Nazi Concentration and Extermination (Death) camps

.......................Nazi concentration camps................................

Inspection by the Nazi party and Himmler at the Dachau Protective Custody Camp on 8 May 1936.

Nazi concentration camps


Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps (German: Konzentrationslager...KZ or KL) throughout the territories it controlled. The first Nazi concentration camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control over the police through Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring.[2] Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners.[3]


Heinrich Himmler's SS took full control of the police and concentration camps throughout Germany in 1934–35.[4] Himmler expanded the role of the camps to holding so-called "racially undesirable elements" of German society, such as Jews, criminals, homosexuals, and Romani.[5] The number of people in camps, which had fallen to 7,500, grew again to 21,000 by the start of World War II[6] and peaked at 715,000 in January 1945.[7]


The concentration camps were administered since 1934 by Concentration Camps Inspectorate which in 1942 was merged into SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt and were guarded by SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV).


Holocaust scholars draw a distinction between concentration camps (described in this article) and extermination camps, which were established by the Nazis for the industrial-scale mass execution of the predominantly Jewish ghetto and concentration camp populations. Read more


Link The Atlantic, World War II: The Holocaust, by Alan Taylor Oct 16, 2011


The Atlantic
In Focus Oct 16, 2011 45 Photos
World War II: The Holocaust
Alan Taylor


One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant, or those who should be killed outright: Lebensunwertes Leben, or "life unworthy of life". The phrase was applied to the mentally impaired and later to the "racially inferior," or "sexually deviant," as well as to "enemies of the state" both internal and external. From very early in the war, part of Nazi policy was to murder civilians en masse, especially targeting Jews. Later in the war, this policy grew into Hitler's "final solution", the complete extermination of the Jews. It began with Einsatzgruppen death squads in the East, which killed some 1,000,000 people in numerous massacres, and continued in concentration camps where prisoners were actively denied proper food and health care. It culminated in the construction of extermination camps -- government facilities whose entire purpose was the systematic murder and disposal of massive numbers of people. In 1945, as advancing Allied troops began discovering these camps, they found the results of these policies: hundreds of thousands of starving and sick prisoners locked in with thousands of dead bodies. They encountered evidence of gas chambers and high-volume crematoriums, as well as thousands of mass graves, documentation of awful medical experimentation, and much more. The Nazis killed more than 10 million people in this manner, including 6 million Jews. (This entry is Part 18 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II)


Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. There are many dead bodies. The photographs are graphic and stark. This is the reality of genocide, and of an important part of World War II and human history.


Note: I have included 12 of the 45 images from the Atlantic article below, randomly presented with death camp video.


.................Nazi extermination (death) camps.......................

A Sonderkommando 1005 unit stand next to a bone crushing machine at the Janowska concentration camp

Extermination camp


German extermination camps or death camps were designed and built by Nazi Germany during World War II (1939–45) to systematically kill millions, primarily by gassing, but also by execution and extreme work under starvation conditions.[1]


The idea of mass extermination with the use of stationary facilities built exclusively for that purpose was a result of earlier Nazi experimentation with the chemically manufactured poison gas during the secretive Action T4 euthanasia programme against German mentally and physically disabled.[2] It was adapted, expanded and applied to victims from many ethnic and political groups; the Jews however were the primary targets, accounting for over 90% of the extermination camp death toll. This genocide of the Jewish people was the Third Reich's "Final Solution to the Jewish question".[3] The Nazi attempts at Jewish genocide are now collectively known as the Holocaust.[4]


Although not responsible for an extermination camp death count of millions like that the Nazis perpetrated, the fascist Ustaše forces of the Independent State of Croatia operated extermination camps culminating in a six figure death toll. Read more



Click here to enlarge letter from SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich to Ministerialdirektor Martin Luther 26 February 1942

Final Solution


The Final Solution or the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was a German plan for the extermination of the Jews during World War II. This policy of deliberate and systematic genocide across German-occupied Europe was formulated in procedural terms by Nazi leadership in January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin,[1] and culminated in the Holocaust which saw the killing of 90 percent of Polish Jewry,[2] and two thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.[3]


No aspect of the Holocaust has been studied and debated as intensively as the nature and timing of the decisions that led to the Final Solution. The program evolved during the first 25 months of war leading to the attempt at "murdering every last Jew in the German grasp." Most historians agree, wrote Christopher Browning, that the Final Solution cannot be attributed to a single decision made at one particular point in time.[4] "It is generally accepted the decision-making process was prolonged and incremental."[5] In the first phase of the mass murder of Jews, wrote Raul Hilberg, the mobile killers pursued their victims across occupied territories; in the second phase, affecting all of Europe, the victims were brought to the killers at the centralized extermination camps built for this purpose.[6]


Read more on Wikipedia


Karl Brandt, Hitler's doctor

Karl Brandt


Karl Brandt (January 8, 1904 – June 2, 1948) was a German physician and Schutzstaffel (SS) officer during the Third Reich. Trained in surgery, Brandt joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and became Adolf Hitler's escort physician in August 1934.[1] A member of Hitler's inner circle at the Berghof, he was selected by Philipp Bouhler, the head of Hitler's Chancellery, to administer the Aktion T4 euthanasia program. Brandt was later appointed the Reich Commissioner of Sanitation and Health (Bevollmächtiger für das Sanitäts und Gesundheitswesen). Accused of involvement in human experimentation and other war crimes, Brandt was indicted in late-1946 and faced trial before a U.S. military tribunal along with 22 others in United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and later hanged on June 2, 1948.[2] Read more on Wikipedia   


Click Brandt's image for a Google search




The New York Times, BY ROBERT JAY LIFTON, Sep. 21, 1986


The gas chamber at Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, the walls were stained blue by Zyklon B.



The New York Times
Published: September 21, 1986


Robert Jay Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. This article is an adaption from his book, ''The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide,'' to be published next month by Basic Books.


Before Auschwitz and the other death camps, the Nazis had established a policy of direct medical killing - killing arranged within medical channels, by means of medical decisions, and carried out by doctors and their assistants. The Nazis called this program ''euthanasia.''


''Euthanasia,'' in its Greek derivation, means ''good death.'' The word is generally used for actions taken to facilitate the deaths of those who are already dying, and has long been a subject of debate for physicians, moral philosophers and the general public.

The Nazis, however, used the term ''euthanasia'' to camouflage mass murder. Just how the Nazis were able to do that has been made clearer by recent historical research and by interviews I was able to conduct during the last decade with German doctors who participated in the killing project.


Nazi medicalized killing provided both the method - the gas chamber - and much of the personnel for the death camps themselves. In Auschwitz, for instance, doctors selected prisoners for death, supervised the killings in the gas chambers and decided when the victims were dead.


Doctors, in short, played a crucial role in the Final Solution. The full significance of medically directed killing for Nazi theory and behavior cannot be comprehended unless we understand how Nazi doctors destroyed the boundary between healing and killing.


The Nazi principle of killing as a therapeutic imperative is evident in the words of the Auschwitz S.S. doctor Fritz Klein. Klein was asked by an inmate how he could reconcile Auschwitz's smoking chimneys with his purported fealty to the physician's Hippocratic oath, which requires the preservation of life. ''Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life,'' replied Klein. ''And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.''


THE NAZIS JUSTI-fied direct medical killing by use of the simple concept of ''life unworthy of life'' - lebensunwertes Leben. While this concept predated the Nazis, it was carried to its ultimate racial and ''therapeutic'' extreme by them.


Of the five identifiable steps by which the Nazis carried out the destruction of ''life unworthy of life,'' coercive sterilization was the first. There followed the killing of ''impaired'' children in hospitals, and then the killing of ''impaired'' adults -mostly collected from mental hospitals - in centers especially equipped with carbon monoxide. The same killing centers were then used for the murders of ''impaired'' inmates of concentration camps. The final step was mass killing, mostly of Jews, in the extermination camps themselves.


Once in power - Hitler took the oath of office as Chancellor of the Third Reich on Jan. 30, 1933 - the Nazi regime introduced an early sterilization law with a declaration that Germany was in grave danger of Volkstod -''death of the people,'' ''nation'' or ''race'' - and that, to combat it, harsh and sweeping measures were imperative.


Mandatory sterilization of those termed the ''hereditarily sick'' was part of the Nazi vision of racial purification. No one knows how many people were sterilized; reliable estimates range from 200,000 to 350,000 people. Read more


Adobe Acrobat document [89.3 KB]


5. A group of Jews, including a small boy, is escorted from the Warsaw Ghetto by German soldiers in this April 19, 1943 photo. The picture formed part of a report from SS Gen. Stroop to his Commanding Officer, and was introduced as evidence to the War Crimes trials in Nuremberg in 1945. AP Photo



This scene from Conspiracy shows Dr. Kritzinger in opposition to Heydrich’s plan for the  Final Solution. 


Reinhard Heydrich led the Wannsee Conference that created the Final Solution. Heydrich died June 4, 1942 in Operation Anthropoid.



14. Czeslawa Kwoka, age 14, appears in a prisoner identity photo provided by the Auschwitz Museum, taken by Wilhelm Brasse while working in the photography department at Auschwitz, the Nazi-run death camp where some 1.5 million people, most of them Jewish, died during World War II. Czeslawa was a Polish Catholic girl, from Wolka Zlojecka, Poland, who was sent to Auschwitz with her mother in December of 1942. Within three months, both were dead. Photographer (and fellow prisoner) Brasse recalled photographing Czeslawa in a 2005 documentary: "She was so young and so terrified. The girl didn't understand why she was there and she couldn't understand what was being said to her. So this woman Kapo (a prisoner overseer) took a stick and beat her about the face. This German woman was just taking out her anger on the girl. Such a beautiful young girl, so innocent. She cried but she could do nothing. Before the photograph was taken, the girl dried her tears and the blood from the cut on her lip. To tell you the truth, I felt as if I was being hit myself but I couldn't interfere. It would have been fatal for me." AP Photo/Auschwitz Museum



1. An emaciated 18-year-old Russian girl looks into the camera lens during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in 1945. Dachau was the first German concentration camp, opened in 1933. More than 200,000 people were detained between 1933 and 1945, and 31,591 deaths were declared, most from disease, malnutrition and suicide. Unlike Auschwitz, Dachau was not explicitly an extermination camp, but conditions were so horrific that hundreds died every week. Eric Schwab/AFP/Getty Images


Julian Noga's prisoner uniform jacket

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Nazi Camps

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany established about 20,000 camps to imprison its many millions of victims. These camps were used for a range of purposes including forced-labor camps, transit camps which served as temporary way stations, and killing centers built primarily or exclusively for mass murder.


From its rise to power in 1933, the Nazi regime built a series of detention facilities to imprison and eliminate so-called "enemies of the state." Most prisoners in the early concentration camps were German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma (Gypsies), Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of "asocial" or socially deviant behavior. These facilities were called "concentration camps" because those imprisoned there were physically "concentrated" in one location.
Read more.



3. German soldiers question Jews after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. In October 1940, the Germans began to concentrate Poland's population of over 3 million Jews into overcrowded ghettos. In the largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease and starvation, even before the Nazis began their massive deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- the first urban mass rebellion against the Nazi occupation of Europe -- took place from April 19 until May 16 1943, and began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. It ended when the poorly-armed and supplied resistance was crushed by German troops.

OFF/AFP/Getty Images


click here to enlarge map
Crematorium IV in Auschwitz-Birkenau. J.C. Pressac, Auschwitz: Technique and operation of the gas chambers (New York, 1989), p.418.

The Danish Center for Holocaust education


Extermination camps


In the period of 1941-1945, for the first time in the history of mankind, industrial plants were used to kill people. At the genocide on the Jews, extermination camps were established, where the Nazis in the most terrible way carried out the mass murder of 3 million Jews – half of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.


A total of six extermination camps were established with the ghoulish purpose of killing Jews one after the other. Gypsies and other groups from all over Europe were also sent to the extermination camps. Read more



10. The arrival and processing of an entire transport of Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia, a region annexed in 1939 to Hungary from Czechoslovakia, at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland, in May of 1944. The picture was donated to Yad Vashem in 1980 by Lili Jacob. AP Photo/Yad Vashem Photo Archives



15. A starved Frenchman sits among the dead in a sub-camp of the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp, in Nordhausen, Germany, in April of 1945. U.S. Army LOC


Surviving the Holocaust: Full Show


35. Starved prisoners, nearly dead from hunger, pose in a concentration camp in Ebensee, Austria, on May 7, 1945. The camp was reputedly used for "scientific" experiments. NARA/Newsmakers


Private Zinovii Tolkatchev at the Gates of Hell, Majdanek and Auschwitz Liberated: Testimony of an Artist
Auschwitz Yad Vashem Photo Archives 951 Construction Crematorium #4

Yad Vashem
The Implementation of the Final Solution

The Death Camps


Chelmno was the first extermination camp that the Germans established on Polish soil. Murder operations began there on December 8, 1941, and continued intermittently until January 1945. The Jews of the Lodz ghetto and the vicinity were the primary victims deported to Chelmno, where they were murdered by means of gas vans. When the deportees reached the camp, they were ordered to undress, stripped of their belongings, and tricked into boarding a van whose exhaust pipe was actually connected to its interior. After the doors were closed, the van began to drive toward a designated burial place in a nearby forest. No one survived. By using three gas vans, nearly 300,000 Jews and 5,000 Sinti and Roma were murdered in Chelmno. Only three Jews survived this death camp.


Starting in March 1942, after the guidelines for action were worked out at the Wannsee Conference, the Germans established three extermination camps at the eastern boundary of the Generalgouvernement, not far from main railroad lines: Belzec (established in March 1942, this camp functioned until December of that year; in the spring of 1943, the cremation of bodies began in order to cover up the traces of the murders committed); Sobibor (May-July 1942, and October 1942-October 1943); and Treblinka (July 1942-August 1943).


The Nazis’ purpose in building these camps was to carry out the systematic murder of European Jewry as part of the Final Solution. Permanent gas chambers were constructed in these camps. No selections were performed in these camps. As the deportation trains arrived, the victims – men, women, and children – were sent directly to the gas chambers. Approximately 1,700,000 Jews, mostly from Poland,  were murdered in these three extermination camps.


A standard method of extermination was used in these three camps: carbon monoxide from large tank engines was released into sealed chambers. The victims were stripped of their clothing and crowded into the gas chambers where they died of suffocation within a short time. The corpses were removed by Jewish slave laborers and thrown into large pits. The corpses were later burned in an attempt to destroy any evidence left behind. The entire process of murder took only a few hours and the camps would process and murder numerous transports in the same day. more



23. Prisoners on a death march from Dachau move towards the south along the Noerdliche Muenchner Street in Gruenwald, Germany, on April 29, 1945. Many thousands of prisoners were marched forcibly from outlying prison camps to camps deeper inside Germany as Allied forces closed in. Thousands died along the way, anyone unable to keep up was executed on the spot. Pictured, fourth from the right, is Dimitry Gorky who was born on August 19, 1920 in Blagoslovskoe, Russia to a family of peasant farmers. During World War II Dmitry was imprisoned in Dachau for 22 months. The reason for his imprisonment is not known. Photo released by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

AP Photo/USHMM, courtesy of KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau



28. The corpse of a prisoner lies on the barbed wire fence in Leipzig-Thekla, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, near Weimar, Germany. NARA



30. A young man sits on an overturned stool next to a burnt body in the Thekla camp outside Leipzig, in April of 1945, after the US troops entered Leipzig April 18. On the 18th of April, the workers of the Thekla plane factory were locked in an isolated building of the factory by the Germans and burned alive by incendiary bombs. About 300 prisoners died. Those who managed to escape died on the barbed wire or were executed by the Hitler youth movement, according to a US captain's report. Eric Schwab/AFP/Getty



23. Liberating soldiers of Lt. General George S. Patton's 3rd Army, XX Corps, are shown at Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, on April 11, 1945. AP Photo/U.S. Army



36. A Russian survivor, liberated by the 3rd Armored Division of the U.S. First Army, identifies a former camp guard who brutally beat prisoners on April 14, 1945, at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Thuringia, Germany. AP Photo


Prisoners break up clay for the brickworks at Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, in 1939. Credit Photograph from Akg-Images

The New Yorker Magazine
The System

Two new histories show how the Nazi concentration camps worked

By Adam Kirsch
April 6, 2015


One night in the autumn of 1944, two Frenchwomen—Loulou Le Porz, a doctor, and Violette Lecoq, a nurse—watched as a truck drove in through the main gates of Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. "There was a lorry," Le Porz recalled, "that suddenly arrives and it turns around and reverses towards us. And it lifts up and it tips out a whole pile of corpses." These were the bodies of Ravensbrück inmates who had died doing slave labor in the many satellite camps, and they were now being returned for cremation. Talking, decades later, to the historian and journalist Sarah Helm, whose new book, "Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women" (Doubleday), recounts the stories of dozens of the camp’s inmates, Le Porz says that her reaction was simple disbelief. The sight of a truck full of dead bodies was so outrageous, so out of scale with ordinary experience, that "if we recount that one day, we said to each other, nobody would believe us." The only way to make the scene credible would be to record it: "If one day someone makes a film they must film this scene. This night. This moment."


Le Porz’s remark was prophetic. The true extent of Nazi barbarity became known to the world in part through the documentary films made by Allied forces after the liberation of other German camps. There have been many atrocities committed before and since, yet to this day, thanks to those images, the Nazi concentration camp stands as the ultimate symbol of evil. The very names of the camps—Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Auschwitz—have the sound of a malevolent incantation. They have ceased to be ordinary place names—Buchenwald, after all, means simply "beech wood"—and become portals to a terrible other dimension.


To write the history of such an institution, as Nikolaus Wachsmann sets out to do in another new book, "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), might seem impossible, like writing the history of Hell. And, certainly, both his book and Helm’s are full of the kind of details that ordinarily appear only in Dantesque visions. Helm devotes a chapter to Ravensbrück’s Kinderzimmer, or "children’s room," where inmates who came to the camp pregnant were forced to abandon their babies; the newborns were left to die of starvation or be eaten alive by rats. Wachsmann quotes a prisoner at Dachau who saw a transport of men afflicted by dysentery arrive at the camp: "We saw dozens . . . with excrement running out of their trousers. Their hands, too, were full of excrement and they screamed and rubbed their dirty hands across their faces."


These sights, like the truck full of bodies, are not beyond belief—we know that they were true—but they are, in some sense, beyond imagination. It is very hard, maybe impossible, to imagine being one of those men, still less one of those infants. And such sights raise the question of why, exactly, we read about the camps. If it is merely to revel in the grotesque, then learning about this evil is itself a species of evil, a further exploitation of the dead. If it is to exercise sympathy or pay a debt to memory, then it quickly becomes clear that the exercise is hopeless, the debt overwhelming: there is no way to feel as much, remember as much, imagine as much as the dead justly demand. What remains as a justification is the future: the determination never again to allow something like the Nazi camps to exist. Read more




Auschwitz-Birkenau: 70 Years After Liberation..A Warning to Future Generations


On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the liberation Auschwitz-Birkenau,  five Canadian Holocaust survivors who have participated in the March of the Living share their memories and reflections of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the meaning of this important anniversary. Their words are interspersed with images of these same survivors visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in the last number of years, along with comments from students who accompanied them on the March of the Living.


The March of the Living is an annual educational program which brings students from all over the world to Poland, to study the history of the Holocaust and examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate.


The film is part of March of the Living Canada's Digital Archives Project. For more information, see


For the French version (in subtitles) please see


Our bone chilling trip to Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp. -


Rachel (Rae) Gleitman was born in Muncacs Czechoslovakia in 1923. In 1939, the Germans sent her brother to labor brigade at the battlefront. She and the rest of her family were forced onto cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In January 1945, as the Soviets approached Auschwitz, she and other prisoners were sent on a death march. She and a dozen young women escaped from the march. Ms. Gleitman first returned to her hometown, then to Prague and finally to a displaced persons (DP) camp in Germany. She taught Hebrew in the DP camp and married. Ms. Gleitman is featured in the documentary, "Paperclips." She spoke about escaping the Auschwitz Gas Chambers at the HMTC conference, "Generations," which took place on June 8, 2014 at Hofstra University.


Eline Hoekstra Dresden visited Loretta Goldy's History course at Portland Community College on May 18th, 2010 to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor.  She was accompanied by her daughter Deb Mrowka.


Auschwitz II Birkenau Testimony Clips. Seven former prisoners of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camp talk about their daily struggles to survive in the camp. These testimonies are from the archive of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and included in the Institute's online educational resource, Segments for the Classroom at: