March 22, 1933: Dachau concentration camp opens.
Dachau concentration camp, located in the southern German state of Bavaria, was completed and opened less than two months after Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor or Germany, making it the earliest built of the Nazi concentration camps. The construction of Dachau took place amidst the Nazis’ consolidation of power in the German government (and very soon over all aspects of German life), and its initial purpose was to suppress any potential opponents of the new regime - political prisoners, often communists and social democrats. Later, the camp’s prisoner population came to include common criminals and religious dissidents; in 1935, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals arrived as prisoners to Dachau; in 1938, after the annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland, 11,000 Jews were deported to the camp; and throughout the war, more prisoners from all across Europe came to Dachau. In 1939 its prisoners were relocated to Buchenwald, but by 1944 thousands of people had been packed together into this overcrowded, disease-ridden camp.
As the first camp to be established by the Nazis, Dachau served as the model for later concentration camps and a testing ground for techniques that would be used at those other sites. Theodor Eicke was made commandant of the camp in June of 1933, and it was he more than anyone who devised the system and regulations of Dachau and most later Nazi camps. His Lagerordnung served as the camps’ disciplinary code, laying out the various punishments, ranging from hard time to flogging to death, to be doled out to prisoners who violated dress codes or attempted to agitate revolt. Although distinct from the extermination camps of Poland, whose main purpose was to kill as many people as possible as efficiently as possible, Dachau claimed thousands of lives due to poor sanitation, starvation, overworking, outbreaks of typhus, and other factors.
Dachau, its subsidiary camps, and the approximately 60,000 people imprisoned within them were liberated in April of 1945 by American soldiers, who, after seeing the horrific conditions of the camps and the railroad cars piled high with bodies, killed a number of German guards. In May, the 7,000 prisoners (mostly Jews) who had been forced by their guards on a death march to Tegernsee were also liberated.