The Nazi Camps
After assuming power in 1933, Nazis immediately began the process of constructing camps. Concentration camps are places where people are confined or detained without any trial. Prisoners are kept in extremely harsh conditions bereft of any rights.
Enemies of the state as well as other categories were confined in these camps under inhumane conditions. It was the responsibility of police forces to set up the camps. However, after a while, Nazis started developing a centrally controlled and systematic structure of camps.
Later on, the Nazi regime began exerting influence upon countries it had occupied. Towards this end, many kinds of camps were developed. These were transit camps, labor camps, concentration camps and extermination camps.
Additionally, Germany annexed Austria in March 1938 after which they arrested as well as detained many German Jews in Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Inmates in such camps lived in very poor conditions.
After the aggressive Kristallnacht pogroms on November 1938, Nazis made mass arrests for male Jews. They incarcerated them inside camps. In 1933-1945, Nazis created over 20,000 camps to imprison people.
In Germany, the concentration camps were created as detention centers to stifle any opposition towards the Nazis by enemies of the state – Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, social democrats, socialists, socialists, Roma, ‘asocials’ and homosexuals.
Throughout all German-controlled territories, Germany had concentration camps. In March 1933, the first concentration camps were constructed. These concentration camps served to torture as well as to hold union organizers and political opponents.
Ravensbruck, Mauthausen, Belsen, Buchenwald and Dachau were some of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Initially, these camps only held about 45,000 prisoners. In 1934-1935, SS under Heinrich Himmler took control over concentration camps and the police throughout Germany.
With time, the function of concentration camps was expanded to hold racially unwanted elements within the German society such as Romani people, Jews, homosexuals and criminals as earlier mentioned. Prior to the World War II, there were about 21,000 concentration camps. In these concentration camps, prisoners wore colored badges for systematic categorization and easy identification.
Concentration camps served as punishment camps or reformatory facilities.
Upon assumption of office, Nazis moved to suppress all potential or real opposition in Germany, ruthless. The general populace was frightened through capricious psychological terror. This has a deterrent effect against political protest.
The first concentration camp was constructed on March in 1933 in Dachau. It accommodated 5,000 people. All Communists as well as Social Democratic and Reichsbanner functionaries who endangered state security were confined in concentration camps. It was impossible to keep these functionaries within state prisoners due to overcrowding.
The Dachau concentration camp served to contain political prisoners. It was a model and a prototype for other concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1945, over 3.6 million Germans spent their time in prisons as well as concentration camps for both simple and complex political reasons.
About 77,000 Germans were exterminated for resistance by court martial, civil judicial system as well as in Special Courts. Most of them had worked in government in both civil and military positions. This enabled them to participate in conspiracy and subversion against Nazis.
During World War II, these camps were used in enslaving ordinary people as part of the expansive war efforts. They were tortured, starved and killed. Concentration camps focused on those areas with huge communities of Polish, Romani, Intelligentsia, Communists and Jewish communities. Most concentration camps were located in Poland.
The two biggest groups of people within concentration camps were Soviet, Polish as well as Jewish POWs. There were also many Gypsies, ethnic Serbs, Poles, homosexuals, People with Disabilities (PWDs), political prisoners, Catholic clergy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals as well as other intellectuals from Eastern Europe.
Western-allied POWs who the Nazis thought were Jews or those who were Jews were sent to regular POWs camps. Some concentration camps held important prisoners like those who attempted to assassinate Hitler. In concentration camps, most prisoners perished due to disease, overwork, starvation, execution or deliberate maltreatment. Transportation of prisoners took place in very inhumane conditions though rail freight vehicles.
Most of them perished before they reached their destination. They were also confined within boxcars for many weeks with no or little water and food. Most died because of dehydration during summer while others froze during winter. There were also concentration camps in Germany.
Most prisoners in these concentration camps were not meant for systematic annihilation. However, many died due to harsh conditions while others were executed.
In 1941, a program was introduced to execute certain prisoners within these concentration camps based on their health conditions. Additionally, most concentration sub-camps were located near industries to provide forced labor. People were also taken hostages and executed as reprisals.
Nazi Germany built extermination camps during the 1939-1945 World War II with the intent of systematically killing many people through execution as well as extreme work coupled with starvation conditions.
People were executed in these death camps through gassing. After the formulation of Action T4 program, it was adapted and then expanded for application towards victims from an assortment of groups. However, the Jews became the major Nazi targets.
Essentially, the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Question’ of the Third Reich was genocide of Jewish people. These attempts are called the Holocaust. The Nazi reasoned that some people did not have the right to life. Initially, the Jews together with other groups of people were constrained to ghettos or mostly interned within concentration camps.
In 1941, the Nazis began to kill the Jews in Europe systematically. Action T4 was predicated upon racial science and racial hygiene. The Task Forces undertook the initial killings.
After Nazis started establishing different camps for massive extermination, it was not a well-coordinated strategy. However, with Wannsee Conference in 1942, this changed dramatically. The conveners of the conference held that the Jewish people in Europe had to be annihilated at all costs. Adolf Eichman was to be responsible for logistics.
In 1942, the first extermination camps were built as part of the Final Solution. This marked the first step towards extermination of Jews in General Government.
At the beginning, the corpses of the victims were buried and obscured within mass graves. Later on, they were cremated. After the advancement of Russian forces, the hitherto buried corpses were exhumed and then burned. This was an attempt by Nazi Germany to destroy the Holocaust evidence.
The extermination camps differed with the concentration camps like Ravensbruck, Belsen and Dachau. These were prison camps tailored to confine politically or socially undesirable people within the Nazi society.
Primarily, the function of extermination camps was genocide. They were not meant for detaining political prisoners and punishing crimes. Instead, extermination camps were to in systematic annihilation of prisoners brought there. Prisoners taken to Treblinka, Belzec, Auschwitz, Majdanek and Sobibor extermination camps were not expected to survive upon arrival.
Trawnikis and Police battalions operated the extermination camps. In these camps, prisoners were gassed to death. Initially, Jews were to the concentration camps. From 1942, Jews were deported to extermination camps. For logistical and political purposes, the majority of infamous Nazi Germany’s extermination camps were located at Occupied Poland.
Most of the Jewish populace lived in Poland. Moreover, locating the extermination camps in Third Reich helped in keeping them like a secret from the civil populace in Germany.
Operationally, there existed two kinds of extermination camps – pure extermination and concentration-extermination camps. In pure extermination camps, gas vans with exhaust fumes were filled with carbon dioxide. This initially happened in Chelmno death camp.
During the 1941-1943 Operation Reinhard, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec served to exterminate the Jews in Poland. Prisoners were killed immediately after arriving in the extermination camps. Carbon monoxide chambers served in annihilating the Jews. The bodies were buried. They were incinerated on top of pyres. Later, crematoria and gas chambers were constructed in Belzec and Treblinka. Operation Reinhard and Chelmno camps were used in exterminating most people, especially the Jews.
The extermination camps were small and equipped with minute support and housing installations. Jasenovac, Majdanek and Auschwitz were retrofitted with crematoria and gas chambers. In concentration-extermination camps, served as concentration camps as well as extermination camps. They had a dual purpose.
Notably, about three million people were executed in these Nazi camps. Therefore, extermination camps only served for mass murder of Jews as well as other ‘unwanted’ people. Just 6 extermination camps were constructed between 1941-1943 with the intent of annihilating the Jews. About 3 million Jews were killed within these camps.
They were created in German-occupied nations to use prisoners as slave laborers. In majority of labor camps with the exception of PoW camps, deaths occurred due to exhaustion, physical brutality, execution, disease as well as starvation.
Majdanek and Auschwitz II camps served as labor camps. Able-bodied prisoners who were delivered in extermination camps were not killed immediately.
Instead, they were coerced to work in labor units. They work in the annihilation process by removing the corpses from gas chambers as well as burning them. This underscores the argument that some prisoners become slave laborers instead of being subjected to immediate death. They remained alive like camp inmates. They worked wherever and whenever their rulers requires. As earlier mentioned, labor camps served as detention facilities. Inmates engaged in penal work.
In World War II, Nazi Germany operated labor camps for dissimilar groupings of inmates. Most of these laborers were Jewish civilians who were abducted forcibly in occupied countries to offer labor to the war industry in Germany.
The slave laborers repaired bombed bridges as well as railroads. Additionally, slave laborers could also farm. By 1944, about 20% of all laborers were foreigners, either Prisoner Of War (POWs) as well as civilians.
Nazi Germany had scores of slave laborers. Furthermore, these slave laborers worked in concentration camps to offer free but forced labor in industrial as well as other jobs. Notably, slave laborers were used in exterminating other fellow inmates in extermination camps. In the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp, slave laborers served V-2 rocket production.
Germany invaded Poland on September 1939. The leadership of Nazi order for the construction of labor camps where many prisoners perished due to exposure, starvation, dehydration and fatigue as earlier mentioned. The labor camps expanded rapidly during the World War II. Nazi Germany took advantage of forced labor using the torturous camp system. For instance, over 14 million inmates and 2.5 million POWs were taken to Germany to provide forced labor.
The enslavement of the Jews and their internment in far-reaching networks of labor camps throughout Europe as well as in the Reich worked under tough conditions. Notably, taking them to labor camps did not exempt them from the eventual extermination.
In fact, some were exterminated through forced labor. In spite of the imminent victory by the Allied Forces and the military reversals by Germany, the camps continued operating until the Third Reich’s downfall. In this stage, all Jews within Europe – with the exemption of those who lived in Soviet interior, forests, hideouts or under fake identities – were incarcerated within labor and concentration camps.
Many prisoners in the concentration camps, labor camps and extermination camps died through starvation, dehydration, overwork, diseases, maltreatment as well as execution. Gas chambers served to enhance the killing efficiency not only of the German Jews but also of other political dissidents and social rejects including as Socialists, Communists, Jehovah Witnesses, liberals and other categories of people discussed in the research paper. The Reich considered these people its enemy.