Did you know that the Nazis did not invent concentration camps?

The fence at Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

“Concentration camp.” This loathsome phrase came to symbolize the Holocaust and the inhumane atrocities the Nazi regime perpetrated against both its own citizens and the populations of occupied countries. But did you know that the Nazis invented neither the concept nor the name?

The term actually originates from the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), Cuba’s independence war against Spain. Originally named “reconcentration camps,” the Spanish moved the local civilians, village by village, to such facilities. Their logic was that once the locals were removed from an area, Cuban guerillas would no longer be able to hide among the population and would be easier to hunt down. The concept and the name were reused by the United States in the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, and by the British Empire in the Second Boer War (also 1899-1902) in South Africa. The camps also became places of punishment here, as the interred families of known Boer rebels were intentionally given smaller rations. 

British concentration camp near Bloemfontein in South Africa during the Second Boer War (Photo: The National Archives - UK)

The first country to inter its own citizens, rather than the civilians of a hostile population, in concentration camps was the Soviet Union. The “Gulag” consisted of 30,000 camps to hold both political dissidents and common criminals. The Gulag started operating in 1918, beating the construction of the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau by 15 years. 

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Soldiers of the 463rd Combat Engineers near the German border observe Christmas in 1944; note K-ration cans as ornaments  (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)
Surprise your loved ones with an unforgettable trip to historic places where American soldiers fought for our freedom. Get a 15% discount on our select tours by paying only the registration fee by December 26, 2022 and transferring the rest of the list price until January 31, 2023. Note that this offer applies only in case of new bookings, and it cannot be combined with other special promotions. The offer excludes those three tours in 2024 which include the 80th anniversary D-Day commemorations in Normandy.
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