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US troops at a liberated camp confront German civilians with the evidence: a truck-load of corpses

Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps were greatly expanded in Germany after the Reichstag fire in 1933, and were intended to hold political prisoners and opponents of the regime. They grew rapidly through the 1930s as political opponents and many other groups of people were incarcerated without trial or judicial process. The term was borrowed from the British concentration camps of the Second Anglo-Boer War. Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps (described in this article) and extermination camps, which were camps established for the sole purpose of carrying out the extermination of the Jews of Europe—the Final Solution, Poles – the Lebensraum, Gypsies and other nations. Extermination camps included Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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Camps during the war

Major Nazi German concentration camps, 1944

After 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, concentration camps increasingly became places where the enemies of the Nazis were enslaved, starved, tortured and killed.[citation needed] During the War concentration camps for “undesirables” spread throughout Europe. New camps were created near centers of dense “undesirable” populations, often focusing on areas with large communities of Jews, Polish intelligentsia, Communists or Roma. Since millions of Jews lived in pre-war Poland, most camps were located in the area of General Government in occupied Poland for logistical reasons. It also allowed the Nazis to transport the German Jews outside of the German main territory.

Internees

The six largest groups containing prisoners in the camps, both numbering in the millions, were Jews and the Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). Large numbers of Roma (or Gypsies), Poles, left of center political prisoners, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic clergy, Eastern European intellectuals, and others—including common criminals. In addition, a small number of Western Allied POWs were sent to concentration camps for various reasons.[1] 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 antisemitic policies.[2]

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 for homosexual men, purple for Jehovah's Witnesses, black for Gypsies and asocials, and yellow for Jews.[3]

Treatment

Original boxcar used for transport to the concentration camps, located on Google Earth 51 3.451N , 4 20.543E
On display at Fort van Breendonk, Belgium

Millions of prisoners died in the concentration camps through mistreatment, disease, starvation, and overwork, or were executed as unfit for labor. More than three million Jews died in them, usually in gas chambers, although many were killed in mass shootings and by other means.

Prisoners were often transported in inhumane conditions by rail freight cars, in which many died before reaching their destination. The prisoners were confined to the rail cars, often for days or weeks, without 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 prisoners perished because of harsh conditions or were executed.

In the early spring of 1941 the SS, along with doctors and officials of the T-4 Euthanasia Program, began killing selected concentration camp prisoners in “Operation 14f13.”[citation needed] 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.[4] For Jewish prisoners there was not even the pretense of a medical examination: the arrest record was listed as a physician’s “diagnosis”.[5] In early 1943, as the need for labor increased and the gas chambers at Auschwitz became operational Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of Operation 14f13.[6]

General (later US President) Dwight D. Eisenhower inspecting prisoners’ corpses at the liberated Ohrdruf forced labor camp, 1945

After 1942, many small subcamps were set up near factories to provide forced labour. 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, if they did not work fast enough.

After much consideration, the final fate of the Jewish prisoners (the “Final Solution”) was announced in 1942 at the Wannsee Conference to high ranking officials.[citation needed]

Near the end of the war, the camps became sites for horrific medical experiments. Eugenics experiments, freezing prisoners to determine how exposure affected pilots, and experimental and lethal medicines were all tried at various camps. Female prisoners were routinely raped and degraded in the camps.[7]

The camps were liberated by the Allies between 1943 and 1945, often too late to save the prisoners remaining. For example, when the UK entered Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945, 60,000 prisoners were found alive, but 10,000 died within a week of liberation due to typhus and malnutrition.

The British intelligence service had information about the concentration camps, and in 1942 Jan Karski delivered a thorough eyewitness account to the government.

Types of camps

According to Moshe Lifshitz[8], the Nazi camps divided as follows:

  • Labor camps: concentration camps where interned inmates had to do hard physical labor under inhumane conditions and cruel treatment. Some of these camps were sub-camps of bigger camps, or "operational camps", established for a temporary need.
  • Transit and collection camps: camps where inmates were collected and routed to main camps, or temporarily held (Durchgangslager or Dulag).
  • POW camps: concentration camps where prisoners of war were held after capture. These POW's endured torture and liquidation on a large scale.
  • Camps for rehabilitation and re-education of Poles: camps where the intelligentsia of the ethnic Poles were held, and "re-educated" according to Nazi values as slaves.
  • Hostage camps (or death camps): camps where hostages were held and killed as reprisals.
  • Extermination camps: These camps differed from the rest, since not all of them were also concentration camps. Although none of the categories is independent, and each camp could be classified as a mixture of several of the above, and all camps had some of the elements of an extermination camp, systematic extermination of new-arrivals occurred in very specific camps. Of these, four were extermination camps, where all new-arrivals were simply killed – the "Aktion Reinhard" camps (Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec), together with Chelmno. Two others (Auschwitz and Majdanek) were combined concentration and extermination camps. Others 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 to hold German Prisoners of War, suspected Nazis and collaborators, anti-Communists and other political prisoners, as well as civilian members of the German and Ukrainian ethnic minorities. In East Germany (Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen), concentration and extermination camps were used for similar purposes. Dachau concentration camp was used as a prison for arrested Nazis and after that as cheap working-class housing.

See also

References

  1. ^ One of the best-known examples was the 168 British Commonwealth and U.S. aviators held for a time at Buchenwald concentration camp. (See: luvnbdy/secondwar/fact_sheets/pow Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006, “Prisoners of War in the Second World War” and National Museum of the USAF, “Allied Victims of the Holocaust”.) Two different reasons are suggested for this: the Nazis wanted to make an example of the Terrorflieger (“terror-instilling aviators”), or they classified the downed fliers as spies because they were out of uniform, carrying false papers, or both when apprehended.
  2. ^ See, for example, Joseph Robert White, 2006, “Flint Whitlock. Given Up for Dead: American GIs in the Nazi Concentration Camp at Berga” (book review)
  3. ^ “Germany and the Camp System” PBS Radio website
  4. ^ Friedlander, Henry (1995). The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 144. 
  5. ^ Ibid., pp. 147–8
  6. ^ Ibid., p. 150
  7. ^ Morrissette, Alana M.: The Experiences of Women During the Holocaust, p. 7.
  8. ^ Moshe Lifshitz, "Zionism". (ציונות), p. 304

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