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Concentration camp
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Concentration camp

A concentration camp is a large detention centre for political opponents, specific ethnic or religious groups, or other groups of people. The term often implies camps designed for the extermination of the interned (extermination camps) or their engagement in forced labor (labor camps). The term refers to situations where the internees are civilians, especially those selected for their conformance to broad criteria without judicial process, rather than having been judged as individuals. The term refers to a subset of the more general category of prison camps. The term is also not appropriate for POW camps such as Andersonville during the American Civil War. POW camps are also prison camps but not concentration camps, even when, as at Andersonville, the treatment of prisoners was horrific.

In the English-speaking world, the term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Tens of thousands of Boer civilians, and black workers from their farms, died as a result of diseases developed due to inadequate diets and poor sanitation. The term concentration camp was coined at this time to signify the "concentration" of a large number of people in one place, and was used to describe both the camps in South Africa and those established to support a similar anti-insurgency campaign in Cuba at roughly the same time (see below).

Over the course of the twentieth century, the arbitrary internment of civilians by the authority of the state became more common and reached a climax with the practice of genocide in the death camps of the Nazi regime in Germany, and with the Gulag system of forced labor campss of the Soviet Union. As a result of this trend, the term concentration camp carries many of the connotations of extermination camp and is sometimes used synonymously. In technical discussion, however, it is important to understand that a concentration camp is not, by definition, a Nazi-style death camp.

What follows is a brief history of concentration camps established by various countries and regimes.

Table of contents
1 Cuba
2 The United Kingdom
3 The United States
4 Canada
5 Austria-Hungary
6 Germany
7 Fascist Italy
8 Ustaša; regime in Croatia
9 Cambodia
10 Russia and Soviet Union
11 People's Republic of China
12 Bosnia and Herzegovina
13 North Korea
14 Sweden
15 Finland
16 France
17 Chile
18 Netherlands
19 Related articles
20 External Links: Audio Testimony of Holocaust Survivors


The word "concentration" in the context of forcible internment was first used during the Third Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898) by the then Spanish military governor, Valeriano Weyler. Weyler's policy of "reconcentracion" (in Spanish) resulted in the mass movement of rural populations to suburban areas of large cities, in an effort to cut off the widespread support the Cuban rebel government then enjoyed. The measure was a product of Spanish desperation at its army's mounting losses in men and territory to the rebels, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths (largely of women, children and the elderly) to disease, overcrowding, and exposure. The policy left a bitter legacy in the Cuban political consciousness, felt even to this day, and the worldwide horror that such an atrocity inspired (fomented by the yellow journalism of the Hearst newspapers) rallied support in the United States for a war against Spain.

The United Kingdom

The term "concentration camp" was first used by the British military during the Boer War (1899-1902). British forces rounded up the Boer women and children as well as black people living on Boer land, and sent them to 31 camps scattered around South Africa.
The camps where situated at Aliwal North, Balmoral, Barberton, Belfast, Bethulie, Bloemfontein, Brandfort, Heidelberg, Heilbron, Howick, Irene, Kimberley, Klerksdorp, Kroonstad, Krugersdorp, Merebank, Middelburg, Norvalspont, Nylstroom, Pietermaritzburg, Pietersburg, Pinetown, Port Elizabeth, Potchefstroom, Springfontein, Standerton, Turffontein, Vereeniging, Volksrust, Vredefort and Vryburg.
Though they were not extermination camps, the Boer camps were noted for their poor nutrition and bad hygiene, and the associated high mortality rates (28,000 women and children died). The Boer situation was only relieved when Emily Hobhouse brought the conditions in the camps to the attention of the British public.

In the conduct of the Malayan Emergency, British armed forces established resettlement camps, later renamed new villages, having the characteristics of concentration camps. These were the forerunners of the strategic hamlets established by American armed forces during the Vietnam War. The chronic renaming is a clear consequence of the operation of a euphemism treadmill.

The British interned only 2,000 of the original 74,000 German and Austrian aliens that they rounded up after the start of World War II.

The 1970s internment of Irish nationals in camps by the government lead directly to direct rule.

The United States

The first large-scale confinement of a specific ethnic group in detention centers began in the summer of 1838, when President Andrew Jackson ordered the U.S. Army to enforce the Indian Removal Act of 1830 by rounding up the Cherokee into prison camps before relocating them. Although these camps were not intended to be extermination camps, and there was absolutely no official policy to kill people, many Indians were raped and/or murdered by US soldiers. Many more died in these camps due to starvation and bad sanitary conditions.

Throughout the remainder of the Indian Wars, various populations of Native Americans were rounded up, trekked across country (See also the Trail of Tears), and put into detention, some for as long as 27 years.

The term Internment Camp is often used as a euphemistic equivalent in other historical contexts, such as the imprisonment by the United States of German-American people during both World War I and World War II, the internment of enemy aliens, and the exclusion and relocation (much of it forced) of American citizens born of enemy ancestry (including Japanese-Americanss) during World War II. The relocation camps (such as Manzanar) in the 1940s did not involve extermination like Nazi death camps. Nevertheless, they remain a severe blot on the human rights record of the United States.

Some people call the incarceration facilities for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay a concentration camp. No government, and few organizations, seem willing to characterize it as such; for instance, Amnesty International has criticized the US over allegations of mistreatment, but does not call Guantanamo a concentration camp.


During World War I, thousands of Ukrainians were put into internment camps as "enemy aliens" to perform forced labor in steel mills, forestry, etc. This is partly because Ukraine was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, partly because capitalists wanted to exploit them for cheap labor, partly because of endemic racism in Canada. Other Slavic citizens of Austria-Hungary were also interned, such as Serbs, Czechs and Slovaks.

During World War II, Canada followed the U.S. lead in interning residents of Japanese and Italian ancestry. The Canadian government also interned citizens it deemed dangerous to national security. This included both fascists (including Canadians such as Adrien Arcand who had negotiated with Hitler to obtain positions in the government of Canada once Canada was conquered) and union organizers and other people deemed to be dangerous Communists. Such internment was made legal by the Defence of Canada Regulations, Section 21 of which read:

The Minister of Justice, if satisfied that, with a view to preventing any particular person from acting in a manner prejudicial to the public safety or the safety of the State, it is necessary to do so, may, notwithstanding anything in these regulations, make an order [...] directing that he be detained by virtue of an order made under this paragraph, be deemed to be in legal custody.

There were internment camps near Petawawa, Ontario, Kananaskis, Alberta, and Hull, Quebec.

See Dangerous Patriots: Canada's Unknown Prisoners of War, by William Repka and Kathleen Repka, New Star Books, Vancouver, 1982 (ISBN 0-919573-06-1 or ISBN 0-919573-07-X). This book is a collection of first-hand stories from Canadian political prisoners during World War Two.


During the First World War, internment camps were set up, mostly for Serbs and other pro-Serbian Yugoslavs. Men, women, the children and the elderly were displaced from their homes and sent to concentrations camps all over the Empire such as Doboj (46,000), Arad, Györ, Nezsider.


Concentration camps (Konzentrationslager or KZ) rose to notoriety during their use in by Nazi Germany. The Nazi regime nominally maintained both kinds of concentration camps, labor camps - since the beginning of their regime in 1933 - and extermination camps. The distinction between the two, in practice, was very small. Prisoners in Nazi labor camps could expect to be worked to death in short order, while prisoners in extermination camps usually died sooner in gas chambers or in other ways. Guards were known to engage in target practice, using their prisoners as targets.

The first Nazi camps were within Germany, and were primarily work camps. The worst excesses, including the murder of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, Polish intellectuals, Soviet Prisoners of War and others, were to come later in the war at the area of General Government. (See Holocaust, genocide.) It is estimated that up to ten million people died in Nazi concentration camps, of them six million were killed in the 15 larger ones.

Major Nazi Concentration Camps
































Name of the camp Country (today) Type of camp Operation time Estimated number of prisoners Estimated number of deaths
Auschwitz Poland Extermination and labor camp April 1940 - January 1945 400,000 1,100,000 - 1,500,000
Belzec Poland Extermination camp March 1942 - June 1943   600,000
Bergen-Belsen Germany Collective point April 1943 - April 1945   70,000
Breitenau Germany "Eaely wild camp", then labor camp June 1933 - March 1934, 1940 - 1945 470; 8500  
Buchenwald Germany Labor camp July 1937 - April 1945 250,000 56,000
Chelmno Poland Extermination camp December 1941 - April 1943; April 1944 - January 1945   340,000
Dachau Germany Labor camp March 1933 - April 1945 200,000 min. 30,000
Flossenbürg Germany Labor camp May 1938 - April 1945 min. 100,000 30,000
Gross-Rosen Germany Labor camp August 1940 - February 1945 125,000 40,000
Hinzert Germany Collective point and Labor camp July 1940 - March 1945 14,000 min. 302
Janówska Ukraina Extermination and labor camp September 1941 - November 1943    
Kaiserwald Latvia Labor camp March 1943 - September 1944    
Langenstein Zwieberge Germany Labor camp April 1944 - April 1945 5,000 2,000
Le Vernet France Internment camp 1939 - 1944    
Majdanek (KZ Lublin) Poland Extermination camp July 1941 - July 1944   min. 200,000
Mauthausen-Gusen Austria Labor camp August 1938 - May 1945 195,000 min. 95,000
Mittelbau-Dora Germany Labor camp September 1943 - April 1945 60,000 min. 20,000
Natzweiler-Struthof France Labor camp May 1941 - September 1944 40,000 25,000
Neuengamme Germany Labor camp June 1940 - May 1945 106,000 55,000
Niederhagen (Wewelsburg) Germany Labor camp September 1941 - early 1943 3,900 1,285
Oranienburg Germany Collective point March 1933 - July 1934 3,000 min. 16
Osthofen Germany Collective point March 1933 - July 1934    
Plaszow Poland Labor camp December 1942 - January 1945 (min. 150,000) (min. 9,000)
Ravensbrück Germany Labor camp May 1939 - April 1945 150,000 (min. 90,000)
Sachsenhausen Germany Labor camp July 1936 - April 1945 min. 200,000 (100,000)
Sobibór Poland Extermination camp May 1942 - October 1943   250,000
Stutthof Poland Labor camp September 1939 - May 1945 110,000 65,000
Theresienstadt (Terezín) Czech Republic Collective point and Ghetto November 1941 - May 1945 140,000 35,000
Treblinka Poland Extermination camp July 1942 - November 1943   min. 800,000
Westerbork Netherlands Collective point October 1939 - April 1945 102,000  

Fascist Italy

Major Fascist Italian Concentration Camps

Name of the campDate of establishmentDate of liberationEstimated number of prisonersEstimated number of deaths

Ustaša; regime in Croatia

Name of the campDate of establishmentDate of liberationEstimated number of prisonersEstimated number of deaths
JasenovacAugust 23, 1941April 22, 1945  over 78,000
Stara Gradiška;19411945  
Pag1941 8,500


Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime: see the article Democratic Kampuchea.

Russia and Soviet Union

In Imperial Russia, labor camps were known under the name katorga.

In the Soviet Union, concentration camps were called simply camps, almost always plural ("lagerya"). These were used as forced labor camps, and were often filled with political prisoners. After Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book they have become known to the rest of the world as Gulags, after the branch of NKVD (state security service) that managed them. (In Russian language, the term is used to denote the whole system, rather than individual camps.) The Gulag system was exposed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his work The Gulag Archipelago.

In addition to what is sometimes referred to as the GULAG proper (consisting of the "corrective labor camps") there were "corrective labor colonies", originally intended for prisoners with short sentences, and "special resettlements" of deported peasants. At its peak, the system held a combined total of 2 750 000 prisoners. The number of people who were prisoners at one point or the other is, of course, much larger. The total documentable deaths in the corrective-labor system from 1934 to 1953 amount to 1 054 000, including political and common prisoners; this does not include nearly 800 000 executions of "counterrevolutionaries" outside the camp system. From 1932 to 1940, at least 390 000 peasants died in places of peasant resettlement; this figure may overlap with the above, but, on the other hand, it does not include deaths outside the 1932-1940 period, or deaths among non-peasant internal exiles.

An extensive List of Gulag camps is being compiled based on some official sources.

A special kind of labor camps, sometimes called sharashka, were for forced engineering and scientific labor. They are treated in Solzhenitsyn's book The First Circle. The famous Soviet rocket designer Sergey Korolev worked in a "sharashka"; so did Lev Termen and many other prominent Russians.

People's Republic of China

Concentration camps in the People's Republic of China are called Laogai, which means "reform through labor". The communist-era camps began at least in the 1960s and were filled with anyone who had said anything critical of the government, or often just random people grabbed from their homes to fill quotas. The entire society was organized into small groups in which loyalty to the government was enforced, so that anyone with dissident viewpoints was easily identifiable for enslavement. These camps were modern slave labor camps, organized like factories.

There are accusations that Chinese labor camp produce products are often sold in foreign countries with the profits going to the PRC government. Products include everything from green tea to industrial engines to coal dug from mines.

The use of prison labor is an interesting case study of the interaction between capitalism and prison labor. On the one hand, the downfall of socialism has reduced revenue to local governments increasing pressure for local governments to attempt to supplement their income using prison labor. On the other hand, prisoners do not make a good workforce, and the products produced by prison labor in China are of extremely low quality and have become unsalable on the open market in competition with products made by ordinary paid labor.

An insider's view from the 1950s to the 1990s is detailed in the books of Harry Wu, including Troublemaker and The Laogai. He spent almost all of his adult life as a prisoner in these camps for criticizing the government while he was a young student in college. He almost died several times, but eventually escaped to the US. Party officials have argued that he far overstates the present role of Chinese labor camps and ignores the tremendous changes that have occurred in China since then.

See also: Human rights in China

External Link: Report about products produced under forced labor (focuses on the persecution of Falun Gong)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the 1990s, there existed at least the following detention camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, sorted in alphabetical order:

Numerous atrocities were committed against prisoners, subject to ICTY prosecution.

more should be written

North Korea

Location of Concentration Camps
North Province of Hamkyong-Life Imprisonment Zone
1. Onsong Changpyong Family Camp No. 12 (relocated in May 1987)
2. Chongsong Family Camp No. 13 (relocated in December 1990)
3. Hoeryong Family Camp No. 22
4. Chongjin Singles' Prison No. 25
5. Kyongsong Family Camp No. 11 (relocated in October 1989)
6. Hwasong Family Camp No. 16
South Province of Hamkyong
7. Yodok Offenders and Family Camp No. 15
 (sectors for re-education and life imprisonment)
North Province of Pyong'an
8. Chonma Family Camp No. 27 (relocated in November 1990)
South Province of Pyong'an
9. Kaechon Family Camp No. 14
10. Pyongyang Seungho Area Hwachon dong Offender's Camp No. 26 (relocated in January 1990)

North Korea is known to operate five concentration camps, curently accommodating a total of over 200,000 prisoners, though the only one that has allowed outside access is Camp #15 in Yodok, South Hamgyong Province. Once condemned as political criminals in North Korea, the defendant and his or her family are incarcerated in one of the camps without trial and cut off from all outside contact. Prisoners reportedly work 14 hour days at hard labor and/or ideological re-education. Starvation and disease are commonplace. Political criminals invariably receive life sentences, however their families are usually released after 3 year sentences, if they pass political examinations after extensive study.

Concentration camps came into being in North Korea in the wake of the country's liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II. Those persons considered "adversary class forces", such as landholders, Japanese collaborators, religious devotees and families of those who migrated to the South, were rounded up and detained in a large facility. Additional camps were established later in earnest to incarcerate political victims in power struggles in the late 1950s and 60s and their families and overseas Koreans who migrated to the North. The number of camps saw a marked increase later in the course of cementing the Kim Il Sung dictatorship and the Kim Jong Il succession. About a dozen concentration camps were in operation until the early 1990s, the figure of which has been curtailed to five today due to increasing criticism of the North's perceived human rights abuses from the international community and the North's internal situation.


Several, in total eight, internment camps were used in Sweden during World War II.

This is only 7. One is missing, or the total above is wrong.

In May 1941 a total of ten camps for 3000-3500 were planned, but towards the end of 1941 the plans were put on ice and in 1943 the last camp was closed down.

The navy had some special detainment ships for communists and "troublemakers". \Is this the Dalarö boat? If so, that's only 1, not plural.


In the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War of 1918, some 75,000 suspected Reds were incarcerated in concentration camps. While 125 Red prisoners were convicted of treason and executed, an estimated 12,000 died of disease and starvation.

When the Finnish Army occupied East Karelia 19411944, during the Continuation War, several concentration camps were set up for Russian civilians. The first camp was set up 24 October, 1941, in Petrozavodsk. Camps were also set up in other parts of the occupied territories. The ultimate goal was to move the Russian speaking population to German occupied Russia in exchange for any Finnic population from these areas and also help to watch civilians.

Population in Finnish camps:


Le Natzweiler-Struthof was the only concentration camp on French soil during the Second World War. The three departments of Alsace-Lorraine (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle) were annexed and incorporated into the Third Reich.

As the network of concentration camps in occupied Europe grew, this newly annexed part of the Nazi empire found itself home to a concentration camp of its own.


Under Pinochet's dictatorship, the Santiago stadium served as concentration camp for political opponents.


During WWII, one of few official Nazi concentration camp complexes in western Europe located outside of Germany and Austria was in 's-Hertogenbosch, known in German as Herzogenbusch, see List of subcamps of Herzogenbusch. Still another one was camp Westerbork, which served as a transit camp (Durchgangslager) of Jews (Dutch and refugees) and Gypsies to extermination camps of Auschwitz and Sobibor.

Related articles


External Links: Audio Testimony of Holocaust Survivors