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Nazi Camps Detailed Explanation, Overview & Map

Type of Nazi camps, their prisoners, locations sad insides about these terrible places


When the Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power in Germany in 1933, it wanted to set up the perfect Nazi state. The Nazis wanted to stamp out any opposition to their rule, so they set up a system of camps for holding people they saw as undesirable.

The Nazis said the camps would re-educate prisoners to accept Nazi ideas. Camps were different from ordinary prisons because they had not convicted the prisoners of any crime and there was no date set for their release.

The early camps were concentration camps for political opponents. The first of these, Dachau, was set up just a few days after the Nazis won the March 1933 election.

The camps were run by the SS (short for Schutzstaffel, or "security staff"). The SS had been set up as Hitler's private bodyguard, and they all swore an oath of loyalty to Hitler, not Germany. Led by Heinrich Himmler, the SS grew to become a powerful empire in Nazi Germany.


Index of content


The Origins of Concentration Camps

Although most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, concentration camps are thought to have originated during the Cuban War of Independence. In February 1896, the Spanish government assigned General Valeriano Weyler to quelling the uprising. One of his first acts was to issue a decree of re-concentration, which required all inhabitants of certain districts to move to camps established near military headquarters.

Once the “reconcentrados” (Spanish, meaning compressed, concentrated, confined) were settled in the camps, they could not assist the insurgents and Weyler's program of pacification could proceed. The camps, however, were badly overcrowded and lacked sufficient food and sanitary facilities; 100,000 Cubans died, causing an uproar in the United States and Europe.

The United States itself adopted a similar expedient during the Philippine-American War. In December 1901, Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell ordered that Filipino civilians in sparsely settled zones be moved to camps or barrios near towns; they would bring their crops and livestock with them, denying sustenance to the insurgents. As a tool against the uprising, the camps achieved Bell's purpose, but again, the cost was high. 11,000 Filipino inmates may have perished because of the overcrowding, lack of food, and inadequate sanitary arrangements in the camps.

The British government also adopted the concentration camp model to deal with the guerrillas in the Boer War in South Africa. In March 1901, to prevent civilians from aiding the guerrillas, General Lord Kitchener ordered that Boer noncombatants be moved to concentration camps until the guerrillas could be captured and disarmed.

At first, conditions in the 24 camps were adequate, but as the camp populations increased, so, too, did the death rates among inmates. By June 1901, the camps held over 118,000 civilians and the death rate was climbing steadily, eventually reaching over 3,000 a month, an annual mortality rate of over 30 percent. The outcry in Britain moved the government to establish the Fawcett Commission to study and report on the camps. When the commission's recommendations were acted upon, death rates in the camps soon dropped, and eventually fell below the rate for some British cities.

In each of these cases, concentration camps were literally that: places where civilians were concentrated and prevented from impacting hostilities. The concentration camps of Nazi Germany were of an entirely distinct order. Adolf Hitler had predicted their use as early as 1921, and in 1933, the Nazis opened the first concentration camps.


The Beginning of the Nazi Camps

On Adolf Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, Hermann Göring was named minister of the interior for the state of Prussia, by far the largest state in the German federal system. This gave Göring charge of security and of the police, whom he immediately staffed with Nazi sympathizers in key posts, at the same time establishing the Gestapo as secret security police. Many people alleged to have been actively opposed to Hitler were taken into "protective custody," and concentration camps that were hastily established by the SA-Sturmabteilung and the SS-Schutzstaffel were set up to receive them.

Heinrich Himmler, as police president in Bavaria, Germany's second largest state, founded his own "model" at Dachau Concentration Camp, near Munich, in March 1933. By Christmas, some 27,000 prisoners were said to be held in these camps, many of which were "unauthorized" establishments set up by local SA strong-arm groups out to avenge themselves on their political enemies. Göring, who in 1934 was to hand over the nation's camps to Himmler as head of the SS, did not favor such unauthorized camps and sought to have them closed. Many short-term detainees were released after it was deemed, they had learned their lesson.

ovens inside the crematorium at dachau concentration camp
Ovens inside the crematorium at the infamous Dachau concentration camp

The "authorized" camps flourished during the 1930s as centers of correction for political dissidents, with growing ill treatment, floggings and torture being used as methods of coercion. Dachau, under Theodor Eicke, became the training center for SS men specializing as camp guards and administrators; the alumni included Rudolf Höss and Adolf Eichmann. Further camps were established, among the more notorious being Sachsenhausen (near Berlin-Oranienburg) in 1936, Buchenwald (near Weimar) in 1937, Flossenbürg (in the Upper Palatinate) and Mauthausen (near Linz) in 1938, and Ravensbrück (in Mecklenburg) in 1939. Ravensbrück was to specialize in training women guards.

The number of concentration camps increased with the need to enforce the innumerable decrees through which Hitler transformed Germany into a police state. Prisoners were used as forced labor in quarries and armaments factories, and in the building of new camps even before the war started and changed the whole nature and pattern of the concentration camp system.

The Jews of Germany and Austria had been persecuted and driven into exile in large numbers during the prewar period; by 1939, some two-thirds had gone. With the invasion of Poland in 1939, western Europe in 1940, and Russia in 1941, the Nazis faced millions of unwanted Jews, many in the east being impoverished. There were 3.3 million in Poland, 2.1 million in western Russia, and 1.5 million in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. They were herded mercilessly into ghettos and camps, which by 1941 were established for extermination and for slave labor.

Concentration camps were established on a enlarged scale in the occupied territories and were used indiscriminately to house political prisoners, criminals, Russian prisoners of war, Jews, Gypsies, and unwanted Slavs. Many camps in Polish territory shared the roles of extermination camps and labor camps, and a new list of sinister names such as Auschwitz concentration camp and Treblinka in Poland, Natzweiler in the Vosges area and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany came into being. There were in all 30 principal camps operating during the war, with hundreds of subsidiaries, usually set up as bases for slave labor used in the war plants.

It has been claimed that at anyone time during the war, the camps collectively held at least a million prisoners, with newcomers rapidly replacing those who died either through extermination or from the privations of camp life combined with slave labor. The camps also became organized centers of pillage, of which the section known as "Canada" in Auschwitz was the most noted for its thorough organization. The belongings of the victims were sorted and packed by squads of prisoners and returned to Germany on the trains that had brought the newest arrivals.


Types of Camps

Concentration camps:

The Nazis designed the concentration camps to house large numbers of people in a limited, structured, and defined area. Basically, the camps comprised a series of buildings to house people until they died or were killed. The camps were psychologically and technically contrived to destroy the inmates' basic humanity and their bodies.

Most camps were self-sufficient. They did not require local help and maintenance, for the prisoners ran internal affairs. Each camp had its own power structure - a carefully defined and ordered hierarchy. Almost all the camps were near train depots. Most were not built for permanence, and all had major problems in disposing of the bodies.

It has always been clear that concentration camps were to be camps for dying. The Germans organized them to ensure the death of the largest number of prisoners, even while extracting some useful labor from the doomed. An average healthy man in the camp, insufficiently dressed, undernourished, constantly losing weight, sleeping in an unheated hut, living in disgraceful sanitary conditions, devoured by lice with no opportunity to wash, forced to work even when sick with no prospect of getting well, would fall victim to the first serious disease infecting him. From 1941, those camps were vast slave-labor markets. They varied a great deal in severity and in conditions, but even the worst of them offered a slim chance of survival.

The major difference between a death camp and a concentration camp is that in the former prisoners died quickly and with a relatively low agony. In the latter they died slowly, piece by piece, over a longer period and in conditions that sometimes made the trip to the Auschwitz gas chamber seem almost a mercy.

As the Nazis developed camps in every corner of Europe, major complexes emerged. Each complex included the parent or mother camp and many branch units called sub-camps. The sub-camps were set up near factories, mines, quarries, at some distance from the parent camp, where the labor of the prisoners could be exploited.

The camps as a commercial enterprise, concentrating on the systematic salvage of goods, took time to develop. The system was a catchall until the deluge of material caused the development of special administrative machinery and specific jurisdictions. The Nazis confiscated all property. They used the prisoners both for labor and for experimentation. Those economic and military needs interrupted the extermination process and introduced intermediate procedures.

The two major tasks of the prisoners in those camps were to work and to die. Often they managed the dying alone, but the SS carefully planned the work in cooperation with Berlin and with Germany's major industries. For the Jewish prisoners, the Nazis always had one goal -death, in one form or another, quickly or slowly. Por the non-Jewish prisoners, however, the situation was far more complex.

The goals for those prisoners varied from time to time, because the Nazis could not seem to arrive at an agreement. Yet the exploitation of prisoner labor in order to advance the war effort was a major short-term goal for all non-Jewish prisoners. In addition, as the war lengthened, the indirect extermination of the Jewish prisoners by work became the primary camp method of eradicating what the Nazis felt were parasites in their midst.

Thus, one of the most important, and primary, aspects of the concentration camp was the production of work-work for its own sake, work for the building of the nation, work for the war effort, and work to kill.

Still, the pressing need for labor never once diverted Adolf Hitler or Heinrich Himmler from their major goal. They were intent foremost on destroying every Jew and unredeemable portions of the Slavic people, so they simply worked the men and women to death and replenished the labor supply from the always available pool. Inefficient, yes. Inconsistent, no.

That major goal prevented Germany's total mobilization for war until it was too late, prevented the adequate servicing of the military forces, and was one of the primary reasons Hitler lost a war he might well have temporarily won.

The April 1945 liberation of the major concentration and extermination camps, like Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau, and the shocking newsreel footage that it generated horrified the world more than almost any other aspect of the war. Because of the notoriety of the Nazi system, the term concentration camp has rarely been used in subsequent conflicts, although there are internment facilities (for example, in the Bosnian War) that are concentration camps in everything but name.

After the war, all surviving concentration camp records were assembled by the Red Cross in their International Tracing Center.

Locations of concentration camps: Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Buchenwald concentration camp, Dachau concentration camp, Flossenbürg concentration camp, Gross Rosen concentration camp, Gunskirchen concentration camp, Gusen concentration camp, Lublin concentration camp, Mauthausen concentration camp, Natzweiler concentration camp, Neuengamme concentration camp, Novaky concentration camp, Sachsenhausen concentration camp (Oranienburg), Plaszow concentration camp, Ravensbrück concentration camp, Stutthof concentration camp and Terezín concentration camp (Theresienstadt).

Labor camps:

Labor camps were built near factories or workplaces, such as stone quarries, so the prisoners could be used as cheap labor. However, even here, work was not the most important aim. From the start, the Nazis spoke of "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" (destruction through work), when talking about labor camps. People did work, but their living and working conditions were awful, so they did not work well.

A doctor who visited the labor camps in Poland in 1940 reported to the SS: The rooms are totally unsuitable. They are dark and dirty and full of fleas and lice. There are 75 people in a room 5 meters by 6 meters (16 by 19 feet), sleeping on the floor, without straw, lying on top of each other. The roofs leak, the windows have no glass. Three out of every ten workers have no shoes, trousers, or shirts. There is no soap or water and the sick are crammed in with the healthy.

Locations of labor camps in Germany: Bautzen, Braunschweig, Dora, Dresden, Flössberg, Hannover, Hessenthal, Krawinkel, Lieberose, Ludwigslust, Nordhausen, Rehmsdorf, Schlieben, Sonneberg, Spaichingen, Treglitz and Wiehagen.

Locations of labor camps and sub camps in Poland: Blizyn, Bochnia, Budzyn, Czestochowa, Deblin, Gliwice, Izbica, Katowice, Koluszki, Mielec, Monowitz, Otoczno, Piotrkow, Poniatowa, Pustkow, Rzeszow, Skarzysko-Kamienna, Sosnowiec, Szebnie, Trawniki and Zawiercie.

Death camps:

Death camps were a specialized section of the Nazi Concentration Camp system. On the 31st of July 1941, the order to exterminate the Jews was given in indirect language to Reinhard Heydrich by Hermann Göring on Adolf Hitler’s behalf. At about the same time, Heinrich Himmler, the SS-Schutzstaffel chief, ordered Rudolf Höss, the commandant at Auschwitz, to prepare the camp to be the principal center for mass extermination.

The nature of the camp was to remain top secret. Heydrich, together with his chief aide, Adolf Eichmann, convened the notorious Wannsee Conference on the 20th of January 1942; this was a high-level interdepartmental meeting to confirm these plans, which were couched in euphemistic language such as "resettlement" and "special treatment."

The main death camps were in Polish territory. They were Auschwitz-Birkenau (combined camp), Majdanek (combined camp), Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Chelmno (37 miles, 60 km, from Lodz), Sobibor (northeast of Lublin) and Treblinka (near Warsaw) accounted for the deaths of almost 2 million prisoners, and Höss at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 confirmed his original estimate that some 3 million died in Auschwitz-Birkenau, including 100,000 German Jews, 400,000 Hungarian Jews and 20,000 Russian prisoners of war; he further estimated that 70 to 80 percent of those sent to Auschwitz were annihilated, the rest being used as slave labor.

Chelmno, which began operations in November 1941, reached a record figure of 1,000 deaths a day, the victims being mainly Polish Jews. They were gassed in three sealed railroad cars, and the bodies were cremated in the woods nearby. Chelmno was evacuated and destroyed in January 1945. Treblinka, opened in June 1942, was larger, covering some 33 acres (133,546 m2); death was achieved there in gas chambers, which, according to Höss, accommodated up to 200 at a time. Some 731,000 died before the camp was closed following a mass breakout of prisoners in August 1943.

nazi killing van
The mobile killing van used to gas Jews as they were transported to the mass graves at Chelmno. The vans were abandoned because they took too long to asphyxiate their captives.

Sobibor was also closed following a revolt, this one led by a Soviet army captain, Alexander Peczovsky. Auschwitz remained the "model" extermination camp, capable by 1943-44 of destroying 12,000 or more persons a day. Its gas chambers accommodated up to 2,000 prisoners at a time, who were asphyxiated with Zyklon B gas (crystallized prussic acid); their bodies were conveyed to banks of incinerators (specially devised and built by J.A. Topf & Söhne). The incinerators were worked around the clock to destroy the bodies, and they ingeniously used the victim's body fat as fuel.

Extermination did not end with the shutdown of the extermination centers in Poland; at least a quarter of a million died during the forced marches into Germany. The estimated number in all the camps in mid-January 1945, after the evacuations had taken place, was 750,000; of those one-third were Jews, and some 200,000 women.

Deliberate extermination by the Nazis accounted for about one-fifth of the estimated 55 million deaths occasioned by the Second World War in all sectors throughout the world. The Russians claimed losses of 13 million in the armed services, of whom 3.5 million died in captivity, while a further 7 million civilians (including 700,000 Jews) died "through occupation and deportation" (Stalin's words), which would include the work of the “Einsatzgruppen” (the German extermination commandos).

The Poles lost 6 million dead, over 5 million (including 3 million Jews) because of occupation; the Czechs lost some 360,000 total; the Hungarians, though an ally of Germany, lost some 300,000 of their 400,000 Jews in the 1944 deportations. The Germans themselves lost some 6 million dead, of whom some 170,000 were Jews. Over 5 million of the 8.3 million European Jews were exterminated in the camps and ghettos or because of “Einsatzgruppen” operations.

Locations of death camps: Belzec concentration camp, Chemlo concentration camp, Sobibor concentration camp and Treblinka concentration camp.

Combined camps (concentration, labor & death):

First, the Nazis deported the Polish Jews from their major centers. Then they killed a majority of them. Next, they exploited the labor of the remaining Jews for private and SS industries. Finally, the SS used Jewish labor to exploit Jewish personal property. And the two major centers for the exploitation of that labor were Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Both served double duty as death camps and as labor exploitation centers. Although both camps had full extermination facilities and a ghastly death rate, extermination was never their only goal, as it was in the killing centers. The descriptions of gassing and burning can overshadow the fact that the SS decided to make a profit from its prisoners through labor and through confiscating their belongings. Plunder was a major business at Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Rationalization of labor had been in progress for a long time when large German business corporations took the ultimate step during World War II by investing enormous sums in the construction of factories at the camps to use the pool of camp slave labor. That step made the price of labor unbelievably cheap. For once a laborer was used up, instead of turning him out into the street and adding to the unemployment rolls, they simply killed him.

concentration camp majdanek
Lublin suburbs and the concentration camp Majdanek (which was no longer in operation at that time). Air photo taken by the Luftwaffe on September 18, 1944. Source: National Archives, Washington D.C.

The great industrial corporation lG Farben found itself faced with a severe labor shortage when the war need for synthetic rubber was excruciating. IG Farben built a new plant to manufacture it. Highly competent, respected corporation officials met with Nazi officials and decided, after several board meetings, on the Auschwitz-Birkenau site as an excellent corporate investment. It had good water, coal, and a never-ending labor pool.

IG Farben based its decision for plant relocation on criteria used by today's international corporations: the maximization of profit and the minimization of labor costs. It undertook to run successfully a large corporation, a death camp slave labor factory, and an extermination center.

Most corporate killers improved positions after the war, and many of them held positions of responsibility and influence in Germany. The vast majority directly involved in the camp ventures were never punished, even though those men are the individuals who truly solved Germany's Jewish problem: It was possible for respectable business executives to take part in and profit from a society of total domination and a venture involving the murder of millions of defenseless human beings without losing their elite status in one of the most advanced modern societies.

In one sense, the approach was neither modern nor sensible. Any logician would be quick to surmise that a well-fed worker could labor far more effectively than one on the brink of starvation.

Locations of combined camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and Majdanek concentration camp.

Transit camps:

As the war progressed, Germany steadily took control of more and more of Europe. Jews and other non-Aryans in occupied lands were sent to the camps. The Nazis set up transit camps in occupied countries like France, Holland, and Belgium. Millions of people, mostly Jewish, were held for a short time in transit camps until they could be taken to camps in Poland, which had been made a part of Greater Germany.


As concentration camps and labor camps grew, smaller camps, often some distance away from the main camp, were set up. These sub-camps were often near a particular factory or farmland, so the prisoners could be used as labor. Sub-camps had high death rates, too, so they brought in replacement prisoners from the major camps.

Prisoner-of-war camps:

As soon as Germany was at war, its army took prisoners from the armies it was fighting. The soldiers were supposed to be put in prisoner-of-war camps and treated according to the Geneva Convention (a set of rules written to make sure that enemy soldiers are treated fairly). French and British soldiers were often treated well, although some were used as workers. When the United States joined the war, their soldiers were treated fairly, too. Russian prisoners of war, however, were more likely to be sent to concentration camps, starved, or killed because Nazi ideas about race classified them as Slavs.

Read more about POW camps in our dedicated section.



There were many kinds of prisoners in the camps. Both the prisoners and the guards in all the camps made obvious distinctions between different prisoners.

Early Prisoners

Some of the earliest prisoners in Dachau concentration camp were political opponents of the Nazis, mostly Communists and Social Democrats. Some were Jewish, but they were there for their political beliefs, not what the Nazis saw as their race. The camp was built to hold 5,000 people. The rules read to prisoners arriving in Dachau began: Tolerance means weakness. Punishment will be mercilessly handed out whenever Germany's interests make it necessary. A person who is decent but misled will never be affected by these punishment regulations. But political stirrers be warned, watch out that you are not caught, for you will be hung.

Different Prisoners

Before long, the Nazis were using the camps not only to hold political opponents, but also to imprison all kinds of people that they did not want in their perfect state. Among these were Jews. Jews see themselves as a people with common ancestors who can be traced back to Biblical times. Jews are united by their religion (Judaism) and by a strong culture. The Nazis also called people Jews if they had Jewish ancestors, even if they had changed their faith. The Nazis eventually moved from imprisoning Jews to killing all Jews in German-controlled lands. This mass murder of about six million Jews, and other so-called undesirables, is called the Holocaust. The camps were vital in making the Holocaust happen.

New Types of Prisoners

By 1935, the Nazis had crushed most political opposition, so fewer political prisoners were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis discussed shutting down the camps, but sent different people there. They used the camps to imprison asocials and people from races they thought of as inferior. The Nazis had very strong, incorrect ideas about race. They invented a pure Aryan race for themselves, white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and healthy. The Nazis invented other races, such as Slavs (Poles and people from the Soviet Union), that they saw as sub-human and inferior, and Jews that they saw as dangerous. The number of prisoners kept rising, despite the terrible death rates.

The Sick

Sick people were always treated badly, no matter what their camp classification. If they could not work, they were of no use. Anyone who became ill tried to hide the sickness for as long as possible. Sick prisoners were sent to the hospital where they got little or no medical attention or food. They were left alone to die or get better. Sometimes they were used for medical experiments.

The Lowest of the Low

The Nazis saw Poles, Russians, gypsies, and Jews (in that order) as separate, inferior races. Thus, they had to do the worst jobs and had the worst living conditions and food. The yellow triangle worn by Jewish people marked them for particularly poor treatment. The SS who ran the camps made it clear to the prisoners in charge that they could treat Jews more brutally than anyone else. Many kapos (A kapo or prisoner functionary was a prisoner in a Nazi camp who was assigned by the Schutzstaffel guards to supervise forced labor or carry out administrative tasks) were Germans who believed Nazi propaganda about inferior races and were happy to mistreat Jews.

Classifying Prisoners

Upon arriving at a camp, each prisoner was given a number and a colored triangle to sew onto his or her uniform. Professional criminals had green triangles. Political prisoners and Christian priests had red. Asocials wore black triangles, and gypsies wore brown. Jehovah's Witnesses wore purple triangles, and homosexuals wore pink. Jews were put into one of the above groups and then given an extra yellow triangle to show they were Jews.

Positions of Power

German criminals were most likely to be made prisoner functionaries. They were put in charge of other prisoners as kapos in charge of work or the barracks. The SS chose criminals with a violent past, who were most likely to enjoy, or at least not object to, the violence they were expected to hand out to the other prisoners. Rudolph Höss, the first commandant of Auschwitz, said of German criminals: "Almost without exception, they had prominent positions and so were given all the physical necessities of life."


Medical Experiments

The Holocaust occasioned the creation of the macabre science, thanatology (the science of producing death) and the camps provided the perfect laboratories. SS, military, and civilian doctors and professors performed deadly medical experiments on alive bodies in most camps.

It has always been true that human beings are the most suitable subjects for medical experiments. Once the physicians realized they had an almost limitless pool of varied kinds of humans at their disposal, some very respectable professors seized upon the unique opportunity. They reported their findings at meetings and to medical societies, and no one protested. One purpose of those experiments was to discover ways in which Germany could rule Europe forever.

If Germany wished to have security against real or imagined enemies, she would have to do more than win the war. Her total security could only be achieved by biological means, which meant sterilization or killing. Had the Germans won the war, mass sterilization would have been an important aspect of their program for the subject peoples. The practices of using captive, ignorant, or minority ethnic volunteers for medical purposes has been widespread, of course, even in the United States.

So the Nazis were not unique in that respect (although they certainly were in the degree to which they went). During World War II, the great German pharmaceutical corporation Bayer extensively used death camp inmates for experiments. In more recent times, Bayer's American counterparts, Bristol-Myers and Squibb, found a plentiful supply of subjects in American prisons, and they operated there with the approval of the federal government. It is not accidental that the American doctors selected minorities and prisoners for their experiments. If they truly believed their tests were safe, they would have used their own patients or their own labs; but they selected those whom they considered inferior human beings, just as the Nazis did.


Running the Camps

The camps were run by the SS. The leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, also ran the Gestapo, the secret police. Himmler was a friend of Hitler's and one of the first members of the Nazi Party. He divided up the SS and made different people responsible for each part, but they did not always work well together.

Himmler's Inspector of Concentration Camps from 1934 to 1940 was Theodor Eicke, who made it clear to the guards that they should have no pity for any enemy of the state or any concentration camp prisoner. He told all camp commanders:

"It is the duty of every SS man to identify himself, body and soul, with the cause. Every order must be carried out, even the most difficult of them, without hesitation."

The camps eventually needed a huge number of SS to run them. 6,000 at Auschwitz alone.

The SS, who worked as guards, controlled the daily routine of the camps, organized the prisoners, or worked in the offices. Any SS man could punish a prisoner, but the clerks who organized the prisoners' food, transportation, and work could cut themselves off from what went on. The SS men in charge of the prisoners had the most opportunities to mistreat them, and the least chance of pretending they did not know what was going on. They held roll calls that lasted several hours, despite blazing heat, pouring rain, or freezing snow. They inspected barracks and prisoners, handing out punishments if everything was not perfect. Prisoners were beaten and humiliated. They could be shot for anything or nothing.

(!!!) PIC from page 21

The SS used mainly women officers to run the women's camps. However, women could only go so far in the SS. They could not be in charge of male camps or even large women's camps. They ran the smaller women's camps and had female kapos. The SS guards were still men. Johanna Langefeld became head of the Women's Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, under Rudolf Höss, the commandant of all the Auschwitz camps. Höss disapproved of Langefeldt and of her kapos, who, he said: "were worse than the men in their toughness, vindictiveness, and depravity. Some were truly repulsive creatures."


The Transport Problem

Transportation loomed as a critical problem. It takes no great insight to recognize the enormous complexity of transporting quickly and efficiently millions of Jews from all over Europe to the camps and killing centers amid the chaos and military urgency of a world war. Yet the brilliantly successful transportation operation seems to have been overlooked in analyzes of the camps and in the legal assessment of criminal activity.

Although transportation was essential to the Final Solution, scholars and judges have treated the railroads as "tools, resources, ... possibly weapons" on "the fringes of the operation." Without the railroads, however, there would have been no successful Final Solution. One must conclude that the Transportation Ministry was central to the concentration system.

If postwar officials ignored the role of the Transportation Ministry, Heinrich Himmler most surely did not. Car shortages plagued him and his staff, forcing them to plead for special treatment from the manager of the Reichsbahn (the Reich Transportation Ministry), Dr. Albert Ganzenmüller. On July 28, 1942, Dr. Ganzenmüller reminded SS Leader Karl Wolff that one train with 5,000 Jews went daily from Warsaw to Treblinka, and twice a week, a train with 5,000 Jews went to Belzec.

The enormous transport program demanded the close cooperation and extensive knowledge of civilians, civil servants, and transportation experts in Germany and in all the countries of Europe. One of the largest Nazi government agencies, the Reichsbahn, employed 1,400,000 people in Germany and 400,000 in Poland and Russia.

The special Final Solution trains, or Sonderzüge, made up of freight cars and cattle wagons, posed three areas of serious difficulty to Himmler and his staff, and to the Reichsbahn. The length of the war, the geographical extension of the war, and military emergencies created a serious shortage of transport. Traffic jammed the lines, and bombings repeatedly destroyed tracks.

The Reichsbahn improved the problem by lengthening the trains, packing more Jews in the cars, and using longer, more circuitous routes to destinations. The serious overloading and long time period produced unimaginable horrors inside the airless, foodless, waterless, no toilets and sealed cars. Many Jews did not survive the journey. But that was fine by the Nazis, it simply lessened the number of Jews they needed to exert energy to destroy in the camps.

Financing that enterprise must have been extremely complex and a constant problem. The Reichsbahn saw its responsibility as transporting anyone anywhere for payment. For the SS, the Reichsbahn adopted a policy of group fares for deportees. If at least 400 people were in the shipment, the SS was charged half the third-class rate. The Reichsbahn did not charge the SS for the return trip of empty trains, and dealt with it on a credit basis. They needed more detailed policies and negotiations when the transports originated in other countries, such as Slovakia and Hungary, and when coordination was needed among several national railway systems. The Reichsbahn proved itself to be a brilliant negotiator.

In 1944, the Nazis deported 500,000 Jews from Hungary, using critical rolling stock with the approval of the military. From October 1941 to October 1944, the Reichsbahn transported at least 2,500,000 Jews to their death. They also carried the Jewish loot from the camps to Germany.


The End of the Camps / Liberation

When Germany's empire collapsed and the Russian armies moved into Poland, the camps were closed down as necessary and the prisoners were marched west, many dying by the wayside. The Russians entered Auschwitz in January 1945.

By 1944, approaches had been made to Himmler, Kaltenbrunner, Müller, Höss, Eichmann and others to release Jewish prisoners and to permit Red Cross personnel from Switzerland and Sweden to bring what relief they could to the vastly overcrowded camps. Red Cross parcels for non-Jewish prisoners had been permitted entry since 1943 (though their contents were often rifled by the guards); 751,000 Parcels were sent between November 1943 and May 1945. A Red Cross official penetrated Auschwitz in September 1944, but later attempts to visit the camps met only with frustration.

It was not until April 1945 that officials saw Theresienstadt, the so-called model camp for Jews, and relief was brought in trucks to prisoners on a forced march from Oranienburg. By March a typhus epidemic had broken out at Belsen, where some 60,000 prisoners were crammed into a facility intended for 8,000. This camp was handed over to the British on April 15. The world then knew at last what a Nazi concentration camp was like.

The April 1945 liberation of the major concentration and extermination camps, like Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, and Dachau, and the shocking newsreel footage that it generated horrified the world more than almost any other aspect of the war. Because of the notoriety of the Nazi system, the term concentration camp has rarely been used in subsequent conflicts, although there are internment facilities (for example, in the Bosnian War) that are concentration camps in everything but name.

After the war, all surviving concentration camp records were assembled by the Red Cross in their International Tracing Center.


Map of Nazi Camps

This map is not the complete one with all Nazi camps. The locations seen are for those where we have written a detailed article already. We are adding more...

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Dark Secret of the Lusitania - National Geographic Documentary

Dark Secret of the Lusitania - National Geographic Documentary

A German torpedo hit the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915. Shortly after, a substantial second explosion shook the ship. Within 20 minutes, the vessel known as the "Greyhound of the Seas" had sunk to the ocean floor, resulting in the deaths of almost 1200 individuals. A new two-step investigation...
Submitted by: Tim Kirsten
22 March 2024

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