by Jason Tudor
George C. Marshall European Center
for Security Studies Public Affairs
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany — Lessons learned about the Holocaust and the extermination of 13 million people gained renewed focus for students from 45 countries during a lecture at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Given as part of the Program for Advanced Security Studies syllabus, this session’s lecture coincided with National Remembrance Week and Holocaust Memorial Day. Students also toured the site of the Dachau concentration camp April 22, about an hour from the Marshall Center. The lecture is part of an instruction block about human rights and human law.
During his one-hour presentation, Dr. Marc Stegherr, assistant professor from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, described the beginning and end of the Third Reich, as well its after effects on Germany, some unexpected. He said Dachau’s creation in March 1934 stood as one of the Reich’s first milestones.
The camp, Dr. Stegherr said, served as a camp for SS guards to staff extermination camps. Dachau also served as a laboratory to carry out experiments.
“It was basically a murder school,” he said. “The principles taught there were handed down from one generation to the next.”
Soon, Dachau turned into a concentration camp for political opponents and, later, a transition camp. According to Dr. Stegherr, Jews from France and Western European regions were brought here, then moved to extermination camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
In 1939, that changed. The population of the camps began to fill with Poles, Ukrainians and other Eastern European people to “create more space for the German race in the east. The Third Reich believed the Slavs were nothing more than slaves. So, they would either work as slaves or be killed,” according to Dr. Stegherr.
The camp swelled with numbers. Barracks that were built to house 200 people were crammed with up to 1,600 at a time. As many as 3,000 priests, bishops and other Christian clergy were imprisoned there. Author Viktor Frankl and the parents of Canadian rock band Rush front man Geddy Lee were among its captives. Rush penned a tune about Lee’s parents’ experience called “Red Sector A.”
“People were arrested,” the professor said, “because (Adolf Hitler) knew he had to strengthen from within. The National Socialists had been very clear about their goals from the beginning.”
Eventually, British and American forces liberated Dachau. According to a memo from President Eisenhower, 32,000 prisoners were liberated. However, 40,000 people died in Dachau and its sub-camps over its 11-year existence, holding better than 200,000 prisoners.
In the end, 13 million died as a result of the Holocaust, including 6 million Jews. Comparatively, 17.2 million people were killed during World War II.
“Hitler and (leader of he SS Heinrich) Himmler said it was all necessary to purify the people,” Dr. Stegherr said.
Lessons like the one given by the professor and others taught at the Marshall Center continually need to be taught to better strengthen partnerships and cooperation, according to PASS course coordinator Jo Mueller.
“People need to see it. People need to know that it did happen,” she said. “When we present this information to the students, they can in turn be ambassadors. They can say they saw it. They have proof.
“They needed to be able to see this first hand. To know it is the truth and what it can lead to if you don’t stop it,” she added.