Camp Inspector Eicke

In summer 1933, SS leader Heinrich Himmler was looking for a new Dachau commandant. He appointed Theodor Eicke, a brutal Nazi fanatic. Eicke quickly made SS violence more systematic. He introduced new rules, recruited new staff and indoctrinated them: the “Dachau school”. Himmler was so impressed, he appointed Eicke Camp Inspector in 1934, to coordinate all concentration camps. Eicke masterminded the camp system until 1939, when he left for the front. Among the men who went through the “Dachau school” was the later Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss. Writing in November 1946, in Polish captivity, Höss described Eicke’s efforts to turn his guards into warriors against imprisoned “enemies”.

021 – Former Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss on Camp Inspector Theodor Eicke

He [Theodor Eicke] is to be seen as the real creator of the concentration camps […]. He was also the person who gave the concentration camps their form and appearance. In 1933 the Reich Leader SS [Himmler] lifts him from the general SS and makes him Standartenführer at the Dachau concentration camp following the dismissal of two [sic] incompetent predecessors.

Camp Inspector Theodor Eicke with entourage in Lichtenburg (March 1936)

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej

Eicke immediately gets down to reshaping the camp in line with his ideas. Eicke is a rigid old Nazi from the “period of the struggle”. All his doings are based on the idea: National Socialism has seized power for itself at the cost of heavy sacrifices and after a long struggle: the task now is to unify this power against all enemies of this new state. That is how he also sees the concentration camps. To him the inmates are always enemies of the state, who have to be kept locked up, treated harshly and, in the event of resistance, annihilated.

show the enemies of the state your teeth!

In this spirit he teaches and educates his SS leaders. […] Inmates are handled severely and harshly. The least offence is punished by him with flogging. He has the flogging performed before the assembled guard personnel – at least 2 companies – in order, as he puts it – to make the men hard. The recruits, in particular, are made to watch the floggings regularly. The Alpha and Omega of all of Eicke’s teachings is: out there, beyond the wire, the enemy is lurking: he is watching all your doings in order to profit from your weaknesses. Do not therefore display any weakness, show the enemies of the state your teeth! Anyone showing even the least pity for these enemies of the state has to disappear from our ranks. I can only use hard SS men, ready for anything, there is no place for softies among us. […]

He turned the Guard Troop into a hard, rough team that really guards but is also quick with the rifle if an enemy of the state attempts to escape. Even the slightest offence in guarding is punished incredibly hard by Eicke. Yet his men love him and call him “Papa Eicke”. In the evening he sits among them in their canteen or in their quarters. Talks to them in their language, listens to their troubles and worries, teaches and educates them into what he needs – rough, hard men who shrink from nothing if he gives the order. […]

In 1934 he becomes the first Inspector of Concentration Camps. Initially he controls matters from Dachau, then he moves to Berlin in order to be near to the Reich Leader SS [Himmler]. He now embarks with ardent zeal on reshaping the existing camps of Esterwegen, Sachsenburg, Lichtenburg and Columbia on the Dachau model. Dachau leaders and men are constantly transferred to the other camps in order to bring with them the “Dachau spirit” and to become a little more military and Prussian. The Reich Leader SS gives him a free hand, he knows that he could not entrust the concentration camps to a more “suitable” person. Himmler has repeatedly stated this quite openly, he approved of Eicke’s views on the concentration camps and on enemies of the state and completely shared these views.

Source: Institut für Zeitgeschichte, F 13/6, Bl. 369–82

Translation: Ewald Osers