The first purpose-built concentration camps in Germany were established soon after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933. The SA, SS and the police had established makeshift centres to handle the masses of people they had arrested.
This system did not work – it was inefficient. Therefore there was a need for purpose-built camps. Initially these camps were established on a local level throughout Germany, but soon were disbanded and replaced by centrally organised concentration camps under the exclusive control of the SS.
Dachau, established in March 1933, was situated just a few kilometres north of Munich and was the first of the purpose-built camps. The sign over the entrance gate was ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (work makes you free). This sign would later be used at the gates to the infamous death camps.
Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, described Dachau as “the first concentration camp for political prisoners”. The camp became a model for the other camps the Nazis were to set up across the whole of occupied Europe.