General Charles Delestraint
General Charles Delestraint
On April 19, 1945, just 10 days before
the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the US Seventh
Army, General Charles Delestraint was allegedly executed at Dachau
and his body was immediately burned in the crematorium. Once
the acknowledged leader of the French political prisoners at
Dachau, General Delestraint has long since faded into obscurity
and the reason for his untimely death at Dachau remains a mystery.
There are several unofficial reports, written by the survivors
of Dachau, which describe the events on the day of his alleged
execution, but no two agree.
According to "Bulletin de l'Amicale
des Anciens de Dachau, No. 3. Octobre-Novembre 1945," written
by French survivors of Dachau, Armand Kientzler testified at
the first American Military Tribunal at Dachau that he had witnessed
the execution of General Delestraint. Kientzler was a prisoner
who worked as a gardener in the landscaped area near the crematorium
where executions took place. He testified that 3 Frenchmen and
11 Czech officers were executed on April 19, 1945. He said that
the SS men were drunk and laughing as they carried out the executions.
Then General Delestraint was ordered to undress before he was
shot twice from afar as he walked to the execution spot. However,
other witnesses at the Dachau proceedings said that the General
was not naked when he was shot.
François Goldschmitt, a priest
from the town of Moselle who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote
a book entitled "Zeugen des Abendlandes" in which he
claimed that the General was cut down without having received
the order to undress himself, contrary to the testimony of Armand
Kientzler that Delestraint was completely nude when he was executed.
Goldschmitt wrote that, before the execution,
SS man Franz Trenkle hit the General with his fist, knocking
out several of his teeth. Then SS-Oberscharführer Theodor
Bongartz shot Delestraint in the nape of the neck at close range.
Trenkle and Bongartz were the two SS men at Dachau who did the
shooting when an execution was ordered.
According to Goldschmitt, there is the
same uncertainty about Delestraint's last words. Allegedly he
shouted: "Long live France, long live de Gaulle," but
there was no testimony at the Dachau proceedings about this.
Emil Erwin Mahl, a German criminal who
was a Kapo at Dachau, testified at the American Military Tribunal
held at Dachau that he was given the order to cremate the body
of General Delestraint immediately and to burn his clothing,
papers and personal possessions. Mahl was not one of the prisoners
who normally worked in the crematorium and the ovens had been
cold for months because of the shortage of coal.
Emil Erwin Mahl is
identified in the courtroom at Dachau
Strangely, there are no official documents
in the Dachau archives which mention General Delestraint's execution,
according to Albert Knoll, a staff member at the Dachau Memorial
Site. When the Dachau camp was liberated
on April 29, 1945, the only document concerning General Delestraint
that was found among the camp records was a paper dated 13 March
1945 which stated that General Charles Delestraint's name should
be added to the list of prominent prisoners at Dachau. The prominent
prisoners were housed in the bunker
and were given special privileges. Up until that time, General
Delestraint had been an ordinary prisoner in Kommandantur-Arrest
at Dachau; he had been housed in one of the barracks along with
the other political prisoners.
By all accounts, General Delestraint
had been a model prisoner at Dachau, not a trouble maker. Born
on March 12, 1879, he was 66 years old when he was allegedly
executed, only a week before the honor prisoners were evacuated
to the South Tyrol for their own safety on April 26, 1945.
There was no order for General Delestraint's
execution found among the official documents at Dachau, according
to Albert Knoll. There are 2000 pages of the Dachau trial transcripts
in the Dachau Archive, but there has never been a detailed analysis
of the pages. In the sentencing of the Dachau staff members who
were convicted by the American Military Tribunal, there were
no specific crimes mentioned.
In May 1945, a few days after the liberation
of the camp, The Official Report by the US Seventh Army was published.
This report was based on interviews with 20 prisoners in the
Dachau camp. In the first few pages, the report mentioned the
"so-called honorary prisoners, the famous political and
religious hostages they held at Dachau," who had been evacuated
before the camp was liberated, but it did not mention General
Charles Delestraint. The report did list several of the important
prisoners: the Rev. Martin Niemöller, one of the founders
of the Confessional Church; Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Chancellor
of Austria before the Anschluss; Edouard Daladier, the French
Premier at the time of the German invasion, and Leon Blum, the
former Jewish Premier of France.
However, a report by Captain Tresnel,
the French liaison officer with the US Third Army who arrived
after the liberation, mentioned that he had immediately begun
an investigation into the "murder of General Delestraint."
On May 9, 1965, a new Museum was opened
in the former Dachau concentration camp under the supervision
of the Comité International de Dachau. No photos of General
Delestraint, nor any information about his death, were included
in the Museum displays, a strange oversight considering that
General Delestraint had been a leading member of Committee before
his sudden execution, just ten days before the camp was liberated.
In 1978, a catalog was published by the
Comité International de Dachau, Brussels for sale to visitors
to the Museum; it contained photos of the exhibits including
photos of documents on display in the Museum. The documents that
can be seen in this catalog include a list of 31 Russian prisoners
of war who were executed on February 22, 1944 and a list of 90
Russian prisoners of war who were executed on September 4, 1944.
The Catalog mentions that 55 Poles were executed in November
1940 and that "Thousands of Soviet Russian prisoners of
war" were executed in 1941/1942 but does not list their
names. On the same page is the information that "General
Delestraint and 11 Czechoslovakian officers" were executed
in April 1945, with no exact date given. The other two French
prisoners who were executed on the same day as General Delestraint's
execution, according to the eye-witness testimony of Armand Kientzler,
are not mentioned in the Catalog.
In May 2003, a new exhibit in the Dachau
Museum opened. There is a section in the new museum about the
prisoners from each country; the French section includes General
During the first American Military Tribunal
proceedings at Dachau in November 1945, one of the accused, Johann
Kick, testified that, as the chief of the political department
and a member of the Gestapo, he was responsible for registering
prisoners, keeping files and death certificates, and the notification
of relatives. He testified that executions at Dachau could only
be ordered by the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, and that
after the executions were carried out, it was his job to notify
the Security Office and the family of the deceased.
In the case of Nacht und Nebel prisoners,
which included General Delestraint, the families were not notified
of the death of their loved ones. The
family of General Delestraint was not notified about his death
by the Reich Security Office, nor by the political department
at Dachau, nor by the American liberators. His daughter first
learned about her father's death when she saw it in a newspaper
on May 9, 1945, the day after the war in Europe ended. The prisoners
at Dachau had informed the reporters who covered the liberation
of the camp about General Delestraint's death, but apparently
had not given this information to the US Seventh Army investigators.
What was the motive for the alleged execution
of General Delestraint at such a late date, when the war was
nearly over? Who wanted him dead and why? Who benefited from
his death? Why was the execution order from Berlin never found?
Here is some background on the General
which might provide answers to these questions:
Before he was arrested by the Gestapo
on June 9, 1943, General Delestraint had been the commander of
the French Armée Secret, reporting directly to Charles
de Gaulle, the leader of the French
Resistance who was living in exile in London. The French
Secret Army was created in 1942, on the initiative of Jean Moulin,
to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans who had been occupying
France since the French surrendered in June 1940.
Jean Moulin, the greatest hero of the
French Resistance, was arrested around the same time as General
Delestraint; he had been allegedly betrayed by René Hardy,
a member of the resistance group called Combat. The betrayal
was allegedly motivated by a plan to prevent the Communist Resistance
fighters from taking over the French Secret Army. Henri Frenay,
the head of Combat, suspected that Moulin was a secret Communist
sympathizer who wanted to put the Secret Army, commanded by General
Delestraint, under Communist control.
After being imprisoned for months in
a Gestapo prison at Fresnes, General Delestraint was sent in
March 1944 to Natzweiler-Struthof, a concentration camp in Alsace,
where he remained until the camp had to be evacuated.
In September 1944, the prisoners from
the Natzweiler-Struthof camp were brought to Dachau, as Allied
troops advanced towards the heart of Germany. Among these prisoners
were many Communist and anti-Fascist resistance fighters from
France, Belgium and Norway, as well as 5 British SOE agents,
all of whom had been classified as "Nacht und Nebel"
prisoners. This term, which means "Night and Fog" in
English, was used for the prisoners who were not allowed to communicate
with their friends and families, nor to send or receive mail.
They had been made to disappear into the night and the mist,
a term borrowed from Goethe, a famous German writer. Their families
were not notified about what had happened to them. The purpose
of this secrecy was to discourage resistance activity in the
countries occupied by Germany, since the families assumed that
their loved ones had been killed.
The N.N. prisoners also did not work
outside the camp, in the fields or factories, for fear that this
would give them the opportunity to escape. They were given cushy
jobs inside the prison enclosure at Dachau; several were assigned
to work as hospital orderlies.
The prisoner with the highest rank among
the N.N. prisoners, who were brought from Natzweiler to Dachau,
was General Delestraint. At first, the General was housed in
the barracks at Dachau, along with the regular prisoners, rather
than being put among the important prisoners in the bunker, because
the SS allegedly did not know that he was a French war hero.
During World War I, Delestraint had been the commanding officer
of Charles de Gaulle, who became the leader of the French resistance
and Delestraint's commanding officer after France surrendered
in World War II.
A transport train with 905 prisoners
from the Natzweiler camp, which included General Delestraint,
arrived at the Dachau camp on September 6, 1944. All of the French
prisoners from Natzweiler were classified as Nacht und Nebel
prisoners, but they wore red triangles on their uniforms, designating
them as "political prisoners,"just like most of the
Dachau prisoners. The letters NN were painted on the back of
their prison shirts in order to easily identify them in the camp.
According to Paul Berben, a Dachau prisoner
who wrote the official history of the camp, General Delestraint
wore a red triangle with the letter F for French on it, and the
number 103.027 on a white patch above the triangle.
General Delestraint was assigned to Block
24, a wooden barrack building located near the north end of the
camp. He kept in contact with the other prisoners from Natzweiler,
including British SOE agent Lt. Robert Sheppard, who was also
in Block 24.
The SS guards addressed the General as
"Herr General," although this was a term of derision,
not respect, according to Robert Sheppard. General Delestraint
lived just like the other prisoners, as the SS apparently didn't
know, or didn't care, about his important status. In effect,
he became an anonymous prisoner, although he was recognized by
the other inmates as the leader of the French prisoners.
Another prisoner who arrived in the same
convoy from Natzweiler was Gabriel Piguet, the archbishop of
Clermont-Ferrand. As soon as Piguet learned that the General
was in Dachau, he gave him the title of the leader of the Frenchmen
in the camp and put himself under the orders of Delestraint.
Edouard Daladier, the former Premier of
France, was also a prisoner at Dachau, but he was housed with
the VIP prisoners in the bunker, not in the regular barracks.
According to Edmond Michelet, another
Dachau prisoner who wrote a book about the camp, entitled "La
Rue de la Liberté," General Delestraint was accessible
to all the prisoners, even the non-French; he would counsel the
younger prisoners, and restore the confidence of those that despaired.
Michelet described the General as witty and optimistic, with
a dignified manner and an energetic voice; his deep blue eyes
had a look of goodness. He was the leader of political discussions
in Block 24, always assuring the others of the eventual victory
of the Allies. He loved music and delighted in singing songs
from light opera.
According to an article which Robert
Sheppard wrote on the occasion of General Delestraint being honored
by having his name entered at the Pantheon on 10 November 1989,
General Delestraint would get up early every morning, before
the other prisoners arose, so that he could wash himself and
get ready for the day, before the washroom became crowded with
the other prisoners. As his aide de camp, Robert Sheppard would
accompany him to the washroom. Then the General would go to Block
26, the chapel of the Catholic priests at Dachau, where he would
attend the first Mass of the day and receive Holy Communion in
order to keep up his spirits and his morale.
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler, a Munich
bishop who was an honor prisoner in the Dachau bunker, wrote
in his book "What was it like in the Concentration Camp
in Dachau?" that General Delestraint served as an altar
boy every day for Bishop Piguet when he said Holy Mass in Block
According to Robert Sheppard, in January
1945, General Delestraint conspired with himself and another
SOE agent Albert Guérisse (aka Pat O'Leary), Arthur Haulot,
a journalist who later became a member of the Belgian Parliament,
and Edmond Michelet, a leader of the French resistance, to set
up the International Committee of Dachau. However, The Official
Report by the US Seventh Army, based on information given by
20 prisoners, said that the origins of the International Prisoners
Committee dated back to September 1944 when a small group of
inmates employed in the Camp Hospital first got together. According
to this report, the nucleus of the Committee consisted of an
Albanian (Kuci), a Pole (Nazewsi), a Belgian (Haulot) and a British-Canadian
The Committee members included one representative
from each of 14 different countries. Its purpose was to organize
a resistance movement in the camp in case the SS had plans to
kill all the prisoners before the Allies arrived to liberate
them, as it was rumored. To facilitate this, the Committee attempted
to obtain and hide weapons. The Committee also worked to resolve
conflicts between the various ethnic groups and the 17 nationalities
in the camp and to maintain solidarity among the political prisoners,
most of whom were Communists. They began to prepare for the Liberation
of the camp and the problems that would exist afterwards when
all the prisoners would have to be repatriated to their respective
countries. The Committee remained active long after the war,
planning and overseeing the Memorial Site and Museum at Dachau.
According to Robert Sheppard, the beginning
of the International Committee coincided with the typhus epidemic
in the camp, which began in December 1944. When he contracted
typhus, General Delestraint was moved to Block 25, the quarantine
block, until he recovered and was brought back to Block 24 at
the end of January 1945. However, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler,
an honor prisoner in the bunker, wrote that General Delestraint
was transferred to the bunker "at the beginning of 1945."
The bunker was the camp prison which contained private cells
where the important prisoners were housed.
In his article of 10 November 1989, Robert
Sheppard gave the following details of the incident which led
to the murder of General Delestraint at Dachau on 19 April 1945:
At the Dachau camp, the General had the
job of "hilfschreiber," or assistant secretary of Block
24. Since the N.N. prisoners were not allowed to work outside
the camp, jobs had to be found for them in the barracks or the
camp facilities. Robert Sheppard was the canteen representative
for Block 24.
Although, by 1945, the camp canteen had
virtually nothing left to sell to the prisoners, each block still
had a representative whose job it was to visit the canteen to
make purchases on behalf of all the prisoners in his block. The
inmates received camp money for their work, which they could
use to buy personal items or food in the canteen. All but the
N.N. prisoners were allowed to receive money from their families,
which was exchanged for camp money.
The SS made a daily check on the N.N.
prisoners, which usually took place in the middle of the morning
or the afternoon while the other prisoners were away working
in the factories located just outside the camp. At this daily roll call for the N.N. prisoners,
the SS guard would ask each prisoner which block he lived in,
his prisoner number and his function in the camp.
One day during the usual roll call, Delestraint
was asked the usual question regarding his function or job in
the camp, and he replied "General." The SS man appeared
to be surprised, but he continued the roll call, after making
lengthy notes, according to Sheppard.
Sheppard wrote that, immediately after this incident, orders
were received from Berlin that General Delestraint was to be
transferred to the "Herrenbunker," the camp prison,
that was reserved for the very important prisoners. Prisoners
in the bunker had individual cells with a toilet, and they were
not required to work. Their cells were left unlocked during the
day and all but the N.N. prisoners were allowed to receive visitors.
However, all of the other accounts of the story refer to the
bunker as the Ehrenbunker, which means Honor bunker.
According to Sheppard, on April 19, 1945,
the secretary of Block 24 received the exit card of General Delestraint
which said "Ausgang durch Tot," or Exit through Death.
Instead of being transferred to the bunker, General Delestraint
had been assassinated because of his arrogance and audacity when
he said that his function in the camp was that of a General.
In this version of the story, General Delestraint was living
in Block 24 until April 19, 1945. Other accounts say that he
was moved to the bunker in January 1945. The only official document
still in existence, which mentions General Charles Delestraint,
is the order to transfer the General to the honor bunker, which
was dated March 13, 1945.
Joseph Rovan, a prisoner who wrote a
book about Dachau, told the same story with a slight variation.
He said that General Delestraint had to go to the hospital barrack
on the morning of the day of the incident and he was late getting
to the roll call. When he arrived, the SS man spoke to him roughly.
General Delestraint assumed a military posture and the SS man
asked him his rank, to which Delestraint replied "General
of the Army."
Nerin E. Gun, another Dachau prisoner
who wrote a book entitled "The Day of the Americans,"
got his information about the incident from Edmond Michelet,
an N.N. prisoner who was a good friend of General Delestraint.
According to Michelet's version of the story, as told to Gun,
an SS Inspector was at the roll call that day and General Delestraint
was standing in the front row of the prisoners assembled at Block
24. The SS Colonel noticed this small Frenchman with white hair
who was walking at a brisk pace. "What is your profession?"
he asked him, to which Delestraint replied "General of the
French army." Then he added that he was under the command
of General de Gaulle who had recently been under his orders.
Nerin E. Gun then asks himself: Did the Gestapo know that Delestraint
was a leader in the French Resistance? Was there a delay in the
transmission of an order from Berlin?" In any case, shortly
after this incident, General Delestraint was transferred to the
honor bunker, according to Nerin E. Gun's book.
However, Michelet claims in his book
entitled "La Rue
de la Liberté," that he was at the hospital barrack
that day and did not witness the incident. Michelet says that
he got his information from Louis Konrath, a native of the province
of Lorraine who watched over the General in Block 24 and protected
Here is the testimony of Louis Konrath,
as told to Edmond Michelet:
An SS Colonel, who was an inspector,
visited the camp that day and observed the prisoners, who did
not have to work outside the camp, lined up in front of block
24. General Delestraint attracted the attention of the SS Colonel
who asked him "Wer bist du?"to which Delestraint replied
"General of the French army," then added "And
under the command of General de Gaulle, who was under my command."
Michelet wrote in his book "La Rue de la Liberté," that several
friends of the General were worried about him when they learned
about the incident. And among them, the Communists, who wanted
to protect the General, thought that he should go under cover
while awaiting the liberation of the camp, according to Michelet.
Delestraint was not a Communist; he was loyal to General de Gaulle,
who was planning to become the leader of France after the war
and to prevent a Communist takeover of the country.
According to Michelet, Roger Linet, a
Communist prisoner, went to see the General in block 24 and proposed
that he should enter the Revier, the hospital block, under some
pretext, and as soon as a French prisoner there died, an extremely
frequent occurrence, General Delestraint should assume his identity;
he would then exchange his prison number for the number of the
deceased prisoner. The General would be declared dead in the
Revier, while, still living, he could be concealed until the
Liberation. This would be, according to Linet, a comparatively
easy operation. The General appeared to hesitate: he was not
pleased with the idea of going into hiding. But then the problem
was resolved when the General was transferred to the Ehrenbunker,
according to Michelet. Later the prisoners reproached themselves
because they had not carried out their plan, although Delestraint
would have refused in any case.
There is considerable disagreement about
the date that General Delestraint was ordered to be moved to
the bunker, although all accounts agree that this happened soon
after the incident at the roll call. None of the accounts, written
by the former Dachau prisoners, mention that the date of his
transfer to the bunker was March 13, 1945, which is the date
on the official document that ordered the move from the barracks
to the prison where the prominent prisoners were housed. According
to both Michelet and Neuhäusler, the General was moved to
the bunker in January 1945, but Robert Sheppard claims that the
General left the camp hospital barrack in January 1945 and went
back to Block 24 where he was active in organizing the C.I.D.,
the Comité International de Dachau. After the roll call
incident, Delestraint's fellow prisoners were worried about him
because his anonymity had been pierced. They thought that the
Gestapo had not known of Delestraint's high rank in the Resistance,
and that he would be executed now that they had found out.
When other important prisoners, such
as Léon Blum and Kurt von Schuschnigg, were transferred
from Buchenwald to Dachau on April 4, 1945, some of the prisoners
in the bunker had to be moved to an annex. General Delestraint
was assigned to the annex, along with Archbishop Piguet and the
Rev. Martin Niemöller, according to Bishop Neuhäusler.
The annex was a wooden barrack building that had formerly been
used as the camp brothel.
Dr. Franz Blaha, a Czech medical doctor
and a Communist, was a prominent member of the International
Committee at Dachau. Dr. Blaha was the only prisoner to give
testimony for the prosecution about the Dachau gas chamber at
both the Nuremberg IMT and the Dachau proceedings. However, there
was no testimony whatsoever at the Nuremberg IMT about the execution
of General Delestraint at Dachau since this war crime was not
even mentioned by the prosecution.
Regarding the medical facilities at Dachau,
Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler wrote the following in his book
entitled "What was it like in the Concentration Camp at
Dachau?", published in 1960:
Prisoners staffed the infirmary. Some
of them were army surgeons. Others were persons of different
nationalities, who knew practically nothing about the care of
the sick. From 1942 onward imprisoned physicians were also allowed
to assist in the infirmary. The medical staff was headed by the
infirmary Capo on whom the treatment of the patient depended.
A perverse infirmary Capo would do away with sick prisoners without
telling the SS doctor on duty, using injections and tortures
of his own devising.
One of the Dachau prisoners who worked
in the infirmary was Albert Guérisse; he was a doctor
of medicine, although the camp staff members did not know this.
In an article published in the Smithsonian Magazine in October
1993, Robert Warnick wrote about the famous incident when the
General gave his rank instead of his function during a roll call.
Warnick had obtained his information about the fate of General
Delestraint from Johnny Hopper, one of the 5 SOE agents who had
survived Mauthausen, Natzweiler and Dachau. According to Hopper:
"Later the loudspeakers boomed out an order for the prisoner
Delestraint to report immediately to the camp headquarters. Every
one assumed that they wanted him to work out a deal with the
approaching Americans. But they hanged him instead."
However, Dr. Johannes Neuhäusler's
account of the execution of General Delestraint differs from
the story as told by Robert Sheppard and Johnny Hopper. Dr. Neuhäusler
wrote that Piguet and Delestraint had arrived together on the
convoy from Natzweiler, a bit of information that he got from
a book called "Leben auf Widerruf," written by a Dachau
prisoner named Joos. In his own book, Dr. Neuhäusler wrote
the following about the death of General Delestraint:
At the beginning of 1945 both (Piguet and Delestraint) were brought from
the general camp to the "bunker" and then transferred
in April 1945 as we had been to the "barrack" which
the prisoners tenderly called the "girls' high school",
but from which the inmates, however, had been transferred, because
of the Americans. (The girls' high school was the camp brothel.)
On April 19, 1945, the General served
the Bishop's Mass. This he had done in an exemplary manner every
day since I had succeeded, after energetic protests, in obtaining
for the Bishop (Piguet) the
right to celebrate Mass in our emergency chapel. (Initially,
only the Germans were allowed to say Mass at Dachau.)
During the Holy Mass of that day, an "Untersturmführer"
(under-commandant) came in and said: "The General must pack
at once." Calmly the General went away, packed a few things
and came back to receive Holy Communion. His last Holy Communion!
After Mass I asked the "Untersturmführer":
"What is wrong with the General?" - "Ah",
he answered lightly, "he is going to Innsbruck, as all of
you are. We have just a small bus with eight seats with only
seven people. Now we are taking the General with us." Three
hours later, Delestraint was shot together with three other French
prisoners and eleven Czechoslovakian officers. As Joos "Leben
auf Widerruf", page 156 says, he walked towards the wall,
naked, his head held high. Before he reached it, two pistol shots
had laid him low. He died as a soldier and as a pious Christian."
Albert Knoll confirms that the honor
prisoners were first taken to Innsbruck, and then to the South
Tyrol, but they left on April 26, 1945. Protestant Pastor Martin
Niemöller and a few members of the Catholic clergy, including
Bishop Neuhäusler, and were released on April 24th and allowed
to find their own way to safety. No prominent prisoners left
Dachau on April 19, 1945, according to Knoll.
According to a book, written in French,
by J. F. Perrette, entitled "Le General Delestraint,"
testimony given at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau after
the war supports Neuhäusler's story. According to this testimony,
it was very early in the morning on April 19, 1945 that SS-Hauptscharführer
Eichberger received the order of execution, signed by SS-Obersturmbanführer
Schäfer. Eichberger gave the order to his superior officer
SS-Obersturmführer Wilhelm Ruppert, who was in charge of
executions at Dachau. At 8:30 a.m. on April 19th, SS-Oberscharführer
Fritz went to Block 26 where he found the General serving mass
for Archbishop Piguet. He instructed the General to prepare to
depart immediately in a convoy.
According to Perrette's book, Eichberger
verified the General's identity and told him that he was to be
liberated. Delestraint was taken to the Ehrenbunker where he
changed into a blue suit. As he left the bunker, Delestraint
saw the two SS men waiting for him; he asked to return to block
26, where Piguet was still saying Mass. As he was being escorted
down the Lagerstrasse, or the camp road, by the two SS men, Delestraint
met a friend who lived in block 24 and told him: "It appears
that I am liberated!" He went back into block 26 to receive
Holy Communion from the hands of the Bishop. The two men then
kissed and said their farewells.
Perrette wrote that the SS men next accompanied
Delestraint to the Ehrenbunker again, where he picked up his
suitcase. SS-Obersturmführer Ruppert was waiting there for
him and, out of deference to his rank, carried Delestraint's
suitcase. They walked to the Jourhaus, the administration building
at the gate of the camp, where General Delestraint was taken
to the office of SS-Obersturmführer Johannes Otto, the adjutant
to the Commandant. According to Perrete's
book, Ruppert informed Otto of the execution, specifying that
the order must be carried out immediately.
As the SS men and Delestraint left the
Jourhaus, they met some prisoners, and SS-Unterscharführer
Edgar Stiller joined them. After exiting the camp through the
gate at the Jourhaus, the group walked on a path outside the
camp, along the canal that forms the western border of the camp.
As they approached the crematorium, which is outside the camp,
SS-Hauptscharführer Pongratz and an SS man named Boomgaerts
joined them, according to Perrete's account of the testimony
at the American Military Tribunal; Ruppert then left the group
and the others proceeded to the crematorium, which is only a
few yards from where Delestraint was alleged executed.
Perrete was undoubtedly mistaken about
the SS man named Boomgaerts. There was a British SOE agent from
Belgium, named Boogaerts, who was prisoner at Dachau, but there
was also an SS man named Theodor Bongartz at Dachau, according
to François Goldschmitt, a prisoner who wrote a book about
Theodor Bongartz's name was mentioned
during the American Military Tribunal proceedings in the testimony
of Otto Edward Jendrian, a German prisoner at Dachau, who said
that he had seen Bongartz shoot French officers up to the rank
of General. Jendrian referred to Bongartz as the head of the
Although Bongartz was not on trial, and
was, in fact, dead, the other staff members at Dachau were responsible
for any war crimes committed by him because the charge against
all of the accused was "participating in a common design
to violate the Laws and Usages of War according to the Geneva
Convention." They were responsible for acts committed by
Bongartz, even if they had not served at the same time in the
Ruppert is identified
in the courtroom at Dachau
The photo above shows Friedrich Wilhelm
Ruppert, standing on the right, as he was identified in the courtroom
at Dachau by prosecution witness Michael Pellis. Ruppert was
in charge of executions at Dachau; he was convicted by the American
Military Tribunal and hanged on May 29, 1946.
At the American Military Tribunal at
Dachau, Martin Gottfried Weiss testified that there were no executions
of camp prisoners while he was the Commandant of Dachau between
September 1942 and the end of October 1943. He claimed that only
people who were brought in from the outside by officers of the
State Police (the Gestapo) were executed during the time that
he was the Commandant. Weiss also testified that while he was
the Commandant, there were no executions by shooting, only by
hanging. Dr. Neuhäusler confirms in his book that individual
executions at Dachau were carried out by hanging, and British
SOE agent Johnny Hopper's version of the story is that General
Delestraint was hanged.
The photo below shows a stone marker
at the spot in front of the Dachau crematorium building where
prisoners were executed by hanging.
Memorial Stone at the
site where prisoners were hanged
According to Edmond Michelet's book "La
Rue de la Liberté" which means The Street of Liberty
in English, the important prisoners in the bunker were regularly
allowed to have a massage while an SS man stood guard. It was
during these massage sessions that the Dachau honor prisoners
discussed the plans of the International Committee of Dachau,
while the unsuspecting SS man was not paying any attention to
On April 19, 1945, Michelet and the Rev.
Martin Niemöller were expecting General Delestraint to join
them for a massage in the camp infirmary, according to Michelet.
Then they heard two gun shots and Niemöller remarked on
the fact that the Nazis continued to murder the prisoners right
up to the last day.
Theodor Bongartz, shown in the photo
above, is believed to be the man who carried out the secret execution
of General Charles Delestraint.
Michelet wrote that on the evening of
April 19th, a French prisoner came to him to give him the prisoner
card of the General so that he could record it. The card read
"Abgang durch Tod." The cause of death was "heart
failure." According to Michelet, this was the usual cause
of death given when prisoners were shot or hanged. Michelet was
at this time living in the Ehrenbunker; Robert Sheppard claims
that the General's prisoner card was delivered to Block 24 after
he was executed, and that the card read "Ausgang durch Tod,"
which means Exit through Death.
After the death of General Delestraint,
Michelet was the next in line to become the leader of the French
prisoners. He survived Dachau and became the French Minister
of Justice after the war. He continued to be active in the International
committee, making sure that the mass graves of the prisoners
were maintained and that the site of their suffering was treated
A group of French survivors of Dachau
paid an annual visit to the camp in June, led by Edmond Michelet.
A statue of an "Unknown Prisoner" was erected near
the crematorium, but strangely, no memorial to Michelet's good
friend General Delestraint was ever placed at Dachau.
Stone designates the
spot where prisoners were executed
The photo above shows a stone which marks
the Pistol Range in the woods behind the crematorium at Dachau
where General Delestraint was allegedly shot. There is no marker
there to inform visitors of his death.
General Delestraint was finally honored
in France, through the efforts of British SOE agent Robert Sheppard,
when his name was added to the list of the great men of France
at the Pantheon on 10 November 1989, the day after the Berlin
wall came down, signaling the fall of Communism. In bronze letters
on a plaque is an inscription which reads:
A LA MEMOIRE DU GENERAL DELESTRAINT
CHEF DE L'ARMEE SECRETE
COMPAGNON DE LA LIBERATION
This page was last updated August 17,