Death & Labor Camps

Thousands of camps dotted the European map under the Nazi regime’s military expansion and occupation. Generally, one can distinguish between concentration camps, labor camps, and death camps.

Entrance gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Entrance gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau


Concentration camps were built up for anyone deemed an enemy of the German Nazi state. These included: political opponents within Germany and in the occupied territories, people in the resistance, prisoners of war, and people deemed undesirable by the racist and eugenic policies of National Socialism, such as asocials, common criminals, homosexuals, certain religious groups, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies). Most concentration camps had sites where the inmates were forced to work. They were called labor camps. Some of those are also known as slave labor camps.


By the time the Nazi leadership decided to annihilate all Jews in Europe and began with the implementation after the Wannsee Conference, the Jewish population was sent to the death camps (also known as extermination camps). The Nazi regime created six major death camps, all of them located in occupied Poland: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, Sobibor, and Majdanek. Chelmno was the first extermination camp, established in December 1941. Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor were all built during the so-called Operation Reinhard. The plan was to eliminate all Jews in Poland. Majdanek was the last extermination camp to start the killing operations. It was similar to Auschwitz, but smaller in size. Auschwitz and Majdanek also consisted of slave labor camps. Jews deported to these camps were killed immediately by gunfire or sent straight to the gas chambers, unless they were selected for slave labor. It is estimated that roughly three million Jews lost their lives in these six death camps. There are numerous first-hand accounts of the machinery of destruction and daily survival in these camps.


See map of the six extermination camps.


For more information

Yad Vashem: Death Camps