Stanford University
The Evolution of the SS Concentration Camp System, 1933-1945
The Evolution of the SS Concentration Camp System, 1933-1945
About this Visualization

This animation is intended to be used as a tool for exploring the historical evolution and geographical context of one of the Nazis' chief systems of exploitation and control: the concentration camps administered by the SS. The spatial and temporal patterns revealed in this visualization raise questions that we hope will spur further inquiry. These include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • How was the location of camps related to resources and territorial control?
  • Why did some camps exist only briefly while others lasted for years?
  • Why did supcamp openings accelerate in late 1944, and what explains their clustering?
  • How were subcamps related to main camps?
  • Were Allied advances responsible for the apparent consolidation of camps?

We invite you to explore these patterns and share your own observations.

Data notes:

Represented are the best available information on the names, locations, and dates when these camps were under the control of the SS. The approximately 1,000 camps in the underlying database represent a large fraction, but by no means all, Nazi concentration camps. This camps database was compiled by researchers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for volume 1 of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos (2008). Undergraduate students at Middlebury College and Stanford modified the database for use in GIS and created layers of related information. Please note that some camps have incomplete data (i.e., missing opening date or closing date), but every effort was made to be as accurate as possible.

Representing Incomplete Data
Because of the incomplete temporal data on camp opening and closing, two options are provided to view the data. The primary option "Opening and Closing" shows only camps for which we have both dates. (When a closing date is not available, an evacuation or liberation date was substituted, if available.) "Opening only" shows all of those plus camps for which we only have an opening date.

Representing Temporal Uncertainty
Camp dates are variable in their level of known specificity; some dates are known to the day, most to the nearest month, and others only to the season. For the purposes of this animation, we chose to aggregate camps monthly. Seasonal dates (e.g., spring 1938) are randomly assigned any one of three months of the season (April, May, or June). The display dates for this minority of camps will refresh, and may display differently, each time the page is reloaded. We did this to avoid giving the false impression of seasonal bursts of camp openings.

Which border changes are shown?
It is important to note that the boundaries shown here reflect only annexations and treaties, not occupations. We considered territories which were classified as "under Axis civil administration" as being annexed. This category includes territories that were formally annexed (i.e., Wartheland), and those which were increasingly treated as parts of Axis countries but had not yet been formally incorporated (i.e., Bialystok). Additionally, new entities that were created during the war are shown.

Border data by Michael De Groot, 2010. Read more in his article, "Building the New Order: 1938-1945."

Allied advance data by James Graham, 2007.

Authors: Michael De Groot, Alex Yule, Jack Cuneo, Erik Steiner, and Anne Knowles
Building the New Order: 1938-1945
Building the New Order: 1938-1945
Spatial History