Historical story

Nazis had a lot of concentration camps

Last updated:2022-07-25

Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau… Almost everyone knows the names of the most infamous concentration camps from the Second World War. But they are just the tip of a horrific iceberg. American researchers are now busy mapping all Nazi camps. It turns out that there were more than 42,500. But 'Nazi camp' is given a very broad definition.

Thirteen years ago (ed. in 2013), researchers from the American Holocaust Memorial Museum began in Washington DC (US) a large-scale, but pretty grim project. They wanted to map all places where people were imprisoned or where forced labor was performed during the period of the Third Reich (1933-1945). The project is not yet complete, but 42,500 such places had already been identified during an interim presentation in January, the New York Times. reports.

Ghettos and POW camps

This shockingly high number can be explained by the broad definition that the researchers apparently use for 'camps'. Nazi Germany had six large extermination camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibór, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec and Chełmno) and a handful of large concentration and labor camps with names such as Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen (where Anne Frank died) and Mauthausen.

But there were also many more camps and camps, ranging from massive forced labor camps in factories to a small group of Jewish prisoners who had to keep the house of a high-ranking Nazi under guard. There were Jews but also other minorities imprisoned. Furthermore, the countless overcrowded ghettos, closed off city districts for Jews, in Eastern Europe were also included in the research.

When the researchers started in 2000, they expected to be able to identify about 7,000 locations in total. But survivors' tips, sometimes never taken seriously because the camp they described was unknown, kept pouring in. The numbers just kept growing.

In January, the researchers presented about 30,000 labor camps, 1,150 ghettos, 980 concentration camps and at least 500 Wehrmacht brothels with sex slaves for German soldiers. In addition, there were thousands of places where forced abortions were performed or medical experiments were performed. The researchers also discovered the existence of more than 1000 POW camps. In some cases it was nothing more than a barbed wire fence in which prisoners were left to starve to death.

Dots on the map

American experts on the Holocaust were impressed by the new figures. But that does not apply to David Barnouw, researcher and press officer at the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD). “It is not clear to me what exactly was counted. On the map (featured in the New York Times ) I see about ten dots in the Netherlands. But there were also Jewish labor camps in the north and east of the Netherlands. I don't see that. There were also Wehrmacht brothels here, but they were closed after a few weeks due to lack of business. Are they counted or not?”

“It was also already known that almost every German city had a factory where forced labor was performed. And they also had a barracks where workers were housed. Do you have to do all of them as 'slave labor camp' count in? That's not entirely clear. But this kind of information was previously all hidden in all kinds of books and articles. It is good for the overview that it is now brought together. New ghettos will have been discovered here and there, but the overall picture was already more or less known and this research does not change that much.”

According to Geoffry Megargee, one of the American historians involved, the sheer number of camps says something about the Nazi mentality. “The Nazis built camps for just about any occasion. We have also discovered thousands of camps for very different purposes. To protect the population against air raids or to provide shelter for German workers who were building motorways. We left them out of the investigation," he says in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

“There were about 3000 camps in Berlin alone. The particularly large number confirms that most Germans must have known about the existence of labor and concentration camps. But that doesn't mean they will always have understood the system behind it or the terrible conditions in the camps."

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