Nazi concentration camps varied greatly in type and character. They were used for a range of purposes — forced labour camps, transit camps, and death camps, or built exclusively for mass murder. Although all the camps operated with similar conditions (slave labour, starvation, appalling sanitation, harsh punishments and high death rates), their functions changed during the various phases of the Third Reich. From 1933 to 1936 the concentration camps were used to consolidate the political and ideological foundations of the Nazi regime by imprisoning, punishing and eliminating so-called enemies of the Reich. Most of the prison population of the first concentration camps were German Communists, Social Democrats, Roma/Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and persons accused of ‘asocial’ or socially deviant behaviour. The camps also served as effective deterrents against political opposition to the Nazis and instruments of terror to remind the population of the power of the new regime.
After Germany’s annexation of Austria in March 1938, the Nazis arrested German and Austrian Jews and imprisoned them in concentration camps in Germany at Dachau and Buchenwald. After Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) on November 9-10, 1938, the Nazis carried out mass arrests of adult male Jews and incarcerated them in these camps and other places for brief periods. In the period 1936 to 1941 economic interests dominated in the preparation for war. Newer and larger concentration camps were erected, providing a vast army of forced labour to serve the war industry. Examples were Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen.