Some camps had been in existence in another guise before the Nazis came to power. They were then adapted. However, all camps followed the general guidelines set up by SS ‘Inspector of concentration camps’ Theodore Eicke, who had developed systems and guidelines for the administration of camps during his time as commandant of Dachau.
More often than not, camps would have an electrified barbed wire perimeter fence or a wall, each with guard towers. On both the inside and outside of this would be deep ditches running the whole length of the perimeter.
At the main entrance there would be a gatehouse, where the camp administration would often be located. There would be many support buildings; containing the kitchen, laundry, showers and workshops, as well as a prison block. There was always an Appell Platz (roll call square) where prisoners would often have to stand for hours whilst they were counted. Sometimes they were kept there as punishment or at the whim of the SS. This would often be the place where executions took place.
Camps were usually divided into sections, each separated by rows of barbed wire fences. In most camps there were separate sections for male and female prisoners, with children often being housed in the same barracks as the women.
Different categories of prisoners were also segregated. For example, there would be separate compounds for political prisoners, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roma.
Prisoners were housed in wooden or brick-built barracks. Each of these was intended to accommodate between 250 and 400 prisoners, but they would often house 700 to 1200 prisoners each. As a result they were extremely overcrowded and diseases and epidemics therefore spread very quickly. Prisoners slept on wooden bunks three layers high, with often three to five people sharing one level. Those on the bottom layer received all the waste from those lying above them.
Later on, camps would have a crematorium to dispose of those prisoners who died of starvation, disease, over-work, mistreatment or murder by the Nazis. This crematorium would be administered by the SS, but staffed by prisoners who were selected as members of the Sonderkommando (special work unit).