Nazi Germany tried to produce its own medicines, herbs and spices. In 1938, Dachau prisoners were forced to build a plantation (in German, die Plantage) in an attempt to realize this goal.
Greenhouses were built next to the camp and as it developed, the plantation (also called a Kraütergarten or herb garden) expanded to approximately the same size as the concentration camp.
Heinrich Himmler was especially interested in this effort to cultivate tropical plants in the Bavarian climate, similar to that of the Austrian Alps. The work was physically grueling and hundreds of prisoners died from exhaustion. Many of the men who worked in the plantation were Catholic priests.
Another eyewitness, who shared her story with us was a nun from the convent in Freising, a university town north of Munich. She was called Josefa Maria Imma Mack and from May 1944 – April 1945 (when she was twenty years old), she traveled each week, often by bike, from Freising to Dachau, under the guise of purchasing herbs from the plantation. The distance between the two places is approximately forty kilometers or 24 miles.
Locals could go to the plantation and purchase fresh herbs and flowers, illustrating a unique relationship between locals and the camp. Josefa Maria Imma Mack became acquainted with some of the prisoners and began to smuggle out their letters to mail to their family members. The letters were buried under the fresh herbs in her basket that she took back to the convent.When we asked her if she was ever afraid, she said that she must have been. But there was not time to feel afraid. She did not think about it. She just did it.
- A short description of the plantation;
- Josefa Maria Imma Mack’s biography (German Wikipedia)
- Warum ich Azaleen liebe published in Germany in 1989. The English translation, Why I love Azaleas, is out of print.
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