Book: That Was Dachau, 1933–1945
Author: Stanislav Zamecnik
Reviewed by: Jim Whitcomb, global finance executive
It was a dark, rainy day in July 2015 when I visited the site of the first National Socialist concentration camp, Dachau, which became the model of the Nazi concentration camp system in Germany and beyond.
Poor weather notwithstanding, Dachau was crowded with visitors eager to learn what took place in this infamous camp. The self-guided walking tour was informative, but I wanted more information. As I was leaving, I bought a couple of books including Stanislav Zamecnik’s That Was Dachau. The book sat on my bed stand several months before I became brave enough to read it in 2016.
This book is not for the faint of heart. As a young Czech resistance fighter, Zamecnik was imprisoned in Dachau at the age of 18 from November 1941 until the camp’s liberation in April 1945. In his book he chronicles not only his own life inside Dachau but that of other prisoners and their captors. He goes into graphic detail about “medical” experiments, physical and psychological torture, myth of the gas chambers (which weren’t actually used in Dachau as they were in other camps), use of the crematorium, daily life and rations, hard labor and the inhumane ruthlessness wrought against all inside the walls of Dachau.
Not published till 60 years after the camp’s liberation, Zamecnik began writing the book as a scholarly, historical account. He wanted the truth of Dachau to be told in the most objective manner possible. Accordingly, his writing draws on surviving archived records of the Nazi regime. He masterfully conveys a holistic picture of what took place within the prison walls of Dachau while Hitler waged war on the world.
However, in his own words, “For someone who does not know concentration camps first-hand, it is not easy to get to the heart of their absurd aspects.” For this reason, Zamecnik included subjective accounts from his personal experiences and those of other survivors in an effort to provide context and a deeper understanding of why captors and those imprisoned made decisions they did. As a true account, the book takes the reader’s imagination to dark places that not even imagined by fiction greats like Stephen King. It provides the reader a chilling sense of the cruelty and unbearable sadness brought on by evil.
Reading Zamecnik’s book opened my eyes further to the horrific depths to which humans will treat others in the name of their cause or misguided beliefs. As the number of concentration camp survivors dwindles and as conflicts, unrest and uncertainty circle the globe at an unprecedented pace, I’m concerned that we may forget and that history is apt to repeat itself. For those interested in reminding themselves, I highly recommend That Was Dachau.
Buy That Was Dachau here and support Global Atlanta.
Editor’s note: Global Atlanta receives a commission on any books purchased through the Amazon links above. These links were added after the reviews were received and had no bearing on the books selected or the content of the reviews. If you find yourself wanting to purchase this book, clicking through from our site would be a good way to support our publication.