Concentration Camp Dachau – The First Concentration Camp of Germany | Documentary

Concentration Camp Dachau – The First Concentration Camp of Germany | Documentary


The concentration camp Dachau was the first
concentration camp of Nazi Germany. It was established after the Reichstag fire
on the 27th and 28th February 1933. Within a few hours after the fire the Nazis
issued the so-called Reichstag Fire decree, which was a supposed “Emergency Decree”. This is usually considered one of the most
vital steps towards the dictatorship of the Nazis. Because the Nazis needed a means of getting
rid of the political opposition, they set up the concentration camp Dachau. The camp was located close to the town of
Dachau in southern Germany, 16km north of Munich. It was launched on the 10th of March, shortly
after Adolf Hitler became chancellor and was closed only ten days before the end of WWII. The concentration camp Dachau was guarded by the
SS, the major paramilitary organization under the Nazi Party. The first commander of the concentration camp Dachau, Hilmar Wäckerle
organized the killing of political opponents in the very early days of the camp, the first
ever victims were the Jews Rudolf Benario, Ernst Goldmann und Arthur Kahn. Since the Nazis had not yet fastened their
grip on Germany in 1933, Wäckerle was accused of murder by the prosecution office of Munich. Because the Nazis could not officially justify
his actions, they were forced to degrade Wäckerle. In the following weeks, Heinrich Himmler,
leader of the SS, put Theodor Eicke in charge of the camp and ordered him to write a guard’s
code to legalize all actions of the guards in the concentration camp Dachau. This was called the Postenpflicht, the duty
of guards. It stated that guards were required to shoot
immediately if they saw any inmate fleeing or if they felt threatened. It stated: «If an inmate tries to flee, guards
must shoot without warning. The guard, who shoots a fleeing inmate, faces
no consequences before the law. Attacks against the guards must be answered
by shooting the prisoners, not with physical force. A guard who does not conform to these rules
will be fired immediately. » Theoretically, guards could be held responsible
if a prisoner fled successfully under their watch. The guards at Dachau were not only allowed
to shoot prisoners who approached the barbed wire fences but encouraged to do so by granting
leaves to those who hit their target, a practice which was carried over into other camps later
too. Shortly after, Eicke became the inspector
general for all camps. He began to structure other camps based on
the model of Dachau. Dachau became the prototype of Nazi concentration
camps. The main camp in Dachau was built on the area
of an ammunition factory, the previously shut down Königlichen Pulver- und Munitionsfabrik
Dachau. Another 150 branch camps throughout southern
Germany and Austria were added later on, which were called Dachau as well. At the time of the extension, the prisoners’
barracks equaled those of a casern, yet towards the end of the war the huts had to bear 1600
prisoners each and the conditions became more and more inhumane. The whole structure was surrounded by electric
fences and a gate which bore the infamous slogan Arbeit macht frei, labor liberates. Jura Soyfer, a political writer was imprisoned
in Dachau for three months. He wrote the so called Dachaulied, a song
about physical and psychological resistance, which picks up the slogan “labour liberates”. “But we have learned the slogan of Dachau,
and thereby we became as hard as steel. Be a man, Comrade. Be a human, comrade. Do your work, tackle the work, comrade. Because labor, labor liberates. In front of the muzzle of a rifle.” To avoid punishment, a fellow captive learned
the text by heart and composed a melody in his head. He survived and wrote down the song after
his relief years later. Towards foreign countries, the Nazis somehow
managed to maintain the myth of Dachau as a strict, yet very humane correctional camp. Guillaume Favre, member of the international
committee of the red cross visited the camp in 1938 and wrote in a letter to Heinrich
Himmler: „I’d like to stress that everything that I have seen and heard, regarding the
housing conditions, the material and sanitary conditions of the camp, but also the treatment
and the nutrition of the prisoners, as well as the work of the inmates, left me with a
genuinely favorable impression.” The German people, in contrast, were well
aware of the terrors of the camp and the ever present danger, that they could be brought
there to be silenced. Long before the beginning of WWII the saying
arose: «Dear god, please make me dumb, so that I don’t to Dachau come.” Implying that verbal resistance would likely
lead to incarceration. Dachau’s original purpose was to imprison
“enemies of the regime”, political opponents to the Nazis such as communists, social democrats
and trade unionists. After some time, gypsies, male homosexuals
and Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned as well. The main function of the Dachau concentration
camp, however, remained political. The Jews who were brought to the camp in the
beginning were brought there due to their political opposition, not for being Jewish. Only after the Kristallnacht in 1938 about
11’000 Jews were moved to Dachau, partly from the recently annexed Austria. Yet, most of them were allowed to leave the
camp under the condition of leaving the country. Those who were still at the camp or came to
Dachau after the beginning of WWII were less fortunate. for example, prisoners were sent on so-called
death marches which lasted until the marching prisoners died. These took place in winter 1944/1945 in the
final phase of the holocaust. Then, Jews were not released anymore but sent
to extermination camps or kept in custody. Towards the end of the war, the number of
Jewish prisoners in Dachau increased and in the last days many transports of prisoners
which were not registered arrived. In the last hours of the camp, about seven
thousand Jews were forcibly evacuated in a planned death march. American troops managed to free them –yet
for many they came too late. Estimate numbers of prisoners taken to Dachau
exceed 160’000 for the main camp and 90’000 for the branch camps. At least 32’000 people died in the camp
because of malnutrition, diseases, physical oppression or executions. In the Winter of 1942, a series of epidemic
waves of typhus killed many of the inhabitants of the camp, which was increasingly overcrowded
towards the end of WWII. But there is even more horror to this story. When the “final solution” came into operation
in 1942, a vast number of inmates was transported to extermination camps in occupied Poland
where they were killed in gas chambers. Dachau was in this sense used as a transit
center. The sick, mentally ill and disabled were sent
to the extermination camp center of Hartheim, one of the places established to “euthanize”
(euthanasia operation) the infirm and disabled, regardless of age, gender or race. It is estimated that around 30’000 people
were executed at Hartheim. But the cruelties that took place in Dachau
went even further. The camp was the first and most important
center for medicinal experiments in Nazi Germany. In special laboratories established in 1941
and 1942, about 500 experiments were conducted using inmates as involuntary human guinea
pigs. These experiments included determining the
effects on human beings of decompression, high altitude, and freezing, ostensibly to
improve situations for German pilots. These were led by the infamous Sigmund Rascher. 80 of his 200 “test subjects” lost their
life and most others suffered permanent damage. Claus Schilling was responsible for other
experiments such as infecting prisoners with malaria or testing the effects of drinking
seawater. The doctors and scientists conducting these
experiments were tried in the Nurnberg “Doctors’ Trial” after the end of the war. Seven of them received capital punishment. On April 29th, 1945 the camp was liberated
by American troops. The cruelties they unveiled were unsettling. American and British media spread footage
of the newly liberated camp, which made the public aware of the atrocities that had occurred. The American, outraged at these scenes took
revenge on the German soldiers, killing between 39 and 50 Germans. This is known as Dachau liberation reprisal,
which too, infringed on human rights and martial law. The history of Dachau is a memorial of the
horrible potential lurking in all human beings, visualizing these utmost atrocities, might
hopefully stop us from repeating them.

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell

7 Comments

  1. Very informative! So, were the Nazis the only ones to imprison political oponnents in concentration camps or similar institutions during WWII?

  2. nice that you did not simply do an orgy of virtue signalling with this vid. this is what most people feel obliged to do nowadays. in this i think you did a decent job at showing how bad the days were back then, but you didn't bash the germans and so on… liked.

  3. I would like to know more about this doctor trials! Great content as always.
    I miss the tails of Herodotus

  4. “We have had a good run for our money with this gas chamber story we have been putting about, but don’t we run the risk eventually we are going to be found out and when we are found out the collapse of that lie is going to bring the whole of our psychological warfare down with it? So isn’t it rather time now to let it drift off by itself and concentrate on other lines that we are running.” ~Victor Cavendish-Bentick Head of British Psychological Warfare Public Record Office Document F0371/34551

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