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Concentration Camp Gulag

The term is said to have been invented by the British during the last Boer War in South Africa, when they were first used to round up the Afrikaner farmers - mostly the families of the guerrilla fighters - of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. They consisted of wooden huts surrounded by barbed wire fences. Many of the detainees died, mainly from incompetence rather than intention.

The next notorious use of the term was for Hitler's prison camps for his political opponents: Trades Unionists, Socialists, Communists, Liberals, Christians, Jews, Gypsies and others, held without trial. The Nazi camps were notorious for working prisoners to death on insufficient food. An outgrowth of the Nazi camps was the Death Camp system, of which the most notorious was Auschwitz, where millions of Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were killed.

Such camps were a common part of twentieth century practice: Strategic villages in the colonial wars in Kenya , Vietnam and Malaysia had something in common.

In the Soviet Union the Gulag prison camps were so extensive that they formed an important part of the national economy as suppliers of slave labor. All dictatorships hold people without trial and most have camps of one kind or another. The Serbs and Croats in former Yugoslavia kept Muslims and each other from Bosnia in camps, some of which appear to have been death camps practicing mass murder.

Should the name be applied to the camps operated by the United States authorities in Abu Ghraib (Iraq), Bagram airbase (Afghanistan) and Guantanamo?

Last revised 5/09/09


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