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Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager)
throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps were
erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and
his Nazi Party was given control over the police through Reich Interior
Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Gring. Used to
hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held
around 45,000 prisoners.
Heinrich Himmler's SS took full control of the police and concentration camps
throughout Germany in 193435. Himmler expanded the role of the camps to
holding so-called "racially undesirable elements" of German society, such as Jews,
criminals, homosexuals, and Romani. The number of people in 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.
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 and concentration camp
Pre-war camps
The Dachau camp was created for holding political opponents. In time for Christmas
1933 roughly 600 of the inmates were released as part of a pardoning action.
Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of using documents confining
to one place a group of people who are in some way undesirable. The term itself
originated in the "reconcentration camps" set up in Cuba by General Valeriano
Weylerin 1897. Concentration camps had in the past been used by the U.S.
against Native Americans and by the British in the Second. Between 1904 and 1908,
the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps
in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of their genocide of the Herero
and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lderitz was the
biggest and the one with the harshest conditions.
When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they quickly moved to suppress all real
or potential opposition. The general public was intimidated through arbitrary
psychological terror of the special courts (Sondergerichte). Especially during the
first years of their existence 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 persons. 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 Munich,
officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political
Dachau served as a prototype and model for the other Nazi concentration camps.
Almost every community in Germany had members taken there. The newspapers
continuously reported of "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 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.
World War II
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 created for a limited time
before being demolished. 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, most camps were
located in the area of General Government in occupied Poland, for logistical
reasons. The location also allowed the Nazis to quickly remove the German Jews

from within Germany proper. 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 between
concentration camps and 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 containing 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 declared by the Nazis). In addition, a small
number of Western aviators were sent to concentration camps as spies. Western
Allied POWs who were Jews, or whom the Nazis believed to be Jewish, were usually
sent to ordinary POW camps; however, a small number were sent to concentration
camps under anti-Semitic policies.
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 for homosexual men,
purple for Jehovah's Witnesses, black for asocials and the "work shy", yellow for
Jews, and later brown for Romani.
Many of the prisoners died in the concentration camps through deliberate
maltreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or were executed as unfit for
labor. Prisoners were transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in
which many died before reaching their destination. The prisoners were confined to
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 were executed.
In the spring of 1941, the SS along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia
Program introduced the Action 14f13programme 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 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. For Jewish prisoners
there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was
listed as a physicians diagnosis. 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.
After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced
On 31 July 1941 Hermann Gring gave written authorization to SSObergruppenfhrer 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 organizations. 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.
Types of camps
The Nazi concentration camps have been divided by historians into several major
categories based on purpose, the administrative structure, as well as inmate
population profile. The system of camps preceded the onset of World War II by
several years and was developed gradually.
1. Wild camps, or early camps, usually without proper infrastructure, springing
up in each and every town across the German state beginning in 1933 like
mushrooms after the rain (Himmler's quote), overseen by Nazi paramilitaries
and political police utilizing any lockable larger space, i.e. engine rooms,
brewery floors, storage facilities, cellars, etc.
2. State camps (i.e. Dachau, Oranienburg, Esterwegen) guarded by the SA;
prototypes for future SS concentration camps, with the total of 107,000
prisoners already in 1935.
3. Hostage camps (Geisellager), known also as police prison camps (i.e. SintMichielsgestel, Haaren) where hostages were held and later killed in reprisal

4. Labor camps (Arbeitslager): concentration camps where interned captives

had to perform hard physical labor under inhumane conditions and cruel
treatment. Some of these were sub-camps (Aussenlager) a.k.a. the Outer
Camps, built around a larger central camp (Stammlager) or served as
"operational camps" established for a temporary need.
5. POW camps (Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager / Stalag) a.k.a.
Main Camps for Enlisted Prisoners of War: concentration camps where
enlisted prisoners-of-war were held after capture. They were usually assigned
soon to nearby labor camps (Arbeitskommandos i.e. the Work Details. POW
officers had their own camps (Offizierslager / Oflag). Stalags were for Army
prisoners, but specialized camps ((Marinelager / Marlag ("Navy camps")
and Marineinterniertenlager / Milag("Merchant Marine Internment Camps"))
existed for the other services. Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager
Luftwaffe / Stalag Luft ("Air Forces Camps") were the only camps that
detained both officers and non-commissioned personnel together.
6. Camps for the so-called "rehabilitation and re-education of Poles"
(Arbeiterziehungslager - "Work Instruction Camps"): camps where the
intelligentsia of the ethnic Poles were held, and "re-educated" according to
Nazi values as slaves.
7. Collection and Transit camps: camps where inmates were collected
(Sammellager) or temporarily held (Durchgangslager / Dulag) and then
routed to main camps.
8. Extermination camps (Vernichtungslager): These camps differed from the
rest, since not all of them were also concentration camps. Although none of
the categories are independent, many camps could be classified 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 occurred in
very specific camps. Of these, four were extermination camps, where all newarrivals were simply killed the "Aktion Reinhard" camps
(Treblinka, Sobibr and Belzec), together with Chelmno. Two others
(Auschwitz and Majdanek) were combined concentration and extermination
camps. Others like Maly Trostenets were at times classified as "minor
extermination camps".
Post-war use
Though most Nazi concentration and extermination camps were destroyed after the
war, some were made into permanent memorials. 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, Silesian and Ukrainian ethnic minorities.

Currently, there are memorials to 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 Sachsenhausenwere used for similar purposes. Dachau
concentration camp was used as a detention center for the arrested Nazis.