Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary (1989) gives the meaning as "The action of ‘interning’; confinement within the limits of a country or place". Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction between internment, which is being confined usually for preventative or political reasons, and imprisonment, which is being closely confined as a punishment for crime.
Early civilizations such as the Assyrians used forced resettlement of populations as a means of controlling territory, but it was not until much later in the late 19th and the 20th centuries that records exist of groups of civilian non-combatants being concentrated into large prison camps.
As a result of the mistreatment of civilians interned during recent conflicts, the Fourth Geneva Convention was established in 1949 to provide for the protection of civilians during times of war "in the hands" of an enemy and under any occupation by a foreign power. It was ratified by 194 nations. Prisoner-of-war camps are internment camps intended specifically for holding members of an enemy's armed forces as defined in the Third Geneva Convention, and the treatment of whom is specified in that Convention.
The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. defines concentration camp as: a camp where non-combatants of a district are accommodated, such as those instituted by Lord Kitchener during the South African war of 1899-1902; one for the internment of political prisoners, foreign nationals, etc., esp. as organized by the Nazi regime in Germany before and during the war of 1939-45.
Similar camps existed earlier (such as the US Concentration Camps forced on Cherokee and other Native Americans in the 1830s, Cuba (1868–78), the Philippines (1898–1901) by the Spanish and Americans respectively), the English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during the 1899-1902 Second Boer War. Purportedly conceived as a form of humanitarian aid to the families whose farms had been destroyed in the fighting, the camps were used to confine and control large numbers of civilians as part of a scorched earth tactic.
At the time that Kitchener started the concentration camps in South Africa the war had entered the guerilla phase and set battles during which farms could be destroyed no longer happened. By destroying crops, livestock and farmsteads under the 'Scorched Earth' policy the Boer fighters were deprived of supplies and shelter.It also left the women and children on such farms destitute and they were forcibly removed, against their will, to the camps where thousands died of disease and starvation.
In the era of the Soviet (Communist) Russia the most extensive and brutal concentration camp system was established. It has become known as the "Gulag"! The Gulag system eclipsed the Nazi system immensely. The number of those murdered, or worked or starved to death (estimated to be in the millions) is staggering. The extent of Cummunist China's operation of concentration camps is yet to be determined.
Use of the word concentration comes from the idea of concentrating a group of people who are in some way undesirable in one place, where they can be watched by those who incarcerated them. For example, in a time of insurgency, potential supporters of the insurgents are placed where they cannot provide them with supplies or information.
The term concentration camp lost some of its original meaning after Nazi concentration camps were discovered, and has ever since been understood to refer to a place of mistreatment, starvation, forced labour, and murder. The expression since then has only been used in this extremely pejorative sense; no government or organization has used it to describe its own facilities, using instead terms such as internment camp, resettlement camp, detention facility, etc, regardless of the actual circumstances of the camp, which can vary a great deal.
In the 20th century the arbitrary internment of civilians by the state became more common and reached a climax with Nazi concentration camps and the practice of genocide in Nazi extermination camps, and with the Gulag system of forced labor camps of the Soviet Union. As a result of this trend, the term "concentration camp" carries many of the connotations of "extermination camp" and is sometimes used synonymously. A concentration camp, however, is not by definition a death-camp. For example, many of the slave labor camps were used as cheap or free sources of factory labor for the manufacture of war materials and other goods.
Indeed, in terming their camps "concentration camps," the Nazis were using a mundane term to mask something far more horrific than the word had previously meant, similar to their usage of the term 'Ghetto.' Previously, ghettos had been separate, usually walled-in Jewish Quarters designed to segregate Jews from outside society and "protect" them from their neighbors. The Ghettos in occupied Europe were far more brutal, however. After the war some of the German built concentration camps remained in operation. Some camps were used by Poland for extracting Forced labor from ethnic German civilians prior to their expulsion. Camps included Polish camps such as those run by Salomon Morel and Czesław Gęborski. For example Central Labour Camp Jaworzno, Central Labour Camp Potulice, Łambinowice, Zgoda labour camp and others.