Note: Although there are no explicit details, this topic may disturb some readers.
During World War II, Hitler's Germany established dozens of concentration camps
around Europe. Some of these were solely for forced labor
, but others were also extermination camps. Human beings sent to these camps were either selected for immediate death or forced to work at hard labor that all too often led to the same result.
The most infamous extermination camp is unquestionably Auschwitz-Birkenau
, located near the Polish town of Oświęcim
. The original camp, Auschwitz
I, was expanded to include Auschwitz II (Birkenau), which was specifically designed for extermination, and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) which was a labor camp. Established in May 1940, the original camp served as the administrative center for all three camps for the duration of the war. This is the location of the notorious sign Arbeit Macht Frei
(Work Shall Make You Free), which is still standing today. Auschwitz I had its own gas chamber and crematorium; most of those killed there were prisoners of war. Auschwitz II, the best-known part of the complex, was located near the town of Brzezinka
and was constructed in 1941 as a result of Hitler's Final Solution
. Most of the selection process took place on the ramp from the train station, where nearly one million Jews were sent to one of five gas chambers or sent to live in the camp itself, which held 100,000 people. This camp was also where Josef Mengele
performed numerous experiments on twins, sick laborers, and other prisoners. Auschwitz III was established in 1942 to provide workers for IG Farben's nearby factory. Frequent visits from Birkenau doctors kept the Monowitz population healthy and rotating - by sending sick workers back to Birkenau. In January 1945, at the end of the war, the German army evacuated the camps in an attempt to hide their war crimes; sick and weak prisoners were left behind, but the grueling march caused a number of deaths on the road as well. When the Soviet army reached Auschwitz at the end of January, they liberated several thousand prisoners, but the total death count for the complex is believed to be over one million. Today, Auschwitz-Birkenau is a museum complex hosting more than half a million visitors annually. Guided tours are available, and visitors are also permitted to walk the grounds during operating hours.
The concentration camp at Dachau
in Germany was established as early as 1933, well before the war actually began. For seven years it was a forced labor camp, and prisoners worked in gravel pits, built roads, and in German munitions
factories. The first prisoners at Dachau were German citizens who were believed to be political dissidents and union members. In later years, all of Hitler's targeted groups - Jews, homosexuals, Roma, and others - were sent to Dachau, as were Christian prisoners. Initially, Dachau was solely for labor, but in 1941 mass executions began. The camp did not have a gas chamber
and so most prisoners were simply shot; camp records show approximately 30,000 deaths there. The women's camp at Dachau did not open until 1944. At the end of that year, the Dachau complex was so overcrowded that living conditions were abysmal; a December 1944 outbreak of typhus
killed thousands of prisoners. As the war came to a close, several thousand prisoners were evacuated for a death march not unlike the one used at Auschwitz; when American troops liberated the camp in April 1945 they found tens of thousands of prisoners still there. Dachau also has a memorial located onsite; guided tours are offered and there is a video presentation about the camp.
The extermination camp known as Treblinka
was established as part of Operation Reinhard
in July 1942 for the primary purpose of clearing out the Polish ghettos
by killing all of the Jews there. From July to October in 1942, more than 300,000 prisoners were shipped from just 100 kilometers from Warsaw
to Treblinka. There were two camps - Treblinka I and Treblinka II - that separated the complex. Treblinka I was the administrative section, home to German officers and staff as well as several hundred Jewish
prisoners who filled administrative roles. The camp infirmary, storage houses, and bakery were also located here. Treblinka II was exclusively
for killing - the only barracks were for the Jewish prisoners who operated the gas chambers there. During an August 1943 revolt, the camps were severely damaged by fire; instead of rebuilding them, the German army simply closed the camp. Bodies were exhumed from the mass grave
s and burned, buildings were dismantled, and even the railroad tracks leading to the camp were destroyed in an attempt to cover up evidence.
Treblinka was not the only camp that was part of Operation Reinhard - others included Bełżec
, and Majdanek
. The total estimated death toll for Operation Reinhard is approximately two million.
The concentration camp known as Buchenwald
was located in central Germany and was established in 1937; women were not sent to the camp until 1944. Prisoners there worked in munitions factories for the German army, but many were also killed or subjected to medical experiments. Renowned author Elie Wiesel
was among those liberated by American troops in April 1945.
was a unique sort of camp in Germany. Opened in 1940, it originally held Soviet prisoners of war for hard labor. By 1943, though, the camp had morphed into a "transit center." Prisoners from other camps were sent there so they could serve as bargaining chips for the German army to get back their own prisoners of war being held by the Allies
. Still more prisoners from eastern European camps were sent to Bergen-Belsen as the Soviet army advanced from the east; in March of 1944 prisoners who were too sick to work were also sent to Bergen-Belsen. The camp's population swelled to 65,000 before it was liberated in April 1945 by British soldiers. Of particular note about Bergen-Belsen is that Anne Frank
, the diarist from Amsterdam, died there with her sister Margot a few weeks before the liberation of the camp.
Another unique camp was Theresienstadt
, located outside the Czech city of Terezín
. A fortress had been built there in 1785, and it became a Jewish ghetto in November 1941. Non-Jewish residents of the city were forced to leave, and the ghetto became part of a propaganda
campaign by the German army. Elderly Jews who clearly could not work in concentration camps were sent to Theresienstadt as if it were a retirement village, and children were also sent to Theresienstadt where they did in fact continue their education. Fake cafés and shops were set up in the ghetto by the German army, and this helped convince the Red Cross
that this was an acceptable environment, and a propaganda film was even made there. But beginning in 1942, deportations from the ghetto sent Jews directly to their deaths in extermination camps. Those who were not sent to death camps often died of disease and starvation, so many that a small crematorium was established near the site. Only about 15,000 residents survived until liberation in April 1945, and fewer than 1,000 survivors were children.
These are only a few of the concentration and extermination camps that operated before and during World War II. There were several dozen camps, each of which often had dozens of subcamps. Nearly twelve million
people died during the Holocaust
, the vast majority of them in concentration camps and death camps. Many of the camp sites are museums and memorials today, and hopefully they will serve as a reminder to future generations not to let such atrocities happen again.
written for nonficwrimo 06