Concentration camps were a feature of the Nazi state since its inception. The first camps were initially used for detaining political prisoners deemed “enemies of the state”: communists, trade unionists Jews and other dissidents. In short order, the list included homosexuals, alcoholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Prisoners were taken into “protective custody” to be “reeducated”. No term limits were given for their sentence. Dachau, founded in 1933, was the first major concentration camp. Himmler – in his role of head of the SS – appointed Theodor Eicke as camp commandant. Eicke would create in Dachau the brutal, inhumane paradigm for all Nazi camps to follow. While the number of Jews placed in concentration camps increased after the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, World War II was to be a major turning point: the number of camps to accommodate ghettoized Jews increased; and the intended purpose of camps changed from one of exploitation of prisoners who were able to work, to the industrial scale murder of Jews with the goal being the “final solution to the Jewish problem”.
Forced labor was a significant aspect of all concentration camps. Prisoners were compelled to work under harsh, punitive conditions from early morning until late in the day. Each workday was preceded by a mandatory roll call-the Appel- in which prisoners would stand at attention for hours waiting for their numbers to be called irrespective of weather conditions before marching off to work. At day’s end the exhausted prisoners would undergo yet another roll call. Fainting in this absurd ritual often meant being executed on the spot. Treks to the worksite in inadequate and ill- fitting clothes and shoes would themselves exhaust the prisoners before they even began their workday. This daily routine was meant to humiliate and terrify the prisoners, much like the work itself. Prisoners often perished within weeks or months from malnourishment, psychological stress, overwork, and disease.
The mass murder of Jews by mobile Einsatzgruppen firing squads began in earnest in June 1941 as part of Operation Barbarossa. However, this method of “murder by bullets” (Father Patrick Desbois) would prove both impractical and emotionally taxing even for some of the SS, creating the need for “efficiencies” by bringing Jews from ghettos and cities to stationary killing sites located near railroad tracks to make victim transport easier. Six camps (Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz) were built with the express purpose of murdering Jews, improving upon the more primitive technology utilized in Hitler’s T-4 “euthanasia” program to murder German citizens who were disabled or emotionally disturbed: the so-called “unworthy of life”. Gassing in chambers disguised as showers would supersede other less efficient methods, such as starvation, injection of sedatives, or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Auschwitz would evolve into the epitome of the hybrid camps, constituting a concentration camp to hold and punish prisoners deemed enemies of the Nazi state; an extermination camp (Birkenau or Auschwitz 2); and a series of forced or slave labor camps (e.g. Buna-Monowitz) providing cheap, dispensable labor to factories and businesses serving the German war effort. At the height of operations, the lethal insecticide Zyklon B was utilized in chambers attached to crematoria that could asphyxiate more than 4,000 Jews per day, an improvement over earlier carbon monoxide technology for murdering Jews. More than one million Jews perished in these chambers. As a slave or forced labor camp, Auschwitz comprised subcamps located near factories and industrial sites to provide cheap slave labor producing goods for the Third Reich. For example, Buna, also known as Auschwitz III or Monowitz, was a subcamp utilizing slave labor for the IG Farben Industries to make synthetic rubber. The SS would sell Jews to IG Farben, and the latter would profit from a never-ending supply of cheap labor. Conditions were horrid, prisoners who perished from starvation, disease, and overwork would be replaced by new prisoners. Aircraft factories, mines, and other war material plants took advantage of proximity to concentration camps to profit from the cheap labor of prisoners.
--Michael D. Bulmash, K1966
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Lucie Sara Nathan, Lublin (Majdanek) Concentration Camp Index
Half sheet with typed biographic information, titled, "Nathan."
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: A concentration camp index sheet from Lublin (Majdanek) with camp stamp. It noted that citizenship was lost.
Thea Sara Feiftmann, Dachau Concentration Camp Index
Half sheet with typed biographic information, titled, "Feiftmann."
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: A concentration camp index sheet from Dachau with camp stamp. It noted that citizenship was lost.
Neuengamme Concentration Camp Correspondence
Envelope: Tan envelope with printed title, "Konzentrationslager Hamburg-Neuengamme." Addressed in blue to Grabhowski Wivzcut from Kaldowski Josef.Letter: Letter written in blue ink on orange-lined Hamburg-Neuengamme stationery.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored formula letter sheet and cover written by prisoner at Neuengamme Concentration Camp, in Hamburg, Germany in 1940, two years after this camp was opened.
Letter From Prisoner 562 at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, a Prisoner on the First Transport
Envelope: Green, front has three sections; left has printed information under the title 'Konzentrationslager Auschwitz'; middle contains senders information; right is handwritten address. Top right corner has been torn off. Back: Pink stamp at center, handwriting at bottom left. Letter: Handwritten on grid paper.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: From a person on the first transport of prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This letter was sent two months after arriving at Auschwitz.
Letter from an SS Staff Member at Mauthausen
Letter written on thick stationery with message in German. Begins, "Liebes Fräulein Gerda!"
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Although friends and relatives of concentration camp victims often preserved mail from prisoners, after the war friends and relatives of camp guards and officials typically destroyed evidence of those persons' connection with Nazi crimes. This letter is an uncommon relic, written by an SS staff member at Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz, Austria. The camp was set up by the Gestapo in a former military barracks complex which had also served as a POW camp in World War I. Mauthausen began operating in 1938, soon after the Anschluss. Translation:"Mauthausen, September 19, 1940 My dear Miss Gerda!You're probably very angry at me because I haven't let you hear from me, but I have to change myself [in my life] and my thoughts are directed toward other goals. I personally am very well here because I do not have to do any guard duty or other services. I have been sent to camp headquarters among the drivers. I really am leading a wonderful life here, but nevertheless I always have to think about you and your mother because you are really very nice to me. Unfortunately it wasn't given to me to remain longer in beautiful Graz. Maria has also written to me. She is now at the home of her mother because she had differences with her uncle. Has Fritz also written to you? Pleease let me know his address so that I can also write sometime to him. How did you like the goodbe evening [farewell party] at the "Hezzel," how did it sit with you? I will apply for furlough on some Sunday and come to Graz. Would you like that? The next time I will write more. I send you my greetings, and also to your mother.Erich Nollgern. SS-[rank]Have you seen Karl Heinz Diedrich?--Yes!?--"
French Deportation Order, Using Pretext of Presenting to Obtain New ID’s
An order posted in the French city Champgny Sur Marne, which dictates that all "Israelites" present themselves to the mayor with identification in order to receive a new identity card.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:
French Deportation Order. Broadside dated 26 September 1940 for City of Champigny -Sur- Marne. The French text orders all "Israelites" (i.e. Jews) to present themselves to the mayor’s office by October 2 (1940) with appropriate identification. This order, five months after the Battle of France, is doubtless a pretext for gathering requisite information for eventual deportation of French and foreign Jews in France.
Letter from Flossenburg Concentration Camp
Front: 'Konzentrationslager Florenburg' printed in red in top left along with written in number  and block . Handwritten message in pencil. Back: Second half of letter, with purple circular hand stamp 'D' and "25" written in pencil on bottom.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Flossenburg concentration camp was established in 1938 in Bavaria, near the border with Czechoslovakia. Prisoners were used as slave labor to extract granite from the quarry and as well in the German armaments industry. Approximately one third of the prisoners who passed through Flossenburg perished from malnutrition, disease, overwork, and executions.
Letter from Prisoner 562 at Auschwitz Concentration Camp
Envelope: front has three sections; left has printed information under the title 'Konzentrationslager Auschwitz'; middle contains senders information; right is handwritten address. Letter: Has been folded into fourths to fit in envelope; 'Konzentrationslager Auschwitz' is again printed in top. Handwritten message and red rectangular handstamp on bottom left with penciled in 'M'.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: From a person on the first transport of prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This letter was sent two months after arriving at Auschwitz.
Cover from Internment Camp Les Milles, France. From M.M. Gottfried to Rosa Gottfried in Hartford, Connecticut
Envelope with red, white, and blue border with three black and white postage stamps and red postage stamp, “AVION” stamped in purple ink. Back includes “35725” stamped in red.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Les Milles was one of three main internment camps in southern France, along with Camp de Gurs and Rivesaltes. Les Milles had interned many German and Austrian intellectuals, musicians, and artists fleeing Nazi Germany. The camp was known for its rich intellectual and cultural life. Through the efforts of Varian Fry, many Jews were able to obtain release from here. Jewish aid organizations such as HICEM would also help some inmates to emigrate overseas. However, by 1942, Les Milles essentially became an assembly point for deporting Jews to the Drancy transit camp, after which they would be sent to extermination centers such as Auschwitz. Over 2,000 men, women, and children were ultimately deported from Les Milles to Auschwitz.
Postcard from Internment- Concentration Detention Camp in Rivesaltes, France
Front: A white postcard with printed red postcard lines and stamps. Includes text written in blue ink, a pasted pink postage stamp, as well as purple and black hand stamps.Back: Message written in blue ink.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Postcard written by Jewish prisoner in Rivesaltes with oval Rivesaltes censor mark. Serge Klarsfeld called the Rivesaltes Camp "the Drancy of the Free Zone." From September 4 to October 22, Rivesaltes played the same role as the Drancy camp in the occupied zone: a transit camp for the deportees whose ultimate destination was the Nazi extermination camps. Rivesaltes was, during that time, the camp where Jews arrested in the so-called "free zone" were gathered, and from which many of them (about 1,700) were sent to Drancy itself.
Concentration Camp Posen Fort VII: Postcard Sent to SS Guard
Postcard front image of pond with fountain. Trees and white building with red roof behind.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:The Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939, and the first concentration camp was established in the city of Posen at Fort VII, one of the 19th century forts surrounding the city. Within the first month the first Polish prisoners-especially the intelligentsia-were imprisoned and murdered. Fort VII was a particularly brutal facility, where executions occurred daily and the miserable living conditions conduced to disease and death. The Nazis first experiments with gas and gas chambers occurred at Fort VII: both staff and patients from local psychiatric facilities were gassed here. By November, 1939, Posen became a Gestapo prison for Polish political prisoners. While some Jews were imprisoned here, most were transferred to the extermination centers at Belzec or Sobibor. Himmler made the decision, in 1941, soon after this postcard was written, to turn Fort VII into a Gestapo prison.
Feldpost of SS Officer at Oranienburg with Handstamp of Inspector of Concentration Camps of the Reichsfuehrer SS
Envelope: Greeen, Feldpost stamp on bottom left. Back: Handwritten return address. Letter: Two pages, front and back of handwriting in blue ink.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Feldpost cover with the hand stamp of Der Inspecteur der Konzentrationslager Reichsfuehrer SS;i.e., Inspector of Concentration Camps of the Reichsfuehrer SS, who is Heinrich Himmler.There is an accompanying letter. This is the correspondence of an SS officer while at Oranienburg. He was later at Auschwitz.
Postcard from Croatia, Zagreb with USTASE Insignia
Front: Tan postcard with message written in black ink with a small signature in bottom right corner. Back: Teal printed postcard lines, with printed stamp and border on the right side. Black hand stamp running across the length of the top. Address written in black ink.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Postcard from Croatia, Zagreb (1941) with Ustase insignia. The Independent State of Croatia was a fascist puppet state ruled by the Ustase under the leadership of Ante Pavelic, subsequent to the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Nazis in April, 1941. Actions against Jews commenced immediately. Leaders of the Catholic Church joined in the anti-Semitic propaganda campaign. In August 1941 concentration camps were established, including Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska, for women and children. Jews, Roma, Croats and Serbs were murdered in these camps.
Sachsenhausen-Orienburg Concentration Camp Postcard
Front: Handwritten address in purple ink, red Deutches Reich postage stamp in right corner, circular handstamp at bottom left corner with 'H' at center. Back: 'Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen' printed in red type at top, hand written message in purple ink.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored postcard from Jewish prisoner in Sachsenhausen-Orienburg Concentration Camp.
Envelope Addressed to Marshal Petain
Front: Tan envelope with writing in purple ink. Includes black and purple hand stamps, and a white and red sticker.Back: Line of purple writing.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Marshal Petain was Chief of State of Vichy France from 1940-1944.
Correspondence from Prisoner at KZ Mauthausen Concentration Camp
Envelope: green, split into three parts. Left side has a block of black, printed German text with the title "Konzentrationslager Mauthausen." In the middle is a horizontal section with the prisoner's name, the date and their block and number. The right section has the address written on printed, black, dotted lines. Letter: Tan paper, 'Konzentrationslager Mauthausen' printed in top left. Next to that are fill in the blanks for the prisoner's name, date, block and number. Interior: Ink writing on printed lines for a page and a half. Red line over bottom half page that is not written on. Back: Diagonal red pencil line dashed across the blank lines. There is a purple stamp at the bottom with a red scribble on it.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Lettersheet -censored- from inmate at Konzentrazionslager (Concentration Camp) Mauthausen (KLM/KZ) on official stationary cover giving the camp rules along with the inmate's message.
Dachau Concentration Camp Formular Letter from Prisoner
Double sided, two columned formula letter in black ink. On front right column, there is a watercolor image of a mountain, lake, cottage with a flowered border in blue and red on the left side of the painting.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:In Dachau, the oldest and most abysmal of concentration camps, and a training ground for guards at other concentration camps, a prisoner turns a formula letter sheet into art, to the right of the list of strict rules and regulations enforced by the Kommandant. Harsh punishment could follow creating such “illegal” art, and these drawings were usually done secretly, often embodying images and memories of freedom denied to the prisoners.
Censored Prisoner Letter Sheet for Polish Prisoner on First Transport to Auschwitz
Letter in purple ink on Auschwitz lined stationery.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:
The first transport to Auschwitz on June 14, 1940 consisted of 728 Polish prisoners, only a few of whom were Jews. They were assigned numbers 31-758. The prisoner- or Schutzhaftling -who wrote this letter, was born in 1917, and had been assigned prisoner number 632. His block number was 10a. His name is difficult to decipher. Only 298 Polish prisoners on the first transport survived the war. Noteworthy on all concentration letter sheets are the printed regulations. While details may have changed over the years of the concentration camp system, these regulations were strictly enforced. While they were an important lifeline for prisoners, they were also formulaic and were not allowed to go into detail about camp life.
The following instructions are to be observed in written communications with prisoners:
1. Each month a prisoner may receive from or send to his relatives two letters or 2 postcards. They are to be legible and written in ink with only 15 lines per side. Envelopes must be unsealed. Only five 12 pfennig stamps may be included per side. Everything else is forbidden and subject to seizure. Postcards can have ten lines. Photographs may not be used as postcards.
2. Sending money is permissible.
3. Name, birth date and prison number must be included on all correspondence, as well as the exact name of sender. Errors in the address will mean the item will be returned to sender or destroyed.
4. Only newspapers ordered through the camp post office are acceptable.
5. Packages may not be sent since items may be purchased in the camp.
6. Dismissal requests sent to the administration are useless.
7. Visits to prisoners is forbidden. The Camp Commander
Auschwitz Camp censor marking hand stamped rectangular box translated Postal censor /Concentration Camp Auschwitz, Examined: initials of examiner.
KL Mauthausen to Bohemia-Moravia Envelope
Front has three sections; left has printed information under the title 'Konzentrationslager Mauthausen'; middle contains senders information including block , stube ; right is handwritten address.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz, Austria specialized in the extermination of prisoners through work. Of the 200,000 men, women, and children prisoners sent here, over 120,000 perished through overwork, torture, and neglect. Following the Dachau model created by Eicke, prisoners were mistreated, beaten, and starved, and unique to Mauthausen, were forced to ascend the so-called "stairway of death",186 steps from the base of the camp's granite quarry carrying stones weighing over 100 pounds. Anyone who dropped his load would risk not only injuring the person behind him, but was beaten himself. He still had to ascend the 186 steps. Suicide by leaping from the cliff above was common. This man was probably a Czech political prisoner.
Postcard of Students from School in Oradour-Sur-Glane
Front: A black and white photograph of school children with caption in French.Back: Black printed postcard lines and text with several pencil markings.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Oradour-sur-Glane was a small farming village of around 350 inhabitants, located approximately 15 miles from Limoges. During World War II, it was located in the German-occupied zone of France. On June 10, 1944, troops of the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division Das Reich massacred 642 people, almost the entire population of the village at that time, including a number of Jewish refugees. Women and children were locked up in the village church and grenades were thrown in the windows. The village was then burned to the ground. After the war, Oradour-sur-Glane rivaled Lidice as an iconic symbol of German crimes against civilians in occupied Europe. The ruins of the original village remain as a memorial to the dead.
Envelope from Targu Jiu, Romania
Front: A tan envelope with writing in blue ink, a red postage stamp, and red and black hand stamps.Back: A black hand stamp.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: This 1942 censored Romanian cover from the vicinity of the transit/concentration Camp Targu Jiu.During this time period Romania was under fascist dictator Ion Antonescu, who was an ally of Nazi Germany. Targu Jiu was the site of a transit camp where many Jews and political prisoners were interned prior to being sent to Transnistria.
Postcard from Jasenovac Concentration Camp
Front: A white postcard with black printed postcard lines and text. Includes writing in pencil and several green hand stamps.Back: Pencil writing on black printed lines.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: A card from the Jasenovac concentration camp. The Jasenovac complex was a string of five camps on the bank of the Sava River, about 60 miles south of Zagreb. It is currently estimated that the USTASA regime murdered between 77,000 and 99,000 people in Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945.
Censored Postcard from Moses Vandeberg, Buchenwald to Ottlie Berg, Beuel
Postcard with printed purple postcard lines and handwritten message in purple pencil with a large red X through the front.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: The letter, in neat pencil on two sides of an official camp postcard, contains comments too truthful to have made it past the censor and, indeeed, is marked with a large "x" in red greasepencil. Berg writes candidly to his wife, "Thank you for the package. Unfortunately they took the food, because at the time there are many diseasses here at the camp. But after an exam, I will receive everything back..." After an illegible line or two, Berg continues: "... Brought him to the hospital yesterday. I guess he has typhus as many others here. Last week we had hundreds of typhus victims... I am well. I am working now at the library. There is at least warmth. The coldness at night is terrible! Can you send me a blanket? (Always send to camp command!!)... Take care... I am looking forward to your next mail. Yours, Moses." Regrettably, Ottiie would never receive this note. In 1943, Berg was sent to Auschwitz, where he died. Ottiie would be sent to Terezin on August 2, 1944, and to Auschwitz on October 6, 1944, where she was gassed on October 26th, 1944. Berg is listed in the German archives.
Concentration Camp Photographs of Prisoners Engaged in Mass Burial of Dead Victims
90a: Men standing in back of truck, one with arm raised
.90b:Men unloading dead from truck
.90c: Men placing corpse in mass grave
.90d:Line of corpses
Degesch Blueprint from Zyklon-B Gassing Facility Stamped "Secret"
Large blueprint, yellowed paper, purple-brown print of measured structural plans. Square in bottom right corner titled "DEGESCH, Frankfurt a. Main" and stamped with"geheim in red ink.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Degesch held the patent for Zyklon-B, initially developed for use as a pesticide, but used in gas chambers in major extermination centers including Auschwitz- Birkenau and Majdanek. Bruno Tesch, instrumental in developing the canisters to package the hydrogen cyanide- based formula, sold the German army and SS on using Zyklon-B to murder humans. This blueprint seems to depict a gassing chamber circulation system for wither delousing or for extermination of humans, with roof vents for dropping Zyklon-B pellets into the gas chamber room, and ventilation valves for expelling the gas after being administered. Sonderkommandos, prisoners themselves. Conducted the work of dragging the dead bodies from the gas chambers to nearby incinerators.
This blueprint, red-stamped “Geheim” (“Secret”) is dated around the time that Auschwitz-Birkenau was a fully functional extermination facility.