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Concentration Camps

LAURENCE REES: Part of the confusion some people who don't know much of the history have, is that they are told that concentration camps are established by the Nazis in the early Thirties, like Dachau; so they then say ‘Ah! Hitler must have been murdering and persecuting Jews en masse in these concentration camps in the 1930s!' But these concentration camps are not designed for that purpose at all are they?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: The first wave of prisoners are the political enemies. So they’re socialists, they’re communists, they’re labour union leaders, they’re democratic critics, and Hitler’s making sure in 1933 and 1934 that people who would be those around who opposition could crystallize, and who could lead opposition, are simply removed totally from the scene. Then in the mid-Thirties the next wave of people who go into the camps are the people the Nazis refer to as asocials. All those whose lifestyles of non-conformity hurt and tarnish, in the Nazis’ idea, the image of their new, clean, perfect Germany, and as a result they remove them out of sight entirely. So you get the camps filled with pimps and prostitutes, petty criminals, homosexuals, and certainly an over proportion of gypsies are arrested and these people are interned and removed, as they’re removing what they consider a blemish on the public image of German life. It isn’t until 1938 that you get a major influx of Jews into the camps and there are arrests of some 20 to 30,000 male Jews after Kristallnacht, but the main goal there is to hold them hostage until the families carry out the paperwork for emigration. They’re using this simply as leverage, so that this is a case where people who go into the camps are now released. Once your family has cleared for emigration, they will let them out, and this is the most extreme form of ethnic cleansing, a way to force people to give up all their property, leave their homeland of generations and flee abroad, no matter what the external obstacles are to emigration.