facts history

The Holocaust – Pt II

In a previous post I have described briefly how the Jews were treated in the Nazi Germany. In this post I will be describing about the concentration camps.

SS (Schutzstaffel)

By Schutzstaffel – Schutzstaffel, Public Domain,

Schutzstaffel or Protection Squadron was a paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz (“Hall Security”) made up of volunteers of the Nazi Party to provide security for party meetings in Munich. The organization had two main parts They are Allgemeine SS and Waffen SS.

Allegemine SS or “General SS” was officially established in 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS Dispositional Troops) and SS-Totenkopfverbände (Death’s head unit),

SS-Verfügungstruppe was a combat troops for the Nazi party. Members of SS-Verfügungstruppe would later become Waffen SS. And SS-Totenkopfverbände was in charge of the concentration camps. Later it was changed into CCI (Concentration Camp Inspectorate). Waffen SS or “Armed SS” was the military unit of the SS.

CCI – concentration Camp Inspectorate

Originally known as the SS-Totenkopfverbände, was created by Theodor Eicke. He was appointed as the commandant of the concentration camp in Dachau. Later his form of organization at Dachau became a model for concentration camps established later. Eicke drafted the Disciplinary and Penal Code which included draconian punishments for disobedient prisoners.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1974-160-13A / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Night of the Long Knives or Operation Hummingbird was purge to insure Hitler’s authority, that took place from June 30th to July 3rd 1934. About 150 – 200 were killed during the operation.

Concentration Camps

During 1933-1945 more than thousand concentration camps were operated in Germany and German occupied territories out side the country. The first camp was established in 1933 immediately after Hitler was announced as the chancellor. After the Operation Hummingbird the concentration camps were run by the SS.

History of the Concentration Camps

The earliest records of establishments similar to concentration camps are the camps used to house native Americans temporarily during the forced removal of native Americans.

The modern concentration camps were started by the Spanish in 1896 against the Cuban revolutionists during the Cuban independence war. The British have used these type of establishments during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

However these camps were used to hold people temporarily. No systematic murders were recorded during these events in the concentration camps.

The Imperial Germany, before the German revolution in 1918 also had concentration camps during “Herero and Namaqua Genocide” between 1904-1907.

Early Concentration Camps

According to some historians the Nazis did not have a plan for concentration camps when Hitler was appointed as the chancellor. But after the appointment the idea of concentration camps were risen due to the desire to suppress tens of thousands of Nazi opponents in Germany.

The Reichstag Fire in 1933 was used as an excuse to arrest people initially. By the Reichstag Fire Decree had ended the personal freedom that was included in the Weimer constitution (1919-1933) and the first concentration camp was established in Nohra, Thuringia on March 3rd 1933 in a school.

Protective custody or taking seditious elements into custody during emergencies were presented as the legal basis for the arrests. Among the arrests were the members of the German Communist Party in former Weimer Republic. 80% of the prisoners in these concentration camps were members of the communist party and !0% were democrats and the other 10% were either union activist or people who did not have any kind of connection to any political party.

About 70 camps were established in 1933. Any building that could keep prisoners were used as camps. They could be factories, schools or old castles. There were no system for these camps and they were operated by the local police or the SS. The camps are called heterogeneous based on the groups that were imprisoned.

Between 150,000 and 200,000 people were kept in without trial in 1933.

During the Christmas 1933 many of the prisoners were released due to Christmas amnesty and few camps were left. There were not routine killings in these camps but they

In early 1934 the number of prisoners were decreased as the future of the camps got blurred. By mid 1935 there were about five camps holding about 4000 prisoners. The commander of the SS Heinrich Himmler stated that releasing prisoners during the Christmas in 1933 was one of the biggest mistake.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S72707 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

In 1936-1938 Theodor Eicke built two new camps in Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. Unlike the old camps these new camps were built with a purpose. As historians state they were “small cities of terror”. They were designed with barracks, guard towers, and barbed wire and isolated from the outer humanity and law. The SS had the absolute power within the camps. The prisoners were forced to wear an uniform with a Nazi concentration camp badge. The number of prisoners increased again. By the end of 1938 the prisoners count was about 24,000 as habitual criminals and asocials were arrested.

Asocials or anti-socials were a term defined by Nazi officials to categorize alcoholics, nomads, prostitutes, homosexuals, beggars and anyone who did not fit the community defined by the Nazi government. Due to the mass arrests of these groups the political prisoners in the camps became a minority.

There were 27 main camps and about 1100 sub camps according to historians. And around 1.6 million prisoners were registered in these camps. According to historian Adam Tooze about 1.1 million should have died in the camps and at least 800,000 of them were not Jewish. In addition to the prisoners who were registered about a million Jews were killed in gas chambers. Therefore the total death toll is estimated 1.8-2 million.

The Fate of the Prisoners

Forced Labor

Forced labor is a main aspect in these camps. In the early days prisoners had to do labor that did not had any economic value but hard physically such as farming, construction or quarries. In the late 1930s workshops were opened within concentration camps and prisoners were forced to make various products. After 1939 with the start of the war the government prioritized in making war production.

The prisoners had to work in harsh conditions. Therefore some historians say that forced labor was a part of the extermination process in the concentration camps, particularly during the second half of the war. The work in these camps was designed to be absolutely destroying. Concentration camp inmates worked up to 12 hours a day with very little food, clothing, or medical care; the average laborer died after 4 months.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 192-269 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

In the above picture the concentration camp in Austria where prisoners were forced to carry heavy rocks up the stairs. In their severely weakened state, few prisoners could cope with this back-breaking labor for long. This is called “The Stairs of Death”.

Death March

Prisoners were forced to march in which most of them died along the way. It was not a simple prisoner transport via foot march. Death marches usually feature harsh physical labor and abuse, neglect of prisoner injury and illness, deliberate starvation and dehydration, humiliation, torture, and execution of those unable to keep up the marching pace. The march may end at another camp or it may continue until all the prisoners are dead.

Extermination camps or Death camps were different than concentration camps. The concentration camps were primarily used to hold the prisoners while extermination camps were used to annihilate the prisoners, mainly Jews. There were six death camps.

32 replies on “The Holocaust – Pt II”

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