How were camps structured?

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The first makeshift concentration camps were established and managed by local SA, SS and police units. In the spring of 1934, the SS became the only authority able to set up concentration camps.

Theodor Eicke, an SS Lieutenant General, had been the commandant of Dachau since June 1933. He had established a structure for how to run a camp. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was impressed with Eicke, so chose him as ‘Inspector of concentration camps’. The systems and buildings Eicke had developed at Dachau soon became the basic model by which all concentration camps would be established and managed.

The SS would administer life inside the camp, while an SS unit would be responsible for guarding the perimeter fence in addition to an exclusion zone around the camp. An electrified barbed wire fence, ditches and a wall with guard towers would surround the camp.

The camp administration would often be located near to the gatehouse at the main entrance. There would be many support buildings; these contained the kitchen, laundry, showers and workshops, as well as a prison block. There would be an Appell Platz (Roll Call Square) where prisoners would often have to stand for hours while they were counted.

Camps were usually divided into sections, each separated by rows of barbed wire fences. Prisoners were housed in wooden or brick-built barracks which were intended for between 250 to 400 prisoners. However, they would often house 700 to 1200 prisoners in each.

There would be separate sections for male and female prisoners, with children often being housed in the same barracks as the women. Different categories of prisoners were also segregated. For example, there would be separate areas for political prisoners, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roma. Those who worked in various areas of the camp would also sometimes be isolated from other prisoners.