Most German concentration camps were in Germany and Austria (e.g. Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau) but some were in Poland (e.g. Auschwitz, Majdanek). Other camps in Poland (e.g. Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec) were not concentration camps but transit camps, i.e. most arrivals did not stay there but were reorganized to be sent on further (Belsen was also in some respects a transit camp). Theresienstadt, in Bohemia, was not a camp at all but a settlement for aged Jews and Jews considered privileged in some sense (e.g. those who had won medals in World War I).
Although the concentration camps originated before the war to serve a security function, during the war they served an economic function, i.e. the inmates were put to work on various projects, mostly war related.
The camps quartered ordinary criminals and political prisoners (mostly communists), and also some homosexuals and conscientious objectors. Jews were specifically conscripted for labor in the camps but until nearly the end of the war there were few Jews in the camps in Germany and Austria, because the idea of expelling the Jews included the concentration camps. Most Jewish inmates were quartered in the camps in Poland. In 1945 many were evacuated from camps in Poland, especially Auschwitz, and sent on, under chaotic conditions, into camps in Germany that were also in chaos.
The typical camp was actually a cluster of camps with a main camp which administered the others in the cluster, and near a town (e.g. Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz) that gave the cluster and the main camp its name.
last modification: 5 May 1996.
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