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Concentration and Death Camps
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The Nazi Camps
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Concentration Camps and Death Camps
View of the entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz. The gate bears the motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes one free). The aim of Auschwitz was not to put people to work, but to kill them.

The Concentration Camps

The Nazis set up camps throughout Germany, but also in other European countries, where Jews and other "undesirables" could be concentrated - hence the name concentration camp. Most who entered the gates of such camps never lived to tell about their experiences. Jews from all over Europe were brought here.

Conditions in the camps were severe. Those that were lucky enough to work in or outside of the camp were treated as slaves. They were exposed to humiliating and brutal treatment, a lack of food, rampant disease, sometimes freezing temperatures and the constant threat of execution. Many died purely due to exhaustion.

Examples of such camps are Bergen Belsen (where Anne Frank died), Buchenwald, Dachau, Ravensbrueck, and Mauthausen.

The Death Camps

Some of the concentration camps were set up with special machinery to kill the inmates. Today, we often refer to them as extermination camps. Many survivors do not like this term because extermination is something that is done to insects. The German word for the death camps was Vernichtungslager. Vernichtung means "destruction."

Six camps were set up as death camps: Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdenek, Chelmno and Belzec. All of these death camps were located in German occupied Poland.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

The most notorious death camp built by the Nazis was Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Close to 1 million people were murdered here, the large majority of them Jews. Auschwitz had parts that served more as a concentration camp and parts that were killing centers. Smoke could be seen rising from the Auschwitz chimneys day and night as the bodies of murdered inmates were burned.

Medical experiments

A number of German doctors and scientists conducted very painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of inmates, both in the concentration camps and death camps. This was done without the permission of the inmates. Some of the worst experiments took place at Auschwitz under the supervision of Jozef Mengele. He also decided at Auschwitz who was to live and who to die after the trains arrived with their passengers.
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Photo credit: USHMM, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej.
Anne Frank Guide
This day in history
Today: 11 December 2017
Then: 11 December 1941

Germany and Italy declare war on the United States; the U.S. respond in kind.

View the timeline