Dachau, one of the first Nazi concentration camps, located in the small town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich. Dachau was chosen because it was the site of an empty munitions factory from World War I. The opening of the camp, with a capacity for 5,000 prisoners, was announced by Heinrich Himmler at a press conference held on March 20, 1933.
When the camp opened, only known political opponents of the Nazis were interned. Communists, Social Democrats, and a few monarchists, who had passionately opposed one another before 1933, now found themselves together behind barbed wire. The first Jewish prisoners came known as political opponents of the Nazis. At Dachau, as elsewhere, they received worse treatment than the other prisoners. More and more groups, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Gypsies, were gradually interned into the concentration camps.
During its twelve-year existence, Dachau was always a "political camp". All prisoners underwent the same fate when they entered the camp. The left all legal status behind, their remaining possessions were confiscated, their hair was shaved off, and they were dressed in striped fatigues. the daily routine was filled with work, hunger, exhaustion and the fear of the brutality of the sadistic SS guards. The value of cheap labor was quickly recognized and ruthlessly exploited.
In the course of the war, the work force of the concentration camps became increasingly important for the German armaments industry. The network of camps, which gradually extended over the whole of central Europe, took on gigantic proportions. Dachau alone had thirty-six large subsidiary camps in which up to thirty-seven thousand prisoners worked almost exclusively on armaments.
In Dachau there was no mass extermination program with poison gas. But a total number of 206,206 prisoners registered there were 31,591 registered deaths. However the total number of deaths in Dachau will never be known.
Photo from the National Archives.