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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Internment is the imprisonment or confinement[1] of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) gives the meaning as: "The action of ‘interning’; confinement within the limits of a country or place". Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction between internment, which is being confined usually for preventive or political reasons, and imprisonment, which is being closely confined as a punishment for crime.

"Internment" also refers to the practice of neutral countries in time of war in detaining belligerent armed forces and equipment in their territories under the Second Hague Convention.[2]

Early civilizations such as the Assyrians used forced resettlement of populations as a means of controlling territory,[3] but it was not until much later in the late 19th and the 20th centuries that records exist of groups of civilian non-combatants being concentrated into large prison camps.


Internment camps

An internment camp is a large detention center created for political opponents, enemy aliens, people with mental illness, specific ethnic or religious groups, civilians of a critical war-zone, or other groups of people, usually during a war. The term is used for facilities where inmates are selected according to some specific criteria, rather than individuals who are incarcerated after due process of law fairly applied by a judiciary.

As a result of the mistreatment of civilians interned during recent conflicts, the Fourth Geneva Convention was established in 1949 to provide for the protection of civilians during times of war "in the hands" of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power.[4] It was ratified by 194 nations. Prisoner-of-war camps are internment camps intended specifically for holding members of an enemy's armed forces as defined in the Third Geneva Convention, and the treatment of whom is specified in that Convention.

Concentration camps

Boer women and children in a British-run concentration camp in South Africa (1900-1902)

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. defines concentration camp as: a camp where non-combatants of a district are accommodated, such as those instituted by Lord Kitchener during the South African war of 1899-1902; one for the internment of political prisoners, foreign nationals, etc., esp. as organized by the Nazi regime in Germany before and during the war of 1939-45. The Random House Dictionary defines the term as: "a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.", and, the American Heritage Dictionary defines it thus: "A camp where civilians, enemy aliens, political prisoners, and sometimes prisoners of war are detained and confined, typically under harsh conditions." Finally, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as : "a camp where persons (as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined."

Similar camps existed earlier, such as in the United States (concentration camps for Cherokee and other Native Americans in the 1830s), in Cuba (1868–78) and in the Philippines (1898–1901) by Spain under the Restoration and the US respectively[5]. The term finds its roots in the "reconcentration camps" set up in Cuba by Valeriano Weyler in 1897 to quell opposition to Spanish rule in Cuba. During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the term "concentration camp" was used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa.[6] Ostensibly conceived as a form of humanitarian aid to the families whose farms had been destroyed in the fighting, the camps were used to confine and control large numbers of civilians as part of a scorched earth tactic.

Polish historian Władysław Konopczyński has suggested the first concentration camps were actually created in the 18th century, during Bar Confederation, when Russians organized 3 concentration camps in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for Polish rebel captives, where internees awaited deportation to Siberia. [7]

Use of the word concentration comes from the idea of concentrating a group of people who are in some way undesirable in one place, where they can be watched by those who incarcerated them. For example, in a time of insurgency, potential supporters of the insurgents are placed where they cannot provide them with supplies or information.

Nazi and Soviet camps

Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp (1937 to 1945) and a Soviet NKVD special camp (1945 to 1950)

In the 20th century the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state became more common and reached a climax with Nazi concentration camps (1933-1945) and the practice of forced labor camps (nominally, the Gulag (1929-1960)) of the Soviet Union.[8] As a result of this trend, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. A concentration camp, however, is not by definition a death-camp. For example, many of the slave labor camps were used as free sources of factory labor for the manufacture of war materials and other goods.

Because of these negative connotations, the term "concentration camp", originally itself a euphemism, has been replaced by newer euphemisms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc., regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.

List of camps

See also


Simple English

File:Japanese internment camp in British
An internment camp for Japanese people in Canada, 1945

A concentration camp is a place which a government uses to keep people who are either against that government or who it thinks are too dangerous to remain free. Sometimes these are called internment camps, where a large number of people are put in prison without a trial.

The people who are locked away in such a prison, are not usually yet found guilty of a crime, but may be politically against the leaders of a region, people who are of a certain race or religion, or non-military prisoners of war.

History of concentration camps

Many countries have used concentration camps often during wars or times of trouble and fighting.

The first concentration camps were used by the British in the Second Boer War in Africa around 1900. The families of South African men fighting against the British were put in camps to stop them from giving food and help to the fighters. Their houses and farms were burned. At least 30,000 people, mostly children, died in these camps from sickness or hunger.

Concentration camps became more famous and hated after 1936 when Nazi Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, thought certain groups of people should be killed (including Jews, Roma people, and homosexuals) and others were politically dangerous (socialists, communists or religious persons who disagreed with the Nazis). People were often sent to these camps to work. After a few years, some camps were set up to kill people. These are now called "extermination camps" or "death camps". People were gassed, shot, or sometimes worked to death. Some of these people were given a trial, but these trials were very unfair.

The Nazi gas chambers reportedly killed up to 20,000 people a day, towards the end of World War II. Over half of the people who died in the Holocaust, died at such concentration camps, at least 1.1 million people at the camps of Auschwitz alone.

In Italy or on its occupied territories were also concentration camps which were established by Benito Mussolini (in World War II till 1943). In these concentration camps were imprisoned especially Croats, Slovenes and Jews.

Prison camps had been in use in Russia for many years, especially in places in the Arctic or Siberia, a long way from any cities. From the 1920's under the Soviet Union many more people were sent to such camps and they were very badly treated there. One might still die there, but would most likely be used to work first. That is called a labour camp. These camps are sometimes called gulags, the Russian name for them. Anyone who was seen as a threat to the government was sent there. In 1939, there were about 1,300,000 people working as slaves in these camps. The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a book called The Gulag Archipelago by which many people realized what crimes the communist Soviet Union government had done.

In the United States during the American Civil War in the 1860's soldiers who been captured were sometimes all crowded together in bad conditions. These were meant to be prisoner of war camps with good conditions, but many men died from sickness or hunger. At Andersonville prison about 12,000 men died (out of about 45,000 who were in prison there). This camp was not meant to be so bad, and the man in charge was later tried and killed for war crimes.

During the so-called Indian Wars (1870's and later) the United States made many enemies who were Native Americans. These people were forced to leave their land and were often put into camps where they could not leave. In some cases, many people, especially children, died from hunger and sickness. These camps were called reservations, in that some land had been set aside, or reserved for the Native Americans. Again these camps were not meant to be so bad, but many things went wrong.

During World War II, the United States placed many Japanese Americans in internment camps.

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