Why did the Nazis use concentration camps?

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Imprisoned for days

After Kristallnacht (the ‘Night of broken glass’) in November 1938, the Nazis and their supporters arrested many thousands of male Jews above the age of 14 years. They imprisoned them in camps for days or sometimes weeks. They were kept in poor conditions, given little food or water and subjected to brutal treatment and torture.

Confined without trial

A concentration camp is a place where people were detained or confined without trial. Prisoners were kept in extremely harsh conditions and without any rights. In Nazi Germany after 1933, and across Nazi controlled Europe between 1938 and 1945, concentration camps became a major way in which the Nazis imposed their control.

The first concentration camps in Germany were set up as detention centres to stop any opposition to the Nazis by so called ‘enemies of the state’. These people included communists, socialists and social democrats, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, Roma, and so called ‘asocials’.

However, after March 1938, when the Germans annexed Austria into German territory, many thousands of German Jews were arrested and detained in DachauBuchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

Invasion of Poland

When the German army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, the SS set up many concentration camps to house Polish political prisoners and many thousands of Polish Jews. Many of the inmates of these camps were subjected to increasingly poor conditions. In addition they were subjected to forced labour, the result of which was often death.