Dachau concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager (KZ) Dachau, ) was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany, located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, about northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, which is located in southern Germany. Opened 22 March 1933, it was the first regular concentration camp established by the coalition government of the National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) and the German Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."
Dachau served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi concentration camps that followed. Almost every community in Germany had members taken away to these camps. Newspapers continuously reported of "the removal of the enemies of the Reich to concentration camps", and as early as 1935 there were jingles warning: "Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not to Dachau come."
The camp's basic organization: layout as well as building plans, were developed by Kommandant Theodor Eicke and were applied to all later camps. He had a separate secure camp near the command center, which consisted of living quarters, administration, and army camps. Eicke himself became the chief inspector for all concentration camps, responsible for molding the others according to his model.
The entrance gate to this concentration camp carries the words ("Arbeit macht frei"), meaning "through work one will be free".
The camp was in use from 1933 to 1960, the first twelve years as an internment center of the Third Reich. From 1933 to 1938 the prisoners were mainly German nationals detained for political reasons. Subsequently the camp was used for prisoners of all sorts from every nation occupied by the forces of the Third Reich. From 1945 through 1948 the camp was used as a prison for SS officers awaiting trial. After 1948 the German population expelled from Czechoslovakia were housed there and it was also a base of the United States. It was closed in 1960 and thereafter, at the insistence of ex-prisoners, various memorials began to be constructed there.
Estimates of the demographic statistics vary but they are in the same general range. History may never know how many people were interned there or died there, due to periods of disruption. One source gives a general estimate of over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries for the Third Reich's years, of whom two-thirds were political prisoners and nearly one-third were Jews. 25,613 prisoners are believed to have died in the camp and almost another 10,000 in its subcamps, primarily from disease, malnutrition and suicide. In early 1945, there was a typhus epidemic in the camp due to influx from other camps causing overcrowding, followed by an evacuation, in which large numbers of the weaker prisoners died. Toward the end of the war death marches to and from the camp caused the expiration of large but unknown numbers of prisoners. Even after liberation, prisoners weakened beyond recovery continued to die.
Over its twelve years as a concentration camp, the Dachau administration recorded the intake of 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths. Crematoria were constructed to dispose of the deceased. These numbers do not tell the entire story, however. Although there is no evidence of mass murder within the camp — by methods other than poor sanitation, deprivation of medical care, withholding of nutrients, medical experiments, or beatings and shootings for infractions of the rules or at random — beginning in 1942 more than 3166 prisoners in weakened condition were transported to Hartheim Castle near Linz and there were executed by poison gas for reason of their unfitness. In 1941 and 1942 an unknown number of prisoners of war from the Soviet Union were executed by shooting at the camp's surrounding firing ranges, some for target practice and for sport.
Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people. Konzentrationslager (KZ) Dachau holds a significant place in public memory because it was the second camp to be liberated by British or American forces. Therefore, it was one of the first places where these previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world through firsthand journalist accounts and through newsreels.
Once the Nazis came to power they quickly moved to ruthlessly suppress all real or potential opposition. For example, between 1933 and 1945, the Sondergerichte which were "special courts" set up by the Nazi regime killed 12,000 Germans. Especially during the first years of their existence these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against opposition to the Nazis, the German public was intimidated through "arbitrary psychological terror".
Use of the word concentration comes from the idea of concentrating a group of people who are in some way undesirable in one place, where they can be watched by those who incarcerated them. Concentration camp had in the past been used by the U.S. against native Americans, the British in the Boer Wars, and others. The term originated in the "reconcentration camps" set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler in 1897.
Dachau was opened in March 1933, The press statement given at the opening stated:
Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the coalition government of National Socialist Party (Nazi Party) and the German Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."
Between the years 1933 and 1945 more than 3.5 million Germans would be forced to spend time in these concentration camps or prison for political reasons, and approximately 77,000 Germans were killed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.
Following the holocaust, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. Because of these negative connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer euphemisms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.
The camp was divided into two sections: the camp area and the crematorium. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. The camp was surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire gate, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers.
In early 1937, the SS, using prisoner labor, initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. The construction was officially completed in mid-August 1938 and the camp remained essentially unchanged and in operation until 1945. Dachau thus was the longest running concentration camp of the Third Reich. The area in Dachau included other SS facilities beside the concentration camp—a leader school of the economic and civil service, the medical school of the SS, etc. The KZ at that time was called a "protective custody camp," and occupied less than half of the area of the entire complex.