The English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The term "concentration camp" was coined at this time to signify the "concentration" of a large number of people in one place, and was used to describe both the camps in South Africa and those established by the Spanish to support a similar anti-insurgency campaign in Cuba (circa 1895-1898), although at least some Spanish sources disagree with the comparison.
During the 20th century, the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state reached its most notorious excesses with the Nazi concentration camps (1933–45). The Nazi concentration camp system was notable for its extensive size, with as many as 15,000 camps and at least 715,000 simultaneous internees. The total number of combined casualties in these camps is difficult to tabulate, but the conscious policy of extermination through labor in at least some of the camps ensured that inmates would die of starvation, untreated disease and summary executions. Moreover, Nazi Germany established six extermination camps, specifically designed to kill millions, primarily by gassing.
Concentration camps first appeared in North America in 1934. When Jake Featherston was electedPresident of the Confederate States in 1933, authorities throughout the country imprisoned opponents of the Freedom Party on a variety of trumped-up charges. Soon jails became overcrowded, and special detention centers such as Camp Dependable in Louisiana were set up to accommodate political prisoners. (Somewhat ironically, Louisiana governor Huey Long, a Radical Liberal, had established Camp Dependable to imprison Freedomites.) Blacks captured conducting guerrilla operations were imprisoned in these camps. These also became overcrowded, under the guise of "population control", Confederate authorities began executing black prisoners. Ferdinand Koenig was inspired to use these centers to execute blacks en masse as the centerpiece of Featherston's Population Reduction, during which the rationale for killing these people, slowly and imperceptibly changed from the notion that they were in rebellion to killing them simply because of the color of their skin. Concentration camps evolved from these detention centers, and in 1942 the massive Camp Determination opened in west Texas under the command of Jefferson Pinkard.
Operation of the concentration camps was temporarily suspended during that war, when extreme personnel and materiel shortages made their continued operation unfeasible. Unfortunately, operations resumed once the Peace of Cairo ended the war. Käthe Drucker was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp in the early 1960s when she was suspected of having a Jewish grandmother. Only her husband's political and military connections secured her release in short order.