On the site of a defunct munitions factory by Dachau, Heinrich Himmler, the Chief
of police of Munich, established a Concentration camp in 1933, where those who opposed
national socialism could be brought together or "concentrated". It became the first
concentration camp, which was a new concept that sowed fear in the German public.
An ugly word, which would become the hallmark of nazidom.
On March 23, 1933 the first prisoners arrived in the old brick barracks of the factory.
Almost nobody has any idea what Himmler's plans are for the camp. Initially he received
approval and admiration from his colleagues, the Chiefs of Police of the new Germany.
But soon messages of mistreatment leak to the outside world.
In May 1933, the public Ministry in Munich investigated the death of four prisoners.
It is clear they were not natural deaths; the four succumbed to torture of the guards.
The Public Ministry asks the Department of Justice of Bavaria to investigate and
lodge a complaint against the Commander of the camp, Wackerle.
Himmler chooses the easy way out and fires his Commander. He does think however,
that enough is enough and that due to "state political reasons", the investigation
should be dropped. When the Bavarian cabinet rejects Himmler's suggestion, Himmler
denies the Public Ministry access to the camp: "The latest attempt of the Public
Ministry to gather evidence, shows that they are attempting to use shady methods,
with the intent of falsely accusing the Concentration camp of crimes".
In the camp, all evidence of torture is eradicated; in September 1933, the Minister
of Justice has to give up his investigation. However, Himmler needs a new Commander.
He finds Theodor Eicke, a deranged policeman, in a psychiatric clinic. "Papa Eicke"
remains grateful to Himmler until the end of his life. This benevolent nickname is
misleading. Eicke, who is from Elsace, is filled with resentment; which is the result
of a career that constantly ran aground. He is a misfit of society, who can only
hope to achieve a career with the SS, under the auspices of National Socialism. In
June 1933 he becomes Commander of Dachau. There he finds a like-minded staff - losers
like him, full of hatred against society, a hatred which is taken out on the prisoners.
If one of them had a remnant of decency or good heartedness left, he is hardened
fast in the hands of Eicke. "Any type of pity with these enemies of the state is
unworthy of an SS-man. There is no room for softies, they should retreat into a monastery
as soon as possible".
He is stern with his guards, which spells disaster for the prisoners. The most notorious
camp punishments are invented by him: beatings, solitary confinement, starvation,
hangings on trees and more, all punishments the guards executed with gusto. Himmler
is so enthusiastic over Eicke's approach, that within a year, he names him the head
of all Concentration camp Troops and inspector of all concentration camps.
In 1942 Berlin decided that handicapped people should go to Dachau to recuperate.
They were left alone for a few weeks, did not have to report for roll-call and usually
did not have to report for work.
That was the intension, however the selections started again soon.
Towards the middle of 1944 this pattern changed. As a result of the Russian push
in the east and the allies in the west, camps everywhere were cleaned out and the
prisoners were brought to Dachau. The camp could not handle the tremendous influx
and therefore became grossly overpopulated.
Picture from the air for the entire Dachau complex at the beginning of May 1945,
made by the American Air Force.
In the foreground the barracks of the guards, the business that was exploited by
the SS and the crematorium. In the middle the concentration camp with all its buildings.
In the background the "Plantation".