Concentration camp

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An internment camp for Japanese people in Canada, 1945

A concentration camp is a place which a government uses to keep people who are either against that government or who it thinks are too dangerous to remain free. Sometimes these are called internment camps, where a large number of people are put in prison without a trial.

The people who are locked away in such a prison, are not usually yet found guilty of a crime, but may be politically against the leaders of a region, people who are of a certain race or religion, or non-military prisoners of war.

History of concentration camps[change | edit source]

Many countries have used concentration camps often during wars or times of trouble and fighting.

In 376 C.E. the Goths were pushed towards the borders of the Roman Empire by attacks from Huns from the east. The Emperor Valens initially welcomed them as potential army recruits and tax-payers, but changed his policy after it emerged that around 200,000 were coming. He then restricted entry to fit men of military age, constructing enclosed camps patrolled by guards to imprison the unwanted Gothic population. Since very little, if any, food was supplied, the inhabitants died in increasing numbers. The Romans then offered to buy the children as slaves in exchange for dogs for the parents to eat at an exchange rate of one child to one dog. Shortly afterwards the Goths under Fritigern exacted their revenge at the Battle of Adrianople, killing 40,000 Roman troops, including Valens himself.

The first modern concentration camps were found in the United States in 1838, when the Van Buren administration saw fit to remove the indigenous Cherokee population.

Camps were used in Cuba under Spain's "Reconcentrado" Policy 1896-97. Shortly after similar concentration camps were used by the British in the Second Boer War in South Africa around 1900. The families of South African men fighting against the British were put in camps to stop them from giving food and help to the fighters. Their houses and farms were burned. At least 30,000 people, mostly children, died in these camps from sickness or hunger.

Concentration camps became more famous and hated after 1936 when Nazi Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, thought certain groups of people should be killed (including Jews, Roma people, and homosexuals) and others were politically dangerous (socialists, communists or religious persons who disagreed with the Nazis). People were often sent to these camps to work. After a few years, some camps were set up to kill people. These are now called "extermination camps" or "death camps". People were gassed, shot, or sometimes worked to death. Some of these people were given a trial, but these trials were very unfair.

The Nazi gas chambers reportedly killed up to 20,000 people a day, towards the end of World War II. Over half of the people who died in the Holocaust, died at such concentration camps, at least 1.1 million people at the camps of Auschwitz alone.

In Italy or on its occupied territories were also concentration camps which were established by Benito Mussolini (in World War II till 1943). In these concentration camps were imprisoned especially Croats, Slovenes and Jews.

Prison camps had been in use in Russia for many years, especially in places in the Arctic or Siberia, a long way from any cities. From the 1920's under the Soviet Union many more people were sent to such camps and they were very badly treated there. One might still die there, but would most likely be used for work first. That is called a labour camp. These camps are sometimes called gulags, the Russian name for them. Anyone who was seen as a threat to the government was sent there. In 1939, there were about 1,300,000 people working as slaves in these camps. The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote a book called The Gulag Archipelago by which many people realized what crimes the communist Soviet Union government had done.

In the United States during the American Civil War in the 1860's soldiers who been captured were sometimes all crowded together in bad conditions. These were meant to be prisoner of war camps with good conditions, but many men died from sickness or hunger. At Andersonville prison about 12,000 men died (out of about 45,000 who were in prison there). This camp was not meant to be so bad, and the men in charge were later tried and killed for war crimes. The Southern prisoner of war fared no better and in Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio as well as in the "40 Acres of Hell" in Chicago, Illinois, Confederate prisoners were maltreated in revenge based upon reports conerning Andersonville. The first-hand account "Three Hundred Days in a Yankee Prison Camp" by King describes how the scorched earth policy of the Union Army created a condition of hunger and privation ubiquitous in the South, which extended to the prisoner of war camps under the care of the Southern army. Union camps, by contrast, starved their captives in a land of plenty for revenge.

During the so-called Indian Wars (1870's and later) the United States made many enemies who were Native Americans. These people were forced to leave their land and were often put into camps where they could not leave. In some cases, many people, especially children, died from hunger and sickness. These camps were called reservations, in that some land had been set aside, or reserved for the Native Americans. Again these camps were not meant to be so bad, but many things went wrong.

During World War II, the United States placed many Japanese Americans in internment camps.

During the 1970s and 1980s many military dictatorship in Latin America such as the Pinochet military regime in Chile - which were supported and financed by the U.S. government - set up concentration camps to torture, exterminate and incarcerate their political opponents. Under Pinochet the Nazi colony known as Colonia Dignidad (or Villa Baviera), in the commune of Parral in Chile, was transformed into a torture centre and concentration camp that has been officially listed as being part of the network of torture centres and concentration camps of the Pinochet regime.