Institutions, where a specific group of people were held to be restrained and terrorized, were called concentration camps. Later in Germany (and German-occupied Europe), these institutes were established during the Nazi regime.
But soon, the walls of those concentration camps were painted with the blood of innocent Jews, Soviet union prisoners, other races that were deemed to be inferior to the Aryan race. Anyone who was seen as a threat to the Nazi regime was persecuted.
Let’s get to know about concentration camps and how it became so horrific.
How the Nazi Regime Came to Power
Germany was under the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945. During that time, Nazi Germany was hailed as the German Reich (1933-1943) and the Greater German Reich (1943-1945).
But how did the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler became part of history? Let’s talk about the events that led to Hitler coming to power and the Nazi regime presiding over Germany for 13 years.
Paul Von Hindenburg was the President of Germany and nominated Adolf Hitler in 1933 as the Chancellor of the state. Soon after this, the Nazi Party started to annihilate all political opponents and resistance.
When Hindenburg died in 1933, Hitler succeeded him by merging the power of Chancellor and Presidential and gaining its obligations. The Nazi Government, headed by Hitler, started to rule over Germany. Thus, Nazi Germany was born.
Adolf Hitler became a dictator and sanctioned a totalitarian regime all over Nazi Germany. He was the sole leader of Nazi Germany. Hence, all power pertained to him, and his rules and ideas were to be followed and respected to the absolute letter.
Nazi government was not a well constructed or coordinated administration. It consisted of factions of Nazi officials who worked only for the sole purpose of earning authority, respect, and Hitler’s favor.
The Nazi Government brought economic stability during the Great Depression by ending mass unemployment. They could do this feat by a mixed economy, massive military spending, construction of public projects. This boosted the reputation of the Nazi regime in a favorable light.
Intentions Behind the Existence of Concentration Camps
Concentration camps in Germany were operated from 1933-1945. These were places where prisoners were arrested without any legal prosecution. They were kept in harsh conditions in these concentration camps.
But the existence of Concentration camps goes a long way back. It has been found that Concentration camps existed in Cuba and the Philippines a long time ago, which was an aspect of the colonization of those countries. But historians don’t know what it was used for at those places.
The British also constructed Concentration camps after the Second Boer War in their land.
You may think concentration camps are like jail. But concentration camps can never be compared to prison. The main difference between prisons and concentration camps is that jail functions under a judicial review.
But the in concentration camps, the prisoners are arrested without any judicial action, and a concentration camp works outside of the judicial system. Furthermore, concentration camps committed atrocities against minorities that cannot be compared to modern prisons.
How Concentration Camps in Germany Came to Power
In the beginning, the primary purposes of Concentration camps in Germany were to capture and suppress political opposition, threatening the Nazi regime.
But in later years, concentration camps were also used to eliminate a specific group of people with disabilities, behavior, and people of a different race, petty felons and criminals, and mass murder. The prisoners were also used as labor to built concentration camps.
The first concentration camp was built in Nohra in a school. It was called Nohra and was established on March 3, 1933. Soon after that, the infamous Dachau concentration camp was also created. Slowly concentration camps were established throughout the years have tens and thousands of prisoners.
In 1934 after the Röhm Purge, the SS ( Schutzstaffel) separated from the SA (Sturmabteilung) and became an independent organization. Adolf Hitler then gave SS leader Heinrich Himmler the responsibilities of the administration of the concentration camps and to make it into a permanent system to eradicate the unwanted population.
Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke to take charge of the planning. Eicke was selected as he was the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since it was constructed. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, giving him a new responsibility and power in the Nazi SS office.
After December 1934, the SS was the only agency that could authorize, establish, and manage facilities that were now called concentration camps.
Main Characteristics of Concentration Camps
All the concentration camps had the same internal system and arrangement. Each camp has a Commandment’s Headquarters, a Detention Office where a Security officer has prisoners records like inmate death records, records of the day when new prisoners arrive at the camp, labor hours put by a particular inmate, and other documents.
Some of the common aspects of the camps consisted of Administration and Supplying Office. The standard employees of all the camps were an SS Physician and a Commander of the Protective Detention Camp.
By September of 1936, Sachsenhausen Concentration camps were established. It was made like a small city having various blocks and places like the offices for the authorities, places where prisoners lived, and places for execution.
The death camps had barracks, guard towers, and barbed wire. In July 1937, Concentration camps with the same design were made in Buchenwald.
After the annexation of Austria, the Auschwitz Concentration camp was established with the same characteristics as the Sachsenhausen. It was built to eradicate Jews and other minority races, which seemed unfit to the Nazi Government in Austria.
These new camps were isolated, and the prisoners had to wear uniforms. Uniforms became mandatory after 1936. Before that, prisoners wore their clothing. The uniforms had white and blue stripes with a badge of the nazi concentration camp.
In these camps, the Nazi SS planned to install gas chambers for the mass murder of prisoners who were sick, weak, or disabled. Gas chambers were also used to killed Soviet prisoners of war, resistance fighters of Poland, and other targeted groups.
Prisoners and Conditions
Prisoners had to work for a daily wage in the form of food. Those who were too sick or weak to do either died of starvation or due to mass murder. Many died due to overwork and other circumstances like an unhealthy environment or brutal anguish.
The officials gave food to prisoners according to the official nutritional rules. For example, those who had less labor work consisted of women, children, and the weak. They were given 1300 calories per day.
Male prisoners, on the other hand, were given 1700 calories per day. Hence most of them die due to starvation.
Due to harsh living and unsanitary conditions, contagious diseases and many epidemics had happened in the concentration camps. Many of those camps didn’t have adequate insulation due to construction defects. Many prisoners died due to hyperthermia and other acute cold conditions.
Most of the concentration camps had no sanitation facilities, due to which all the prisoners had to reside in those camps that contained their filth. Harsh conditions would worsen due to leaky roofs, damp surroundings, and rats bringing in more diseases.
Concentration camps had a strict schedule where officers would exploit prisoners by making them work for ten hours per day and sometimes physically beating them if the prisoners didn’t work correctly due to weakness. Sometimes these brutal beatings brought death on the prisoners.
After March of 1942, labor hour was extended to eleven hours a day. Prisoners would work to construct the concentration camp, like leveling the ground, build new blocks and buildings, digging the foundation for drainage, and making pavements and roads.
Besides the eleven-hour working schedule, the remainder of the day went through roll-call assembly, lining up for food and other purposes, which took a lot of time due to many people residing in the concentration camp.
During the preceding years, prisoners who didn’t die due to starvation, overwork, or the brutal beatings were shot to death by SS officers inside the pits that would have been dug by the very same prisoners the day before.
Execution in concentration camps also happened with poison gas (mainly using carbon monoxide) or by hanging.
Unlike death by shooting or poison gas, which were privately executed. Hanging of inmates was done publically in front of other inmates, usually during roll call.
Concentration Camps During World War II
Before World War II, German prisoners occupied most of the concentration camps. Politicals prisoners were the majority, which included Communists, Social Democrats, Jehovah’s witnesses, and Union Activists.
A good percentage of prisoners also included Jews, physically or mentally disabled patients, Freemasons, criminals, gypsies, homosexuals, criminals who were decided to be kept away from society, and asocial people.
By the End of World War II, the number of prisoners had increased. Most of the prisoners were now included in Roma, anti-nazi civilians from German-occupied Europe, and many other minority groups.
Five new camps were established during World War II Neuengamme, Auschwitz, Gross-Rosen, and Natzweiler as Germany started to annex other countries like Austria. This expansion was desperately done to meet the demands of forced labor and later the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Auschwitz was the largest and deadliest (as soon, it turned into an extermination camp from a concentration camp) out of the five, where tens of thousands of people were tortured and murdered during World War II.
At the beginning of World War II, SS Commanders sanctioned the execution of those who couldn’t work for long hours like the sick, racially inferior prisoners, and the disabled.
They were all killed by euthanasia at the euthanasia centers, by doctors who were permitted by Hitler to run this secret execution program.
Euthanasia is the process of painlessly killing a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease. Except here, innocent people lost their lives as they were deemed guilty according to the Nazi regime.
In searching for an efficient executing technique, the SS officers and commanders were permitted to experiment with hydrogen cyanide-based fumigant Zyklon B at the Auschwitz concentration camp. This method was adopted for mass massacres at various other concentration camps.
Many Soviet prisoners of war were killed in gas chambers, and tens of thousands of Jews were installed in Auschwitz.
Concentration Camps After Liberation and Concentration Camp Memorials
After Germany surrendered after World War II, people outside Germany were horrified by the acts and deeds done in these concentration camps and other nazi camps.
Hitler and many high ranking officials who had a direct or indirect hand in organizing these concentration camps and orchestrated so many deaths had died or committed suicide when the defeat was near.
But those Nazi administrators who survived the war were severely punished on account of thousands of deaths caused by them or their superiors
Survivors of concentration camps testified their experience and were the reason that the remaining Nazi officials were punished, and they were given compensation.
Many survivors wrote books and memoirs about their terrible experiences, yet they remained strong and never lost faith. Many of the survivors lost their families and loved ones. After the situation got a little stable, some of them migrated to other countries.
Concentration camps built during the Nazi regime have been a somber yet powerful topic for historians and Germans and other countries.
Germany has promised never to forget the killings in these concentration camps, the holocaust, and World War II.
Many concentration camps like Dachau, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Neuengamme, and others have been turned into museums and memorials legacy of the lives that were taken for outrageous reasons.
The Soviet Union used Sachsenhausen for the imprisonment of political prisoners until 1950. Now it is turned into a museum and a memorial in April of 1961.
These concentration camps remind us of the innocent lives sacrificed and exploited by the ruthless Nazi regime. That is why the mass murders and massacres in these concentration camps were dubbed as the most significant and worst crime ever committed against humanity.
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