Dachau is a small town with about 40,000 inhabitants. In March 1933, the Nazis established a Concentration Camp in an old gunpowder factory which later became the first official Concentration Camp. The fact that Bavaria had a Nazi interior minister, Adolf Wagner, appointed in March 1933, made the establishment of the camp easier. When the concentration camps were reorganized in 1936, Dachau were kept while most other camps were dismantled and replaced with new ones. Nazis then began to imprison homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, priests, freemasons, prostitutes, Jews and all prisoners had to do hard work. Dachau was the first camp of Nazism to act as a model for all the other concentration camps that were established around Germany and Europe. At first Dachau had a capacity of 5000 prisoners, but in 1937 this proved to be insufficient and the camp was therefore expanded in 1938. The first prisoners to be held in Dachau were political prisoners. They were usually released after a few months or up to a year when the Nazis felt that they had been transformed into good citizens. After the war broke out, Dachau came to provide the entire southern German war industry with slave labor. In block 5, Dr Sigmund Rascher, conducted medical experiments on prisoners who were exposed to oxygen deprivation, salt water ingestion, starvation and hypothermia. The experiments were thoroughly documented. In the spring of 1942, adjacent to the camp, a crematorium with two ovens was built.

In the spring of 1943, a larger crematorium was built with six ovens next to the old one. The new crematorium was called Baracke X and consisted, in addition to the ovens, a gas chamber, a corpse room and a disinfection room for clothes.  Whether the SS used the gas chamber or not is still under discussion. According to the museum, it was not used. About 2.5 kilometers north of the camp in a village called Hebertshausen, the SS had a shooting range and there about 4,000 Soviet prisoners of war were shot. Auschwitz first commandant Rudolf Höss first served in Dachau and gained experience. It was also from his time in Dachau he got the idea of having the text, Arbeit macht frei, over the camp gate in Auschwitz. The camp was liberated by American forces on April 29, 1945. The barracks were burned down because of vermin and, like Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald, the liberation was filmed. According to Nazi documents, between 1933 and 1945, 206,000 prisoners were registered, but the figure is probably greater when prisoners arrived without being registered.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with museum (1997).

Address: Alte Römerstrasse 75, 85221 Dachau.

Get there: Commuter train to Dachau Station then bus to the museum.

My comment:

The prison camp (museum) was rather a small part of the camp. The whole city of Dachau was actually part of the concentration camp and there are several information boards that tells about these along the road between the station and the museum. An alternative to taking the bus to the museum is to walk (about 50 minutes) from the station to the museum and take part of this information. Several buildings belonging to the SS remain and the museum has also uncovered foundations after destroyed buildings, including the main entrance into the concentration camp area (not the entrance to the prison camp itself).

The local tourist office in Dachau tries to show that Dachau consists of more than just the first Nazi concentration camp. But the city will forever be associated with the first and one of the most famous Nazi concentration camps. Nowadays it is easy for western Europeans to travel to Poland and Auschwitz, but before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe it was not so easy. Dachau then became the best-preserved camp in Western Europe’s response to Auschwitz.

Follow up in books: Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (2006).