Extermination camp

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Extermination camps (Totenlager) were a subset of six Nazi concentration camps in Holocaust, designed principally for killing ideological and racial undesirables as part of the Final Solution. They kept only enough slave labor to operate the camp and immediately killed the other arriving captives, unless there was a special requirement such as the Nazi medical experiments at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a major subcamp of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

The camps, all in Poland, were:

Camp Deaths[1]
Auschwitz-Birkenau 2,000,000
Belzec 600,000
Chelmno 340,000
Madjankek 1,380,000
Sobibor 250,000
Treblinka 800,000

Command and organization

See also: WVHA

Even the death camps were under the SS economic organization, the WVHA, intended to get the maximum value from the victims and their possessions. The overall concentration camp system was under the Inspector of Concentration Camps, who, at the time of the extermination camps' operation, was Gruppenfuehrer Richard Gluecks. Gluecks reported to the head of the WVHA, Obergruppenfuehrer Oswald Pohl.


While the camps differed in the nature of their gas chambers and crematoria, the basic procedure was the same for all. Prisoners arrived at the camp by rail, and went through a "selection" procedure, in which slave workers and other people, not to be killed immediately, were directed to one line. The other line were told they were going for a shower and disinfection, undressed in a changing room, and put into an apparent shower room.

The shower heads were fake and the bars of soap were stone, but many of the victims did not realize that until the airtight doors closed. Poisonous gas, or gas generating solids, were introduced into the chamber. Auschwitz used Zyklon B, a solid onto which cyanides were adsorbed. The other camps used engines to generate carbon monoxide.


  1. Lucy Dawidowicz (1975), The War against the Jews, 1933-1945 (10th Anniversary ed.), Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-34532-X, pp. 148-149