Geoff Walden


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Dachau Concentration Camp


   In March 1933 the Nazi government established its first official concentration camp (KZ-Lager) at Dachau, a town just northwest of Munich. The camp was established for political prisoners, and during its early operations, many prisoners served a specific time and were then released (in contrast to later concentration camps, from which few were released by the Nazis). Dachau was not an extermination or death camp such as Auschwitz, and the number of Jews interned in Dachau was actually rather small, compared to the numbers of political prisoners, prisoners of war, and detainees from all over Europe who were sent to Dachau. It is estimated that some 35,000-43,000 prisoners died at Dachau and its numerous subcamps (the number for the main Dachau camp itself was some 31,000; check the Dachau Memorial webpage for revisions). Dachau was liberated by the U.S. Army (elements of the 45th and 42nd Infantry Divisions) on 29 April 1945. Unfortunately, numerous SS camp guards and Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered were shot by American soldiers and some were killed by liberated camp inmates. (See the links at the bottom of this page for further info about this.)

   The Dachau site included not only the concentration camp barracks and areas for prisoners (which were enlarged in 1937), but also an SS Kaserne and training complex, buildings of a World War I munitions factory, the so-called "plantation," and other nearby sites. Although many of these other buildings still remain today, they are not included in the present Dachau Memorial site.  (Google Maps link to entry)


My father, U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. Delbert R. Walden, visited the Dachau concentration camp in 1945-46, while he was stationed in the Munich area. When these photos were taken, Dachau was being used by the U.S. Third Army to detain Nazi prisoners. Dachau was the scene of war crimes trials against those members of the camp administration and guard force who had been captured by the Allies, and later for the notorious "Malmedy Massacre" trial of 1st SS Panzer Division members. The cylindrical structure in the photo above was a "Moll System" concrete bunker (used as guard positions at Dachau). The buildings shown here were in the SS Kaserne part of the site, which is now used by the Bavarian Police (closed to the public).  (G.R. and G.A. Walden collection; modern photo appears courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


Gate building to Dachau, 1946 - this was the so-called Jourhaus Gate, entrance to the prisoner compound. At the time my father's photo was taken, the Jourhaus gate building was incorrectly labeled "SS Compound;" the SS compound was actually directly behind this viewpoint.  (G.R. and G.A. Walden collection)
The iron gate bears the infamous motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free). The motto letters seen here are reproductions dating from the 1960s; they did not exactly match the original letters seen in the 1945 photo below. This iron gate door with the motto was stolen in November 2014; a replica was installed in April 2015. The lettering on the replica apparently reproduces the lettering on the recent gate, not the original gate.

This photo of the original gate and lettering was taken shortly after the liberation in 1945.  ("Dachau," Report prepared by the G-2 Section, 7th U.S. Army, n.p., n.d.)


This gate led into the Appellplatz, or roll call site, of the prisoner compound. The view on the left was taken on 3 May 1945 from the top of the Jourhaus gate building. The building on the right, which served as a kitchen, laundry, and shower building, now houses the Dachau museum. The original prisoner barracks were all torn down after the war, but some have been rebuilt as part of the memorial site (below).  (U.S. National Archives)


At one end of the Appelplatz was the largest building of the Dachau camp, often called the Maintenance Building today, which housed kitchen, laundry, and shower facilities, and is now the Dachau museum. The slogan on the roof (which also appeared on the roof of the kitchen building in the Auschwitz main camp) was "Es gibt einen Weg zur Freiheit. Seine Meilensteine heißen: Gehorsam, Ehrlichkeit, Sauberkeit, Nüchternheit, Fleiß, Ordnung, Opfersinn, Wahrhaftigkeit, Liebe zum Vaterland" - "There is one path to freedom. Its milestones are obedience, honesty, cleanliness, sobriety, hard work, discipline, sacrifice, truthfulness, love of the fatherland."  (Dachau-Archiv)


The original Dachau crematorium was a small Fachwerk (half-timbered) building with only one 2-chamber oven. My father took a picture of it in 1946 (above left), and it has been preserved as part of the memorial (the modern photo shows the other side of the building because the side that my father photographed is covered by vegetation today).  (G.R. and G.A. Walden)


A larger crematorium was built in 1943, and has also been preserved. In the photo on the left below, U.S. Army soldiers are examining a stack of bodies found outside the crematorium during the libration of the camp.  (U.S. Army photos)


Dachau crematorium ovens as seen shortly after the liberation of the camp by the U.S. 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions, on 29 April 1945, and the same view today.  (Dachau-Archiv)


The new crematorium complex included a series of disinfecting chambers. In 1945 it was assumed that these were gas chambers, but there is no evidence that prisoners were gassed here. Although the chambers did use poison gas, their purpose was to disinfect and delouse prisoners' clothing.  (U.S. Army photos)


There was a gas chamber at Dachau (inside the new crematorium), and it may have been tested on prisoners, but there was no large-scale murder of prisoners there, as Dachau was not a death camp. (Most of the prisoners who died at Dachau died of disease, malnutrition, and overwork, and the new crematorium was built to dispose of their bodies.)  (U.S. Army photo)


Looking across the Würm river canal toward the camp. On the opposite bank is a concrete machinegun bunker, some of which can still be found at the site today (right). Some of the original camp electrical fencing has also been preserved (below). Some of the fencing at Dachau, such as that seen on the right below, was reproduced after the war.  (42nd "Rainbow" Infantry Division. Baton Rouge, LA, Army & Navy Publishing Co., 1946)


Other bunkers around the perimeter of the Dachau camp were provided as emergency air raid shelters for the guard force. This line of small concrete bunkers is found along the southern side of the camp, behind the Maintenance Building and "Bunker," between the wire fence and the exterior concrete fence. In the May 1945 view above, taken from a guard tower, note the camouflage pattern painting on the roof of the Maintenance Building and adjacent "Bunker" (dark one-story building just inside the wire fence).  (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)


The Dachau Kommandantur (headquarters). The original building still stands, just outside the Dachau memorial site. The main building of the SS Kaserne can be seen in the left distance.  (Dachau-Archiv; thanks to Prof. Harold Marcuse for info)


Looking out from the Jourhaus Gate, one views the route walked by the prisoners into the camp (directly behind this point of view). The current memorial site ends at the end of this cobblestone walk, and beyond it can be seen the Kommandantur building, former workshop buildings, and the SS Kaserne, which are all outside the memorial site today. On the right is an aerial view of some of these buildings. The Kommandantur is at the bottom center, with the workshop buildings to its left, and the L-shaped SS barracks building beyond. Contrary to what some guides say, the concrete structure seen in the modern photos was not a rail siding where the prisoners were let off the trains, just outside the Jourhaus Gate. The prisoners were actually let off the trains at the other side of the SS compound (out of view of these photos - see below), and they were forced to walk through the compound to enter the Jourhaus Gate. The narrow-gauge rail line seen here today was actually used by the workshop buildings (there were originally two more workshop buildings here, just to either side where the earthen berms are today).  (Dachau-Archiv)


Period views of the main SS barracks buildings seen in the aerial photo above. The U.S. Army occupied this compound as Eastman Barracks from 1948-1973, and the complex is now used as a training site for the Bavarian Police.  (above - period postcard, below - Dachau-Archiv; modern photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


The large bronze eagles over the entries were left intact by the U.S. Army (with the swastikas removed). The eagles were removed when the Bavarian Police took over the compound, and donated to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, where they remain in storage.  (courtesy Michael Basin)


The main entrance to the SS Compound was near the Kommandantur building seen above. This gate building figured prominently during the liberation by the U.S. Army on 29 April 1945 (the formal surrender took place near here), but it was later torn down and only the foundations can be seen today. The photo on the right above shows SS concentration camp guards surrendering to soldiers of the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division.  (left - Yad Vashem Collections; right - U.S. Army photo)


The main entrance to the SS training area (as distinct from the SS camp administration area) was on the other side of the compound, near today's John F. Kennedy Platz. This building is now the main entrance to the Bavarian Police compound, and is not open to the public. Below, soldiers of the U.S. 42nd Infantry Division guard this gate in April or May 1945. Another "Moll System" concrete bunker (guard position) can be seen at the left. The stone arch gateway with large eagle no longer exists.  (period postcard view above courtesy Ralf Hornberger; below - U.S. Army photos; bottom left - U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; modern photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


These views show the back side of the gate building. An adjacent bridge over the Pollnbach stream had a column with a stone swastika on top (see enlarged inset at right). The bridge and column are still there, but the swastika is long gone. The bridge was called the Samoa Brücke, and the original letters of the sign can still be faintly seen.  (courtesy Michael Basin; modern photo appears courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


Adjacent to this gate building was the entrance actually used by concentration camp prisoners. The main rail line into the former munitions factory ran through here, and this is where prisoners got off the rail cars and were then marched through the SS compound to enter the prisoner compound through the Jourhaus Gate. The period photo shows the infamous "Death Train" from Buchenwald, in which many prisoners had died from Allied air strafing, malnutrition, and neglect during a weeks-long journey, and which was discovered by soldiers of the 45th Infantry Division as they reached the area of the Dachau compound on 29 April 1945. The sight of these prisoner corpses raised a fury in some of the U.S. soldiers that was only quenched by shortly thereafter shooting some SS soldiers who had surrendered (see below). The modern photo shows a short section of the original track that has been excavated at the entry gate, but the viewpoint of the 1945 photo was some distance back down the tracks, behind where the modern photo was taken.  (U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG111SC-207475)


The period image is said to show the first bus load of prisoners being taken into Dachau in March 1933 (these would have been political prisoners and dissidents, not Jews). The royal Bavarian coat of arms can still be seen above the entry archway of the gate building, which was part of the World War I gunpowder and munitions factory.  (Stadtarchiv München)


This aerial view shows most of the original Dachau compound, including the buildings shown on this webpage. From the left: #1 - Jourhaus Gate, #2 - prisoner compound,
#3 - crematorium area, #4 - Kommandantur, #5 - workshop buildings, #6 - SS Kaserne barracks building (with bunker just to the right), #7 - old gunpowder and munitions
factory headquarters buildings (Avenue of the SS), #8 (on right side) - "Holländer Hall" of the original gunpowder and munitions factory area.
The only part of the site open to the public today is the memorial area at #s 1-2-3.  (Dachau-Archiv)


Above, prisoners are released through a side gate near the workshop buildings in the winter of 1933. Below - later, prisoners were put to work in some of the old workshop buildings during the war. These partially deserted buildings are right outside the prisoner compound near the Jourhaus Gate (#5 in the aerial view above).  (Bundesarchiv, courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


When the SS took over the Dachau site in 1933 they used the buildings from a former World War I gunpowder and munitions factory. The buildings seen above had been the headquarters of the munitions factory staff. The wide street was renamed "Avenue of the SS." It is now called "Straße der KZ-Opfer" - Street of the Concentration Camp Victims. Although these buildings are located today inside the Bavarian Police compound, they can be viewed from the street outside.  (period postcard)


The "Holländer Hall," one of the original large buildings of the 1915 Bavarian government gunpowder and munitions factory, can still be seen on the northern edge of the site (the building is in very bad condition today and is off-limits). This building is marked #8 on the aerial view above.  (photo below appears courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


One of the controversial and unfortunate incidents during the liberation of Dachau on 29 April 1945 was the execution/murder of Waffen-SS soldiers and SS camp guards who had surrendered to the liberating forces. Period accounts differ, but there is no question that U.S. Army soldiers allowed camp inmates to murder SS guards who had surrendered, or that U.S. Army soldiers themselves murdered Waffen-SS soldiers who had surrendered. Part of the SS training compound, on the other side of the SS area from the concentration camp itself, was used late in the war as a hospital for Waffen-SS soldiers who had been fighting on the Eastern Front (note the large Red Cross banner on the roof of one of the buildings in the period photo). Soldiers of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division, having passed the "Death Train" on their way into the Dachau compound, came upon these hospital patients and forced them outside, where many were stood up against a wall and shot, as the photo above shows (numbers of the executed range from a total of 12 to over 350). (Click here to read a webpage with much more detailed information on these executions.)  (U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG111SC)

This execution took place in a coal yard adjacent to the main power plant of the former munitions factory. The location today is inside the Bavarian Police training compound. The original buildings (somewhat modified) are still there (as are the trees in the view below), but the coal yard wall used for the executions is gone.  (modern photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


These 1936 photos show one building in the Waffen-SS training compound, along with a water tower of the WW1 gunpowder factory. The water tower is still standing but is in a deteriorated condition.  (Bundesarchiv; modern photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


A concrete air raid shelter is located next to the main barracks building of the SS Kaserne. Although this shelter could be used by personnel, that was not its primary function. The bunker was actually built to protect the SS pay records archive, because the central SS pay department was located in a nearby building  (photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


One of the buildings of the former SS training compound was used after the war for U.S. Army war crimes trials, 1945-48. These trials included camp personnel who had served at Dachau, Buchenwald, Nordhausen-Dora, Mauthausen, Mühldorf, and Flossenbürg. One of the most notorious proceedings was against leadership and soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler," accused of murdering American prisoners of war in the "Malmedy Massacre."  (modern photo appears courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)


Various decorations and relics from the SS still exist in the former SS compound. On the left, the SS painted a quote from Frederick the Great, "Daß ich lebe, ist nicht notwendig, wohl aber daß ich tätig bin" (That I live is not necessary, but rather that I am acrive). The purpose and even time period of the concrete sculpture on the right is not known. It is located near a ruined swimming pool and bathhouse, hence the nautical theme (as some believe). Some think this predated the SS use of the area, while others believe that this was an SS pool and the use of the word "Führer" in the inscription supports this (even though the inscription is supposed to be a quote from a Norse Edda).  (photos appear courtesy of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau)



One of the outlying sites of the Dachau camp, not located with the main area (although nearby), was the so-called "plantation." In 1938, under the direction of the SS, camp prisoners built an herb garden near the camp. These buildings still exist (as a nursery and greenhouse) on the street appropriately called Am Kräutergarten, northeast of the main camp.  (Google Maps link)


North of Dachau, near the village of Hebertshausen, the SS had a range complex for firearms training. This site became infamous during Word War II, as the SS executed some 4000 Russian prisoners of war there. This part of the range consisted of two shooting lanes for pistols and submachineguns with a concrete bunker at the end for a bullet trap. The much longer rifle range is adjacent.  (Dachau-Archiv)  (Google Maps link)


A memorial to the murdered Soviet soldiers stands on the site (left). The curious explorer can also find the entrance to the underground room for the target scorers on the rifle range (right).


Nearby was the SS building for range control (sometimes called a guard house). Today it serves as a homeless shelter.


The gateposts at the entrance to the range complex once displayed large SS runes, and the attachment sites for these can still be seen.  (Dachau-Archiv; photo by Karel Kasák)

I wish to express my thanks to the personnel of the Bayerische Bereitschaftspolizei Abteilung VI. Dachau for permission to photograph inside their Dachau post.

Official Dachau Webpage  --

Other Webpages about Dachau -- (extremely detailed page with many subpages of info on Dachau - highly recommended!)

Follow these links to visit other Third Reich in Ruins pages on concentration camp sites  --  Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Nordhausen (Dora), Flossenbürg, S/III Jonastal, Mauthausen (includes Gusen), Ebensee (Austria).


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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.