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Early camps in Germany were controlled by different groups in different parts of the country, with different structures and conditions in each. Their first move in consolidating control over the camps in the Third Reich was to shut down SA camps, such as Oranienburg. Camps that had not been shut down were re-organised in line with the Dachau model, and any SA, police, or civilian guards were dismissed and replaced with SS soldiers.
This section will explore how the SS developed the notorious Nazi concentration camps from onwards, who they imprisoned, and how the inmates lived. Whilst this section aims to give an overview of the SS concentration camp system, it is important to note that not all camps had the same, or similar, practices.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was opened in Here, prisoners perform forced labour at the camp. By , the camps had secured central funding from the Reich budget, rather than their previous reliance on regional budgets. On 17 June , Himmler was appointed Chief of Police giving him unrestricted control of all police forces in Germany.
The SS soon began building new, large, permanent, purpose-built camps. Sachsenhausen was opened in , and was swiftly followed by Buchenwald in Hedwig was arrested in for political opposition to the Nazis. She was imprisoned for two and a quarter years at Jauer and Lichtenburg. Following Kristallnacht , many Jews were arrested and persecution intensified. This release permit belongs to Jonni Hirsch, a Jew from Kiel who was incarcerated in Sachsenhausen two days after Kristallnacht for 10 days.
As the camps expanded, so did the number and different categories of prisoners. Until , political prisoners remained the majority. However, from that point onwards, different groups of society who were either viewed as racially inferior, or who opposed the Nazis, also began to be targeted. People with previous criminal convictions were among the first to find themselves targeted by the Nazis.
From onwards, many previous criminals were rearrested in large raids. One such raid, ordered by Himmler and carried out on the 9 March , saw two thousand people arrested across Germany and sent to camps. These two events, and the resulting arrests and deportations, meant that Jews became the largest prisoner group for the first time since the introduction of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany in As the Second World War started, foreign citizens from newly occupied countries such as Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands also began to be imprisoned in concentration and forced labour camps.
The largest prisoner group of early foreign nationals was Poles.
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The majority of the polish people were seen as racially inferior by the Nazis. As such, thousands were deported or arrested and sent to forced labour or concentration camps. Whilst many were murdered instantly by the Einsatzgruppen , others were incarcerated in makeshift POW camps or transported to larger concentration or labour camps. From onwards, the SS led on the administration of concentration camps. Here, SS officers inspect prisoners at roll call in Sachsenhausen in the s.
Some Kapos were known to abuse their authority, as described in this account, making them unpopular amongst other inmates. The majority of the camps followed a similar organisational structure created by the SS. Theodor Eicke, an SS Lieutenant General, had established a structure for how to run a camp from his experience of running Dachau.
The systems and buildings Eicke had developed at Dachau soon became the basic model by which all concentration camps would be established and managed. Kapos were inmates of Nazi camps who were appointed as guards to oversee other prisoners in various tasks.
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There were three main types of Kapos : work supervisors, block elders, and camp administrators. Kapos had more authority than regular prisoners and were typically given preferential treatment, such as extra rations, not having to complete hard physical labour or more hygienic and larger sleeping spaces. Whilst there were incentives to becoming a Kapo, there were also disadvantages. Kapos were under the direct authority of the SS, and had to report to them daily.
Any failures meant they could quickly be removed from their post. In addition to this, their authority, especially in regards to punishing or informing on other fellow prisoners meant that they were often unpopular and disliked. Hannele Kuhn was a young Jewish girl who emigrated to Britain shortly before the outbreak of war in on the Kindertransport. Her parents remained in Berlin. This is a transport list showing people transported from Drancy in France to Auschwitz in Poland on 20 May The list shows each prisoners name, their date of birth, and their work profession and prisoner number.
Prisoners were transported to the camps in a number of ways: usually by train, but people also arrived on foot if the camps were close by from their original destination, or occasionally by truck. By the early s, most prisoners had heard rumours of camps in the east, and the conditions inside.
This, in addition to the experiences they had already lived through, would have resulted in crippling fear and anxiety. The journey to the camps usually took several days, although some transports could take weeks. Prisoners were extremely tightly packed onto their transport, so much so that it was usually impossible to sit or kneel down. A typical transport contained approximately people, though this varied greatly across the Third Reich and depended on both the original location and the final destination.
The transports usually held little to no food or water, and had no toilet facilities except one bucket in the corner which quickly became overfilled. The smell of vomit, urine, and excrement was overpowering, and most transports had no windows or ventilation. When a new prisoner arrived at a camp, they were registered and usually issued with a registration card. Some prisoners were also photographed.
After arrival at the camp, all prisoners had their personal belongings confiscated. These belongings were typically recorded on a personal effects card, such as this one belonging to Alexander Fedortschenko who was imprisoned in the Neuengamme concentration camp. Once the prisoners had arrived at the camp, they were unloaded from their transportation vehicles.
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If they arrived at a camp with both male and female inmates, they were then usually separated into two groups: men and then women and children separately. Prisoners would often then be registered, and given a prisoner number. From this point onwards, they would typically only be referred to by this number rather than their name.
At Auschwitz, this number would be tattooed onto their arms. At most other camps, it was stitched onto their clothing. Prisoners were also usually assigned to a barrack and work detail at this stage.
After registration the prisoners were told to undress. They were then forced to have their head shaved, and forced to shower, usually in front of hundreds of other people and the SS guards. Typically, their regular clothing was taken away and replaced by a striped uniform, although, again, this depended on both the camp and the prisoner. This humiliating process was designed to remove any remnants of human dignity or personal identity.
Part of a punishment report from 28 March at Natzweiler concentration camp. This image shows the different stages of punishment, from moderate stage one to severe stage three and the corresponding imprisonment time and conditions. This document is a translation used in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. The day usually began between 4am and 4. The prisoners then had between minutes to use the toilet, get dressed, make their beds, clean the barracks and have breakfast.
Toilet and washing facilities where there was usually only dirty water and no soap or toilet paper were shared by up to prisoners.
Anyone who completed these tasks too slowly faced punishment. Prisoners then lined up for the morning roll call, a registration of all prisoners in the camp including those who had died in the night or those that were ill , on the Appellplatz. The prisoners would be counted twice, and any discrepancies meant that they were recounted. This meant that the morning roll call could take hours.
Throughout this time, prisoners would have to stand outside — often in extreme weather.
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Any prisoners that collapsed or were found to be missing faced beatings, torture or execution. Once roll call was finished and the sun rose, prisoners set off for work.