Nazi Labor camps

Call #: D804.3 .094 2010
Location: Knight Library Knight Available
Pages: 354-377
Journal Title: The Oxford handbook of Holocaust
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IN December '999. Germany decided to compensate former forced laborers of
World War II. and Austria followed suit two months later. Only in the ensuing
months did the scale of their undertaking become clear. Whereas the approximate
number of forced laborers within Nazi Germany from 1933 to '945, including
Austria after March 1938, could be pegged at 12 million with the help of detailed
contemporary labor records produced by the German labor and armaments
administrations, a reliable tally of laborers forced to work for the German occupation forces in other countries was quite another matter. In eastern Europe alone)
the number exceeded 20 million, according to rough estimates (Spoerer and
Fleischhacker 2002), but comprehensive figures were impossible to assemble.
How many of these millions of forced laborers were Jews (or defined as such by
the Germans) proved even more difficult to establish. Most of them were deployed
in mid-eastern and eastern Europe under circumstances
that did not favor statis-
tical record keeping. Many of the former laborers could not recall the particulars of
their exploitation, since it was for them an episode overshadowed by other and
more striking Holocaust memories. And the gradual recognition by researchers
that earlier estimates of the number of possible Jewish Holocaust survivors were
too low actually exerted an inhibiting effect on tabulation, since correcting these
totals ran the risk of feeding deniers' claims that the number of Holocaust victims
previously had been exaggerated.
These relatively recent quantitative realizations reflect the circumstance that for
many years few historians of the Holocaust paid attention to the use of lews as forced
workers before their deaths or the fact that some of them survived precisely because of
that role. These topics gained relevance only as academic interpretations of the origins
of the Holocaust shifted from an exclusive focus on its ideological and "irrational"
causes and began making allowance for the possibility that the attack on the Jews had
"rational" drivers as well, that is, that it also was engineered to serve other ends. Since
then, Jewish forced labor and concentration camp labor in general have been discussed under two overarching headings with somewhat different implications: "destruction through work" and "slave labor." Historians have debated whether Nazi
perpetrators created compulsory labor for Jews merely as a means of annihilationwhile extracting a last, welcome round of work along the way--{)r whether Jews at
some point experienced a paradigm shift that, however briefly, elevated them to a
factor of production that might be profitably exploited. Only in the latter case would
calling them "slave workers" be appropriate, for slaveholders, in antiquity as well as in
antebellum America, always had an economic interest in the manpower of the slaves
and thus usually in their lives as well.
Broadly speaking, the academic literature dealing with Jewish forced labor
developed in two stages. The first concerned forced labor in concentration
camps, where Jewish inmates were usually a small minority, and initially concentrated on production facilities run by the 55 before broadening to encompass sites
that were guarded but not run by the 55. Well-balanced syntheses of this sort have
been published by Karin Orth (1999) and Michael Allen (2002). In the second stage,
beginning in the 1990S, an increasing number of authors researched Jewish forced
labor camps in the General Government (roughly equivalent to the central part of
occupied Poland) and the Reichskommissariat Ostland (roughly equivalent to the
Baltic states) (Sandkuhler and Pohl in Herbert et al. 1998), and made Jewish forced
labor an important subject in more general case studies on the German occupation
regime in eastern Europe (Browning 2000). At present, the most comprehensive
and authoritative history of Iewish forced labor is that of Wolf Gruner (2006).
In the course of the Nazi persecution, the exploitation of Jewish labor took four
successive, but overlapping forms. Jews were employed (1) as forced civilian workers, (2) as ghetto workers, (3) as Jewish labor camp inmates, and (4) as concentration camp inmates.
The origins of forced labor in Nazi Germany date from 1938 when German
workers were forced to erect the Westwall along the nation's western border and
Austrian workers were sent to armaments factories in central Germany against their
will. As the Jews were systematically driven out of the German economy in the
same year, many became jobless and dependent on public welfare. Nazi zealots
insisted that if the state was going to coerce full-scale Volksgenossen to work against
their will, then Jews, who were officially regarded as "subjects," not citizens, in
Germany, should also perform forced labor. Despite this economic rationale, when
jewish forced labor began in the fall of 1938, the main motive was humiliation.
Typical tasks were snow removal, street and park cleaning, and other forms of
menial work. Starting in '940, exploitation became more systematic, and the labor
offices sent jews to manufacturing firms, especially in the electrotechnical industry
in Berlin, which employed a large share of the altogether approximately 52,000
German Jews engaged in forced labor in july 1941. Since these Jews were still
German subjects who had been coerced into formal labor contracts, they may be
classified as forced civilian workers.
When these Jewish laborers were deported to eastern Europe between fall 1941
and '943, most of them ended up in ghettos, where they and other residents were
assigned to workshops or sent on to labor camps outside. Often these workshops
had been owned by Jewish proprietors and taken over by German firms that sought
to employ cheap jewish labor. Usually these firms were in the textiles and leather
business or other light industries. The ghettos were dissolved between 1941 and
1944, and their inhabitants were either transferred to extermination
camps or to
Jewish forced labor camps where the inmates worked on road and water construction, forestry, and shop floors. In 1943 and '944, most Jewish forced labor camps
were dissolved and the surviving inmates transferred to extermination or concentration camps. In the latter they were grouped together with non-Jewish inmates
and, from spring 1944 on, with Hungarian jews, who became caught up in the
Holocaust precisely when the German war economy was most short oflabor. The
Hungarian Jews were sent to Auschwitz, which served both as extermination camp
and as a labor source for mining and manufacturing firms of the area. As these
workplaces were usually far away from the concentration camps, satellite camps
(Aussenlager) arose that in turn sent the concentration camp inmates (Arbeitskommandos) in labor gangs to the firms. Hence, when jewish forced laborers were
liberated) they were either in the status of concentration
camp inmates or inmates
of the few remaining Jewish forced labor camps, most of which were within the
borders of Germany as of March 1938.
Another way to depict the history of Jewish forced labor is to look at the most
meaningful variable for the victims: the probability of surviving. From this perspective, the four vital determinants were timing, place, occupation, and gender.
With respect to timing, at the risk of some oversimplification, one can discern three
phases of Jewish forced labor. The first started in late 1938 when German and
Austrian Jews were registered and compelled to work in infrastructure and armaments firms. Even though many of these people had been driven out of their
dwellings and into crowded "Jew houses," the prevailing conditions still allowed
them to survive. Because they usually worked among non-Jewish Germans, and the
regime dared not risk provoking a political backlash, they could not be treated with
the same degree of cruelty as ghetto inhabitants and camp inmates later were. This
inhibition provided a bit of protection not only to German and Austrian jewish
forced civilian workers but also to those in countries where the German occupants
did not want to alienate the population, i.e., in the occupied areas outside Poland,
the Soviet Union, and the Balkans. Czech jews, for example, experienced comparatively moderate measures of the German occupation regime as long as they
remained in the Protectorate, and the jews in occupied Tunisia were treated
similarly. From 1938to summer '94', when the transition to the systematic murder
of Jews had not yet taken place, the persecutors were more interested in humiliation and exploitation than in killing.
The second phase began during the summer and autumn of 1941with the onset
of deportations of jews from Germany and Austria and the emergence of a
program of systematic mass murder. Although the killing frequently was indiscriminate, jews judged able to work usually could survive longer than others.
Conversely, even those jews who had been used for productive purposes at the
Siemens plants in Berlin or armaments factories in occupied Poland ultimately
were deported to extermination camps or murdered on the spot. In this phase the
fate of the Jewish forced laborers was foreseeable to the persons in charge. Hence
they no longer cared about living and working conditions, which soon deteriorated. Even privately owned firms deliberately subjected jewish workers to lethal
conditions, with IG Farben and especially the less well known HASAG (Hugo
Schneider AG) munitions firm being forerunners.
lG Farben came into being when a number of large chemical firms merged in
'925. It was one of the world's leading corporations and Germany's largest industrial enterprise in the early 1940S.When the firm sought a site for a new plant to
produce synthetic rubber and synthetic oil, it opted for the vicinity of Auschwitz,
which offered an excellent railway infrastructure and other natural advantages and
where the SS had erected a concentration camp. The Auschwitz camp soon
provided the Farben plant with fresh irunate labor. At the beginning, IG officials
protested against the poor health status of the inmates but soon a process of
habituation set in. In mid-1942 the Auschwitz camp erected a satellite camp in
Monowitz next to the factory premises. Altogether IG Farben used about 35,000
inmates to construct its new factory, of whom some 231000 died in the process.
Counted together, all IG Farben plants employed at least 52,000 concentration
camp inmates, several thousand of them jewish (Hayes 1987:343,359)·
The much smaller HASAG group with headquarters in Leipzig (Saxony) ran a
number of plants in the Radom district of occupied Poland, where the workforce
consisted mainly of jews after the dissolution of most of the ghettos in the summer
of 1942. Upon arrival at the plants, these jews were plundered, and those unfit to
work, such as pregnant women and the sick, were murdered by the factory guards.
In the notorious Skarzisko-Kamienna plant, the weakest persons were made to
work with highly toxic acids without protective equipment or clothing; their skin
and hair became greenish-yellow. Within three months at the most, they died from
emaciation or were murdered. The HA5AG plants in Poland employed about
40,000 Jewish men and women, of whom at least 20,000 were worked to death
or killed (Karay 1996).
In fall 1943, following a revolt in the Sobibor extermination camp, Heinrich
Himmler (1900-1945) ordered the massacre of the remaining Jewish laborers in the
Lublin district, who were mostly concentrated in the camps of Poniatowa, Trawniki,
and Majdanek. The campaign, cynically called Operation Harvest Festival (Erntefest),
resulted in the murder of 42,000-43,000 Jewish forced laborers in the first days of
November 1943 and had very few survivors. However, this initiative was not the end of
Jewish forced labor, even in Poland, since labor matters were not the exclusiveprovince
of the 55. Between 1939 and 1945 at least 1,300 Jewish forced labor camps in the Greater
German Reich and the occupied Polish territories were outside the concentration
camp system and maintained by a number of companies and institutions of which
regional 55 offices were just a part (PoW in Herbert et al. 1998; Gruner 2006).
The third phase commenced in spring 1944 with the launching of the JiigerstabProgramm, a desperate effort to break allied air superiority by producing more and
better fighter aircraft, mainly in subterranean plants. This new program intensified
the use of concentration camp labor obtained from the last untapped labor reserve
available to the Nazi regime, the Hungarian Jews. After a period of exploitation by
the Hungarian labor system, the Hungarian Jews came within reach of the 55
precisely at a moment when the urgent need for workers in the German armaments
industry partially trumped the ideological aim to murder the Jews immediately.
Thus, when the 435,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz after May 1944
under the direction of Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) were subjected to "selection" at
the notorious ramp, those designated as fit to work, among them many girls and
women, were sent to construction sites and manufacturing firms. The Jiigerstab
program was lethal and consumed at least ten thousand lives. For a portion of the
Hungarian Jews, however, it offered a chance to survive. In the end, a high
proportion of Holocaust survivors held Hungarian citizenship.
ln addition to timing, the place of exploitation made a difference to Jews'
survival prospects. Although reliable information is sparse, it suggests that Jews
who worked in or close to their hometowns and lived in houses or flats in
Germany, Austria, or the Protectorate did not experience greatly increased mortality in 1938-1941. To be sure, the suicide rate rose as a result of often humiliating
living conditions, but probably not as a direct consequence of forced labor per se.
However, the distinction between the workplace and the home as a place of respite
was erased for Jewish forced laborers in ghettos, labor camps, and concentration
camps. Here they faced poverty, malnutrition, confinement, cold, contagious
diseases, and a high incidence of crime. In consequence, mortality increased
enormously and independently of harassment and murder by guards. Moreover,
generally speaking, perpetrators acted more relentlessly and brutally the further
away from Germany and the more eastwards they were. Even jews within Germany
in 1940-41 experienced conditions that were relatively benign compared to what
awaited them after deportation. The occupation regime in the annexed and
occupied parts of Poland was much harsher. In the so-called Warthegall, as well
as in and around East Upper Silesia, many jews were driven into ghettos or forced
labor camps, where the mortality rates were high even before the systematic
murder of the jews started.
In the occupied parts of the Soviet Union jews also faced very harsh working and
living conditions. Many were employed in road construction that, as Eichmann
indicated at the Warmsee Conference (January 1942), was intended to achieve
"destruction through work": "In pursuance of the final solution, the jews will be
conscripted for labour in the east under appropriate supervision. Large labour
gangs will be formed from those fit for work, with the sexes separated, which will be
sent to these areas for road construction and undoubtedly a large number of them
will drop out through natural wastage" (Noakes and Pridham 2001: 538).
The German authorities had used road construction work to humiliate German
and Austrian Jews as early as 1938. Beginning in late 1939, this way of exploiting the
jewish workforce was continued in Poland, where thousands of Polish jews were
employed to improve the transport infrastructure in preparation for the invasion of
the USSR. This form of exhausting forced labor was extended to Galicia in summer
1941 and to Ukraine in early 1942. One of the most important routes developed was a
transit road from Lviv to the Donezk basin, which ultimately was to be extended to
the Caucasus (Durchgangsstrafte IV). For this project alone, the German authorities
employed 50,000 Ukrainian civil workers, 50,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000
jewish forced workers who were brought in mainly from Galicia and Transnistria
because most Ukrainian jews already had been killed. Relative to the physical difficulty of the work, the food rations were lethally low. Moreover, if guards believed a jew
no longer fit to work, they could shoot him on the spot. Very few jews survived.
The third variable with a decisive impact on survival chances was occupation. In
general, the less exposed forced laborers were to the caprices of the weather, the
higher the probability of survival. In other words, construction work was more
fatal than assembly-line labor in most instances. In addition, semi-skilled or skilled
work abilities made some forced laborers less easily replaceable than others. In such
cases, the employer had an economic interest in not losing a valuable worker and
thus was more likely to resist harsh measures that endangered labor productivity.
Finally, gender mattered to whether one lived or died. That female inmates were
rarely employed on construction sites considerably enhanced their probability of
surviving. Numerous accounts of female survivors also indicate that the foremen
and guards usually treated female inmates better than males. Sometimes senior
managers even behaved almost chivalrously toward female inmates (Hayes 2004:
Economic motives clearly played a more important role in determining the fates of
forced laborers than the early historiography of the Holocaust suggested. The Nazi
economy was short oflabor as early as 1936,and in some skilled professions as early
as 1934,and conscription aggravated this situation. Thus, from the perspective of
labor policy, the eviction of the Jews, the decision to transfer them to eastern
Europe, and especially their murder were completely counterproductive. Nonetheless, many institutions remained able, at least temporarily, to obtain Jewish
laborers. Since most of these entities,
such as the waterways administration)
suffered from the prevailing labor shortage, they were eager to fill their workforces
with Jews who were deprived of all rights and deployable without any regard to
safety. Other institutions acted like slave traders, for example the Organisation
Schmelt, which in 1942was able to divert Jews from the deportations to Auschwitz
and lease them to local employers in Upper Silesia. Until 1942concentration camp
commanders were likewise in a position to lease inmates to nearby employers) even
to peasants (TucheI1994: 135).Given the character of most camp commanders and
the competition among employers for scarce labor, bribery may have played an
important role in the allocation of such forced laborers.
For the employers, the Jews were a welcome relief from the constant labor
shortage. Whether they were cheaper or costlier than German labor was beside
the point. Indeed, concentration
camp inmates were less expensive on an hourly
basis than civilian workers would have been, but because their productivity was
much lower as well, the financial balance sheet of using them was mixed. Employing skilled, semi-skilled, and female inmates was on average more profitable than
employing civilian workers, but most unskilled male inmates were so unproductive
that, despite the low rental fee that the employer had to pay to the 55, civilian
workers would have generated higher returns. The important point, however, is
that the standard of comparison at the time was not civilian workers, but no
workers, since unforced ones were no longer available. Using more expensive
workers was usually better than having no workers at all, especially since the
employers were allowed to account for the low labor productivity when they billed
the Reich for the goods produced (Spoerer 1999: 65-73).
An indicator of the profitability of forced labor is that the employers actively
competed for foreign workers, prisoners of war, concentration
camp inmates, and
"work Jews." Admittedly, from 1943onwards any firm that refused forced laborers
risked difficulties with the bureaucracy and the security organs. Failing to man
costly machinery would not have been tolerated. Indeed, to date no single medium
or large-sized German manufacturing firm that did not employ civilian forced
laborers or prisoners of war has been identified. In contrast, firms were usually in
the position to avoid the use of concentration camp labor, if they wished so. Several
cases are documented in which private enterprises declined to employ concentration camp inmates and went unharmed.
However, most firms were eager to
compete intensely for such laborers. To date only a single case has been well
documented in which a firm, the Dragerwerke in Lubeck, actually was forced to
employ concentration camp inmates (Lorentz 2001: 323-35). One can infer that this
finding for concentration camp inmates also holds for those of Iewish forced labor
In exceptional instances, Germans employing Jews went to great lengths to save
them. The most famous case is that of Oskar Schindler (1908-1974), which even
became the subject of a successful Hollywood film. Berthold Beitz (b. 1913), a young
and aspiring German engineer who ran a large refinery in the Bukowina during the
war, also saved many Jews from the gas chambers for as long as that lay within his
power (Sandkuhler 1996). Several other cases are known as well. But the overwhelming majority of employers actively took part in exploiting Jewish labor.
When the managers of the IG Farben installations at Auschwitz claimed during
the Nuremberg trials that working for them had spared the Jews the fate of being
gassed in Auschwitz, this defensive maneuver was belied by the murderous working
conditions at Farben's factory and mines near the camp.
Although some managers may have felt compelled to employ forced labor,
whether Jewish or not, especially when other sources of labor were exhausted,
the treatment of forced laborers reveals considerable variation and room for
To forced laborers, food, housing,
gear, and
access to air raid shelters and medical care were the most important issues. In a
war economy that rationed every important consumer good according to official
guidelines that overtly discriminated against Jews, alleviating their fate was not
easy. Nevertheless, some firms managed to plant vegetable gardens that added
valuable vitamins to the meager daily diet. Others, in contrast, did not even take
steps against the endemic corruption among the camp staff, which diverted and
sold food intended for the inmate laborers. Similarly, some firms, engineers, and
foremen paid attention to work safety, while many others did not and accepted a
high incidence of work accidents. In general, the attitude of most German superiors to the welfare of forced laborers was indifference. The employers cared chiefly
about keeping the war machinery running.
In this connection, one should recall that forced labor was not used only in
production. Toward the end of the war, when the Allied intention to partition
Germany became known to German industrialists, they started to relocate their
valuable machinery westwards in an extraordinarily demanding effort that cost the
lives of thousands of concentration camp inmates. Hence in the final episode of
forced labor, human beings were sacrificed to preserve expensive capital investments (Spoerer 200l: 240-1).
Clearly, Nazism exploited the labor supply in regions under the Third Reich's
control in anything but an economically optimal or even rational way. This
evaluation holds in particular for the treatment of Jewish labor. The idea that the
whole exploitation program cost more than it earned (Mommsen in Chickering
et aJ. 2005: 177-86). however, is far off the mark. Without the initially voluntary and
soon enforced help of millions of foreign workers, the Nazi economy never would
have attained the peak production levels of summer 1944 (Herbert 1997). Moreover,
after the currency reform of '948, when German firms prospered during what
became known as the "economic miracle;' they relied on plants and machinery that
often had been built by millions of forced laborers, among them several hundred
thousand Jews, most of whom did not survive the war.
While "destruction through work" is not an appropriate term to describe the
German forced labor system or even the concentration camp system as a whole, it
certainly applies to the Jewish forced laborers after 1941 at the latest. Once the
decision to murder the whole of European Jewry was made in late summer '94',
forced labor was meant to be only transitory. In this sense, politics took priority
over all economic concerns. Therefore, Jewish forced laborers may be characterized
as "slave laborers" only during the period preceding summer 1941 and intermittently thereafter. Benjamin Ferencz (b. 1920), Chief Prosecutor for the United States
in the Einsatzgruppen Case at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946-47, coined a much
more appropriate term to describe Jewish forced laborers at other times: they were,
he said, "less than slaves" (Ferencz 2002).
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GRUNER, W. (2006). Jewish Forced Labor Under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims,
1938-1944. New York: Cambridge University Press.
HAYES, P. (1987). Industry and Ideology: IG Farben ill the Nazi Era. New York:Cambridge
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DURINGthe first year of their regime, the National Socialists rounded up thousands
of perceived political opponents and consigned them to "protective custody" at
a number of new incarceration sites. The wave of unfettered violence marked a
fundamental break with the Weimar Republic, but not necessarily the first step in a
plan to establish a comprehensive system of terror and extermination. The early
Nazi camps of 1933~34 were heterogeneous, improvised, and fundamentally different from those established after 1936. The profound differences in institutional
support, organizational
structures, persecution
methods, groups targeted, prison
conditions, and number of the victims before and after 1936 suggest that, strictly
speaking, the true Nazi "concentration camp" system came into existence only in
that year. By 1945, that system encompassed twenty-three major camps plus some
nine hundred satellite installations (Megargee 2009).
Heinrich Hirnrnler's (1900-1945) appointment in April 1934 as head of the
Prussian Secret State Police Office (Gestapa) and the murder of Ernst Rohrn
(1887-1934) and the SA leadership in June laid the basis for the ultimate transformation. With these events, the Bavarian group of the SS leadership under Himmler
and Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942) prevailed over the SA, the newly appointed
regional governors (Reichstaathalter), and Nazi Party provincial chiefs (Gauleiter)
and set the stage for Hirnrnler's unification of the political police forces throughout
the Reich and subsequent unification of the existing camps and prisons. In July
'934, he named Theodor Eicke (1892-1943), the commandant of the earliest SS
camp at Dachau, Inspector of Concentration Camps and instructed him either to
dissolve the other existing camps or to restructure them according to the Dachau
model. He also established a subordinate, initially small administrative office, the
CAM ps
Inspectorate of Concentration Camps (IKL), which developed into the central
administrative body for the entire camp system. In time, the IKL regulated all
matters related to the life or death of camp inmates with the exceptions of the
admission and release of prisoners, which remained the province of the Political
police. While Eicke closed some camps and reorganized others, the number of
prisoners sank to only 3,000 (compared to 45,000 in the first months of Nazi rule),
and thought was given to dissolving the whole camp system and handing over the
remaining subjects of "protective custody" to the judicial authorities for transfer to
normal prisons. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) decided, however, in 1935 to bring the
camps within the state budget, to leave them and the prisoners under the authority
of the SS, to turn the guard force into a military organization, and to keep the
resulting organizations strictly separate from the judicial system (Tuchel 1991:
307-15; Herbert 1996: 168-70).
The consolidation process came to an end in the summer of 1936 with the
appointment of Himmler as Chief of the German Police and the subordination of
the Political Police and the Criminal Police (Kripo) to the Security Police (Sipo).
Himmler, with the express support of Hitler, once again prevailed over the regional
governors, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of lustice and thus put an
end to the influence of traditional administrative agencies over the camps. Within a
year, Himmler had dissolved all the existing sites with the exception of Dachau or
handed them over to other institutions, such as the Gestapo or the judicial authorities. In their place appeared a new type of National Socialist concentration camp.
Dachau was significantly enlarged between 1936 and the beginning of the war,
and five new lKL camps were established-Sachsenhausen,
Buchenwald, Flossenburg, Mauthausen, and Ravensbruck-s-all structured according to the Dachau
model. Each installation subjected prisoners to the same "camp order:' which
systematized terror by standardizing it. The sharp growth in the camps' populations, especially in 1937-38, was closely connected with preparations for war as the
regime felt less need to concentrate on political opponents and focused on groups
deemed threatening to the Volk in socio-biological or racial ways. Criminals, the
"work-shy:' and "asocials" were favored targets initially (AyaB 1995). The pogrom
of November 1938, which was intended to increase pressure on Jews to emigrate
from Germany, swept up some 30,000 Jews into concentration camps for six to
eight weeks of barbarous treatment, from which the price of escape was usually
the surrender of one's property. At the same time, the ways in which the
SS exploited prisoners changed. Rather than continuing to apply the inmates'
energies to camp improvements or pointless exercise, as in previous years, the SS
began using the prisoners for money-making purposes, such as brick- and furniture-making and stone-quarrying, under the direction of Oswald Pohl (1892-1951),
the organization's
head. Thus a "preventative measure to protect
the racial community" dovetailed with the SS's appetite for forced labor (Broszat in
Buchheim et al. 1982: 77).
The transfer of a comprehensive socio-biological and racial concept into the
practice of the persecuting authorities proved to be a pivotal moment. Henceforth,
the camp system persecuted both political and "racial" opponents. As the camps
were transformed into sites of racial prophylaxis, the composition of the inmate
population fundamentally changed.
The concentration camp system expanded anew once World War II began. During
the first half of the war, the lKL opened five new concentration camps-Auschwitz,
Neuengarnme, Natzweiler, GroB-Rosen, and Majdanek-as
well as two small
camps at Niedernhagen near Paderborn and Hinzert in the Hunsruck that had
special assignments. In less than three years the number of prisoners nearly
quadrupled: from around 21,000 in August 1939 to an estimated 70,000-80,000
in the spring of 1942 (Kaienburg '990: 229). The first numerical surge was the
result of round-ups of actual or potential National Socialist opponents following
the outbreak of the war. Included were people who had been in prison but
subsequently set free, such as members of the labor movement or Jews who had
not managed to emigrate after their release from concentration camps in 1938-39,
as well as clerics and anyone else suspected of causing "unrest" in the population.
The significant increase in prisoner numbers was, however, first and foremost the
consequence of mass arrests in countries conquered by the Wehrmacht.
The incarcerations in western Europe were directed primarily against resistance
groups and saboteurs; in eastern Europe the round-ups also were designed to
support the implementation of Nazi population policy as well as the recruitment
of labor. From 1940 on, non-Germans, especially Poles, constituted a significant
percentage of the prisoners; in some concentration camps they composed the
majority during the first half of the war. This relative decline of Germans and
Austrians among the inmates continued throughout the war, so that by its end they
accounted for only 5-10 percent of all concentration
camp prisoners.
This increasing internationalization fundamentally transformed the internal
structure of the prisoner population, possibly to an even greater degree than had
occurred in '937-38. The triangle marking system of the prewar period-criminals
wore green upside-down triangles, political prisoners red, asocials black, homosexuals pink, and Jehovah's Witoesses purple-became
less important than the
national hierarchy of prisoner groups, based on "racial" criteria. For the most part,
the SS gave the so-called Reich German camp prisoners privileged positions as
prison functionaries or placed them in protected positions in a work detachment
regardless of which triangle they wore. However, Slavic or Jewish prisoners received
exceptionally rough treatment and the worst work detachments.
The outbreak of the war resulted in considerable worsening of the prisoners'
conditions, and death rates increased dramatically, especially in winter (Pingel
1978:81, 259-60). The effects of this worsening situation varied somewhat among
the different national and social groups. Prisoners in the punishment companies,
Jewish concentration camp inmates, Slavic prisoners, as well as the Spaniards in
Mauthausen/Gusen who had fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War had
the highest death rates. The SS exposed most of the prisoners to conditions that
took them to the brink of death but did not pursue a policy of outright extermination. That was reserved for some prisoners of Slavic origin as well as for all Jews.
The year 1941brought a new level of terror to the concentration camp system. The
SS had used the camps from the beginning to kill individuals or particular prisoner
groups, and at a few sites the murders became almost systematic. In the spring of
'94', however, the first planned and coordinated massacres occurred throughout
the concentration camp system (Orth 2002: 113-31).A first round of murders was
directed at sick and weakened prisoners, whom the SS increasingly regarded as a
burden in the overcrowded camps. From April 1941to April '942, doctors attached
to the T4 "euthanasia" operation visited at least ten concentration camps to select
such prisoners, who then were killed by carbon monoxide in the "euthanasia
institutions" at Bernburg, Sonnenstein, and Hartheim. The camp SS also used
these killing actions to have certain Jewish and political prisoners murdered. At
least 10,000 and possibly between '5,000 and 20,000 prisoners were killed in
all (Orth 2002: 116). From the summer of1941 on, this murder program, named
"14 f. 13' after the associated IKL file, included a second set of targets, Soviet
prisoners of war designated as "Russian commissars."
Himmler had made an agreement with the Wehrmacht that a portion of the
Soviet soldiers captured in the invasion of Russia would be allotted to him.
Beginning in October '94', he ordered two large camp complexes established as
holding pens, Majdanek and Birkenau, Both were subordinate to the IKL, Majdanek as an independent concentration camp and Birkenau as a subcamp of Auschwitz until '943, when it became formally autonomous. In the autumn of '94', the
Wehrmacht handed over to Himmler tens of thousands of the promised Soviet
prisoners, who were distributed
among the existing concentration
camps and
so-called prisoner of war camps (or prisoner of war labor camps) that were now
attached to all concentration camps. In essence, these were specially fenced off
areas into which the SS crowded the Soviet soldiers, who were not entered in the
camp registers. Apparently, Himmler planned to use the prisoners as a labor force,
but in reality, they were left to languish unfed and die. Soviet soldiers were not only
exposed to hunger and epidemics, but at least at Auschwitz a Gestapo special
commission selected the so-called political commissars and shot some of them
(Czech 1997: 107)· Mass shootings began in all concentration camps in the late
summer of '94', taking the lives of at least 34,000 and perhaps as many as 45,000
Soviet prisoners of war (Orth 2002: 130-1).
During '94', the foundations were laid for the use of concentration camp
prisoners in industry (Orth 2002: 142-8), although only a few "pilot projects"
took shape at this early juncture. Beginning in the spring of '94', the lKL leased a
few hundred prisoners from Auschwitz to IG Farben and three hundred prisoners
from Mauthausen to Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG. Both companies were trying to
offset the prevailing labor shortage by using forced laborers; both initially used
the inmates solely for construction work and unskilled labor (Hayes 1987: 349-60;
Perz 1991: 81-4). The SS leadership made prisoners available to interested companies for a fee per head, per day providing that doing so served its own purposes.
In the case ofSteyr-DaimIer-Puch AG, Himmler hoped to obtain cheap armaments
for the Waffen-SS in return for his help, and from IG Farben he wanted building
materials for its nearby factory diverted to the expansion of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Moreover, the SS did not relinquish control over the prisoners, who
continued to be accommodated in the respective main camps and guarded by SS
men while working. From the companies' point of view, cooperation with the SS
was anything but smooth. They complained that the daily transport of the prisoners to and from work reduced their output and that the prisoners were inefficiently
used because of a shortage of guards. Similarly motivated protests against mistreatment of the prisoners had little effect. After about a year, both companies,
acting independently, suggested that the prisoners be quartered near the construction sites. The SS agreed after some initial resistance. In general, during the first
half of the war, cooperation with industry played a minor part in the concentration
camp system. Only when the function of the camps changed again, and they came
to be seen as a labor reservoir for the armaments industry, did the cases mentioned
here come to be seen as models.
The reorganization oflabor utilization that the IKL undertook in the autumn of
1941 was at first intended to serve Himrnler's extensive plans for settlement "in the
east;' not war production. This geographical emphasis, along with a view to the
"later settlement of the Danzig- West Prussian Gau," prompted Himmler at the end
of 1941 to place the camp at Stutthof near Danzig, which had been established at the
beginning of the war, under the control of the IKL.
Himmler changed the focus of his labor planning to the armaments sector when he
realized during the winter of "94"-42 that the war against the Soviet Union would
drag on. To increase his own power, he intended to turn the concentration camps,
which had an apparently inexhaustible supply of workers, into a labor reservoir for
the entire war economy. During the first half of '942, a number of measures were
introduced to restructure the camp system. In March, Himmler integrated the IKL
into the recently established SS Business Administration Main Office (WVHA) as
Office Group D. In doing so, he sought to prevent Fritz Sauckel (1894-1946), the
recently appointed Plenipotentiary General for Labor Deployment, from seizing
control of the concentration camp system. With Oswald Pohl's appointment as
head of the WVHA and the subordination to him of the IKL, Himmler cemented
Pohl's leading position in the concentration camp system.
Pohl set out to mobilize all prisoner labor and began negotiations with the
Armaments Ministry and private industry about the most advantageous deployment of camp workers. Initial plans to produce weapons at the camps quickly
foundered on the resistance of the Ministry, which feared the increase in Hirnmler's
power and the SS's autonomy that would result. Instead, in September 1942, Hitler,
Himmler, and Armaments Minister Albert Speer (1905-1981) agreed that camp
prisoners would be leased to armaments firms and accommodated in specially
constructed subcamps erected near the factories (Herbert "993: 177-9). Only in the
winter of '942-43 did the IKL begin to open subcamps on any significant scale, and
in 1944-45 their number increased exponentially.
The decision of autumn of 1942 had differing consequences for the various
concentration camp prisoner groups. For Jews held in concentration camps within
the Reich, it meant death. All camp commands were informed at the beginning of
October 1942 that Himmler wished "to free the concentration camps within the
Reich of Jews," with the result that at least 1,559 Jewish concentration camp
prisoners (1,037 men and 522 women) were deported to Auschwitz and probably
murdered (Orth 2002: 174). For non-Jewish prisoners, the decision meant condemnation to institutionalized compulsory labor in private or state armaments factories. In order to foster the use of prisoner labor, the SS command abandoned
plans for two mass shootings of non-Jewish inmates. Moreover, it succeeded in
significantly increasing the number of potential laborers at its disposal. In the
winter of 1942-43) 12)000 so-called «preventive detainees" were transferred from the
judicial system to the camp system. In addition, round-ups and mass arrests took
place across the Reich, primarily of Polish and Soviet forced laborers who had been
imported by Sauckel's organization and were now charged with offending against
one or another regulation. Within six months, the number of concentration
inmates almost doubled from around 110,000 in September 1942 to 203,000 in April
'943. By August '943, the camps held 224,000 prisoners, and a year later the total
came to 524,286 (Orth 2002: 174).
The restructuring of the concentration camp system into a labor reservoir for the
war economy did not lighten the lot of the concentration camp inmates, despite
many WVHA directives aimed at improving the efficiency of prisoners' deployment and increasing their productivity. Few of these orders were put into practice,
and only two brought about better conditions: first, the SS introduced food
supplements for prisoners doing heavy labor and second, beginning in the autumn
of 1942, Himmler allowed food packages to be sent to the camps by relatives or
friends of the inmates. Similarly, there was less to the apparently declining death
rate than meets the eye. The WVHA explicitly instructed the camp doctors and
commanders to lower the mortality rate, and it fell, in fact, from a monthly average
of 10 percent of the camp population in the second half of 1942 to 2.8 percent in
Iune 1943 (Pingel 1978: 182-83)· However, three arguments undermine the conclusion that this reflected a general improvement in conclitions. First, the absolute
number of murdered camp prisoners declined far less than the percentages would
suggest because of the large influx of new prisoners; second, the official figures were
partially falsified in order to convince Himmler that his demands had been met;
and third, the SS manipulated the rates by sending sick and dying arriving prisoners directly to the killing centers without registering them. So long as the flow of
prisoners into the camp remained steady, the increased value ofthe inmates in the
eyes of the SS did not translate into improved chances of survival. These remained
dependent upon a prisoner's position in a work detachment or the prisoner
hierarchy, which in turn depended on "racial" criteria. The only beneficiaries of
improved conditions in '942-43 were the minority of prisoners at the top of the
camps' racial hierarchy or those with professional skills useful to the SS. These
inmates gained from the introduction in May 1943 of the so-called bonus system,
which offered financial incentives and improved conditions in return for special
achievements. However, the idea for the system stemmed from the industries that
were using the concentration camp prisoners, not from the WVHA.
Moreover, in the second half of the war the concentration camp system was
characterized by the simultaneity of slave labor and genocide, the former applying
chiefly to non-Jewish inmates, the latter to Jews. Along with the death camps of
Operation Reinhard (Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec) along the Bug River in the
General Government and the one located west of Lodz at Chelmno, AuschwitzBirkenau and Majdanek developed into killing centers during this period. The
principal differences between the former four and the latter two installations were
in the methods of killing applied, the nature of the sites, and the survival rates.
Chelmno and the Reinhard camps killed with carbon monoxide gas generated by
diesel truck motors, whereas Auschwitz always and Majdanek usually gassed with a
vaporizing granular pesticide named Zyklon B that was normally used to fumigate
barracks. Moreover, Chelmno and the Reinhard camps were ramshackle installations built for the short term, since their target populations were the jewish
inhabitants of their immediate vicinities, and they had virtually no (Chelmno) or
very few (the Reinhard camps) "inhabitants", i.e., prisoners allowed to remain alive
for a time on the site to perform various functions for the SS. In contrast,
Auschwitz especially and Majdanek to a lesser degree were installations built to
last and to contain a continuing, if constantly turning over population because both
were intended to be labor reservoirs and murder sites, not only for nearby jews, but
also for those transported from guite far away. Unsurprisingly, given these characteristics, the numbers of known survivors of Chelmno and the Reinhard camps
are tiny; those who outlived Majdanek and Auschwitz are more numerous.
The organized murder of European jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau began in early 1942
and took on systematic form the following summer (Piper 1991:97). At first sporadically, but regularly after 4 july '942, SS doctors and members of the command staff
conducted "selections" of all jews arriving at the camp complex (Czech '997: 191-2).
On average, probably around 80 percent of the people on each transport were sent
directly to their deaths (Broszat '992: 163-4). Those regarded as "capable of work"
were deployed in Auschwitz or one of its numerous subcamps, here life expectancies
were short, sometimes as little as four to six weeks (Hayes 1987:35'r-60). By the time
the SS evacuated the site in january t945>at least 1.3million people had been brought
to Auschwitz, of whom only about 125,000survived World War II. Some 90 percent of
the victims were jews (Hayes 2003:330--3).
The history of Majdanek divides into four phases, and historians accurately have
noted that the camp remained a "multi-functional provisional arrangement" because
its chief function often changed, and it never really emerged from the planning stage
(Kranz in Herbert et al. 1998:381).The first period (October 1941to the middle of 1942)
saw the construction of the camp, the second (the second half of 1942) a marked
increase in the number of prisoners as jews and Poles from the Lublin area flowed in,
along with jews from the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos. Majdanek functioned as a
killing center from 1943on, while the SS also used it as a holding area for Polish and
Soviet fanners. Simultaneously, PoWwas trying to integrate the few remaining jewish
prisoners in the General Government into the economic empire of the WVHA, but in
the autumn of '943, following the uprisings in the Warsaw ghetto and the Sobibor
death camp, the Nazi leadership decided to murder these jews. On 3-4 November 1943>
the SS shot 40,000--43,000 jewish laborers who had been gathered at three camps:
Poniatowa, Trawniki, and Majdanek. At Majdanek, the toll came to '7,000 jews
(Hilberg 1985: 532;Gutman ioco, 3:939). Operation Harvest Festival (Aktion Erntefest),
the code name for the massacre, was one of the largest mass shootings in the history of
the National Socialist extermination of the jews. In the last phase of the camp's history,
until the evacuation of Majdanek in the summer of '944, while PoW unsuccessfully
attempted to reorganize the use oflabor for the German Armaments Works (DAW)
factories in the Lublin area, Majdanek functioned more as a place of execution for
Polish civilians and a reception camp for sick and weakened prisoners sent from
elsewhere. The total number of deaths at Majdanek lies between '70,000 and
250,000, of whom at least 90,000 were jews (Kranz in Herbert et al. 1998:373,380--1).
A final expansion of the concentration camp system occurred in the course of
'943-44. In january, PoW established in the occupied Netherlands the Herzogenbusch concentration camp, which functioned as a transit camp for jewish prisoners
on their way to the killing centers. Between july and September, he took control of
the remaining Jewish ghettos, the Reichskommissariat OstIand's so-called forced
labor camps (Zwangsarbeitlager) for Jews, and the Gestapo prison in Warsaw. These
sites became the independent
camps Riga, Kaunas, Vaivara, and
Warschau and brought the number of camps administered by the WVHA to
twenty. And, in january 1944 he took over the forced labor camp for jews in
Krakow, renaming it Plaszow (Orth 2002: 213-21).
The last year of World War II was marked by a significant increase in the numbers
of prisoners and new subcamps. Desperate attempts by the Nazi regime to ward off
defeat by all possible means were accompanied by ever more urgent demands for
labor for the war economy, which resulted in a broadening of the scope of arrests.
As German troops retreated, round-ups, now also in western and northern Europe,
drove up the total camp population from 524,286 in August 1944 to almost 715,000
in january 1945(Nuremberg document NO-399; Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde,
Sammlung Schumacher 329).
In the spring of 1944, moreover, the demand for labor had led the authorities to
abandon the principle of keeping the Reich "free of jews." Himmler exempted some
of the Hungarian jews, who recently had fallen under German control, from
immediate extermination, and transferred them from Auschwitz to concentration
camps in the Reich. Starting in the summer of 1944,Pohl ordered the concentration
camps in the Baltic region, which held jewish prisoners almost exclusively, to be
evacuated westward. As a result of both these actions, tens of thousands of Jewish
prisoners reached camps in the Reich within a short period of time. The result was
chaos. The drastic reduction in available resources, accompanied by an escalation
of mistreatment and an intensification of forced labor, led to previously unknown
levels of mass mortality.
CAM r s
The camp system was now characterized by four different sorts of installations:
the killing center Auschwitz-Birkenau, the main concentration camps with their
networks of subcamps, and two new types of site, the subterranean factory camps
and the mass mortality camps. The genocide in Auschwitz-Birkenau reached its
ghastly climax in the spring and summer of '944, when the SS killed 350,000
Hungarian Jews, the inhabitants of the Theresienstadt Family Camp in Birkenau,
the prisoners in the "Gypsy Camp" there, and the remnant population of the t6di
ghetto. However, the might of the SS had its limits. Resistance began to increase in
1944 (for example, the Sonderkommando uprising in the fall), as did the number of
escape attempts. These developments and the approach of the Red Army caused
the SS to relocate 70,000 prisoners from Auschwitz to concentration camps in the
Old Reich in the second half of 1944 (Gutman 1990, I; n6-17; Strzelecki in
Dlugoborski and Piper 2000, 5: 21-4). In the last year of the war, the main
concentration camps developed into reception and transit camps, that is, into
labor distribution centers for their sub camps. With regard to relative populations
of prisoners, the relationship between the main camps and the subcamps gradually
reversed itself, so that both proportionately and in absolute numbers the sub camps
came to predominate.
The subterranean factory camps (KZ der Verlagerungsprojekte) consisted of a
complex of subcamps whose origins date from Augnst 1943 (Orth 2002: Z43-55).
At first, they exclusively served the process of relocating the production of V~1and
V~2 "revenge weapons" (Vergeltungswaffen) to underground, bombproof sites.
Himmler agreed to the use of concentration camp prisoners for this gigantic
construction project and ordered the
ening of a subcamp of Buchenwald at
Mittelbau-Dora in the Harz, where the prisoners drove a gigantic cavern through a
mountain in order to create space for an assembly line. Himmler also appointed
Hans Kammler (1901-1945), until then head of the Office Group C (Construction)
in the WVHA, as Special Emissary for Construction on the site. The organizational
structure and expertise that developed at Mittelbau-Dora resembled those of
existing concentration camps only to a limited degree, but developed into a
model for the relocation underground of most of the German armaments industry.
In 1944, this so-called Fighter Staff Program (Jagerstab-Programm) took on immense proportions. Half of the estimated 480,000 concentration camp prisoners
classified by the SS at the end of 1944 as "capable of work" were leased to private
industries, but virtually all of the remainder was involved in these massive factory
relocation projects under the direction of Kammler or the Organisation Todt
(Herbert 1993: 188-9).
The second new type of concentration camp that developed in the last year of
the war was the "mass mortality camp" (Orth ZOO2: 260-9). By 1944. all main
concentration camps and most subcamp complexes contained "zones of impoverishment" where newly delivered, severely overworked, sick, and completely weakened prisoners were simply left to die. The SS did not kill here with shootings or
poison, but by withholding provisions and letting hunger, thirst, epidemics, and
cold do their work. Only one of these camps was raised to the status of an
independent concentration camp: Bergen-Belsen. Himmler founded it in 1943 as
a holding camp (Aufenthaltslager) for certain groups of Jews he wanted to use as
bargaining chips in possible exchanges for German citizens. In fact, such exchanges
occurred only on a small scale. Beginning in 1944 and accelerating rapidly in the
second half of the year, Bergen-Belsen became a receiving camp for a constant
stream of the sick, the dying, and the dead shipped in from other camps. It became
the infernal destination of the collapsing concentration camp system.
The evacuation of the concentration camps extended over more than a year and
was marked by monstrous brutality and enormous carnage. Not for nothing were
the "evacuation marches" immediately
renamed "death marches." In the first stage
of emptying camps in the latter half of 1944, Pohl ordered the evacuation of the
Majdanek killing center, of the concentration camps in the Baltic States, and of the
most westerly installations, Herzogenbusch and Natzweiler. The second stage of the
evacuation was triggered by the Soviet winter offensive: from the middle of January
the SS began marching at least 113,000 concentration camp prisoners in a westerly
direction: 58,000 from Auschwitz, 11,000 from Stutthof (although a large number
of prisoners remained there until April 1945), and 44,000 from GroB-Rosen in
Silesia. At least 24,500 prisoners did not survive these marches; the total is probably
higher as the figures are incomplete for the retreat from GroB-Rosen (Orth 2002:
286-7). In the interim between these withdrawals and the issuing of a general
order to evacuate the remaining camps at the end of March 1945, the SS guards
labored to prepare their own escapes and remove all traces of the crimes that had
been committed. As part of this process, the SS executed two groups of prisoners:
those who seemed unlikely to survive the exertions of an "evacuation march," and
those who might prove "dangerous" when enemy troops approached.
was now given to murdering all concentration
camp prisoners at
the approach of Allied troops. Himmler rejected such ideas in March 1945 because
he was attempting to begin negotiations with the Western Powers for a separate
peace. Hoping to use the Jewish prisoners as hostages, he ordered that no more
Jews be killed, but the edict had no effect on reality in the camps. During this
period Himmler met with Carl J. Burckhardt (1891-1974), the President of the
International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as Count Folke Bernadotte
(1895-1948), the Vice President of the Swedish Red Cross, and agreed to gather
together aLI Scandinavian inmates and release them. In fact, the Scandinavian
prisoners were relocated to Neuengamme and then taken to Sweden before
the war ended. Altogether) more than
camp inmates, includ-
ing around 8,000 Scandinavians, gained their freedom through "Operation
Bernadotte" (Gutman '990,1: 206).
The remaining concentration camps were dissolved at the beginning of April
1945. In the third stage of evacuations Pohl emptied Mittelbau-Dora, foLlowed
by Buchenwald (at least in part). American troops arrived at these two camps on
Apriln and 13 respectively, and two days later the British reached Bergen-Belsen.
Immediately thereafter, Himmler told the commanders of Plossenburg and Dachau
to set the prisoners in motion and to ensure that none of them feLlinto enemy
hands alive (Zarnecnik 1985: 219-31). At the remaining concentration camps the last
non-ambulatory or dangerous prisoners were finished off, the destruction of camp
files largely completed, and aLIremaining prisoners marched out. The columns
from Flossenbiirg and Dachau headed south toward the chimerical Alpine Fortress;
those from Neucngamme, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, and Ravensbriick went north
in the direction of the Baltic coast and the less illusory Northern Fortress.
The SS made great efforts to keep the concentration camp prisoners under their
control as they moved north. Although ALliedformations liberated the prisoners
from Sachsenhausen and Ravensbriick on the way to Schleswig-Holstein, the
inmates from Neuengamme were taken via Liibeck to the Neustadt harbor, where
at the end of April or the beginning of May they were loaded onto three ships. A
short time later, the prisoners from Stutthof also arrived in the Bay of Lubeck on
barges from across the Baltic. They were crammed into the same ships, where they
remained for five days until British planes mistook the boats for warships and
bombed them on 3 May 1945. Some 2,000 prisoners on one of the ships survived;
virtually all of the unfortunates on the other craft were drowned or massacred on
the beaches to which they swam (Orth 2002: 328-35).
The number of Holocaust victims is known: at least 5.29 million and perhaps just
over 6 million Jews were murdered (Hilberg 1985: 1219-20; Benz '991: 17). The
various ways of killing are known: mass bludgeoning and shooting, starvation and
mistreatment in the various places of detention, and poison gas. Almost three
million Jews were asphyxiated. Around two million died from carbon monoxide
poisoning in Chelmno and the killing centers of Operation Reinhard, and more
than a million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau and at least 50,000 in
Majdanek with Zyklon B (Hilberg 1985: 1219; Benz 1991: 19; Piper 1991: 98). In
addition, the 55 murdered another 40,000 Jews in these concentration camps by
means other than gas (Kranz in Herbert et al. 1998: 373, 380-1).
The figures for the total number of dead in the concentration camps are less
certain. As of 2005, researchers have identified at least 1.8-2.0 million deaths in the
concentration camps of the IKL and the WVHA, including Jews murdered in
Auschwitz and Majdanek (Orth 2002: 345-7). The 55 probably murdered many
more prisoners, however. Only the number of registered deaths is known; beyond
that, there are only estimates and sometimes not even those. The majority of the
deaths among concentration camp inmates occurred in the second half of the war;
outside of the death camps, the majority died from the catastrophic conditions of
their confinement, not execution. During the final weeks of the war, the death rate
reached a terrible crescendo. Between one-third and one-half of the more than
700,000 registered concentration camp prisoners in January 1945 expired thereafter
on the death marches or in the mass mortality camps, and the fatalities among the
Jewish prisoners came to an even higher fraction (Broszat in Buchheim et aI. 1982:
132-3; Bauer in Marrus 1989, 9: 492).
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