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The First Concentration Camps
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The first concentration camps

The Nazis built the first concentration camp in Germany near the small town of Dachau, close to Munich. On the gate one can read the slogan Arbeit macht frei ("Work makes you free"). Once the Nazis came to power they began to take revenge on their enemies.

The Reichstag Fire

On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the German Reichstag (similar to the US Congress). This event was used as an excuse to start a massive campaign of arrests. Since the fire was blamed on the Communists, their leadership was the first to be arrested. Hitler commented that he wanted "to do away with those bolshevist subhuman creatures." Thousands of members of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties were quickly arrested and sent to prison. Union leaders were next.

Police stations and prisons were full of people who did not agree with the Nazis. Police officers who refused to take part in these arrests ran the risk of being arrested and assaulted themselves. Lawyers who defended prisoners were also in danger. Sometimes the Nazis took their victims to their party offices, where they were tortured and even killed.


The establishment of the first "concentration camp" was made public by the Nazis on March 20, 1933. Two days later, on March 22, the first official "special camp" was opened at the site of a former ammunition factory near Dachau. The camp was soon handed over to the notorious SS. But Dachau alone could not house the tens of thousands of people being arrested. Nazis began to use old army barracks to house their many prisoners. They "concentrated" their enemies in these camps by imprisoning them together. In these concentration camps, they could do what they wanted with their victims. Sometimes, prisoners would be told that they would be released if they allowed themselves to be "re-educated" as true Nazis.

German newspapers and radio stations were no longer allowed to report freely. Still, from 1933 onwards, many people became familiar with names such as "Dachau," "Oraniënburg," "Sachsenhausen," "Buchenwald" and "Ravensbrück." Rumors spread that terrible things were happening there.
Photo credit: Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 11 December 2018
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

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