- Concentration camps
- These camps are distinguished from the death camps, which had as their primary purpose the murder of Jews and other targeted victims of the Nazis. The concentration camps were originally organized to incarcerate political opponents of the Nazi government for the purpose of political rehabilitation. Dachau, which was established in 1933 under the supervision of Theodor Eicke, marked a transition from the original “wild camps,” which served as a temporary instrument of repression, to a permanent facility for the preventive detention of anyone whom the government considered an opponent.Under Eicke, Dachau’s system was formalized, and a certain degree of standardization was applied to the detention system. The “Dachau model” was applied to other camps, such as Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Mauthausen, which quickly became known for their brutality, and where murder and torture were everyday occurrences. The Gestapo engaged in a policy of arrest calculated to strike terror and intimidate the population. Throughout the whole of Germany, individuals would disappear and resurface in the concentration camps. Those who returned after their incarceration brought back tales of the horrors that befell them. The effect of these personal experiences was to create a climate of fear throughout Germany. The Nazis made little effort to keep the brutality of the concentration camps a secret. Quite to the contrary; the release of a relatively high number of persons from custody was calculated to intimidate the population for the purpose of consolidating the regime’s grip on the nation.After 1936, the concentration camps added new groups to the list of those to be incarcerated. The Nazis now included those deemed noxious or socially undesirable. This included Jews, Gypsies, habitual offenders, and dangerous sexual offenders, which included homosexuals. The concentration camps also became a dumping ground for all types of “asocial” persons, which included beggars, vagrants, prostitutes, carriers of venereal disease, alcoholics, “psychopaths,” and anyone who had fallen out of favor with the regime. In this new phase, the Schutzstaffel (SS) constructed new concentration camps throughout Germany to meet the growing numbers who were incarcerated: Sachsenhausen in 1936, Buchenwald in 1937, Flossenburg in 1938, Mauthausen in 1939, and Ravensbruck during the same year. In early 1937, the population of the camps numbered 70,000 prisoners. After Kristallnacht, 9–10 November 1938, an additional 3,600 Jews were placed in concentration camps. However, those Jews who agreed to emigrate and signed a document consenting to the Aryanization of their assets were generally released after several weeks. Until 1939, therefore, the concentration camp system served primarily to eliminate political opponents, incarcerate “asocials,” and terrorize the population, with labor deployment of secondary importance.With the outbreak of war, economic considerations became paramount, and camp inmates became an important resource in providing materials for the war effort. The model for this was the establishment of the Buna works in Auschwitz, which used forced labor for the production of synthetic rubber. The conversion of the concentration camp system to meet the demands of labor deployment was carried out by the creation of a new agency in 1942 called the Wirschafts und Vervaltungshauptamt (WVHA) (Economy and Administration Main Office) under the leadership of Oswald Pohl.Only toward the end of the war did the camps change their mission. As the war front collapsed, the Nazis attempted to dismantle the death camps in the east and hide as much evidence of the Final Solution as possible. Subsequently, they forced the remaining inmates on death marches to the west. Those who survived the forced marches were crowded into the concentration camps in Germany, thus transforming them into sites of mass death. The Germans created more than 10,000 labor and concentration camps across Europe, with 645 labor camps in Berlin alone. In Poland, in addition to the death camps, about 5,800 camps were established.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.