American soldiers liberated 30,000 prisoners from a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany on this date in 1945. The camp had been established in March 1933, just five weeks after Hitler rose to power as German chancellor; it was the first concentration camp the Nazis established. Originally it held political prisoners, unionists, and other opponents of the Nazis, but by 1945, most of the prisoners were Jews. The camp also held communists, homosexuals, Roma Gypsies, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a labor camp and a training ground for SS camp guards. Nazi scientists carried out experiments on the prisoners, which crippled or killed hundreds of them. Thousands more were executed or died of typhus, which was rampant. When the Americans arrived, they found 30 railroad cars filled with bodies, and the survivors were on the brink of starvation. Some of the American soldiers were so shocked and horrified by what they saw that they opened fire on their German prisoners of war, killing as many as 50 Nazi guards.
The gates of Dachau proclaim, in wrought iron, “Arbeit macht frei” — work sets you free. There is a memorial inside those gates now, which reads: “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 … unite the living in their defense of peace and freedom and in reverence of human dignity.”