The Dachau concentration camp was established in 1933 and operated continuously until the end of the war in 1945. It was the first concentration camp of the Nazi regime and it is estimated that at least 188,000 prisoners were incarcerated there between 1933 and 1945.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Dachau concentration camp was established in 1933 and operated until the end of the war in 1945. It was one of the first concentration camps of the Nazi regime and it is estimated that at least 188,000 prisoners were held there between 1933 and 1945.
The SS, the elite guard of the Nazi Party, established the Dachau concentration camp in March 1933, on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany.
Initially, the SS held primarily German Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime at Dachau. Over time, other groups were held there also, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), and homosexuals. In the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht in November, 1938, more than 10,000 Jewish men were imprisoned at Dachau.
In early 1937, the SS initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. Under terrible conditions, prisoners were forced to do this work, starting with the destruction of the old munitions factory.
The Dachau camp was a training center for SS guards, and the camp's organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps. The camp was divided into two sections --the camp area and the crematorium area. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks and a group of support buildings. The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp.
Several thousand Dachau prisoners who were judged too weak to continue working were sent to the Hartheim "euthanasia" killing center near Linz, Austria, where they were killed.
In Dachau, SS physicians performed medical experiments on hundreds of prisoners, who died or were permanently disabled as a result.
Dachau prisoners were also used as forced laborers to build roads, work in gravel pits, and drain marshes. In the summer and fall of 1944, to increase war production, more than 30 large subcamps under the administration of Dachau were established near armaments factories throughout southern Germany. Thousands of prisoners were worked to death.
As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, transports from evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau.
Typhus epidemics were a serious problem due to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions.
In April 1945, as American forces approached, there were more than 65,000 registered prisoners in Dachau and its subcamps, about two-thirds of them political prisoners and one-third Jews. The Germans forced more than 7,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee far to the south. During the death march, SS guards shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of hunger, cold, or exhaustion.
On April 29, 1945, American forces liberated Dachau. They found more than 30 railroad cars filled with decomposed bodies, as well as corpses laying unburied around the camp and many sick prisoners.
The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000. It is unlikely that the total number of victims who died in Dachau will ever be known.