EXTERMINATION CAMPS / CONCENTRATION CAMPS

During the 1930s in Germany, the Nazi regime rose to power and the whole of Europe suddenly changed. Jews suddenly lost their rights and started to be discriminated against and excluded from society. The Nazis wanted to segregate them under the Aryan race supremacy theory by which they considered Jews the lowest rung of the human species. On the basis of this ideology they created first the concentration camps and later the extermination camps.

First came the concentration camps, which before the war were set up only in Germany but over time spread to all European lands occupied by the Nazis. The camps were strategically located to bring people in by rail. Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents and the handicapped were sent to these places.

As soon as they arrived, they we stripped of their clothes and possessions, they were given a uniform and their heads were shaved. In several camps they were branded with numbers for identification. This was part of the Nazi strategy, which aimed to destroy them psychologically by stripping them of their identity. The camp commandants then assessed them according to age, gender, physical condition and on this basis decided what work each prisoner would be assigned. If they were not suitable for any job they were generally killed on the spot.

Prisoners in these camps lived in very bad conditions, as they could easily catch typhoid (and die), slept in wooden bunks, were given extremely poor food and were worked to exhaustion.

The extermination camps were set up from 1941 on, during the Second World War. The first, called Dachau, was set up on the outskirts of Munich. There were 71 concentration/extermination camps in total, the biggest of them being: Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka and Chelmo . The objective for the construction of these camps was mass extermination and thousands of Jews and hundreds of thousands of gypsies, dissidents, homosexuals and handicapped people died in them.

In May 1941, a small Nazi party committee decided to use gas chambers to deal with what they called the "Jewish problem".

The gas chambers were underground enclosures or barracks generally disguised as communal showers. They were completely isolated and had a system that introduced carbon monoxide or other lethal gases like zyklón B into the chamber. The capacity of these installations varied between 1000 and 2500 prisoners.

The first victims entered the gas chambers in the last week of June 1942. Sometimes busses were used that travelled short distances, buses whose exhaust fumes were sent back to the passenger compartment, where the passengers died from inhaling the carbon monoxide from the engine. The bus windows were painted with pictures of people and the inside could not be seen from outside.

The procedure could eliminate between 5,000 and 10,000 prisoners a day. The frequency of use depended on the output of the crematorium and of the neighbouring foundry-type furnaces.

When prisoners died in the gas chambers, they were taken to the crematorium by other prisoners in order not to bring attention to the murder being committed.

Today, what remains of some of these camps like Auschwitz and Majdanek are museums open to the public, which illustrate the barbarity of the Nazis and its consequences.


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