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Concentration Camps: Timeline of Dachau

March 20, 1933 - Dachau Opens - Heinrich Himmler, SS leader and chief of the Munich police, announces the opening of the Dachau concentration camp. The camp is located about 10 miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany. Dachau is one of the first concentration camps the Nazis establish. The first prisoners arrive two days later. They are mainly Communists and Socialists and other political opponents of the Nazi party. Dachau is the only camp to remain in operation from 1933 until 1945.

May 25, 1933 - Dachau Exempted from Judicial Authority - Late in the night the SS kills a Dachau camp prisoner, Sebastian Nefzger, a schoolmaster from Munich. The SS reports the death as a suicide. However, an autopsy reveals that suffocation or strangulation was the probable cause of death. The public prosecutor in Munich, therefore, charges camp commandant Hilmar Waeckerle and other SS officials in the camp with murder. The public controversy will force Himmler to remove Waeckerle from his post. Adolf Hitler will order an end to all legal proceedings resulting from deaths in Dachau. All concentration camps will be formally removed from judicial oversight and the SS will have unlimited authority over camp prisoners.

October 1, 1933 - Punishment and Administration Regulations - Theodor Eicke, the new commandant of Dachau, issues camp regulations for prisoners and guards under his command. The orders prescribe severe punishments, including systematic beatings and execution, for infractions of camp rules. Eicke imposes the death penalty on prisoners for acts of sabotage, attempted escape, and political agitation in the camp. Eicke's system of punishments and administration will become the model for all concentration camps under the administration of the SS.

August 15, 1938 - Dachau Camp Expanded - Dachau camp prisoners complete the construction of an SS military training base and an expansion of the Dachau concentration camp. Prisoners demolished the original concentration camp and the old World War I era munitions factory in 1937 to make way for the expansion. The SS required prisoners to work at double speed seven days a week to complete the expanded camp.

November 9, 1938 - Kristallnacht Arrests - During the nationwide Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom, Himmler orders the summary arrest of about 30,000 Jews and their incarceration in three concentration camps: Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen. In the arrests during Kristallnacht, Jews are often dragged off the street or from their homes with few belongings. Almost 11,000 Jews are deported to Dachau in the aftermath of the pogrom.

September 27, 1939 - Conversion to Armed Forces Training Camp - The SS completes the transfer of all prisoners in Dachau to the Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Flossenbuerg camps. The facilities at Dachau are temporarily converted for use by the Waffen-SS, which sets up and begins training the Death's-Head Division. The Death's-Head Division is an elite combat unit initially made up of recruits from concentration camp guards. The Dachau concentration camp will resume operations in February 1940.

September 3, 1941 - SS Doctors begin Selections of Prisoners - SS doctors arrive at Dachau to begin the regular selection of prisoners they judge to be too ill or weak to work. These prisoners will be transferred to Hartheim and killed there. Hartheim, in Austria, is a killing site where medical staff gas concentration camp prisoners as part of an operation code-named "Special Treatment 14f13." From January 1942 until November 1944, SS doctors will select more than 3,000 Dachau prisoners to be killed at Hartheim.

November 15, 1941 - Soviet POWS in Dachau - The SS Inspectorate of Concentration Camps authorizes the postponement of the execution of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) in Dachau and other concentration camps if SS doctors attest to their suitability for work. In light of the severe labor shortages in Germany the SS decides to alter the Commissar Order, which required the execution of Soviet political commissars and other officials. The German army turned tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners over to the SS for execution. Even though the SS drafts some Soviet prisoners for forced labor, it continues executing Soviet POWs at Dachau until September 1944. More than 6,000 Soviet POWs will be transferred to Dachau between the fall of 1941 and March 1942 and shot on the rifle range in Herbertshausen, north of the camp.

March 17, 1942 - Crematorium Site Chosen - Dachau camp officials report on the site selected for the construction of a new crematorium building called Barrack X at Dachau. The site proposed is a small wooded area immediately outside the camp. By the spring of 1943, construction will be completed and the four large crematoria ovens included in the project will begin operation. The SS Economic-Administrative Main office, which oversees construction at concentration camps, ordered the construction of a gas chamber in Barrack X, but there is no surviving evidence that this facility was ever used.

June 3, 1942 - Polish Priests Deported to Dachau - Almost 60 Polish priests and monks arrive at Dachau from the Auschwitz camp in occupied Poland. More than 2,700 clergy, mostly Catholic clergy from occupied Poland, are incarcerated in Dachau during the camp's existence. The Germans attempt to undermine the leadership of the Catholic Church in Poland as part of their plan to Germanize occupied Poland. The SS holds Catholic clergy together in Barrack 26, the so-called "Priest Barracks" in Dachau.

October 3, 1942 - Medical Experiments Conducted on Prisoners - SS doctor Sigmund Rascher reports to Heinrich Himmler that he has nearly concluded his freezing experiments on prisoners in Dachau. Rascher experimented with methods of reviving prisoners after they had been forced to remain in a tank of ice water for hours. The German air force wishes to find better methods of reviving pilots whose planes go down over cold water. To this end, about 300 prisoners were used against their will as test subjects. About one-third of them die as a result. Rascher and other SS doctors perform numerous dangerous medical experiments on prisoners at Dachau. These include high-altitude, malaria, and medication experiments.

January 26, 1943 - Typhus Epidemic - In an attempt to contain a typhoid epidemic in the camp, SS authorities quarantine Dachau. All forced labor by concentration camp prisoners outside the camp is stopped. The quarantine will remain in effect until March. Almost 1,000 prisoners die during this outbreak.

January 15, 1945 - SS Reports Prisoner Statistics - SS authorities report that the number of prisoners in Dachau exceeds 55,000, including more than 2,000 women. During the war, forced labor using concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in German armaments production. As a result, the Dachau camp system expanded to include more than 30 large subcamps concentrated mainly around armaments industries in southern Germany and northern Austria.

April 26, 1945 - Death March to Tegernsee - Just three days before the liberation of the Dachau camp, the SS forces about 7,000 prisoners on a death march from Dachau south to Tegernsee. During the six-day death march, the SS shoots anyone who cannot keep up or continue marching. Many others die of exposure, hunger, or exhaustion. The surviving prisoners will arrive in Tegernsee on May 2, 1945, where American forces liberate them.

April 29, 1945 - US Forces Liberate Camp - American forces liberate the Dachau concentration camp. As they neared the camp, they found more than 30 coal cars filled with decomposing bodies at Dachau. American soldiers discover more than 30,000 prisoners in the camp. There were more than 200,000 registered prisoners during the history of the camp. Of these, more than 30,000 died. Because thousands more prisoners arrived and died in the camp without being registered, the total number of victims remains unknown.

Sources: USHMM