Concentration Camp Dachau

Concentration camp Dachau (Konzentrationslager Dachau)

Concentration camp Dachau was the first major concentration camp in Germany and officially opened on the 22nd of March 1933. This was just a few weeks after Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor. The camp is located northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria. KZ Dachau was set up to house political prisoners. The capacity was initially approx. 5,000 prisoners. The camp at first stood under the administration of the Bavarian State Police, but on the 10th of April 1933 the SS took over the administration of the camp.

The first commandant of the camp was SS-Standartenführer Hilmar Wäckerle. Wäckerle, under orders from Himmler established 'special' rules for dealing with prisoners. These special rules instituted terror as a way of life at the camp. His initiatives included execution of prisoners for 'violent insubordination' and 'incitement to disobedience'. After only a few months Himmler had Wäckerle replaced. This was due to complaints and criminal proceedings following the murder of several detainees under the disguise as punishment. Himmler had Wäckerle replaced by Theodor Eicke. Eicke became commandant of KZ Dachau on the 26th of June 1933. Eicke requested a permanent unit and Himmler granted the request; the SS-Wachverbände (Guard Unit) was formed

In January 1934 Eicke started to reorganize the camp. He created a system that was used as a model for future camps throughout Germany. He established new guarding provisions, which included rigid discipline, total obedience to orders, and tightened disciplinary and punishment regulations for detainees. Uniforms were issued for prisoners and guards alike; the guards' uniforms had a special death's head insignia on their collars.

Eicke detested weakness and instructed his men that any SS man with a soft heart should "...retire at once to a monastery". Eicke's anti-semitism and anti-bolshevism as well as his insistence on unconditional obedience towards him, the SS and Hitler made an impression on Himmler. In May 1934, Eicke claimed the title of Concentration Camps Inspector for himself.

In July 1934 Himmler officially named Eicke chief of the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager (Concentration Camps Inspectorate or CCI) and promoted him to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer in command of the SS-Wachverbände.

In his role as CCI, Eicke began a large reorganization of the camps in 1935. Smaller camps were dismantled and new larger camps were opened, like Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. These new camps were all based on Eick's model introduced in Dachau. All SS camps' regulations, both for guards and prisoners, followed the Dachau camp model.

In 1935 Dachau became the training center for the concentration camps service. On the 29th of March 1936 the concentration camp guards and administration units were officially designated as the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV). Eicke's reorganizations and the introduction of forced labour made the camps one of the SS's most powerful tools; this earned him the enmity of Reinhard Heydrich, who had already unsuccessfully attempted to take control of the Dachau concentration camp in his position as chief of the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). Eicke prevailed with support from Himmler.

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On arriving at the Dachau site the first thing that one will note is one of the guard towers:

Concentration Camp Dachau

On entering the KZ complex one sees the entrance building "Jourhaus" with the gates and on the gates the well known words "Arbeit macht frei"

Concentration Camp Dachau

The gatehouse "Jourhaus" was the office building of the SS. Through the gate of the building the newly arriving prisoners were forced into the KZ complex. From this building the SS guards controlled access to the camp, the alarm system and the power supply for the electrified camp fence. The building also housed the interrogation rooms of the Gestapo and the offices of the block and report leaders. These were all located on the ground floor. Located on the first floor of the building were the offices of the preventive custody camp leaders. The preventive custody camp leaders were responsible for the running of the prisoner camp. Prisoners that were accused by the SS of violating the camp rules were interrogated here and sentences to corporeal punishment or torture.

Concentration Camp Dachau

Through the gates seen on the photo above, newly arriving prisoners were forced onto the KZ complex. On entering the complex one walks onto the “roll call” area as seen on the photo below:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The prisoners of the KZ had to assemble on the roll call area every morning and every evening for roll call. The roll call was carried out everyday regardless of the weather. Prisoners were forced to stand to attention for about an hour. Sometimes even the dead had to be dragged onto the roll call area to be counted. If, for example, the number of prisoners did not match the official head-count because of an attempted escape, this standing to attention act could go on for many hours. It was no exception that the weak and sick prisoners collapsed during roll call. It was not allowed to help out other prisoners. The SS carried out punishments on the roll call area for all prisoners to see. In the last few months of the camp, before liberation, large transports of pensioners arrived and were brought first to the roll call are. Many sick and exhausted prisoners died here.

Behind the roll call area where the prisoner barracks. The barracks were demolished but two barracks have been reconstructed in 1965 and are open to visitors. The barracks went through interior changes through the years. The camp area consisted of 69 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. Below a photo of the reconstructed barrack “A”

Concentration Camp Dachau

As mentioned above the interior of the barracks changed during the years they were in use and the reconstructed barracks show the interiors during 1933, 1937 and 1944. Below a photo of the living quarters in the reconstructed barrack “A”:

Concentration Camp Dachau

This photo below shows the sleeping quarters of the reconstructed barrack “A”:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Moving towards the Camp Prison and Prison Courtyard a guard tower:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The prison courtyard with on the left the former maintenance building and on the right the former camp prison (bunker):

Concentration Camp Dachau

In the back one can see the wall that was used for executions by firing squad. The prison courtyard was built in 1937-1938. In this courtyard the SS carried out the camp punishments called “the trestle” and “pole-hanging” also the executions to place here. Soviet prisoners of war, resistance fighters and members of the SS who had been condemned to death were executed here. From 1943 on the SS did most executions in the are around the crematorium. This area will be addressed a little later. The prison courtyard was divided into several “areas”. This photo was taken from “Entrance gate” the other areas are described as they as nothing reminds them that they were there. As mentioned this photo is taken from the gate with on the left the maintenance building and the prison on the right, approximately half way would have been the area used for “Pole-hanging” and corporal punishment, a little further would have been a dividing wall that would split up the courtyard, a little further to the back would have been a dividing wall that would divide the courtyard from the execution yard and at the end the execution wall. A very simple plan I have drawn to give an idea:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Below are a few photo's of the inside of the prison building.

The hallway of the prison:

Concentration Camp Dachau

One of the cells:

Concentration Camp Dachau

A cell door:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The execution wall that was used for firing squad execution:

Concentration Camp Dachau

A front view of the former maintenance building:

Concentration Camp Dachau

A photo of the “camp road” with on the left and right the markers showing where the barracks used to be. At the end one can see the “maintenance building” and the two reconstructed barracks.

Concentration Camp Dachau

Prisoners would march along the camp road every morning to roll call and every evening after they returned to their barracks. The road lined with poplars was the central meeting place for the prisoners, where they could meet up with friends from other barracks, and exchange information in the few free hours they had. It was A symbol of the solidarity between de prisoners which developed despite the violence.

At the back of the KZ complex are the two crematoria. A small bridge connects the camp with the crematoria area. The area is entered through a gate:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The gate road takes you to the largest of the two crematoria:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The large crematorium (also known as “Barrack X”) was build between May 1942 and April 1943. It had two purposes one being a killing facility and the other removing the dead. It should be noted that the gas chamber in the middle of the building was not used for mass murder. However, survivors have testified that the SS did murder individual prisoners and small groups here using poison gas.

At the front of the building are the disinfection chambers:

Concentration Camp Dachau

These chambers were used to disinfect clothing using the well known prussic acid gas known as Zyklon B. A canister of Zyklon B was placed inside and opened after the chamber was sealed and closed. The was a ventilator in the attic above each chamber to ventilate the chamber afterwards. Next to the disinfection chambers is the entrance to the crematorium building. The first room after passing the entrance is the waiting room which can be seen on the photo below on the left:

Concentration Camp Dachau

In the waiting room the victims where to be informed on the use of the “supposed” showers.

Next to the waiting room is the disrobing room:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The disrobing room is the room where the victims were to leave their clothes before entering the gas chamber disguised as a showers. The clothes of the victims were brought to the disinfection chambers before the next group could enter the room. Next to the disrobing room is the gas chamber, on the photo above the word “Brausebad” can be read which is German for shower.

Concentration Camp Dachau

The inside of the gas chamber:

Concentration Camp Dachau

The room was disguised as a shower and equipped with fake shower heads to mislead the victims and prevent them from refusing to enter the room. During a period of 15 to 20 minutes up to 150 people at a time could be suffocated to death through the prussic acid poison gas knows as Zyklon B.

The room next to the gas chamber was death chamber 1. This crematorium had two death chambers, one at the back of the building as well. Death chamber 1:

Concentration Camp Dachau

This room is where the dead were to be brought before they were cremated.

Next to Death Chamber 1 is the incinerator room and execution site:

Concentration Camp Dachau

This crematorium had 4 furnaces which could cremate two to three corpses at once. The furnaces were connected to the chimney by an underground canal.

Concentration Camp Dachau

The incinerator room was used as execution site as well. Most hangings were carried out here. Victims were hanged directly in front of the burning ovens.

Behind the incinerator room were the offices of the SS work detail leader (SS-Kommandofuhrer), the living quarters of the prisoner work detail and the garage.

Next to the incinerator room was Death Chamber 2:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Corpses from the prisoner camp that needed to be cremated where brought and stored here.

The old Crematorium:

Concentration Camp Dachau

This crematorium was the first of the two crematorium of KZ Dachau and built in the summer of 1940, after the foreign prisoners arrived and the mortality rate greatly increased. After only a year it was already working beyond it's capacity. Till April 1943 this crematorium was in use and during this period approximately 11.000 prisoners were cremated here.

The 2 incinerators of the old crematorium:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Memorial before entering the crematorium area:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Memorial plaque in the incinerator room of the larger crematorium:

Concentration Camp Dachau

Two other memorials located on the crematorium area:

Concentration Camp Dachau
Concentration Camp Dachau