What is a Labor Camp?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2020
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A labor camp is a type of prison or detention center in which inmates are forced to perform hard labor. Historically, a labor camp has been a place with brutally poor conditions, and laborers were often forced to work until their deaths, though conditions at other labor camps are much better and less oppressive. Perhaps the most infamous labor camp facilities were the ones operated by Nazi Germany during World War II, at which thousands of Jews were essentially worked to death. Some camps were labor and extermination camps, at which some Jews were forced to work while others were simply executed.

The labor performed at a labor camp will vary significantly according to the industry the camp is designed for. The Nazi labor camp facilities, for example, were set up for various types of labor that propelled Germany's war efforts forward. Laborers might work on repairing railroad tracks that had been bombed, they might work in factories that made shell casings or other artillery, or they might make parts for army vehicles. The laborers were essentially slaves who would do whatever jobs they were assigned, and when they were no longer fit for labor, they would be killed in gas chambers, in front of firing squads, or by other means.


Many labor camp facilities are still in existence around the world, and some countries use them as detention facilities for various types of criminals. The labor camp terms will vary according to the criminal's crimes, and they will be forced to submit to hard labor for the duration of their sentences. The labor is not only hard, but also quite prolonged. Inmates can work 12 hours a day or longer, beyond the point of exhaustion. The living conditions outside of work are usually extremely difficult. Some laborers starve to death in the camps, contract illnesses that are left untreated, are humiliated, and sometimes even executed.

Throughout history, many labor camps housed political prisoners who were considered enemies of a particular country. These political prisoners were often forced to labor alongside dangerous criminals such as murderers, rapists, and thieves. For many countries, putting political prisoners to work is punishment for the prisoner as well as a political tool for dealing with adversaries. During times of war, it is not uncommon for a country to put enemy combatants to work on projects that aid that country in the war effort.


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Post 2

It's the 21st century, and I'm still hearing horror stories about North Korean and Chinese labor camps. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to know I was supposed to die from starvation or exhaustion in one of those places.

Post 1

My grandfather was in two labor camps during the Holocaust, and he said it was the worst time of his life by far. He was a young and healthy teenager at the time, which he says probably was the reason he survived. At one of the labor camps in Germany, he was ordered to unload shipments of clothing and luggage and then check them for valuables. He knew where they came from, but he wasn't allowed to mention the words "concentration camp" in front of the guards.

At the other labor camp in Poland, he had to break rocks into gravel so the Germans could repair the roads bombed out by the Allies. He told me he weighed 180 pounds when he was captured by the Germans, and 75 pounds when the Russian army liberated the labor camp in 1945.

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