KL – Actual Results


The actual results of the Nazi KL program (in terms of functional value for the Third Reich) were mixed at best. The obvious (and very tangible) positive result was that the Nazis eliminated all political obstacles to their grandiose project of a radical engineering of Germany.

Which was more than successfully accomplished by the end of 1938. As was “reprogramming” of political opponents into a firm and committed supporters of the Nazi regime.

However, the way the Nazis eliminated these obstacles can be classified only as “overkill” (often in a very literal sense). Hitler’s appointment to the position of Chancellor, the Reichstag Fire Decree (and the fire itself) and, finally, the Enabling Act (passed by the German Parliament in a very much legal way) delivered three crushing blows to the opposition (made even more crushing by ruthless destruction of the opposition’s infrastructure by the Nazis).

So crushing, in fact, that after these blows the political opposition ceased to become a credible threat (i.e. obstacle) to the Nazi plans of a radical political, economic, military, social and cultural reengineering of Germany.

Hence, there was no need to send so many political opponents (active and potential) of the Nazi regime to internment camps or treat them so brutally (let alone murder any of them).

Again, Nazi obsession with violence and brutal force and their (bad) habit of choosing the most radical solution to the problem at hand made them commit heinous (and totally unnecessary) crimes against humanity.

It must also be noted that no matter how they tried (and they tried very hard), the Nazis failed to even weaken (let alone eliminate completely) the internal existential threat to their regime.

For a very simple reason – this threat came from the military which was off-limits to Nazi security services. Which is exactly why these services failed to uncover the plot of the senior officers of the Wehrmacht which led to assassination attempt on July 20th, 1944.

Or the previous plot in September of 1938 when only the miraculously (literally) timely signing of the infamous Munich agreement saved Adolf Hitler from being killed and his Third Reich from being destroyed by the Wehrmacht.

Another highly positive result was a radical reduction in crime (and all but complete elimination of organized crime). With career and habitual criminals locked away for good in places like Dachau, the infrastructure of the organized crime annihilated and indefinite “preventive custody” creating a strong deterrent to criminal activity it is no surprise that the number of individuals willing to commit crimes went down dramatically.

Obviously, the KL program made German society much healthier, cleaner and substantially more moral (by Nazi standards, of course). Prior to 1933, Berlin and just about all other large German cities were hotbeds of all kinds of sexual deviations and depravities – from very much accepted in the modern democratic society (i.e. of the LGBTQ) to human trafficking, sexual slavery, child pornography and child prostitution (which are not).

The Nazis ruthlessly all but eliminated “all of the above” – to the applause of mostly conservative, puritan and even prudish German public.

Was it necessary to eradicate “all of the above” by such brutal and violent means? IMHO, it depends. Radical reduction in crime, elimination of the organized crime and ruthless crackdown on human trafficking, sexual slavery, child pornography and child prostitution are probably the only Nazi measures in the “crimes” category that I would wholeheartedly support.

It is important to note that there was no equivalent of the “preventive custody” system in the Soviet Union. Hence it is no surprise that crime in the Bolshevist Soviet Union was far more rampant (and hence a far more serious problem) than in Nazi Germany.

Which was probably the result of a very different system of priorities in Stalin’s mind than in Hitler’s. While the latter wanted to make his people genuinely happy and saw everything else as the means to that (highly noble) end, the former viewed all his subjects (and everyone else) as but a tool in his battle for the conquest of an entire world.

And, last but not the least, the KL system made it possible for the Nazis to mobilize sufficient amount of forced labor from all over Europe (and occupied territories of the Soviet Union) to fight the war of attrition for 3.5 years after the miserable failure of Blitzkrieg on the Eastern front in December of 1941. Which was, of course, an achievement of sorts.

However, this achievement was dubious, to put it mildly. First, Nazi Germany lost the war of attrition, suffered human casualties in the millions, had most of its infrastructure destroyed, lost a quarter of its pre-1938 territory and was occupied and ruthlessly reengineered by the victorious Allies.

Which means that forcing millions of Europeans into slave labor was the wrong way to find the war of attrition. As I will demonstrate in the chapter on “Hilter’s War”, there was a far better way to win the war of attrition – the one that would actually work. Oh, and Hitler could (and should) have won the “lightning war” on the Eastern front – simply by making the right decisions (not the ones that he actually made).

As all Nazi KL were forced labor camps (one way or the other), millions of Germans, Austrians and inhabitants of occupied territories were tortured, exploited, starved and in many cases killed for nothing.

They became the victims not only of inhuman (I would even say demonic) system and processes of the Nazi KL system, but, first and foremost, colossal strategic blunders (political and military) committed by Adolf Hitler and his closest partners-in-crimes.

KL – Victims

KL Inmates

Nazi objectives for creating a system of KL pretty much defined its victims:

  • Leaders, functionaries and influential members of political parties – Communists, Social-Democrats, Catholics, Conservatives, etc.
  • Active and potential members of Resistance groups not affiliated with any political party (i.e. members of the elites of German-occupied nations)
  • Influential Christians (priests, monks, nuns, lay officials, theologians etc.) who publicly oppose and criticize Nazi regime
  • Members of religious groups openly opposed to Nazism (Jehovah Witnesses, etc.)
  • Individuals (i.e. not affiliated with any group) engaged in violent or non-violent protests – from journalists to terrorists
  • Career (habitual) criminals
  • Homosexuals (oddly, the Nazis persecuted almost exclusively male homosexuals, leaving lesbians pretty much alone)
  • Prostitutes, pimps, brothel owners and others engaged in providing sexual services
  • “Asocials” – trumps, homeless, vagrants, “work shy”, beggars, etc.

How many KL were there? The honest answer is: we do not know (and might never know). Estimates range from 1,200 (probably too low) to a whopping 42,500 (way too high; however the latter include Jewish ghettos).

How many individuals were interned in KL at some point in their lives? We have no idea. It is estimated that in January of 1945 there were about 715,000 inmates in all camps both inside and outside Germany (far less than there were in Gulag at its peak). But whether this number includes all inmates, we do not know (at that time statistics in Germany was not exactly accurate).

How many died in the camps – murdered or succumbed to hunger, diseases, etc. We have no clue. One estimate puts the total number of death at (IMHO, realistic) half a million but how accurate is this estimate?

In short, we only know that we do not know – and probably will never know. Most likely, the total number of inmates at least once incarcerated in KL was in single-digit millions (with the overwhelming majority coming from occupied territories) and the death toll is around one million or less.


KL – the Objectives

Majdanek concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland

Prior to the outbreak of World War II (which, contrary to a very popular misconception, was started by Britain and France on September 3rd, 1939 – not by Germany two days earlier), Nazi intended to use KL to achieve the following two desired results:

  1. Eliminate all opposition to Nazi regime in Germany by (a) transforming political opponents into committed supporters of the regime – a preferred option; (b) isolating indefinitely those who successfully resist this transformation; (c) scaring all potential opponents into at least neutrality; and (d) physically eliminating those who present a material threat to the regime even inside and internment camp
  2. Make the Nazi society squeaky clean by eliminating all “social dirt” (as defined by the Nazis, of course) – incorrigible criminals, beggars, idlers, vagrants, tramps, alcoholics, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, rebels and other “undesirables” similar. This objective was supposed to be achieved using exactly the same tools as the first one – only physical elimination tools were different (these characters were included into Action 14f13)

Given the fact that by the beginning of 1938 (i.e. before Anschluss of Austria) the number of KL inmates declined almost six-fold from its peak in 1933 (from over 45,000 to just 7,750) these objectives – which made complete sense given the fundamental strategic objectives of the Nazis (and of Hitler personally) – have been largely achieved.

However, the outbreak of the Second Great War added three other natural objectives:

  1. Eliminate all opposition to Nazi regime in German-occupied territories
  2. Provide German economy (first and foremost the armaments production) with the maximum possible amount of the cheapest possible labor
  3. Get the maximum possible amount of value (first and foremost, functional) from every inmate at the lowest possible total cost (food, shelter, medical care, etc.)

The first additional objective made complete sense (any occupying power would want to achieve it) but the second and third were grossly incorrect (to put it mildly).

Instead of the “cheapest possible” labor the Nazis should have striven to acquire the most efficient labor (which would have meant keeping the Jews very much alive and reasonable well – among other things).

And instead of getting the maximum possible amount of value from every inmate at the lowest possible cost, they should have endeavored to get the maximum possible value period.

These gross misconceptions predictably led to enormous and horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity (I will present details later in the section on forced labor in Nazi Germany).

Unfortunately, these misconceptions were added by the third one which was about the implementation of the first and third objective. As for the first, the Nazis (who always chose the most radical solution to any problem at hand and worshiped violence and brutal force) achieved it mostly through the latter – and overwhelmingly powerful brainwashing.

It did work in Greater Germany – but not on occupied territories. Consequently, mass incarceration, violence, brutal force and mass murder (chosen by the Nazis to achieve the objective #3) were (like all other Nazi crimes) a colossal blunder. Instead, the Nazis should have developed and implemented some form of a “social contract” with the population of the occupied territories.


Aktion 14f13 (2)


For five months both operations (Aktion T4 and Aktion 14f13) were running in parallel and largely followed the same very much criminal process. Actually, de-jure the latter was even more criminal than the former, because Hitler’s letter (of questionable legality) that authorized Aktion T4 said nothing about KL.

Viktor Brack assembled a panel of psychiatrists and physicians who (unlike the Aktion T4 experts who worked with reports only) personally visiting KL to select sick and incapacitated prisoners for euthanasia.

The reason for personal visits was plain and simple – unlike institutions that sent reports to Aktion T4 doctors, KL simply could not do it because it did not have qualified psychiatrists (or physicians for that matter).

As experts had to examine the subjects themselves (and as there were far more KL inmates than patients in mental institutions), Aktion 14f13 panel employed far more experts.

Hence the list of “medical perpetrators” was quite long and included a number of prominent and distinguished professionals – professors Werner Heyde and Hermann Paul Nitsche and doctors Friedrich Mennecke, Curt Schmalenbach, Horst Schumann, Otto Hebold, Rudolf Lonauer, Robert Müller, Theodor Steinmeyer, Gerhard Wischer, Viktor Ratka and Hans Bodo Gorgaß.

Still, to speed up the process, KL commandants made a preliminary list of Ballastexistenzen (“dead weight prisoners”) themselves thus pre-selecting inmates for euthanasia. However, the experts had the right (and often exercised it) to expand these lists including inmates that commandants could have overlooked.

The final lists included all inmates who had been unable to work for a certain period of time or was substantially incapacitated and would not be able to ever return to work.

These lists were then were sent to central T4 office in Berlin where the final euthanasia decisions were made. Those selected for “special treatment” were transported either by bus (using the special transportation company) or by train to the nearest killing center.

There they were examined for gold teeth by a prison doctor and labeled appropriately before being led (usually using some type of ruse) into a gas chamber, where they were gassed with carbon monoxide – usually less than 24 hours after arrival.

Orderlies of the killing center in question removed gold teeth from the mouths of the cadavers (these were considered Reich’s property and thus were sent to Berlin HQ). After this procedure was completed, the bodies were incinerated in the center’s crematorium.

The murders were carried out by the same staff and using the same means as used previously in Aktion T4. A few administrative details were changed, in that the deaths were recorded by members of the respective camp administration (not medical doctors); they informed relatives of the deaths, claiming illness (usually pneumonia) as the cause.

To avoid even the possibility of resistance, condemned inmates were told (rather convincingly) they would go to a “recovery camp”, where they would have light duties. However, as the belongings of murdered victims were sent back to the camp warehouse for sorting (a really dumb idea), some inmates had to be taken to gas chambers by force.

Aktion 14f13 was launched sometime in April 1941 when the first known selection of “unproductive ballast” took place at Sachsenhausen. By the summer, at least 400 prisoners from that camp had been killed. During the same period, 450 prisoners from Buchenwald and 575 prisoners from Auschwitz were gassed at the Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre.

Between September and November 1941, 3,000 prisoners from Dachau and several thousand inmates from Mauthausen and neighboring KL Gusen, were gassed at Hartheim.

The Ballastexistenzen from the Flossenbürg, Neuengamme and Ravensbrück camps were also selected and killed. After November, another 1,000 prisoners from Buchenwald, 850 from Ravensbrück and 214 from Groß-Rosen, were gassed at Sonnenstein Castle and Bernburg. From March to April 1942, some 1,600 women were selected at Ravensbrück and gassed at Bernburg.

The death toll of Aktion 14f13 is estimated at about 20,000 making it a “mini T4” (the latter killed about ten times more). The main reason for that is that, unlike mental institutions, KL were factories that produced highly valuable products.

Consequently, with a constantly increasing demand for labor (especially after the commencement of the “final solution tom a Jewish question”) camp commanders increasingly focused on getting as much as possible value out of every inmate. Which predictably imposed strict restrictions on selections (and thus on euthanasia).

In April of 1944 the KL-Inspectorate (the central SS administrative and managerial authority for the internment camps of the Third Reich) made the next logical step. From that date on, selection of the inmates to be euthanized became the responsibility of camp administrations, usually the camp doctor.

Some Ballastexistenzen were killed in the camp (usually by lethal injection); others were sent to a death camp (i.e. the one that had a gas chamber, such as Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen or Auschwitz).

Still others (including no longer useful forced laborers from Eastern Europe, Soviet POWs and even some Hungarian Jews) were gassed at Hartheim. The last prisoner transport to Hartheim was on December 11, 1944, ending the operation (thankfully) for good.

The gas chambers at Hartheim were destroyed and traces of their use were removed, as much as possible and the castle was used as an orphanage (of all purposes).

Like its “bigger sister” (Aktion T4), Action 14f13 was an extensive operation; consequently, the list of perpetrators (i.e. guilty of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and felony murder) is quite long.

The key individuals that initiated and managed this murderous operation are:

  • Heinrich Himmler – SS Reichsfuhrer; ordered planning and execution of Action 14f13. Committed suicide (?) after being captured by the Allies
  • Philipp Bouhler – Reichsleiter and SS-Obergruppenfuhrer; ordered resources of Aktion T4 to be delivered to Heinrich Himmler to be used in Aktion 14f13. Committed suicide to avoid trial for his crimes.
  • Viktor Brack – SS-Oberführer; chief of Hauptamt II of the KdF and the COO of Aktion T4; delivered the resources of the latter to Heinrich Himmler. Tried, convicted and executed for crimes against humanity.
  • Werner Heyde – SS-Hauptsturmführer (captain); chief of staff of the medical department in the SS-Hauptamt (headquarters); one of the top managers of the medical side of Aktion T4 (and the key member of the panel of medical experts that selected inmates for euthanasia). Committed suicide to avoid trial for his crimes.
  • Horst Schumann – SS-Sturmbannführer (major); key member of the panel of medical experts that selected inmates for euthanasia. Arrested only in 1970 but quickly released due to “heart condition and generally deteriorating health”. Given the fact that he lived for 11 more years, he was possibly released because he had acquired valuable knowledge on radiation poisoning (he conducted experiments of that nature in Auschwitz)
  • Richard Glücks – SS-Gruppenführer; Concentration Camps Inspector; managed the administrative side of Aktion 14f13. Committed suicide (?) on May 10th, 1945.

Again, like its “bigger sister” (Aktion T4) made no material contribution to the Nazi war effort. It only consumed highly valuable resources (including time and energy of SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler). Consequently, it was a colossal blunder – Nazis would have been much better off by just feeding and otherwise helping sick prisoners (or, better, by having them released as due to ill health they were no longer a security risk).

Aktion 14f13 (1)

HimmlerAktion 14f13 was in many ways similar to Aktion T4 – the Nazi program of involuntary euthanasia of mentally ill, disabled, disfigured and inmates of hospitals and nursing homes deemed incurable by psychiatrists or physicians and thus judged to be unworthy of being members of Nazi society (which was considered a privilege by the Nazis). I will cover this program in appropriate detail in one of the next subsections.

So similar, in fact that I initially decided to include its description into the section on Aktion T4. However, I subsequently changed my mind as the victims of Aktion 14f13 fell into a very specific category – KL inmates. Consequently, I decided cover it in the section on Nazi internment camps.

The name of this mass murder project was reputedly coined by SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and was based on SS record-keeping system, “14” for the Concentration Camps Inspector, “f” for the German word deaths (Todesfälle) and “13” for the means of killing, in this case gassing in the T4 killing centers (Hartheim, Bernburg and Sonnenstein) used by the project.

Aktion 14f13 (also referred to as “invalid euthanasia” or “prisoner euthanasia”) was triggered and driven by the same murderous (and equally deficient) Nazi logic as Aktion T4. By the time it was commenced in April of 1941, the Second Great War was already in full swing.

So not surprisingly, all KL were labor camps (forced labor and hard labor). Hence the camp administration (of any camp) considered valuable (and thus worthy of keeping alive) only those inmates that could work (in other words, were sufficiently productive).

All those who were not, were considered “useless mouths” and thus were condemned to “Sonderbehandlung” (“special treatment”) which was the euphemism for involuntary euthanasia (i.e. death).

This program was longer than Aktion T4 – it was in operation from 1941 to 1944 and later covered other groups of concentration camp prisoners. It was (not surprisingly) initiated by SS-Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler who was ultimately in charge of all KL.

In late March of 1941, impressed by the results achieved by Aktion T4 by that time (he personally witnessed gassing of euthanasia victims in Poland), he approached Reichsleiter Philipp Bouhler, head of the KdF (Hitler Chancellery) and the nominal CEO of Aktion T4 (as I will later prove beyond the reasonable doubt, the actual CEO was Adolf Hitler himself).

In this fateful meeting, SS-Reichsfuhrer asked for Bouhler’s assistance in relieving KL (run by the SS) of “wasteful ballast” – sick prisoners and others no longer able to work and thus create value for the Nazi regime and the war effort.

In reality, “asked” is probably not the right word as by that time Bouhler already had the rank of Obergruppenführer (an equivalent of a three-star general in the SS) and thus was Himmler’s subordinate.

Consequently, it is far more likely that the Reichsfuhrer simply ordered Bouhler to provide the necessary assistance (personnel, tools, technologies, facilities, etc.) to the SS (of which he was a member since 1933).

At the end of 1941 Bouhler will be ordered by Himmler to provide assistance to a far more grandiose project – physical extermination of all Jews in German-controlled territories.

Being an SS-General, Bouhler had no other choice but to obey the order. Which was not a problem for him at all – he deeply and sincerely (and erroneously) believed that to win the existential war, the Third Reich simply had to physically eliminate all “unproductive ballast”.

So he called Viktor Brack, the head of Hauptamt II of the KdF (and the Chief Operating Officer of Aktion T4) and told him to implement Himmler’s order. Brack was also an SS officer (the Oberführer – senior colonel) and also a deep and sincere believer in the vital necessity of eliminating the “ballast”.

So he got to work – right then and there, wasting no time.

KL – the Crimes


Contrary to a very popular misconception, in Nazi Germany interment itself was legal as it was authorized by the infamous “Reichstag Fire Decree” which was issued by German President Paul von Hindenburg February 28th, 1933 – on the next day after the Reichstag Fire and abolished the habeas corpus and thus made it possible for both Kripo and Gestapo to indefinitely keep any individual in custody (i.e. in an internment camp).

After this decree was issued, the detained no longer had the right to report his or her detention to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful. Thus making internment without trial de-facto legal.

However, the treatment of KL inmates was very much illegal, because they were beaten, tortured (physically and emotionally), undernourished (by the end of the war to the point of starvation) and otherwise mistreated. And sometimes even murdered (which in official reports was typically disguised as suicides or accidents)

Worse, just about every KL had a resident killer – typhoid, which in large KL killed thousands (if not tens of thousands) of inmates. Consequently, KL officers were guilty of at least criminally negligent mass manslaughter/homicide.

However, officers in some KL (Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen, Gusen, Flossenbürg, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Groß-Rosen and some others) were guilty of not just manslaughter, but of a very much premeditated mass murder. Capital murder. Murder one. Others were guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, felony murder or accessory to murder.

This mass murder was in many ways similar to Nazi euthanasia campaign (Aktion T4) that I will cover in appropriate detail in one of the next sections. It had a similar name (Action 14f13 which I will cover below) and used a very similar process and the facilities (including gas chambers) in the same killing centers – Bernburg, Sonnenstein and Hartheim.

Another heinous crime was sexual slavery. Women from the Ravensbrück c Auschwitz camps (the KL component of the latter) were forced to work in brothels established by the SS for camp inmates. These institutions were used mostly by camp Kapos (supervisors/administrators), “prisoner functionaries” and (of course) the criminal element.

“All of the above” was illegal because neither Weimar Constitution (in force during all 12 years of the Third Reich) nor any laws passed by Nazi government allowed KL officers to abuse, beat and torture (let alone murder) inmates.

This fact made it possible for the Allies to prosecute, try, and convict dozens male and female KL officers and guards. For example, out of 45 defendants at the Belsen trial 11 were sentenced to death, three were sentenced to 15 years in jail, five to 10 years, three to 1 to 5 years and ten (more than one in five) were acquitted.

KL – Key Misconception


Nowadays, just about everyone associates the ominous (and way too general) term “concentration camp” with the Nazi regime and the Third Reich. Consequently, one of the most popular myths about Nazi Germany is that it had invented the idea of a concentration camp (and the corresponding term).

This is simply not true. Although the Nazis used these facilities on the largest scale (by far) in human history (they had up to 755,000 simultaneous internees in 15,000 concentration camps), it did not invent the idea (or even the term for that matter). And were not the first to use it – again by far.

The term “concentration camp” was coined not by a German, but by a Spanish general and government official – Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, – a Spanish general who served as the Governor General of the Philippines and Cuba. It was in the latter capacity that in 1897 he has established the “re-concentration camps” (as he called them).

General Weyler (of Prussian descent, believe it or not) was appointed Governor General of Cuba for a very specific purpose – to crush the Cuban rebellion (actually, the Cuban War of Independence) that by that time went on and off for thirty years.

Weyler quickly realized that because rebels were (predictably) supported by the local population that had no desire to be part of a Spanish Empire, he had no other choice but to separate the former from the latter thus denying the insurgents access to vital supplies (and the ability to blend in with the civilians).

This “separation” in practical terms meant deportation of all local populations from rebel-infested and subsequent “reconcentration” in “safe havens” (i.e. internment camps) guarded by loyal Spanish troops.

As this “separation” was vehemently opposed (and resisted whenever possible) by Cuban civilians, it was a war crime (crime against humanity), plain and simple. Nevertheless, by the end of 1897, General Weyler relocated over 300,000 locals into areas nearby large cities in Cuba.

Such massive relocation (especially combined with total lack of concern for the welfare of civilians being deported), obviously, resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths (which for all practical purposes was mass murder).

Although initially this deportation (“evacuation”) of local civilians delivered a heavy blow to the rebels, in the end it did not crush the rebellion. First, the Philippines rebelled – which forced Weyler to move his elite troops from Cuba.

Then, Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo was assassinated in June of 1897. Weyler lost his principal supporter in Spain and was replaced in Cuba by the more conciliatory Ramón Blanco y Erenas who promptly ended “separations”.

Which did not help either as in April of 1898 the Spanish-American war broke out. It (quite predictably) resulted in the destruction of Spanish Atlantic and Pacific fleets and in the independence of both Cuba and the Philippines.

General Weyler went on to become the Minister of War in the Spanish government and died peacefully in Madrid on October 20th, 1930 at a ripe old age of ninety-two. He did not see the Nazi reincarnation of his concentration camp idea (but most likely knew about the Soviet one).

Although Valeriano Weyler invented the term “concentration camp”, he was not the first to put the idea in practice. The first concentration camps were established by the United States government in 1830s (a whole hundred years before Dachau) during the genocide (let’s call a spade a spade) of Native Americans in their conquest of the American version of Lebensraum (which in terms of death toll was no better than Nazi Generalplan Ost).

Actually, it was from the Americans that General Weyler learned about the “separation” anti-guerilla strategy (although they did not yet use the term “concentration camp”).

Despite his eventual defeat, Weyler’ “separation” strategy was deemed by the British valuable enough to be extensively used during the Second Boer War in South Africa.

British strategy was far more brutal than the Spanish one as it was combined with the “Scorched earth” policy (which made it an even more monstrous war crime). It included (but was not limited to) systematic destruction of crops, slaughtering of livestock, burning down of homesteads and farms, the poisoning of wells and salting of fields.

It was also far more extensive than the one employed by the Americans in the “Wild West” and by the Spanish in Cuba. For the first time in history of concentration camps, its system of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans covered the whole nation and the first in which some whole regions had been depopulated. Over 26,000 Boer civilians (mostly women and children) died in those camps.

Nazis were not the first German government to establish concentration camps either. Between 1904 and 1907, the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps such as the Shark Island, Swakopmund and Lüderitz Bay camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia).

Initially established as a tool to suppress the Herero-Nama rebellion, these camps subsequently were transformed into slave labor camps where the natives were forced to work for German military and settlers.

The mortality rate in these camps was horrible – over 50% (some say up to 75%) of inmates eventually died. The total number of victims is estimated of about 25,000.

The closest thing to Nazi concentration camp system was (unsurprisingly) set up in the Soviet Russia less than a year after the Bolsheviks came to power. The first such camps were established in May of 1918 and on July 23rd, 1918, Leon Trotsky – a commander-in-chief of Soviet Armed Forces (and a Jew) signed an order that stipulated that these camps will be used

“to isolate and eliminate class-alien, socially dangerous, disruptive, suspicious, and other disloyal elements, whose deeds and thoughts were not contributing to the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat”

Which for all practical purposes meant that these camps were from the very beginning planned as not just internment camps (or even labor camps) but full-fledged death camps – 25 years before Belzec, Treblinka and Sobibor.

By the end of the Civil War in Russia in 1922, there were 315 such camps in existence – already an extensive system. They ultimately became the core of the infamous GULAG where from four to six million inmates perished. Making its death toll almost exactly equal to the one of the Holocaust.

KL – Definition


The generally accepted and widely used term “concentration camp” is actually all but useless for a historian because it tells nothing whatsoever about the functions of this entity.

It simply states that for some reason (unknown from the term proper) someone concentrated (i.e. placed) a certain number or individuals (hundreds? thousands? tens of thousands?) into some kind of a camp (military? prison? labor? tourist?). It also does not tell whether the individuals in question went to the camp voluntarily or at gunpoint (or were coerced in some other way).

Consequently, it does not distinguish between several very different types of camps – labor camps (for voluntary labor, forced labor or both), POW camps where prisoners-of-war are interned for the duration of the latter, death camps used for extermination of a certain category of individuals (i.e. Jews), prison camps (where inmates were sent after they were tried in a court of law, convicted and sentenced to a certain number of years of hard labor), and internment camps.

In this section, I will cover the last category of Nazi camps (which, incidentally, were also forced labor camps in most cases). I will analyze in appropriate detail other types of Nazi camps in sections devoted to the corresponding Nazi crimes.

The term “internment camp” is crystal clear because it states right then and there that (1) individuals are interned – i.e. are placed in the camp against their will and without trial – i.e. without going through the proper legal process, without any legal charges or even the intent to press any charges; and (2) this incarceration facility (let’s be blunt) is modeled after a military camp.

The latter means that the inmates are held not in civilian-style prison buildings, but in military-style barracks (usually) or tents – if the camp in question is a temporary one.

The fundamental difference between a concentration camp and a prison camp is that it is used for preventive detention, not punishment (although both can and are usually used for “re-education” – i.e. brainwashing).

In other words, the inmate of the prison camp is sent there by the verdict issued by a criminal court (i.e. as a punishment for his or her actions that violate the criminal code of the corresponding nation). The inmate in the concentration camp is interned there because he or she is determined a security risk by the security service (e.g. political police or the military) – not by the courts. Both, however, could (and usually were) be established as (slave) labor camps where inmates are forced to work for the corresponding government.

Consequently, the Soviet GULAG (again contrary to a very popular misconception) was a system (vast network, actually) not of concentration camps, but of prison camps as technically inmates were sent there not by the Soviet political police (Cheka, GPU, NKVD or GUGB), but by the courts. Kangaroo courts, that’s for sure, but still formally the courts.

However, in this section and in the remaining chapters of this book, I will use the official Nazi abbreviation KL (from Konzentrationslager) which will be used both in singular and in plural, depending on the context.

Although the official German term is translated into English as “concentration camp”, in this section it will refer to Nazi internment camps (in reality, forced labor camps and forced labor parts of death camps), but not to extermination camps, prison camps or POW camps which will be covered in other sections of this chapter.

Comments to Concentration Camp Charts

The first chart provides a solid support to a statement that Nazis used concentration camps as the tool to “reprogram” political opponents into a loyal supporters of the Nazi regime.

In 1933, political police arrested thousands of political opponents of the Nazis (left-wing, right-wing and centrists) and sent them to concentration camps to be “re-educated” (i.e. transformed into a loyal supporters of the Nazi state).

After spending about three months on average, over 90% of inmates were released as they were no longer considered a threat to the regime. Unfortunately, some of the inmates died (during or after incarceration), committed suicide, were executed or outright murdered by the SS guards. Which, obviously, made the Nazis concentration camp system a very much criminal enterprise.

A 62% increase in the number of concentration camp inmates in 1937 happened most likely to increased persecution of Jews and Catholics (after the famous Mit brennender Sorge – the only papal encyclical published in German – was issued by Pope Pius XI on March 10th, 1937).

A 6.5 times increase means that Nazis did in Austria (after Anschluss), Sudetenland and occupied Czechoslovakia exactly the same thing that they did in Germany five years earlier – rounded up thousands of political opponents (and potential Resistance activists) and sent them to concentration camps. After the majority of them were “re-educated” (or simply neutralized as a threat), the number of inmates predictably dropped 2.5 times. But still remained high due to mass incarceration of the Jews after Kristallnacht and Czech nationals.

The KL/GULAG comparison charts prove beyond the reasonable doubt that before World War II Stalin’s Bolshevist regime in the Soviet Union was far more repressive and murderous that the Nazi one (even when adjusted for the difference in population between Germany and Russia).

Actually, it would be safe to say that prior to the outbreak of the Second World War there was only one mass murderer in Europe – Joseph Stalin. Which makes the decision of His Majesty’s Government to partner with Stalin against Hitler (instead of the other way around) totally and completely bizarre.