History of World War II: The Camps

These were the unspeakable and ghastly tools used to force a society made up only of Hitler's "master race." Within the thousands of camps he placed those he considered sub-human, including Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, criminals, communists, prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, intellectuals and the mentally ill. None of these millions of captives were given any form of judicial process, and were used as slave-laborers before being massacred. Join WatchMojo.com as we learn about the Nazis’ use of concentration and extermination camps during World War II.
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History of World War II: The Camps

These were the instruments of unfathomable genocide and antisemitism. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re learning about the Nazis’ use of concentration and extermination camps during World War II.

Even before the onset of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s Nazis built numerous detention facilities across Europe. They were originally intended to hold political prisoners and challengers of the fascist government, but as the Nazis’ ambitions and influenced expanded, so did the camps’ use.

Hitler promoted the Aryan race as the master race, and ranked other ethnic groups based on their purity. Soon, the concentration camps were filled with those groups Hitler considered sub-human, including Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, criminals, communists, prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, intellectuals and the mentally ill, among others. None of these captives were given due judicial process, and in the camps these so-called undesirables were used as slave-laborers.

Living conditions in Nazi camps were notoriously poor: prisoners often died because of maltreatment, disease and overwork. Many of those who survived the conditions were sent to gas chambers for execution. In fact, so many Jews were killed by the Third Reich; the Holocaust was considered genocide against that race. By the time Nazi Germany finally fell in 1945, millions were massacred.

These were just some of the most infamous and instrumental camp facilities used during World War II:

Dachau (22 March 1933 – 26 April 1945)


Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp to open in Germany and it served as an example for later camps. Three-and-a-half million prisoners passed through Dachau during the war, with 77 thousand of those executed by the Nazis for resistance through subversion and conspiracy. When Dachau was liberated by American forces in April 1945, 32 thousand living prisoners were freed.

Buchenwald (July 1937 – 4 April 1945)


Another of the first camps established in Germany, Buchenwald was also one of the biggest. Though it was intended as a concentration camp and not an extermination camp, it was the site of an estimated 56 thousand deaths until it became the first camp liberated by U.S. forces in 1945. Malnutrition, overwork and medical experiments were some of the most common causes of death.

Mauthausen (8 August 1938 – 5 May 1945)


Not only was this one of the earlier camps, it was also one of the last to be liberated after the Third Reich fell. At its peak, Mauthausen was one of Europe’s largest labor camps, where prisoners worked quarries and mines, and produced munitions and armaments. Exact numbers are disputed, but an estimated 122 to 320 thousand inmates lived in this complex during the war, primarily of Soviet and Spanish decent.

Auschwitz (26 May 1940 – 18 January 1945)


Located in Oświęcim, Poland, Auschwitz was the largest and perhaps most infamous camp. This was the location of an estimated two to four million deaths by gassing and other heinous methods. Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz on January 27th, 1945 and today that date marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The site still stands as a memorial and museum.

Majdanek (1 October 1941 – 22 July 1944)


This was one of the few Nazi concentration camps that was found near a major city, as opposed to being hidden on the countryside. Forced labor was common, but despite not being a death camp, it claimed almost 80 thousand lives, most whom were Jewish. When it was liberated by the Red Army in 1944, the Germans were unable to quickly destroy evidence, and so Majdanek remains the best-preserved relic of the Holocaust.

Bergen-Belsen (1940 – 15 April 1945)


No gas chambers were found in Bergen-Belsen, but that did not mean it was any less deadly. Bergen-Belsen was originally meant to be a POW camp, but by 1943 it was a concentration camp. Seventy thousand died there, many from typhus. One of its most famous prisoners was the young Anne Frank, who documented her time hiding from the Nazis in her famous diary.

The majority of the Nazi camps were destroyed following the war, but those that remain serve as monuments to the cruelest moments in human history and warfare.
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