Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany

By: Sydney Plaster

Introduction

Most people did not know Nazi Germany established around forty thousand concentration camps to imprison its millions of victims. The first concentration camp opened in March, 1933, but by the end of World War II, the Nazis administered a massive system of about 40,000 camps. These camps stretched across Europe from the French-Spanish border into the conquered Soviet territories, and as far south as Greece and North Africa. During the Holocaust, millions of people were thrown into concentration camps to work jobs along the lines of factory work, mining and construction. Jews were not the only people that were targeted; Communists, Socialists, common criminals, homosexuals, and many more went into the camps. If they survived the camp, returning to normal life was hard and dangerous. Call-Ups were what Jews and many others feared. If somebody received one, that meant they were forced into a concentration camp. They either went to a camp, or went into hiding.


Daily Life and Work

In a concentration camp, prisoners were forced to work. Some had to work to death, others could have less physical jobs. Other than working twelve hours a day, they were fed very little and had terrible living conditions. The day started with Appell, or roll call. The prisoners would stand in lines for hours in all weathers. Their instructions for the day would be called out. Before roll call, up to two thousand prisoners had to share toilet facilities that had no privacy or sanitation. Then, they would eat watery soup, a piece of bread, and some imitation coffee for a meal. Prisoners were assigned a whole range of different work duties. Some of these were within the camp, but most prisoners worked outside in one of the many factories, construction projects, farms, or coal mines owned by German companies for whom they now provided free slave labor. The prisoners had to wear one set of clothing for weeks, or even months. They had to work and sleep in the same clothes. Men would wear a vest, trousers, a hat and a coat. Women would be supplied with a smock type dress. On their feet prisoners wore wooden or leather clogs. Therefore, daily life in a concentration camp was rough. They had to work twelve hours a day, eat terrible food, and do all this in the same set of clothes for up to a month.



Who Went to Concentration Camps?

Many types of people were targeted to go to a concentration camp. If you had a different religion, sexualtiy, or social stance from what Adolf Hitler thought was normal, you were thrown into a camp. He tried to create a “master race” by exterminating all people that were different in concentration camps. Prisoners wore a colored triangle so guards could differentiate between everybody, and turn groups against each other. Jewish people are what comes to mind when thinking of who went into concentration camps. They were the main target, and because of this they wore a yellow Star of David that was sewn into their jacket. Political prisoners, such as Communists, Socialists, and trade unionists wore red triangles. Common criminals wore green. Gypsies and other Germans considered “asocial” and “shiftless” had black triangles. Jehovah’s Witnesses wore purple and homosexuals pink. Letters indicated nationality, for example: P for Polish, SU for Soviet Union, and F for French. Because of all the types of people the Nazis put into concentration camps, they had to wear color-coded triangles and letters so guards and officers could easily identify each person’s background and pit the different groups against each other.


The Survivors

For survivors, returning to life as it had been before the Holocaust was impossible. Jewish communities no longer existed in much of Europe. When people who tried to return home or to their hiding place found that, in many cases, their homes had been looted or taken over by others. Returning home was also dangerous. After the war, anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Polish cities. Rioters killed forty one Jewish survivors and wounded fifty in one case. Jews realized that there was no future for them in Poland. Many survivors ended up in displaced persons’ (DP) camps set up in Western Europe under allied military occupation at these sites of former concentration camps. There they waited to be admitted to places like the United States, South Africa, or Palestine. Although many Jewish survivors were able build new lives in their adopted countries, many non-Jewish victims of Nazi policies continued to be prosecuted in Germany. Laws that discriminated against Gypsies continued to be in effect till 1970 in some parts of the country. The law used in Nazi Germany to imprison homosexuals remained in effect until 1969. Returning home for a camp survivor was dangerous; homes would be looted or taken over, and people were still discriminating by starting riots.


Conclusion

During the Holocaust, people of all different types were forced into concentration camps. They had to endure grueling work and horrible living conditions. Many different types of people had to live in concentration camps. If somebody was lucky enough to survive, returning back to normal life was impossible. In conclusion, the Holocaust was a terrible time in history. The concentration camps were one of the worst parts. There was a range of camps, from labor camps to extermination camps. Thankfully, the forty thousand camps are gone now, and extreme discrimination against different people isn’t here today.