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One of the first Nazi concentration camps, located in the small town of Dachau, about ten miles (15 km) north west of Munich.
The Establishment of the Camp
The first group of so-called protective-custody prisoners, consisting mainly of Communists and Social Democrats, was brought to Dachau on March 22, 1933. On becoming commandant of the camp in June 1933, Theodor Eicke set up a scheme of organisation with detailed regulations for camp life. Later, when Eicke was appointed inspector general for all concentration camps, these regulations were used, with local variations, elsewhere. With Dachau as his model, he developed an institution that was intended, by its very existence, to spread fear among the populace, and be an effective tool for silencing every opponent of the regime. Dachau became a useful training ground for the SS. The transformation of the terror system of National Socialism into bloody reality began in the Dachau concentration camp.
When the camp opened, only known political opponents of the Nazis were interned. From about 1935, it was usual for all persons who had been condemned in a court of law to be taken automatically to a concentration camp. The first Jewish prisoners came as known political opponents of the Nazis. At Dachau, as elsewhere, they received even worse treatment than the other prisoners. Gradually, more and more groups were interned: Jehovah's witnesses, who resisted the draft; Gypsies, who, like the Jews, were classified as racially inferior; clergy, who resisted the Nazi coercion of the churches; homosexuals; and many who had been denounced for making critical remarks of various kinds.
Increased Number of Jewish Inmates
The number of Jewish prisoners increased with the systematising of the persecution of the Jews. After Kristallnacht (November 9-10 1938), more than 10,000 Jewish citizens from all over Germany were interned in Dachau. Jewish prisoners were transported from Dachau and the other camps within the German Reich to the mass extermination camps in occupied Poland. When, during the summer and fall of 1944, additional subsidiary camps were installed near armaments factories to increase production there, thousands of Jewish prisoners, mostly from Hungary but also from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the USSR, were brought to the Dachau subsidiary camps. At the liberation of Dachau and its subsidiary camps in April 1945, about 30 percent of the total number of inmates were Jewish.
Opponents to Nazism
During its twelve-year existence, Dachau was always a "political camp": the political prisoners, who had been there first and knew the conditions best, held most of the key positions in the so-called prisoners' internal government, which had been instituted by the SS. During the summer of 1939, several thousand Austrian prisoners were brought to Dachau. Their arrival marked the beginning of the deportations that would reflect the course of the war: Transports were sent to Dachau from each country as the German army invaded it. Prisoners included resistance fighters, Jews, clergymen, and other who refused to collaborate with the occupation. At the liberation, inmates from more than thirty countries were found in Dachau, with Germans forming only a minority.
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