Nazi concentration camps

Nazi concentration camps
Nazi concentration camps
U.S. Army soldiers show the German civilians of Weimar the corpses found in Buchenwald Concentration Camp

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.[2] Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners.[3]

Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS) took full control of the police and the concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35.[4] Himmler expanded the role of the camps to hold so-called "racially undesirable elements", such as Jews, Romanis, Serbs, Poles, disabled people, and criminals.[5][6][7] 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[8] and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.[9]

The concentration camps were administered since 1934 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.

Pre-war camps

The Dachau concentration camp was created for the purpose of holding political opponents. In time for Christmas of 1933, roughly 600 of the inmates were released as part of a pardoning action. The picture above depicts a speech by camp commander Theodor Eicke to prisoners who were about to be released.

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).[10] Especially during the first years of their existence when these courts "had a strong deterrent effect" against any form of political protest.[11]

The first camp in Germany, Dachau, was founded in March 1933.[12] 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."[12] 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."[12]

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler inspecting Dachau concentration camp on 8 May 1936.

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.[13][14][15] 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."[16]

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,[17][18][19] 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.[10]

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.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Konzentrationslager
brezhoneg: Kamp-bac'h nazi
Bahasa Indonesia: Kamp konsentrasi Nazi
italiano: Lager
Kiswahili: Makambi ya KZ
Lëtzebuergesch: Konzentratiounslager
Bahasa Melayu: Kem tahanan Nazi
sicilianu: Lager