The first comprehensive history of the Nazi concentration camps
In a landmark work of history, Nikolaus Wachsmann offers an unprecedented, integrated account of the Nazi concentration camps from their inception in 1933 through their demise, seventy years ago, in the spring of 1945. The Third Reich has been studied in more depth than virtually any other period in history, and yet until now there has been no history of the camp system that tells the full story of its broad development and the everyday experiences of its inhabitants, both perpetrators and victims, and all those living in what Primo Levi called "the gray zone."
In KL, Wachsmann fills this glaring gap in our understanding. He not only synthesizes a new generation of scholarly work, much of it untranslated and unknown outside of Germany, but also presents startling revelations, based on many years of archival research, about the functioning and scope of the camp system. Examining, close up, life and death inside the camps, and adopting a wider lens to show how the camp system was shaped by changing political, legal, social, economic, and military forces, Wachsmann produces a unified picture of the Nazi regime and its camps that we have never seen before.
A boldly ambitious work of deep importance, KL is destined to be a classic in the history of the twentieth century.
"The concentration camps embodied the spirit of Nazism like no other institution in the Third Reich," writes Wachsmann (Hitler's Prisons) at least 2.3 million people passed through them; at least 1.7 million died in them and yet there exists no comprehensive analysis of the camp system, its principles and dynamics, or the forces and people that shaped it. Wachsmann, of Birkbeck College, University of London, fills that gap brilliantly. Working from a mass of documentary evidence some of which was only made available in the last quarter century and with a corresponding body of first-person accounts, he establishes the camps, referred to as KL (from the German konzentrationslager), at the center of the Nazi terror system. Wachsmann demonstrates that "the main constant of the KL was change," and the system's protean, responsive nature sustained and exemplified the Reich. He clears up many popular misconceptions about the camps. Whatever was needed, be it mass killing or sustaining the war effort by slave labor, the KL served to extend the Reich's lifespan. "The closer men, women, and children were to freedom , the more likely they were to die in the concentration camps." Wachsmann's exhaustive study will be seen as the authoritative work on the subject.
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It's a long read and at times feels a bit repetitive but I love about this book is it left me with an entirely different perspective. Obviously an extremely tough subject but although examples of what happened necessarily need to be referenced, it doesn't focus on the cruelty or gore but rather on a more objective 'matter-of-fact' observation. Nor thankfully does it attempt to explain or rationalize what happened which would lead more to conjecture. I feel far better educated.