Soon after Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Nazis established concentration camps to imprison political opponents of the regime and social and racial undesirables. One of the first concentration camps established was Dachau, located in southern Germany near Munich. Dachau opened on March 22, 1933. Dachau was the only camp created that year that remained in operation until 1945 and was the camp that would serve as the model for those that followed. In 1933, the camp had a capacity of 5,000 prisoners.
Located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory, Dachau was initially used to detain Communists, Social Democrats, and other political foes. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, dissenting clergymen, and homosexuals were also brought to Dachau. The first Jews confined at Dachau came as political opponents, and their numbers were small during the camp’s early years. After Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), more than 10,000 Jews from all over Germany were sent to Dachau. Most of the Jews picked up on Kristallnacht were released within a few months, especially those who could prove their intention to leave Germany. In the following years, thousands of Jews would be sent to Dachau.
Prisoners at Dachau were used as forced laborers, and some were victims of medical experiments. The camp served as a training center for SS concentration camp guards, and its organization and daily routine were replicated at other camps. Dachau had some 140 subcamps, located primarily in southern Bavaria. While there were gas chambers and crematoria at Dachau, there is no evidence that the gas chambers were used to murder prisoners.
The number of prisoners imprisoned in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 was more than 200,000. Between January 1940 and May 1945, more than 28,000 prisoners were killed in executions, medical experiments, and death marches. This number does not include those who died between 1933 and 1939.
Dachau was liberated by the U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division on April 29, 1945. There were some 30,000 starving prisoners in the camp. Just prior to the liberation of Dachau, at least 25,000 prisoners were sent on a death march. These prisoners were liberated in early May 1945, by the American army.