Extermination camp

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Entrance building of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp; View from inside the site (2004)
Extermination camp in occupied Poland
Extermination camp in occupied Belarus

Extermination camps , also known as death camps or, colloquially emphatically, death factories , are a number of special concentration camps (KZ) that were set up by SS death-head associations in occupied Poland and Belarus during the Nazi era, specifically for the mass murder of Jews from all over Europe and others by the National Socialists persecuted groups of people were used.

From their establishment in 1941 to their liberation by the Red Army of the Soviet Union in 1944 and 1945, more than three million people were murdered in these extermination camps, mainly in gas chambers, in what was often referred to as industrial . In addition to the mass shootings by the special SS Einsatzgruppen, the extermination camps play a central role in the genocide of the Jews .

Differentiation from other concentration camps

Concentration and extermination camps of the Nazi dictatorship emerged at different stages of their rule. The Nazi regime began setting up concentration camps as early as 1933 . The extermination camps with factory-organized murder of people in gas chambers were operated from spring 1942. Before that, Jews had been murdered in the Kulmhof extermination camp in a first phase from December 1941 in gas vans stationed there.

In contrast to other concentration camps , where prisoners died, in addition to individual murders, primarily from systematically induced illness, malnutrition and excessive work, the " extermination through work ", the only purpose of the extermination camps was the immediate murder of those deported there , who were brought to the camps by special railroad trains were.

After a transport had reached the camp, the people who had arrived were usually murdered in the gas chambers regardless of age, gender or ability to work. Only from some transports was a small number of able-bodied people held back who were needed by the Nazi regime for certain functions in the camp, such as in the kitchen, as gravedigger, corpse burner and in sorting and repair operations.

As early as 1933, the National Socialists made no secret of the existence of concentration camps, as they served as a deterrent. The extermination camps, on the other hand, were subject to strict secrecy. To camouflage the mass murder, even in internal correspondence, it was only described as “ special treatment ”, “cleansing”, “resettlement” or “evacuation”. The extermination camps were called concentration camps by the SS. Their internal organizational structures were also largely identical. The naming of the extermination camps came later in the history of science and in court proceedings and serves to categorize more closely.


SS-WVHA concentration camp

The concentration camps, which were founded by the SS inspection of the concentration camps and which mostly lasted until the end of the war , are meant in the narrower sense when the “ concentration camps ” are mentioned. According to Heinrich Himmler's orders , only those camps were officially designated as concentration camps, or K.L. for short, that were subordinate to the inspection of the concentration camps and later to the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office (WVHA) . At the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek / Lublin, which were newly built in 1941/42 , the massive annihilation of minorities such as Jews, Roma and Soviet military personnel, called the “ final solution ”, was added right from the start. The two extermination camps in the hierarchy of the SS-WVHA are therefore listed separately in this table.

Name / designation Location (current country) Type Installation Closure / Liberation Estimated number of dead
Auschwitz-Birkenau , also Auschwitz II Poland Concentration, prisoner of war and extermination camps October 1941 January 1945 approx. 1,100,000
Majdanek , also KL Lublin Poland Concentration and extermination camps October 1941 July 1944 78,000

Action Reinhardt extermination camp

The extermination camps listed here were founded as part of the so-called Aktion Reinhardt . These camps were located on the territory of the General Government of Poland and occupied Belarus and were formally operated under the responsibility of the respective Higher SS and Police Leader (HSSPF) .

Name / designation Location (current country) Installation Closure / Liberation Estimated number of dead
Belzec Poland March 1942 December 1942 434,500
Sobibor Poland May 1942 October 1943 150,000-250,000
Treblinka Poland July 1942 November 1943 at least 900,000


Between the end of 1941 and July 1942, six large extermination camps were opened in the areas conquered by the Wehrmacht in the east . They emerged after the Wannsee Conference with the aim of “rationalizing” the large-scale mass murder of Jews and other “foreign races” as well as people identified as potential opponents of Nazi rule in the conquered areas of Eastern Europe, making it more or less industrial facilitate and speed up.

In particular, the "problems" associated with the shootings previously practiced - mainly by the Einsatzgruppen of the SS and SD - should be avoided:

  • Incomplete removal of the corpses or the remaining of identifiable mass graves and consequent difficulty in determining the number of victims
  • Possibility of breach of secrecy by accidental witnesses, accomplices / confidants from other units, escape of individual victims
  • Psychological stress on the perpetrators from killing methods such as shooting, in which there was direct contact with the victim

The aim of the extermination camps was therefore the complete physical extermination of the victims, including all mortal remains, as well as isolation and shielding from society and the parts of the army and administration that were not directly assigned to them.

An important feature was the connection of the camps to the rail network of the Reichsbahn or the neighboring countries, so that the supply of previously arranged "transports" and thus a planned and economically rationalized mass killing - thus the extermination of European Jews, which the National Socialists called the "final solution" - be made possible.

The following eight facilities were operated as extermination camps in 1941/42 to carry out the mass murder of European Jews:

On Reich territory annexed in 1939

These imperial territories, which were occupied and illegally annexed in 1939, had belonged to the Polish Republic since the 1920s ; a consequence of the territorial changes after the First World War . The numbers refer to the commissioning dates.

In the territory of the General Government

The Generalgouvernement consisted mainly of parts of Poland occupied in 1939

  • Belzec , in the Zamość District Headquarters in the Lublin District , General Government - from March 17, 1942
  • Sobibor , in the district chief Cholm in the Lublin district, General Government - no later than May 6, 1942
  • Treblinka , in the Sokolow district chief in the Warsaw district , General Government - from July 22, 1942
  • Majdanek concentration camp , initially referred to as the Waffen SS prisoner of war camp; in the Lublin District Headquarters in the Lublin District, General Government - from September 14, 1942.

In the district of the Reichskommissariat Ostland

The following camps, which were located in the Belarusian area of ​​the Reichskommissariat Ostland established by Germany on Soviet soil , are usually not (yet) counted among the extermination camps in international Holocaust research . Details came out late; most of the victims were shot and the number of victims is lower than in the aforementioned extermination camps - see the individual articles.

Name / designation Location (current country) Installation Closure / Liberation Estimated number of dead
Bronnaja Gora , Breszkaja Woblasz Belarus 1942, deportation trains from June 1942 onwards March 1944 more than 50,000
Maly Trostinez near Minsk Belarus May 1942 July 1944 40,000-60,000

Killing Techniques

Three differently mechanized forms of mass murder were carried out in the extermination camps:

Organization and instances

Starting in autumn 1941, three different central National Socialist authorities, the Reich Security Main Office, the Chancellery of the Führer, and the SS Economic and Administrative Main Office were charged with implementing the final solution to the Jewish question in the extermination camps:

Information and confrontation in post-war Germany

After the liberation of the concentration camp prisoners and their medical care, the Allies saw the need to confront the German population with the crimes committed under their eyes. The unbelievable crimes became visible in the concentration camps - even for people who had not already been eyewitnesses to the crimes. The local population in the vicinity of the concentration camps was forced to look at parts of the camp and the bodies of those murdered there. She was also forced to bury the dead in dignified graves at various camp locations. This involved unburied corpses or the reburial of corpses from mass graves. Several film documentaries and photo books were produced for screenings in occupied Germany and Austria. The first example is the film The Death Mills , in the original Death Mills . It consists mainly of film material that was shot in recently liberated concentration camps - including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen. The film is underlaid only with serious classical music and has no framework plot. He also goes into the economic exploitation of prisoners. Some of the documentation was also used as evidence for any legal proceedings against those involved, e.g. B. in the Nuremberg trials or in the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial .

See also

Documentaries, documentary scenes


  • Adalbert Rückerl (Ed.): National Socialist Extermination Camps in the Mirror of German Criminal Trials. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno . Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-423-02904-8 .
  • Yitzhak Arad : Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Bloomington and Indianapolis 1987 (Indiana University Press), ISBN 0-253-34293-7 (English).
  • Konnilyn G. Feig: Hitler's Death Camps: The Sanity of Madness. Holmes & Meier Publishers Incorporated, new edition 181, ISBN 0-8419-0676-9 (English).
  • Hans Buchheim , Martin Broszat , Hans-Adolf Jacobsen : Anatomy of the SS state. Dtv; (1st edition 1965) 8th edition 2005, ISBN 3-423-30145-7 (therein: Martin Broszat, The Concentration Camps 1933-1945 ).
  • Eugen Kogon : The SS State - The System of the German Concentration Camps . Alber, Munich 1946 (most recently: Heyne, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-453-02978-X ).
  • Eugen Kogon: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them. Octagon Books, 1972, ISBN 0-374-94610-8 (English).
  • Sheba F. Skirball: Films of the Holocaust. An Annotated Filmography of Collections in Israel . New York, NY: Garland, 1990 (English).

Web links

Wiktionary: extermination camps  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Death camps  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Sandkühler : The perpetrators of the Holocaust. In: Karl Heinrich Pohl : Wehrmacht and extermination policy. Göttingen 1999, p. 47.
  2. ^ Leni Yahil : The Holocaust. The Fate of European Jewry, 1932-1945 . Oxford University Press, New York / Oxford 1991, p. 532.
  3. Eugen Kogon et al. (Ed.): National Socialist mass killings by poison gas: A documentation . Frankfurt / M. 1983, ISBN 3-10-040402-5 , pp. 151-163.
  4. Dieter Pohl : Mass killings by poison gas as part of the 'Reinhardt campaign'. In: Günther Morsch, Bertrand Perz: New studies on National Socialist mass killings by poison gas. Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-940938-99-2 , pp. 185-195.
  5. Tomasz Kranz: The Lublin concentration camp - between planning and implementation. In: Ulrich Herbert , Karin Orth , Christoph Dieckmann : The National Socialist Concentration Camps. FiTb, Frankfurt 1998, ISBN 3-596-15516-9 , p. 379.
  6. Eugen Kogon et al. (Ed.): National Socialist mass killings by poison gas. Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-940938-99-2 , pp. 110-145.