There are many events that take place in history that should be remembered and documented. By knowing what has happened in the past, it may help prevent some disasters from reoccurring. It is also important to know what trials and tribulations we have overcome and grown from. One remarkable event that unfortunately transpired during the Holocaust was the concentration camps. Many people were affected by the reality of what was happening in Germany. Within Germany, there were types of camps that people could be sent to: concentration camps, labor camps, extermination camps and prisoner-of-war camps.
Concentration camps were the Nazis’ way of imprisoning the Jews, political antagonists and other people deemed socially unacceptable of the country. If these people were sentenced to a concentration camp and did not arrive, they could and would be shot on the spot. Death camps came into play to make the killings move faster and leave less anguish on the killers, not the victims. June 14, 1940 was the date that Auschwitz first became active in bringing prisoners to the camp. The first prisoners to arrive at the camp were Polish prisoners of war. Later came Soviets, Gypsies and other nationalities.
In 1942, after Hitler ordered the destruction of the people, Jews were the main targets to become incarcerated at Auschwitz. This was about the time that the camp began to mass murder citizens of the Jewish community. Once arriving at this ghostly nightmare, people spent little time alive. “After the transports of children in the summer of 1942, the French authorities came to the same conclusion. So disturbing was the image of small children fending for themselves, deprived of their mothers, that after the last train containing parentless children left Drancy on August 31 an order was given that such transports were not to be repeated.
Never again, as far as the French deportations were concerned, would children be snatched from their mothers; instead, whole families would be sent to Auschwitz together” (Rees, 2005, p. 125). Women and children were instantaneously separated from the men. Then the Nazi doctors would examine the Jews and determine quickly if they would live or die. Very few were chosen to work (Rees, 125). The others were almost immediately sent to gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Oskar Groening was posted to work at Auschwitz in 1942.
He gave a personal testimony to what he witnessed as Jews arrived at “the ramp”—platform where the Jews arrived in port. “Sick people were lifted on to lorries. Red Cross lorries—they always tried to create the impression that people had nothing to fear,” reported Groening (Rees, 2005, p. 127). If the mass murders were not enough, Nazi physicians also committed medical experiments. Most of the experiments violated medical beliefs. One of the physicians was Professor Dr. Carl Clauberg. He practiced sterilization on the women who inhabited the concentration camp.
Clauberg would inject a chemical into the organs that caused brutal irritation. If the women did not die, they were put to death to perform autopsies. They found that the chemical closed and completely blocked the fallopian tubes. Another physician was Dr. Mengele. He was interested in “water cancer” of the cheek, twins, dwarfism and different colored irises. Most of his victims were children from the “Gypsy Family Camp”. In some cases, the children were killed and their heads and organs were preserved for further observation. In cases of twins, he would do extensive research on them for hours while they were still alive.
After he cast-molded their teeth and took fingerprints and toe prints, he would order them to be executed to study their organs and compare and contrast what he found. Some prisoners were intentionally infected with infectious diseases to experiment with new drug. Physicians such as Friedrich Entress, Helmuth Vetter and Eduard Wirths, performed these experiments (http://www. auschwitz. org). Documents were kept of these mass murders and experiments but at the end of the war the chambers, crematories and documents were destroyed to hide any evidence of what took place.
After the Soviets arrived, they took the remaining prisoners on what was know as the “Death March” to the Third Reich where many prisoners lost their lives. Dachau was the first camp of the Nazis’ two thousand extermination and labor camps. Theodor Eicke was the inspector general for all the camps. “He used Dachau as his model. His purpose was to establish an institution that would terrify potential opposition to the Nazi regime. Dachau was used frequently to train the SS to treat prisoners as nonhumans and to kill without remorse. Nazi scientists also performed brutal experiments on prisoners there” (Bussey, 2000, p.60).
The prisoners at Dachau were never put in gas chambers. Although they were built in 1942, they were never used. Instead the victims were tortured and executed. Many of them would be transferred to other camps that did use gas chambers. In 1938, most prisoners of war were sent to Dachau. In fact, when the camp was liberated, there were over thirty nationalities represented. Conditions at Dachau eventually worsened. When other camps abandoned their establishments, the prisoners were sent to Dachau. At one point, the barracks housed as many as sixteen hundred people. They were made to hold two hundred.
As the conditions worsened due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, between one and two hundred prisoners died everyday from typhoid. Disposing of the dead bodies became a large problem. At first they were buried in “common graves” at Leitenberg and Waldfriedhof. Once the numbers began to rise, the crematories were put into use. These crematories are not what we think of in present day. They did not dispose of one body at a time. As one body would be burning, another would be simultaneously placed in the oven. There were no cooling periods or recovering of ashes.
They could be referred to as “incinerators”. The cost of running an incinerator was extremely less expensive than a crematory. At first, the families could request the ashes of their loved one. They would be shipped to them for a price. Unfortunately the family members would receive the ashes of many people because of the conditions that the bodies were disposed. When troops liberated the camps, they required the local farmers to carry their loaded carts of bodies through the town as a teaching to the local inhabitants. Buchenwald was one of the major concentration camps in the history of the Third Reich.
Unlike Auschwitz, it was not an extermination camp. However, the prisoners there were starved to death, over worked in the quarry and physically abused. Hostages arrived at Buchenwald by railway a few miles from the camp. They would immediately be marched to the camp. One prisoner, Martin S. , stated, “They were taking us to have showers, to clean us up. Nobody wanted to go into the shower. And there were people saying, ‘These showers are okay. It’s okay. ’ Jews were talking to us, and they would say, ‘I’m telling you. I’m one of you. It’s okay. ’ We ultimately went in.
You had no choice. And when finally water came out—but again, you thought this was the end of you. It is impossible to describe the thoughts, the feelings” (Greene and Kumar, 2000, p. 121). Buchenwald was initially used for male prisoners when the camp opened in 1937. Women were later brought in 1944. An electrical barbed-wire fence with watchtowers surrounded the camp. Soldiers would not hesitate to shoot any prisoner with loaded automatic weapons. Besides the shootings, there were also hangings that took place. Many of the inmates encountered very cruel and unusual treatment.
Medical experiments also took place at Buchenwald. Dr. Carl Vaernet began experiments on the men to try and “cure” homosexuality. Many deaths occurred due to experimentation with infectious diseases and viruses. Buchenwald was known as a labor camp also. Many prisoners were sent to rock quarries, armaments factories and on construction projects. There were nearly 87 subcamps located nearby for the prisoners to be put to work. If the inmates were deemed unfit or unhealthy, they were sent to the Bernburg to “work”. These were euthanasia camps. The prisoners would be injected with phenol or killed with gas.
One inhumane fact of the camp was that of the wife of the commandant, Karl Koch. Frau Koch was infatuated with the tattoos of the hostages. Before bodies were disposed of, she would request the skin of the victim to be removed and preserved. She would later make lampshade of the designs. Also, to give the soldiers a “break from reality”, Commandant Koch had a zoo built outside the fence. Prisoners, who were literally being worked to death, could see this other world. It became another torture to the inmates. Many people were evacuated from Auschwitz and sent to Bergen-Belsen.
Bergen-Belsen was also a concentration camp. It contained eight sections: two women’s camps, neutral camps, detention camp, a special camp, “star” camp, Hungarian camp and a tent camp (www. jewishvirtuallibrary. org). By the end of the war, there were over 60,000 prisoners held there. The camp was designed to hold no more than 10,000. The conditions at the Bergen-Belsen were much better than at other concentration camps. Most inmates were not forced in labor work. One survivor, Sara, was a hostage at Auschwitz for ten days. She refers to this camp as “hell. ” After the short stay she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen.
“We stayed there ten days, and then we were shipped out to Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen at this time was paradise for me. It was a big open space. We were in a newly opened section, the Tent Camp. Just straw thrown on the ground, these were our quarters. But we were getting more food than in Auschwitz, and we had freedom without these constant kapos around us” (Dwork and van Pelt, 2002, p. 362). However, when prisoners were transferred to this camp because of the liberation of allies, the conditions became much worse. Food, water and sanitation became very major issues. Many people became ill and died.
Anne Frank and her sister were both victims of Auschwitz who were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. They were two of the many people were fell to their death due to typhus. Bergen-Belsen did not have any gas chambers. Many of the deaths there were due to starvation, exhaustion, too much labor, disease and medical experimentation. Renee H. was a prisoner at Bergen-Belsen at age eleven along with her younger, deaf sister. Renee states, “My sister was being watched by the camp doctor. He would come by the children’s barracks all the time, come to my sister, pinch her cheeks, pull her ears, and try to be very friendly with her.
And then one day he said to me that he would be able to give us oranges and chocolate if I allowed my sister to go into the hospital for a few days. And my sister was perfectly well, so I couldn’t understand why he wanted her in the hospital. After I insisted that she had to stay with me he laughed and then forgot about it. Later on the German-appointed prisoner in charge of the barrack told me that the camp doctor had hoped to be able to use my sister for scientific research” (Greene and Kramar, 2000, p. 149).
Hitler and the Nazis’ focal points were about economics and government. However, they’re policies mainly focused around racism. They prized certain ethnic groups over others. Hitler believed that genetics and family history played a major role in society. In some cities, Jews made up more than a fourth of the population. This became a threat to Hitler and the Nazis. Their beliefs were different from their Christian neighbors and contradicted the society that he was trying to create. The Jews were inferior and polluted the people around them in Hitler’s eyes.
In the beginning, Hitler’s plan was to drive the Jews out of the country, not persecute them. After the occurrence of World War II, Hitler changed his mind. Hitler and his followers became convinced that it was time to apply a so-called “Final Solution” to what they termed Europe’s “Jewish Problem. ” In 1942, Hitler spelled out that solution: his goal would be “the complete annihilation of the Jews” (Currie, 2004). Resources Bussey, J. (Ed. ). (2004). 1940-1960 The Twentieth Century. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven. Currie, S. (2004). Escapes from Nazi Persecution.
Farmington Hills, MI: Lucent Books. Dwork, D. , & van Pelt, R (2002). Holocaust: A history. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.. Greene, J. M. & Kumar, S. (Ed. ). (2000). Witness: Voices from the Holocaust. New York, NY: The Free Press. http://www. auschwitz. org. pl/new/index. php? language=EN&tryb=stale&id=372 retrieved April 16, 2007. http://www. holocaust-history. org/dachau-gas-chambers/ retrieved April 15, 2007. http://www. jewishvirtuallibrary. org/jsource/Holocaust/Belsen. html retrieved April 16, 2007. Rees, L (2005). Auschwitz. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.