
The cell door hadn’t been closed for two minutes when it was suddenly flung open again. The murderous thug said, “Out!”, pulled me out of the cell and threw me into cell four. It was the most shattering moment of my life. On the stone floor at my feet lay the dead body, brutalized and covered in huge bruises, of my comrade of many years, Fritz Dressel.
Source: H. Beimler, Im Mörderlager Dachau (Berlin, 1976), pp. 54–5
Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes