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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 | change source]
Many countries have used concentration camps often during wars or times of trouble and fighting.
United States[change | change source]
The first modern concentration camps in the United States were created in 1838. At this time, the United States government, led by President Van Buren, decided to remove the native Cherokee population from their lands and place them all in concentration camps.
During the American Civil War in the 1860s, soldiers who been captured were sometimes placed in camps, which were very crowded and had very 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, a Confederate prisoner of war camp, 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 put on trial and killed for war crimes. The Union's prisoner of war camps also had very bad conditions. After hearing what Andersonville prison was like, guards at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, and at the "40 Acres of Hell" in Chicago, Illinois, treated Confederate prisoners badly to get revenge for Andersonville.
During the so-called Indian Wars (in the 1870s and later), the United States made many enemies who were Native Americans. The U.S. government forced these people to leave their land and move onto "reservations." (These were called reservations because some land had been put aside, or "reserved," for the Native Americans.) Native Americans were not allowed to leave their reservations. On some reservations, many people, especially children, died from hunger and sickness.
Nazi Germany[change | change source]
During World War II, Nazi Germany created many concentration camps, slave labor camps, and extermination camps (death camps). Nazi Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, thought that certain groups of people (like Jews, Slavs, Roma people, people with disabilities, and homosexuals) were inferior (not as good as other people). He decided that everyone in these groups should be killed. He also wanted to get rid of people who he thought might challenge or fight the Nazi government. These people included socialists, communists, people of certain religions, and members of resistance movements.
The Nazis sent many of these people to concentration camps to work as slave labor. After a few years, some camps were set up just to kill people. These are now called "extermination camps" or "death camps." At these camps, people were killed in gas chambers, shot, worked to death, and marched to death. Many people also died from disease and starvation in the camps.
More than half of the people who died in the Holocaust died at Nazi concentration camps. Just in the Auschwitz camps, at least 1.1 million people died (about 1,000,000 Jews and about 75,000 non-Jewish people, like Poles). Towards the end of World War II, the Nazis killed up to 20,000 people a day in the camps' gas chambers.
Soviet Union[change | change source]
Prison camps were used in Russia for many years, especially in places in the Arctic or Siberia, a long way from the main cities. However, starting in the 1920's under the Soviet Union, many more people were sent to labor camps. These camps, "zona" in Russian, are sometimes called "gulags" – an acronim for "Prison Camp Management Headquarters". Anyone who was seen as a threat to the government was sent to the gulag. In 1939, there were millions of people working as slaves in these camps.
When Josef Stalin and the Soviet Union invaded Poland at the start of World War II, at least 1.5 million Poles were deported at gunpoint. They were forced to get into cattle wagons, which took them to concentration camps in Siberia. Whole families were deported to the camps, including children and the elderly.
Latin America[change | change source]
In the late 1800s, Cuba was a Spanish territory, controlled by Spain. When Cuban people tried to rebel and fight for independence in 1896 and 1897, Spain created concentration camps and sent many Cuban people to live in them. This was called the "Reconcentrado" Policy.
During the 1970s and 1980s, many military dictatorships in Latin America set up concentration camps to imprison, torture, and kill their political opponents (people who disagreed with them). For example, the Pinochet military regime in Chile used concentration camps and torture centers, like Colonia Dignidad (or Villa Baviera), in Parral, Chile.
Other Countries[change | change source]
Around 1900, the British used concentration camps in the Second Boer War in South Africa. 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 also burned. At least 30,000 people, mostly children, died in these camps from sickness or hunger.
References[change | change source]
- 1m Jews, 75,000 non-Jewish Poles and others = Auschwitz Memorial & Museum