Dachau was the first Concentration Camp to be created within the Nazi regime. Shortly after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the camp was established to contain political prisoners, such as Communists, Social Democrats and Trade Unionists. Created on the site of an ex-munitions factory outside Munich, Germany, people imprisoned in Dachau were used as slave labour to expand the camp complex. Dachau eventually had various sub-camps, and served as a training ground for Nazi military personnel, particularly the SS ‘Deaths Head’ unit.

The creation of Dachau also necessitated changing the law. In May 1933, following the death of a prisoner at Dachau, Adolf Hitler ruled concentration camps officially exempt from judicial oversight. This placed the SS in complete control of all aspects of running the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

The first prisoners to arrive at Dachau Concentration Camp in March 1933 came from Germany, and were mostly political prisoners. Initially political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies and homosexuals were the main groups held in Dachau. However, by the end of its operation thousands of Jewish people had been held at and murdered at the site. Following the November Pogrom (Kristallnacht) in 1938, around 10,000 Jewish men were deported to Dachau. Polish people and Gypsy population from Poland were deported to the camp, and thousands of Soviet Prisoners of War.

On arrival at Dachau, every person had their clothes and possessions removed, their head shaved and was given the blue and grey striped uniform to wear. People held in the camp were issued with identification numbers, as well as a badge of identification which denoted what category of prisoner they were. Arrivals then faced a selection process in which people deemed strong enough to work were sent for use as slave labour, people deemed unsuitable were sent to Hartheim Castle where they were murdered.

The Camp Complex

Dachau Concentration camp was split into two sections, the Camp area and the Crematoria area. People were not gassed at Dachau, they would be sent to the Hartheim Killing Centre, where they were murdered on arrival.

There were 32 barracks in the camp area, as well as administration, a kitchen, laundry block, showers and workshops. There was a prison block in this area too; the space between the prison and kitchen was used for executions. In order to prevent prisoners from trying to escape, the Camp area was surrounded by barbed wire fences which had been electrified and seven guard towers.

People were used as forced labour on construction projects, building roads, working in gravel pits and draining marsh land. By 1944 people were also used to create a large amount of sub-camps within the Dachau camp complex. Slave labour was used to build and then work factories aiding the Nazi war effort, around 30,000 people worked in armament factories in the Dachau sub-camps. The combination of unsanitary living conditions, inadequate food and water, and exhaustion from forced labour murdered around 10,000 Jewish people by 1944. Diseases such as Typhus also cost thousands of lives.

The camp area also contained a building used for unethical medical experiments. These medical experiments were carried out on people held in Dachau by SS Doctor Sigmund Rascher, and Professor Klaus Schilling. Experiments included infecting people with diseases such as malaria, giving people hypothermia, use of a decompression chamber, bleeding, and testing experimental medicines. The experiments caused extreme suffering, and surviving subjects were taken to Hartheim Killing Centre to be murdered when they were no longer useful.

The Crematoria Area

The Crematoria area was created in 1942, on a site next to the main camp. As well as two crematoria, there was also a gas chamber named Barack X. Although the gas chamber was built on the site, it was not used; any individual that was selected to be unfit for forced labour was sent to Hartheim Castle which acted as a euthanasia centre. People were murdered at Dachau by firing squad or by hanging. The remains of these people were then sent to the crematoria.


In the late stages of the Second World War, many other concentration camps began transporting their prisoners to Dachau. This significantly exacerbated the already horrific conditions within Dachau. As Allied forces approached Berlin, overcrowding, starvation, and disease ravaged the camp. The SS guards began to move people out of Dachau on April 26, 1945, towards Tegernsee Concentration Camp, in the south of Germany. Of the 67,665 prisoners registered to Dachau, 7,000 were forced to march away from the concentration camp complex. Most individuals that marched were Jewish; exposure, hunger and exhaustion murdered many of the people sent to Tegernsee. Those that became too weak to march were shot.

The American Army liberated Dachau Concentration camp on April 29, 1945. On route to the camp they found railway cars filled with thousands of bodies. On arriving at the camp many individuals were already dead. The Americans discovered over 60,000 people, over 188,000 people had been in Dachau during its operation. There were still many people who were not registered at the camp, and as a result the final number of people murdered at Dachau Concentration camp will remain unknown.


There were a number of Commandants at Dachau, the first of which was Hilmar Wackerle. Theodor Eicke became the second Commandant at Dachau in June 1933, and was instrumental in the use of Dachau as a ‘model’ for all future concentration camps. Eicke led the operation of the SS ‘Deaths Head’ unit, who were trained to be brutal and merciless. Heinrich Deubel succeeded Eicke, although he was not a favourite amongst the leadership of the Nazi regime. Several other SS Officers acted as Camp Commandant of Dachau, the final on being Martin Weiss. Weiss was Commandant at the time of Dachau’s liberation, he was tried for his crimes and sentenced to death by an American Military Tribunal.


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