The Reich Was Full of Prisoner Camps
|February 22, 1941, the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Jews are arrested and herded on the Jonas Daniel Meijer Square. Because the local citizens had fought efforts to detain Jews in this area, the Germans were angry and shipped them to Mauthausen.|
|The Colditz Castle POW camp during World War II.|
POW CampsPrisoner of War Camps were not concentration camps. The two have very, very little in common. They were both prisons that kept people from escaping, but there the similarities end. Prisoners of war held military prisoners who were treated relatively well and who received care packages through the International Red Cross ("IRC"). The Germans had an interest in making a good show of things for the IRC because there were a lot of Germans in POW camps in the Allied nations who essentially were hostages.
|The entrance to Mannschafts-Stammlager IVB in Mulhberg, Germany, one of the largest POW camps.|
|Austria.- Mauthausen concentration camp, new arrival of Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp, October 1941 (Federal Archive Picture 192-360).|
|Russian POWs at Stalag XVIIIA near Wolfsberg in Austria (Russian POWs, Second World War, (New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-Aug-2014).|
|This map shows the enormous geographical spread of German concentration camps. There were camps in the Channel Islands to Odessa, from Italy to Norway.|
Concentration CampsGerman concentration camps did not hold military prisoners. Instead, they held only civilians who were arrested and imprisoned for a variety of reasons. The Germans began building concentration camps as soon as Hitler took power. The first camps went into operation in March 1933. At first, they were used for very marginal people in Hitler's society such as political opponents, homosexuals, communists, socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Basically, they were a private prison system for Hitler and his top cronies. The categories of people incarcerated in the camps expanded throughout the 1930s. By the early years of World War II, the concentration camps were being used for basically anyone the top leaders of the Third Reich did not like.
|The nice, orderly barracks at Theresienstadt (originally Terezin).|
Reinhard Heydrich, the Head of the Security Police and the SD, issued a letter (styled as a "decree" because it was directed at his underlings) on 2 January 1941. It was intended only for internal distribution to the Security Police. It stated that Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler had approved new divisions within the concentration camp system. The new categories were:
- Category Ia: "old prisoners" to be held at Dachau;
- Category II: prisoners facing "strong accusations" but still capable of reform, to be held at Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Auschwitz II;
|Germans rounding up random people off the streets of Warsaw in Autumn 1941 for transport to German concentration camps as slave labor.|
|An inspection of the female camp guards at Ravensbrück.|
|The Mauthausen Stairway of Death. Prisoners were forced to carry large stones up the stairs over and over. If they faltered, they were executed. Few survived.|
|Ovens at Mauthausen.|
ConclusionRegarding German camps, the vital distinctions were between POW camps and concentration camps. Because the POW camps were open to international inspection, they were well-maintained and the prisoners were treated relatively well. The concentration camps, however, were not open to inspection by anyone.
|We can't leave this topic without showing what happened to sadistic German prison guards. Here, justice is meted out to female camp guards such as Jenny-Wanda Barkmann (nearest).|
|Female prisoners at Mauthausen.|