Concentration camp

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In the general lurid picture of World War II, with its wrecked cities, uprooted farmland, demolished transportation facilities, and public utilities, starvation, disease, ashes, death, rubble, and dust, one item of horror seems to stand out with particularly dramatic and tragic intensity—the concentration camp. —Michael Musmanno

A concentration camp is a camp where troops are assembled, prior to combat or transport; or an internment camp where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners, prisoners of war, refugees etc., are detained to confine them, typically with inadequate or inhumane facilities, or where crowding and extremely harsh conditions take place. A concentration camp does not necessarily imply an extermination, or death camp, although the word is sometimes associated with such. An internment camp is a detention center or a relocation camp, and is a governmental euphemism for a concentration camp, especially a non-Nazi one. In German texts, Internierungslager means any non-Nazi concentration camp, while Konzentrationslager is used exclusively for Nazi concentration camps.


  • Until the very end... Foucault continued to investigate the "process of subjectivization" that, in the passage from the ancient to the modern world, bring the individual to objectify his own self, constituting himself as a subject and, at the same time, binding himself to a power of external control. ...Foucault never brought his insights to bear on... the exemplary place of modern biopolitics: the politics of the great totalitarian states of the twentieth century. The inquiry that began with a reconstruction of the grand enfermement in hospitals and prisons did not end with an analysis of the concentration camp.
    If, on the other hand... studies of Hannah Arendt dedicated to the structure of totalitarian states in the postwar period, have a limit, it is precisely the absence of any biopolitical perspective. Arendt very clearly discerns the link between totalitarian rule and the particular condition of life that is the camp: "The supreme goal of all totalitarian states," she writes... "is not only the freely admitted, long ranging ambition for global rule, but also the never admitted and immediately realized attempt at total domination. The concentration camps are the laboratories in the experiment of total domination, for, human nature being what it is, this goal can be achieved only under the extreme circumstances of human made hell."
    • Giorgio Agamben, The Omnibus Homo Sacer (2017) citing Arendt, Essays p. 240
  • Total loyalty to the movement, which is the psychological basis for total domination, can be expected, Arendt contends, "only from the completely isolated human being" who does not have any social ties. In times of war, revolution, or economic crisis, these masses of isolated people become available for mobilization by totalitarian regimes. Membership... promises... a cure for their "loneliness" and feeling of "not belonging to the world..." The totalitarian propaganda offers "a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to [their] needs... than reality itself." Clinging to the ideology and propaganda of the... movement, these "uprooted masses" can feel at home "through sheer imagination." ...[I]n Arendt's conception of total domination, the subjects of this power move in two distinct circles: the wider circle... in society... members... prepared to provide total loyalty to the movement. The narrower circle... inmates of the concentration camps—the "laboratories" in which the experiment of total domination is fully realized.
    • Michal Aharony, Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Total Domination: The Holocaust, Plurality (2015) Destroying the Individuality of Human Beings.
  • Despite the hundreds of attempts, police terror and the concentration camps have proved to be more or less impossible subjects for the artist; since what happened in them was beyond the imagination, it was therefore also beyond art and all those human values on which art is traditionally based.
  • ... nowhere else in the world did reality have as much effective power as in the camp, nowhere else was reality so real. In no other place did the attempt to transcend it prove so hopeless and so shoddy.
    • Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities (1966)
  • This is a history of the Gulag: a history of a vast network of labor camps that were once scattered across the length and breadth of the Soviet Union... Literally, the word GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. Over time, the word "Gulag" has also come to signify... the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women's camps, children's camps, transit camps. Even, more broadly, "Gulag" had come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the "meat-grinder": the arrests... interrogations... transport in unheated cattle cars... forced labor... destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.
  • The Gulag had antecedents in Czarist Russia, in the forced-labor brigades... in Siberia from the seventeenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. It... took on its modern... familiar form almost immediately after the Russian Revolution. Mass terror against real and alleged opponents was part of the Revolution from the very beginning—and by... 1918, Lenin... had already demanded that "unreliable elements" be locked up in concentration camps outside major towns. A string of aristocrats, merchants, and other people defined as potential "enemies" were duly imprisoned. By 1921, there were... eighty-four camps... mostly designed to "rehabilitate" these first enemies of the people.
  • Eastern Prussia was a battlefield during World War I years. And right from here, on September 1, 1939, began the spark of fire for the coming of the second world war. And in 1941, Eastern Prussia invaded Soviet soil with a powerful military onslaught, unleashing a grip of heavy burden, tragedy, and torture into the Soviet pre-Baltic and also the inhabitants of Leningrad, Pskov, and the Novgorod regions. Right from the very first days of the second world war, Eastern Prussia was completely transformed into a diabolic system of concentration camp strongholds for captured military people, and became a cruel prison for the young and females, who were brought from many European countries. In the first place, from the Soviet Union. And, aha! Now, after the winter of 1945, Soviet forces captured the descendants of these royal hounds in their very own doghouse!
    • Hovhannes Bagramyan, Quoted in "I. C. Bagramyan: A Photo Album About A Soviet Marshal" (1987) The Germans are being referred to here as dogs.
  • Once a refugee, forever a refugee. Roads back to the lost (or rather no longer existing) home paradise have been all but cut, and all exits from the purgatory of the camp lead to hell... The prospectless succession of empty days inside the perimeter of the camp may be tough to endure, but God forbid that the appointed or voluntary plenipotentiaries of humanity, whose job it is to keep the refugees inside the camp but away from perdition, pull the plug. And yet they do, time and again, whenever the powers-that-be decide that the exiles are no longer refugees, since ostensibly 'it is safe to return' to that homeland that has long ceased to be their homeland and has nothing that could be offered or that is desired.
  • The hallmarks of a regime which flouts the rule of law are, alas, all too familiar: the midnight knock on the door, the sudden disappearance, the show trial, the subjection of prisoners to genetic experiment, the confession extracted by torture, the gulag and the concentration camp, the gas chamber, the practice of genocide or ethnic clansing, the waging of aggressive war. The list is endless, Better to put up with some choleric judges and greedy lawyers.
  • An ethic gone wrong is an essential preliminary to the sweat shop or the concentration camp and the death march.
  • The story of Mandelstam's final years, thanks to his widow... is now widely known. He was arrested in 1934 for having composed a poem in which he made grim fun of Stalin, the 'Kremlin Mountaineer', and his relish for torture and execution... Someone informed on him and he was immediately clapped into prison, where he underwent intensive interrogation and psychological and physical torment. Friends intervened in so far as they dared or were able—his protector Bukharin was to be among Stalin's purge later in the decade—and by some miracle the intervention worked. The poet was not shot, as... expected... but exiled, first to a small town in the Urals (where, half insane from the prison experience, he attempted to kill himself...)... His wife was at his side from the moment he was put on the train into exile... The term of exile expired in May, 1937, and the Mandelstams returned to Moscow only to find that they had lost the right to 'living-space... Homeless and unable to find work, the following twelve month[s] is a nightmare of wandering and terror: the wave of second arrests... was under way. Mandelstam's condition worsened. He had two heart attacks. Finally in May 1938, they received Mandelstam's sentence 'for counter-revolutionary activities'... five years of hard labor (he had been seized at a rural sanatorium where he was recuperating). Held for a while in prison, he was put... on one of the prisoner trains [to] remote eastern regions. He seems to have been quite insane at times, though there were lucid intervals. ...[H]e wrote a last letter in October, 1938... saying that he was being held at a transit camp pending shipment to a permanent one. Alexander Mandelstam received notice that his brother had died—of 'heart failure'—on 27 December 1938.
    • Clarence Brown, Introduction, Osip Mandelstam, Selected Poems (1973) pp. xii-xiv, Tr. Clarence Brown & W. S. Merwin.
  • In 1942, there were 110,000 Japanese American citizens in good standing, law-abiding people who were thrown into internment camps simply because their parents were born in the wrong country. That's all they did wrong. They had no right to a lawyer, no right to a fair trial, no right to a jury of their peers no right to due process of any kind. The only right they had: "Right this way" into the internment camps! Just when these American citizens needed their rights the most, their government took them away! And rights aren't rights if someone can take them away. They're privileges. That's all we've ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter.
  • Then there are the laws against homosexuality. Then there is the Asian exclusion act. Then there the internment of Japanese Americans. I'm not even going to talk about Guantanamo. And then there is the first American hate crime: taking this land from the Native Americans. We can keep it up forever. Hate Crime Trivial Pursuit. There are more than enough hate crimes to play a decent round.
  • Unlike the concentration camps built in Nazi Germany during World War II, American concentration camps did not contain death chambers, and while there were instances in which prisoners were shot and killed by guards... there was no officially sanctioned systematic effort to exterminate prisoners. Because of the emotional association of "concentration camps" with the Nazi Holocaust, one is hesitant to use the phrase... However, President Roosevelt twice described the camps as concentration camps... and the joint Chiefs of Staff used the term early in 1942 when describing plans to house Japanese Americans... from the Hawaiian Islands. Other government entities used politically correct words such as "internment camps" and "relocation centers"... One is reluctant to use either... since both seem callous and dismissive of the trauma experienced by innocent prisoners held behind barbed wire under armed guard.
    • James Dickerson, Inside America's Concentration Camps: Two Centuries of Internment and Torture (2010)
  • [A] high school teacher in Granada, a woman of Navajo ancestry married to a Chicano... related that she had been there when the trains came in and had seen "the people crying and herded like cattle into army trucks and hauled up to the camp." ...[S]he came right up with the tabooed words: "We [Granadians] were the recipients of the concentration camp." But had no one in town protested..? No... "There was a lot of prejudice in here in the Arkansas Valley then. Stores in Lamar... had signs: 'NO JAPS ALLOWED.' "
    • Richard T. Drinnon, Keeper of the Concentration Camps: Dillon S. Myer and American Racism (1989)
  • In a society such as ours, it is almost impossible for a person to be responsible. ...In the whole of our technological society the work is so fragmented and broken up into small pieces that no one is responsible. ...Everyone has his own, specific task. And that's all... The director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was asked at the Nuremburg trials, “But didn’t you find it horrible? All those corpses?” He replied, “What could I do? I couldn’t process all those corpses. The capacity of the ovens was too small. It caused me many problems. I had no time to think about these people. I was too busy with the technical problem of my ovens.” That is the classic example of an irresponsible person. He carries out his technical task and isn’t interested in anything else.
  • Jacques Ellul, as interviewed in The Betrayal by Technology (1993 film), 8:15
  • The average American cannot get a true picture of the situation... by reading the report of [J. A. Krug] the Secretary of the Interior. ...[I]t paints the picture of poverty, illiteracy, and inhuman conditions that exist on the Navajo reservation. Then it presents a proposed program of rehabilitation which would transform this semi-desert Indian concentration camp into a Navajo paradise. ...But Sam Ahkeah... knows that the government experts say that the reservation is now overpopulated by some 35,000, and that it will continue to be [so] for ten years after it has been rehabilitated. Helping to overpopulate... is a tremendous number of non-Indians: the Indian Bureau employees, the teachers, the traders, the missionaries with their schools operating dormitories, school farms, and power plants, and the tourist hotels, largely supporting themselves from the land of the reservation and employing many white people.
    • Carlos B. Embry, America’s Concentration Camps: The Facts About Our Indian Reservations Today (2018)
  • February 19 is the anniversary of a very, very sad day in American history. It was on that date in 1942 that Executive Order 9066 was issued resulting in the uprooting of many, many loyal Americans. Over 100,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes, detained in special camps, and eventually relocated. We now know what we should have known then. Not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans. On the battlefield and at home the names of Japanese-Americans have been and continue to be written in history for the sacrifices and the contributions they have made to the well-being and to the security of this, our common Nation. Executive Order 9066 ceased to be effective at the end of World War II. Because there was no formal statement of its termination, there remains some concern among Japanese-Americans that there yet may be some life in that obsolete document. The proclamation that I am signing here today should remove all doubt on that matter. I call upon the American people to affirm with me the unhyphenated American promise that we have learned from the tragedy of that long ago experience; forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American and resolve that this kind of error shall never be made again.
  • ...[T]he story of the young woman whose death I witnessed in a concentration camp... is a simple story. me it seems like a poem. This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. "I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard," she told me. "In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously." Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, "This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness." Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. "I often talk to this tree," she said to me. I was startled and didn't quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. "Yes." What did it say to her? She answered, "It said to me, 'I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.' "
  • Zygmunt Bauman has suggested that our unstable time could one day be remembered as "The Age of Camps." For him, camps are confirmation of the fact that cruelty has been modernized, sundered from modern morality. ...He has Auschwitz and the gulags in mind rather than events in Windhoek, Kigali, Dili, and Katanga. For him the murderous accomplishments... do not extend to the genocidal activities of Theodor Lutwein and Lother Von Trotha among the Herero people of German South West Africa. Although his case is weakened by this oversight, there is nonetheless something valuable and eminently translatable in Bauman's polemical observations...
    • Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (2000) p. 87.
  • I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand proping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.
    • An extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was amongst the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Source: Imperial War Museum (1945).
  • I do not believe the Communists could risk any action, for their leading elements, like most criminals, are in our concentration camps. Here something needs saying: After the war it will be possible to see what a blessing it was for Germany that, regardless of all humanitarian sentimentality, we imprisoned this whole criminal substratum of the German people in the concentration camps; and for this I claim the credit. If these people were going about free, we would be having a harder time of it. For then the subhumans would have their NCO’s and commanding officers, they would have their workers’ and soldiers’ councils. As it is, they are locked up, and are making shells or projectile cases or other important things, and are very useful members of human society.
  • The capacity to resist coercion stems partly from the individual's identification with a group. The people who stood up best in the Nazi concentration camps were those who felt themselves members of a compact party (the Communists), of a church (priests and ministers), or of a close-knit national group. The individualists, whatever their nationality, caved in. The Western European Jew proved to be the most defenseless. Spurned by the Gentiles... and without vital ties with a Jewish community, he faced his tormentors alone—forsaken by the whole of humanity.
    • Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (1951) Ch.13 Factors Promoting Self-sacrifice, §45
  • 5. Why do you speak only about the German camps and not the Russian ones as well?
    I do not want to, nor can I, evade the duty which every man has, that of making a judgement and formulating an opinion. ...The principal difference lies in the finality. The German camps constitute something unique in the history of humanity, bloody as it is. To the ancient aim of eliminating and terrifying political adversaries, they set a monstrous modern goal, that of erasing entire peoples and cultures from the world. Starting roughly in 1941, they became giant death-machines. ...Certainly the Soviet camps were not and are not pleasant places to be, but in them the death of prisoners was not expressly sought—even in the darkest years of Stalinism. ... It was a very frequent occurrence, tolerated with brutal indifference, but basically not intended. Death was a byproduct of hunger, cold, infections, and hard labor. In this lugubrious comparison between two models of hell, I must also add the fact that one entered the German camps, in general never to emerge. Death was the only foreseen outcome. In the Soviet camps, however, a possible limit to the incarceration always existed. ...[A] hope—however faint—of eventual freedom remained.
    • Primo Levi, Afterword, The Reawakening (1965) Tr. Stuart Wolfe, pp. 222-223.
  • We who survived the Camps are not true witnesses. We are those who, through prevarication, skill or luck, never touched bottom. Those who have, and who have seen the face of the Gorgon, did not return, or returned wordless.
  • Despite the color of our hair and skin, despite the shape of our eyes, the U.S. was our country. I remember how my parents reminded us of that fact. Just before our family was evacuated, my father... said, "No matter what happens, this is your home."
  • In 1988, President Ronald Reagan formally apologized for the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and, under the Civil Liberties Act, paid $20,000 in reparations each to over 800,000 victims. Over $1.1 billion was initially allocated, with additional appropriations later.
  • In the general lurid picture of World War II, with its wrecked cities, uprooted farmland, demolished transportation facilities, and public utilities, starvation, disease, ashes, death, rubble, and dust, one item of horror seems to stand out with particularly dramatic and tragic intensity—the concentration camp. It can be seriously doubted in the world of today, even among the most meagerly informed peoples that there exists a man or woman who in some manner or other has not heard of and recoiled: at the mention of the phrase concentration camp.
  • Anna Akhmatova's first husband... N. Gumilev, was shot in 1921 in Petrograd. In the 1930s her then husband was arrested, and... her son. She stood for hours outside the prison in Leningrad, with many others, and wrote a poem about it, the famous "Requiem". ...When Gorbachev came to power, a skeptical colleague told Archie Brown... that the changes [could be] real if and when Akhmatova's "Requiem" were published. Published it was... almost fifty years after... written. ...[T]he power of poetry in Russian [is] a power lost in the West. Mandelshtam, who perished in a transit camp... once quipped that only in Russia are poets taken seriously, since only in Russia are poets killed for writing it. His own arrest had been largely due to some verses about Stalin: "He rejoices at every execution." ...
    Zabolotsky spent ten years in camps and survived. Ogonyok (No. 4 1988) reprinted a powerful poem about two old peasants freezing to death in the Kolyma complex ("On a Road Near Magadan")...
    [T]he belated appearance of Alexander Tvardovsky's... "By Right of Memory", in Novyi mir (No. 3 1987) twelve years after his death... stressed the effects of terror, the universal fear, the falsehoods, the suffering. ...The Ginzburg memoirs are being serialized... also... an interview with her first husband [Pavel] Aksyonov... who also survived seventeen years of labour camp. As for Solzhenitsyn... two works that he wrote when still in Russia, The First Circle and The Cancer Ward, may soon appear.
    • Alec Nove, Glasnost in Action: Cultural Renaissance in Russia (1989) pp. 93-95.
  • When Democrats rush up to me at events and insist that we live in the worst of political times, that a creeping fascism is closing its grip around our throats, I may mention the internment of Japanese Americans under FDR, the Alien and Sedition Acts under John Adams, or a hundred years of lynching under several dozen administrations as having been possibly worse, and suggest we all take a deep breath. When people at dinner parties ask me how I can possibly operate in the current political environment, with all the negative campaigning and personal attacks, I may mention Nelson Mandela, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or some guy in a Chinese or Egyptian prison somewhere. In truth, being called names is not such a bad deal.
  • The following pages present a micro-history of the basic architectural element of the labour service camps created during the Great Depression in Germany and the United States. ...The work of Oliver Razec, Allen Krell, and Reviel Netz on the history and meaning of barbed wire provided general inspiration. The barbed wire fence developed to control cattle on the American prairies, became in the twentieth century the main tool to define the perimeter of the total institutions established to protect the community... Barbed wire has no place in defining the boundaries of total institutions that are purportedly established to better the pursuit of some work-like task. ...Yet, under conditions of total war, such camps came to be used to imprison people, and the barrack-huts developed for those camps became standard-issue shelter in newly established concentration camps that have become symbolic for the twentieth century, defined by Zygmunt Bauman as "the Age of Camps." ...[A] comparative study that considers the adaptive reuse casu quo metamorphosis of all the architectural elements that became the building blocks of the concentration camp - barbed wire fence, guard tower, gate, barrack-hut, latrine, delousing shed, [etc.] - and dynamic interrelation between those elements in the camp, will make an interesting dissertation on the history of modern architecture.
    • Robert Jan van Pelt, "Labour Service Barrack-Huts in Germany and the United States, 1933-1945" Reflections on Camps – Space, Agency, Materiality (2019) ed. Antje Senarclens de Grancy, Heidrun Zettelbauer, pp. 509-510.
  • Influenced by Arendt and by Wolfgang Sofsky's... The Order of Terror... Giorgio Agamben... [defines] the camp as a paradigmatic state of exception and symbol of totalitarianism... Agamben defines "modern totalitarianism... " as the establishment, by means of the state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who... cannot be integrated into the political system." ...[T]he state of exception, embodied by the proliferation of the camp, constitutes a pillar of modernity's exclusionary strategies and forms the basis of universal history.
    There is a... road not quite taken in Agamben's... camp as... exception. Noting the debate about modernity's first... camps... the Spanish campos de concentraciones in Cuba in 1896 or the English concentration camps designed for the Boers... Agamben writes: "... both [represent] extension to an entire civilian population of a state of exception linked to a colonial war." But... critics have observed, despite his emphasis on "the camp as the 'nomos' of the modern," [he] ignores colonialism, even Italy's... Implementing spatial control, surveillance, and mass violence, Italy's concentration camps in interwar Cyrenaica... manifest all the features that define bare life for Agamben, but... elude his representations as state of exception. A fog cloaks Mussolini's brutal invasion of Ethiopia... If the omission of these presumably peripheral iterations of the totalitarian "promulgates the myth of... the Italians as 'good' and 'decent' colonisers"—it also forecloses a truly universal account of the camp as the fundamental biopolitical space of modernity that Agamben gestures toward.
    • Vaughn Rasberry, Race and the Totalitarian Century: Geopolitics in the Black Literary Imagination (2016)
  • The world of death camps and the society it engenders reveals the progressively intensifying night side of Judeo-Christian civilization. Civilization means slavery, wars, exploitation, and death camps. It also means medical hygiene, elevated religious ideas, beautiful art, and exquisite music. It is an error to imagine that civilization and savage cruelties are antitheses... Both creation and destruction are inseparable parts of what we call civilization.
  • The first concentration camps sprang up like mushrooms during Hitler's first year of power. By the end of 1933 there were some fifty... mainly set up by the S.A. to give its victims a good beating and then ransom them to their relatives of friends for as much as the traffic would bear. It was largely a crude form of blackmail. Sometimes, however, the prisoners were murdered, usually out of pure sadism and brutality. ...[B]efore the end mercifully came, millions of hapless persons were done to death and millions of others subjected to debasement and torture more revolting than all but a few minds could imagine. But at the beginning—in the Thirties—the population of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany probably never numbered more than from twenty to thirty thousand at any one time, and many of the horrors later invented and perpetrated by Himmler's men were as yet unknown. The extermination camps, the slave labor camps, the camps where the inmates were used as guinea pigs for Nazi "medical research," had to wait for the war.
    • William L. Shirer, Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (1959)
  • The killing sites that most closely fit such a framework were the German prisoner-of-war camps. They were the only type of facility (German or Soviet) where the purpose of concentrating human beings was to kill them. Soviet prisoners of war, crushed together in the tens of thousands and denied food and medical care, died quickly and in great numbers: some three million perished, most of them in a few months. Yet this major example of killing by concentration had little to do with Arendt’s concept of modern society. Her analysis directs our attention to Berlin and Moscow, as the capitals of distinct states that exemplify the totalitarian system, each of them acting upon their own citizens. Yet the Soviet prisoners of war died as a result of the interaction of the two systems. Arendt’s account of totalitarianism centers on the dehumanization within modern mass industrial society, not on the historical overlap between German and Soviet aspirations and power. The crucial moment for these soldiers was their capture, when they passed from the control of their Soviet superior officers and the NKVD to that of the Wehrmacht and the SS. Their fate cannot be understood as progressive alienation within one modern society; it was a consequence of the belligerent encounter of two, of the criminal policies of Germany on the territory of the Soviet Union. Elsewhere, concentration was not usually a step in a killing process but rather a method for correcting minds and extracting labor from bodies. With the important exception of the German prisoner-of-war camps, neither the Germans nor the Soviets intentionally killed by concentration. Camps were more often the alternative than the prelude to execution. During the Great Terror in the Soviet Union, two verdicts were possible: death or the Gulag. The first meant a bullet in the nape of the neck. The second meant hard labor in a faraway place, in a dark mine or a freezing forest or on the open steppe; but it also usually meant life. Under German rule, the concentration camps and the death factories operated under different principles. A sentence to the concentration camp Belsen was one thing, a transport to the death factory Bełżec something else. The first meant hunger and labor, but also the likelihood of survival; the second meant immediate and certain death by asphyxiation. This, ironically, is why people remember Belsen and forget Bełżec.
  • Nor did extermination policies arise from concentration policies. The Soviet concentration camp system was an integral part of a political economy that was meant to endure. The Gulag existed before, during, and after the famines of the early 1930s, and before, during, and after the shooting operations of the late 1930s. It reached its largest size in the early 1950s, after the Soviets had ceased to kill their own citizens in large numbers—in part for that very reason. The Germans began the mass killing of Jews in summer 1941 in the occupied Soviet Union, by gunfire over pits, far from a concentration camp system that had already been in operation for eight years. In a matter of a given few days in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews in the east than they had inmates in all of their concentration camps. The gas chambers were not developed for concentration camps, but for the medical killing facilities of the “euthanasia” program. Then came the mobile gas vans used to kill Jews in the Soviet east, then the parked gas van at Chełmno used to kill Polish Jews in lands annexed to Germany, then the permanent gassing facilities at Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka in the General Government. The gas chambers allowed the policy pursued in the occupied Soviet Union, the mass killing of Jews, to be continued west of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line. The vast majority of Jews killed in the Holocaust never saw a concentration camp. The image of the German concentration camps as the worst element of National Socialism is an illusion, a dark mirage over an unknown desert. In the early months of 1945, as the German state collapsed, the chiefly non-Jewish prisoners in the SS concentration camp system were dying in large numbers. Their fate was much like that of Gulag prisoners in the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1943, when the Soviet system was stressed by the German invasion and occupation. Some of the starving victims were captured on film by the British and the Americans. These images led west Europeans and Americans toward erroneous conclusions about the German system. The concentration camps did kill hundreds of thousands of people at the end of the war, but they were not (in contrast to the death facilities) designed for mass killing. Although some Jews were sentenced to concentration camps as political prisoners and others were dispatched to them as laborers, the concentration camps were not chiefly for Jews. Jews who were sent to concentration camps were among the Jews who survived. This is another reason the concentration camps are familiar: they were described by survivors, people who would have been worked to death eventually, but who were liberated at war’s end. The German policy to kill all the Jews of Europe was implemented not in the concentration camps but over pits, in gas vans, and at the death facilities at Chełmno, Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka, Majdanek, and Auschwitz.
  • March 22, 1933. The first prisoners arrive in Dachau. ...There is not set uniform for the prisoners. The procedure is orderly: no hitches, no shouting, no one is mistreated. That evening, the first meal is distributed... Afterward, the prisoners are led... to makeshift sleeping quarters... Because there are no cots and there is no straw, they have to bed down on the concrete floor. The thin blanket... is meager protection against the cold. ...It began as terror against political adversaries, and it ended with the death of millions. In the beginning, vengeance raged: the lust for revenge of a regime that had just gained power, bent on suppressing any who had stood in its way. But after its opponents had been eliminated, a new species of absolute power was unleashed that shattered all previous conceptions of despotism or dictatorial brutality: systematic destruction by means of violence, starvation, and labor—the businesslike annihilation of human beings. In the span of twelve years, the concentration camp metamorphosed from a locus of terror into a universe of horror.
    • Wolfgang Sofsky, The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp (1997) Tr. William Templer, Ch. 1 Entry. Originally published as Die Ordnung des Terrors. Das Konzentrtionslager (1993)
  • In the tragic days of Mussolini, the trains in Italy ran on time as never before and I am told in their way, their horrible way, that the Nazi concentration-camp system in Germany was a model of horrible efficiency. The really basic thing in government is policy. Bad administration... can destroy good policy, but good administration can never save bad policy.
    • Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois, speech before the Los Angeles Town Club, Los Angeles, California, September 11, 1952.—Speeches of Adlai Stevenson, p. 36 (1952).
  • The second generation Japanese can only be evacuated either as part of a total evacuation, giving access to the areas only by permits, or by frankly trying to put them out on the ground that their racial characteristics are such that we cannot understand or trust even the citizen Japanese. The latter is the fact but I am afraid it will make a tremendous hole in our constitutional system.
  • By far, the most important example of a new US approach to Latin America was its involvement in the Cuban struggle for independence. ...[C]ontacts with the United States helped spur ideas about an independent Cuba, which led to a series of wars between Cuban rebels and the Spanish. There was an initial conflict. the Ten Years War... A second short period of fighting called the Little War... and a final third war... the Cuban War for Independence. ...The third part of the wars for independence was extraordinarily brutal. The Spanish commander during most of 1896 and 1897, General Valeriano Weyler, worried about Cubans in the countryside shielding and aiding rebel guerilla fighters. His solution was to forcibly relocate hundreds of thousands of Cuban peasants into internment camps. Conditions in the camps were horendous; the people lacked adequate food and effective sanitation facilities, and the policy backfired. The objective had been to limit the peasants' support for fighters, but displacing the rural population created more anger. The fighting itself was bloody... Spanish war atrocities fit neatly into ideas developing in the United States about expanding power. Newspaper publishers, led by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer [reported] on the brutality of... Weyler, whom they nicknamed "the Butcher," [and] helped enflame popular opinion against the Spanish.
    • Jeffrey Taffet, Dustin Walcher, The United States and Latin America: A History with Documents (2017) pp. 42-43.
  • And fate made everybody equal
    Outside the limits of the law
    Son of a kulak or Red commander
    Son of a priest or commissar...
    Here classes are all equalized,
    All men were brothers, camp mates all,
    Branded as traitors every one...
  • The only reason that there has been no sabotage or espionage on the part of Japanese-Americans is that they are waiting for the right moment to strike. [A statement he later mitigated in his memoirs, see next entry below.]
    • Earl Warren, (1941) Testimony on Internment of people of Japanese Ancestry before the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration (Tolan Committee) as quoted in Legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2008) by the US House Committee on the Judiciary.
  • I have since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens. Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends, and congenial surroundings, I was conscience-stricken. It was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty, even though we felt we had a good motive in the security of our state. It demonstrates the cruelty of war when fear, get-tough military psychology, propaganda, and racial antagonism combine with one's responsibility for public security to produce such acts. I have always believed that I had no prejudice against the Japanese as such except that spawned by Pearl Harbor and its aftermath.
  • We find that at present the human race is divided into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become 'politicians'; the wise man stands out, because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics, or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off under the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare. It is pleasant to have command, observes Sancho Panza, even over a flock of sheep, and that is why the politicians raise their banners. It is, moreover, the same thing for the sheep whatever the banner. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different, except the name. The fools will be still fools, the knaves still leaders, the results still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated.
  • A useful concept that... captures the agency of "ordinary" people within the power structure is that of Herrschaft als soziale Praxis—domination as social practice. With its historiographical roots in the history of everyday life, it intends to break open the binary and static opposition of rulers against the ruled encountered in traditional theories of power and domination. The concept turns the ruled into actors who themselves have the power to accept domination, obey orders, acquiesce in rule—or not. As Alf Lüdtke argues, the concept... denotes a "field of forces in which actors relate to and deal with each other even if they sidestep and ignore each other. This field ...change[s] to the extent in which actors become operative or remain passive." In the Nazi dictatorship, the terrorization of the victims was connected to the appeal felt by supporters, abbetors, and accomplices of participating in an "ultimate power to kill." Inside the concentration camps the field of forces was... extremely constricted and unbalanced, with prisoners exposed to near-omnipotent guards who were in a position to violently dominate the inmates' every move. Wolfgang Sofsky has described this setting with the term "absolute power"...
    • Kim Wünschmann, Before Auschwitz (2015)
  • There were no lights, stoves, or window panes... We slept on army cots with our clothes on. ...The barbed wire fence which surrounded the camp was visible against the background of the snow-covered Sierra mountain range.
    • Karl Yoneda as quoted by Activebook for Out of Many: A History of the American People (2001) Vol. 2, p.59, on conditions at the internment camp for Japanese migrants and Japanese-Americans at Manzanar, California.

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