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Not to be confused with Interment or Internship.
This article is about the usage and history of the terms concentration camp, internment camp and internment. For a listing of individual camps, see List of concentration and internment camps. For The Walking Dead episode, see Internment (The Walking Dead).

Internment is the imprisonment or confinement[disambiguation needed][1] of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) gives the meaning as: "The action of 'interning'; confinement within the limits of a country or place."

Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction between internment, which is being confined usually for preventive or political reasons, and imprisonment, which is being closely confined as a punishment for crime.[attribution needed]

Internment also refers to the practice of neutral countries in time of war in detaining belligerent armed forces and equipment in their territories under the Hague Convention of 1907.[2]

Early civilizations such as Assyria used forced resettlement of populations as a means of controlling territory,[3] but it was not until much later in the late 19th and 20th centuries that records exist of groups of civilian non-combatants being concentrated into large prison camps.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights restricts the use of internment. Article 9 states that "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile."[4]

Concentration camp[edit]

Boer women and children in a British-run concentration camp in South Africa (1900-1902)

The Random House Dictionary defines the term "concentration camp" as: "a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.",[citation needed] whilst the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as: "A camp where civilians, enemy aliens, political prisoners, and sometimes prisoners of war are detained and confined, typically under harsh conditions."[citation needed]

Earliest usage and origins of the term[edit]

The Polish historian Władysław Konopczyński has suggested that concentration camps originated in Poland during the Bar Confederation rebellion (1768-1772), when the Russian Empire established three concentration camps for Polish rebel captives awaiting deportation to Siberia.[5]

The English term originated in the reconcentrados (reconcentration camps) set up by the Spanish military in Cuba during the Ten Years' War (1868–1878) and by the United States during the Philippine–American War (1899–1902).[6]

The term "concentration camp" saw wider use during the Second Boer War (1899–1902), when the British operated such camps in South Africa for interning Boers.[6][7] They built a total of 45 tented camps for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men captured as prisoners of war, the British sent 25,630 overseas. The vast majority of Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children.[citation needed]

Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of their genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was among the biggest and the one with the harshest conditions.

Concentration camps were also used against Armenians during the Armenian genocide, one example is Deir ez-Zor Camps, in which around 150,000+ died.

Shift in meaning[edit]

Jewish slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, 16 April 1945. Second row, seventh from left is Elie Wiesel.

During the 20th century, the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state reached a climax with Nazi concentration camps (1933–1945). As a result, the term "concentration camp" today carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" (or "death camp"), and is sometimes used synonymously with these terms by people who are unaware of its original pre-1933 usage. Not all Nazi concentration camps were "extermination camps". Many were used primarily to house forced laborers. The inmates in these camps were held there for the purpose of exploitation, rather than for extermination. However, for the many inmates of these "Arbeitslager" or "Forced Labor Camps", the result was often the same because many did not survive them, dying from malnutrition, disease or simply as a result of the inhuman conditions under which they were kept; effectively extermination through labor.

List of camps[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ per Oxford Universal Dictionary, 1st edition 1933.
  2. ^ "The Second Hague Convention, 1907". Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  3. ^ "Laws of Hammurabi". Retrieved 1 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9, United Nations
  5. ^ Konopczyński, Władysław. (1991) ', t. II, pp. 733–734.
  6. ^ a b "Concentration Camp". The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition ed.). Columbia University Press. 2008. 
  7. ^ "Documents re camps in Boer War". 

External links[edit]