What is a concentration camp?
Concentration camps (or Konzentrationslager, KL or KZ in German) were basically a means of carrying out the regime of Nazi Germany in World War 2 between 1933 and 1945.
A concentration camp can best be described as an enclosed area in which people are detained or confined against their will. Prisoner are usually kept in harsh conditions and without any regard to legal norms of arrest and imprisonment that are acceptable in a constitutional democracy. 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".
Concentration camps were not part of the Holocaust
This is something most people are not aware of but the concentration camps cannot be equated with the Holocaust and were basically "just" a means of carrying out 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.
When did the first concentration camp become operational?
After the success for the NSDAP of the elections in July 1932, Hitler was not immediately appointed chancellor, despite being leader of the largest party in the Reichstag. But the economic and political instability in Germany and with the help of the conservative elite, Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint Hitler as the new chancellor of Germany. So on January 30 1933, when Hitler was sworn in, the Nazis were in power.
The first concentration camp Dachau, opened on 22 March 1933 and was initially intended to hold political opponents of Hitler which consisted of: communists, social democrats, and other dissidents.The concentration camp system arose in the following months due to the desire to suppress tens of thousands of Nazi opponents in Germany. Over 1.000 concentration camps (including subcamps) were established during the history of Nazi Germany. Initially, most prisoners of the first concentration camps were members of the Communist Party of Germany. But as time went by different groups were also arrested and prosecuted including 'criminals', 'anti-socials' and Jews. Basically anyone who was labelled: 'Enemy of the Third Reich'.
Many of the former camps have been turned into museums commemorating the victims of the Nazi regime.
Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp
The Dachau concentration camp was the first large-scale SS concentration camp in Nazi Germany. It was east of the southern German city of Dachau, about 20 km northwest of Munich. It was in use from March 22, 1933 until its liberation by American troops on April 29, 1945.
Dachau was founded by Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS and chief of police of Munich, on the site of a former munitions factory. It was the only camp thatn was used during the Nazis 12 year rule. It developed as a prototype for new concentration camps and occupied several special positions.
The SS gains leadership of the concentration camps
The SS became independed from the SA in July 1934. Following the Night of Long Knives also called the Röhm purge or Operation Hummingbird (the 'elemination' of the high ranking officers of the SA by members of the SS), the concentration camps were put under command of the SS and run exclusively via the Concentration Camps Inspectorate and later the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office. 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.
How many concentration camps did Nazi Germany have?
From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany operated more than a 1.000 concentration camps on its own territory and in parts of German-occupied Europe all were run exclusively by the SS.
A Star of David
On April 29, 1942 there was again a new regulation in the Dutch newspapers, article 45 of regulation no. 138/1941. Wearing of the Star of David became mandatory. The badge consisted of a black drawn six-pointed star made of yellow fabric with the text (in the national language) in black letters 'Jew'. The star served to identify Jews, as well as the stamp with the letter J in their ID. The Star of David was to be worn visibly and firmly on the left side at chest level of the garment.
The SS became responsible for the operational leadership of concentration camps after July 1934.
What is Zkylon B?
Zyklon B (The B stands for the German word Blausäure which means hydrogen cyanide) was a pesticide initially used in the concentration camps for delousing clothes and to fight typhus outbreaks. Zyklon B was supplied by the German companies Degesch (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung GmbH) and Tesch & Stabenow, under license from patent holder IG Farben. It was used to kill millions of people by gassing.
Nazi concentration and exterminationcamps
This is an ongoing project, more transit-, concentration- and deathcamps will be added in the near future.
Who operated the concentration camps?
During World War 2 from 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany operated more than a thousand concentration camps and extermination or death camps. The SS Totenkopfverbände was the organization responsible for operating these camps. It was an independent branch within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. The SS Totenkopfverbände operated all the camps throughout Germany and Nazi occupied Europe.
Marking the concentration camp prisoners
Beginning in 1937, the SS created a system of marking prisoners in concentration camps. Sewn onto uniforms, the color-coded badges identified the reason for an individual’s incarceration, with some variation among camps. The Nazis used this chart (in the right bar) as prisoner markings in the Dachau concentration camp. Shape was chosen by analogy with the common triangular road hazard signs in Germany that denote warnings to motorists. Here, a triangle is called inverted because its base is up while one of its angles points down.
Nazi concentration camp badges, primarily triangles, were part of the system of identification in German camps. They were used in the concentration camps in the German-occupied countries to identify the reason the prisoners had been placed there. The triangles were made of fabric and were sewn on jackets and trousers of the prisoners.
Variations on the badges used by the Nazis
These mandatory badges had specific meanings indicated by their colour and shape. The emblems helped SS guards assign tasks to the prisoners. For example, if someone wore a convicted criminal (green patch) and therefor have a more violent nature, they would be more suitable for kapo duty.
Double-triangle badges also excisted. They resembled two superimposed triangles forming a Star of David, a Jewish symbol. The color yellow was always one of the colors. In addition to color coding, non German prisoners were marked by the first letter of their home country or ethnic group (in German).
And for enemy Prisoner Of War or German deserters the red triangle was worn upside down.
Red triangle was for "political" prisoners.
From my personal collection
The system of badges varied between the camps and in the later stages of World War II the use of badges dwindled in some camps and became increasingly accidental in others. The following description is based on the badge coding system used before and during the early stages of the war in the Dachau concentration camp, which had one of the more elaborate coding systems.
Transport of prisoners by cattle trucks
Train sign form the transit camp Westerbork (NL) to Auschwitz.