Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Concentration camps

There is a useful context in Anne Applebaum's harrowing Gulag (2003, p. 19). She defines concentration camps as
‘camps constructed to incarcerate people not for what they had done, but for who they were’.
They were built for
‘a particular type of non-criminal civilian prisoner …a category of people who, for reasons of their race or their presumed politics, were judged to be dangerous or extraneous to society’.
According to this definition the first modern concentration camps were set up in colonial Cuba in 1895 when, in order to put an end to a series of local insurgencies imperial Spain began to prepare a policy of reconcentración, intended to remove the Cuban peasants from their land and ‘reconcentrate’ them in camps. By 1900 the term had been translated into English and was used to describe a similar British project during the South African War. In 1904 the German colonists in German South-West Africa adopted the British model, but also made the inhabitants (the Herero) carry out forced labour. The first imperial commissioner of German South-West Africa was Dr Heinrich Göring, father of Hermann.