The First Concentration Camps

As early as March 1933 the Nazis began establishing concentration camps. The so-called early concentration camps were established for the confinement and terrorising into Submission of all actual and all potential political opponents. As far as administration, guards and the degree of brutality are concerned, the early concentration camps varied considerably from each other.

When the SS took Charge of the concentration camps in 1934, a universal camp System was established. All the early concentration camps were dissolved, except the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, and were replaced until the beginning of World War II by newly established and much larger camps. The reorganised Dachau concentration camp served as a model for the new camps like Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937) and Ravensbrück (1939). In the early years mainly political opponents of the Nazi regime were confined as well as communists, social democrats and trade unionists. But political Opposition was soon enlarged to Jews, homosexuals and alleged criminals. All this groups became subject to the Nazi system of oppression. The inmates were entirely at the mercy of the SS.


The Concentration Camps During the War

The concentration camp played an important role in terrorising the populace of the occupied territories into Submission. With the occupation of neighbouring states numerous concentration camps began to mushroom, for example, Mauthausen in Austria (1938) and Natzweiler-Struthof in France (1941). The number of the inmates soared, during the course of the war more and more people from European countries were deported to the concentration camps, to that they formed a significant majority. At the end of the war 90% of the inmates had been deported from occupied territory.



The camps were administered by the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps which was directly under the SS Reichsführer Himmler and from 1942 on this Inspectorate was renamed Office D and became part of the Main Economic and Administrative Office (WVHA).


Extermination Camp

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the extermination camps. In the concentration camps inmates were humiliated, had to suffer endless degradation and were gradually worn out but they were not principally concerned with the killing of people. We have here dot distinguish between "ordinary" concentration camps and extermination camps (like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor etc.) where people were murdered in an industrially organised way. These systematic mass exterminations killed several million people, the largest number was Jews, the second largest number the Roma ("gypsies").


"Smaller" Camps

Alongside the extermination and concentration camps there were also so-called labour camps and SS camps. The imprisonment in the latter was similar to the bad conditions in a concentration camp. Prisoners were kept there usually only for several weeks but many of them were then deported to concentration camps.


Economic Function

The economic function of the camps changed more and more since the beginning of World War II. Before the beginning of the war the inmates had to work in order to literally earn their bread and as an excuse for the SS to torment them, later on the concentration camps became a considerable economic asset. The ruthless exploitation to the extreme limits of the prisoner's forces (extermination by work) and the "leasing" of prisoners to the armament industry proved to be lucrative to the SS and the respective companies: the SS was paid a certain

amount of money and the companies could employ cheap workers who were totally deprived of any rights. Until the end of the war about 1,000 subcamps were opened, often near the place they were destined to work at. The Sandhofen concentration camp was one of these subcamps. In Sept. 1944 when it was set up there were already 16 concentration camps with a number of subcamps, which were under the control of the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office (WVHA).


Prisoners in the Camp and their Classification

The people who were confined in the concentration camps can be classed into three groups:

  • People who were opponents to the Nazi regime because of political or religious beliefs like members of resistance groups or Jehovah's Witnesses
  • People who, according to the Nazi ideology, were considered as racially inferior
  • People who were regarded by the Nazis as socially inferior were excluded from society and persecuted, for example, homosexuals, people with previous convictions and prostitutes who were called to be "work-shy" and "asocial".

The prisoners had to wear triangulär angles on the left breast and the right leg so that guards and fellow prisoners could see at once to which group they belonged. Political prisoners, for example, had to wear red angles, Jehovah's Witnesses violet angles, and „asocials" black angles. Jewish prisoners wore additionally to their markings a yellow triangle onto the angle so that if formed a Star of David.

The angles were not only the expression of the SS mania for order but also served to stigmatise and discriminate the prisoners and to play off different groups of prisoners against each other.