LIFE IN THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
OF THE HOLOCAUST
The Holocaust is one of the most important events of the 20th century and is perhaps the most significant genocide in human history. Most people who died during the events of the Holocaust were killed in the horrible system of camps created by the Nazi regime. While many people were killed from other Nazi initiatives, such as the einsatzgruppen, throughout the Holocaust, the Nazi Regime had been seeking a new way of getting rid of the ‘Jewish Problem’ or ‘Jewish Question’. The ‘Final Solution’ or ‘Endlosung’ for the Nazis was the concentration camp system and the death camp system.
In general, concentration camps were labor camps in which generally healthy men were sent to labor for the Nazis. The most famous concentration camp, which also had a death camp, was Auschwitz. People in concentration camps often died from disease, starvation and poor treatment due to the horrible conditions in which they were forced to live, including: overcrowding, lack of running water, lack of heat, lack of food, tiring and difficult labor, and mistreatment by Nazi guards. For example, the barracks for the prisoners were sometimes, literally, old horse sheds that the Nazis converted for humans by building crude bunk beds in the horse stalls. The bunks were built four levels high and the prisoners were forced to sleep with 3 to 4 people per level. A barrack typically held over 400 people inside.
The cramped conditions were made worse by the lack of heating and sanitation. Each barrack was typically fitted with a coal-fired stove that struggled to properly heat the wide space of the barrack, especially on cold winter nights. For sanitation, the barracks would usually have a container in a stall on the end, but there was no running water or flushing toilets. As well, the stall did not offer any privacy from others in the barracks. Later, the Nazis had the prisoners construct a series of bathhouses and toilet barracks but these were not much better. Here the prisoners could wash, which they had previously been unable to do, and go to the washroom, but they still lacked privacy. The toilet barracks was literally a concrete bench with several dozen holes cut in the top. All the while, the prisoners were forced to labor for the Nazis for 12 to 16 hours per day. The work was labour-intensive and consisted of several different types of tasks, including: constructing more barracks, prison expansions, or work in factories producing goods for the Nazi war effort.
For clothing, the prisoners were made to wear striped outfits and old worn out shoes which offered little in the way of warmth or comfort. All of this was made worse by the food that the prisoners were provided with. In the mornings, they were given a kind of tea or coffee, which was their only breakfast. For lunch, they were made to eat a watery soup and for dinner they were provided a hard piece of bread. The lack of nutritious food, mixed with the tiring work caused starvation among many of the prisoners. As well, this combined with the poor sanitary conditions to cause the spread of infectious diseases which also caused the deaths of many. In all, life in the concentration camps was horrendous and the prisoners faced hardship on a daily basis.