Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners, organized by Hermann Goering. It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory southeast of the medieval town of Dachau, about 16 km (10 mi) northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, in southern Germany. Opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, its purpose was enlarged to include forced labour, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, ordinary German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded. The Dachau camp system grew to include nearly 100 sub-camps, which were mostly work camps or “Arbeitskommandos,” and were located throughout southern Germany and Austria. The camps were liberated by U.S. forces in the spring of 1945.
Prisoners lived in constant fear of brutal treatment and terror detention including standing cells , floggings, the so-called tree of pole hanging and standing at attention for extremely long periods. There were 32.000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands that are undocumented. Pole hanging or Strappado is a form of torture in which the victim’s hands are first tied behind his or her back and suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to wrists, which most likely dislocates both arms. Weights may be added to the body to intensify the effect and increase the pain.
On 14 April 1945, Himmler ordered the evacuation of the camp and the extermination of all inmates at Dachau, writing, “No prisoners shall be allowed to fall into the hands of the enemy alive.” Approximately 10.000 of the 30.000 prisoners were sick at the time of liberation.
Owing to repeated transports 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 the prisoners held at KZ Dachau. Five hundred Soviet POWs were executed by firing squad. The first shipment of women came from Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Though at the time of liberation the death rate had peaked at 200 per day, after the liberation by U.S. forces the rate eventually fell to between 50 and 80 deaths per day. In addition to the direct abuse of the SS and the harsh conditions, people died from typhus epidemics and starvation. The number of inmates had peaked in 1944 with transports from evacuated camps in the east (such as Auschwitz), and the resulting overcrowding led to an increase in the death rate.
American 45th Division forces liberated Dachau — the first of the Nazi concentration camps, and one of the largest — and discovered boxcars full of corpses, along with 32,000 living inmates whose condition was not much better. 200 liberated children under 16 who had been taken to a nearby monastery after being rescued. Aid workers, trying to nurse them back to health through good nutrition, were stymied by the psychological wounds that couldn’t be healed with food. Older children couldn’t stop talking, frantically telling and retelling the stories of how they had stoked crematorium fires and cut down the bodies of the hanged. Infants and toddlers, too, had suffered much more than near-starvation.
The Dachau liberation reprisals were a series of incidents in which German prisoners of war were killed at the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, during WW2. American soldiers wounded and killed German camp guards and German prisoners of war. The killings occurred after the U.S. 45th Infantry Division entered the Dachau concentration camp complex. Approximately 32.000 prisoners were liberated; 300 SS camp guards were quickly neutralized.”
American eyewitness doctor David Wilsey first-hand account of how he saw Dachau’s SS guards being tortured and shot dead by GIs in ‘cold blood’ because they ‘so had it coming’
Abram Sachar reported, “Some of the Nazis were rounded up and summarily executed along with the guard dogs.” According to Jürgen Zarusky 16 SS men were shot in the coalyard (one more killed by a camp inmate), 17 in Tower B, and perhaps a few more killed by U.S. soldiers in the incident. Anywhere from a few to 25 or 50 more were killed by furious inmates.
In the post-war years the Dachau facility served to hold SS soldiers awaiting trial. After 1948, it held ethnic Germans who had been expelled from eastern Europe and were awaiting resettlement, and also was used for a time as a United States military base during the occupation. It was finally closed for use in 1960.
There are several religious memorials
within the Memorial Site, which is open to the public.