Concentration camps refer to enclosures that detained political prisoners or criminals. The basic objective was to retain these people within manned limits and exploit their services. However, the term was made rather unpopular during World War II, when Adolf Hitler had 20,000 such camps established in and around Europe. The compelling restraint and torture that the prisoners had to endure associated the term with Nazi anti-semitic propaganda and death. During the Second World War, concentration camps were specially built by the Nazi dictator to imprison millions of victims from German occupied territories. The camps induced forced labor and served as transit stations for military and allied activity.
The common association of concentration camps with Nazism, terror and genocide is mainly due to Nazi atrocities. Nazi regime witnessed the establishment of a number of detention facilities, designed especially for the enemies-of-state. The Communists, Social Democrats, Gypsies and Jews were persecuted for supposedly socio-political deviant behavior and physically detained within the marked location during the holocaust. Dachau, Belzec, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Treblinka, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were rather infamous concentration camps established during the time. Mass arrests and incarceration led to genocide and hysteria.
Life in Concentration Camps:
The concentration camps were designed with what the Nazi’s called ‘showers’. These were designed structures for mass murder, with in-built poison gas vents and steam. The prisoners were divided into two lots at each concentration camp, on arrival. The able bodied men and women were separated from the older citizens and children. While the dependent group was sent to the showers, the younger lot were put to work for the upkeep and maintenance of the camps. The impersonal attitude of the perpetrators increased deportations and collaborated murders by the Axis powers.
Official government policy dictated the inhuman behavior of the Gestapo and other members of the Third Reich. People like Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann were given the task of ‘carrying out the orders’. Certain strategically located concentration camps were designed to function like ghettos, initially resting places in transit for captured Jews and later, ground for murderous intent. The decision that came out of a January, 1942 meeting of German government officials became synonymous with torture and death.
The prisoners were made to toil to maintain the camp site. While those who were specially skilled in some way, like seamstresses and blacksmiths, were put to tasks specially defined for them; the other able-bodied men and women were given random kitchen and cleaning tasks and even sexually exploited by the Nazi officers. Family members among the survivors were not allowed to interact. Timings were maintained for every activity from the wake up siren to that at dinner time. The watch towers in and around the concentration camps were manned 24 hours of the day.
The prisoners were fed gruel and second helpings were unthinkable. This meant toil without sufficient nourishment. The scarcity of food and water for the prisoners were a contrary sight compared to the lavish spread at each meal on the German table. Loudspeakers were used to address the prisoners while the men and women labored, ate or at the arrival of another lot of captives. German officers opened fire without hesitance on crowded barracks. The poor sanitary conditions spelt disease and death.
Most concentration camps were in forest areas, to make escape almost impossible. The camps were enclosed within stretches of barbed wire. The open areas were always in the center of the camp, while the wooded area shut the camp off from most air and land spies. Ditches were dug to serve as mass graves and the captives were always stripped off clothing prior to being sent to the showers or pits. Hydrogen cyanide or Zyklon B was used to gas the Jews and gypsies.