The Nazi camp system

5.5d YV 3613 Luba Gurdus Majdanek.jpg
A prisoner's interpretation of life in the barracks at Majdanek, Poland. The artist, Luba Krugman Gurdus, also a poet and author who wrote extensively about her experiences at the Majdanek.
© 2012 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

The first camps

After coming to power, to stop opposition and to instil terror, the Nazis arrested thousands of people and placed them in camps.

The first camps were established throughout Germany, by local SASS or police units, as detention facilities to imprison so called ‘enemies of the state’. These local makeshift internment centres were mainly situated in or around towns and cities. This system did not work – it was inefficient. Therefore there was a need for purpose-built camps. Most of the early camps were disbanded and replaced by centrally organised concentration camps under the exclusive control of the SS.

By 1939 there were seven major concentration camps established by the Nazis, each housing many thousands of alleged political opponents of the Nazi regime. Later, Nazis would use these centres for the detention of many thousands of German Jews, homosexuals and so called ‘anti-socials’, in addition to political prisoners. 

Terror and control

Between 1939 and 1945, as the Nazis invaded and occupied lands across Europe they established more than 20,000 camps. The camp system was a major tool by which the Nazis would assert their terror and control over local and national populations. The camp system included concentration camps, transit camps, forced labour or work camps and death camps.

Together with over a thousand ghettos, the Nazis also established the camp system in order to promote and carryout their anti-Jewish policies across the entire content of Europe. 

This section of The Holocaust Explained will help you understand further the role of camps within Nazi occupied Europe.