Daily life in Concentration Camps
The Daily life in a German Concentration Camp
Concentration camps, also known as Konzentrationslager in German, were fundamental features between 1933 and 1945 among the Nazi regime in Germany. According to the German law, the term concentration camps was defined as “… Custody of persons who have not been legally sentenced to incarceration by a court of justice, and those who, having served a legal sentence, have been ordered further detention.” (CIA 1). In concentration camps, detainees are confined under the subjection of harsh conditions with little regard to the constitutionally acceptable democratic norms of legal incarceration and arrests.
By the same token, it is possible to say that after Adolf Hitler had become the German Chancellor in January 1933, there came the first concentration camps in Germany. Weeks after Nazis took over governance, the Sturmtruppen, the German army; the police, along with the local authorities; and the Schutzstaffel, the famous SS, ordained some detention camps meant for the incarceration of both perceived and real political opponents. Consequently, The Schutzstaffel put in place larger camps near Hamburg and Lichtenburg in Saxony. Berlin also housed the Columbia Haus Facility that was used to hold prisoners who were still under probe by the German Secret State Police Service (Gestapo) until late 1936 (Eitinger 378). These camps, erected to incarcerate the opponents to the Nazi regime turned into places where inhuman and unnamed grievances occurred, marking one of the lowest moments of the humanity. Hence, basing in academic evidence, this paper attempts to show the daily life routines in the concentration camps during the Nazi Regime.
By the end of the Second World War, the Nazis established an extensive system exceeding 40,000 camps stretching across Europe from the Spanish-French border to Poland. The move extended through to the conquered Soviet states, as far South as North Africa and Greece. Regarding the prisoners, Jews were by far the largest number, but most people were detained and imprisoned for reasons that included ethnicity and political affiliation. The inmates faced many prejudiced treatments and unimaginable terrors since their time of arrival at the camp. The feeling was so dehumanizing that every prisoner got involved in survival against the system that was designed to annihilate them (David 650).
The Nazis also established hierarchical identification marks or systems within the camps. Organizing prisoners on nationality and incarceration grounds. Notably, the prisoners from higher social classes within the camp got such rewards as more desirable work assignments and indoor administrative positions (Matussek 248). The kapos who served as the supervisors or camp elders that held the power of death and life over the prisoners. On the other hand, those from lower social classes who had more demanding tasks like factory work, construction, and mining. Hence, lower classes suffered much higher death rates from the physical torture in factories, physical exhaustion, extremely harsh environments and meager rations. The prisoners also assumed the positions of staffed sanatoriums, kitchens, and other functions within the camp. The living conditions were more than extreme and harsh given the varying circumstances in the camp (David 647).
The SS acquired independence from SA in 1934, in the wake of Rohm purge. During that period, SS Chief Leader, Heinrich Himmler, following Hitler’s request, centralized the administrative functions of the concentration camps to formulate them into a unified system. Therefore, following Hitlers orders, Himmler chose SS Lieutenant General Theodor Eicke. Eicke had overseen the command of the SS Concentration camps since June 1933, and Himmler saw him appointed to the highly prestigious position as the inspector of coordination in the Concentration camps. A position subordinated to the SS Main Office (Arendt 56).
From early 1934, commandants from each camp subjected prisoners to forced labor. Such physical tasks included construction and the expansion of the established camps Still, until December 1934, only the SS oversaw the management of the concentration camps. The local authorities, composed of civilians continued with the establishment and administration of forced labor camps, plus the remaining detention camps, shunning aside civilian involvement with the concentration camps. After this event, Eicke, the commanding officer, came up with a developed plan and procedure that was mean to guard and secure the concentration camps. He came up with a set of regulations for duties and routines regarding the perimeter guards and the prisoners’ treatment. The structure and organization developed at the camp turned to be the model for the camp system as it saw a remarkable growth. In the list of those who Eicke trained in the early times was Rudolf Hoss known to have been the Auschwitz concentration camp commandant (Arendt 55).
Even though all the SS units carried the tag of Death’s-Head symbol-the skull on their foreheads, only those with SS Death’s-Head Units could wear the symbols of death. The camp staff constituted the commandant plus his assistants, security police officers, charged with the responsibility of ensuring that peace prevailed and safekeeping the prison records (Arendt 51).It was also composed of the infirmary run by the SS physician plus detention camp commandants and the administrative staff that handled the supply and fiscal of the camps. The model by Eicke, established in the mid-1930s characterized concentration camp systems until the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945. However, Nazi security police held exclusive de facto authority from 1936. The only perceived legal incarceration instrument was either the preventive detention or the protective detention order (David 647).
However, before the war, there came economic considerations that increased the impact on the choice of the camps sites. This took place later in 1937. For example, Flossenburg and Mauthausen were located around the large quarries. Similarly, the concentration camp staff increasingly deviated prisoners from the meaningless backbreaking and hazardous tasks in such industries as coal mines and stone quarries plus construction labor (David 649).
Therefore, to command these camps, the SS oversaw the establishment of projects and the commissioning of several new construction projects. To finance such projects, Himmler had to revamp and expand the SS administrative offices, also creating a new SS office meant for business operations (David 649). Consequently, concentration camps developed between 1938 and 1939 as the number of the regime’s political opponents increased, calling for more concentration camps. By 1939 when the Germans had invaded Poland, causing the Second World War, there were already six camps in Dachau, Buchenwald, Flossenburg, and Sachsenhausen (Arendt 51).
After the Nazi Germany unleashed World War II in 1939, their vast new territory conquests plus a considerable amount of prospective prisoners helped in hastening the rapid expansion of the camps to the east. The war itself did not alter the original role of the camps as detention centers for political enemies and prisoners. This, however, permitted the SS officers to expand their functions at the camps (Tas 683).
The camps increasingly turned into sites where the Nazi authorities killed target groups or those perceived to be enemies of the regime. The camps also became to be holding centers for a rapidly growing the pool of slaves that were used in the construction of projects and other industrial sites (Herbert 12). Despite the much needed forced labor, the Nazi authorities pushed for a continued pursuit of the deliberately malnourished and mistreated prisoners that were incarcerated in construction camps. The prisoners got harsh treatment from the SS officials that ruthlessly handled them without regard to their safety, leading to the high mortality rates in the camps (Arendt 51). In the extermination camps, women were separated from men on arrival. Men were the first to get gassed while the women had their hair cut before facing their deaths. Those who were too aged to work including children were sent straight to the chambers in the camp hospital facility. Those who survived the gassing faced random shooting. The Nazi Germany authorities used the able-bodied men and women in carrying the bodies of the dead to a crematorium (Arendt 51).
To sum up, the living conditions in a concentration camp where absurd and inhuman. Prisoners faced a myriad of injustices that will never be fully repaid and show the world how terrible fascist regimes can be and the consequences of dictatorial governments. To those prisoners who, regardless their ethnicity suffered through the camps, their lives will never be the same, and although many intended to live a shadow of an ordinary life inside the camps, many others did not have such luck.
Arendt, H. “Social Science Techniques and the Study of Concentration Camps.” Jewish Social Studies 12.1 (1950). Indiana University Press. JSTOR. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
Central Intelligence Agency CIA. Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room, 2001. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
David, J. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among Survivors of Cambodian Concentration Camps.” American Journal of Psychiatry 141 (2011): 645-50. Print.
Eitinger, L. “Pathology of the Concentration Camp Syndrome.” Archives of General Psychiatry 5.4 (1961): 371. Print.
Herbert, U. Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labour in Germany under the Third Reich. Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.
Matussek, Paul. Internment in Concentration Camps and Its Consequences. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1975. Print.
Tas, J. “Psychical Disorders Among Inmates of Concentration Camps and Repatriates.” The Psychiatric Quarterly 25.1 (2013): 679-90. Print.