TYPES OF CAMPS IN 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.
DEATH CAMPS (EXTERMINATION CAMPS)
The situation for those sent to death camps was much different. Death camps were camps in which people were killed almost immediately after departing the train. This was the final destination for many old, young and sick people considered to be ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi Regime. While many concentration camps were located in Germany, death camps were generally located in Poland since it contained the highest population of Jewish peoples. As well, it allowed the Nazi government to remove the actual death camps from Germany and ‘hide’ their crimes. In 1942, the Nazis opened several famous death camps, including: Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Death camps evolved over time, especially in terms of how they carried out the executions. The death camps were constructed with gas chambers in which people could be locked and killed with a poisonous gas.
People that had just departed the trains from the ghettoes would be taken into the gas chambers believing they were to have a shower. The Nazis would have them take off their clothes and enter the large room with fake showers. However, instead of having a shower they were killed with a pesticide called Zyklon B. After being executed, the Nazis needed to dispose of thousands (and eventually millions) of bodies. At first, the bodies were dumped into mass graves near the death camps; however this became impractical due to the large numbers of dead. As well, the large mass graves proved frustrating for local people due to the smell and impact on the land. Soon, the Nazis developed a system of incinerators in which the bodies were burned. This was often carried out by sonderkommando, who were Jewish prisoners which assisted the Nazis for fear of losing their own lives. Sonderkommando were used in a variety of ways, including: helping the Nazi guards to keep prisoners in line, disposing of the bodies in mass graves or the gas chambers and collecting the possessions of the dead, including gold teeth.
The death camps did not exist at the start of the Holocaust, but were created for several reasons. First, they were the most efficient way to execute people in large numbers. Second, they allowed the Nazis to put minimal resources and soldiers in charge of the executions since they were needed for the war effort of World War II. Third, they allowed Nazi soldiers to not personally view the mass executions. Some SS guards had reported struggling with witnessing the mass shooting of people, especially women and children, with the acts carried out by the einsatzgruppen. The gas chambers allowed the Nazis a way of carrying out mass executions without traumatizing their own soldiers. The most famous camp during the Holocaust was Auschwitz. A sign over the entrance to the camp read “Arbeit Macht Frei” which translates to “work will set you free”. More than 1 million people died at Auschwitz, making it the site of the largest death of people in one place. Auschwitz was so large that it actually consisted of both concentration and death camps.
Today, many people remember the Holocaust for the horrible stories and images from the concentration and death camp systems created by the Nazi regime. The stories of survivors and the images of the atrocities remind us what human beings are capable of.