On the morning of April 29th 1945, the United States 7th Army 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division, 45th Infantry “Thunderbird” Division, and the 20th Armored Division liberated over 30,000 men, women, and children from Dachau concentration camp, located 10 miles northwest of Munich. Established by Heinrich Himmler on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory in March 1933, Dachau was the first and longest running concentration camp established by the Nazis.

Liberation of Dachau Inmates
Liberation of Dachau: Inmates. Gift of Sam Schwartz, Yaffa Eliach Collection donated by the Center for Holocaust Studies

Throughout its twelve years of operation, Dachau evolved into a system of nearly 100 subcamps. Approximately 32,000 recorded deaths took place within the Dachau complex – though it is believed that many more may have gone unrecorded.

On the day of liberation, as American forces approached Dachau, they encountered over 30 abandoned freight cars containing the bodies of victims transported from Buchenwald. Compelled to record the evidence of these atrocities, the 7th Army photographed these abandon freight cars, conditions in the camps, and both the living and the dead victims of Nazi war crimes.

US Military Police, Dachau (5015.75)
US Military Police, Dachau. Gift of Lawrence F. Kinlon, Yaffa Eliach Collection donated by the Center for Holocaust Studies

Just days earlier, the SS forced 6,000-7,000 prisoners onto a six-day death march from Dachau to Tegernsee, approximately 60 miles south. While the U.S. Army would come to liberate those forced onto this long journey in early May, many died along the way – either succumbing to the elements or murdered for their inability to endure the grueling march after experiencing harsh conditions, forced labor, medical experimentation, starvation, and abuse.

Liberation of Dachau: Women Prisoners
Liberation of Dachau: Women Prisoners. Gift of Harold Conn in memory of Werner Conn, Yaffa Eliach Collection donated by the Center for Holocaust Studies

Soldiers of the 7th Army were overcome by what they found at Dachau.

Today is our opportunity to recognize and remember the experiences of former Dachau prisoners and liberators. To hear a story about survivors of Dachau returning to the camp for the 70th anniversary of their liberation, click here.