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American troops guard the main entrance to Dachau just after liberation.


Dachau concentration camp ( ) was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany, located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachaumarker, about 16 km (10 miles) northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria which is located in southern Germany.

Opened in March 1933, it 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."

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, and as early as 1935 there were jingles warning:
"Dear God, make me dumb,
that I may not to Dachau come."


Its basic organization, camp layout as well as the plan for the buildings 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.

In total, over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries were housed in Dachau 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 followed by an evacuation, in which large numbers of the weaker prisoners died.

Together with the much larger Auschwitzmarker, 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 the Western world was exposed to the reality of Nazi brutality through firsthand journalist accounts and through newsreels.

Organization

Crematorium in operation
Aerial photo of the camp


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 SSmarker, using prisoner labor, initiated construction of a large complex of buildings on the grounds of the original camp. Prisoners were forced to do this work, starting with the destruction of the old munitions factory, under terrible conditions. 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.

Dachau also served as the central camp for Christian religious prisoners. According to records of the Catholic Church, at least 3,000 preachers, deacons, priests, and bishops were imprisoned there.

In August 1944 a women's camp opened inside Dachau. Its first shipment of women came from Auschwitz Birkenau. Only 19 women guards served at Dachau, most of them until liberation. Sources show the names of sixteen of the nineteen women guarding the camp; Fanny Baur, Leopoldine Bittermann, Ernestine Brenner, Anna Buck, Rosa Dolaschko, Maria Eder, Rosa Grassmann, Betty Hanneschaleger, Ruth Elfriede Hildner, Josefa Keller, Berta Kimplinger, Lieselotte Klaudat, Theresia Kopp, Rosalie Leimboeck, and Thea Miesl. Women guards were also staffed at the Augsburg Michelwerke, Burgau, Kauferingmarker, Mühldorf, and Munich Agfa Camera Werke subcamps. In mid-April 1945 many female subcamps at Kaufering, Augsburg and Munich closed, and the SS women stationed at Dachau. It is reported that female SS guards gave prisoners guns before liberation to save them from postwar prosecution.

In the last months of the war, the conditions at Dachau became even worse. As Allied forces advanced toward Germany, the Germans began to move prisoners in concentration camps near the front to more centrally located camps. They hoped to prevent the liberation of large numbers of prisoners. Transports from the evacuated camps arrived continuously at Dachau. After days of travel with little or no food or water, the prisoners arrived weak and exhausted, often near death. Typhus epidemics became a serious problem as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, insufficient provisions, and the weakened state of the prisoners.

Owing to continual new transportations from the front, the camp was constantly overcrowded and the hygiene conditions were beneath human dignity. Starting from the end of 1944 up to the day of liberation, 15,000 people died, about half of all victims in KZ Dachau. Five hundred Soviet POWs were executed by firing squad.

On 24 April 1945, about 140 prominent inmates, such as Leon Blum, Martin Niemöller, Dan Hartzman, and Franz Halder, were transferred to Tyrol, where the SSmarker left the prisoners behind. They were liberated by the Fifth U.S. Army on 5 May 1945 in Niederdorf, Italy.

On 27 April 1945, Victor Maurer, delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was allowed to enter camps and distribute food. In the evening of the same day a prisoner transport arrived from Buchenwaldmarker. Only 800 survivors were brought from the original 4,480 to 4,800 prisoners in transit. Over 2,300 corpses were left lying in and around the train. The last regular commander of the KZ, Obersturmbannführer Eduard Weiter, had fled on 26 April. He probably followed Obersturmbannführer Martin Gottfried Weiss, who had led the camp from September 1942 until November 1943.

On 28 April 1945, the day before the surrender, Camp Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss had left the Dachau camp, along with most of the regular guards and administrators in the camp. On that same day, Victor Maurer, a representative of the Red Cross, had tried to persuade Untersturmführer Johannes Otto, the adjutant of Commandant Weiss, not to abandon the camp, but to leave guards posted to keep the prisoners inside until the Americans arrived. Maurer feared that the prisoners would escape en masse and spread the active typhus fever epidemic. Lt. Otto declined to remain and fled.

Satellite camps and sub-camps

By 1944, Dachau had many satellite camps separate from the main camp, mostly to produce armaments. A website has been created at kaufering.com about the eleven "Kaufering" camps, but states there were as many as 200 "Sub camps". There is also a site, survivors-landsberg.com for an association of survivors of the camps. See also Kaufering concentration campmarker

Commanders



Other staff

  • Adolf Eichmann (29 January 1934 - October 1934) (Eichmann claimed that his unit had nothing to do with the concentration camp)
  • Rudolf Hoess (1934 - 1938)


Liberation

Bodies in the Dachau death train


On 29 April 1945, the watchtowers of the Dachau camp remained occupied and a white flag was hoisted. Red Cross representative Maurer persuaded SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker, an NCO in the SS-Totenkopfverbände, to accompany him to the main gate of the complex to surrender the camp formally.

Late in the afternoon of 29 April 1945, KZ Dachau was surrendered to the American Army by SS-Sturmscharführer Heinrich Wicker. A vivid description of the surrender appears in Brig. Gen. Henning Linden's official "Report on Surrender of Dachau Concentration Camp":

"As we moved down along the west side of the concentration camp and approached the southwest corner, three people approached down the road under a flag of truce.
We met these people about 75 yards north of the southwest entrance to the camp.
These three people were a Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander and assistant camp commander and that they had come into the camp on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular camp personnel for the purpose of turning the camp over to the advancing Americans.
The Swiss Red Cross representative acted as interpreter and stated that there were about 100 SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked except for the people in the tower.
He said he had given instructions that there would be no shots fired and it would take about 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 half-crazed prisoners of war in the camp, many of them typhus infected.
He asked if I were an officer of the American army, to which I replied, "Yes, I am Assistant Division Commander of the 42d Division and will accept the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the American army."


However, though the official surrender was presented to the commander of the 42nd Division, the 45th Division had arrived the day previous according to the official account by Lt. Col. Felix L. Sparks:

In the original order which I received to secure the camp, I was informed that our first battalion would relieve me at the camp in order that my task force could continue the attack into Munich. Late that afternoon, Company C arrived by truck and established various security posts. I then started moving Company I out of the camp in order to resume the attack into Munich with a full task force. Before I could again assemble the task force, I received an order that the tank battalion, less one company, was to be relieved of attachment to my task force. The 180th Infantry was encountering strong resistance in its sector, and the tanks were needed there. Sometime later, I received another order informing me that our first battalion would lead the attack into Munich the next day and that I was to relieve Company C at the concentration camp. I then dispatched Company L to relieve Company C. This relief was completed by about 10:00 p.m. that night.


The foregoing narrative includes all of the rifle companies which were in the Dachau concentration camp on the day of liberation, those being companies C, I and L. With these rifle companies were attachments from companies D and M, along with forward observer parties from the 158th Field Artillery. Small elements of other units were also there, namely a small patrol from the regimental I&R Platoon which was with Company I, and some personnel from the first and third battalion headquarters. There were some troops from the 42nd Infantry Division somewhere in the vicinity. Earlier that morning, Company I had reported that they were being fired upon by troops of the 42nd Division. This information was relayed to regimental headquarters with a request that the 42nd Division be informed that we were both on the same side."

Tablet dedicated to the 42nd Division.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, issued a communique over the capture of Dachau concentration camp: "Our forces liberated and mopped up the infamous concentration camp at Dachau. Approximately 32,000 prisoners were liberated; 300 SS camp guards were quickly neutralized."

A tablet at the camp commemorates the liberation of Dachau by the 42nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Seventh Army on 29 April 1945. Others claim that the first forces to enter the main camp were a battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division commanded by Felix L. Sparks. There is an on-going disagreement as to which division, the 42nd or the 45th, actually liberated Dachau because they seem to have approached by different routes and by the American Army's definition, anyone arriving at such a camp within 48 hours was a liberator.Albert Panebianco (ed). Dachau its liberation 57th Infantry Association, Felix L. Sparks, Secretary 15 June 1989. ( backup site) Cites a letter by James R. Bird to Joseph I. Lieberman General Patton visited the Buchenwald camp after it was liberated, but not Dachau.

The Americans found approximately 32,000 prisoners, crammed 1,600 to each of 20 barracks, which had been designed to house 250 people each.

Satellite camps

Prisoners' barracks in 1945
In one of the most ironic coincidences in the liberation of the sub-camps surrounding Dachau (which happened on the same day as the main camp's surrender on April 29) the advance scouts of the US Army's 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, a Nisei-manned segregated Japanese-American Allied military unit, liberated the 3,000 prisoners of the "Kaufering IV Hurlachmarker" slave labor camp, an especially ironic coincidence because of the US internment of Japanese Americans.

Perisco describes an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) team (code name LUXE) leading Army Intelligence to a "Camp IV" on April 29. "they found the camp afire and a stack of some four hundred bodies burning... American soldiers then went into Landsberg and rounded up all the male civilians they could find and marched them out to the camp. The former commandant was forced to lie amidst a pile of corpses. The male population of Landsberg was then ordered to walk by, and ordered to spit on the commandant as they passed. The commandant was then turned over to a group of liberated camp survivors"

Execution of camp guards

Moments after American soldiers executed SS troops in the coalyard at Dachau.
The American troops were so horrified by conditions at the camp that a few killed some of the camp guards after they had surrendered in what is called the Dachau massacre. The number massacred is disputed as some Germans were killed in combat, some were shot while attempting to surrender, and others were killed after their surrender was accepted. Felix L. Sparks, the commander of a battalion that captured the camp, has stated:
The total number of German guards killed at Dachau during that day most certainly does not exceed fifty, with thirty probably being a more accurate figure. The regimental records [of the 157th Infantry Regiment] for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau.
The "[American Army] Investigation of Alleged Mistreatment of German Guards at Dachau" found that about 15 Germans were killed (with another 4 or 5 wounded) after their surrender had been accepted. Two other reports collated years after the incident put the figure between 122 and 520 Germans murdered after their surrender had been accepted.

As a result of the American Army investigation court-martial, charges were drawn up against Sparks and several other men under his command but, as General George S. Patton (the then recently appointed military governor of Bavaria) chose to dismiss the charges, the witnesses to the massacre were never cross-examined in court and no one was found guilty.

U.S. troops also forced local citizens to the camp to see for themselves the conditions there and to help clean the facilities. Many local residents were shocked about the experience and claimed no knowledge of the activities at the camp .

Post-liberation Easter at Dachau

Liberated Dachau camp prisoners cheer U.S. troops


May 6 (April 23 on the Orthodox calendar) was the day of Pascha, Orthodox Easter. In a cell block used by Catholic priests to say daily Mass, several Greek, Serbian and Russian priests and one Serbian deacon, wearing makeshift vestments made from towels of the SS guard, gathered with several hundred Greek, Serbian and Russian prisoners to celebrate the Paschal Vigil. A prisoner named Rahr described the scene:

In the entire history of the Orthodox Church there has probably never been an Easter service like the one at Dachau in 1945.
Greek and Serbian priests together with a Serbian deacon adorned the make-shift 'vestments' over their blue and gray-striped prisoners' uniforms.
Then they began to chant, changing from Greek to Slavonic, and then back again to Greek.
The Easter Canon, the Easter Sticheras—everything was recited from memory.
The Gospel—In the beginning was the Word—also from memory.
And finally, the Homily of Saint John—also from memory.
A young Greek monk from the Holy Mountain stood up in front of us and recited it with such infectious enthusiasm that we shall never forget him as long as we live.
Saint John Chrysostomos himself seemed to speak through him to us and to the rest of the world as well!


Cheering crowds of liberated survivors.


There is a Russian Orthodox chapel at the camp today, and it is well known for its icon of Christ leading the prisoners out of the camp gates.

The U.S. 7th Army's version of the events of the Dachau Liberation is available in Report of Operations of the Seventh United States Army, Vol. 3, page 382.

After liberation

After liberation, the camp was used by the US Army as an internment camp. It was also the site of the Dachau Trials, a site chosen for its symbolism. In 1948 the Bavarian government established housing for refugees on the site, and this remained for many years.The Kaserne quarters and other buildings used by the guards and trainee guards served as an American military post for many years. It had its own elementary school: Dachau American Elementary School, a part of the Department of Defense dependent school system.Dachau is depicted as the setting for The Twilight Zone episode "Deaths-Head Revisited" in which a former Nazi captain revisits the place he once worked in and the ghosts of the men who died there.

The memorial site

Memorial at the camp in 1997
Between 1945 and 1948 when the camp was handed over to the Bavarian authorities, many accused war criminals and members of the SS were imprisoned at the camp.

Owing to the severe refugee crisis mainly caused by the expulsions of ethnic Germans, the camp was from late 1948 used to house 2000 Germans from Czechoslovakia (mainly from the Sudetenland). This settlement was called Dachau-East, and remained until the mid 1960s. During this time, former prisoners banded together to erect a memorial on the site of the camp, finding it unbelievable that there were still people (refugees) living in the former camp.

The display, which was reworked in 2003, takes the visitor through the path of new arrivals to the camp. Special presentations of some of the notable prisoners are also provided. Two of the barracks have been rebuilt and one shows a cross-section of the entire history of the camp, since the original barracks had to be torn down due to their poor condition when the memorial was built. The other 32 barracks are indicated by concrete foundations.

The memorial includes four chapels for the various religions represented among the prisoners.

The local government resisted designating the complete site a memorial. The former SS barracks adjacent to the camp are now occupied by the Bavarian Bereitschaftspolizei (rapid response police unit).

Notable prisoners of Dachau

The commemorative mass grave dedicated to the unknown dead at Dachau

Jewish political prisoners



Resistance fighters



Clergy

Dachau had a special "priest block." Of the 2720 priests (among them 2579 Catholic) held in Dachau, 1034 did not survive the camp. The majority were Polish (1780), of whom 868 died in Dachau.

Politicians

Never again written in several languages


Communists



Writers



Royalty



Others



Gallery

Image:Dachau-040.jpg|The camp courtyardImage:Dachau_Memorial_Multi_Language_Two.jpg|Memorial to the victims of Dachau (October 2007)Image:Dachau-001.JPG|Sign on the gravel road leading to the entranceImage:New_crem.jpg|New crematorium (picture taken on October 2007)Image:Old_crem.jpg|Original crematorium (picture taken on October 2007)Image:Dachau Krematorium.jpg|Crematorium at DachauImage:Dachau Krematorium sign.jpg|The sign outside the building Crematorium says in German: "Think about how we died here"Image:16JUN2005_Munich_054.jpg|Protestant Church of Reconciliation (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_053.jpg|Catholic Mortal Agony of Christ chapel (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_064.jpg|Jewish Memorial (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_044.jpg|Tower (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_079.jpg|Marker where barracks building #9 stood (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_089.jpg|View of roll-call area from one of the buildings (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_120.jpg|Prisoner bunks (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_122.jpg|Prisoner bunks (June 2005)Image:Dachau barracks.jpg|Triple bunks in the barracksImage:16JUN2005_Munich_126.jpg|Prisoner sinks (June 2005)Image:16JUN2005_Munich_128.jpg|Prisoner bathroom (June 2005)Image:KZ_Dachau_-_The_Bunker.jpg|The entrance and the northern part of the bunker (September 2007)Image:Dachau_Bunker.JPG|The east wing of the Prisoner's bunker, normally closed to visitors

See also



References

  • Buechner, Howard A., Dachau—The Hour of the Avenger, Thunderbird Press, ©1986, paperback, 159 pages, ISBN 0-913159-04-2, first published in 1986. LC Control Number: 87181873.
  • Kozal, Czesli W. Memoir of Fr. Czesli W. (Chester) Kozal, O.M.I. / translated from the Polish original by Paul Ischler. Private printing, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 2004, 175 pp. LC Control Number: 2004400050
  • Marcuse, Harold, Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933-2001, 600 pages, Cambridge University Press, 2001. more information
  • The Fighting Forty-Fifth: the Combat Report of an Infantry Division, compiled and edited by Lt. Col. Leo V. Bishop, Maj. Frank J. Glasgow, and Maj. George A. Fisher. Copyright 1946 by the 45th Infantry Division, printed by Army & Navy Publishing Co., Baton Rouge, LA. LC Control Number: 49051541.


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