What is a concentration camp?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the term concentration camp as: "A camp where persons are confined, usually without hearings and typically under harsh conditions, often as a result of their membership in a group which the government has identified as dangerous or undesirable.The term "concentration camp" or "internment camp" is used to refer to a variety of systems that greatly differ in their severity, mortality rate, and architecture; their defining characteristic is that inmates are held outside the rule of law. Extermination camps or death camps, whose primary purpose is killing, are also imprecisely referred to as "concentration camps". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights restricts the use of internment, with Article 9 stating, "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. "
The concentration camp system, not part of the Holocaust
This is something most people are not aware of. The Holocaust was the systematic murder of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators. Holocaust is a word of Greek origin meaning "sacrifice by fire" or "burnt offering". The Nazis believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews (deemed "inferior") were a threat to the so-called German racial community.
The concentration camps can therefor not be equated with the Holocaust and were basically "just" a means of bringing about the Holocaust. This is because sometimes Jews were sent to concentration camps for work only. There are strong interactions and overlaps between the Holocaust and concentration camps because they coexcisted. Concentration camps are in most peoples’ minds equal to the Holocaust, which is fully understandable but not historically correct.
The first camps were established in March 1933 immediately after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Following the Night of Long Knives in 1934, the concentration camps were run exclusively by the SS via the Concentration Camps Inspectorate and later the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office. Initially, most prisoners were members of the Communist Party of Germany, but as time went on different groups were arrested, including "habitual criminals", "asocials", and Jews. After the beginning of World War II, people from German-occupied Europe were imprisoned in the concentration camps. Following Allied military victories, the camps were gradually liberated in 1944 and 1945, although hundreds of thousands of prisoners died in the death marches.
The SS gained its independence from the SA in July 1934, in the wake of the Röhm purge. Hitler then authorized SS leader Heinrich Himmler to centralize the administration of the concentration camps and formalize them into a system. Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke for this task. Eicke had been the commandant of the SS concentration camp at Dachau since June 1933. Himmler appointed him Inspector of Concentration Camps, a new section of the SS subordinate to the SS Main Office.
Over 1,000 concentration camps (including subcamps) were established during the history of Nazi Germany and around 1.65 million people were registered prisoners in the camps at one point. Around a million died during their imprisonment. Many of the former camps have been turned into museums commemorating the victims of the Nazi regime.