The Nazi Concentration Camps


Suffering did not end after liberation. Thousands of inmates were beyond help. Allied soldiers tried to provide medical relief. But despite their efforts, up to 30,000 liberated prisoners died within the first weeks. Those who survived the camps faced the impossible task of rebuilding their lives. Many had lost their health, their homes and their families, and looked into an uncertain future.

Dachau after the war: refugees live in the former prisoner barracks

KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau

Survivors met much indifference from the public. In 1945–6, the media had still reported widely on liberated camps and the first perpetrator trials, where many hundreds of Camp SS staff were convicted (although most perpetrators would escape justice). But the camps soon disappeared from front pages and faded from people’s minds. This was true not least in Germany itself. Keen to forget, many ordinary Germans claimed that they had known nothing about the camps. As the population moved on from the Nazi past, former sites of terror were forgotten. For much of the 1950s, for example, there was no museum at Dachau, while the old prisoner barracks were used to house German refugees.

Public interest in the camps grew stronger again from the 1960s, in Germany and elsewhere. Since then, many ordinary Germans have engaged openly with the history of Nazi crimes and their government is helping to preserve the camps’ memory. Survivors played a central role in commemoration, though not all were able to speak about their suffering. Survivors have also tried to draw lessons from the camps, for themselves and for the world at large.