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Nazi Concentration Camps


In Germany during the 1930's, the Nazis interned political prisoners and opponents of the regime in concentration camps. During the Second World War these expanded in number and eventually held many millions of people from occupied countries. Foremost among inmates were Jews and Soviet prisoners of war. Several camps were designed as extermination camps, where millions of people were murdered on an industrial scale.


This feature presents aerial photography of some of these camps.





From 1935 to 1945, Bergen-Belsen was used to house Russian Prisoners of War, Jewish exchange prisoners and tens of thousands of evacuees marched there from concentration camps in eastern Europe. Approximately 70,000 of the prisoners interned there died, some 35,000 of them dying of typhus shortly before and after liberation on 15 April 1945 by elements of the British 11th Armoured Division. They discovered around 53,000 prisoners inside, most of them half-starved and seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp unburied.


In this image of Bergen-Belsen, and in the enlargement above, a group of inmates, probably attending a roll-call, can be seen forming a square within the camp. 




Opened on 22 March 1933, Dachau was the first camp to be established by the Nazi's to house political prisoners and to train SS concentration camp guards. During the twelve years of its existence, over 200,000 people were imprisoned here, of whom 41,500 were murdered by the SS. The camp was liberated by US forces on 29 April 1945.




Esterwegen concentration camp was one of a series of camps first established as a 'special punishment' camp for political opponents of the Nazi regime. In 1941 it became a sub-camp of the concentration camp of Neuengamme.


The tightly-grouped rectangular huts and boundary fence with corner watch-towers visible in this image are characteristic signatures of a concentration camp. 




Neuengamme concentration camp is located 15km south east of Hamburg and was established by the SS in 1938. There were 96 sub-camps of Neuengamme with more than 45,000 inmates working for the Nazi war industry. By the end of the war, more than half of its estimated 106,000 prisoners had died.




Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp was used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to 1945. After the Second World War, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, it was used as an NKVD special camp until 1950.


Mittlebau Dora


Also known as Nordhausen, this camp was used to house slave labourers working underground on tunnel excavation and V-weapon assembly. During 18 months an estimated 20,000 inmates died, mainly from exhaustion, disease and starvation.


Camp Vught


Also known as Herzogenbusch, this camp was the only SS-run concentration camp in Western Europe outside Germany. Some 30,000 mainly Jewish prisoners were held here, of which 749 died. The inmates were evacuated to Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen before the Allies reached it in October 1944.




This unique photograph shows clouds of thick smoke rising from mass funeral pits at the Auschwitz extermination camp in August 1944. At this time, the number of people being killed was so high that the crematoria were unable to burn all of the corpses. When this image is viewed at high-resolution, prisoners can be seen standing in line within the camp. At the Nuremberg Trials, the camp commandant Rudolf Höß testified that up to 3 million people had died at Auschwitz.