extermination camps vs concentration camps

extermination camps vs concentration camps

extermination camps vs concentration camps

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What is the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination camp?

A concentration camp was an institution developed in Nazi Germany to imprison political enemies and opponents.

Often situated in suburbs of major cities,

the camps were a very visible indicator of the Nazi regime’s willingness to use violence and terror.

Inmates in concentration camps were held in inhumane conditions and subjected to torture,

starvation, and, in certain camps, medical experimentation.

The first of these camps was opened at Dachau, near Munich in Bavaria, in March 1933. In the early years of the regime, inmates included Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, criminals, and others considered to be deviants.

Following the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, an estimated 30,000 German and Austrian Jews were rounded up and imprisoned in concentration camps. After the outbreak of World War II, the German authorities expanded their concentration camp network.

These included: forced labor camps (like *Neuengamme* in Germany) intended to exploit prisoner labour to profit the SS; transit camps (like *Westerbork* in Holland) to facilitate the easier deportation of Jews; and extermination camps such as *Treblinka*, which had almost no infrastructure other than gas chambers, SS accommodation, and facilities for sorting the belongings of those murdered.

extermination camps vs concentration camps
extermination camps vs concentration camps

Concentration camps

Generally speaking, a concentration camp is a place where people are concentrated and imprisoned without trial. Inmates are usually exploited for their labour and kept under harsh conditions, though this is not always the case.

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In Nazi Germany after 1933, and across Nazi controlled Europe between 1938 and 1945, concentration camps became a major way in which the Nazis imposed their control.

Separating concentration camps and extermination camps

It is key to separate concentration camps from extermination camps.

The aim of the Nazi concentration camps was to contain prisoners in one place.  The administration of the camps had a distinct disregard for inmates’ lives and health, and as a result, tens of thousands of people perished within the camps.

The aim of the Nazi extermination camps was to murder and annihilate all races deemed ‘ degenerate ’: primarily Jews but also Roma .


Development of concentration camps

The first concentration camps in Germany were set up as detention centres for so-called ‘enemies of the state’. Initially, these people were primarily political prisoners such as communists , but this soon expanded to also include Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Roma, and so called ‘ a-socials ’.

After March 1938, when Germany annexed Austria in an event known as Anschluss  thousands of German and Austrian Jews were arrested and detained in Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The mass detention of Jews on the basis of the Nazis’ racial ideology intensified following Kristallnacht and continued until the end of the Second World War. This imprisonment was an escalation of the Nazis’ previous persecution of Jews.

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Imprisonment in the Nazi concentration camps was usually indefinite, and whilst (initially) some people were released in just a few days, most endured weeks, months or years of detention. Sanitation and facilities were extremely poor across all camps. Brutal treatment, torture and humiliation was commonplace.

Inmates in concentration camps were also usually subject to forced labour. Typically, this was long hours of hard physical labour, though this varied across different camps. Many camps worked their prisoners to death.

Approximately one million people died in concentration camps over the course of the Holocaust. This figure does not include those killed at extermination camps.


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