The Camp System of the Third Reich

The Development of the Concentration Camp System

Events in the Nazi Regime

1933 to 1936

Important camps: Dachau,
temporarily Börgermoor and Esterwegen

Early concentration camps (1933/34)

Several different camp-types and a large number of camps existed (60 to 80 camps, today mostly unknown). Most were closed after a few months, and originated without central planning.

Hitler comes to power (Machtergreifung)

Reorganization and centralization (1934 to 1936/37)

The most important of the remaining camps were reorganized on the model of Dachau. All were subordinated to the reestablished 'inspection of the concentration camps'.

Stabilization of the regime

1936 to
winter 1941/42

Important camps: Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald

Formation and establishment of the centralized concentration camp system (1936 to September 1939)

Construction of the 'modern' concentration camps Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald, as well as extension of Dachau in 1936/38.  In subsequent years more camps were constructed on their model; the functions of the camps changed and new prisoner-groups were imprisoned.

Direct war preparations

First phase of war (September 1939 to winter 1941/42)

Transition-phase, with marked changes to camp life: increase in prisoner numbers, increasing internationalization of prisoner populations, and drastic deterioration of living conditions.

Outbreak of war and first, victorious years of fighting

Winter 1941/42 to May 1945

Important camps: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Dachau

Hard labour and genocide (winter 1941/42 to 1944)

The large-scale use of prisoners in the arms industry led to the expansion of the camp system through a system of subcamps. Prisoners were detained from all areas occupied by the German armed forces. The programme of genocide ultimately took priority over economic efficiency.

Construction of death camps (1941–1945)

Total warfare (Goebbels’ totaler Krieg); increasing losses on all fronts


Death marches and liberation (Spring/Autumn 1944 to beginning of May 1945)

Liquidation of many concentration camps; evacuation/death marches: sky-rocketing mortality rates during the last war-months (worsening condition of prisoners). In those camps that were not evacuated, the arrival of death march survivors led to increasingly unbearable conditions.

Allied troops progress; chaotic final month of war.





By Guido Fackler