How were camps run?

4143 SS guards, Belzec Poland.jpg
SS guards at Belzec extermination camp, Poland
© 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

An SS Death’s Head Unit, using the model established in Dachau, administered each camp. The SS unit was split into two groups.

The first of these was responsible for life, security and conditions inside the camp, whilst the second group was responsible for guarding the perimeter of the camp, in addition to an exclusion zone around it.

The organisation inside the camp would include:

  • The camp commandant (Lagerkommandant) and his personal staff, made up of junior officers;
  • The security police;
  • The commander of the detention facilities together with his staff, once again junior officers;
  • Male and female guards and wardens, who were usually German or Ukrainian. Sometimes they were criminals released from German prisons;
  • Administration and accounting staff;
  • A camp hospital, run by an SS doctor with several medical assistants. Doctors were in charge of the selection of prisoners. They would conduct medical experiments using prisoners as guinea pigs to aid research.

Often the SS officers and orderlies would be extremely brutal to prisoners. Punishments were carried out at the whim of the guards.