Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager, KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.
Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS) took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35. Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, Gypsies/Romanis/Sintis, Serbs, Poles, disabled people, and criminals. The number of people in the camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.
Beginning in 1934 the concentration camps were administered by the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI), which in 1942 was merged into SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, and they were guarded by SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV).
Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps (described in this article) and extermination camps, which were established by Nazi Germany for the industrial-scale mass murder of Jews in the ghettos by way of gas chambers.
|Nazi concentration camps|
Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real and potential opposition. The general public was intimidated by the arbitrary psychological terror that was used by the special courts (Sondergerichte). Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.
The first camp in Germany, Dachau, was founded in March 1933. The press announcement said that "the first concentration camp is to be opened in Dachau with an accommodation for 5,000 people. All Communists and – where necessary – Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries who endanger state security are to be concentrated there, as in the long run it is not possible to keep individual functionaries in the state prisons without overburdening these prisons." Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the German coalition government of National Socialist Workers' Party (Nazi Party) and the Nationalist People's Party (dissolved on 6 July 1933). Heinrich Himmler, then Chief of Police of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners."
On 26 June 1933, Himmler appointed Theodor Eicke commandant of Dachau, who in 1934 was also appointed the first Inspector of Concentration Camps (CCI). In addition, the remaining SA-run camps were taken over by the SS. Dachau served as both a prototype and a model for the other Nazi concentration camps. Almost every community in Germany had members who were taken there. The newspapers continuously reported on "the removal of the enemies of the Reich to concentration camps" making the general population more aware of their presence. There were jingles warning as early as 1935: "Dear God, make me dumb, that I may not come to Dachau."
Between 1933 and the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, more than 3.5 million Germans were forced to spend time in concentration camps and prisons for political reasons, and approximately 77,000 Germans were executed for one or another form of resistance by Special Courts, courts-martial, and the civil justice system. Many of these Germans had served in government, the military, or in civil positions, which enabled them to engage in subversion and conspiracy against the Nazis.
As a result of the Holocaust, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. Because of these ominous connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer terms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.
After September 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps became places where millions of ordinary people were enslaved as part of the war effort, often starved, tortured and killed. During the war, new Nazi concentration camps for "undesirables" spread throughout the continent. According to statistics by the German Ministry of Justice, about 1,200 camps and subcamps were run in countries occupied by Nazi Germany, while the Jewish Virtual Library estimates that the number of Nazi camps was closer to 15,000 in all of occupied Europe and that many of these camps were run for a limited amount of time before they were closed. Camps were being created near the centers of dense populations, often focusing on areas with large communities of Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Communists or Romani. Since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, most camps were located in the area of the General Government in occupied Poland, for logistical reasons. The location also allowed the Nazis to quickly remove the German Jews from within Germany proper.
By 1940, the CCI came under the control of the Verwaltung und Wirtschaftshauptamt Hauptamt (VuWHA; Administration and Business office) which was set up under Oswald Pohl. Then in 1942, the CCI became Amt D (Office D) of the consolidated main office known as the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic and Administrative Department; WVHA) under Pohl. In 1942, the SS built a network of extermination camps to systematically kill millions of prisoners by gassing. The extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) and death camps (Todeslager) were camps whose primary function was genocide. The Nazis themselves distinguished the concentration camps from the extermination camps. The British intelligence service had information about the concentration camps, and in 1942 Jan Karski delivered a thorough eyewitness account to the government.
The two largest groups of prisoners in the camps, both numbering in the millions, were the Polish Jews and the Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) held without trial or judicial process. There were also large numbers of Romani people, ethnic Poles, Serbs, political prisoners, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, Eastern European intellectuals and others (including common criminals, as the Nazis declared). In addition, a small number of Western Allied aviators were sent to concentration camps as punishment for spying. Western Allied POWs who were Jews, or who were suspected of being Jews by the Nazis, were usually sent to ordinary POW camps; however, a small number of them were sent to concentration camps because of antisemitic policies.
Sometimes the concentration camps were used to hold important prisoners, such as the generals involved in the attempted assassination of Hitler; U-boat Captain-turned-Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller; and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who was interned at Flossenbürg on February 7, 1945, until he was hanged on April 9, shortly before the war's end.
In most camps, prisoners were forced to wear identifying overalls with colored badges according to their categorization: red triangles for Communists and other political prisoners, green triangles for common criminals, pink triangles for homosexual men, purple triangles for Jehovah's Witnesses, black triangles for asocials and the "work shy", yellow triangle for Jews, and later the brown triangle for Romanis.
Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps due to deliberate maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or they were executed as unfit for labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their final destination. The prisoners were confined in the boxcars for days or even weeks, with little or no food or water. Many died of dehydration in the intense heat of summer or froze to death in winter. Concentration camps also existed in Germany itself, and while they were not specifically designed for systematic extermination, many of their inmates perished because of harsh conditions or they were executed.
In the spring of 1941, the SS—along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program—introduced the Action 14f13 programme meant for extermination of selected concentration camp prisoners. The Inspectorate of the Concentration Camps categorized all files dealing with the death of prisoners as 14f, and those of prisoners sent to the T-4 gas chambers as 14f13. Under the language regulations of the SS, selected prisoners were designated for "special treatment (German: Sonderbehandlung) 14f13". Prisoners were officially selected based on their medical condition; namely, those permanently unfit for labor due to illness. Unofficially, racial and eugenic criteria were used: Jews, the handicapped, and those with criminal or antisocial records were selected.:p.144 For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician's "diagnosis".:pp. 147–148 In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational, Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Action 14f13.:p.150
After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labor. IG Farben established a synthetic rubber plant in 1942 at Monowitz concentration camp (Auschwitz III); other camps were set up next to airplane factories, coal mines and rocket propellant plants. Conditions were brutal and prisoners were often sent to the gas chambers or killed on site if they did not work quickly enough.
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Göring gave written authorization to SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA), to prepare and submit a plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" in territories under German control and to coordinate the participation of all involved government organisations. The resulting Generalplan Ost (General Plan for the East) called for deporting the population of occupied Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Siberia, for use as slave labour or to be murdered.
Towards the end of the war, the camps became sites for medical experiments. Eugenics experiments, freezing prisoners to determine how downed pilots were affected by exposure, and experimental and lethal medicines were all tried at various camps. A cold water immersion experiments at Dachau concentration camp were performed by Sigmund Rascher.
The lead editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, operating from 1933 to 1945. They estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites.
Some of the most notorious slave labour camps included a network of subcamps. Gross-Rosen had 100 subcamps, Auschwitz had 44 subcamps, Stutthof had 40 sub-camps set up contingently. Prisoners in these subcamps were dying from starvation, untreated disease and summary executions by the tens of thousands already since the beginning of war.
The camps were liberated by the Allied forces between 1944 and 1945. The first major camp, Majdanek, was discovered by the advancing Soviets on July 23, 1944. Auschwitz was liberated, also by the Soviets, on January 27, 1945; Buchenwald by the Americans on April 11; Bergen-Belsen by the British on April 15; Dachau by the Americans on April 29; Ravensbrück by the Soviets on the same day; Mauthausen by the Americans on May 5; and Theresienstadt by the Soviets on May 8. Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec were never liberated, but were destroyed by the Nazis in 1943. Colonel William W. Quinn of the U.S. 7th Army said of Dachau: "There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind."
In most of the camps discovered by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive—7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors. Some 60,000 prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division, 13,000 corpses lay unburied, and another 10,000 died from typhus or malnutrition over the following weeks. The British forced the remaining SS guards to gather up the corpses and place them in mass graves.
Historians have divided the Nazi concentration camps into a series of major categories based on purpose, administrative structure, and inmate-population profiles. The system of camps preceded the onset of World War II by several years and evolved gradually.
None of the categories are independent - one could classify many camps as a mixture of several of the above. All camps had some of the elements of an extermination camp, but systematic extermination of new arrivals by gas chambers only occurred in specialized camps. These were extermination camps, where all new-arrivals were simply killed—the "Aktion Reinhard" camps (Treblinka, Sobibór and Belzec), together with Chelmno. Two others ( Auschwitz and Majdanek) operated as combined concentration- and extermination-camps. Others like Maly Trostenets were at times classified as "minor extermination camps".
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the war, some of them were turned into permanent memorials, and museums. In Communist Poland, some camps such as Majdanek, Jaworzno, Potulice and Zgoda were used by the Soviet NKVD to hold German prisoners of war, suspected or confirmed Nazis and Nazi collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German-speaking, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. Currently, there are memorials to the victims of both Nazi and communist camps at Potulice; they have helped to enable a German-Polish discussion on historical perceptions of World War II. In East Germany, the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a detention centre for the arrested Nazis.
When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.For the map of more that 1,000 locations, see: Map of Ghettos for Jews in Eastern Europe. The New York Times. Source: USHMM.
Source: "Atlas of the Holocaust" by Martin Gilbert (1982).
Alice Orlowski (September 30, 1903 – 1976) was a German concentration camp guard at several of the Nazi German camps in occupied Poland during World War II.Arbeit macht frei
Arbeit macht frei ([ˈaɐ̯baɪt ˈmaxt ˈfʁaɪ] (listen)) is a German phrase meaning "work sets you free". The slogan is known for appearing on the entrance of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.Black triangle (badge)
The black triangle was a badge used in Nazi concentration camps to mark prisoners regarded "asocial" and "arbeitsscheu" (work-shy). Those considered asocial included thieves, murderers, nomads, and Aryans who engaged in sexual relations with Jews. Women deemed to be asocial included prostitutes, nonconformists, and lesbians.Bogdanovka
Bogdanovka was a concentration camp for Jews that was established by the Romanian authorities during World War II as part of the Holocaust, during the 1941 Odessa massacre which saw the murder of Jews in Odessa and surrounding towns in Transnistria during the autumn of 1941 and the winter of 1942 in a series of massacres and killings by Romanian forces, under German control, encouragement and instruction.Elisabeth Volkenrath
Elisabeth Volkenrath (née Mühlau; 5 September 1919 – 13 December 1945) was a German supervisor at several Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Volkenrath, née Mühlau, was an ungelernte Hilfskraft (unskilled worker) when she volunteered for service in a concentration camp. She started in October 1941 at Ravensbrück concentration camp as a simple Aufseherin. In March 1942, she went to Auschwitz Birkenau where she worked in the same function as at Ravensbrück. At Auschwitz, she met SS-Rottenführer Heinz Volkenrath, who had worked there since 1941 as SS-Blockführer. They married in 1943. Elisabeth Volkenrath participated in the selection of prisoners for the gas chambers and in November 1944 was promoted to Oberaufseherin for all camp sections for female prisoners at Auschwitz.Elisabeth Volkenrath was transferred to Bergen-Belsen when Auschwitz was closed. From February 1945, she was Oberaufseherin (supervising wardress) at Bergen-Belsen.Female guards in Nazi concentration camps
The Aufseherinnen were female guards in German concentration camps during the Holocaust. Of the 55,000 guards who served in German concentration camps, about 3,700 were women. In 1942, the first female guards arrived at Auschwitz and Majdanek from Ravensbrück. The year after, the Nazis began conscripting women because of a guard shortage.
The German title for this position, Aufseherin (plural Aufseherinnen) means female overseer or attendant. Later female guards were dispersed to Bolzano (1944–45), Kaiserwald-Riga (1943–44), Mauthausen (March – May 1945), Stutthof (1942–45), Vaivara (1943–44), Vught (1943–44), and at other Nazi concentration camps, subcamps, work camps, detention camps, etc.Hans Oster
Hans Paul Oster (9 August 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany and a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943. As deputy head of the counter-espionage bureau in the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Oster was in a good position to conduct resistance operations under the guise of intelligence work; he was dismissed for helping Jews avoid arrest.
He was involved in the Oster Conspiracy of September 1938 and was arrested in 1943 on suspicion of helping Abwehr officers caught helping Jews escape Germany. After the failed 1944 July Plot on Hitler's life, the Gestapo seized the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of Abwehr, in which Oster's anti-Nazi activities were revealed. In April 1945, he was hanged with Canaris and Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg concentration camp.Identification in Nazi concentration camps
Identification of inmates in German concentration camps was performed mostly with identification numbers marked on clothing, or later, tattooed on the skin. More specialized identification was done with German concentration camp badges on the clothing and also with armbands.Inge Sylten and Heinz Drosihn
Inge Sylten was a young Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia who was deported in a transport from Theresienstadt Ghetto to Estonia in September 1942. Heinz Drosihn was an SS-Unterscharführer and the commandant of Ereda concentration camp in Estonia. Their paths intersect in the camp, where they fell in love, were forced to flee, and subsequently were shot or committed suicide during their flight to Scandinavia. Their story was preserved mainly thanks to fellow inmates of Inge Sylten. The Czech filmmaker and researcher Lukáš Přibyl called their story "... Romeo and Juliet story in a concentration camp".Juana Bormann
Juana Bormann (or Johanna Borman; 10 September 1893 – 13 December 1945) was an East Prussian-born prison guard at several Nazi concentration camps, from 1938 and was executed as a war criminal at Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany, after a court trial in 1945.Kamp Schoorl
Schoorl transit camp (Dutch: Kamp Schoorl, German: Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Schoorl), originally a Dutch army camp (1939–1940), was a Nazi concentration camp (1940–1941) near the village of Schoorl in the Netherlands.List of Nazi concentration camps
This article presents a partial list of the most prominent Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps set up across Europe before and during the course of World War II and the Holocaust. A more complete list drawn up in 1967 by the West German Ministry of Justice names about 1,200 camps and subcamps in countries occupied by Germany, while the Jewish Virtual Library writes: "It is estimated that the Germans established 15,000 camps in the occupied countries." Some of the data presented in this table originates from the monograph titled The War Against the Jews by Lucy Dawidowicz among similar others.In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans. They were not utilized to sustain the German war effort.
Although the term 'concentration camp' is often used as a general term for all German camps during World War II, there were in fact several types of concentration camps in the German camp system. Holocaust scholars make a clear distinction between death camps and concentration camps which served a number of war related purposes including prison facilities, labor camps, prisoner of war camps, and transit camps among others.Concentration camps served primarily as detention and slave labor exploitation centers. An estimated 15 to 20 million people were imprisoned in 42,500 camps and ghettos, and often pressed into slavery during the subsequent years, according to research by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum conducted more recently. The system of about 20,000 concentration camps in Germany and German-occupied Europe played a pivotal role in economically sustaining the German reign of terror. Most of them were destroyed by the Germans in an attempt to hide the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity; nevertheless tens of thousands of prisoners sent on death marches were liberated by the Allies afterward.Extermination camps were designed and built exclusively to kill prisoners on a massive scale, often immediately upon arrival. The extermination camps of Operation Reinhard such as Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka served as "death factories" in which German SS and police murdered nearly 2,700,000 Jews by asphyxiation with poison gas, shooting, and extreme work under starvation conditions.The concentration camps held large groups of prisoners without trial or judicial process. In modern historiography, the term refers to a place of systemic mistreatment, starvation, forced labour and murder.Margot Dreschel
Margot Elisabeth Dreschel, also spelled Drechsler, or Drexler (17 May 1908, Neugersdorf – May/June 1945, Bautzen), was a prison guard at Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Before her enlistment as an SS auxiliary, she worked at an office in Berlin. On 31 January 1941, Dreschel arrived at Ravensbrück concentration camp to receive guard training. At first she was an Aufseherin, a lower-ranking female guard at Ravensbrück camp in charge of interned women. She trained under Oberaufseherin (Senior Overseer) Johanna Langefeld in 1941, and quickly became an SS-Rapportführerin (Report Overseer), a higher-ranked guard.Nazi concentration camps in Norway
During the German occupation of Norway in World War II the civilian occupying authorities with the Quisling regime and the German Wehrmacht operated a number of camps in Norway, including around 110 prison camps.The Wehrmacht camps were largely POW camps and were scattered throughout the country. Some of these had extremely high mortality rates, owing to inhumane conditions and brutality.
Both established and improvised jails and prisons throughout the country were also used for internment by the Nazi authorities. In particular the Sicherheitspolizei and Sicherheitsdienst, headquartered at Victoria Terrasse, were notorious for torture and abuse of prisoners. Also, Arkivet in Kristiansand and Bandeklosteret in Trondheim became synonymous with torture and abuse.
The designated concentration camps were not classified as "KZ-Lager" by the Nazis, but rather as Häftingslager ("Detainee Camps") under the administration of the Nazi "security police," the SS and Gestapo. The Nazi authorities deported over 700 Jews from Norway to Auschwitz, over 500 Nacht und Nebel prisoners to Natzweiler; and thousands more to Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück and other prisons and camps in Germany. Most of these stayed in Norwegian camps during transit.
Although abuse, torture, and murder were commonplace in these camps, none of them were designated or functioned as extermination camps, nor did they reach the scale seen in camps in Germany, occupied Poland, and Austria. It is estimated that between 38,000 and 40,000 individuals passed through this camp system, for a total of 60,000 prisoner years.
The camps served varying purposes, such as:
Internment of political prisoners, especially socialists and communists, but also religious dissenters.
Internment of prisoners of war (Stammlager / Stalag) - especially Soviet and Yugoslavian soldiers
Internment of so-called "bomb hostages" (Geisellager) - prominent Norwegians who would be executed in the event of the resistance movement bombing Nazi targets
Transit internment of various prisoners bound for camps in Germany and Poland (Durchgangslager / Dulag) - including Jews, prominent political prisoners, and others.The Nazi authorities destroyed most of the records related to the camps and prisons they ran during the occupation. Some distinction was made between camps and prisons run by Norwegian Nazis and those run by German Nazi organizations, though it is safe to say that all atrocities took place under the authority of a unified command.
Effectively every local prison was used for these purposes by the Nazis, but several full-fledged camps were also established.Ninth Fort
The Ninth Fort (Lithuanian: Devintas Fortas) is a stronghold in the northern part of Šilainiai elderate, Kaunas, Lithuania. It is a part of the Kaunas Fortress, which was constructed in the late 19th century. During the occupation of Kaunas and the rest of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, the fort was used as a prison and way-station for prisoners being transported to labour camps. After the occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany, the fort was used as a place of execution for Jews, captured Soviets, and others.Politische Abteilung
The Politische Abteilung ("Political Department"), also called the "concentration camp Gestapo," was one of the five departments of a Nazi concentration camp set up by the Concentration Camps Inspectorate (CCI) to operate the camps. An outpost of both the Gestapo and the criminal police (Kripo), the political department evolved into the most important of the five.Robert Benoist
Robert Marcel Charles Benoist (20 March 1895 – 9 September 1944) was a French Grand Prix motor racing driver and war hero.Sereď concentration camp
Sereď concentration camp was a concentration camp built during World War II in the Slovak Republic. It was founded as a labor camp for the Jewish population in September 1941. In September 1944, it was transformed into a concentration camp operated by units of the SS.Todor Angelov
Todor Angelov Dzekov (Bulgarian: Тодор Ангелов Дзеков, French: Théodore Angheloff) Kyustendil, Principality of Bulgaria 12 January 1900 – Fort Breendonk, Belgium 30 November 1943 was a Bulgarian anarcho-communist revolutionary who lived and was active for a long time in Western Europe. During World War II, he headed a Brussels-based group of the Belgian Resistance against Nazi Germany; he was captured and sentenced to death by the Nazis.