Little Bits of History

Free, Free at Last

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 29, 2011

Aerial view of Dachau Concentration Camp

April 29, 1945: The Nazi Concentration Camp, Dachau, is liberated by US troops. Dachau was the first concentration camp to be used by the Nazis and opened on March 22, 1933. It was located on the site of an abandoned munitions factory near the town of Dachau, about ten miles northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria. Heinrich Himmler called the camp “the first concentration camp for political prisoners.” It served as the prototype for all the other concentration camps erected by the Nazis.

Almost every community it Germany lost citizens to this camp located in southern Germany or others that followed. Soon the newspapers were reporting “the removal of enemies of the Reich to concentration camps.” By 1935 there was a jingle stating, “Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not to Dachau come.” And yet people kept coming. Across the entrance gate were the words “Arbeit macht frei” or “through work one will be free.” The camp was in use from 1933 to 1960. The first twelve years it was used an an internment center for the Third Reich. Between 1933-38 it was used for political prisoners. Between 1939-45 it was used for prisoners from all nations of occupied territories. Between 1945-48 it housed SS officers waiting trial. After 1948 it housed expelled Germans from Czechoslovakia and was also used as a base by the US.

Due to the chaos of war and the inadequate records remaining, it is impossible to know the exact statistics for the camp. We do not know how many people were brought to Dachau. We do not know how many people died there. It is believed there were over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries housed there during the war years. It is thought that ⅔ of the prisoners were political prisoners and ⅓ were Jews. It is believed that 25,613 people died here and at least another 10,000 were killed in the subcamps. Surviving records show 206,206 prisoners were brought in and 31,951 deaths were also recorded.

On April 24, 1945, about 140 prominent prisoners were transferred to Tyrol. On April 27, Victor Maurer, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed entry to distribute food. Only 800 survivors arrived on a train from Buchenwald. Over 2,300 corpses remained on the train. On April 28, the camp commander fled, taking most of the regular guards and administrators of the camp. On April 29, a white flag was raised from the watchtowers and the camp was surrendered formally. About 32,000 people were finally freed.

“As we moved down along the west side of the concentration camp and approached the southwest corner, three people approached down the road under a flag of truce. We met these people about 75 yards north of the southwest entrance to the camp.”

“These three people were a Swiss Red Cross representative and two SS troopers who said they were the camp commander and assistant camp commander and that they had come into the camp on the night of the 28th to take over from the regular camp personnel for the purpose of turning the camp over to the advancing Americans.”

“The Swiss Red Cross representative acted as interpreter and stated that there were about 100 SS guards in the camp who had their arms stacked except for the people in the tower. He said he had given instructions that there would be no shots fired and it would take about 50 men to relieve the guards, as there were 42,000 half-crazed prisoners of war in the camp, many of them typhus infected.”

“He asked if I were an officer of the American army, to which I replied, ‘Yes, I am Assistant Division Commander of the 42nd Division and will accept the surrender of the camp in the name of the Rainbow Division for the American army.’” – Brig. Gen. Henning Linden’s official “Report on Surrender of Dachau Concentration Camp”

Also on this day:
What’s the Word? – In 1852 the third most popular book in the world is first published.
Rodney King – In 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles.

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