Concentration Camp Dachau
In April, 1945, soldiers of the 157th Infantry Regiment approached a prison facility located at the outskirts of the Bavarian town of Dachau. To their horror they found that they had discovered a Nazi concentration camps. Many camps had already been discovered and liberated by the Allied juggernaut in the closing months of World War II. The Russian army had freed the survivors of Auschwitz, Sorbibor and other camps located in Poland and to the east. The British had done the same with camps located in the northern part of the country; Bergen–Belsen, Buchenwald, and Sachsehausen. It would be the the Americans who would find and liberate camps located in southern Germany, including the original Nazi concentration camp — the camp after which all other camps were modeled — Dachau.
On March 9, 1933, Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, toured an unused WW I munitions factory located on the outskirts of the town of Dachau. The newly elected Nazi party was looking for facilities to quarter the numerous recently arrested political prisoners. The munitions factory was quickly converted into a concentration camp for 2,700 political prisoners and was under the administration of the Bavarian regional police.
Beginning in 1941, captured Russian soldiers were taken to Dachau where they were executed by the thousands at the nearby SS facility known as the Herbertshausen Shooting Range. The camp had two ovens to dispose of the dead, but when the number of dead overwhelmed the burial detail and the number of arriving dead exceeded the speed of which mass graves could be dug, the camp built a new crematorium facility with more ovens.
The crematorium also had a gas chamber where 300 prisoners could be killed at a time, but there is no evidence that the chamber was ever used for mass extermination (it was, however, done on a limited bases as a feasablility study).
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On April 11, the SS took over command of Dachau, making it the first state run concentration camp. Immediately after the SS took command, the beating and the torture of the camp prisoners began, and Dachau would become the model for all other Nazi concentration camps. New arrivals, Jewish prisoners, well-known political functionaries, and a few randomly selected prisoners were strapped to a specially built table and received a camp “greeting” of 25 blows from an oxtail whip. Many were beaten to death.
From 1936 until 1944 additional camps were built. Some, like Dachau were concentration camps. Others were extermination camps and work camps, where prisoners were worked to death. In 1937 the original camp was torn down and a new and larger camp was built using prisoner labor. In addition to the harsh conditions, the beatings, the starvation and torture, the camp was now also used as a facility for medical experiments, often resulting in the agonizing death of the subject.
In the closing years of World War II, when Germany realized that the war was not winable, the Nazis tried to cover up the horror of camps. They killed prisoners, moved them from the advancing enemy, burned documents, and — wherever they could — destroyed the camps before the advancing Allied troops could liberate them. Prisoners were shot, locked in barns that were set ablaze, placed on barges that were taken out to sea and then scuttled, or transfered to camps and sub-camps still under Nazi control. Many prisoners had to endure a "death march" to the relocation camp. Others were packed in box cars and moved by rail, often going without food and water for days. Many died of starvation, dehydration, or exhaustion. Those who couldn't keep up were shot.
On April 29, 1945, soldiers of 157th Infantry Regiment liberate the camp. They found over thirty railway cars filled with bodies of inmates that had been transfered to Dachau that had died on the journey. Outside the crematorium the bodies of the dead were stacked like cordwood; the camp had run out of coal months earlier and the burial details couldn't keep up. By the order of General Eisenhower, the bodies remained unburied; kept for the benefit of American soldiers, the press, and dignitaries who were brought in to witness the atrocities that occured at Dachau. The General wanted as many witnesses as possible, in case people would one day try to deny it.
Dachau is a town in the region of Germany known as Bavaria. It is located about 15 miles northeast of Munich and trains run between the Dachau and the Munich main train station about every half hour. Although Dachau lacks the nightlife that Munich has, nice hotel rooms can be found there at a considerable savings over a stay in the Bavarian capital.
The camp is open from 9 AM until 5 PM every day except December 24th. Admission to the camp is free, but there is paid parking for private vehicles.
It is recommended that visitors walk to the camp from the railroad station (about a 1 mile walk) along the "Path of Remeberance", which is the journey camp prisoners took. Information panels are located along the path that explain the link between the camp and the town of Dachau. The path ends at the old railroad tracks and platform are still visible where the liberating American forces found the box cars filled with the dead prisoners.
The concentration camp looks much like it did during its' infamous war years. The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000 and the number of prisoners who died in the camp is estimated at 40,000. However, because records were destroyed during the closing days of the war and many killings went undocumented, it is unlikely that the total number of victims of Dachau will ever be known.
The large administration building is now the camp museum, which includes a small theater and gift shops. (A book store is located in a separate building outside the camp.) At one side of the large assemby area (where prisoners stood for roll call and to witness punishment) is a copper and stone monument which contains ashes of unknown dead. "Never Again" in Hebrew, French, English, German and Russian, is inscribed in the wall above the monument.
Several memorials have been erected in the camp at the insistance of the survivors. These include the Catholic "Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel", the Protestant Church Monument, the Jewish Memorial, and the Russian–Orthodox Chapel. A stone marker with the inscription "Think about how we died here" is located at the path leading to the crematorium, and a statue above the words "To honor the dead; to remind the living" is located within view of the crematorium building.
Outside of the concentration camp grounds are several other areas related to the crimes and horrors of Dachau. Several "Death March Memorial" statues are located between Dachau and Teegernsee, the route prisoners were forced to march before the advancing American troops. There are two cemetaries with remains of the camp inmates; Leitenberg cemetary (to the North of the town), and Waldfriedhof (East of the town). Finally, there is the Herbertshausen Shooting Range, where the mass execution of thousands of Soviet prisoners took place.
If you plan on visiting the site, go on one of the guided tours (free) and plan on spending at least four hours at the site.
Lastly, Dachau civilians were brought to camp and were forced to view the corpses. Some of them fainted, some cried, and many shook their heads and whispered, "Unglaublich!" (Unbelievable). They could not understand how the prisoners could have starved to death since the townspeople had regularly sent food packages to the camp. The former camp guards and officers were forced to handle the bodies, and the townspeople, dressed in their Sunday best, had to haul the 2,400 corpses to the nearby cemetary for proper burial.
After liberation the camp became site of the Dachau Trials; a prison where Nazi guards, SS officers, and collaborators were held awaiting their trial. Thereafter, it was a place where Germans expelled from the former conquered territories were held while awaiting resettlement. It was finally closed in 1960 and became a memorial at the request of the people of the town and former inmates to remind the visitors of the atrocities and crimes. And to insure that these heinous crimes should never again occur.
"Work sets you free"
Guard Tower & Fence
To Honor the Dead