Anatomy of a concentration camp

buchenwald camp map


In this article we would like to discuss the inner workings and lay-out of a typical concentration camp. For an example we will take concentration camp Buchenwald. Buchenwald is one of the pre-war concentration camps and  evolved through all the different timeperiods which can be distinguished in the nazi concentration camp system. Namely, interment of enemies of the state, labour for the state, destruction by labour and at last the use of prisoners for medical experiments.

Buchenwald opened in 1937, till its liberation in 1945. During that period an estimated amounts of 250.000 people passed through its main and subcamps. Of these 250.000 roughly 60.000 passed away. Many people died by a lack of food, hard labour or by execution. Buchenwald did not contain a gas chamber. The camp was led by the infamous Otto Koch from 1937-1941 and Herman Pister from 1941 till 1945.

The camp terrain can be roughly divided into 3 regions: The living quarters of the SS and other personells, the main camp of the prisoners and a working area. These regions were dividided frome ach other by gates and barbed wire. A road and later on a railway connected the camp with the outside world. The direct surroundings of the camp were offlimit for people living close by and many of the concentration camps were hidden in woods.

Prisoners camp

The prisoners lived in barracks. Originally the barrack were designed for way less prisoners compared to how many the actually housed. The camps usually were in a constant expansion to be able to house more prisoners. Every morning the prisoners had to be counted at the roll call square before being send out to their daily jobs. Many concentration camps also contained a few “little”camps. These were barracks excluded from the main prisoner population . They contained the prisoners which were considered the worst or had to receive punishment according to the nazis. Buchenwald also contained a special compound for the privileged prisoners. Ussually these were member of the elite or could possibly be exchanged for important people captured by the allies. The main camp also contained the logistical structures needed to house 50.000 people. A kitchen, warehouses and an disinfection unit. In 1940 they also build a crematorium to burn all the death people. The only thing prisoners needed to leave the camp for was work.

buchenwald main camp aerial photo

Work and SS qaurters

Work at first meant collecting clay in the quarry. Later on 2 arnaments factories were build on the camp terrain: DAW ( deutsche arnaments werken) and the gustloff factory ( also an arnaments factories). Usually prisoners had to work 12 hours shifts with only a minimum amount of food, water and rest. Also the labour condition were very harsh. The nazis did not care about working safety and a dead inmate was easily replaced. Later in the war many of the prisoners were moved to labour camps outside the main camp. Buchenwald for example has had as many as 70 sub labour camps. These camps were mainly near arnaments factories, mines or in bombed cities.

The need to use prisoners as a labour force came by the amount of germans men which had be enlisted in the Wehrmacht. Also prisoners provided cheap labour for factories and a profit source for the SS. SS-obergruppenfuhrer Pohl once made an cost overview together with the commandant of sachenhausen, Kaindl.


buchenwald work qaurters and SS aerial photo

The economy of a camp

Benefits of 1 prisoner for the SS

Daily wage of a worker: 6 RM

Cost of food: -0.6 RM

Cost of clothes and housing: -0.1RM

Average survival is 9 months so profit by labour of 1 prisoner 1431RM

Value of prisoners possession: 200RM

Cost of cremation:0.1RM

Total profit made on 1 person: 1631 RM

The SS living quarters consistend of barracks for the regular gaurds and a villa for the camp commandant. As entertained the SS build dog kennels, a little zoo and stables. Also outside the main camp and working area were the administration buildings and a motor pool

recognition signs prisoners
recognition signs prisoners
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