Dachau, the first concentration camp, was constructed at the site of an old munitions factory, outside the town of Dachau, 12 miles northwest of Munich. Dachau was opened in March,1933 for the imprisonment of political enemies of the Nazi state: communists, social democrats and convicted criminals. these inmates were joined by other "enemies" of the state, including vagrants, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies, dissenting clergy, critics of the state, and Jews. The first large scale transportation of Jews to camps such as Dachau occurred after Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938 the "Night of Broken Glass," a terroristic attack on Jewish people, businesses, synagogues and homes in Germany.

Dachau, as organized by S.S. officer Theodor Eicke, served as a model for future concentration camps. The entrance to the camp is an iron gate with the motto, "Arbeit Macht Frei." (Work sets you free).

Dachau was primarily a forced labor camp, with 123 subcamps or external kommandos supplying labor to industries in nearby Munich, including BMW, Messerschmidt and Photo Agfa. Prisoners lived in wooden huts with tightly-packed bunks. Long work hours coupled with grossly inadequate food and sanitation quickly led to breakdowns in health. Many prisoners starved to death and were cremated in the Dachau ovens.

Under the direction of Dr. Rascher, inmates were also forced to participate in medical experiments. These medical experiments included high altitude, low pressure, intense cooling and intense heating, frequently resulting in death. A gas chamber was installed at Dachau for Dr. Rascher's experiments, and some experimental gassings may have occurred. Most prisoners died of illness, starvation, or experimentation. Inmates were transported to other camps for execution by gassing.
Dachau had 206,206 registered prisoners and officially recorded 31,591 deaths, although the actual total may never be known. The inmate population fluctuated between 22,000 and 30,000 during the war and included many nationalities: Germans, Poles, Russians, French, Yugoslavs, and Czechs, among others. The camp was constructed to hold 8,000 to 10,000 inmates.

Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945 by troops from Company I, 157th Infantry Regiment who were engaged in fighting in Dachau on April 29 when orders were received to liberate the camp. A brief battle took place with resident S.S. guards, but the Infantry troops quickly gained control of the camp. The liberators were unprepared for what they found--emaciated corpses and starving inmates begging for food and water.

The camp is currently preserved as a museum.