“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.