The first concentration camp set up during the Holocaust was Dachau, in Germany, at the site of an abandoned munitions factory. It was opened in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, one of the most notable names to come out of the Holocaust, head of the SS and police. It was the first of 22 main concentration camps that would be set up, along with 1,200 affiliate sub-camps known as Aussenkommandos. Thousands of even smaller camps also existed. All of the camps had been designated for specific purposes, including work, reformation, forced labor, POW, transit, ghetto, women, police camps, and extermination.
During Hitler’s reign and proposed implementation of a plan to rid the world of the Jewish population, there were two distinct types of camps, concentration and extermination. A concentration camp held those who had been marked for forced labor of such a degree that most were worked to death, as well as starved, beaten, and subjected to extreme hunger, rampant disease, and executions.
Imprisoned people were kept in barracks style housing that would be surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. As you would recognize in most prisons, there were also watchtowers looming over the camps. People were kept in cramped conditions, the barracks often overflowing with bodies. After working 12 hours of hard labor per day, the prisoners would return and sleep on hard bunk beds with little to no comfort. They were fed only meagerly, forced to wear ragged clothing, and were often severely punished for even the smallest of perceived infractions. Those prisoners who were deemed to be too frail or too elderly to keep up with the inhumane amount of physical labor they were ordered to do, were selected and killed via shooting, gassing, or injection.
Six extermination camps, located in former Poland, were built for one purpose and that was to kill Jews and other groups marked for death due to a number of reasons. It has been determined that over three million people, out of the six million in total who died under the Nazi regime, were murdered inside the extermination camps. In these six specific camps, prisoners were exterminated in large groups in gas chambers using poison gas, Zyclon A or B. Victims were also forced onto large trucks and then murdered by exhaust that was funneled into the trucks. Mass shootings also took place, including Erntefest, harvest feast, in which 17,000 to 18,000 prisoners were killed in a single day.
Victims’ bodies were ransacked for anything of value, including gold fillings from the teeth. Afterwards the bodies were thrown into large pits where most of the bodies were burned while in these massive graves or inside a crematoria. When these camps were freed by Allied forces in 1945, the images of thousands upon thousands of dead bodies stacked in these mass graves and the sight of the many Muselmanner, those who appeared to be walking skeletons, were revealed to a shocked and horrified world.
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