was not the first to use the concentration camp. Long before World
War II, the British used this secured "camp" where civilian
enemies were placed. It was 1900. The conflict was the Boer War,
and the victims were the Dutch settlers in South Africa.
war began when the Dutch (called the Boers, literally,
farmers, by the British) gave an ultimatum to the British to cease
reinforcement of the British garrison in South Africa. This happened
because the Boer republic, established by the Dutch settlers north
of the British colony, had refused to grant political rights
to the Uitlander (foreigners, mostly English) who were
living in the mining areas. The British really wanted an excuse
to take over the Boer republic which was rich in diamonds and gold.
On Oct. 11, 1899, the fighting began.
British vastly outnumbered the untrained Boer farmers, who were
fighting what was perhaps the greatest power in the world at that
time. So the match was uneven from the start. However the Boers
were fighting on their home ground and used unconventional guerilla
tactics to good advantage. They achieved some early victories over
children are treated in this way and dying, we are simply
ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British
rule in Africa..."
Boer commandos lived off the land and off the help that they got
from sympathetic homesteads. The British responded by removing this
advantage. They burned farms and created the first "concentration
camps" as a place to put the women and children they cleared
off the farms. The camps were inadequate and dirty and disease spread
through them quickly. Around 25,000 women and children died from
epidemics of dysentery, measles, and enteric fever. International
opinion began to turn against the British and there were outspoken
critics at home as well.
George, future Prime Minister of Great Britain, commented in practical
terms in 1901:
children are treated in this way and dying, we are simply ranging
the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in
to public opinion, British General Kitchener changed the British
policy in 1901 and stopped placing women and children in the camps.
He issued instructions that they should be left with the guerrilas,
which had two benefits. This policy quietened the outcry at home
and hampered the enemy in the field. See British
documents about the concentration camps.
1902, the Boers were finished. They surrendered the Boer lands,
partly due to concern over their families. As a result, the British
gained control over all of of the colonies in South Africa. Eventually
the British created the Republic of South Africa, an independent
country uniting all the colonies into one. The British inhabitants
ruled South Africa until the 1940s, but the Dutch inhabitants, later
called Afrikaners, never forgot their hatred of the British.