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INCREDIBLE


HOLOCAUST  
NAZI CAMPS/DEATH MARCH
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SS AND THE CAMP SYSTEM
Holocaust Encyclopedia

In 1933-1934, SS chief Himmler secured SS control over a centralized concentration camp system.

Throughout Germany, various civilian authorities and police agencies had established concentration camps during 1933 to incarcerate political enemies of the Nazi government. Impressed with the Dachau concentration camp established by the SS in March 1933, Hitler authorized Himmler to centralize these camps under SS leadership. Himmler established (in the SS Main Office) an SS Inspectorate of Concentration Camps under the leadership of Dachau camp commandant and SS General Theodor Eicke.

After 1934, SS officers commanded all concentration camps in Germany and in German-occupied territory. Units known as SS Death's-Head Units (SS-Totenkopfverbände) guarded and administered the camps. Although the Security Police (Gestapo and Kripo) had exclusive authority to incarcerate, release, and “officially” order the execution of prisoners, the daily life of prisoners lay in the brutal and merciless hands of the camp commandants and these SS Death's-Head Units, which were not part of the police forces.

In 1937, there were only four concentration camps in Germany; by 1944, there were approximately 30 main camps and hundreds of subcamps located throughout the Greater German Reich and German-occupied Europe.

Before 1938, the vast majority of concentration camp prisoners were political opponents of the Nazi regime with minorities of Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials. Roma and Sinti were often classified as “criminals” and/or “asocials.”

Although in reality most Roma and Sinti in Germany were settled and somewhat integrated into German society, the SS and police saw them in terms of traditional negative stereotypes of Gypsies as petty criminals and persons who engaged in anti-social behavior. Likewise, with the drastic expansion of police enforcement of laws criminalizing real and perceived homosexual acts between consenting adults, homosexuals in the camps were frequently classified as “criminals” and “asocials.”

Despite their presence in numbers vastly out of proportion to their percentage in the German population, Jews remained a minority among the prisoners prior to 1938. In most cases, Gestapo or Kripo officials incarcerated Jews in the camps because they had been activists in the Social Democratic, Communist, or liberal democratic parties, had been visible opponents of the Nazi party or specific Nazi policies, or had been advocates of policies or members of organizations that the Nazis found to be “hostile to the state and the race.” Examples of such were membership in pro-democratic Masonic lodges, activism in organizations dedicated to pacifism or international peace and understanding, or advocacy for rights for national minorities or homosexuals.

With German expansion in 1938, the availability of prisoners for forced labor in the concentration camp system took on added significance. The SS was determined that the Thousand-Year Reich would be ruled by its self-selected, “racially pure” elite. To ensure this development, its leaders invested significant financial and human resources in planning for the construction of the German settlements in Poland and the Soviet Union in accordance with their visions of permanent German rule. As early as the mid-1930s, the SS leaders of the concentration camps and the chief of the SS Administration Main Office (SS-Verwaltungshauptamt), SS General Oswald Pohl, recognized the potential of concentration camp prisoners as forced laborers to produce construction materials, and eventually to do the manual labor to build and maintain these settlements.

At this time, the SS founded a number of companies, such as the German Earth and Stone Works (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke; DESt) and the German Equipment Works (Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke; DAW) to produce construction materials and equipment for the SS. The Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937), Flossenbürg (1938), and Mauthausen (1938) concentration camp sites were chosen precisely because of their proximity to soil suitable for making bricks, to a brickworks factory, or to stone quarries. In 1938, the Criminal Police initiated two massive roundups of so-called “work-shy” and asocial individuals, in part to increase the concentration camp population available for forced labor. Among the so-called work-shy and asocials whom the Kripo incarcerated were Roma and Sinti (Gypsies).

In the first three years of the war, the SS leaders expanded the concentration camp system not merely to detain the tens of thousands of new political prisoners of non-German nationality who chose to resist German occupation policies, but also to increase the pool of forced laborers available for the settlements that the SS planned to construct now that Poland and the western Soviet Union were in German hands. SS leaders reached decisions to construct new gigantic concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Lublin-Majdanek (1941-1942) based on expectations of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war who would be available for forced labor (1941) and, later, on tens of thousands of Jewish forced laborers (January-March 1942).

After spring 1942, the overwhelming majority of prisoners in both Auschwitz and Majdanek (until November 1943) were Jews. In April 1942, Auschwitz Birkenau took on a double function as a killing center. Until November 1943, Lublin-Majdanek served primarily as a forced-labor camp for Jews within the framework of Operation “Reinhard. Majdanek also served the SS from time to time as a killing site, where the SS and police killed Jews under Operation “Reinhard.”

In winter 1942, it became clear that Germany would be engaged in a long war and that labor needs for German war production could not be met even by the deportation of millions of civilian forced laborers from occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet Union. After this time, the leadership of the SS administration and the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps deployed concentration camp labor, at a profit, in accordance with contracts signed by German military and civilian agencies and private firms producing armaments, related war materials (e.g. uniforms), and construction materials to repair or replace facilities destroyed by Allied bombing. To facilitate this process, Himmler incorporated the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, now led by SS General Richard Glücks, with the SS Economic-Administration Main Office (SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt-WVHA) under Pohl in March 1942.

Henceforth, the concentration camps and their prisoners, the SS-owned companies, and the administrative offices of the SS were all together in one agency. Under the auspices of the WVHA, the number of subcamps multiplied into the hundreds and even thousands. Enterprises using concentration camp labor ranged from large state combines like the Hermann-Göring-Werke and large, private corporate conglomerates like the I.G. Farben chemical combine to small private firms like Oskar Schindler's German Enamelware Factory (Deutsche Emalwarenfabrik) in Krakow, Poland.

During World War II, SS camp authorities would kill around two million prisoners—Jews, political prisoners, Roma (Gypsies), so-called asocials, recidivist convicts, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and others—in the concentration camp system.

NAZI CAMPS
Holocaust Encyclopedia

INTRODUCTION

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 40,000 camps and other incarceration sites. The perpetrators used these sites for a range of purposes, including forced labor, detention of people thought to be enemies of the state, and mass murder. The total number of sites is based upon ongoing research in the perpetrators' own records.

EARLY CAMPS

From its rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime built a series of detention facilities to imprison and eliminate so-called "enemies of the state." Most prisoners in the early concentration camps were German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of "asocial" or socially deviant behavior. These facilities were called “concentration camps” because those imprisoned there were physically “concentrated” in one location.

After Germany's annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps, all located in Germany. After the violent Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogroms in November 1938, the Nazis conducted mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in camps for brief periods.

FORCED-LABOR AND PRISONER-OF-WAR CAMPS

Following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Nazis opened forced-labor camps where thousands of prisoners died from exhaustion, starvation, and exposure. SS units guarded the camps. During World War II, the Nazi camp system expanded rapidly. In some camps, Nazi doctors performed medical experiments on prisoners.

Following the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis increased the number of prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. Some new camps were built at existing concentration camp complexes (such as Auschwitz) in occupied Poland. The camp at Lublin, later known as Majdanek, was established in the autumn of 1941 as a POW camp and became a concentration camp in 1943. Thousands of Soviet POWs were shot or gassed there.

To facilitate the "Final Solution" (the genocide or mass destruction of the Jews), the Nazis established killing centers in Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population. The killing centers were designed for efficient mass murder. Chelmno, the first killing center, opened in December 1941. Jews and Roma were gassed in mobile gas vans there. In 1942, the Nazis opened the Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka killing centers to systematically murder the Jews of the Generalgouvernement (the territory in the interior of occupied Poland).

The Nazis constructed gas chambers (rooms that filled with poison gas to kill those inside) to increase killing efficiency and to make the process more impersonal for the perpetrators. At the Auschwitz camp complex, the Birkenau killing center had four gas chambers. During the height of deportations to the camp, up to 6,000 Jews were gassed there each day.

Jews in Nazi-occupied lands often were first deported to transit camps such as Westerbork in the Netherlands, or Drancy in France, en route to the killing centers in occupied Poland. The transit camps were usually the last stop before deportation to a killing center.

Millions of people were imprisoned and abused in the various types of Nazi camps. Under SS management, the Germans and their collaborators murdered more than three million Jews in the killing centers alone. Only a small fraction of those imprisoned in Nazi camps survived.

CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM IN NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS
Holocaust Encyclopedia

VICTIMS OF PERSECUTION

Among the first victims of persecution in Nazi Germany were political opponents—primarily Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists. Jehovah's Witnesses refused to serve in the German army or take an oath of obedience to Adolf Hitler and consequently were also targeted. The Nazis harassed German male homosexuals, whose sexual orientation was considered a hindrance to the expansion of the German population. "Habitual" homosexuals were incarcerated in prisons; many were later remanded to concentration camps following the completion of their sentences.

The Nazis persecuted those they considered to be racially inferior. Nazi racial ideology primarily vilified Jews, but also propagated hatred for Roma (Gypsies) and blacks. The Nazis viewed Jews as racial enemies and subjected them to arbitrary arrest, internment, and murder. Roma were also singled out on racial grounds for persecution. The Nazis viewed Poles and other Slavs as inferior, and slated them for subjugation, forced labor, and sometimes death. Jewish prisoners received the most brutal treatment in Nazi concentration camps.

MARKING SYSTEM

 From 1938, Jews in the camps were identified by a yellow star sewn onto their prison uniforms, a perversion of the Jewish Star of David symbol. After 1939 and with some variation from camp to camp, the categories of prisoners were easily identified by a marking system combining a colored inverted triangle with lettering. The badges sewn onto prisoner uniforms enabled SS guards to identify the alleged grounds for incarceration.

Criminals were marked with green inverted triangles, political prisoners with red, "asocials" (including Roma, nonconformists, vagrants, and other groups) with black or—in the case of Roma in some camps—brown triangles. Homosexuals were identified with pink triangles and Jehovah's Witnesses with purple ones. Non-German prisoners were identified by the first letter of the German name for their home country, which was sewn onto their badge. The two triangles forming the Jewish star badge would both be yellow unless the Jewish prisoner was included in one of the other prisoner categories. A Jewish political prisoner, for example, would be identified with a yellow triangle beneath a red triangle.

The Nazis required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David not only in the camps but throughout most of occupied Europe.

DEATH MARCHES
Holocaust Encyclopedia

A massive Soviet 1944 summer offensive in eastern Belarus annihilated German Army Group Center and permitted Soviet forces to overrun the first of the major Nazi concentration camps, Lublin/Majdanek. Shortly after that offensive, SS chief (Reichsfuehrer SS) Heinrich Himmler ordered that prisoners in all concentration camps and subcamps be evacuated toward the interior of the Reich. Due to the rapid Soviet advance, the SS had not had time to complete the evacuation of Majdanek. Soviet and western media widely publicized SS atrocities at the camp, using both footage of the camp at liberation and interviews with some of the surviving prisoners. The evacuations of the concentration camps had three purposes:

(1) SS authorities did not want prisoners to fall into enemy hands alive to tell their stories to Allied and Soviet liberators

(2) the SS thought they needed prisoners to maintain production of armaments wherever possible

(3) some SS leaders, including Himmler, believed irrationally that they could use Jewish concentration camp prisoners as hostages to bargain for a separate peace in the west that would guarantee the survival of the Nazi regime.

In the summer and early autumn months of 1944, most of the evacuations were carried out by train or, in the case of German positions cut off in the Baltic States, by ship. As winter approached, however, and the Allies reached the German borders and assumed full control of German skies, SS authorities increasingly evacuated concentration camp prisoners from both east and west on foot.

By January 1945, the Third Reich stood on the verge of military defeat. Most of German East Prussia was already under Soviet occupation. Soviet forces besieged Warsaw, Poland, and Budapest, Hungary, as they prepared to push German forces back toward the interior of the Reich. After the failure of the surprise German Ardennes offensive in December 1944, Anglo-American forces in the west were ready to invade Germany.

The SS guards had strict orders to kill prisoners who could no longer walk or travel. As evacuations depended increasingly on forced marches and travel by open rail car or small craft in the Baltic Sea in the brutal winter of 1944-1945, the number who died of exhaustion and exposure along the routes increased dramatically. This encouraged an understandable perception among the prisoners that the Germans intended them all to die on the march. The term death march was probably coined by concentration camp prisoners.

During these death marches, the SS guards brutally mistreated the prisoners. Following their explicit orders, they shot hundreds of prisoners who collapsed or could not keep pace on the march, or who could no longer disembark from the trains or ships. Thousands of prisoners died of exposure, starvation, and exhaustion. Forced marches were especially common in late 1944 and 1945, as the SS evacuated prisoners to camps deeper within Germany. Major evacuation operations moved prisoners out of Auschwitz, Stutthof, and Gross-Rosen westward to Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen in winter 1944-1945; from Buchenwald and Flossenbürg to Dachau and Mauthausen in spring 1945; and from Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme northwards to the Baltic Sea in the last weeks of the war.

As Allied forces advanced into the heart of Germany they liberated hundreds of thousands of concentration camp prisoners. This included thousands of prisoners whom Allied and Soviet troops liberated while they marched on the forced evacuations. On April 25, 1945, Soviet forces met US forces at Torgau, on the Elbe River in central Germany. The German armed forces surrendered unconditionally in the west on May 7 and in the east on May 9, 1945. May 8, 1945, was proclaimed Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day).

To almost the last day of the war, German authorities marched prisoners to various locations in the Reich. As late as May 1, 1945, prisoners who had been evacuated from Neuengamme to the North Sea coastline were loaded onto ships; hundreds of them died when the British bombed the ships a few days later, thinking that they carried German military personnel.

LINKS

List of  Major Camps    Jewish Virtual Library

List of Nazi concentration camps   Wikipedia

Nazi Concentration Camps    Wikipedia

Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

Concentration Camp System in Depth  Holocaust Encyclopedia

Death Marches (Holocaust)   Wikipedia

Death Marches  Yad Vashem

The life of an Auschwitz guard   During WWII, Oskar Groening watched as hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths. Is his prosecution now too little too late?

The Theresienstadt Ghetto: Its Characteristics and Perspective     
Yad Vashem, Ruth Bondy

NAZI CAMP/DEATH MARCH VIDEOS, ANIMATED MAPS

HOLOCAUST RESEARCH PROJECT

SS and GESTAPO