MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - On April 9, 1945, the inmates of the Buchenwald death camp near Weimar, Germany, sent a radio message to inform the Allies that the Nazis were forcing them to evacuate the camp, and to request assistance.
After they received promises of help from the U.S. Third Army, they stormed the watchtowers and killed the remaining guards using arms they had been collecting since 1942. The Americans, who reached Buchenwald on April 11, liberated 21,000 prisoners.
In 1995, the UN decided to mark April 11 as the Day of Liberation of Concentration Camps.
Another relevant date is the Holocaust Memorial Day, marked on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Homo Sapiens, seldom good-natured and almost never vegetarian, are this planet's most dangerous predators. The 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history, when millions were killed in concentration camps.
It would be wrong to blame the Nazis for inventing concentration camps. Similar facilities first appeared during the Civil War in the United States in 1861-65, and the term itself became established during the Boer War (1899-1902), when such camps were set up to sever the supply routes of the Boer guerrillas. Farmers and their families who supplied foods to the rebels were forced into those camps. Since supplies were sent there only when all other institutions received their share, a considerable number of the camps' prisoners starved to death.
Turkey and Austro-Hungary set up concentration camps during the First World War, mostly as a form of genocide against Armenians and Slavs, respectively.
Russia did not escape that evil either. In the first half of the Soviet history, the Gulag camps were used to isolate (or liquidate) politically disloyal citizens. It was also an efficient economic mechanism used for building vital facilities such as railroads and canals.
However, the German camps were much better organized and pursued the most inhuman objectives. The Nazis started setting up the camps as soon as they came to power in 1933, but they became especially infamous during the Second World War (1939-1945).
The Nazi camps can be divided into two groups, the labor camps and the death camps.
In the labor camps, millions worked to produce the commodities Germany needed to fight the war. Many of them died because of inhuman conditions and hard labor.
Extermination was the goal of the death camps, where the "inferior people," especially Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Soviets, and anyone else who was not an "Aryan" according to the contemporary Nazi race terminology, were forced. Over three million of the six million European and Soviet Jews died there, as well as four million Russians and hundreds of thousands of other Soviet peoples (out of the total 27 million who perished in WWII), approximately 200,000 Gypsies, as well as Serbs, Poles and others.
Treblinka, Belzec, Maidanek, Sobibor, Chelmno, a major part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps were cogs in a huge and well-oiled Nazi extermination machine. Inmates were shot, gassed, and clubbed to death, and died in inhuman medical experiments. By the end of the war, some labor camps, including Buchenwald, were turned into extermination camps.
The Nazis especially hated Jews, Gypsies and Soviet prisoners, above all Russians.
The "enemies of the Reich" were killed not only in German camps but also in camps in collaborationist countries, for example at Jasenovac in Croatia and Salaspils in Latvia.
The camps were structural units of SD (security service) and SS (the German abbreviation for Protective Squadron, said to be responsible for the vast majority of war crimes during the Nazi rule), but people were killed also in the so-called Stalags, or prisoner-of-war camps, of the German army.
Western servicemen were kept in more or less human conditions in accordance with international conventions, but for Russian prisoners these camps were mostly a stopover between a labor camp and a death camp.
Nazi successors and their accomplices often say that Soviet prisoners were treated ruthlessly because the Soviet Union had not signed the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
But they neglect to mention that the Soviet Union joined the convention in 1931 in a special declaration signed by Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, and that the Geneva Convention bound the Germans, who were among the first to join it, to respect its norms irrespective of whether or not their adversaries joined it.
The final stage of the war saw the most ruthless treatment of prisoners. The Nazis began mass executions in an attempt to conceal their crimes. Revolts broke out in many camps that were close to the frontline, because the inmates, doomed to death one way or another, hoped to survive until Soviet or Allied troops reached them. The Buchenwald uprising was one of such revolts.
After the war, the Nazis' crimes were carefully considered during the Nuremberg Trials, which passed death sentences on the main culprits.
Unfortunately, the idea of concentration camps did not disappear along with the Third Reich. The goals of those who are using it today may be different, but the names Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo still jar on the ears.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.