Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
Introduction: Nuremberg Race Laws | Kristallnacht | Ghettos
Concentration Camps: Dachau | Bergen-Belsen | Auschwitz
Righteous Among the Nations: Gies | Schindler | Winton | Grueninger
Primary Source and Analysis Tools | Library of Congress Resources
Primary Source Sets | PDF Version
Established in March 1933, Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp.12 The camp originally housed political prisoners and those opposed to the Nazi regime. Individuals and groups who were considered inferior to Germans, such as Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies and homosexuals were sent to Dachau. The first Jews imprisoned at Dachau were sent there because they were considered enemies of the Reich.13 Over time, more Jews were sent to Dachau than any other group.
Dachau was used as a training center for prison guards and a model for future concentration camps. Torture techniques were practiced to perfection. Under the watchful eye of Commandant Theodore Eicke, the camp functioned under strict rules and regulation.
Immediately upon arriving at Dachau, the process of dehumanizing prisoners began. Men and women were stripped of all possessions including their clothes which were replaced with striped uniforms. Their hair was shaved and they were given an identification number with a colored triangle to show their category.13 Dachau was a labor camp, most of the many sub-camps of Dachau were built with slave labor. The Nazis exploited the cheap labor by hiring out prisoners to private firms. Prisoners never received their wages, as the private firms paid the Nazis directly for the labor. The work was often heavy labor and the weakened and malnourished prisoners were given little food and lived in unsanitary conditions.
Medical experiments were conducted at Dachau with Jews helplessly used in decompression and high altitude tests. Others were infected with malaria to test possible vaccines.13 In the twelve years Dachau was operational, more than 200,000 prisoners passed through the camp.13 Officially more than 30,000 died at Dachau but the actual number is thought to be much higher.13
12. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia,
Dachau. Accessed 8.6.12
13. Yad Vashem, Dachau. Accessed 8.6.12