Dachau was originally opened to hold political prisoners with a capacity of 5000. It had previously been an unused ammunitions factory from WW1 and was Northeast of the town of Dachau and just over 10 miles from Munich. It was the first permanent state concentration camp and the longest used, and opened on the 22nd March 1933. The SS took over the management of the camps 19 days later from the Bavarian police, and just 2 days after that, came the first reported deaths in the camp. Four prisoners were escorted to the gate and were shot as they reportedly tried to escape. This was the start of many inmates being shot trying to escape or committing 'suicide'.
The amount of deaths and the differences between what were on autopsy reports and other accounts, raised the attention of the prosecutor Karl Wintersberger in Munich. He conducted an investigation, and his findings proved the murders of some of the prisoners. This did take longer to prove, due to the SS not really wanting the investigation, and hindering him whenever possible. He applied for arrest warrants and filed an indictment on 1st June 1933. The Justice Ministry demanded the files so that they could get the right person to look into it, which ended up being the Political Police Commissioner. However allegedly the files never got to Heinrich Himmler, who was not only the Commissioner, but also the head of the SS and oversaw Dachau. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders and Wintersberger was transferred to the small town of Bamberg in March 1934.
Unlike other camps that were operated by civilian managers, who had experience running prisons, Dachau was under the full control of the SS. The difference in styles is noticable. Other camps were to be run based on the prison model, with corporal punishment not included in the regulations set. However Dachau created a special regulations in May 1933, that 'instituionalised tyranny and crime', and included the death penalty. This did not go down too well with the Bavarian judicial system. So Himmler distanced himself, fired the commandant and appointed Theodor Eicke.
Theodor Eicke continued this reign of terror, by implementing disciplinary and punishment regulations in October 1933. He changed the death penalty to words such as hanged, and shot. And although it did not get approved by state, Himmler approved it by revolutionary law.
This is when Eicke, started his school of cruelty and why Dachau can be thought of as a training ground. From Dachau came some of the most notorious, blood thirsty SS guards that would learn and teach others how to terrorise prisoners with total disregard for them. The officers that excelled in this were given promotions including Concentration and Extermination camps of their own. SS that were trained in Dachau and exported to run other camps include Rudolf Hoss, Martin Gottfried, Hermann Baranowski, Hans Loritz, Hans Aumeier, Richard Baer, Karl Fritzsch, Frans Hofmann, Max Koegel amd Framz Xaver Trenkle.
Dachau was primarily a mens camp until late in the war. Most of the inmates either worked in factories, in the town or doing maintenance in the camps. They were often worked days on end in extreme weather conditions, with little to no food and water, sometimes until death. Those deemed unfit to work were killed in Dachau or sent to other camps to be executed. In spring of 1942, Barrack X was started. This was partly due to the fact that the existing crematorium just was not big enough. However the building included, amoungst other things, a gas chamber. Although the building was completed and eye witness accounts say that it was used at least once in 1944, it appears to only have been used rarely, unlike at other camps. The area it is situated in was used frequently for executions (hanging and shotting) due to it being remote.
Medical experimentation was conducted at Dachau. It was almost like each camp concentrated on certain types of experiments for the Nazi Party. Most of the experiments that were conducted at Dachau was for the airforce. They included infectng people with malaria, forcing prisoners to drink seawater, starvation tests, high altitude, hypothermia, sulfanilamide and biochemical experiments
The SS were not the only people in the camp to be scared of. The camp had started to hold political prisoners, but by 1940 it held, Political opponents, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic Priets, Communists, Homosexuals, Emigrants, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Polish, Russian, Italian, French and German criminals. During this time some of the Political prisoners were 'promoted' to positions within the camp and were told to submit punishment reports on other prisoners they were in charge of. As you find anywhere, some of these people were fair but others relished the power they felt they had and fully participated in the brutal regime.
Although Dachau was a concentration camp and not an extermination camp, it is estimated over 41,500 people out of the 200,000 are thought to have been murdered there. This does not take into account any that were transferred to other camps for execution, or any that died on death marches. There were also a number of 'special treatment' executions that took place at Dachau. These prisoners were brought to the camp mainly by the Gestapo and therefore were unregistered. These totaled several hundred at least. We will never know how many people were really held and died in Dachau and all the horrific things that occurred to its prisoners.