Arbeit Macht Frei = Work Shall Set You Free.
In 1933, Hitler had recently gained power in Germany and needed a new place to imprison his political opponents. Thus was the birth of the Dachau Concentration Camp, or KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau. The city of Dachau is over a thousand years old, even older than its close neighbor of Munich, and the buildings of the concentration camp date back to WWI, when they were used as an armaments factory. When Germany lost the Great War, they were no longer allowed to produce armaments, and the factory at Dachau was abandoned. Later, in March of 1933, the Munich Chief of Police announced that the abandoned factory, including the existing barracks, would serve as a concentration camp, though, more specifically, to serve as a Protective Custody Camp for political opponents of Hitler taken as prisoners. It wasn’t long before these Social Democrats and Communists (etc.) were joined in the prison by Jews, gypsies, criminals, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholic Priests. In fact all of the Priests arrested during the Nazi’s twelve year reign were sent to Dachau.
Dachau was the first concentration camp and all others would be modeled from it. This was where the colored triangle system of identification originated, though they
The entrance gate to Dachau. Now covered in tourists and foliage.
never tattooed their prisoners, instead having their identification numbers and colored triangles sown onto the uniforms. This was the only concentration camp open for all twelve years of the Nazi reign, from 1933 to 1945.
It was never a death camp. Though there was a working gas chamber built, except for the initial testing where a few dozen people were killed, the gas chamber was never put into use. No one knows why, exactly, but even after it was built, Dachau continued to send their doomed prisoners to other camps for extermination. In 1940, they had so many deaths that they needed a method of dealing with the bodies, without letting the outside world know how many were really dying. So they build a crematorium. But by 1942, that crematorium just couldn’t handle all the corpses and they constructed a larger one, which would be called Barrack X. Still, these larger ovens couldn’t cremate the bodies fast enough, and the coal was running out, so when the camp was liberated in 1945, the Allied Troops discovered piles of corpses waiting to be burned.
There were 34 Barracks at Dachau, 17 on each side of a pathway referred to
This was taken looking out from the entrance gate. The buildings you see are part of a complex now used by the Polizei. The large mound of dirt, grass and plants was not here when Dachau was a working concentration camp; these mounds were added later so that the present citizens of the city of Dachau would not have to look at the concentration camp remains.
as the Camp Road. Dachau also had a bunker for special prisoners, located behind the Maintenance Building and isolating these prisoners from the rest of the camp. These were mostly important prisoners directly arrested by Hitler, or the priests for whom the Pope begged special consideration. The priests were provided a fold-out altar table and allowed to perform mass, but the guide insisted that, Pope’s persuasion aside, they were all treated quite badly. In part of this bunker, there was also an SS prison. Our guide said this SS prison existed during the Nazi reign, but I could find no other documentation to back that up. The U.S. Troops did use the bunker as a prison for prisoners of war, however, after liberating the camp.
Dachau was a relatively small camp. During the twelve years, there were only 206,206 prisoners recorded, though the real numbers of people passing through are unknown. Many Soviet soldiers, not counted among these numbers, were executed here. There were no women at all in the camp until 1944, and those were mostly Hungarian. By country of origin, some countries with the highest number of prisoners at Dachau were Poland (40,395), Germany (31,456), Hungary (21,124),
Sign inside gate reads: May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 / because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace / and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.
and the Soviet Union (25,112). There were prisoners here from 30 different countries, including eleven hundred Greeks, five Finn Landers and a single Irishman. When the Allied Troops liberated the camp in 1945, there were over 30,000 prisoners at Dachau - a camp originally built for a capacity of 5,000.
Aside from tortures like beatings and pole hangings, there were also experiments done at Dachau. Many of these experiments were meant to benefit the German soldiers and pilots. Many prisoners were infected with Malaria from mosquitoes to test various drugs. Most likely Malaria was greatly researched because Dachau’s head physician, Dr. Claus Schilling, specialized in tropical medicine. People were put into decompression chambers to test the effects pilots would experience parachuting from great heights, testing loss of pressure and lack of oxygen. Some prisoners were dressed in pilot’s uniforms and placed in freezing water for hours to test what methods of warming the body might work, though other methods of exposure to the cold were also used. The freezing experiments were later used more at Auschwitz, where the temperatures were naturally colder and the camp was more isolated from the surrounding communities. Some prisoners were given only sea water
The roll call area in front of the barracks.
for days or weeks on end to test resistance. There were also prisoners infected with various other diseases to test vaccines.
When the camp was liberated on April, 29, 1945 by the Americans, the United States used the nearby SS training grounds until 1972, when it gave the area back to the Germans. The grounds near the camp had been used as a school to train the SS, a broacher calling it the School of Violence and our guide calling it the School of Pain. Those buildings are now used to train the German riot police. The former concentration camp was returned to the Germans from the United States in 1948, and then used as a refugee camp and homeless shelter. Now Dachau looks a bit different, as it is a memorial site swamped with tourists, and surrounded by trees and foliage, and large mounds of earth. These giant mounds of dirt, grass and plant life are significant visual barriers, separating the memorialized concentration camp from the surrounding town. The actual town of Dachau used to be two miles from the camp, but now it leads right up to it and our guide says the residents just didn’t want
This photo shows one of the guard towers as well as the grass along the partially reconstructed fence. The prisoners were not allowed in the grass.
to look at the camp everyday.
Our tour was a bit strange, if only because it was rushed. We took a bus trip because it saved us money on gas, but if we’d known we’d spend over eight hours traveling to be given only three hours at the camp, we’d have driven ourselves. Plus, our guided tour group seemed to be full of the kind of people who wanted to ask questions about absolutely everything, even when the guide has already explained it once or when the display, in English, right in front of them answered those questions. We left the tour group early, after seeing part of the museum, the bunker, the barracks and the crematoriums, because otherwise we would not have had time to see the entire museum. Strangely enough, though, the weather was absolutely beautiful. We’d become so accustomed to rainy and grey weather, and even the guide mentioned that this was the nicest day all year. It was such a somber and disquieting experience that I was a little surprised to come away from the trip with a slight sunburn.
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