Concentration Camps Essay, Research Paper
Concentration camps are prison camps in which members
of minority groups, political enemies or people of physical
irregularity are kept. In most cases it is a permanent
imprisonment. The concentration camps of Hitler?s era and of
the Nazi regime are normally associated with mass death,
torture and gruesome scientific experimentation. In
reference to the Holocaust, about three fourths of the
prisoners were killed never seeing freedom again.
The first concentration camps were set up in 1933. In
the early days of Hitler, concentration camps were places
that held people in protective custody. Victims for
protective custody included those who were both physically
and mentally ill, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses,
Jews and anyone against the Nazi regime. Gypsies were
classified as people with at least two gypsy great
By the end of 1933, there were at least fifty
concentration camps through out occupied Europe(Israel 152).
At first, the camps were controlled by the Gestapo (police),
but by 1934 the S.S. (Hitler’s personal security force) were
ordered by Hitler to control the camps(Prince 518). Camps
were set up for different purposes. Some for forced labor,
others for medical experimentation. Later on, some became
death/ extermination facilities. Transition camps were set
up as holding places for death camps.
Henrick Himmler, chief of the German police, thought
that the camps would provide an economic base for the
soldiers. This did not happen. The work force was poorly
organized and working conditions were
inhumane(Williams-Internet). Therefore, productivity was
Camps were set up along railroad lines so that the
prisoners would be conveniently close to their deportation
destination. As they were being transported, the soldiers
kept telling the Jews to have hope. On the trains, Jews were
starved for days. Many people did not survive the ride to
When the camps were finally opened, most of the
families who were shipped out together ended up being
separated; males in one camp and females in another. Jews
were forced to obey the guard’s orders from the moment they
arrived at the camps. If they didn’t, they would be beaten,
put into solitary confinement or shot. The prisoners usually
had marks on their clothes or numbers on their arms to
identify them. Gold fillings, wedding bands, jewelry, shoes
and clothing were taken from the prisoners when they first
entered the camps and were sold.
The sanitary conditions of the camps were horrible.
There was only one bathroom for four hundred people. They
had to stand for hours in snow, rain, heat, or cold. Within
the first few days of being at the camps, thousands of
people died of hunger, starvation and disease. Other people
died from the cruel punishments of the guards; beatings and
torture(Alder 43). Typhus, a disease caused by germs carried
by flies, was the main disease that spread throughout the
camps. Even when people were sick, they still continued
working because they knew that sickness meant death. When
someone escaped from the camp, all the prisoners in that
group were shot.
Joseph Mengele, one of the most notorious of the Nazi
doctors. Hummed when selecting among the new arrivals for
the gas chamber or for medical experiments(Wiesenthal 182).
Some inmates were frozen to determine the best way to revive
frozen German soldiers. He also I well know for his work on
twins, using them to test different chemicals.
Once the camps became too full, they would invent new
ways to dispose of the prisoners. Women were sent to one
side to have their hair shaven and the men to the other.
They were all sent to the ?showers?, naked with a bar of
soap, so as to confuse them into believing that they were
truly going into a shower. Most people smelled the burning
bodies and knew the truth.
There were several death camps; Chelmno, Treblinka,
Aischwitz, Birkenau, Sobibor, Maidanek, and Belzec are some.
These camps used gas from the shower heads to murdertheir
Auschwitz, located in Poland, was ultimately Nazi
Germany’s largest concentration camp. It was established by
order of Himmler on April 27, 1940. At first, it was a
small work camp for Polish and Soviet prisoners of war. It
became a death camp in 1941. Auschwitz was divided into
three areas: Auschwitz 1 was the camp commander’s
headquarters and administrative offices. Auschwitz 2 was
called Birkenau and it was the death camp with forty gas
chambers. Auschwitz 3 was a slave labor camp(Gilbert 15). On
the gate of Auschwitz was a sign in German which read,
‘Arbeit macht frei’, which means ?work makes you free?.
Auschwitz included camp sites a few miles away from the main
complex. At these sites, slave labor was used to kill the
people. The working conditions were so poor that death was a
sure result. Until March 26, 1942, Auschwitz took women
prisoners, but after August 16, 1942 the women were housed
in Birkenau to make it easier for their destruction (they
were not as strong). When the Jews arrived at Auschwitz,
they were met with threats and promises. If they didn’t do
exactly as they were told, they would be beaten, deprived of
food, or shot. From time to time, they would be assured that
things would get better. The daily meals in Auschwitz
consisted of watery soup, distributed once a day,with a
small piece of (moldy) bread. In addition, they got extra an
allowance consisting of 3/4 ounce of margarine, a little
piece of cheese or a spoonful of watered jam. Everyone in
the camp was so malnourished that if a drop of soup spilled
prisoners would rush from all sides to see if they could get
some of the soup. Because of the bad sanitary conditions,
the inadequate diet, the hard labor and other torturous
conditions in Auschwitz, most people died within a few
months of their arrival. The few people who managed to stay
alive for longer were the ones who were assigned better
The prisoners slept on three shelves of wooden slabs
with six of these units to each tier. They had to stand for
hours in the wet and mud during role call, which was twice a
day. Some people thought the reason hundreds of people died
daily was because when it rained they lay with wet clothes
in their bunks. In place of toilets, there were wooden
boards with round holes and underneath them concrete
troughs. Two or three hundred people could sit onthem at
once. While they were on these troughs, they were watched in
order to assure that they did not stay too long.There was no
toilet paper, so the prisoners used linings of jackets. If
they didn’t have, they might steal from someone else. The
smells were horrible because there wasn’t enough water to
clean the latrine.
The stench of burning flesh filed the air in the
concentration camps as well as the area surrounding them.
When people were loaded onto trains to be taken to these gas
chambers, they were told that they were being “resettled”
in labor camps. This was one of the many lies told. It was
impossible for the Jews to make out which building was the
gas chambers because they looked presentable from the
outside, just like any other building. Over the gas chambers
were well kept lawns with flowers bordering them.
Jews were killed in the chambers by Lykon B (Williams-
Internet), hydrogen cyanide which was poured through the
ceiling of the gas chambers and turned into gas. The S.S.
commanders of Auschwitz preferred Lykon B. because it worked
Jews tried to escape from Auschwitz. Some succeeded. Of
course they wanted to inform the world of what was going on.
Those who escaped wrote descriptions of the horrors they
suffered. Information spread to many countries, yet no
countries seemed to do anything to help the situation. In
fact, as the war progressed,the number of prisoners
increased. (In total, between 1.5and 3.5 million Jews were
murdered at Auschwitz between the years 1940 and 1945(Braham
Throughout history billions of people have been killed
by cruel techniques and torture, but never has there been
such carnage at one time except for during the Holocaust.
Millions walked into the concentration camps but only a few
walked out. As for the rest, death was the final result.
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