Millions of people suffered and died in camps, ghettos, and other sites during the Holocaust. The Nazis and their allies oversaw more than 42,000 camps, ghettos, and other sites of detention, persecution, forced labor, and murder. Among them was the Dachau subcamp München-Schwabing, also known as Schwester Pia.
The Dachau subcamp at München-Schwabing was the first subcamp where concentration camp prisoners were permanently used as a labor force outside the main concentration camp. Unlike most of the later subcamps which were constructed, organized, and managed by the SS Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) and the Dachau camp commandant, this subcamp's construction, administration, and organization was in the hands of Eleonore Baur, also known as Schwester Pia (Sister Pia). [Editor's note: This subcamp was also smaller than most others, and is included here as a representative case for instances in which prisoners were used by individuals or small organizations.]
Schwester Pia was an active and fanatic National Socialist from the very first moment. According to her own statement she got her title around 1907/1908 from the München sisters' order Gelbes Kreuz (Yellow Cross), without ever actually qualifying as a nurse. In 1920, she met Adolf Hitler by chance on a tram in München. Following that meeting, she was involved with the Sterneck Group in founding the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). She was one of the first party members and had close connections to important party officials. During the Hitler Putsch of 1923, she cared for the wounded and the dead. In 1934, she became the only woman ever to be awarded the Blutorden (a Nazi decoration awarded to veterans of the 1923 Putsch).
After the Nazi assumption of power in 1933, she profited a good deal from the close contacts to the Nazi elite. She was invited on numerous excursions and many festivities. She had a close relationship with SS chief Heinrich Himmler, and it was due to him that she was appointed welfare sister for the Waffen-SS at Dachau in 1933. In 1934, she and others founded a National Socialist Order of Sisters (Schwesternschaft). In 1937, she became the honorary chairwoman. No later than 1934, she obtained permission from Hitler to move freely in the Dachau concentration camp. She was the only woman with this privilege. Allegedly, she had approached the Führer with the request that she wanted to devote herself not only to the SS men, but also to the prisoners and their relatives.
The prisoner Erich Essner was occasionally doing gardening work in her private apartment at 6 Voit Street, München, as early as 1934. Other prisoners followed who had to do household tasks. Between 1937 and 1945, Schwester Pia had her house in Munich Oberhaching extensively renovated by concentration camp prisoners. The garden was redesigned and the place was generally cleaned up. A garage was built, together with an enclosed swimming pool and a bunker. The materials for this work came solely from Dachau. It seems she paid for a part of the materials, but she took the biggest part for free. In the workshops of the concentration camp the prisoners had to produce furniture, wood carvings, and children's toys for her.
Schwester Pia never paid the SS for the use of prisoner labor. During her weekly visits in the prisoners' kitchen she took meat and margarine with her in her official vehicle, for which she also did not pay. The food was supposed to be inferior “dog food,” but it was usually good quality meat. She was known in the camp as someone who requisitioned anything that was not nailed down.
At the beginning, the prisoners were randomly on duty at Schwester Pia's home for one or more days per week. They returned each evening to the concentration camp. From 1940, she had a permanent working detail consisting of 12 to 14 men. At first, these prisoners were also driven to work from the concentration camp every day but later they were accommodated at Schwester Pia's place and were brought back to Dachau only on the weekends.
Schwester Pia was in charge of the detachment. She arranged the duties and set the working hours. She is even alleged to have been involved in choosing the prisoners. The detachment had to work hard, and often on Sundays. Security was provided by SS guards from Dachau. It is said that Schwester Pia was sometimes difficult even with these guards, her Buam (boys), and bossed both the prisoners and the guards around.
There are no known cases of mistreatment or deaths at this subcamp. Schwester Pia herself never actually harmed a prisoner but almost all former prisoners, questioned after the war, have accused her of bullying them. When she was in a bad mood or the prisoners were not working hard enough, she had them, for example, climb down into an outside toilet pit to clean it with a brush. At the same time Schwester Pia was feared by the prisoners because of the considerable influence she had on the camp leadership. If a prisoner fell into disfavor with her she did not hesitate to request the camp commandant to punish the prisoner by having him held in the bunker. She threatened the prisoner Michael Gollackner, saying that he would not leave Dachau alive. He was saved probably because he was transferred to Sachsenhausen. Hans Biederer, also a prisoner, reported similar mistreatment after having been accused by Schwester Pia.
Schwester Pia's behavior was reported to be inconsistent. On one hand, the prisoners said that better than average food was provided at the subcamp. The prisoners ate at one table together with Schwester Pia and her employees, a chauffeur and a kitchen assistant. They were even permitted to smoke and they had the possibility to smuggle letters out of the camp and make contact with the outside world. On the other hand, Schwester Pia's behavior was unpredictable and her moods were feared. She could quickly turn from being nice to the prisoners to being the complete opposite.
This contradictory nature was revealed when the prisoners were questioned later. There were many positive reports on her. She often stood up for the priest Huber, who said on his deathbed that she was the “angel of Dachau,” because she had done a great deal of good in the concentration camp. Other prisoners have stated that Schwester Pia spoke up for their release or financially supported their despairing relatives. In 1943, SS chief Himmler temporarily banned her from Dachau because it had been alleged that she wanted to smuggle prisoners' letters out of the concentration camp. At the same time, the prisoners of her detachment, her employees, and neighbors describe her as a moody, hysterical, and selfish woman, who unscrupulously used her contacts with the Nazis in power to get what she wanted. She profited from the kitchen, the workshops, and the Dachau laundry, threatened the neighbors with the concentration camp when she could not get her way, and ceaselessly bullied the prisoners. Some witnesses have even suggested that Schwester Pia took prisoners as lovers.
The discrepancies can only be explained when one considers the prisoner groups favored by Schwester Pia. As a convinced, fanatical National Socialist, she hated Jews and Poles. Her detachment consisted mainly of political prisoners from Germany and Austria. At Christmas, she regularly presented the prisoners with so-called “Pia Packages,” filled with food. At the same time, at Christmas 1938, she had several prisoners whipped. Schwester Pia was present at this mistreatment and stated that she would step in to help the political prisoners but that Jews and foreigners “should die.”
The date on which the München-Schwabing subcamp ceased cannot be exactly identified. The International Tracing Service (ITS) last mentions it in 1942. This date is probably set too early, as several prisoners were still working for Schwester Pia in 1944.
Baur (Schwester Pia) was categorized as a major criminal in the denazification proceedings in 1949. Her personal property and the villa in Oberhaching were confiscated for restoration, and she was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. In 1949, the State Prosecutor München II began an investigation of her for being involved in the mistreatment and the deaths of prisoners in Dachau. The investigations ceased in 1950 because of a lack of evidence.
Baur was released from the Rebdorf labor camp in 1950 on reasons of health. In 1955, her successful application for a pension and compensation enabled her to return to her house in Oberhaching, where she died in 1981. Baur remained a convinced National Socialist until her death. On her tombstone at the Deisenhofen Cemetery near München are the words, “Ein Leben für Deutschland” (A Life for Germany).
This subcamp is listed in ITS, Verzeichnis der Haftstätten unter dem Reichsführer SS (1933-1945), 2 vols. (Arolsen, 1979), I: 87. Sabine Schalm published an article on the career of Eleonore Baur and her prisoner commando: “Schwester Pia: Karriere einer Strassenbahnbekanntschaft - Fürsorge der Waffen SS im Konzentrationslager Dachau,” in: Frauen als Täterinnen im Nationalsozialismus, Bd. 2, Protokollband der Fachtagung am 16. und 17. September 2005 in Bernburg, ed. V. Viola Schubert-Lenhardt, pp. 52-67. Hans Holzhaider published an article on Eleonore Baur's personality, entitled “Schwester Pia,” DaH 10 (1994): 101-114. There is also a contribution by the Geschichtswerkstatt Neuhausen, “Schwester Pia - Ein Leben für Deutschland?” Landeshauptstadt München, Frauenleben in München / Lesebuch zur Geschichte des Muenchner Alltags; Geschichtswettbewerb 1992 (München, 1993), pp. 125-130. An older contribution is Johann Hess, “Braune Schwester Pia,” Eugen Weiler (ed.), Die Geistlichkeit in Dachau (Mödling: Missionsdruckerei St. Gabriel, 1971).
The relevant archival sources on the München-Schwabing subcamp and Eleonore Baur are the denazification files in StA-M, Spruchkammerakten, Karton 75, Eleonore Baur, Vol. 1-5; and the investigation files of the Sta. München II, 34448, Vol. 1-2. These files contain detailed witnesses' statements both from Baur and the prisoners. Publications by prisoners are sparse but the following should be mentioned: Rudolf Kalmar, Zeit ohne Gnade (Wien, 1946), pp. 176-179. Other unpublished reports are in the AG-D, for example “Erinnerungen des österreichischen Häftlings Hans Schwarz,” AG-D Hängeordner SS/Schwester Pia. The most recent contribution is the monograph by Stanislav Zamecnik, Das war Dachau (Luxemburg, 2002), pp. 180-184.
Critical Thinking Questions
- To what degree was the local population aware of this camp, its purpose, and the conditions within? How would you begin to research this question?
- Did the outside world have any knowledge about these camps? If so, what, if any, actions were taken by other governments and their officials?
- What choices do countries have to prevent, mediate, or end the mistreatment of imprisoned civilians in other nations?
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. Vol 1, Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps under the SS-Business Administration Main Office (WVHA), ed. Geoffrey Megargee. Bloomington: Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2009.