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Concentration camp vs. death camp

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Concentration camp vs. death camp

Postby RACPISA on 19 Jun 2003 18:54

What's the major difference between a concentration camp and a death camp? I'm reading a book that says that the 6 death camps were Auschwitz, Belzec, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, and Majdanek. But Dachau and Buchenwald were pretty big, too. Is the main difference that the death camps have gas chambers?
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Re:

Postby Manstein on 20 Jun 2003 01:08

The major difference between death camps and concentration camps was first of all, mass gassings occurred in the death camps and not in ordinary concentration camps. All the death camps were used for exterminating Jews and Gypsies, but camps like Sachsenhausen were used to work Soviet POWs to death for Germany. Political prisoners such as Martin Luther and Hjalmar Schacht were also held there. Dachau was used to hold political prisoners and criminals often, but on quite a few occassions, Jews ended up there too. It was also the headquarters of one of the most brutal doctors, Dr. Sigmund Rascher. Mauthausen, being the bloodiest of all of the concentration camps, was used to work Jews and "undesirables" to death. Executions were long, drawn-out sessions of inmates carrying heavy boulders up a steep hill, and if they dropped one of them, they would be whipped. Some committed suicide by jumping off the hill to their deaths, others fell to their deaths and others died as the result of brutal treatment by the guards. It is true many Jews died in concentration camps, but this is because they were worked to death, not gassed.
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Postby demonio on 20 Jun 2003 01:14

You are generally right in what you have described but they can be categorised even further.

In the Reinhard camps of Belzec, Sobibor & Treblinka the purpose was to kill all and not use any for slave labour other then those essential for the camp to function, ie sort the clothes, burn the bodies.

The same at Chelmo but it was not classed as a reinhard camp and used the mobile Gas Vans for the killing.

At Auschwitz sometimes 30% of the train were taken in as slave labour, but the "labour" and "diet" were design to kill them. Life expectancy for most slave labourers was 12 weeks. They carried out weekly selections for gassing of those that looked exhausted.

Majdanek served as a prison/concentration camp and death camp and had a gas chamber.

The rest of the camps were classed as concentration camps but had different categories depending on the type of work inmates had to perform There were also very high attrition rates in many of them due to wanton cruelty/experiments/shootings/punishments/starving/mishandling.
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Postby giles120 on 26 Jan 2004 00:22

I offered a response to another member on this same question, so I will offer you my response.

Death Camps were set up as a result of the Wansee Conference(20th Jan 1942). The Wansee Conference concerned the mass destruction of Jews in the occupied territories(The Final Solution to the Jewish question), and looked to improve on methods employed by the Einsatzgruppen in Russia.
At the time of the Wansee Conference, Jews were already being murdered at Chelmno(near Lodz) by mobile gassing vans, but this method were also deemed very primitive.

The Operation Reinhard camps(Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka) were set up for the sole purpose of mass murder where the arriving Jews were not expected to survive longer than 24 hours(apart from a selected few who were required to assist in the process of death).

The Death Camps were Chelmno(not a part of Operation Reinhard), Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Concentration Camps supplied a force of very cheap labour not only for SS owned enterprises but also private industry(IG Farben, Siemens, Junkers etc). The victims perished through maltreatment, exhaustion, hunger and illness. Immediate mass murder was not the purpose of the Concentration Camps(the victims were a dispensable asset to be used to boost the war effort and to enrich the industrialists). Please note a number of Concentration Camps were equipped with gassing facilities(Dachau, Mathausen, Stutthof, Ravensbruck, Neuengamme, Natzweiler), but these were 'generally' used for small groups of prisoners who were too weak to work or who had committed a crime punishable by death. One exception(to statement 'small groups') maybe Mathausen where victims were killed in the camp's gas chamber, by a mobile gassing van, or at the T4 centre, Castle Hartheim.

Majdanek and Auschwitz both employed forced labour, but were also equipped for mass extermination. They were managed/administred by the SS Central Office for Economy and Administration like the Concentration Camps(as was Chelmno I think). The Operation Reinhard Camps were managed/administered on an operational basis by Christian Wirth who reported directly to the Reich Chancellery. Majdanek and Aushwitz may therefore be best classed as Concentration Camps with facilities for mass murder. This view is personal and open to interpretation.

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Postby michael mills on 26 Jan 2004 14:26

The situation is actually more complicated.

The term "Aktion Reinhardt" referred to the process of confiscating the personal possessions of concentration camp prisoners, and particularly of deported and/or killed Jews, and using them in the German war effort in various ways, whether selling gold to Switzerland or distributing clothing to ethnic German refugees.

Accordingly, "Aktion Reinhardt" also was in operation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, as testified to by Hoess. The vast warehouses at Auschwitz-Birkenau (nicknamed "Kanada" by the prisoners), and those at Lublin, holding property confiscated from persons brought to the camps, were all part of "Aktion Reinhardt", which appears to have been named after Fritz Reinhardt, an official of the Ministry of Finance who was in charge of the whole salvage operation.

In Lublin, "Aktion Reinhardt" was administered by an office called "Einsatz Reinhardt", set up by and reporting to the SSPF for Lublin District, Odilo Globocnik. That office was responsible for the administration of Aktion Reinhardt throughout the Generalgouvernement (hence not at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was situated on territory annexed to Germany).

"Einsatz Reinhardt" located at Lublin was probably the most important part of the whole Aktion Reinhardt, given that it managed the vast amount of loot seized from the Jews killed at the three extermination centres under Globocnik's control.

Thus, it is not really meaningful to speak of "Reinhardt camps" as a special category separate from concentration camps under the control of the WVHA, since "Aktion Reinhardt" was in operation wherever personal property was confiscated from incoming prisoners or deportees, both in the regular concentration camps and in ad-hoc killing centres such as those set up by Globocnik.

As for the killing centre at Chelmno (just a place where Jews from the Lodz Ghetto were brought to be killed in gas vans), it was an ad-hoc establishment without any official status, set up by the Reichstatthalter of Reichsgau Wartheland, Arthur Greiser. Greiser had received permission from Himmler and Heydrich to apply "special treatment" to 100,000 surplus Jews from his Gau, and for that purpose had borrowed the Sonderkommando Lange (later Sonderkommando Bothmann), a special unit under the command of the Security Police office in Posen which had previously had the task of killing off the inmates in the mental hospitals in Wartheland and East Prussia.

Aktion Reinhardt may have operated at Chelmno, despite its unofficial status, since the personal effects taken from the Jews killed there were stored in large warehouses and later transported away by truck, no doubt under the aegis of Aktion Reinhardt, although it is possible that the loot was kept by the local Security Police; the whole process of handling the vast amounts of confiscated property gave rise to enormous and widespread corruption.
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Postby giles120 on 27 Jan 2004 01:22

Hi Michael,

Very interesting information on Chelmno, and on the confiscation of Jewish property. Chelmno was the testing ground for Aktion Reinhardt. It was an experiment to improve on the Einsaztgruppen's methods of mass shootings and occasional usage of mobile gassing vans. Therefore, although not offically designated a Reinhardt camp, it may be seen as the pre-cursor to Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Odilo Globocnik was designated Commander and Leaser of Aktion Reinhardt(assisted by his head of Operations SS and Police Leader Lublin, Sturmbannfuhrer Hofle). Police Superintendent Christian Wirth singularly enjoyed direct access to Hitler(through the Reich Chancellery), bypassing his superiors Globocnik and Himmler for any operational matters regarding Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. In this respect, Wirth was all powerful. As well as being first Kommandant of Belzec(successor Hauptsturmführer Gottlieb Hering) , Wirth was made roving Inspector of Death Camps(appointed by Himmler directly).

Aktion Reinhardt was in fact named after Reinhard Heydrich, chief of Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo), Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA). After the assassination (mid-1942) of Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's Reich Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, the destruction of the Jews in the Government General (Poland) became formally known as "Operation Reinhard," in a final tribute to the slain Nazi.

Fritz Reinhardt's(State Secretary of Finance) ministry first became involved in the Aktion over two months after the first known occurence of the code name.

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Postby michael mills on 27 Jan 2004 02:37

Chelmno was the testing ground for Aktion Reinhardt. It was an experiment to improve on the Einsaztgruppen's methods of mass shootings and occasional usage of mobile gassing vans. Therefore, although not offically designated a Reinhardt camp, it may be seen as the pre-cursor to Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.


I do not think there is sufficient historical evidence for the notion that the killing centre at Chelmno was some sort of experiment.

The available documentary and testimonial evidence suggests that it resulted from a local initiative by Arthus Greiser, in reaction to the deportation of German Jews to the Lodz Ghetto.

In October 1941, Greiser was suddenly informed by Himmler that the deportation of Jews from Germany was about to begin, and that the deportees would be sent first to the Lodz Ghetto (situated in the Reichsgau Wartheland of which Greiser was the Reichsstatthalter, or Governor) for the winter, prior to being sent further east in the Spring.

Greiser protested on the basis that the Lodz Ghetto was already overcrowded (the Reichsgau Wartheland contained about 300,000 Jews, most of them stuffed into the Lodz Ghetto), but his protests were overridden by Himmler. It then appears that Greiser asked Himmler and Heydrich for permission to apply "Sonderbehandlung" to 100,000 Jews of Wartheland (ie about one-third of the total), presumably to create space for the incoming German Jews.

There are no extant documents in relation to the process of negotiation, but in a letter from Greiser to Himmler of May 1942, there is a reference to the permission given by Himmler and Heydrich for the "Sonderbehandlung" of 100,000 Jews, the advice that the action would soon be complete, and a request for permission to apply the same treatment to tubercular Poles.

It appears that the permission sought by Greiser was given in October 1941, since it was in that month that the Sonderkommando Lange began looking for a suitable location for a killing centre close to Lodz, according to post-war testimony from members of the Sonderkommando. The Sonderkommando was under the command of the HSSPF Wartheland, a certain Koppe, who testified after the war that he "lent" it to Greiser.

The question remains as to why the Sonderkommando Lange used gas vans as the killing methodology. It had previously been involved in the euthanasia of Polish mental patients, during which it had apparently employed a mobile gas chamber using bottled Carbon Monoxide, the same methodology used at the Euthanasia Institutes in Germany. Therefore, it had experience in gassing as well as in shooting.

Furthermore, the gas van using its own exhaust as the killing agent was being developed by the technicians of the Criminal Technical Office of the RSHA from September 1941 onward, and was operational by the end of that year. Apparently it was developed for the purpose of euthanasing mental patients in the occupied Soviet territories, so as to make the hospitals available for Wehrmacht use.

The most likely course of events is that Greiser applied to and received permission from Himmler and Heydrich to kill the 100,000 surplus Jews, and then turned to Koppe for the supply of a unit with experience in euthanasia. The Sonderkommando Lange, having been placed at Greiser's disposal for the above exterminatory task, then looked for a location for a killing centre and also a suitable killing methodology.

Exactly how the Sonderkommando Lange came to use the new gas vans is not known for certain. It may be that news of their successful use in the occupied Soviet territories spread within SS circles, and Lange applied to the RSHA to have a gas van or vans supplied to him. (Note that the Sonderkommando Lange was not itself part of the RSHA or under RSHA command; it came under the HSSPF Koppe, who reported directly to Himmler, not to the RSHA).

The crucial point is that the killing centre at Chelmno was a temporary expedient, set up for the specific task of reducing the number of Jews in the Wartheland. The process was as follows:

Jews from the Lodz Ghetto selected as no longer fit for labour were sent to Chelmno and killed, thereby creating space in the ghetto. At the same time, the smaller ghettos of the Wartheland were closed down; those of their inhabitants assessed as fit for labour were sent to the Lodz Ghetto to take the place of the unfit Jews removed from there, while those assessed as unfit for labour were sent directly to Chelmno.

By the above process, the Jews of the Wartheland unfit for labour were killed off at Chelmno, while those fit for labour were concentrated in the Lodz Ghetto, which thereby became a large production centre.

Chelmno was thus a temporary expedient, not related to other extermination initiatives. It remains unclear whether the disposal of the personal possessions of the Jews killed at Chelmno came under the control of Aktion Reinhardt, or whether it remained under the control of Lange and Greiser, ie who was ultimately responsible for accounting for it.


Odilo Globocnik was designated Commander and Leaser of Aktion Reinhardt(assisted by his head of Operations SS and Police Leader Lublin, Sturmbannfuhrer Hofle).


In point of fact, Globocnik was appointed administrator of Aktion Reinhardt only within the confines of the Generalgouvernement. he was required to account only for the property seized from the Jews who passed through the camps under his command.

I do not think Hoefle can have been SSPF Lublin, since that position was held by Globocnik himself. In that position, he was subject to the HSSPF for the Generalgouvernement, Krüger, but not in his function as administrator of Aktion Reinhardt in the whole Generalgouvernement.

It appears that Globocnik was very insubordinate, and refused to obey the overall command of Fritz Reinhardt and the Ministry for Finance, to which he was accountable for all the Jewish property seized at the camps controlled by him. He was suspected of corruption, ie of keeping for himself the proceeds of the sale of the confiscated Jewish property rather than handing it over to Reinhardt, and for that reason was eventually removed from his post and exiled to the Balkans. The extensive report he wrote for Himmler in 1944 was an attempt to disprove the charges of corruption against him.


Police Superintendent Christian Wirth singularly enjoyed direct access to Hitler(through the Reich Chancellery), bypassing his superiors Globocnik and Himmler for any operational matters regarding Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.


I would like to see some evidence that Wirth enjoyed direct access to Hitler, which would be extremely unusual for a mere captain of the Criminal Police.

I think you mean the Fuehrer Chancellory, rather than the Reich Chancellory. The Fuehrer Chancellory was Hitler's private office, originally set up to manage his correspondence, but also entrusted with special tasks. The Euthanasia Program in Germany was run by Philipp Bouhler, a senior official of the Fuehrer Chancellory, a person who certainly did have direct access to Hitler.

Wirth had been seconded to the Euthanasia Program as the person in charge of security at the Euthanasia Centres, and as such came under Bouhler, but I would be surprised if he himself had any sort of direct access to Hitler.

Fritz Reinhardt's(State Secretary of Finance) ministry first became involved in the Aktion over two months after the first known occurence of the code name.


I would like to get some more information on this. What was the date of the first documented use of the term "Aktion Reinhardt", and how was it used? On what basis is it determined when Fritz Reinhardt first became involved with Aktion Reinhardt?
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