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In the legal sense, internment denotes a state-organized deprivation of liberty with the aim of isolating individuals or groups from the rest of the population in special internment camps .

In medical use, internment means the transfer of patients to a closed ward, also in the sense of isolation , especially in the case of infectious diseases as forced quarantine .

Regulations of the Geneva Conventions

According to the Geneva Conventions , warring states have the right to intern nationals of foreign states who are on their territory. H. detained indefinitely without charge. In the event of internment, those affected are usually taken to so-called internment camps and remain there under guard. To apply internment, the security interests of the country concerned must be threatened. Within the framework of the law of neutrality , neutral states also have the option of interning members of warring states in a bilateral conflict .

Internment in individual states


The first internment of an entire army by a neutral state is the admission of the French Bourbaki Army in Switzerland in 1871, when a total of 87,000 French soldiers transferred to Swiss territory towards the end of the Franco-Prussian War and remained interned for 6 weeks.

While Switzerland did not intern any major troop units during the First World War, over 100,000 foreign military personnel from all warring parties were interned in camps during the Second World War . The first group of internees were around 43,000 members of the 45th French Army Corps - including over 12,000 Poles in French service - who had been pushed into the Jura by the Wehrmacht and crossed the Doubs at Goumois . Later, Italians, Germans, Soviet soldiers, British and Americans, among others, were interned. During their stay, the internees performed work assignments throughout Switzerland. This meant that camps had to be kept open and new ones set up. By the end of the war, internment camps had existed in over 1,000 localities in Switzerland. The largest and longest existing of these camps was the Büren an der Aare internment camp . The last internees did not leave Switzerland until 1946.

After the Second World War, internments were no longer carried out in Switzerland. The last time Switzerland took in members of foreign armies during the war in Afghanistan in 1979/80, but did not intern them.

United States

Another example is the internment of up to 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945 in various camps in the United States during World War II. At least the internment of people who were already naturalized or who were born as Americans is now generally viewed as a racially motivated breach of international law and human rights, since they are not "members of hostile states" and the vast majority are not in any way Japanese Supported war against the US. With reference to the Alien Enemy Act , Germans were interned in America .

From 2002 onwards, following the attacks on the World Trade Center , the US military authorities interned terror suspects at their military base in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba under a tightened camp regime that sparked criticism from around the world .


After the end of National Socialism, the Allied military authorities decided, under the heading of atonement and purge , to be the first to isolate representatives of the Nazi regime with above-average burden in special camps in order to prevent disruptive activities and influence, to be able to examine them and, if necessary, bring them to account .

The internment of alleged Nazi victims was part of a common policy to eradicate National Socialism . There was a moral and political, widely accepted reason for this: Those who were politically co-responsible for the Nazi crimes should be arrested, detained until their individual guilt has been verified by internment and thus punished not only in the sense of a general accounting, but also by every form of social and political influence are excluded.

The US military authorities were the pioneers of a comprehensive cleanup designed in this way, and they were also the driving force behind the internment. Long before there was a common standardization by the Allied Control Council (Directive No. 38 on the punishment of war criminals, National Socialists and militarists and the internment, control and surveillance of possibly dangerous Germans, October 12, 1946) and arrested and interned before the end of the fighting they suspect. This was done without charge or judgment by means of "automatic arrest," a procedure adopted by the other allies. The arrests were preceded by lists drawn up with the help of emigrants and other anti-Nazi forces.

The Allies also used former concentration camps as detention sites ( Buchenwald , Dachau , Esterwegen , Neuengamme , Sachsenhausen ), often former forced labor camps that could have remained bugged and lice from previous use, or other former Nazi detention centers. The length of stay in the camps ranged from a few months to five years. It was only with the trial chamber practice that took place in autumn 1946 that legal review procedures were introduced, but without the litigation being defined by criminal law.

About 68,500 people were auto-arrested by the British military authorities in the first year of the occupation. The American military government estimated the number of "counterintelligence personalities" arrested by the US military intelligence service CIC up to the end of 1945 at around 120,000, taking into account that research into internment and internment camps in the US zone is regarded as "sub-themed" . Reliable figures are not available for the French occupation zone with seven camps. In this case, too, there is still a need for research. Between 1945 and 1950 there were ten “ special camps ” in the Soviet occupation zone , in which the conditions were much worse than in camps of the Western Allies. According to the military government, they were “isolation camps with a tightened camp regime”. According to Soviet information, a total of 122,671 Germans were interned there. That was a much higher proportion of the total population than in the western zones. Around a third of them died while in prison.

The attempt to systematically eliminate Nazi influence in politics and society in the second half of the 1940s through internment and denazification was primarily advocated and supported by the military government, the German emigrants who worked for it and at times the KPD. Committed participation from the German population was rare. Resistance and solidarity with those affected prevailed. One feared social isolation and professional difficulties when working with them.


Various states use internment as a means of “counter-terrorism”. The British government's internment policy in the Northern Ireland conflict from 1971 was particularly controversial .

See also


  • P. Annet: L'internement de soldats français en Belgique pendant la guerre de 1870. In: Revue belge d'histoire militaire. vol. 28, no 5, 1990, pp. 337-350.
  • Pascal Annet: L'internement des soldats français en Belgique pendant la guerre franco-allemande: (1870–1871). Louvain-la-Neuve 1988, OCLC 800525308 .
  • Emile Davall: Les troupes françaises internées en Suisse à la fin de la guerre franco-allemande en 1871, Rapport rédigé par ordre du Département militaire fédéral sur les documents officiels déposés dans ses archives. Bern 1873, OCLC 916503877 .
  • Patrick Deicher: The internment of the Bourbaki army in 1871. Dealing with a humanitarian challenge as a contribution to the formation of national identity. 3rd, revised edition. Self-published, Lucerne 2009, DNB 996279989 .
  • Heiner Wember: re-education in the camp. Internment and punishment of National Socialists in the British occupation zone of Germany (= Düsseldorfer Schriften zur Neueren Landesgeschichte of North Rhine-Westphalia. Klartext-Verlag , Essen 1991, ISBN 3-88474-152-7 . (Also: Münster, Universität, Dissertation, 1990: Internierung und Judgment of National Socialists, “Militarists” and “Suspect Persons” in the British zone of occupation in Germany. 3rd edition. Ibid. 2007, ISBN 978-3-89861-883-0 ).

Web links

Wiktionary: internment  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Internment  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Hervé de Weck : Internments. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . May 13, 2008 , accessed June 9, 2017 .
  2. Clemens Vollnhals : Denazification. Political cleansing under Allied rule. In: Hans-Erich Volkmann (Ed.): End of the Third Reich - End of the Second World War. Munich 1995, pp. 369-392, here: pp. 372, 375; Lutz Prieß: The prison of the NKVD No. 5 Strelitz. In: Sergej Mironenko u. a. (Ed.): Soviet Special Camps in Germany 1945 to 1950. Volume 1, Berlin 1998; on the Soviet camps see also: Peter Reif-Spirek, Bodo Ritscher : Special camps in the SBZ: memorials with a “double past”. Berlin 1999.
  3. Clemens Vollnhals: Denazification. Political cleansing under Allied rule. In: Hans-Erich Volkmann (Ed.): End of the Third Reich - End of the Second World War. Munich 1995, pp. 369-392, here: pp. 372, 375.
  4. Wolfgang Krüger: Denazified! On the practice of political cleansing in North Rhine-Westphalia. Wuppertal 1982, p. 21.
  5. All information according to: Ulrike Weckel , Edgar Wolfrum (ed.): "Beasts" and "Receivers of Orders". Women and men in Nazi trials after 1945. Göttingen 2003, pp. 118f.
  6. Wolfgang Krüger: Denazified! On the practice of political cleansing in North Rhine-Westphalia. Wuppertal 1982, p. 21; The VVN Siegerland-Wittgenstein Regional Personnel Dictionary gives an idea of ​​the extent of internment in a limited region
  7. ^ Klaus-Dietmar Henke : The American occupation of Germany. Munich 1996, p. 254.
  8. Kathrin Meyer: Denazification of women: the internment camps of the US zone of Germany 1945–1952. Berlin 2004, p. 24.
  9. Kathrin Meyer: Denazification of women: the internment camps of the US zone of Germany 1945–1952. Berlin 2004, p. 113.
  10. Andreas Hilger , Mike Schmeitzner, Clemens Vollnhals: Sovietization or Neutrality? Options of Soviet occupation policy in Germany and Austria 1945–1955. Dresden 2006, p. 255.
  11. Angela Borgstedt : The compromised society. Denazification and Integration. In: Peter Reichel , Harald Schmid, Peter Steinbach (eds.): The National Socialism. The second story. Overcoming - interpretation - memory. Munich 2009, pp. 85–104, here: p. 90.
  12. ^ British interrogation camp in Lower Saxony: The secret of the forbidden village. In: Spiegel online. December 23, 2005.