Concentration Camps

A concentration camp is where prisoners of war, enemy aliens, and
political prisoners are detained and confined, typically under harsh
conditions, or place or situation characterized by extremely harsh
conditions. The first concentration camps were established in 1933 for
confinement of opponents of the Nazi Party. The supposed opposition soon
included all Jews, Gypsies, and certain other groups. By 1939 there were six
camps: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Flossenburg, and

Auschwitz, or Auschwitz-Birkenau, is the best-known of all Nazi death
camps, though Auschwitz was just one of six extermination camps. It was also
a labor concentration camp, extracting prisoners\' value from them, in the
form of hard labor, for weeks or months. Auschwitz was the end of the line
for millions of Jews, gypsies, Jehovah\'s Witnesses, and other innocents.
Some spend almost two years in this most infamous of concentration camps. The
average prisoner only survived eight weeks in Auschwitz. Some learned the ins
and outs of survival in Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the largest concentration
and extermination camp constructed in the Third Reich. Located 37 miles west
of Krakow, Poland, Auschwitz was home to both the greatest number of forced
laborers and deaths.
The history of the camp began on April 27, 1940 when Heinrich Himmler,
the head of the SS and Gestapo, ordered the construction of the camp in
northeast Silesia, a region captured by the Nazis in September 1939. The camp
was built by three-hundred Jewish prisoners from the local town of Oswiecim
and its surrounding area. In June of 1940 the camp opened for Polish
political prisoners. By 1941 there were about 11,000 prisoners, most of whom
were Polish. From May 1940 to the end of 1943, Rudolf Hess was head
commander of Auschwitz. Under his leadership, Auschwitz quickly became known
as the harshest prison camp in the Nazi regime. Polish prisoners were forced
to stand at attention for roll call for hours on end naked in the cold, snowy
tundra of Polish winter. Following its first year of existence, Heinrich
Himmler visited Auschwitz and told Hess that its labor resource was to be
expanded to 100,000 prisoners, making it one of the largest of the
concentration camps. In order to accommodate this many people, a second, much
larger, section of Auschwitz (Auschwitz II) would have to be constructed.

Auschwitz II was built just two miles west of Auschwitz I and would be
called Birkenau. Prisoners were packed so tightly into the railroad cars that
they couldn\'t even squat to sit, much less lie down to sleep. They rode for
two days with no food, no water, no toilet facilities--with only dirty straw
on the floor. They finally arrived at their destination, glad to finally be
breathing fresh air when the cattle car doors were pulled open. Instead they
are greeted with shouts of anger, with guns and bayonets pointed at them, and
with guards holding back police dogs ready to tear them apart. A stench fills
the air. They are at Birkenau, the second part of the Auschwitz complex,
called by some "the mother of all concentration camps. The manpower to build
the camp came from 200,000 Russian prisoners of war who were forced to march
from Russia to a camp at Lamsdord without any food. During these early days
the Russians received more abuse than the Polish prisoners because they were
more feared for their military might. They were looked upon by Hess as
expendable labor due to their inferior abilities and physical weakness. Of
the 12,000 prisoners who were sent to Birkenau in 1941, only 150 survived to
the following summer. Some prisoners were assigned to the most gruesome
task -- that of the Sonderkommando. These prisoners were forced to work in
the crematoria, burning the Jews who had just been gassed. All prisoners who
were selected for forced labor were tattooed with numbers on their left arms.
Any slip, outburst, or failure to comply with the guards resulted in
immediate death. Because executions by gunfire were inefficient, expensive,
and potentially identifiable, intoxication by poison gas--a method used by
the Germans to kill over 50,000 mental patients since 1939--was agreed on as
the method of choice. Zyclon was originally brought to Auschwitz as a
disinfectant and vermin killer. On September 3, 1941,