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Buchenwald Concentration Camp was established by the Nazis in 1937 and was one of the largest camps in Germany. Jews, Roma people, political prisoners, gay men Jehovah’s Witnesses and prisoners of war were imprisoned at Buchenwald, as well as ‘asocial’ prisoners who were incarcerated due to their inability to find work. Between 1937 and 1945 approximately 250,000 people were imprisoned at Buchenwald, over 56,000 of whom were killed. Many prisoners died due to illness, malnutrition, executions, medical experimentation, and the hardships of slave labour. In January 1945 approximately 10,000 prisoners – mostly Jewish – arrived at the camp after being forced to endure death marches. In early April, as US forces approached the camp, the Nazi paramilitary group SS began to force inmates on further marches out of Buchenwald. The US Army liberated 21,000 prisoners from Buchenwald on 11 April 1945.
Ravensbrück Concentration Camp was built in 1939 and was the largest women’s concentration camp. A small men’s camp was added in April 1941 and a youth camp, Uckermark, became part of Ravensbrück in June 1942. In total around 120,000 women and children and 20,000 men from over 30 different countries were imprisoned at Ravensbrück, including Jewish and Sinti and Roma people. Around 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners died in Ravensbrück, through starvation, from having been experimented on, from being worked to death, or selected for death for being considered too weak to work. A gas chamber was built in January 1945 and approximately 6,000 prisoners were gassed here. Shortly before the end of the war, the International, Danish and Swedish Red Cross evacuated around 7,500 prisoners to Sweden, Switzerland and France. Around 20,000 prisoners were taken on death marches. The Soviet Troops liberated the camp on 30 April 1945 and found around 2,000 prisoners who had been too sick to go on the death marches.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most infamous of all Nazi camps and consisted of three main camps, known as Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II – Birkenau and Auschwitz III – Monowitz-Buna. There were also around 45 sub-camps around these sites. Over 1.1 million people were murdered at this site, and over 90% of them were Jewish.
In early 1940, Hartheim Castle in Austria was converted to be used as a killing centre for those with physical or mental disabilities (or those perceived to have these). From May 1940, people were killed using carbon dioxide in gas chambers. It is estimated that around 30,000 people were murdered in Hartheim Castle.
Historians estimate that between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti (historically often labelled as ‘Gypsies’) people were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in what is now called the Roma genocide. Many more were imprisoned, used for forced labour or subject to forced sterilisation and medical experimentation. Roma and Sinti men, women and children were already being targeted for persecution and imprisonment before the Second World War. As the Second World War began, the genocide of Roma and Sinti people intensified – including in occupied territories such as Austria. The persecution of Roma and Sinti and the Roma genocide took place alongside the Holocaust that saw the murder of six million Jews.
Dachau Concentration Camp was established in March 1933, initially to house political opponents. Dachau was used as a model for all later concentration camps. In the 12 years of its existence, over 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned in Dachau, including gay men, Sinti and Roma, ‘asocials’, criminals, Jews and, later, Soviet prisoners of war. Once the Second World War started, living conditions in Dachau drastically worsened. Approximately 41,500 people were murdered in Dachau; one third of these died in the final six months of the war. Approximately 25,000 prisoners were sent on death marches as Allied troops approached. The camp was liberated by American troops in April 1945.
The Nazis planned the mass-deporation of European Jews to extermination camps in German-occupied Poland. The Jews were forced to gather at local sites, such as a synagogue or town square, and then crammed onto freight or passenger trains, with limited or no food or sanitary conditions. Journeys often lasted several days, and sometimes they took a few weeks. Many of those packed onto these trains died during the journey to the camps through starvation or overcrowding.