The Nazi Concentration Camps


Violent resistance was extremely rare: weak, isolated and unarmed prisoners stood no chance against the SS. Still, there was plenty of resistance inside camps. Every day, prisoners broke SS rules. They hid food, dodged labour and held secret meetings.

Secret photo of burning corpses in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was smuggled outside the camp (1944)

The Wiener Library

More extensive resistance came from organized groups, composed of prisoners from similar national, religious or political backgrounds (though not all inmates were believers). Prisoners in these groups tried to help each other to survive. Some also went further, sabotaging SS orders and establishing links to the anti-Nazi resistance outside. In exceptional cases, they even saved others from execution.

There was also resistance during the Holocaust. It has sometimes been claimed that Jewish victims were passive. In reality, they carried out remarkable acts of defiance in concentration camps. Most notable was the October 1944 uprising by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Special Squad (the prisoners forced to work at the gas chambers), which destroyed one of the crematoria. Other Auschwitz inmates escaped and told the world about the genocide in the camp. However, prisoner escapes often had terrible consequences for the inmates left behind.