Gross-RosenOriginally erected as a subcamp of Sachsenhausen, Gross-Rosen concentration camp is located about 40 miles southwest of Wroclaw, Poland. Built in 1940, the camp became autonomous in 1941. Used mainly as a camp to provide forced labor at the nearby SS-owned granite quarry, the prisoner population exploded in late 1943 with the deportation of 60,000 Jews from Poland and Hungary. As the Soviet forces approached, over 40,000 prisoners were evacuated from the camp and forced on a “death march.” Fleeing the advancing Soviets, SS forces killed prisoners too weak to continue. Gross-Rosen was liberated by the Soviets on February 13, 1945. Estimates suggest that over 40,000 of the 120,000 prisoners who passed through this camp died either during the camps operation or during the evacuation.
MajdanekUpon the invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis, Majdanek concentration camp was ordered to be built in July 1941. The camp sat in plain view with nothing to hide its existence. It is now inside the city limits of Lublin, Poland. Built to house about 50,000 prisoners, this camp was used as both a forced labor and an annihilation camp – although the camp never held the 50,000 prisoners it was built for. Here, prisoners were forced to work on construction of SS and police bases located in Poland and occupied parts of the Soviet Union. Those who were unfit for work were sent to one of the shower rooms prior to entering the gas chamber. The condemned were given hot showers not only to keep them calm but because Nazis found that body heat caused the gas to work better – accelerating the prisoners’ deaths. The camp was found abandoned by the Soviets in late July 1944 – but not before an estimated 80,000 people were murdered in the gas chambers. Today, Majdanek stands as the best preserved of all of the holocaust concentration camps.
Built in 1936 by prisoners from other camps, Sachsenhausen became a central training facility for SS officers near Berlin. Before the beginning of World War II, the camp was mainly filled with German political prisoners. However, after the events of Kristallnacht in 1938, thousands of Jews would be sent to the camp as well. Sachsenhausen was designed so that the machine gun post located at the entrance gate could dominate the entire camp, a design that would be used at several other Nazi concentration camps. As at other camps, prisoner treatment here was exceptionally brutal. The camp featured a marching strip around its perimeter over which prisoners were forced to march between 15-25 miles (25-40 kilometers) per day in order to test military combat boots. Others were forced to give the “Sachsenhausen salute,” a position in which a prisoner was forced to squat for an extended period of time with their arms outstretched. Although Sachsenhausen was not an extermination camp, tens of thousands of Jews who passed through the camp were sent to the annihilation camps located east of there. Sachsenhausen was eventually liberated by the Soviets on April 22, 1945, after claiming approximately 35,000 innocent lives.
StutthofLocated approxmately 20 miles (35 kilometers) outside of Danzig, Poland, Stutthof was the first of the holocaust concentration camps that the Nazis built outside the borders of the “Vaterland.” Immediately upon invading Poland, the Nazis began to arrest “undesirable Polish elements” and send them to Stutthof. Within about 2 weeks, the camp already contained about 6,000 Polish prisoners – most of whom would be murdered by the SS. By 1943, the camp had almost 40 barracks and a gas chamber that could hold 150 people at one time. Originally intended to house 3,500 prisoners, the camp grew to a network of 39 subcamps holding 110,000 prisoners within 5 years. If a prisoner was “lucky” enough to escape death upon arrival to the camp, they were subjected to abhorrent forced working conditions as well as extreme mental and physical torture. Among some of the most horrific atrocities, Professor Rudolph Spanner – an SS officer and “scientist” who owned a soap company in Danzig – created a process which turned human fat into soap. Translated, the name of his new soap product was “Pure Jewish Fat.” The Soviets liberated the camp on May 9, 1945, finding chambers full of corpses that were to be used for this soap. Approximately, 85,000 people died at Stutthof due to living conditions and systematic murder.
Of the thousands of concentration camps built by the Nazis during the 1930’s and 1940’s, almost all of them were dismantled or destroyed by the Nazis as they fled the advancing Allied forces. These seven camps, along with dozens of monuments marking other holocaust concentration camp locations, remain standing as reminders of the atrocities that human beings can and will commit against one another when the despicable conditions remain unchecked . Let us never forget what happened here. Let us never again allow it to happen.