Most Germans were relieved that the conflicts and street fighting of the Weimar era had ended. They were deluged with propaganda orchestrated by Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, who promised peace and plenty for all in a united, Marxist-free country without the constraints of the Versailles Treaty. The NSDAP obtained and legitimised power through its initial revolutionary activities, then through manipulation of legal mechanisms, the use of police powers, and by taking control of the state and federal institutions. The first major Nazi concentration camp, initially for political prisoners, was opened at Dachau in 1933. Hundreds of camps of varying size and function were created by the end of the war.
I worked out pretty quickly certain survival tricks. That if the guards called us to line up in front of the barracks, I should hide or sneak into another barracks. The safest place I could find to hide was in the yard near the bathrooms where all the dead bodies were brought and piled up … I would get on the pile, lie down next to the dead bodies and pretend I was one of them.
That month, Himmler ordered the evacuation of all camps, charging camp commanders with "making sure that not a single prisoner from the concentration camps falls alive into the hands of the enemy". Beginning on 17 January, 56,000–58,000 Auschwitz detainees—over 20,000 from Auschwitz I and II, over 30,000 from subcamps, and two-thirds of them Jews—were evacuated under guard, largely on foot, in severe winter conditions, heading west. Around 2,200 were evacuated by rail from two subcamps; fewer than 9,000 were left behind, deemed too sick to move. During the marches, camp staff shot anyone too sick or exhausted to continue, or anyone stopping to urinate or tie a shoelace. SS officers walked behind the marchers killing anyone lagging behind who had not already been shot. Peter Longerich estimates that a quarter of the detainees were thus killed. Those who managed to walk to Wodzisław Śląski and Gliwice were sent on open freight cars, without food, to concentration camps in Germany: Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Flossenburg, Gross-Rosen, Mauthausen, Dora-Mittelbau, Ravensbruck, and Sachsenhausen.
In 2015, Flemish journalist Jeroen de Bruyn and Joop van Wijk, Bep Voskuijl's youngest son, wrote a biography, Bep Voskuijl, het zwijgen voorbij: een biografie van de jongste helper van het Achterhuis (Bep Voskuijl, the Silence is Over: A Biography of the Youngest Helper of the Secret Annex), in which they alleged that Bep's younger sister Nelly (1923–2001) could have betrayed the Frank family. According to the book, Bep's sister Diny and her fiancé Bertus Hulsman recollected Nelly telephoning the Gestapo on the morning of 4 August 1944. Nelly had been critical of Bep and their father, Johannes Voskuijl, helping the Jews. (Johannes was the one who constructed the bookcase covering the entrance to the hiding place.) Nelly was a Nazi collaborator between the ages of 19 and 23. Karl Silberbauer, the SS officer who received the phone call and made the arrest, was documented to say that the informer had "the voice of a young woman".
It is surprising to me that inmates make any attempt to escape. Already in the first hours of our stay we could convince ourselves of the hopelessness of such an undertaking, being lined up as we were along the inner wall. The watchtowers were occupied by S.S. men with machine guns, and during the darkness rays of searchlights played from them. The guards in the watchtowers, provided with field glasses, were able to see each inmate who might move outside the barracks during the night hours, and they had strict orders to fire at an offender at once. Aside from these guards, mechanical contraptions made escape almost impossible. On the inner sides of the two encircling walls there were tall wire fences charged with a high-voltage current. Inside the wire fence there was a small strip of gravel, in front of which were signs bearing skull and crossbones and this inscription: 'Caution neutral zone.' The guards were instructed to shoot without warning at anybody entering this zone.
Although Nazism is often seen as a reactionary movement, it did not seek a return of Germany to the pre-Weimar monarchy, but instead looked much further back to a mythic halcyon Germany which never existed. It has also been seen – as it was by the German-American scholar Franz Leopold Neumann – as the result of a crisis of capitalism which manifested as a "totalitarian monopoly capitalism". In this view Nazism is a mass movement of the middle class which was in opposition to a mass movement of workers in socialism and its extreme form, Communism. Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher, however, argues that,
The party grew out of smaller political groups with a nationalist orientation that formed in the last years of World War I. In 1918, a league called the Freier Arbeiterausschuss für einen guten Frieden (Free Workers' Committee for a good Peace) was created in Bremen, Germany. On 7 March 1918, Anton Drexler, an avid German nationalist, formed a branch of this league in Munich. Drexler was a local locksmith who had been a member of the militarist Fatherland Party during World War I and was bitterly opposed to the armistice of November 1918 and the revolutionary upheavals that followed. Drexler followed the views of militant nationalists of the day, such as opposing the Treaty of Versailles, having antisemitic, anti-monarchist and anti-Marxist views, as well as believing in the superiority of Germans whom they claimed to be part of the Aryan "master race" (Herrenvolk). However, he also accused international capitalism of being a Jewish-dominated movement and denounced capitalists for war profiteering in World War I. Drexler saw the political violence and instability in Germany as the result of the Weimar Republic being out-of-touch with the masses, especially the lower classes. Drexler emphasised the need for a synthesis of völkisch nationalism with a form of economic socialism, in order to create a popular nationalist-oriented workers' movement that could challenge the rise of Communism and internationalist politics. These were all well-known themes popular with various Weimar paramilitary groups such as the Freikorps.
There are only two possibilities in Germany; do not imagine that the people will forever go with the middle party, the party of compromises; one day it will turn to those who have most consistently foretold the coming ruin and have sought to dissociate themselves from it. And that party is either the Left: and then God help us! for it will lead us to complete destruction - to Bolshevism, or else it is a party of the Right which at the last, when the people is in utter despair, when it has lost all its spirit and has no longer any faith in anything, is determined for its part ruthlessly to seize the reins of power - that is the beginning of resistance of which I spoke a few minutes ago.
In the Soviet Union by 1922 there were 23 concentration camps for the incarceration of persons accused of political offenses as well as criminal offenses. Many corrective labour camps were established in northern Russia and Siberia, especially during the First Five-Year Plan, 1928–32, when millions of rich peasants were driven from their farms under the collectivization program. The Stalinist purges of 1936–38 brought additional millions into the camps—said to be essentially institutions of slavery.
German authorities established camps all over Germany on an ad hoc basis to handle the masses of people arrested as alleged subversives. The SS established larger camps in Oranienburg, north of Berlin; Esterwegen, near Hamburg; Dachau, northwest of Munich; and Lichtenburg, in Saxony. In Berlin itself, the Columbia Haus facility held prisoners under investigation by the Gestapo (the German secret state police) until 1936.
By the time the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, unleashing World War II, there were six concentration camps in the so-called Greater German Reich: Dachau (founded 1933), Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1937), Flossenbürg in northeastern Bavaria near the 1937 Czech border (1938), Mauthausen, near Linz, Austria (1938), and Ravensbrück, the women's camp, established in Brandenburg Province, southeast of Berlin (1939), after the dissolution of Lichtenburg.
Use of the word "concentration" came from the idea of confining people in one place because they belong to a group that is considered undesirable in some way. The term itself originated in 1897 when the "reconcentration camps" were set up in Cuba by General Valeriano Weyler. In the past, the U.S. government had used concentration camps against Native Americans and the British had also used them during the Second Boer War. Between 1904 and 1908, the Schutztruppe of the Imperial German Army operated concentration camps in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) as part of its genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples. The Shark Island Concentration Camp in Lüderitz was the largest camp and the one with the harshest conditions.