Concentration camp

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Concentration camps are camps set up for persons deemed to be opponents or threats to a government. They were most notoriously used by National Socialist Germany, in the Soviet Russia, World War Two era United States and British controlled South Africa. They are currently being used today by China against the Uighurs. The term "concentration camp" was coined by Soviet Communist Party General Secreary Vladimir Lenin in a 9 August 1918 letter in which he stated,

It is essential to organise a reinforced guard of reliable persons to carry out mass terror against kulaks, priests and White Guardists; unreliable elements should be locked up in a concentration camp outside the town" [1]


The first concentration camps in modern times were implemented in Cuba in 1896 under the command of Spanish General Valeriano Weyler, during the war with Cuba.[2]

In peacetime, the Soviet Union created the world's first concentration camp system with a network of prisons and labor camps intended for use on its own people.[3] Adolf Hitler, in responding to a question from a German industrial as to how he planned to deal with unemployment prior to assuming power in Nazi Germany, responded, "Concentration camps".[4] The Soviet Gulag system was copied in National Socialist Germany and raised to profound horrors never before thought imaginable: death factories. Auschwitz, for example, achieved murder on an industrial scale. During World War II, 1.5 million people were systematically starved, tortured, and murdered there.[5] Although Hitler was primarily focused on the extermination of the Jews; Christians, gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, and communists also met with similar fates in the National Socialist camps. Famous National Socialist concentration camps include Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald and Treblinka.

The Soviet gulags were forced labour camps, mainly in the remote regions of Siberia and the Far North. By 1934, the gulags held several million inmates (political prisoners and ordinary criminals alike) and the Soviet economy was dependent upon this vast pool of slave labour from the lumpen masses and counterrevolutionaries. An April 14, 1941 Memorandum from the U.S. Military Attache (G-2) in Moscow, found in the Harry Hopkins Papers at the FDR Library, entitled "NKVD of the USSR", it states in part,

Although the Soviets disclaim forced labor in this country, the organization of this commissariat is interesting to note. In it are the means to apprehend (militia), try and sentence (advisory council) and imprison offenders (corrective labor). Any governmental organization that has a crying need for labor simply calls upon the NKVD to supply it. If the amount of labor is insufficient to supply the need, it is relatively an easy matter to institute a reign of terror on any pretext and fill up labor colonies to meet requirements....Its close supervision over the people, its pogroms, its raids and arrests, has instilled fear...[6]

The NKVD has every individual under observation from birth to death...its secret agents are everywhere; its actions are swift. An individual simply disappears in the middle of the night and no one ever sees or hears of him again. ...When Stalin needs scapegoats to cover government mistakes he unleashes his NKVD...The Soviet Union is in itself a prison and the NKVD and State Security are its keepers.[7]

Conditions were brutal: prisoners received insufficient food and clothing to cope with the long working hours and severe weather, resulting in high death rates from exhaustion and disease.[8]

See also


  1. Geoffrey Hosking, A History of the Soviet Union, 1992, p. 71.
  2. February, 1896: Reconcentration Policy
  3. Dmitri Volkogonov, Trotsky: The Eternal Revolutionary, Translation by Harold Shukman, The Free PRess, New York, 1996.
  4. Gunther, John, Inside Europe, New York: Harper, 1939.

Further reading

  • Gregory L. Freeze, ed, Russia: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 253.

External links