|First World War||Second World War||The Cold War|
Germany's first concentration camp was opened at Dachau, a village a few miles from Munich. Theodor Eicke was placed in charge of the first camp and eventually took overall control of the system. The camp was staffed by members of the SS Death's Head units.
Originally called re-education centres the Schutzstaffel (SS) soon began describing them as concentration camps. They were called this because they were "concentrating" the enemy into a restricted area. Hitler argued that the camps were modeled on those used by the British during the Boer War.
By 1943 Dachau controlled a vast network of camps stretching into Austria. Although not an extermination camp, a large number of inmates were murdered. Others died during medical experiments. Prisoners at Dachau included Leon Blum, Martin Niemoller, Kurt von Schuschnigg, Franz Halder and Hjalmar Schacht.
(1) Manchester Guardian (1st May, 1945)
The capture of the notorious concentration camp near Dachau, where approximately 32,000 persons were liberated, was announce in yesterday's S.H.A.E.F. communiqué. Three hundred S.S. guards at the camp were quickly overcome it said.
A whole battalion of Allied troops was needed to restrain the prisoners from excesses. Fifty railway trucks crammed with bodies and the discovery of gas chambers, torture rooms, whipping posts, and crematoria strongly support report which had leaked out of the camp.
An Associated Press correspondent with the Seventh Army says that many of the prisoners seized the guards' weapons and revenged themselves on the SS men. Many of the well-known prisoners, it was said, had been recently removed to a new camp in the Tyrol.
Prisoners with access to the records said that 9,000 died of hunger and disease, or were shot in the past three months and 4,000 more perished last winter.
(2) Martha Gellhorn was with the United States troops that liberated Dachau in 1945. She later wrote about it in her book The Face of War (1959)
I have not talked about how it was the day the American Army arrived, though the prisoners told me. In their joy to be free, and longing to see their friends who had come at last, many prisoners rushed to the fence and died electrocuted. There were those who died cheering, because that effort of happiness was more than their bodies could endure. There were those who died because now they had food, and they ate before they could be stopped, and it killed them. I do not know words to describe the men who have survived this horror for years, three years, five years, ten years, and whose minds are as clear and unafraid as the day they entered.
I was in Dachau when the German armies surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. We sat in that room, in that accursed cemetery prison, and no one had anything more to say. Still, Dachau seemed to me the most suitable place in Europe to hear the news of victory. For surely this war was made to abolish Dachau, and all the other places like Dachau, and everything that Dachau stood for, and to abolish it for ever.