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
Browse the Bulmash Family Holocaust Collection.
Envelope: Weimar-Buchenwald handstamp in upper right corner. Waffen handstamp in lower left corner. Handwritten address.Back: Handwritten return address on top. Letter: Blue ink written on lined paper, all of front, half of back.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: From Austrian member of the Waffen Feldgendarmerie at Buchenwald to his girl back home in Austria.
Front: Split in half by a vertical purple line. Left side has the 'absender' address written in pencil. Below that is a purple stamp with several pencil markings written in it. The right side has 'Postkarte' printed on the top in purple, with a printed on stamp of a German town squarewith a statue in it, with a Nazi eagle in the lefthand corner of the stamp. There is a black, circular stamp over it. The address is written in faded pencil on dotted purple lines. Back: A note written in greenish pencil, somewhat faded. Written horizontally across the page. Date in upper righthand corner.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored postcard written by prisoner-"Schutzhaftlinge Nr. 2986"- in Majdanek concentration camp, postmarked in Lublin.
Tan envelope with typewritten address, above "-.-.-.-.-" Several hand stamps, including 'Feldpost'.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Waffen-SS Feldpost from staff at Sachsenhausen-Orienburg Concentration Camp in Germany-mailed to Vienna.This camp was mainly for punishing political prisoners of the Third Reich.
Message written in pencil on lined Auschwitz stationery.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Translation: "Dear Mrs Wickcia and children:Thank you for your letter of February 2 1944, also received package dated 2-15. That made me very happy. Received everything as indicated and in good order. The bread tasted good and so did the other items. It took 13 days to get here. Dear Wickcia you asked if I received the three packages from Bromberg? I received two of them. Can not tell you anymore what was in the packages. Cake, 2 breads, 2 pieces of sausage, 6 agrfels[?], honey cake tasted very good. 2 pair of socks - handkerchief, scarf. It was a fine amount of food. Tell Konrad I thank him for the package even though I did not receive it.Liebe Wickcia, you should take care of yourself and not travel so much. You have so much to do with Lucy. You first have to be more concerned about your own health. Grandmother’s birthday and their golden wedding was on my mind, and I sent my best wishes even though they are late. I wish them good health. Lucy certainly does not have much luck. Greetings to you and your family and all relatives.Your Vehring.
Envelope: Green. Left side has prisoner's name, number, and block written on top left. Beneath that is a block of printed German text .Letter: Tan paper. Printed text at top left, 'Frauen Konzentrationslager Ravensbrük'. Back: Black rectangular with printed lines with penciled in handwriting. There is one cross out on the fourth row to the bottom. Beneath the textbox is a purple stamp with a pencil mark written into it.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored lettersheets from inmate at Ravensbruck Josefa Jarosova to Prague. While female prisoners were common in the concentration camp system, Ravensbruck was Germany’s only concentration camp for women. Children were interned as well. It opened in 1939, and all occupied nations of Europe were represented there. Many were slave laborers for the Siemens factory, building parts for the V-2 rocket.
Typewritten letter with ‘Abschrift!’ underlined at top, ‘J.A. Topf & Sohne’ handstamps at top and bottom.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Topf and Sons politely request of the military detachment in Erfurt that due to a staff shortage and an ‘inability to find a suitable replacement’, the services of Specialist Benno Glicenstein, a Jew, are required in his role as a “construction-fitter”, and that until they are assigned a suitable replacement in the form of a foreigner or prisoner of war they will need to keep the Jew. Topf and Sons was an established, venerable engineering firm located near Erfurt, which -under the Third Reich – profited from supplying crematoria to the SS and their concentration and extermination centers: e.g., Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec and Mauthausen. There were 46 crematoria at Auschwitz alone. The chief engineer of the Topf furnaces was Karl Prufer. In 1942, as the Nazis were experiencing the need for murdering Jews on an industrial scale, engineer Fritz Sander received a patent for a continuously operating incinerating oven “for mass use”.
Tan postcard with printed green postcard lines and decorative border. Addressed to Dr. Nathan Grunburg. Return address has a handwritten Star of David next to it. Includes a message written in blue ink in Yiddish.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Postcard, written in Hebrew to a Dr. Nathan Grunburg, with handwritten Star of David-perhaps a requirement to identify him as a Jew; with Slovakian stamp with Josef Tiso's picture. The latter was an anti-semitic priest, and a fervent Nazi supporter, who deported Jews to death camps. Tiso was executed for his crimes after the war.
Tan postcard with red printed postcard lines addressed to Kurt Kraemer at the Hotel Krone from Lore Sara Wuga in Nuremberg. Includes typewritten message in German.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: This postcard was postmarked June 24, 1944, two weeks after the D-Day invasion began to liberate Europe from Nazi control. Remarkably, it was written by a Jew living openly in "Nuremberg, the City of the National Party Meeting" -- a city known for particularly virulent anti-Semitism. The return address includes the middle name "Sara," which was required in documents written by Jewish women in order to identify them as such. Fortunately for the widow who wriote this card, she had been married to an Aryan man. Jewish spouses of Aryans had legal protection from anti-Jewish sanctions, but such protection for this woman probably died with her husband. Translation:"My dear ones, now I have finally received your card, it was like a sunbeam into my loneliness. Many thanks therefore. Yes, to be brave. What does it help now, my life has no meaning any more. I have lost my best. I think always on Heinz and everybody, but it is extremely difficult. The days do not want to pass by, they are filled with sadness, tears and worries. My dear husband died in the midst of his work, it was always a great helper to him. He was so diligent up to his last hour. It is very difficult for me to take care of everything. Much of my heart blood do I give, and I now close everything by myself. I'm not myself any more. Heinz will equally be sad, and now he has so many worries. I'm glad, that Freds has good news from his family, but if one would have helped us, then I would not be by myself. At the time there were possibilities. I'll never be able to forgive that. I'm to say hello to you from Else Grünberger, she is in the last mother's home, I have asked about Cäcilie. She will surely write to me. I hope that Jo and Michel are in good health. I also don't hear from Jlse, but she is not very much for writing. The internment of the urn took place last weekend for us. The brother and wives write to me quite often. Brother-in-law Franz was also there. Hearty greetings and kisses to you. Your Lore.
Front: Tan paper with fold. "Auszug aus der Lagerordnug:" printed at top left. Date written in top right. Top righthand corner has the date. Back: Circled 22 to left of address. Two identical purple stamps in the righthand corner of Hitler's profile facing right. On the other half is the prisoner's name, number(15301), and block (12)
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Natzweiler-Struthof was the only German concentration camp in France. Prisoners had been used as slave laborers for the German armaments industry. A gas chamber had been constructed and used on 80 Jewish prisoners who were sent to the Institute of Anatomy at Strasbourg University to be used for Dr. August Hirt’s skeleton collection. Lettersheet from Michel Choll to his wife Kathryn in Luxembourg. My dear wife, I received your lovely letter on the 26th of July. It took 18 days and the package with cake came on the 2nd of July--all arrived safely. Many thanks. With each piece I take out of the package I think of your lovely hands doing it (putting the items in). Kathryn, don't send so much because you could use it yourself. I am fine. I am happy (if you are ok--to go thru these terrible times--but if the tomatoes stay small or big it doesn't matter. I heard from --- Luxembourg--something happened to a lot of families--that is why we have to work out (suffer with) the situation. Hopefully we will see each other healthy. My best wishes for ---. I haven't heard anything from ---. I am waiting for your next letter to arrive. Many heartfelt kisses. My greetings to the others.
Tan Sachsenhausen stationery with printed regulations and lines. Includes a message written in blue ink. Includes address to Hilenke Zoubkore from Zander Zorbek.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: This letter from a 48-year-old Czechoslovakian prisoner at Sachsenhausen to his wife reflects his concern about his relationship with her -- damage that his imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis not only created, but now also limits his ability to repair. This letter iswaswritten in good German but has mistakes characteristic of Czechoslovakian speakers of German. This letter was written five days before army conspirators attempted to assassinate Hitler. Translation:Sachsenhausen, July 15, 1944.The day of release cannot be given yet. Visits to the camp are forbidden. Inquiries are useless. Extract of the camp regulations: Each detainee may write or recieve two letters or postcards per month. Incoming letters may not have more than 4 pages of 15 lines each and they must be written in a clear and readable form. Remittances of money are only allowed by postal order whose coupon may only contain the first and last name, birth date, and number of the detainee, but no communications of any sort. Money and photos or picture enclosures in letters are forbidden. Postal sendings that do not comply with these regulations will be denied [admittance]. Poorly organized or hard to read letters will be destroyed. Everything can be bought in the camp. National Socialist newspapers are permitted but must be ordered within the concentration camp by the detainee himself. Food packages may be recieved at any time and in any amount. The Camp Commander.Dear Helen! I thank you for your letter of the 28th of June and for the packages of June 23, June 30, and July 4. Best thanks also to the [name] but they shouldn't send me any more. If I should need anything I will write. Please let me know how you meant it in your letter before the last with the greatest humiliation of a woman through a man. I do not understand that well. In reading your letter I walked with you through our entire place [could refer to a farm]. I thought of each little place which reminded me of any happy, content, and beautiful experience. I do not think about the discontented ones. Do not forget to tell me what became of the firm [illegible] and co. Dearest K-I thank you for the "[trade name of time]" you sent. It lasted me about 14 days. [Name] and [name] I also thank for the letter of May 27. I would like it to end soon. I send my greeting to Uncle --, and I'm looking forward to his news. I thank dear Maryanke, for her greetings, and I return them. I wish her good helath. Kisses, your Janke.
Tan paper with typewritten message in fading ink. Blue Buchenwald hand stamp in upper left corner. Black Kartei stamp in upper right. Black ink singnature in bottom middle.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Document signed by a concentration camp doctor ("Der Lager Arzt") at Buchenwald stating that the inmate, Otto Schnurpel, prisoner Nr. 24097, died "accidentaly" on July 25, 1944. This date is five days after the July 20th attempt on Hitler's life.
Front:Typed letter with large red Star of David handstamp at bottom center; '1.Aug.1944' handstamp at bottom left. Back: Continuation of typed text with Reich seal hand stamp.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:Typed one page two sided file document concerning one Hedwig 'Sara' Broh with large red 'Jude' and Star of David hand stamp, and Third Reich eagle hand stamp on reverse. Jews who were later killed by the regime were forced to pay for life insurance policies in which the regime was the beneficiary.
Tan paper with printed black German on top. Beneath are printed black dotted lines with handwriting in pencil. Back: Tan paper originally folded in half. Top portion has printed black text and dotted lines filled in with the last name 'Vesela', then a blank portion below excepting some pencil writing beneath the printed lines, and a long diagonal pencil mark. The other half has the address written on printed postal lines, and a red stamp of Hitler in profile facing right. On the pasted stamp is a black circular handstamp, and to the left is a purple rectangular hand stamp with a signature in it.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: This Ravensbruck Concentration Camp formular cover/letter from inmate Helena Vesela with printed postal instructions from the Camp Kommandant was sent in 1944. The letter was censored by the German Camp censor and stamped on the cover front page. Ravensbruck was the largest concentration camp for women in the Reich, and inmates came from over 30 countries.
Tan document including rip and water damage. Titled, "Personal-Antrag." Includes typewritten biographical information.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Oswald Pohl was the head of the economic office of the SS and ultimate overseer of the concentration camp system. It was Pohl who was responsible for harvesting dental gold, hair, eyeglasses, etc. for the Nazis. He was captured and executed in 1951.This letter was a request that Friedrich Fritz Hartjenstein be promoted to the rank of SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer. This personal-antrag was sent to the SS personnel headquarters from Oranienburg and signed at bottom by an unidentified SS Gruppenfuhrer, perhaps the inspector of concentration camps, Richard Glucks. Hartjenstein was described as a camp commandant. The recommendation also gave a record of his prior military service. In part, it read: "In May 1944, he took over the concentration camp Natzweiler as commander. He made it a model camp and it continues to expand and organize the establishment of a larger working stock [slave labor]. Hartjenstein is for my service area particularly suitable. I recommend his promotion to SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer..." On the verso, Pohl signed his approval of the promotion. Beneath appear yet more details concerning Hartjenstein, including his children's birthdates, his service record -- including dates of service at Auschwitz and Natzweiler -- his military education, dates of promotion, etc.Freidrich Hartjenstein (1905-1954) began his SS work at Sachsenhauser in 1938. The following year he was transferred to Niederhagen and in 1941 he served for a year with the 3rd SS division Totenkopf, a Waffen SS combat division. In 1942, he was appointed the commandant of Birkenau. This was the main camp at Auschwitz, which contained the extermination facilities and crematoria. In 1944, Hartjenstein was appointed commandant of Natzweiler concentration camp in France. In 1945 he went to work at Flossenburg concentration camp. He would die while awaiting execution by the French. Natzweiler, a labor and punishment camp at which 25,000 people suffered and died, was evacuated only a few weeks after Hartjenstein received his promotion.
Two-page typewritten document on "Der Deutsche Staatsminister für Böhmen und Mähren SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank" (The German State Minister for Bohemia and Moravia Obergruppenführer Karl Hermann Frank) letterhead. Includes a two-page typewritten letter to a Professor Speer with Hermann's signature at the end.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: A letter from Karl Hermann Frank to Reichminister Professor Albert Speer. Karl Hermann Frank (1898-1946) was SS Obergruppenfuhrer and a prominent Sudeten German Nazi official in Czechoslovakia serving under Reich protector Reinhard Heydrich until the latter's assassination. Frank was instrumental in implementing Hitler's orders of revenge, which included the destruction of the Czech villages of Lidice and Lezaky, the murder of their male inhabitants, and the deportation of women and young adults to concentration camps. Frank was executed in 1946.
Front: Tan paper with black type on top, 'Auszug aus der Lagervrdnung." Date is written on top in pencil (August 1944). Back: Split into two halves by a fold. One side has addressee written in pencil. Red Hitler stamp in top right corner. Other side has the prisoner's name, number and block written into blanks on dotted black lines, with some other writing in pencil.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: While female prisoners were common in the concentration camp system, Ravensbruck was Germany’s only concentration camp for women. Children were interned as well. It opened in 1939, and all occupied nations of Europe were represented there. Many were slave laborers for the Siemens factory, building parts for the V-2 rocket.
Front: White Red Cross stationery with printed and typewritten text. Includes several red and purple stamps.Back: Printed black text.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Slovakia's Josef Tiso government partnered with the Axis powers. Jews were deported, and 60,000 Jews found themselves in labor and concentration camps by October 1942. Jews were also sent to the General Government where many were placed in extermination centers.Other deportations occurred in 1944. The Red Cross message system was a chief means of communication during World War II, utilizing printed forms that took weeks to reach their intended party and only allowed messages of 25 words or less. Leo Zilz of Nitra, Slovakia, sends a message using the Red Cross form to Lea Honigsbeer, formerly of Nitra now living in Palestine, inquiring about friends and family members. The Yad Vashem Data base of Shoah Victims' Names lists many Zilz family members from Nitra, Slovakia, murdered in the Holocaust. Moritz Zilz is one of them, murdered in Auschwitz.
Front: Printed 'Feldpost' at top center; handwritten address in purple pencil Back: handwritten in pencil.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: SS Feldpost from German officer at Monowitz-Buna, otherwise known as Auschwitz III, slave labor for I.G. Farben plant, to Leipzig. Letter written 5 days after bombing by 96 B-24 liberators.
Envelope: Green envelope addressed to Jiřinke Krěpinska in black ink. Return address to Jaroslav Křepinsky on back flap.Letter: Letter written on stationery with title, "Deutsche Untersuchungshaftanstalt" (German Detention Center). Letter in black ink written on lined stationery.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored letter from man in Prag-Pankratz prison to wife in Birkenau. Censored letter from wife can be seen at 2012.1.361abc.
Front: Divided in two by center fold. Red Deutsches Reich stamp in upper right covered by 'Hamburg-Bergedorf' handstamp. The number 6 is circled. Other side: 'Konzentrationslager Hamburg-Neuengamme' handstamp with a circled '24'. Back: Handwritten letter takes up most of the space. 'Auszug aus der Lagerordnung' printed text on top.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Lettersheet from a prisoner in the concentration camp of Neuengamme in Germany near Hamburg. Konzenentrationslager KL cover written on camp issued stationary. The cover is addressed to Litzmannstadt, the sender and addressee have the same names and are family members. Postmarked October 12, 1944. On preprinted stationary issued by concentration camp officials along with the censorship markings.
Front: Sangerhausen hand stamp over maroon postage stamp in top right. Several hand stamps along the left side. Back: Message written in pencil with date at top right.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Scarce cover from inmate at Konzentrationslager (KL) Mittelbau-Dora complex where V1/V2 rockets were produced. The camp was very secret and letters to it were addressed 'undercover' from KL Sangerhausen. The block "D" specifier indicates this was from Dora.
Front: Depiction of Jesus on the Cross, titled, "Mon Jésus, Miséricorde!" with printed text.Back: Printed text titled, "A la pieuse mémorie de notre martyr monsieur Marcel Fayon."
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: One of a group of funeral cards for Catholic individuals who perished at various concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, Stettin, Mauthausen, Neuengamme and Buchenwald (2012.1.47, 2012.1.48, 2012.1.49, 2012.1.50, 2012.1.51, 2012.1.52, 2012.1.53).
Front: Split in half by printed purple line. Left side has the addres of the sender, Olga Kozakowa written in cusive black ink. Right side has the address of the camp, number 33541, block 37 at Weimar-Buchenwald. Back: Message handwritten in black cursive.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: Censored postcard from Olga Kozakowa Wodzistaw(?) in Radom to O. Ludostaw, Prisoner (Schutzhaftling) #33541 Block 37 in Buchenwald Concentration Camp
Front: A white postcard with printed purple postcard lines and stamp. Includes addresses written in blocky pencil, red and black stamps, and a red pencil marking.Back: A message written in blocky pencil.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash: A postcard from an inmate at SS-Sonderlager (Sonderlager A-1/C Bystrice BEI Beneschau) in the Protectorate of Czechoslovakia for Descendants of Mixed Jewish families and spouses of Jewish women, 1944. This camp was referred to in German as a 'Judenmischlingslager.'
Letter with printed German text in red at top and handwritten text in blue ink below. Swastika stamp at bottom left of back page.
Information Provided by Michael D. Bulmash:
Letter sent by H. Guretzki (?), inmate number 4234, from Aufenthaltslager Bergen-Belsen on December 1, 1944. It is censored with a circular ink stamp verso and stamped with a directive to write letters in the German language. It is possible that the blacked-out areas conceal other camp stationary and that there was a shortage at Belsen. The Aufenthaltslager was a holding camp for prisoners who could potentially be exchanged with Allies for German internees. However, only 358 prisoners were exchanged, and the fate of the author of this letter is uncertain.
Belsen began its life as a POW camp but by 1943 became a large complex of camps. With the Allied advance, Belsen essentially became a dumping ground for prisoners-especially women- from other camps, the population swelling to more than 60,000 by 1945. Along with the overcrowding there was limited shelter, and food shortages, poor sanitation, and disease were rife. The living were found among the unburied dead when the British liberated the camp in April, 1945. Anne Frank and her sister Margot were among the many who perished here.