Nazi Germany had various types of “concentration camps”. They include labor camps, death camps, POW camps, transit and collection camps, and rehabilitation camps. Sources vary as to the precise total number of camps. One source gave a total of nine thousand while other sources ranged from fifteen to twenty thousand camps.
There are Holocaust scholars who made a clear distinction between death camps and concentration camps. Strictly speaking, death camps were primarily built for the extermination of Jewish ghettos and prisoners from other types of camps. Among thousands of Nazi’s camps, hundreds of them were classified as death camps. The most notorious were Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Majdanek. Those who distinguish concentration camps from death camps argue that even though conditions in the first type of camps were so horrible and the rate of death was so high, no sufficient evidence was found that they were used for extermination purposes.
On the other hand, other scholars understand concentration camps as almost identical with death camps. In the remaining part of this article, we will be using the term concentration camps inclusive of death camps.
Concentration camps were originally designed for the incarceration of political opponents such as communists, socialists, and democrats. Eventually, Jews were included as racial enemies of the Nazi regime. Homosexuals and people with physical deformities were also imprisoned.
Appropriate words that describe the camps are inhumanity, misery, and death. Before entering the camp, people were stripped of their identity and reduced to mere numbers. It was alleged that the camps were designed with “showers” aiming to deceive dependent prisoners (children and the elderly) not knowing that they were actually entering a gas chamber for immediate execution. The able-bodied prisoners were assigned with various tasks like maintaining the camp site, working in the kitchen, building railway tracks, carrying stones and coal in the quarries, sewer repair, latrine cleaning, gardening works, and other assignments depending on their skills.
The prisoners were manned 24 hours of the day. There was fixed schedule for every activity from morning until evening. Typical activities throughout the day include waking up at 3 AM, going outside the barracks, breakfast at 5 AM, roll call at 6 AM, work after roll call until lunch break at 12 noon, resumption of work from 1 PM until dinner at 6 PM. The food was very poor, and torture was common throughout the day. This meant that prisoners worked all day hungry and constantly receiving cruel beatings.
Aside from the scarcity of food and water, the sanitation was extremely poor resulting to disease and death. Typhus was the most common disease.
Nazi officers sexually abused selected prisoners. It was even reported that these officers were competing in shooting the prisoners at will. The height of such inhumanity was displayed by the officers themselves in how they responded to the death of the members of their own families. They already accepted the fact that a similar fate awaited them and behaved as if nothing happened.
Constant fear of punishment, smell of death and thoughts of suicide among inmates were common as a result of seeing the reign of barbaric acts within the camp. In fact, thousands of prisoners ran into the electric barbed wire surrounding the camps to end their misery.
In an effort to survive all the inhumanity in the camp, some prisoners turned to religion. They hoped that somehow there was meaning in all of their suffering. Their only way to maintain their dignity was to live through such inhuman brutalities.
The Nazi killed a total of eleven to seventeen million people, and six million of them were European Jews. These murders took place, not in battle, but inside the concentration camps.
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