Dachua Concentration Camp Established

Prisoners in 1938

The Nazis arrested thousands of opponents of their regime including all of the leaders of Communist party as well a prominate Jewish leaders. There was not enough room in standard jails so the Nazis opened the Dachau Concentration Camp to hold political prisoners and Jews. Conditions were harsh and over the years an estimated 75,000 people died at Dachua. While the concentration camps were terrible places they should not be confused with the "Death Camps" later established by the Nazis in Poland, whose purpose was to kill those sent there. Killing in Dachua and other camps was merely a by product of the incarceration.

When the Nazis came to power, they began arresting political opponents and placing them in jails that soon became full and overcrowded. Heinrich Himmler became the police chief in Munich looked for a solution. He heard of an unused munitions factory outside the city at Dachau. After touring, the facility he concluded that it was suitable to hold large numbers of prisoners. On March 22, 1933, Dachau was officially opened.

Himmler announced the camp's opening in German media, stating that it would be able to hold up to 5,000 and it "would restore calm in Germany." The first deaths took place in the camp soon after its establishment. At the time, the Nazis did not have total control of the government. A member of Bavarian Ministers of Justice Josef Hartinger and a local medical examiner visited the camp to investigate. They discovered clear evidence of murder at the camp, and an official investigation was launched. The deaths stopped. But the investigation prompted Himmler to replace the commander of the camp with Theodore Eicke.

Eickle fired half the staff after reporting that the camp was disorganized and rife with corruption. He set down a strict set of rules and laid out punishment for all types of infractions. They ranged from hanging for discussing politics to solitary confinement caning and withholding mail for what were considered lesser offenses.

Inmates lived under a specific set of rules. Rudolf Hoss described the Eickles program:

"It was Eicke's intention that his SS-men, by means of continuous instruction and suitable orders concerning the dangerous criminality of the inmates, should be made basically ill-disposed towards the prisoners. They were to treat them rough, and to root out once and for all any sympathy they might feel towards them. By such means he succeeded in engendering in simple natured men a hatred and antipathy for the prisoners which an outsider will find hard to imagine."

Himmler was pleased with Eicke's accomplishments and put him in charge of all of the concentration camps in Germany.
Over time the make-up of the prisoners began to change. Many of the political prisoners were replaced by homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others. After Anschluss and annexations of Sudentnland, 10,000 Jewish prisoners were sent to the camp.
After Germany went to war with the Soviet Union, many Soviet prisoners were sent to Dachau, where they were often executed.

In total, there were 32,000 deaths at Dachau that were documented and more than twic as many are estimated to die there. When the camp was liberated in 1945, of the 30,000 prisoners, found 10,000 were deathly ill.