Syria Genocide War Crimes

Monday, December 8, 2008

Historical Concentration Camps

On 27th February, 1933, someone set fire to the Reichstag. Several people were arrested including a leading, Georgi Dimitrov, general secretary of the Comintern, the international communist organization. Dimitrov was eventually acquitted but a young man from the Netherlands, Marianus van der Lubbe, was eventually executed for the crime. As a teenager Lubbe had been a communist and Hermann Goering used this information to claim that the Reichstag Fire was part of a KPD plot to overthrow the government.

Adolf Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". KPD candidates in the election were arrested and Goering announced that the Nazi Party planned "to exterminate" German communists.

Thousands of members of the Social Democrat Party and Communist Party were arrested and sent to Germany's first concentration camp at Dachau, a village a few miles from Munich. Theodor Eicke was placed in charge of the first camp and eventually took overall control of the system.

Originally called re-education centres the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) soon began describing them as concentration camps. They were called this because they were "concentrating" the enemy into a restricted area. Hitler argued that the camps were modeled on those used by the British during the Boer War.

After the 1933 General Election Hitler passed an Enabling Bill that gave him dictatorial powers. His first move was to take over the trade unions. Its leaders were sent to concentration camps and the organization was put under the control of the Nazi Party. The trade union movement now became known as the Labour Front.

Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party were banned. Party activists still in the country were arrested and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp.

It was not only left-wing politicians and trade union activists who were sent to concentration camps. The Gestapo also began arresting beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, alcoholics and anyone who was incapable of working. Although some inmates were tortured, the only people killed during this period were prisoners who tried to escape and those classed as "incurably insane".

Inmates wore serial numbers and coloured patches to identify their categories: red for political prisoners, blue for those who were foreigners, violet for religious fundamentalists, green for criminals, black for those considered to be anti-social and pink for homosexuals.

As well as the one built at Dachau concentration camps were also built at Belsen and Buchenwald (Germany), Mauthausen (Austria), Theresienstadt (Czechoslovakia) and Auschwitz (Poland). Each camp was commanded by a senior Schutzstaffel (SS) officer and staffed by members of the SS Death's Head units. The camp was divided into blocks and each one was under the charge of a senior prisoner.

As well as using members of the SS the camp commander often recruited Baltic or Ukrainian Germans to control inmates. As they had previously been minorities of repressed communities, they were particularly good at dealing harshly with Russians, Poles and Jews.

By 1944 there were 13 main concentration camps and over 500 satellite camps. In an attempt to increase war-production, inmates were used as cheap-labour. The Schutzstaffel (SS) charged industrial companies around 6 marks for each prisoner working a twelve-hour day.

At the Wannsee Conference held in January 1942 it was decided to make the extermination of the Jews a systematically organized operation. After this date extermination camps were established in the east that had the capacity to kill large numbers including Belzec (15,000 a day), Sobibor (20,000), Treblinka (25,000) and Majdanek (25,000).

It has been estimated that between 1933 and 1945 a total of 1,600,000 were sent to concentration work camps. Of these, over a million died of a variety of different causes. During this period around 18 million were sent to extermination camps. Of these, historians have estimated that between five and eleven million were killed.