Camps were an essential part of the Nazis' systematic oppression and mass murder of Jews, political adversaries, and others considered socially and racially undesirable. There were concentration camps, forced labor camps, extermination or death camps, transit camps, and prisoner-of-war camps. The living conditions of all camps were brutal. |
Dachau , one of the first Nazi concentration camps, opened in March 1933, and at first interned only known political opponents of the Nazis: Communists, Social Democrats, and others who had been condemned in a court of law. Gradually, a more diverse group was imprisoned, including Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gypsies , dissenting clergy, homosexuals, as well as others who were denounced for making critical remarks about the Nazis.
Six death or extermination camps were constructed in Poland. These so-called death factories were Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec , Sobibór, Lublin (also called Majdanek ), and Chelmno . The primary purpose of these camps was the methodical killing of millions of innocent people. The first, Chelmno, began operating in late 1941. The others began their operations in 1942.
In the beginning of the systematic mass murder of Jews, Nazis used mobile killing squads called
Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen consisted of four units of between 500 and 900 men each which followed the invading German troops into the Soviet Union. By the time Himmler ordered a halt to the shooting in the fall of 1942, they had murdered approximately 1,500,000 Jews. The death camps proved to be a better, faster, less personal method for killing Jews, one that would spare the shooters, not the victims, emotional anguish.|
In September 1941, the Nazis began using gassing vans--trucks loaded with groups of people who were locked in and asphyxiated by carbon monoxide. These vans were used until the completion of the first death camp, Chelmno, which began operations in late 1941.
On December 7, 1941, the Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) order was issued to deter resistance by allowing military courts to swiftly sentence resisters to death. Those arrested under this order were said to have disappeared into the "night and fog."
In January 1942, SS official Reinhard Heydrich held a meeting of Nazi government officials to present the Final Solution. At this meeting, known as the Wannsee Conference , the Nazi officials agreed to SS plans for the transport and destruction of all 11 million Jews of Europe. The Nazis would use the latest in twentieth century technology, cost efficient engineering and mass production techniques for the sole purpose of killing off the following racial groups: Jews, Russian prisoners of war, and Gypsies (Sinti-Roma). Their long-range plans, unrealized, included targeting some 30 million Slavs for death.|
Starting early in 1942, the Jewish genocide (sometimes called the Judeocide) went into full operation. Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau), Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibór began operations as death camps. There was no selection process; Jews were destroyed upon arrival.
Ultimately, the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of some 2.7 million Jews in the death camps. These murders were done secretly under the ruse of resettlement. The Germans hid their true plans from citizens and inhabitants of the ghettos by claiming that Jews were being resettled in the East. They went so far as to charge Jews for a one-way train fare and often, just prior to their murder, had the unknowing victims send reassuring postcards back to the ghettos. Thus did millions of Jews go unwittingly to their deaths with little or no resistance.
The total figure for the Jewish genocide, including shootings and the camps, was between 5.2 and 5.8 million, roughly half of Europe's Jewish population, the highest percentage of loss of any people in the war. About 5 million other victims perished at the hands of Nazi Germany.
By the end of 1943 the Germans closed down the death camps built specifically to exterminate Jews. The death tolls for the camps are as follows: Treblinka, (750,000 Jews); Belzec, (550,000 Jews); Sobibór, (200,000 Jews); Chelmno, (150,000 Jews) and Lublin (also called Majdanek, 50,000 Jews). Auschwitz continued to operate through the summer of 1944; its final death total was about 1 million Jews and 1 million non-Jews. Allied encirclement of Germany was nearly complete in the fall of 1944. The Nazis began dismantling the camps, hoping to cover up their crimes. By the late winter/early spring of 1945, they sent prisoners walking to camps in central Germany. Thousands died in what became known as death marches.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust