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Dachau

da' kow, the first Nazi concentration camp

Dachau was located about 10 miles northwest of Munich. Not only was it the first Nazi concentration camp to be opened, it was also the only one to remain in operation throughout the duration of Nazi Germany's existence. In addition, it served as the model by which every other Nazi camp was constructed and operated. Most of Dachau's early prisoners were political opponents of the Nazi Party, but its barracks would ultimately be filled with all manner of people deemed "unfit" by the Nazis, including Catholics and Jews, homosexuals, Communists, and Socialists. More than 200,000 people would eventually be housed at Dachau during its existence, of whom more than 30,000 died.

Dachau was also a major center for the conducting of medical experiments, on prisoners. These experiments included subjecting "patients" to high altitudes using a decompression chamber; exposing them to malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases in order to test various treatments; and forcing them to lay in ice water for hours at a time in order to find treatments for hypothermia. Hundreds of prisoners died or were severely crippled by these procedures. Prisoners who weren't used as medical guinea pigs were often used as forced labor, especially at nearby armaments factories. Those deemed unsuitable for work or medical experimentation were usually shipped to another camp for "elimination," others were simply shot and their bodies sent to one of the crematoriums on the site.

Dachau prisoner being subjected to a medical procedure
a Dachau prisoner being subjected to a medical procedure

aerial view of the Dachau complex
Dachau

Brief Chronological History of the Camp

March 20, 1933 -- Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and chief of the Munich police, announced the opening of a prison camp at Dachau, site of a former munitions plant. The first prisoners -- Communists, Socialists, and other political opponents of the Nazi Party -- arrived two days later.

May 25, 1933 -- A schoolmaster from Munich was killed at Dachau by an SS guard. The official SS report of the death listed it as a suicide, but when a subsequent autopsy proved that the man had been murdered the public prosecutor in Munich charged the camp commandant, Hilmar Waeckerle, and other SS officials in the camp with murder. The public controversy created by the incident forced Himmler to remove Waeckerle from his post. Adolf Hitler subsequently ordered an end to any and all legal proceedings resulting from deaths at Dachau, placing sole authority over the camp in the hands of the SS; that order was subsequently expanded to include all concentration camps.

1937 -- The SS began construction of a complex of buildings on the Dachau site, using forced prisoner labor. The construction was officially completed in mid-August of 1938. Over the years a total of 32 barracks were constructed at Dachau, as well as a leader school for members of the economic and civil services, and an SS medical "school."

some of the barracks at Dachau
some of the barracks at Dachau

November 10-11, 1938 -- Over 10,000 Jewish men were sent to Dachau following an attempt on Hitler's life. Most of them, however, were released after an internment period of a few weeks to a few months.

1942 -- A crematorium area was constructed next to the main camp.

April 26, 1945 -- As Allied forces descended on Dachau, the SS forced about 7,000 prisoners to march from Dachau south to Tegernsee. Guards shot anyone who couldn't keep up or continue marching, and many more died of exposure, hunger, and/or exhaustion along the way.

April 29, 1945 -- Dachau was liberated by American forces. When they entered the gates, soldiers found more than 30,000 prisoners in the camp, crammed into buildings designed to hold less than half that number.

Dachau being liberated by the Allies
Dachau being liberated by the Allies

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This page was last updated on 04/28/2017.