Concentration camps were originally established by the Nazi regime to detain their political opponents. In 1937, they began to imprison other victims of persecution in growing numbers as well: Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, and alleged “anti-socials” and “criminals”. On entering the camp, the SS confiscated all personal belongings and issued prisoner numbers in place of names. Different coloured triangles were attached to prisoners' clothing, indicating the reason for their imprisonment. In the beginning, German nationals were the largest group of prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp. In total, 9,500 Germans were imprisoned in the camp over the years, including roughly 400 women who were deployed in the satellite camps, and not in the main camp.
From 1941 onwards, the majority of prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp came from countries occupied by Germany. Between 1941 and 1942, Polish prisoners were the largest group in the camp; from 1942 and 1943 on, Soviet prisoners were the majority. In total, 90 percent of the prisoners in Neuengamme concentration camp were foreigners. More than half came from Eastern and Central Europe, but there were also large groups of prisoners from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. They were imprisoned because they resisted German occupation, because they were slave labourers serving punishment or because they had been abducted as hostages and victims of “acts of retaliation”. In 1941, Soviet POWs began arriving at Neuengamme, and in 1944 and 1945 larger groups of Jews from different European countries were sent to the camp.
Overall, 80,000 men and more than 13,000 women were registered and issued a prisoner number at Neuengamme concentration camp. Another 5,900 people were either not listed in the camp registry, or they were filed separately. It has been verified that at least 42,900 people lost their lives due to deliberately poor living and working conditions. Another several thousand prisoners died after they were sent to other concentration camps, or they perished from the results of incarceration after their liberation. We must therefore assume that more than half of the approximate 100,400 prisoners in the Neuengamme concentration camp did not survive Nazi persecution.
“God, how I endured it all: Lice, boils, hunger, beatings, mistreatment, diarrhoea. I was just a shadow of my former self in the end. And perhaps I only survived because I was very young.”
Krystyna Razi?ska from Poland was imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp at the age of 15 for participating in the Warsaw uprising. From there, she was moved to various satellite camps of Neuengamme. (Testimony from 30 April 1990, ANg)