The Bosnia Crisis: A century of cruelty wrapped in barbed wire

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The Independent Online
THE IMAGES caused worldwide outrage. The barbed wire, the emaciated prisoners, their ribs protruding; some with their heads shaved, some with the hollow eyes of abandoned hope. The Bosnian government had long talked of Serb-run 'concentration camps', and the pictures and reports from the Omarska camp revealed atrocious conditions. But was it really a concentration camp?

Lord Kitchener, sent to the South African colonies in 1900 in an attempt to crush the Boers, was said to have first used the term 'concentration camp' to describe detention centres where Boers were 'concentrated', or simply rounded up. He probably picked up the term from the Spanish, who had referred to 'campos de concentracion' in Cuba after the Caribbean island revolted in 1895. The Spaniards herded entire populations of towns or regions into camps.

In South Africa, Kitchener had more than 150,000 Boer civilians, mostly women and children, rounded up in camps, to help break Boer morale. By the time the war ended in 1902, more than 20,000 may have died in the camps, historians say. Three decades later, Hitler's Third Reich was to adopt Kitchener's term, using the German abbreviation KZ - and earning it the horrific connotation it retains today. Hitler set up the first camps in 1933, to round up Communists and other political opponents. Soon, the focus was on Jews, as well as gypsies, under the 'Final Solution'. Years earlier, Soviet authorities had set up more than 20 concentration camps, many in Siberia, rounding up political opponents and calling them 'corrective labour camps'. These flourished until the death of Stalin in 1953, and to a lesser extent through the reign of Soviet Communism.

The allies had known for years of the existence of Nazi concentration camps. But when the first camps were liberated in the spring of 1945, the extent of the horror shocked the world. At the Ohrdruf camp on 12 April 1945, generals Eisenhower and Bradley were said to have burst into tears, while the battle- scarred Patton threw up.

Collins encyclopaedia divides concentration camps into two categories: military and political. It includes the Cuban and South African camps in the former, and the Nazi and Soviet camps, as well as detention centres in Nationalist China and Franco's Spain, in the latter.

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