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The bigger picture

The bigger picture

Internment- the exclusion, isolation and imprisonment of political prisoners without just cause - has been a particular feature of world history in modern times. In the twentieth century, the scale of the conflicts in the First and Second World Wars and the aggressive ideologies of totalitarian regimes led to a vast expansion of internment camps and mass deportations, especially under Nazism and Stalinism. But it was not a new phenomenon, and it was not only used by totalitarian regimes. Long before 1900, there was a tradition of sending prisoners ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to exile in penal colonies and labour camps. In the twentieth century, internment camps were established by democracies such as the United States, France, Britain, Canada and Australia. Since 1945, internment has continued to be been used: in Africa to detain nationalist rebels against colonial rule; in the Cultural Revolution in China; in Pol Pot’s Cambodia; in the ‘Dirty Wars’ of Argentina and Chile in the 1970s; in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s; by the United States against ‘terror suspects’ since 2001; and in the civil war in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009.

 Internment without a trial
  1. What were the systems of repression?
  2. Why were these sites built?
  3. What were the experiences of people at the site?
  4. What were the legacies?
  5. The bigger picture

This unit is made in the "Multi-faceted Memory: learning onsite and online about Nazi and Stalinist internment and concentration camps" project with the support of the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union.


This module is published under the CC BY 4.0 licence.

Internment in a Global Context

Internment in a global context