DACHAU, town near Munich, Bavaria, where the nearby concentration camp was established on March 10, 1933. It was the first of the *SS-organized concentration camps and became the model and training ground for all other camps when they were taken over by the SS in April 1933. The Dachau camp was established within 40 days of Hitler's ascent to power; it operated
until the day before he died, less than ten days before the end of the war, when it was captured by the Americans on April 29, 1945. During World War II, approximately 150 branches of the main camp established in southern Germany and Austria were also called "Dachau." The main camp consisted of 32 huts in two rows, surrounded by an electrified fence, in which there was a gate surmounted by the slogan Arbeit macht frei ("Labor Liberates"). The camp's first commandant was Theodor Eicke, who planned and organized the brutal Dachau regime. He later went on to become inspector general for all camps. It was at Dachau that permission was first given to the guards to shoot a prisoner approaching the barbed-wire fence, and this practice was encouraged by granting leave to guards who hit their target. Dachau produced commandants for other camps, including Rudolph *Hoess.
From the first, Dachau was used to incarcerate "enemies of the regime," trade unionists, and political opponents. The Nazis used Dachau as an execution site for the SA Storm Troopers caught in the 1934 purge. Later gypsies, German – and after 1938 Austrian – male homosexuals, and Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned there. As the Germans invaded countries, Dachau continued to serve a political function as political opponents were imprisoned there. The Jews who first came to Dachau were incarcerated for their opposition to the regime, not because they were Jewish. In fact, Jews were a distinct minority of the prisoners at Dachau though their percentage in the general population varied with the general conditions of Jews under the Third Reich. After the Anschluss (annexation) in March 1938, thousands of Austrian Jews were sent to Dachau. Eleven thousand were sent there from Germany and Austria in the wake of *Kristallnacht but nearly all of them were released if they could leave the country. No Jews were released, however, after the outbreak of World War II. Late in the war, the Jewish population again increased when Dachau received Jews on the death marches. The exact number of those who passed through Dachau is unknown. In the main camp 160,000 prisoners were registered on the files and about 90,000 in the camp's branches; but, during the last several days of the camp's existence, many transports of prisoners arrived which were not registered in the file. Some inmates remained in Dachau or one of its branches; others were sent further in "death transports"; most were murdered or died from starvation. Of the more than 200,000 prisoners at Dachau, at least 32,000 died of starvation and disease, many after the typhus epidemic that broke out during the extreme overcrowding in the winter of 1945.
It was at Dachau that German doctors and scientists first experimented on prisoners. Sigmund Rasher conducted experiments on decompression, high altitude, and freezing, ostensibly to find a way to help German fliers. Of the 200 inmates whom Rasher experimented upon, 4 in 10 died. Dr. Claus Schilling conducted malaria experimentation. Many died as a result of these pseudo-scientific experiments, and those who survived were often maimed for life. Dachau claimed many victims of want and starvation. From time to time there was also a "selection" in which the weak and crippled were sent to the gas chambers in other camps. Gas chambers were built in Dachau in 1942 but were never used. The exact number of people killed in Dachau is not known.
Dachau was used as a transit center. Mentally retarded and physically infirm Germans – whose Aryan status was never questioned – were incarcerated there and sent from there to Hartheim castle, where they were gassed as part of the "euthanasia operation." Jews were deported from Dachau to the death camps in German-occupied Poland, where they were subsequently gassed after "the Final Solution" became operational in 1942. In the waning hours of the camp, seven thousand Jews were forcibly evacuated from the camp in a planned death march. They were overtaken by American troops.
Prisoners were used for labor; at first the arrangement was local, but it was later consolidated by SS industries. The SS was paid for the laborers by German industries, particularly the armament industry. The prisoners were not paid.
As American troops approached Dachau on April 29, 1945, they found 30 coal cars filled with bodies, all in an advanced state of decomposition. The doors had been locked, and they were left to die. When Dachau was occupied by the American army, one of the uses made of the camp was for the concentration of German prisoners of war and war criminals, who were to be tried in the town of Dachau. The Americans tried 40 of the concentration camp officials; 36 were sentenced to death. Of the other war criminals, 260 were sentenced to death, and 498 to imprisonment. The camp was later a transit camp for refugees and foreign citizens freed from concentration camps. Part of the camp is preserved as a memorial.
E. Kupfer-Koberwitz, Die Maechtigen und die Hilflosen, 2 vols. (1957–60); Law Report of Trials of War Criminals, selected and prepared by the UN War Crimes Commission, 11 (1949), case no. 60, 5–17.
[Nachman Blumental /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.