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History of the Dachau Concentration Camp
Concentration Camp Dachau or KZ Dachau in German was the first complete concentration camp the Germans build. The goal of this camp was to expel all who opposed the regime of Adolf Hitler and his political party the NSDAP. Adolf Hitler was a very clever politician, something people tend to forget, and new the rules of the German state thoroughly. He let the government pop a few times until he got in control, after gaining total control and of all the seats in the government he scraped democracy out of the dictionary and was in total and supreme control of Germany. He got help from the French and English for their preposterous claims on money and such after WW1, something Germany was not able to pay and as result the Allied blocked shipping lanes. Germany was broke and in hunger, losing 800.000 people in a year due to malnutrition. This made Adolf Hitler stronger to get people on his hand. He promised, and kept his word, a better live, more wealth and health and to restore pride in the German community. He gained power and was in control from 1932 on.
During this period he had to get rid of all who opposed him, who had other thoughts than the NSDAP, the National Socialist Deutsche Arbeiters Partij. To get those people out of the way they build the first concentration camp or Konzentrationslager (KZ) near the town of Dachau just north of Munich. The camp started out on the 22nd of March in 1933. Concentration Camp Dachau was intended for political prisoners, communists, and pro democrats, Jehovah’s and Christians but soon after others joined the inmates, like gay people, Roma – Gypsies, resistance warriors, criminals and especially Jews.
It was the first place in the German empire where the SS got total control to do whatever they pleased without restriction, German and humanitarian law did not apply to the inmates of Dachau.
After the SA, Sturm Abteilung – Storm Detachment, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party from Ernst Röhm was liquidated during the night of the long knives, Heinrich Himmler gave the order to expand the concentration camp. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, ordered the construction of a new prison. Dachau was not an extermination camp, although lots of the inmates died due to bad treatment, torture, experiments or the gas chamber.
Before Dachau was set up there were small camps throughout Germany with a capacity of only a few dozen men, these were guarded mostly by the SA. Dachau was build for capacity of 6.000 prisoners and became the training ground for SS camp guards and camp commanders. During the 12 years Dachau was in use it grew with multiple satellite camps in the surroundings. Well over 100 of these Arbeitskommando’s were build in the region spreading in south Germany and in Austria. The Dachau system was a blueprint for all other camps build later in the Nazi era.
The prisoners were used in the war industry during forced labour. Dachau was the largest supplier of labourers for factories like Messerschmitt, Donier, BMW, AGFA and alike. On other locations the forced labourers were used for the construction of underground factories like the Me 262 facility at Muhldorf am Inn and Kaufering during project Ringeltaube – wood pigeon. Dachau had over 30 large sub camps where some 30.000 prisoners had to work, mostly in armament facilities and they worked in such harsh conditions that many died during the war.
Layout of Dachau
The main camp had 32 barracks, one for clergy imprisoned and one for medical experiments. It had an administration at the main gate, a kitchen, laundry, workshops and a shower in the main building. The crematoria are located in a other section, just on the outside of the campgrounds. There is no evidence that the gas chamber is used on a large scale. There is a large prison building were inmates were locked up and tortured. The courtyard between the kitchen and the workshop was used as execution area. The compound was sealed off with electrified barb wired fences, seven guard towers and a ditch and lots of guards.
Experiments on inmates
In Dachau German doctors used inmates as living test subjects to all kinds of experiments. The results of these experiment could be used for the army and weapon development. Experiments on prisoners like a decompression chamber gave information for fighter pilot who worked on high altitude. Other experiment included malaria and tuberculoses research or hypothermia for research in attic warfare or warfare in the Russian winter. New medication was tested on the inmates. Prisoners had to make seawater drinkable and try to halt excessive bleedings. How much G-force could a men withstand, how long can a man survive without oxygen all these experiments were done without humanity. All was done under supervision of SS Doctor Claus Schilling. After the war Schilling was sentenced to death in the Nurnberg Trials. All experiments were battlefield related, hundreds of prisoners died or were crippled during these test.
Liberation of Dachau
In the first year of the camp in 1933 there were about 4800 prisoners, when the Americans freed it in April 1945 the camp and its satellite camps had more than 67.000 prisoner in them, about half were in the main camp. Just before the liberation of Dachau prisoner transports from other concentration camps arrived. Himmler orderde the SS to transport all prisoners away from the upcomming frontlines and dispose of the all the evidence. The northern concentrations camps had to move there inmates to the Baltic sea and drown them, the southern had to go into the Bavarian Alps with the SS who was to make their last stand in the mountains. During this period 7.000 prisoners had to walk out of the Dachau camp into the mountains, during this Death March 1.000 died. Oskar Muller, the camp elder, send inmates out to find the Americans and lead them back to the camp to prevent mass murder which he feared. On 29th of April in 1945 the Us Army liberated the Camp. First they stumbled upon a train with 2.000 dead bodies in it. The Americans killed the Camp Guards and let the civilian population of Dachau walk through the camp and let them burry the bodies.
In twelve active years more than 200.000 men were registered in concentration camp Dachau and more than 41.000 lost their lives here. After the War the German General Johannes Albrecht Blaskowitz was kept prisoner in Dachau, he received the capitulation of the Polish forces in Warsaw on September the 27 in 1939 and signed the capitulation of the German forces in the Netherlands, Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein and North – west Germany to the British Field Marshal Bernard Montgommery. He was sacked by Hitler in 1940 as supreme commander of Poland for resisting atrocities by the Einsatstruppe who were ordered to kill Jews and non Jew civilians. Between November 1945 and August 1948 the Americans held the Dachau Trials for all war criminals caught in the US zone, and were exclusively held by the United States, no other Allied country participated during these trials. In total 1672 were prosecuted and 1416 members of the Nazi regime were convicted. Beside the Dachau trial the US held more Camp trials, like the one in Mauthausen, Buchenwald, Dora and Muhldorf.
Today concentration camp Dachau is a museum and a memeroial and can be visited on a daily basis. Check out the website for more information.
All movies were provided by Willem Tempelaar.