concentration camp

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Related to concentration camp: Majdanek concentration camp

concentration camp,

a detention site outside the normal prison system created for military or political purposes to confine, terrorize, and, in some cases, kill civilians. The term was first used to describe prison camps used by the Spanish military during the Cuban insurrection (1868–78), those created by America in the Philippines (1898–1901), and, most widely, to refer to British camps built during the South African WarSouth African War
or Boer War,
1899–1902, war of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State against Great Britain. Background
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 (Boer War) to confine Afrikaners in the Transvaal and Cape Colony (1899—1902). The term soon took on much darker meanings. In the USSR, the GulagGulag,
system of forced-labor prison camps in the USSR, from the Russian acronym [GULag] for the Main Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps, a department of the Soviet secret police (originally the Cheka; subsequently the GPU, OGPU, NKVD, MVD, and finally the KGB).
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 elaborated on the concept beginning as early as 1920. After 1928, millions of opponents of Soviet collectivization as well as common criminals were imprisoned under extremely harsh conditions and many died.

During World War II concentration camps were established throughout Europe by the Nazis, and throughout Indochina and Manchuria by the Japanese. Of the millions of people of many nationalities detained in them, a large proportion died of mistreatment, malnutrition, and disease. In both Nazi and Japanese camps inmates were exploited for slave labor and medical experimentation, but the Nazis also established extermination camps. In the best known of these—Majdanek, Treblinka, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz), in Poland—more than six million mainly Jewish men, women, and children were killed in gas chambers. Also detained and often killed in Nazi camps were Communists, Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, and others. Among the most notorious Nazi camps liberated by U.S. and British troops in 1945 were Buchenwald, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen.


See N. Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (2015); Imperial War Museum, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (documentary, 2014).

The term has also been applied to the U.S. relocation centersrelocation center,
in U.S. history, camp in which Japanese and Japanese-Americans were interned during World War II. Fearing a Japanese invasion, the military leaders, under authority of an executive order, defined (Mar.
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 for American citizens of Japanese origin and others interned in the W United States during World War II. In China during the Cultural Revolution (1966–69) millions were sent to euphemistically named "reeducation" camps, and in Cambodia after Pol Pot came to power (1976) an estimated one million civilians died in "reeducation" camps. North Korea maintains a system of political and criminal prison camps in which inmates are sentenced to harsh physical labor and are underfed and mistreated. In 1992, reports of malnutrition and killings in concentration camps for Muslim, Croat, and Serb male civilians in Bosnia led to attempts by international organizations to identify the location of the camps and inspect them.

concentration camp

a special unit for the detention of those defined by governments as political and social ‘undesirables’. Although special centres of internment, in this sense, had been established by the British government in the Boer War, and perhaps even earlier elsewhere, the term has come to refer in particular to the centres set up by the Nazis in Germany and in occupied Europe prior to and during World War II. In this form, the role of these institutions was not merely to detain or to correct behaviour, as in some earlier cases, but to demoralize to the point of death, or exterminate those detained, especially Jews, but also other groups such as Gypsies (see also ANTI-SEMITISM). Usually, institutions of this general type, including the forced labour camps established in the Soviet Union, are regarded as an instrument of TOTALITARIANISM, but there are continuities, although obvious differences, between such institutions and the modern institutions of incarceration (see PRISONS) which are a routine instrument of social control in modern societies of all types (see also SURVEILLANCE). Psychoanalytical theorists (notably Bettleheim, 1960, himself an internee) have studied the extremes of depersonalization and dehumanization with which concentration camps are associated (see also TOTAL INSTITUTION OR TOTAL ORGANIZATION). Bettleheim's suggestion is that those who survived death by attrition in camps did so by being able to preserve some ‘areas of independent action’, despite an environment which appears overwhelmingly ‘total’. Those with no internal resources, dependent, for example, on outside props of status for their sense of self, were more likely to succumb. See also HOLOCAUST.

concentration camp

a guarded prison camp in which nonmilitary prisoners are held, esp one of those in Nazi Germany in which millions were exterminated
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