Concentration and Extermination Camps 

One of the most infamous parts of the the Nazi regime was their camp system, whether it be concentration camps or their extermination camps.  Every area that they conquered, they would organise for a camp to be created.  In fact there were approximately 1000 camps spread across Europe. 

Many of the camps were suprisingly close to cities, towns and villages.  In  some cases it appears that the SS tried to hide some of the things that were happening by having band practise during mass shootings, and trying to make sure not too much smoke could be seen from the crematorium.  In other cases the camps were integral and profitable parts of the town, with locals supplying to the camps and some of the prisoners working for the locals.

There was a lot of propaganda around conditions and reasons why the camps existed.  Documentaries about how great the camps were for the prisoners were circulated amongst groups of people.  They were advertised initially as re-education centres to help people that did not function well in society.  But as time went by they became more and more notorious and many German citizens feared them or admired them depending on their leanings.  In some places SS were thought of 'the' people to socialise with, to aspire to.  All in all, it was a strange mix of knowledge, brainwashing and ignorance in some cases, regarding what the camps were all about.   

Please note that this is a summary and I recommend to do more research to find out all the information regarding thes camps.

Nohra is a village formerly located in the Weimarer district of Thuringia, Germany.  There was an airfield formerly used by the Luftwaffe, which had a small runway, hangar, and Heimatschule Mitteldeutschland, a right-wing military school that worked closely with the Reich Labour Service.

On the 27th of February 1933 a fire started in the Reichstag building, in Berlin.  This was blamed on Communists and hundreds of Communists were arrested or 'taken into protective custody'.  But this caused a problem.  Where should all the prisoners be detained?  The prisons quickly became overcrowded.   To combat this they decided to open camps, called assembly camps.  The first of which would take over the Military School in Nohra.

Now no one really knows why it was choosen, but it did solve another problem created, when you have new prisons or camps.  It had a ready made staff base. Nohra was one of the few camps not administered by the SS.  It was run by the police and the students.

The camp was made up of two connected buildings.   The prisoners were housed on the second floor, with only straw and blankets.  Numbers got up to 220 at one point.  They stayed in the rooms and were only brought out for interrogations.  The initial group were mostly made up of people from the communist party from the State Government. All the prisoners were allowed to vote in the March 1933 elections.  This skewed the figures, which looked like there was an increased support for the communists.

By the time that the camp was closed which was debatably April, May or July 1933, only one person had died via an infection that they had caught in the camp.  The same can not be said however for the camp that would be built within viewing distance of their bell tower, in 1937, Buchenwald.

Dachau was originally opened to hold political prisoners with a capacity of 5000.  It had previously been an unused ammunitions factory from WW1 and was Northeast of the town of Dachau and just over 10 miles from Munich.  It was the first permanent state concentration camp and the longest used, and opened on the 22nd March 1933.   The SS took over the management of the camps 19 days later from the Bavarian police, and just 2 days after that, came the first reported deaths in the camp.  Four prisoners were escorted to the gate and were shot as they reportedly tried to escape.   This was the start of many inmates being shot trying to escape or committing 'suicide'.

The amount of deaths and the differences between what were on autopsy reports and other accounts, raised the attention of the prosecutor Karl Wintersberger in Munich. He conducted an investigation, and his findings proved the murders of some of the prisoners. This did take longer to prove, due to the SS not really wanting the investigation, and hindering him whenever possible. He applied for arrest warrants and filed an indictment on 1st June 1933. The Justice Ministry demanded the files so that they could get the right person to look into it, which ended up being the Political Police Commissioner.  However allegedly the files never got to Heinrich Himmler, who was not only the Commissioner, but also the head of the SS and oversaw Dachau.  No one was ever prosecuted for the murders and Wintersberger was transferred to the small town of Bamberg in March 1934.

Unlike other camps that were operated by civilian managers, who had experience running prisons, Dachau was under the full control of the SS.  The difference in styles is noticable.  Other camps were to be run based on the prison model, with corporal punishment not included in the regulations set.   However Dachau created a special regulations in May 1933, that 'instituionalised tyranny and crime', and included the death penalty.   This did not go down too well with the Bavarian judicial system.  So Himmler distanced himself, fired the commandant and appointed Theodor Eicke.  

Theodor Eicke continued this reign of terror, by implementing disciplinary and punishment regulations in October 1933.   He changed the death penalty to words such as hanged, and shot.  And although it did not get approved by state, Himmler approved it by revolutionary law.

This is when Eicke, started his school of cruelty and why Dachau can be thought of as a training ground.  From Dachau came some of the most notorious, blood thirsty SS guards that would learn and teach others how to terrorise prisoners with total disregard for them. The officers that excelled in this were given promotions including Concentration and Extermination camps of their own.   SS that were trained in Dachau and exported to run other camps include Rudolf Hoss, Martin Gottfried, Hermann Baranowski, Hans Loritz, Hans Aumeier, Richard Baer, Karl Fritzsch, Frans Hofmann, Max Koegel amd Framz Xaver Trenkle.

Dachau was primarily a mens camp until late in the war.  Most of the inmates either worked in factories, in the town or doing maintenance in the camps.  They were often worked days on end in extreme weather conditions, with little to no food and water, sometimes until death. Those deemed unfit to work were killed in Dachau or sent to other camps to be executed. In spring of 1942, Barrack X was started.  This was partly due to the fact that the existing crematorium just was not big enough. However the building included, amoungst other things, a gas chamber.  Although the building was completed and eye witness accounts say that it was used at least once in 1944, it appears to only have been used rarely, unlike at other camps. The area it is situated in was used frequently for executions (hanging and shotting) due to it being remote.

Medical experimentation was conducted at Dachau.   It was almost like each camp concentrated on certain types of experiments for the Nazi Party.   Most of the experiments that were conducted at Dachau was for the airforce.  They included infectng people with malaria, forcing prisoners to drink seawater, starvation tests, high altitude, hypothermia, sulfanilamide and biochemical experiments

The SS were not the only people in the camp to be scared of.  The camp had started to hold political prisoners, but by 1940 it held, Political opponents, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic Priets, Communists, Homosexuals, Emigrants, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Polish, Russian, Italian, French and German criminals.   During this time some of the Political prisoners were 'promoted' to positions within the camp and were told to submit punishment reports on other prisoners they were in charge of.  As you find anywhere, some of these people were fair but others relished the power they felt they had and fully participated in the brutal regime.

Although Dachau was a concentration camp and not an extermination camp, it is estimated over 41,500 people out of the 200,000 are thought to have been murdered there.   This does not take into account any that were transferred to other camps for execution, or any that died on death marches.   There were also a number of 'special treatment' executions that took place at Dachau.   These prisoners were brought to the camp mainly by the Gestapo and therefore were unregistered.  These totaled several hundred at least.  We will never know how many people were really held and died in Dachau and all the horrific things that occurred to its prisoners.

When the Nazi party first came to power they started buying up land in certain areas.  One such area was on the opposite shore of a lake to Fürstenberg and created a settlement called Ravensbrück.  In 1938, the SS bought a lot more land in the area and in November they brought over 500 men and women from different camps to help build a new camp for women prisoners.  Although the camp can be seen from the town, it is still quite isolated and this may be why it was chosen.   It is also a very picturesque place and was marketed to the SS and other high ranking officials as a nice place to come and stay with your family.  To accomodate this a large residential area was created near the camp.  

On the 18th May 1939, Ravensbrück was offically opened with the arrival of over 800 female prisoners.  Within a month the camp had 1000 prisoners which tripled within the next year.  The most at one time was around 45,000. Like other camps certain prisoners were promoted to positions in helping to run the camp.  Although the Comandant was a man, Max Koegel and later Fritz Suhren, the camp was predominately run by female SS officers, with male SS used for support and patrol the perimeters of the camp.

Initially the camp was only for women with a few children, but from 1943 children started to arrive and by 1944 there were close to 500 children in the camp.  Children under the age of four were expected to stay in the barracks and help wih cleaning.  While anyone four or upwards need to work in the associated factories and work crews.

There were a number of different jobs performed from the camp.   One of the companies that benefitted greatly from the camp was Siemens.   There prisoners worked long hours building parts for V1 and V2 rockets, radios and other military equipment.  As the war progressed Siemens created barracks that were smaller than those in the main camp and did not have toilets in them, but from prisoners accounts were nicer.  They also talk about the fact that they were given larger portions of food.   Another industry that prisoners worked in was textile.   This become more important the longer the war continued.   The Factory was run by the SS and created clothes and uniforms for the soldiers.  One of the worst work details was the Availables. For some this was a temproary placement until they were assigned to other details.   On part of this to do with maintenance, in particular was to do with roads.   This included the digging and creation of roads, where giant rollers were pulled by groups of women via yolks.  The other job given to this group was to go around the camp with carts and pick up, then dispose of the dead prisoners, they were known as the Corpse Crew.  

Himmler and some others had tried to think of ways that would help increase morale and productivity at some of the male concentrations camps.  This included paying incentives and providing things to spend this money on.   There were a range of things including prostitutes.  Women from concentration camps 'volunteered' to work in brothels for money, food and other rations.  Although most of these brothels were in concentration camps some were for the SS to useand all were overseen (literally with peep holes), by the SS.  Women were offered a number of differnet things including reduced sentences, however this was never actually occurred.

Women were also selected for medical experimentation.  The medical staff at the camp focussed on two different types of experiments.   The first was performing operations where the prisoners had bacteria inserted into the wounds on their legs.  Doctors then tested different types of medicine on the infections to see what worked best. All the women recovered, so the people conducting the experiments did not believe they were correct and changed the proceedure.   After the first set of patients, the next were to imitate war like conditions.  Women were shot and soil and other components were rubbed into the wounds. Again antibiotics were tested.  This time most of the patients died, but could have been saved by the use of other techniques.  But Himmler wanted a 'sacrific of blood' and so they were left.  The other type of experiment included severing muscles, breaking bones, amputations and transplants.   This was to fine tune medical procedures on the battlefield.

Although the camp was primarily run by female SS, that did not mean that they were any kinder than in other camps.   In fact in many cases the female SS were more harsh than their male conterparts.  It was as if they were trying to prove themselves and enjoyed the power that came with their postions.  Some of the most infamous guards included Irma Grese, Johanna Langefeld, Maria Mandl and Vera Salvequart, who poisoned sick kprisoners so she didnt have to carry them to the gas chamber.

Among those executed in the camp was Denise Block, Cecily Lefort, Lilian Rolfe, Violette Szabo, Elisabeth de Rothschild, Melena Jesenska, Henny Schermann and Mary Punjer, along with 200 Polish members of the Home Army.  It is estimated that over 130,000 women were imprisoned at Ravensbrück, with approximately 50,000 dying and over 2000 killed in their gas chambers.  In late 1944 there was a great over crowding in the camp and incoming prisoners were processed in the 'Tent', many did not make it out alive.  People would be there for days on end with no food or blankets in freezing conditions.  By the end of the war, there adjacent camps for men, who were made to build the gas chambers.  Early 1945, groups of women were told they were being transferred to Mittwerda. They were put in trucks and driven a short distance to the gas chambers instead. Prisoners from other camps were also sent to Ravensbrück, for the gas chambers as many camps did not have any on site.  At the beginning of April 1945, Red Cross trucks were able to collect some of the prisoners and provide others with supplies.  On the 28th April 1945 it was decided that all able bodied prisoners would begin the walk, that would later be called one of the death march. Prisoners that were to become 'liberated' by the Russians, had mixed experiences.  Some of the Russian soldiers raped and hit the prisoners (in atleast one case, the rapist was identified and shot by his commanding officer), and some protected and looked after the prisoners as best they could.  Other women were found by the British and American troops who worked closely with organisations to help with food and medical assistance.  Unfortunately even though these prisoners were freed, many died in later months due to their treatment in the camps.

Sachsenhausen was a camp opened in July 1936 and was located 22 miles north of Berlin.   It was close to Oranienburg, that was the administrative centre for the concentration camps. The SS used it as a training centre, but it was initially focussed on finding effective ways of killing prisoners.  

By 1936 the SS had tried different layouts for camps, trying to find the easiest way of overseeing the prisoners.  Sachsenhausen was built in a fan shape.  The reason for this was so that fewer guards were needed to secure prisoners.   The fan shape meant that someone could stand in the tower (A) above the main entrance with a machine gun.  Therefore they could see the entire camp and could shoot prisoners easier.  Around the camp was the neutral zone, any prisoner found in the neutral zone was shot and if that wasn't enough there was barbed wire obstacles and an electrified fence.   There are reports of soldiers telling prisoners to run into that area so that they could be shot.   This was during the time soldiers were told they weren't allowed to shoot prisoners unless they were trying to escape.  However some prisoners also used it as a form of suicide.

There were quite a few different types of work in Sachenhausen. A group of prisoners were selected to help prepare for a sabotage mission. They selected artisans to help forge British and American currency. The plan was to drop them over London to help destabilise the economy.  Although test runs prove successful not much made it across the channel.  Now these notes are extremely valuable.  Factories were also set up outside the camp.  One such factory was for Heinkel which had prisoners working on their bombers (HE177). The owners were satisfied with the work, even though some of the planes seemed to crash for no reason during the Russian invasion. Siemens made the most of Sachenhausen, as with most other camps and were supplied with many prisoners to build equipment such as radios and rockets.  But there were other companies such as AEG that also made the most of this cheap labour, as most of the time the paid small fees to the camps for this priveledge. The SS had an industrial yard, and would take 2000 inmates a day for works' duty. In the 'works' inmates did things such as maintenance, carpentry, metal work, tailoring, shoemaking, electrical work, bookbinding, pottery and laundry. But some of this needed to be tested. A 700 metre track was made and prisoners would have to test the shoes by walking and running on it for us to 40 kilometres a day. Few of the were able to last more than a couple of weeks. Another job that was allocated to prisoners was the collection of the dead. Prisoners on this duty would go from barrack to barrack or where ever required to collect corpses for disposal.

As mentioned previously Sachsenhausen experimented with different ways of killing people. They used firing squads and hangings in the roll call area as warnings and deterrents to prisoners, and in the early part of the war, to kill on mass. But they also developed Station Z. This was behind the walls and away from the main aspect of the camp, beside what was referred to as the execution trench. Station Z's entrance looked more like a medical facility on purpose Prisoners were ushered into rooms, told to remove their cloths and seen by 'doctors' one by one. When they went into the room (often with music playing) they would be told to stand against the wall to be measured and through a small hole in the wall they would be shot in the back on the neck. The body would be taken away and put into the nearby crematoriums. The complex also had a small gas chamber built with in it, although there are disagreemets over the exact date of this. What is known however is that Sachsenhausen helped with the development of the gas vans that were moved to sites when required.

But gas was not the only chemical used on prisoners. Prisoners were experimented on with the lethal sulfur mustard gas. Allegations of drugs that were suppose to help soldiers were developed and tested on prisoners and although there is no documented evidence, these kinds of experiments were being conducted in concentration camps.

The prisoners had their own way of keeping up moral in these horrific conditions. On Christmas Eve 1936 the prisoners had their first 'Ring out evening'. The prisoners sang as loud as they could hoping that the voices would 'ring out' and that the walls would vibrate. The SS did not challenge or stop this and the Ring out evenings continued through the war.

Many things occurred in Sachsenhausen. I have only mentioned a small amount here. As with any concentration camp there are only approximate figures to go by. The camp had approximately 200,000 inmates, which were made up of Political Prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet POW's, Pole's, Jews, Homosexuals and Freemason's. There were approximately 100,000 deaths, some of which were prisoners brought from other camps just to be executed. After the war the Soviets took over until 1950. But this is not where the story ends unfortunately, because when the site was opened in 1992 to show the atrocities that had occured, group's of Neo Nazi's tried to burn down barracks 38 and 39. Now days you can see where the fire occurred. It has been preserved as a reminder that there is still hatred, there is still racism and we must not forget where it can lead us.

Auschwitz is one of the most infamous concentration camps of the Third Reich.  But in actual fact it ended up being over 40 camps, which created an industrial sized extermination centre, designed to process prisoners efficiently and effectively.  Being built in May 1940, Auschwitz was the combination of experience from the other camps that had come before it.

Rudolf Hoss, who trained in Dachau, over saw the first experiment regarding Zyklon gas. This occured in August 1941, when it was used in the cell block housing a group of Soviet POW's. Over the next month it was fine tuned and eventually the morgue was changed into the gas chamber as it could hold up to approximately 800 people.

It is important to realise that when concentration camps talk about the number of inmates they had, it means the number of registered inmates for that camp. Often what would happen is that new prisoners or prisoners from other camps would be taken straight to the gas chamber and not necessarily registered first. This means that the following numbers are approximate. The number of inmates at Auschwitz was at least 1.3 million and at least 1.1 million died.  Although at his trial Hoss said that over 2.5 million had been gassed and another 500,000 had died from living conditions. We will never really know.

The prisoners were mostly made up of Jews, but also included Poles, Roma, Sinti, Soviet POW's and other Europeans.

There is so much more to talk about regarding Auschwitz, and the horrors that were inflicted there. But unfortuately at this current point in time, I have only done limited research. So I will leave it here until I can do justice to all that suffered so much from the cruelty of the regime and those that managed the site.