Map showing the 3 camps in Auschwitz

UCSB Hist 33d, L3-4:
Concentration Camps,

lectures on Oct. 4 & 6, 2005

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
uploaded Oct. 11, 2005, updated 10/24/05

1. Concentration Camps before 1933
2. Phases and Functions
3. Auschwitz:
History of town and 3 camps
4. Liberation

Introduction (back to top)

The lecture began with a discussion of the nature of the Nazi regime: Was it (to use three different models historians have proposed) "intentionalist," "functionalist," or "structuralist"? In the first, Hitler's will and goals have causal primacy, while in the second relatively spontaneous solutions to problems implemented by opportunistic bureaucrats are primary. In the third, competition between state and Nazi party bureaucracies (and among the members of Hitler's inner circle) plays the crucial role.

The central guiding questions were: How (and why) did the concentration camps develop over time to become murder factories? Intentionalists would argue that Hitler had a plan "from the beginning" (early 1920s, or 1933?). Functionalist historians see a "twisted road" leading to the death factories of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The lecture went on to outline the different functions that the Nazi concentration camp system fulfilled during different (but overlapping) periods.

1. The Idea of Concentration Camps (back to top)

Method of fighting grassroots resistance (popular insurgency supported by civilians)

  • Historically, "concentration camps" were NOT invented by the Nazis, but used in what we now call colonial counterinsurgency wars.
    • "Spanish-American" (US-Cuban) War, 1898: Spanish policy of "reconcentration" of civilians to pacify the countryside
    • Boer War (1899-1902): British repressed Dutch settler (Boer) resistance in South Africa
  • Hitler knew about the South African precedent, and spoke openly about it. Using concentration camps was part of his plan for Germany since the early 1920s:
    • Hitler in a Sept. 20, 1920 speech 'Power or Justice' ("Macht oder Recht") to a gathering of about 2,000 NSDAP followers (20-25% women) in the Munich Kindl-Keller, 8-11pm (Jäckel/Kuhn, 229-233), as reported by police and Reichswehr intelligence, and in the Munich Newest News on Sept. 22:
      "In South Africa, England deported 76,000 Boer women and children to concentration camps, thus forcing the men to return to their homes."
    • On March 13, 1921 Hitler published an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, titled 'Rathenau and Sancho Panza,' in which he demanded a revision of the Versailles Treaty (Jäckel/Kuhn, 341-348). He called for rebellion, sabotage and strikes in all occupied areas. Anyone who betrayed the fatherland to the occupiers should be hanged. The rich and lazy, he continued, should be dealt with first by
      "locking them up in national work service. ... The Jewish undermining of our people should be prevented by, if necessary, keeping their provacateurs secure in concentration camps. In short, our people should be cleansed of all poison from above and below."
      [Verräter an der nationalen Volkssache sind für ein für allemal aufzuhängen. Verräter aber sei uns künftig nicht nur der, der irgend eine Kannone oder Gewehr denunziert, sondern auch der, der in des Volkes tiefster Not in seinen Volksgtenossen immer noch nicht mehr sieht, denn ein Objekt zu seiner Ausbeutung. Man räume unsere feinen Luxusstätten aus und sperre diese ganze faulenzende Drohnen-Gesellschaft als erste in den nationalen Arbeitsdienst. Den Kommissionen stelle man die Pässe zu. Man verhindere die jüdische Unterhöhlung unseres Volkes, wenn notwendig durch die Sicherung iherer Erreger in Konzeentrationslagern. Kurz man reinige unser Volk von all dem Gifte oben und unten. Denn nur mit einem reinen Volk wird man den kommenden schweren Zeiten entgegentreten können und nicht mit einem verlumpten. Denn endlich muss die Parole dieser internationlen Börsen- und Finanzbanditengesellschaft nicht mehr lauten: Unterhandeln um jeden Preis, sondern Widerstand bis zum Äussersten!!"
    • On Sept. 18, 1922 Hitler spoke to a gathering of the NSDAP in the Circus Krone in Munich, which was attended by about 6,000 people. He concluded his speech with a list of 9 demands. These were printed in theVölkischer Beobachter on Sept. 20, and reprinted in Ernst Boepple (ed.), Adolf Hitlers Reden (Munich, 1934), 3rd ed. pp. 36ff. (Jäckel/Kuhn 690-693). First he demanded revenge on the "November crimiinals of 1918," 2. ending national shame by hanging traitors, 3. cleansing the state of rabble, 4. draconian punishment of people charging high interest, 5. education about the peace treaty, 6. no more lying about the bad state of affairs, 7. the assets of "those who don't belong here" [in the 193 publication: "those who aren't of our blood"] should be the basis for a new currency, 8. immediate extradition of all Jews who immigrated after 1914 or who got rich on the stock market, and 9:
      'The desperate shortage of housing must be relieved by vigorous means, by giving apartments to those who deserve them. Eisner said in 1918 that we had no right to demand the return of our prisoners. A people that thinks like that (Eisner only said openly what all Jews were thinking), has to feel how it feels to live in concentration camps! Extremes must be met by extreme measures. We must counter the materialistic pollution, the Jewish plague, by holding up our flaming ideal. And when the others speak about the world and humanity, we say, "The fatherland only!"'
      • Eisner was the socialist newspaper editor who headed the revolutionary government of Bavaria from Nov. 7, 1918 until he was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1919. Note how Hitler shrinks morality to 'Germans only--forget about the rest of society and the world.'

Pre-1933 Nazi Plans

  • Nov. 1923 Nazi takeover plan: "The regional administrators will immediately take measures to purge and unburden the cities and resort towns, in particular they will remove all security risks and useless eaters. These people are, if necessary, to be put into collection camps, and if possible to be put to work on communal projects. Whoever resists or attempts to resist the transfer will be punished by death."
  • August 1932 Völkischer Beobachter (National Observer): When we are in power, the new National Socialist government will "immediately arrest and condemn all Communist and Social Democratic functionaries [and] quarter all suspects and intellectual instigators in concentration camps."
  • These quotations can be found in the published version of Johannes Tuchel's dissertation: Konzentrationslager: Organisationsgeschichte und Funktion der "Inspektion der Konzentrationslager," 1934-1938 (Boppard: Boldt, 1991), pp. 36ff; I quote and translate them in my book Legacies of Dachau (2001), p. 19.

Primary function: "Pacification" of populace. Camps are still used for that purpose today, as the cartoon below shows.

Examples of the various types of concentration camps based on the map below:map of main Nazi concentration camps in Europe

2. Functions and Phases (back to top)

Overviewmap of concentration and extermination camps

  1. Function 1: pacification of populace (intimidation, isolation, 'neutralization')
    • 1923-1932 announced;
    • 1933-34 Germany
    • 1938 Austria;
    • 1939 Poland;
    • 1940 France, Netherlands
  2. Function 2: "cleanse" society
    • 1935: "asocial action"
    • 1938: Kristallnacht
    • 1941: mass murder
    • Jan 42: Wannsee Conference; at some point after that stationary extermination centers (not camps) are set up by Germans in occupied Poland
  3. Function 3: economic production
    • 1938: camps near quarries (building materials for Hitler's grand cities)
    • 1943-45: subcamp/branch camp system

Function 1

  • "Pacification" of populace: physical removal, isolation, psychological intimidation
  • March-Apr. 1933: 25,000 potential opponents in "protective custody" in 50 camps (run by SA & police)
  • 1935: Himmler persuades Hitler not to dissolve camps; SS takes over all camps
  • 1936: Sachsenhausen built
  • 1937 Buchenwald built & Dachau rebuilt; 8,000 total inmates in all camps
  • 1938: new camps set up near quarries: Flossenbürg (near Nuremberg in Bavaria), Mauthausen (near Hitler's home, Linz, in Austria), Neuengamme (near the north German port city Hamburg; near clay for a brick factory, not a quarry)
  • Dec. 1938: 33,000 total inmates, including 25,000 Jews (mostly arrested in the week after Nov. 10, Kristallnacht)

Functions 2a, b

  • 2a. "Social/Ethnic cleansing" (as isolation from the general populace)
    unemployed, homeless, prostitutes, homosexuals, "lesser" & "non-" humans
    (next week we'll talk about the: so-called euthanasia program (murder of the disabled)
  • 2b. "Ethnic cleansing" (as extermination of the unwanted people)
    • poison gas (cyclon/cyanide, not diesel exhaust) test in Auschwitz, September 1941
    • "Operation Reinhard" (July 1942-Nov. 1943)[named after SD-chief Reinhard Heydrich, the guy who called the Jan. 1942 Wannsee conference, who was assassinated in June '42]
    • main centers [not really "camps"]: (Chelmno--castle used for loading gas trucks), Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka (see textbook glossary for more details)

Function 3: Economic

  • Economic: "Extermination through work"
  • transition 1943: outsourcing of labor; system of branch or subcamps
  • August 1944: 20 main camps w/ 165 subcamps 524,286 inmates
  • December 1944: 500 subcamps 714,000 inmates, 40,000 guards

The map below shows how the camp system metastasized like cancer, with subcamps everywhere.

Map of main concentration camps and branch camps, 1939-1945

3. Auschwitz (back to top)

  • Why was the largest Nazi concentration camp located near this Polish town?
    • best source: Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, Auschwitz, 1270-Present(New York: Norton, 1996)
    • The class viewed the 1995 Nova film Nazi Designers of Death (50 mins.), featuring van Pelt and historian Gerald Fleming, as well (PBS page; no longer available commercially)
  • "Auschwitz" was a town and three differentMap showing Auschwitz i,ii,iii types of camps
    • Auschwitz I, main camp: June 1940-Jan. 1945
      March 1942: women's camp with 6,000 inmates; in August moved to Birkenau
    • Auschwitz II, Birkenau: construction begins Oct. 1941; conversion of morgues to gas chambers in fall 1942; crematoria operational in March 1943.
    • Auschwitz III, Monowitz: a huge labor camp for the I.G. Farben's Buna chemical works (opened in May 1942)
    • The relative sizes of the three camps (order of magnitude figures for winter 1943/44):
      • I:    18,000 inmates
      • II:   50,000 inmates (in late 1944: 90,000)
      • III: 13,000 inmates
      • 51 Auschwitz branch camps: 50,000 inmates
      • by way of comparison, Dachau and other camps in Germany were designed for about 10,000 inmates (although they often held far more: Dachau had 31,432 survivors in the main camp at liberation [2,259 of them were Jews])
    • The Washington, DC, US Holocaust Museum's Auschwitz pages offer an excellent summary, bibliography and links.
  • Auschwitz dates
    • town founded 1270 by Germans
    • 1772 Austrian
    • 1890s: transit point migrant labor for industrializing west (located at border between Austria/Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany
    • 1914: 27 brick barracks for 3000 soldiers, 90 wood barracks for 9000 more
    • 1919 (Versailles treaty): became Polish, used for refugees
    • 1939, Sept.: region conquered by Germany
    • 1940, May 1: Rudolf Höss, who had been trained as a camp administrator in Dachau and then become commandant of Sachsenhaus, arrived with 30 prisoners from Sachsenhausen to set up a new camp
    • 1940, June 14: 728 Poles were imprisoned
      A crematorium for the "natural" deaths in the camp was built. It had 2 "muffles" and could burn 70 corpses in 24 hours. (Corpses were kept in a morgue until there were enough of them to make it worthwhile firing up the ovens. They were then burned all at once.)
    • 1941, March: Himmler visits camp, and plans are made for a new camp at nearby Birkenau. Maus v2, p70: gas chamberIt will house laborers who will drain the swamps and make farmsteads for ethnic German settlers from areas farther east. Crematoria with morgues are included to dispose of corpses that accumulate from "natural" attrition.
    • 1941, June 22: Germans attack their ally, the Soviet Union, in "Operation Barbarossa;" (expected Soviet prisoners of war [POWs] will make up Birkenau's labor force)
    • When the design capacity is increased from 100,000 to 125,000, the architect merely raised the capacity of each barrack from 500 to 744 per barrack (which are actually portable horse stables). With that many people inside, each person would have about 3' by 3' by 6' of personal space, the size of a coffin.
    • 1941, Sept. or Oct.: test gassing with Prussic acid; crematoria with 6 muffles for 400 corpses/day are designed.
    • For more dates and information, see the CBC's Auschwitz timeline; also the BBC's Auschwitz timeline (has links to informative program summaries and biographies)

4. Liberation (back to top)

One might speak May 1945 poster showing scenes from liberatied campsof a "fourth phase" of the camps: the chaos of evacuation that preceded their liberation. To keep the horrifically mistreated inmates from falling into the hands of the advancing Allied armies, Germans marched and transported on trains huge numbers of inmates into camps close to the interior of the Reich.

Maidanek in eastern Poland was liberated by the Soviet army in July 1944; Natzweiler in France near Strassburg in August 1944 by the US Army; Auschwitz by the Soviet Army on Jan. 27, 1945. The horrific conditions were not yet publicized, however. Not until the liberation of Buchenwald (April 15) did the Western allies mount a huge press campaign. The images that met the liberators' eyes quickly became what the world knew about the camps.

This poster, titled "These deeds of shame--Your fault" was displayed widely in Germany in May 1945.


prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Oct. 12, 2005, updated: see header
back to top, Hist 33d homepage