In the photo above, accused German war criminals are shown entering the prison compound of the former Dachau concentration camp. In the background, the famous gate house that today has a sign which reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” is hidden behind the prisoners. This sign was allegedly stolen by an American Army officer after Dachau was liberated; the sign that visitors see today was reconstructed in 1965 when the camp became a Memorial Site, although the gate itself is original.
In early July 1945, the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corp (CIC) set up War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 in the former concentration camp at Dachau for suspected German war criminals who had been rounded up by the U.S. Third Army War Crimes Detachment.
When the American liberators arrived at Dachau on April 29, 1945, they found 30,000 inmates crowded into a camp that had been built for 5,000. Half of those 30,000 prisoners had been in the Dachau camp for two weeks or less. Some had arrived only the day before. Thousands of prisoners had been brought to the Dachau main camp from other camps in the war zone that were evacuated in the last days of the war.
Based on the number of inmates at Dachau when it was liberated, the capacity of War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 was set at 30,000 men and women, and the prisoners were held for three years.
The former Dachau concentration camp had been a Class I camp where the political opponents of the Nazis and the captured Resistance fighters from German-occupied countries were treated relatively well; survivors of the American camp at Dachau claimed that the German prisoners were treated harshly and denied their rights under the Geneva Convention. There were numerous accusations of torture by the accused German war criminals.
The prisoners in War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 did not work and had nothing to occupy their time; there were no orchestras and no soccer games as in the Nazi concentration camps, and of course, no brothel. The library of 15,000 books that had been available to the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau were taken by Albert Zeitner, a former prisoner, to the town of Dachau and a lending library was set up in the Wittmann building.
The U.S. Third Army and the U.S. Seventh Army remained in Germany after World War II ended on May 8, 1945, and their War Crimes Detachments immediately began arresting suspected German war criminals; 400 to 700 persons were arrested each day until well over 100,000 Germans were incarcerated by December 1945, according to Harold Marcuse who wrote “Legacies of Dachau.” The former Dachau concentration camp already held 1,000 German accused war criminals by the end of June 1945, and they were put to work cleaning up the barracks.
Also in July 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first military governor of the American Zone of Occupation in Germany. The accused Germans could expect no mercy from Eisenhower who had written to his wife, Mamie: “God, I hate the Germans.”
The Soviet Union set up 10 Special Camps: the former Buchenwald concentration camp became Special Camp No. 2 while Sachsenhausen became Special Camp No. 7. Both of these camps were in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, behind the “Iron Curtain” and were run by the Soviet secret service, the NKVD. The British also set up a number of camps: the former Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg became No. 6 Civil Internment Camp and KZ Esterwagen became No. 9 Civil Internment Camp. The British camp at Bad Nenndorf was a particularly brutal place where former German soldiers were tortured between 1945 and 1947.
Suspects that were rounded up by the War Crimes Detachment of the U.S. Seventh Army were put into Civilian Internment Enclosure No. 78 in Ludwigsburg, Germany. In March 1946, the U.S. Seventh Army left Germany and their German prisoners were transferred to Dachau.
The authority for charging the defeated Germans with war crimes came from the London Agreement, signed after the war on August 8, 1945 by the four winning countries: Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the USA. The basis for the charges against the accused German war criminals was Law Order No. 10, issued by the Allied Control Council, the governing body for Germany before the country was divided into East and West Germany.
Law Order No. 10 defined Crimes against Peace, War Crimes, and Crimes against Humanity. A fourth crime category was membership in any organization, such as the Nazi party or the SS, that was declared to be criminal by the Allies. The war crimes contained in Law Order No. 10 were new crimes, created specifically for the defeated Germans, not crimes against existing international laws. Any acts committed by the winning Allies which were covered under Law Order No. 10 were not considered war crimes.
The German prisoners at Dachau were not treated as Prisoners of War under the Geneva convention because they had become “war criminals” at the moment that they committed their alleged war crimes. Every member of the elite SS volunteer Army was automatically a war criminal because the SS was designated by the Allies as a criminal organization even before anyone was put on trial. Any member of the Nazi political party, who had any official job within the party, was likewise automatically a war criminal regardless of what they had personally done.
Under the Allied concept of participating in a “common plan” to commit war crimes, it was not necessary for a Nazi or a member of the SS to have committed an atrocity themselves; all were automatically guilty under the concept of co-responsibility for any atrocity that might have occurred. The only good German was a traitor to his country; the German SS soldiers imprisoned at Dachau had volunteered to fight for their country; therefore they were war criminals and did not deserve to be treated as POWs under the Geneva Convention of 1929.
The basis for the “common plan” theory of guilt was Article II, paragraph 2 of Law Order No. 10 which stated as follows:
2. Any person without regard to nationality or the capacity in which he acted, is deemed to have committed a crime as defined in paragraph 1 of this Article, if he was (a) a principal or (b) was an accessory to the commission of any such crime or ordered or abetted the same or (c) took a consenting part therein or (d) was connected with plans or enterprises involving its commission or (e) was a member of any organization or group connected with the commission of any such crime or (f) with reference to paragraph 1 (a), if he held a high political, civil or military (including General Staff) position in Germany or in one of its Allies, co-belligerents or satellites or held high position in the financial, industrial or economic life of any such country.
The photo below shows the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 after it was turned into War Crimes Enclosure No. 1. Note that the camp was divided into sections enclosed by barbed wire. This is the west side of the camp with Tower B in the background.