Today I could spend some hours in the Concentration Camp in Dachau. Such a place full of silence and cruelty. It is over my head what was going on there more than 70 years ago. Prisoners were forced to do the most terrible things you can imagine. They were living together in small barracks which were built for 200 people. At the end of the war almost 2000 people lived there. Many of them starved to death, died because of too much work, malnutrition, epidemics or arbitrariness of a camp commander.
More than 41.500 prisoners died in Dachau until its liberation on April 29, 1945.
The Concentration Camp in Dachau was a role model for other camps built by the National Socialists. In 12 years camp history 200.000 people were imprisoned – from whole Europe. Most of them were from Eastern Europe, especially Poland and Soviet Union.
Dachau gained notoriety because of the execution of approximately 4.000 Soviet soldiers who were prisoners of war by the Nazis. Many other prisoners were also executed – often without any reason. Other punishments were flogging or hanging.
Every prisoner had his own number and sign for identifying his origin or reason why he was imprisoned. Usually only men were prisoners in Dachau. Later, in 1943, there were also some women coming to that Concentration Camp. They needed to fight for their lives and also against sexual harassment. Dachau was no extermination camp. Prisoners were misused as workers for manufactories nearby, such as BMW. Some of them also worked as farmers in a herb garden nearby where they should seed and pick herbs which were necessary for medicine. The Nazis tried to become independent from medical imports and wanted to handle autarkically the ever-growing need of medicine.
The Concentration Camp Dachau had a very good medical care system. Nevertheless many people died because of epidemics, such as typhus and scabies. The Nazis didn’t care about the health of their prisoners as long as there was replenishment.
Old and so called “invalid” prisoners were even placed in special barracks where they were left to die. Others were brought to extermination camps for gasing to death. The camp doctors’ task wasn’t primarily the treatment of prisoners, but rather the research of special illnesses.
Sigmund Rascher and Carl Schilling made many experiments with chosen prisoners, including altitude and water pressure experiments as well as malaria researches. Most participants died. The Concentration Camp Dachau also had a gas chamber. Survivors reported that it was just used for a few killings and not for mass extermination, such as in Treblinka. Prisoners in Dachau were usually killed by torture or shooting, e.g when someone tried to escape or didn’t follow the instructions. As the US army freed the Concentration Camp Dachau, they found 1.230 dead bodies which couldn’t be cremated or buried anymore.
The majority of them probably starved to death, freezed to death or died by infections. These deaths are mostly caused by exhaustion, permanent malnutrition and the disastrous hygienic conditions in the barracks.