Classification of Prisoners at Dachau

According to Paul Berben, a former prisoner, who wrote a book called "Dachau: 1933 - 1945: The Official History," there were 67,649 prisoners in Dachau and its sub-camps when the last census was taken on April 26, 1945, three days before the US 7th Army arrived to liberate the camp. Many of the sub-camps, which Berben refers to as "Kommandos," had already been evacuated and the prisoners had been brought to the main camp at Dachau. The largest number of prisoners in the whole Dachau system were classified as political prisoners, who numbered 43,401; the majority of them were Catholic. The political prisoners included Communists, Social Democrats, anarchists, spies, and anti-Fascist resistance fighters from the Nazi occupied countries such as France, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Poland.

There was a total of 22,100 Jews in the Dachau system on April 26, 1945 and most of them were in the subcamps. Many of them had just arrived a few days before from other camps that had been evacuated. On April 27, 1945, a train carrying prisoners evacuated from Buchenwald had arrived at the main camp, but less than half the 5,000 to 6,000 mostly Jewish prisoners who had left Buchenwald were still alive after the 21-day trip and able to walk into the main camp. On April 26th, approximately 3,400 Jews had been death-marched out of the main camp, headed south toward the mountains where it is believed that the Nazis intended to hold them as hostages to use in surrender negotiations with the Allies. Another 1,735 Jews had been evacuated from Dachau by train on April 26th.

Dachau was the camp where Catholic priests, mostly from Poland, were imprisoned. Approximately 2,700 priests were brought to Dachau, where they were designated as political prisoners because they had been arrested as resistance fighters after the invasion of Poland by the Nazis on Sept. 1, 1939. There were also German priests incarcerated at Dachau and at least one of them, Father Peter Roth, was there because he had been arrested as a pedophile. Father Roth redeemed himself by volunteering to take care of the sick prisoners in the camp and after the camp was liberated, he stayed on to serve as the priest for the German soldiers who were imprisoned at Dachau. The street that borders the camp on the south side has been named after him.

There were 110 homosexuals, 85 Jehovah's Witnesses and 1,066 anti-socials in Dachau and its sub-camps on April 26, 1945, according to Berben's book. The Jehovah's Witnesses were German citizens who were being held because they had refused to serve in the German army.

There was at least one Dachau prisoner who had African Ancestry: Johnny Voste, a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage, was one of the survivors of Dachau.

Johnny Voste is on the right

There were also 128 German soldiers who had been imprisoned at Dachau, along with 759 common criminals, according to Paul Berben. Some of the original Dachau criminals had been previously transferred to Buchenwald and Mauthausen to work in the building of those camps and to assist the Nazis in supervising the other prisoners.

The following quote is from "Dachau: 1933 - 1945: The Official History" by Paul Berben:

The third main category of prisoners was the "criminals." The S.S. distinguished between two groups in their statistical summaries: the P.S.V. and the B.V.; but both wore the same badges. The P.S.V. (Polizeisicherungsverwahrte) were criminals who had served their prison terms, in some case many years since, but they were considered to be dangerous and were held in the concentration camp as a preventive measure (vorbeugend) The second group, the B.V. (Befristete Vorbeugungshaft; often wrongly called Berufsverbrecher, professional criminal), was composed of men who were not released on the completion of their prison sentences but sent straight to the camp.

Dachau was mainly a camp for adult men, but there were a few children there according to Berben who was himself a member of the International Committee at Dachau, which controlled the camp near the end. He wrote the following in his book:

As has already been mentioned, there were times when even children were imprisoned in Dachau. The International Committee saw to it that they were not abandoned. A school was organized for Russian children under a Yugoslavian teacher, and the older ones were placed in Kommandos [subsidiary work camps of Dachau] where they were looked after by prisoners who tried not only to keep them in good health but to teach them the rudiments of a trade as well.

In the early days of the Dachau camp, many Jews were brought there as prisoners, although they were always classified as political prisoners or criminals who had broken the law. For example, on June 12, 1937, a number of Jews accused of "race defilement" were brought to Dachau, according to Martin Gilbert, author of the book "Holocaust," who wrote that there were "some three hundred Jews being held"at Dachau by 1937. Gilbert wrote about how 120 of these 300 Jews were released in the Fall of 1937 after negotiations between the Gestapo and David Glick, a Jewish lawyer in Pittsburgh, who was a representative of the American Joint Distribution Committee. The following quote is from Gilbert's book "Holocaust":

The Gestapo agreed to release them on condition that the 120 Jews emigrated immediately to a country beyond Europe. At Glick's urging, the British Consul General in Munich, Consul Carvell, agreed to issue Palestine visas on condition that 5,000 British pounds was paid into a bank outside Germany to assist the settlement of the released men in Palestine. The Joint agreed and paid the money. The Jews were released.

According to Paul Berben's account, the prisoners who arrived at Dachau were particularly numerous in 1944, as the inmates in other camps were evacuated from the war zone. He wrote that the last prisoner number at the end of 1943 was 60.869. By the end of 1944, the last prisoner number was 137.244, which indicates that 76,375 new prisoners were probably brought to Dachau in 1944; most of them were sent to the sub-camps to work in the factories. The last prisoner numbers registered at Dachau were around 161.900. It was at this point that life in the Dachau concentration camp began to deteriorate.

In the final desperate days of trying to evacuate prisoners from the camps to prevent them from being released by the Allies, there were around 6,000 prisoners brought to Dachau from Flossenbürg, Buchenwald and Leipzig, who were not registered nor given a number, according to Berben.

Badges worn by the prisoners

Back to Dachau Concentration Camp

Back to Table of Contents