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KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

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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 th 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.


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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 th 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.

30 review for KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

  1. 4 out of 5

    fourtriplezed

    While reading this harrowing but ultimately fascinating history of the KL system a newly elected senator made a speech to the Australian Senate saying “….the final solution to the immigration problem of course is a popular vote” As was pointed out to him at the time the use of the phrase by Nazi Germany had certain connotations that do not bear thinking about. The newly elected senator was unrepentant and defended the phrases use. At the time I was saddened to think that in this day and age a se While reading this harrowing but ultimately fascinating history of the KL system a newly elected senator made a speech to the Australian Senate saying “….the final solution to the immigration problem of course is a popular vote” As was pointed out to him at the time the use of the phrase by Nazi Germany had certain connotations that do not bear thinking about. The newly elected senator was unrepentant and defended the phrases use. At the time I was saddened to think that in this day and age a senator from a minor political faction had had to resort to the outrageous to get attention. With that incident in mind, and reaching the end of this book, I am now of the opinion that the entire KL system and all the consequences of its existence must be part of the education curriculum in Australia. It is a historical event that must be told and understood. With that in mind this may not be the book to be part of that curriculum and that is not criticism. The reality is that this amazing work of scholarship is for the individual that is aware of the Holocaust and the treatment of those that the Nazis deemed as enemies of their moribund ideology. The depth of research is superb. The mix of analysis, statistics and first-hand accounts make a compelling, though very tough read. I admit to having a rest several times from when I first began this in early May to finishing now in late September. The subchapter "Killing the Weak" was profoundly mind numbing and I repeat what I have said before to others, man's inhumanity to his fellow man never ceases to amaze. As I get older I am still none the wiser. Author Wachsman has written his history in chronological order. I found his footnotes excellent and was constantly scurrying to research the new information covered in this book. There is a very good abbreviations section to assist with the various acronyms. The sources section covers archival, electronic and printed sources and if at this point in time I wished to read further on the subject it would be the ideal resource to refer to. To quote goodreads friend Sharn ‘I cannot recommend this book highly enough, though it is of course with a heavy heart. Monumental.’ With that I also recommend Sharn’s superb review that has articulated this brilliant tome far better than I could ever conceive. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    To relieve the camp, it is necessary to remove simpletons, idiots, cripples and sick people as quickly as possible through liquidation. - SS officer summing up the purpose of selections in 1942. ***** A five star rating for a book I have decided not to read. This is a brilliant remarkably detailed enormous plainly-narrated history of the whole Nazi concentration camp phenomenon. I have read enough to say that, and to know that although it's scholarly (200 pages of notes at the back) it's fluently wr To relieve the camp, it is necessary to remove simpletons, idiots, cripples and sick people as quickly as possible through liquidation. - SS officer summing up the purpose of selections in 1942. ***** A five star rating for a book I have decided not to read. This is a brilliant remarkably detailed enormous plainly-narrated history of the whole Nazi concentration camp phenomenon. I have read enough to say that, and to know that although it's scholarly (200 pages of notes at the back) it's fluently written and anybody with a desire for this melancholy knowledge will find it a compelling read. I realised, however, that I've already read enough about the Nazis and their millions of murders to last me a lifetime. There are probably dozens of existing books, some excellent, which are now replaced by this single volume. I read a lot of those. I don't need to know more. But this book, if you do need to know, is totally recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brett C

    I learned a great deal from this well researched and well written book. I liked how it was written as it wasn't boring, didn't put me to sleep, and I didn't feel bogged down in the details. Instead the narrative kept me engaged and was a page turner for me at least. The SS, the work details, the horror, and all the inner workings of the camp system were very interesting. It was interesting to read the KL system's start with Dachau in 1933 and how it became the example camp for others to emulate. I learned a great deal from this well researched and well written book. I liked how it was written as it wasn't boring, didn't put me to sleep, and I didn't feel bogged down in the details. Instead the narrative kept me engaged and was a page turner for me at least. The SS, the work details, the horror, and all the inner workings of the camp system were very interesting. It was interesting to read the KL system's start with Dachau in 1933 and how it became the example camp for others to emulate. The whole KL camp system started concentration camps for political prisoners, asocial types, and some Jews. Eventually the camps and their satellite camps increased as did the number of prisoners. The author breaks down the history in three sections: the early pre-war 1930s, the war period, and the eventual Final Solution. I learned how the camps evolved from hard labor and beatings and punishments, to the philosophy of "annihilation through labor" and starvation model, and lastly to the systematic destruction and the Final Solution. Like I said: well written, well researched, and very informative. This is probably the best book out there on the Nazi concentration camp subject. Highly recommended for anyone interested in this subject. Thanks!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Robert Collins

    I read this in four days that shows how good it was it was one hell of horrible book. It was my top book of 2015 but how can I say was "good book" how? Depressing subject biggest supprise was that Concentration Camps were not a German invention but a British one the first camp was used during the Boer War to hold prisoners so once again The Victorians were to blame. We have lot blame. The photos of the Camps are haughting and make you feel sick unless you are a heartless bastard. It was also not I read this in four days that shows how good it was it was one hell of horrible book. It was my top book of 2015 but how can I say was "good book" how? Depressing subject biggest supprise was that Concentration Camps were not a German invention but a British one the first camp was used during the Boer War to hold prisoners so once again The Victorians were to blame. We have lot blame. The photos of the Camps are haughting and make you feel sick unless you are a heartless bastard. It was also not just the Jewish people who ended up in them but gypsies, gays and anbody that may said something about the Hitler. Neibours turning friends, family turn on each other it is all here. If you are wanting real horror book this it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    This book was a very hard read. There were times when I had to walk away from the horrors contained in its pages. But, having read it, I think "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" is a book that everyone SHOULD read. Until now, there has been no comprehensive history of ALL the Nazi concentration camps during WWII. While people are most familiar with the names Auschwitz and Dachau or Ravensbrook, no one talks about the smaller satellite camps that surrounded each of the larger death m This book was a very hard read. There were times when I had to walk away from the horrors contained in its pages. But, having read it, I think "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" is a book that everyone SHOULD read. Until now, there has been no comprehensive history of ALL the Nazi concentration camps during WWII. While people are most familiar with the names Auschwitz and Dachau or Ravensbrook, no one talks about the smaller satellite camps that surrounded each of the larger death machines like bees around their queen. As you turn the pages, you see a small system grow, becoming larger and feeding on mens' baser instincts, their ignorance, their cruelty, until you realize that the German concentration camp system turned not just the Nazis themselves but often the prisoners into beings that forgot decency and began to act like animals. The prodigious research that has been done by author Nikolaus Wachsmann has produced something that has been long overdue: a chronological, amazingly detailed and horrifying history of how pure evil can be conceived and carried out, of how obsessed men put their twisted ideas into play and, above all, a history of how something as huge, as incomprehensible as the Holocaust germinates from the minds of a few sick and hate-filled individuals into a system that gluts its maw on the blood and bones of the innocent. Reading "KL", you are shown that the Nazi concentration camp system didn't just spring up, full-fledged, from the twisted minds of Hitler and his right-hand man, Himmler. Its beginning was rather small, and hesitant, and there were very many men involved, eager to learn how to kill to please their masters and, at last, killing to please themselves. And people knew, but they didn't REALLY want to know. "KL" reveals that, despite the protests of so many ordinary Germans during that time, the camps and their killing fields were often not so far away from villages and towns. They knew. And that's only one of the chilling revelations contained and confirmed in this well-written, long-overdue tome. Wachsmann has complied not only facts, but eyewitness testimony from those who lived through the horror, and those who did not. Many inmates kept secret diaries, burying them all over the camps, hoping against hope that someday someone might find them and know the truth. So many who did not survive have had their say in this way, in this book. Their hopes, as they scratched out a hole deep enough to conceal their work, were realized in the end. This book is 865 pages of things that often left me, literally, siting with my mouth open and once again asking myself the question that will never be answered in full by anyone: HOW could a thing like this have happened? Is there a word for men like Himmler, Speer, Rudolf Hess and the other Nazi men (and women, too) that could even hope to adequately express the evil they conceived and perpetuated? No. There isn't. But that should not be a reason to not know this complete history because don't kid yourselves: it could happen again and, this time, the methods used will be much more sophisticated and much more deadly than cans of Zyklon-B and ovens that human corpses were shoved into at Auschwitz. It's a hard read, but worth it. Wachsmann brings his deep familiarity to this subject as he did in "Hitler's Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany" and his history of fluent and gripping. READ. THIS. BOOK.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dimitri

    Wachsmann came to the fore with a book on a more neglected sector of the Nazi penal universe: regular prisons and prison camps*. At the time of release (2004) his next work-in-progress was already announced by the publisher. A decade in the making, would this be "the new standard" for concentration camp studies? I dare say it is. He uses this prior knowledge to good effect in tracing out the haphazard existence of the KL system. It goes past the troika of pure death camps (Treblinka, Belzec, Sob Wachsmann came to the fore with a book on a more neglected sector of the Nazi penal universe: regular prisons and prison camps*. At the time of release (2004) his next work-in-progress was already announced by the publisher. A decade in the making, would this be "the new standard" for concentration camp studies? I dare say it is. He uses this prior knowledge to good effect in tracing out the haphazard existence of the KL system. It goes past the troika of pure death camps (Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor) and while Auschwitz inevitably retains a dominant position in the narrative, it shares in the deconstruction of popular mythology. This goes as far as correcting minor points of Hilberg's monumental trilogy through recent scholarship**. The net result is a history of the camp system that is defined by the indecisiveness and uncertainty of a mysantropic chaos theory. The origins of the Holocaust are too complex to explain even by an expert. You can only work with transition periods, not defining moments. Largely because there WAS no singular masterplan; the SS were half making it up as they went along. To begin with, the very existence of camps was uncertain after the first year of Nazi rule. Once the improvised torture basements of the SA were sweeped clean and their former wardens neutered, the new regime felt consolidated enough to consider a minimalist prison system. Nor was the Wannsee conference the clear-cut starting point of industrialised genocide. The mass extermination of Sovjet POWs by prussian acid (a familiar delouser) was developped just in time (autumn/winter '41) to coincide with the planning. A few months later, the tide of war perceptively turned at Stalingrad and the army's manpower demands turned foreign workers vital to keep the workforce on the Home Front up to strength. Should anihiliation through labour continue indiscriminately, or were skilled Jewish workers to make a productive contribution to the war economy as the fortunes of battle waned ? The dilemma was never resolved, but there was always room for guinea pigs and camp brothels as poorly chosen incentives (malnutrition kills the libido in men as effectively as it does menstruation in women). The sum amounts to a KZ Bible, supplemented by the equally voluminous publication by Casarani of the same year and Friedländers two volumes***, that encompass the pre-war persecution and the Einsatzgruppen. Bibliography * Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany ** La Destruction Des Juifs D'europe by Raul Hilberg *** Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49 by David Cesarani Nazi Germany and the Jews, Volume 1: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 & Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Extermination, 1939-1945 by Saul Friedländer

  7. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Searingly accurate and deeply researched, this book taught me a lot. I've studied the Nazi terror regime for years, but I learned a huge amount I had not known from this book. The author looks thoughtfully and deeply at the question of why this happened, too, and does not flinch from some very difficult moral questions, which are discussed with insight, balance, and humanity, but no pulled punches. Everyone who thinks it is important to make sure this never happens again, or who wants to honor t Searingly accurate and deeply researched, this book taught me a lot. I've studied the Nazi terror regime for years, but I learned a huge amount I had not known from this book. The author looks thoughtfully and deeply at the question of why this happened, too, and does not flinch from some very difficult moral questions, which are discussed with insight, balance, and humanity, but no pulled punches. Everyone who thinks it is important to make sure this never happens again, or who wants to honor the victims, should read this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sharn

    Wachsmann undertakes a superb, monumental examination of the German konzentrationslager system - surveying the development of the camps from their earliest iterations through to the final days in which the atrocity and slaughter of the camps became unrivalled. The scope of Wachsmann’s work is limited to concentration camps specifically, rather than extermination camps - a differentiation I had not previously appreciated. To be sure, people were exterminated purposefully in many of these concentr Wachsmann undertakes a superb, monumental examination of the German konzentrationslager system - surveying the development of the camps from their earliest iterations through to the final days in which the atrocity and slaughter of the camps became unrivalled. The scope of Wachsmann’s work is limited to concentration camps specifically, rather than extermination camps - a differentiation I had not previously appreciated. To be sure, people were exterminated purposefully in many of these concentration camps, but that was not their primary or initial aim (though that is, of course, of little comfort to any of those who suffered within the confines of these camps). This means some of the worst camps under the Nazi regime, such as Treblinka or Birkenau are not given any detailed examination in the book - though they are sometimes referenced in passing. Wachsmann uses a range of sources to paint a vivid, but ultimately grim, depiction of the horror of the KL system, using official documents, Reich-era memoirs and letters of guards and other Nazi figures, contemporaneous newspaper reports from Germany and abroad, the post-war testimonies of Nazi figures, the written records of those who experienced the horrors of the KL system first-hand (whether they survived or not) - such as Primo Levi. Wachsmann has, throughout this book, masterfully detailed the ways in which 'categorisation' of prisoners served not only to signal to the SS personnel which prisoners may be particularly 'deserving' of their wrath, but also served to signal to prisoners the differences between themselves. This meant 'asocials' and (mostly petty) criminals, adorned with green triangles, received little to no sympathy from other inmates. This focus on differences between inmates saw hierarchies formed within camp populations, and also helped to ensure inmates would not unite against the guards. If you have only a passing interest, perhaps this will be too detailed for you - though I certainly would urge anyone who is interested in the topic in anything but the most fleeting manner to read this if they get the chance. Particular highlights, or parts I found especially interesting, of the book included: Wachsmann's in-depth discussions of the vicious anti-Semitism of Hitler's Germany, discussing not only their imprisonment and specific targeting within the KL system, but also the widespread and often petty restrictions placed upon German Jews in the early years of the Third Reich (such as prohibiting Jews from owning pets). The exploration of the early tensions between the justice system and the 'regular' prison system, and how legal resistance to the KL system was eroded over time. (As an aside, this was also something we examined in jurisprudence at law school, particularly in the writings of Third Reich jurist Carl Schmitt and his view of the 'legitimate authority' of the State and what he called the 'state of exception.' This was also contrasted with the writings of Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben). Wachsmann discussed very well the career paths and backgrounds of many 'leading' KL and Nazi figures, describing the familiar path that many of these young men were hapless, disillusioned, and cryng out for a sense of belonging - something that the system reinforced and thrived upon toxic masculinity. Furthermore, throughout the book Wachsmann continues to expertly describe the building cruelty, violence, and barbarity of the KL system and the Nazi regime more broadly, describing the process as 'cumulative radicalisation'. I think this is particularly important in light of the common cry against 'the slippery slope argument' when one expresses concerns about political dehumanisation of other groups, or increasing authoritarianism, etc - horrific regimes and events rarely start out in their most radical or violent iteration, it is often a step-by-step process that becomes more extreme over time. The Nazi regime's clashes with and repression of Christian churches, and their particular targeting of Jehovah's witnesses - largely due to their status as 'conscientious objectors' and whose clothes were adorned with a purple triangle in the camps. Obviously, however, this repression and violence still paled in comparison to the murderous fury the Third Reich reserved for Jews. I really enjoyed (perhaps that is the wrong word?) Wachsmann's examination of the treatment of homosexual prisoners within the KL system, and how these men were given particularly harsh treatment, castrated, and were also frequently harassed, vilified, and isolated by other inmates. Another one of the tragedies of the end of WWII, which I discovered upon my visiting Germany in 2015, was that homosexual prisoners were left in concentration camps after the liberation of other groups. Additionally, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism (in the park across the road from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin) was only opened in 2008. Similarly, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism was also not opened in Berlin until 2012. Something that managed to make me chuckle, in amongst many of the grim things recounted in this book, was the story of Hans Beimler. Beimler, a communist and political opponent of the Nazi regime, was first imprisoned in Dachau in 1933. Faced with an ultimatum from the SS troops to either kill himself (after being shown how to tie a noose with bedsheets) or to be killed upon the guards' return, Beimler managed to escape Dachau and Germany altogether. From Czechoslovakia, he sent the SS guards at Dachau a postcard, telling them to "kiss my ass." Wachsmann also effectively challenges the view of the Nazi regime as an efficient, business-savy regime. He examines the calamitous Nazi forays into manufacture, such as the Sachsenhausen brickworks, and reveals projects that often seemed directionless with plenty of bureaucratic waste and dramatic changes embarked upon on a whim. Similarly, Wachsmann discusses the impact of private businesses in Germany that exploited slave labour from KL prisoners - and the perverse way in which this exploitation sometimes helped save prisoners from death in the camps (but largely only where one engaged in technical/workshop manufacturing; hard labour in the fields or in construction resulted in an increased rate of deaths by both execution and exhaustion). The book's exploration of the Nazi campaign of extermination is also incredibly interesting. Wachsmann recalls how 'Action14f13', the euthanasia campaign initially used against the disabled and those in sanitariums, was eventually expanded to concentration camp detainees between 1941 and 1942, claiming the lives of 6,500 detainees. He highlights how this campaign was particularly brutal against Jewish and homosexual prisoners. In March 1942, this policy was curtailed, with instructions insiting that only those permanently disabled or those unable to work permanently would be sent to their deaths, largely in light of Himmler's recent insistence that the KL system maker a larger economic contribution to the German war efforts. Wachsmann insists, however, that this curtailment of the extermination program within Germany was really about the refocus of the organisation and doctors involved with the Holocaust, with many involved parties relocating to outside German borders to the death camps of Eastern Europe. Wachsmann also discusses how the termination of this project evolves into another with similar aims, and also details how the mass extermination of prisoners virtually 'paid for itself' via the post-mortem seizure of valuables and gold teeth fillings which were then sold off. And finally, a figure which has stuck in my mind ever since I read it (in line with this brilliant YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKPF... Between October and December 1941, an estimated 300,000-500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died *each month* in Nazi camps - largely as a result of Hitler's deep hatred of Soviets (for being Slavic, for being Jewish, and for being Bolsheviks [the latter two often being combined]). I cannot recommend this book highly enough, though it is of course with a heavy heart. Monumental.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Saba Imtiaz

    An incredibly detailed history of concentration camps, this book is a must read because it breaks down - in clear, unemotional detail (and this is a good thing here) - the structures of the camps and how the idea of mass killings began and led to the 'final solution' as well as the hierarchies within prisoners. It's also a very good book in trying to understand the idea of responsibility in mass killings, particularly as it explains the lower tiers of the Nazi regime and the camp management, and An incredibly detailed history of concentration camps, this book is a must read because it breaks down - in clear, unemotional detail (and this is a good thing here) - the structures of the camps and how the idea of mass killings began and led to the 'final solution' as well as the hierarchies within prisoners. It's also a very good book in trying to understand the idea of responsibility in mass killings, particularly as it explains the lower tiers of the Nazi regime and the camp management, and the section on kapos is a good example of that.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    I thought I knew a lot about Concentration Camps - I was wrong. The history of the Concentration Camps has never been told so clearly as Professor Wachsmann's book. Written in chronological order, the author writes from the perspective of the planners, the guards and, above all, the prisoners, in a manner that engages the novice and the expert alike. Be prepared for some some heartbreaking true stories from inside those camps. I particularly liked Nikolaus Wachsmann's focus on the main, oldest, ca I thought I knew a lot about Concentration Camps - I was wrong. The history of the Concentration Camps has never been told so clearly as Professor Wachsmann's book. Written in chronological order, the author writes from the perspective of the planners, the guards and, above all, the prisoners, in a manner that engages the novice and the expert alike. Be prepared for some some heartbreaking true stories from inside those camps. I particularly liked Nikolaus Wachsmann's focus on the main, oldest, camp of Dachau, as he shows its transformation in the 12 years of its existence, showing the changes in staffing, prisoner population, purpose,size and murderous intent. No KL stayed the same for even two years, and Prof. Wachsmann shows how stark the differences were between a camp in 1933 and twelve years later. This book has been sitting on my shelf unread for some time. After a five star review and personal recommendation from a friend (thanks Michael), a booking to visit Auschwitz next August and then meeting the author a few weeks back (a very nice fellow), I thought it time to read KL. I was not disappointed, but it has been, despite the author's easy writing style, a hard read due to the content. Thoroughly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, by Nikolaus Wachsmann, is an intricate look at the Concentration Camp system that the Nazi's used in Germany from the 1930's to 1945. Right off the bat, I will say this book is dense and difficult to read. The subject matter is horrifying, detailed to the extreme, and tackled in an academic way. Wachsmann is chronicling the history of camps used as points of destruction for political prisoners in Germany, as collection points for those deemed to be KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, by Nikolaus Wachsmann, is an intricate look at the Concentration Camp system that the Nazi's used in Germany from the 1930's to 1945. Right off the bat, I will say this book is dense and difficult to read. The subject matter is horrifying, detailed to the extreme, and tackled in an academic way. Wachsmann is chronicling the history of camps used as points of destruction for political prisoners in Germany, as collection points for those deemed to be inferior races by the Nazi government, and slaves. Wachsmann's book, however, is important to read. Much has been written on the Nazi's political experiments with mass extermination, but KL chronicles the camps themselves. The growth of the camps, from thrown-together collection points for political prisoners who were opposed to the Nazi regime in the 1930's, is detailed, with the likes of Dachau, Mauthausen, Auschwitz, and the dozens of other camps that sprang up in Europe examined. For example, Ravensbruck was originally a concentration camp for women. Other camps were for high ranking Jews and political prisoners to be used as hostages later on, and of course camps like Auschwitz, which were constructed as collection points for slave labour and extermination of invalid and sick prisoners. Wachsmann also details the Camp SS, a division of the SS which ran the concentration camps. Figures like Theodore Eicke, Hoss, and Himmler - bigwig Nazi's with extremist racial ideals, are detailed. These figures had a massive influence on the management structures of the Camp SS, with martial violence as a tool for terror and control, slave labour as a means to encourage war time production, government-industry partnerships which saw slaves working in BMW, VW, Siemens, and IG Farben factories, to name a few. These attitudes trickled down to Camp SS guards and administrative staff. Casual violence was common, abuse widespread, and political extremism the norm in the SS. These men and women saw themselves as the front line soldiers of a racial war, which pitted Germans against "inferior races" like Slavs, Jews and Sinti (Gypsies) as well as unwanted parts of German society like the "asocial," "work-shy," criminals, homosexuals and those who did not believe in Nazi ideology, or who challenged the state. The lives of prisoners is also examined in detail. This is one of the toughest parts of the book to read. The different camps did develop for particular purposes, so camp life could be better or far worse depending on the location, the ideological zeal/sadism of the staff, and the presence of various types of forced labour. For example, some of the worst camps, like Dora, were work camps where slave labour was employed to try and construct underground factories for airplanes and V2 rockets. These camps, with construction or manual labour production, often had the highest casualty rates, as SS maximized construction efficiency by reducing rest time, rations, and other necessities for life. Indeed, as the war progressed the SS began to implement "destruction through labour" with prisoners literally worked to death. Those who were broken, starved or sick were sent to gas chambers to be liquidated. Conflicts between various prisoner groups is also examined in detail. It is a misnomer to think that prisoners did not have a hierarchy, and indeed this was actively encouraged by the SS. The most famous example is of the Kapos, usually German men who were placed in positions of power amongst prisoners. These Kapos received extra rations, comfortable living quarters and so on, in exchange for keeping the prisoners in line. A system of identification badges, like yellow stars for Jews, pink triangles for homosexuals, black triangles for workshy, green for asocial and so on, was used. This made is easy for SS to target their most hated groups, with abuse often targeted at certain groups throughout the camp system. During the early war years, asocials and political prisoners like communists were particularly harshly treated, often being worked to death, beaten randomly and summarily executed. As the years moved on, the targeted groups shifted to Poles, Soviet POW's, and Jewish inmates. Death and violence was an integral part of the camp. The early camps were characterized by sadistic SA brown-shirts lynching old Weimar politicians. After Ernst Rohm's fall from grace and the destruction of the SA, the extremist SS units took over the camps. This was the beginning of the rise of radical racial ideals, extremist economic thought and systemic violence. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, saw them as perfect ideological soldiers, fighting against the internal enemies of the German Reich. They utilized brutality to break prisoners spirits from the beginning. Extra-judicial killings were common at the beginning of the camp system, but systemic death was not yet the norm. At the beginning, these camps were collection points for unwanted elements of German society. As time went on, they grew into collection points for forced labour and eventually full, brutal chattel slavery. The movement from political to ideological radicalism saw growing casualty rates among prisoners. At first, this was because of lack of adequate shelter, with disease and epidemics becoming rampant. This began to change, however. Reductions in rations and growing corruption in SS ranks encouraged starvation. Prisoners also began to work as forced labour and slaves, in camp construction, maintenance and eventually, in war production and industry. Those who were broken by the work, or starved beyond the brink, became known as "Muslims." These were often rounded up and destroyed. Extermination of unwanted elements of society began in the early 1940's, and began to take on its terrifying shape during the run up to wars end. Camps grew exponentially as prisoners from Poland, the USSR and other conquered territories flooded in. At this time, unwanted elements of German society were also targeted for arrest by police, and sent to camps. The Nazi's then implemented directives to destroy unwanted elements and those not fit for labour. Clearing out the camps became a priority. Sadistic bureaucrats began to experiment with methods of destruction. Mass killings by firing squad, death through labour, gas chambers, death trucks, medical experimentation and starvation began to kill hundreds, thousands, and eventually millions. Poles and Soviet POW's were the guinea pigs for these mass-killing implements, and eventually the destruction of Europe's Jewish population, the Gypsy's and Slavic peoples became a priority. Trainloads of those condemned in Nazi "selections" were carted straight to gas chambers. Experimentation on crematorium locations came from the study of killing efficiency. Truly, this terrifying system of mass death is unique in history. Clearly, this book is something else. The causal brutality of mass death that the SS implemented during the years of the Third Reich seems almost unprecedented. Wachsmann examines this in detail using cold, clinical academic research. The book is not heartless, with Wachsmann's scholarly professionalism cracking at times due to the brutality of the subject matter. Individual stories are woven along with the narrative of events to give concrete and real examples of ideas and facts that seem so inhuman that they are often difficult to comprehend. Even so, Wachsnmann chronicles the history of the camps themselves. This is an interesting and original way to examine this period of history. Often, the camps are seen as just instruments of death, but their growth and movement toward this climax needs to be examined closely. The mentality of this system is also examined. It is important for this to be done, as clearly systemic racism is not something that will disappear overnight from humanity. The depravity of the SS and the Third Reich, the complacency of many German civilians, and the casual racism, slavery and genocide that took place need to be understood to ensure they never happen again. The economic utopianism of SS leaders lead to chattel slavery not seen since the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and indeed surpassed it in its ultimate aim: the destruction of entire people groups. To sum up, this book was difficult to read, due to its shocking and terrifying subject matter. No matter how many times I read about the Holocaust, it never gets easier to try and comprehend. Even so, it is important to try and do so. This stuff can never be forgotten. The ideals that led to this dark period in human history can rise again. Racism has not left us. Concentration camps still exist in some forms, for example. When one reads a book like KL, one can understand how important it is to ensure we never go back. Do I recommend this book? Wholeheartedly yes. Everyone needs to read about the Holocaust and KL is one of the best books to do so. It is long and dark, clinical in its approach, and all the more effective for it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Omar Ali

    Skimmed, not read. This is probably the best and most comprehensive history of the entire German concentration camp system written to date. I have read other holocaust books that focus on the holocaust itself, but the system started as soon as the Nazis took power, and the first victims were their political opponents (though political opponents who happened to be Jewish could expect extra-vicious beatings and torture right from the git-go). The details are sobering and heart-rending. But this is Skimmed, not read. This is probably the best and most comprehensive history of the entire German concentration camp system written to date. I have read other holocaust books that focus on the holocaust itself, but the system started as soon as the Nazis took power, and the first victims were their political opponents (though political opponents who happened to be Jewish could expect extra-vicious beatings and torture right from the git-go). The details are sobering and heart-rending. But this is not a book focused on emotionalism or propaganda. It is thoroughly researched and very objective. And therefore, even more scary. Humans. What a species.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael Flanagan

    KL delivers an exhaustive study of Nazi Germanys concentration camp system that is easily accessible by the reader. This highly examined part of the Third Reich gets a refreshing coat of paint with some great research and insights by those who survived, worked and died in these pieces of hell on earth. The author takes great care in giving the reader a very rounded view of these camps from all angles. His extensive research for this book shows in every nook and cranny as he weaves together a narr KL delivers an exhaustive study of Nazi Germanys concentration camp system that is easily accessible by the reader. This highly examined part of the Third Reich gets a refreshing coat of paint with some great research and insights by those who survived, worked and died in these pieces of hell on earth. The author takes great care in giving the reader a very rounded view of these camps from all angles. His extensive research for this book shows in every nook and cranny as he weaves together a narrative that chills you to the bone. As holocaust books go this is up there as one of the best as the author paints a comprehensive picture of this low point in human history. But the most important part of this book for me is that he has given the dead a voice and in that he has let them live on in the readers memory.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonny

    A very dense, thorough work, charting the rise, near fall, and rise again of the Nazi concentration camps through their inception as political prisons to metamorphosis into killing factories and death camps. Bachmann spares no punches (and nor should he) and provides insight into every aspect of the camps - making in places for some difficult (and occasionally surprising) reading. Nonetheless, the academic style of writing made this an easier read than Gilbert's The Holocaust. Highly recommende A very dense, thorough work, charting the rise, near fall, and rise again of the Nazi concentration camps through their inception as political prisons to metamorphosis into killing factories and death camps. Bachmann spares no punches (and nor should he) and provides insight into every aspect of the camps - making in places for some difficult (and occasionally surprising) reading. Nonetheless, the academic style of writing made this an easier read than Gilbert's The Holocaust. Highly recommended, so long as you have time to set aside.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Prior to reading this account I had thought I had a good picture of the German concentration camp system from watching the Eichmann trial on television, reading many books about the war and the Nazis and seeing many movies and documentaries on the subject. I was wrong. There was in fact no single, consistent 'system' but rather a continually changing complex of hundreds of camps ranging in size and purpose. In order to get a handle on all of this I read a Profield's biography of Himmler concurren Prior to reading this account I had thought I had a good picture of the German concentration camp system from watching the Eichmann trial on television, reading many books about the war and the Nazis and seeing many movies and documentaries on the subject. I was wrong. There was in fact no single, consistent 'system' but rather a continually changing complex of hundreds of camps ranging in size and purpose. In order to get a handle on all of this I read a Profield's biography of Himmler concurrently and watched a number of videos featuring David Irving, the most notorious of the 'holocaust deniers'. Irving, notable for his early explorations of previously unanalyzed archives, is an impressive authority. While he doesn't deny that hundreds of thousands of Jews died of neglect and overwork in labor camps he does deny that the German state maintained a policy of murdering all Jews in Europe. How, I've long wondered, can such a contrarian picture be posited? Wachsmann was helpful in beginning to resolve this. While the evidence is overwhelming that wholesale murder was practiced, it wasn't publicized outside of the organizations involved and it wasn't characteristic of the camps as a whole. Indeed, only a handful of camps maintained, for a period, the gas chambers and crematoria commonly referenced in terms of the holocaust. Not only were euphemisms employed in the extant documentations pertaining to the killing, but no documentation at all was produced at those camps which did actually send some new arrivals--usually those deemed too old or young, too weak or sickly to work--directly to the ovens. These prisoners simply weren't registered and thus Irving can point to the lack of any documentation for the mass of these systematic executions. Of course, given the enormous extent of the eyewitness testimony and the forensic evidence, one still wonders why Irving would be so intent on minimizing Nazi crimes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

    Very well written, with a great use of the specific to illustrate the general; this is a five-star book, unless one wants to downgrade it to 4.75 for overkill. Overall, a remarkable look at the SS concentration camps from a new viewpoint. The author discusses his way of slicing and dicing at length in the prologue; the short version is that the most common way of viewing the Nazi camps is as extermination camps for Jews, but Wachsmann's viewpoint is that the subject is both broader and narrower Very well written, with a great use of the specific to illustrate the general; this is a five-star book, unless one wants to downgrade it to 4.75 for overkill. Overall, a remarkable look at the SS concentration camps from a new viewpoint. The author discusses his way of slicing and dicing at length in the prologue; the short version is that the most common way of viewing the Nazi camps is as extermination camps for Jews, but Wachsmann's viewpoint is that the subject is both broader and narrower than that. In other words, the SS camps had many different incarnations, and killing Jews was just a fraction of the reason for their existence. One important qualifier of the above statement: In this book, the focus is on the SS-run concentration camps; the three Polish "Globocnik" death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka were under different management and as such are only briefly discussed, and their death toll is not included in the statistics listed in the appendix. Finally, this book is not for the faint-of-heart. Or for those in a hurry.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katy St. Clair

    I've read many first-hand accounts from both victims and perpetrators but this was the first time I read an exhaustive overview of the Holocaust. The author did an excellent job of outlining every horrible thing without being so detailed as to make the reader despair to finish. He also gave names to many of the victims, especially political and "asocial" prisoners, gypsies, and Jehovah's Witnesses. What was most elucidating was the history of the camps in their beginnings and in their last days. I've read many first-hand accounts from both victims and perpetrators but this was the first time I read an exhaustive overview of the Holocaust. The author did an excellent job of outlining every horrible thing without being so detailed as to make the reader despair to finish. He also gave names to many of the victims, especially political and "asocial" prisoners, gypsies, and Jehovah's Witnesses. What was most elucidating was the history of the camps in their beginnings and in their last days. I had never before learned about the last days of the camps, which were some of the worst, especially after the Allies landed. Wachsmann never tries to psychoanalyze the perpetrators, though he does delve into the norms and psychology of the prisoners. The book will, like most Holocaust studies, leave you even more baffled and appalled at the Nazi machine then before. Highly recommended.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fraser

    There are times when you read good historical works that are just bursting with passion, vigour and enthusiastic engagement with the topic. This is not one of those works. Thank goodness that Wachsmann takes such a pragmatic and dispassionate look at the Nazi Concentration Camp system. To be fair, and its understandable, there are times when he lets his guard down and as only any human being can do, feeling the exasperation, disgust and anger that wells up when trying to somehow 'understand' thi There are times when you read good historical works that are just bursting with passion, vigour and enthusiastic engagement with the topic. This is not one of those works. Thank goodness that Wachsmann takes such a pragmatic and dispassionate look at the Nazi Concentration Camp system. To be fair, and its understandable, there are times when he lets his guard down and as only any human being can do, feeling the exasperation, disgust and anger that wells up when trying to somehow 'understand' this dark period in European history. So Wachsmann is definitely involved, but in telling this story he takes the broadest possible view; an 'integrated' history of the Concentration Camps within their real context, from well before the Second World War up to the immediate post-liberation period. This is the real key behind this book. In order to have any understanding of how these events came to be, an objective examination of the bigger picture is required. The more grim details however are not so easy to glide past objectively. This is an incredibly detailed work drawing on all and any sources available to try and get as much of an overview of what the Camps were, how they operated and the ideology that drove their development. The last word is key, as the Camps weren't ready made for mass extermination. They evolved over a longer timescale with different twists and turns along the way. Wachsmann never loses sight of the Nazi ideology and the cultural aspects of post World War I Germany that lead ultimately to the 'final solution'. However, for me I hadn't realised that this history took in quite so many others; the different European nationalities, ethnic and religious groups, Roma Gypsies, the 'asocial', political opponents and dissidents, homosexuals, criminals, Catholic priests, Soviet POWs, the disabled and infirm and finally foreign agents/resistance fighters all dying at the hands of the Camp SS (opposed to the militarised Waffen SS), a disparate group of strident, fanatical Nazis. I had like most understood that systematic attempts to exterminate Jewish populations was the 'holocaust', but this book brings an even more sinister aspect to Nazi thinking. The camps were about repression through incarceration, terror, torture and slave labour. If not executed (by various means in reality, not just through gassings), then being worked or starved to death was the next possible outcome. I had also assumed a degree of 'ultra' planning and long term systematic persecution, but having read this, it would appear that a lot of persecution unfolded in a fairly haphazard fashion and a lack of uniformity amongst the camps was not necessarily one of the traits I had imagined. The only constant would be terror, and as Wachsmann notes, the camps could be seen as 'seismic' indicators of the specific vagaries of Nazi policy which would waver this way and that dependent on a number of wider and sometimes (individual personality) factors. It could also be argued that we know this story well. In fact I now think we don't, but we do know more now due to the diligent research of Wachsman and others. It is a story still worthy of examination. If anyone thinks not, I believe they should be directed to the letters and messages found buried around the Crematoria in Birkenau (Auschwitz), and one from an unknown prisoner that reads simply but poignantly; "I am asking for everything to be arranged together and published with the title; Amidst a Nightmare of Crime". This is certainly something that Wachsmann has striven to achieve on behalf of the countless victims.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mary Arkless

    This is a huge book, so it takes quite some time to read it. I lived in Germany for nine years, including one year as a university exchange student. The exchange program took us to Neuengamme, Buchenwald (then in East Germany, as the wall hadn't fallen yet), and one of the sites in Berlin where political prisoners were executed in the early days of the Nazi Party's rule. I also travelled to Dachau on my own. I went to exhibitions on WWII, which also included the Holocaust. I have read several bo This is a huge book, so it takes quite some time to read it. I lived in Germany for nine years, including one year as a university exchange student. The exchange program took us to Neuengamme, Buchenwald (then in East Germany, as the wall hadn't fallen yet), and one of the sites in Berlin where political prisoners were executed in the early days of the Nazi Party's rule. I also travelled to Dachau on my own. I went to exhibitions on WWII, which also included the Holocaust. I have read several books about the Holocaust, including the Diary of Anne Frank, the book about her father, Journal by Helene Berr, Night by Elie Wiesel, and others. This didn't really prepare me for this book. It is a very well researched book, and I intend to read at least one of the books used as a source. At the very end, in the acknowledgements, I learnt that the author had worked on this book for ten years. Ten years! I also learnt that the concentration camps were opened much earlier than I thought. I knew there had been medical experiments on prisoners, but here I learnt just how shocking and pointless those experiments had been. And the fact that more than 50% of all doctors in Germany had been members of the Nazi Party made me wonder just how Germany functioned after the war, and how much German medical research and education was influenced by the Nazis long after they left power. Well, in as much as most of the highest office holders were caught and tried after the war, but many were allowed to slink away and start again with new lives, as if they had never been cruel, morally bankrupt, murderous, barbarious torturers of powerless, innocent people. I thought I had some armour from all the horrible things I had learnt about WWII, concentration camps, the Holocaust. I suppose it is a good thing that despite that armour, I still got angry, despaired, felt sick, and cried while reading this book. I still have no real concept of how many people died, how many more suffered greatly although they survived the war, although the author does try to make this something the reader can get their mind around. I feel deeply, that I must continue to learn more about this part of history, in honor of the victims. Borrowed from Aberdeenshire Library Services.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This is a thorough, in-depth, deeply reseached history of the entire story of Nazi concentration camps, from the first improvised ones shortly after the Nazi takeover, to the establishment of Dachau, then its expansion, to other concentration camps, and Auschwitz as the first and main "death camp." Waschmann details how SS camp guards became more coarsened through time, if they weren't at the start, by peer pressure. He discusses the complex situation of Kapos in general and with several specific This is a thorough, in-depth, deeply reseached history of the entire story of Nazi concentration camps, from the first improvised ones shortly after the Nazi takeover, to the establishment of Dachau, then its expansion, to other concentration camps, and Auschwitz as the first and main "death camp." Waschmann details how SS camp guards became more coarsened through time, if they weren't at the start, by peer pressure. He discusses the complex situation of Kapos in general and with several specific examples. He ties the later camps to slave labor. And more, including intra-Nazi Party politics that drove issues at the camps. Note: Belzec, Sobibór, and Treblinka were NOT part of the official concentration camp system, unlike Auschwitz, started as a concentration camp and later becoming primarily a death camp. Thus, Wachsmann does not look much at them. A must-read book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brian Mikołajczyk

    There are many historical accounts of the KL system that focus on one specific topic (usually the holocaust) without addresses the larger picture. Wachsmann's KL: A History covers the KL system as a whole from its inception in the pre-NSDAP era of the 1920s into its pre-war uses and its expansion through the war and subsequent downfall. The wide range of topics paints a picture of the KL as a dynamic and evolving system to fit the desires of the SS. It's administrative challenges including lack There are many historical accounts of the KL system that focus on one specific topic (usually the holocaust) without addresses the larger picture. Wachsmann's KL: A History covers the KL system as a whole from its inception in the pre-NSDAP era of the 1920s into its pre-war uses and its expansion through the war and subsequent downfall. The wide range of topics paints a picture of the KL as a dynamic and evolving system to fit the desires of the SS. It's administrative challenges including lack of effective decrees, organization, and vastly different conditions/roles were previously unknown to me. I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the KL system as was used by the Third Reich. Obviously, the hardships of the victims are covered as well and it is quite the tough read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    With the 70th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the concentration camps, I decided to rehash and review the history and origins of these camps. This is by far the best and concise book of the concentration camps through Poland and Germany. Names such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Sobibor, as well as others were notorious for cruelty and death. Many died from executions, gas chambers, beatings, slave labor, and even medical experiments. This book details t With the 70th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the concentration camps, I decided to rehash and review the history and origins of these camps. This is by far the best and concise book of the concentration camps through Poland and Germany. Names such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Sobibor, as well as others were notorious for cruelty and death. Many died from executions, gas chambers, beatings, slave labor, and even medical experiments. This book details the horrors of these camps as well as the will to survive to overcome the horrors they face and went through.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hebden

    When the references and bibliography of a book cover 200 pages alone it’s fair to say the work in question can be summed up with the overused word; epic. Nikolaus Wachsmann begins by informing us that there has never been a single volume history of the Nazi concentration camp system; the Konzentrationslager or KL for short. What follows is an incredibly detailed, incredibly harrowing narrative of the growth of the Nazi complex of coercion, control, torture and eventually mass murder. There is a When the references and bibliography of a book cover 200 pages alone it’s fair to say the work in question can be summed up with the overused word; epic. Nikolaus Wachsmann begins by informing us that there has never been a single volume history of the Nazi concentration camp system; the Konzentrationslager or KL for short. What follows is an incredibly detailed, incredibly harrowing narrative of the growth of the Nazi complex of coercion, control, torture and eventually mass murder. There is a caveat to this though; the KL were separate from the death camps such as Sobibor and Treblinka; while many were just as deadly and in the case of Auschwitz even moreso their supposed primary function were as prisons and slave labour camps for minorities and what the Nazi state labelled as both asozial (asocial) and arbeitsscheu (work-shy) elements of society; caught up in these descriptions were gypsies, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled, socialists, communists, alcoholics, prostitutes pacifists, military deserters, spies, trade unionists and a plethora of religious groups. The camps were part of the German state apparatus for as long as the Nazi’s were in power. Between 1933 and 1945 and an estimated 2.3million people were dragged into them; 1.7million of those would die behind the gates of the KL, just over one million of those would be Jews killed in Auschwitz; the only KL to play a central role in the “Final Solution”; the Holocaust. Many camp names are burned into the memory of even casual readers of history; Dachau and Sachsenhausen for instance, there are many others that people have never heard of such as Ellrich, Klooga or Kaufering but each and every one became a site of lawless terror. Germany of course was not the only country to have concentration camps, they grew throughout the 1920s in many countries, but nowhere would perfect them as weapons of fear and isolation in the way the Nazi’s did. As Hannah Arendt put it; Soviet concentration camps were purgatory, Nazi ones pure hell. While the KL become intertwined with the Holocaust it wasn’t until the final years of the war where the majority of Jewish survivors were interred in them. Anti-Jewish terror largely existed outside of the KL system for around a decade, with the primary focus being political enemies and those asocial parts of the citizenry. During the prewar years, the SS used them as boot camps, deterrent threats, reformatories, forced labour reservoirs, and torture chambers, only to add further functions during the war, promoting them as centres for armaments production, executions, and human experiments. The camps were defined by their multifaceted nature, a crucial aspect absent from most popular memories. There are so many stories that would be worth recounting covering how the KL developed, many of them would be considered too far-fetched for fiction, such as Himmler looking for someone to lead Dachau after a series of scandals; he headhunted a World War I veteran Theodor Eicke; Eicke was a domestic terrorist and at the time being held in a mental asylum in Würzburg. Eicke would go on to expand the KL system and played a large part in bringing about the horrors that were to come, and was continually promoted within the SS for his cruelty. Or Dr Friedrich Mennecke who took part in selections of disabled prisoners to be murdered, who wrote in detail to his wife about his work, when moving from one concentration camp to another he sent her a postcard containing the phrase “let the next happy hunt begin”; there was no hiding, and no shame about what Mennecke and his colleagues were doing. An important element of the book is cultural memory and the way ordinary Germans behaved. Those that were aghast often ended up in the Camps themselves, many people supported the KL actively and all they stood for but the largest response was indifference. It reads uncomfortably how “normal” people can stay silent as atrocities are going on around them; even those communities located near the camps. During the middle of 1945 local areas were terrified they were going to be attacked by liberated prisoners and survivors; but that fear quickly turned to anger as people realised they had no reason to fear the emaciated, haunted faces that emerged and indeed complained that they were a burden on local resources and were taking too high a portion of rations. The road to viewing Jews, who at this stage were the majority in the KL, as human again would be a long one. The book is dotted with individual tales where appropriate, stories of hope, stories of despair and stories of absolute horror that never fall into gratuitous. Every position, both official and unofficial within the KL is explored; from the commandants, to kapos to the sonderkommando; anyone wanting to know why the term kapo is still such an effective slur would do well to read this book. From torture, lethal injections, gassing, mass shootings and burning we see the true repugnance of the Nazi regime, even during the final months when defeat was inevitable the objective was to kill; the death marches are covered in great detail. While Hitler remained obsessed to the end about Jews, Himmler attempted to be more pragmatic and asked for remaining Jews to be kept alive as he saw them as hostages to be bargained away for his own immunity. As we know this was a complete failure and Himmler followed his Fuhrer to a self-inflicted death not long after. There are worrying parallels in today’s world with the early years of the Nazi regime. Populist right wing leaders such as Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and Jair Bolsonaro to name just three are proving themselves perfectly capable of othering the non-majority in their countries and indeed systems very similar to concentration camps have been set up, notably on the US / Mexican border, the full terror of which will probably not be known for some time. This book was a decade long project that ended in 2015 before the world took a lurch to the right, but in reading it now the book can only be seen through the prism of our contemporary world and as we close it for the final time we utter the words, “dear God, not again”.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    A thorough and sobering history of the Nazi concentration camp system from the opening of Dachau in 1933 to the liberation of camps at the end of World War II. Nikolaus Wachsmann's KL is well researched and incredibly well written and organized. I highly recommend it to any student of World War II and Holocaust history.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I just finished the KL book. I liked this one a lot. It was well researched and sensibly organized. In spite of all I've read about the Holocaust and specific camps, I had no idea of how long the camps were open, the different classes of prisoners (definitely not all Jews), or how systematically (or somewhat systematically) the whole system was run. I liked that there were examples of individual prisoners but none of the characterizations were nearly as moving as those from the Ravensbruch book, I just finished the KL book. I liked this one a lot. It was well researched and sensibly organized. In spite of all I've read about the Holocaust and specific camps, I had no idea of how long the camps were open, the different classes of prisoners (definitely not all Jews), or how systematically (or somewhat systematically) the whole system was run. I liked that there were examples of individual prisoners but none of the characterizations were nearly as moving as those from the Ravensbruch book, where you really got to know individual prisoners as well as prison staff. Interestingly, some of the same women were profiled in both books, in much more detail and more movingly told in Ravensbruch. Still KL was a scholarly overview and that it did very well. In spite of all I've read about the Holocaust, I never understood how the camp system operated as a whole to carry out policies of the Nazis. I did, however, get a glimpse of this structure from the Ravensbruch book which covered some of this structure. Himmler was a frequent visitor at the camp, had a house nearby where a mistress lived so he had quite personal input into how the camp was run. It was made clear that policies explored in Ravensbruch were policies of all the camps. So not as much was totally new to me as it would have been without the Ravensbruch book. On Dachau: It was interesting that I didn't imagine the case of the prisoners put in freezing water to test gear for German pilots liable to be shot down in the North Sea. Nor that some of those prisoners were left purposely to die in that freezing water. That's what I remember most about my visit to the Dachau museum: reading (in my not nearly perfect German) a document written by the doctor who performed the tests. Turns out that doctor was quickly executed after a postwar trial. He had just asked for an academic post where he could continue the same kind of research. Evidently he was pretty detached from ordinary morality, more so than all the other doctors who conducted medical experiments on patients. They were more cynical. He was just plain nuts. It was interesting also to understand why we were alone in a partially finished museum with no staff on hand to answer questions. The museum did not open officially until the Spring of 1965 and I visited in the Summer of 64. The only entrance was through the main gate of the American base, with an American passport.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is an outstanding comprehensive history of the concentration camp system in Nazi Germany.. It reads like a comprehensive corporate story, with the development of particular camps and the proliferation of camps until the last months of the war. The development of the leadership is chronicled. The growth of various mass murder technologies up through the Final Solution. The story is massive and difficult to fathom, even when it is laid out as thoroughly and clearly as it is here. It is still This is an outstanding comprehensive history of the concentration camp system in Nazi Germany.. It reads like a comprehensive corporate story, with the development of particular camps and the proliferation of camps until the last months of the war. The development of the leadership is chronicled. The growth of various mass murder technologies up through the Final Solution. The story is massive and difficult to fathom, even when it is laid out as thoroughly and clearly as it is here. It is still disturbing to read about the camps, but the volume of suffering is so enormous that it get numbing after a while. This is not a revisionist history. While new archives are made use of, the story is consistent with what has been told before, especially with reference to the major camps like Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. It is a history of the KL system, however, and thus does not deal with the mass killing in the Soviet Union, such as at Baba Yar or by the other Einsatzgruppen along the Eastern Front. I know of this book, but did not start reading it until after I had read Snyder's book "Black Earth", which does attempt a retelling of the Hololcaust in terms of the location of the killing and the presence or absence of state structures where the mass murder most frequently took place. It seems consistent with Snyder's story but there is a lot of happening here and Wachsmann is focusing on the camp systems in great detail. The writing is clear and the story is well organized. The only direct comparison that comes to mind is Anne Applebaum's wonderful book on the Gulag. This is a bit different in its focus on the management and administrative evolution of the KL system but the affect of both books is similar. This is not for everyone, but if your historical interests run this way, this is an indispensible book to read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Abhilesh Dhawanjewar

    'KL' or Konzentrationslager was the word given to the detention camps initially used for political subversion and later for the implementation of the 'racial hygiene' ideology of the Nazi Regime. In a deeply researched and thoroughly detailed book, Nikolaus Wachsmann brilliantly charts the evolution of the 'KL' system elucidating the dynamic nature of the concentration camps both at the micro- as well as the macro-scale. Through a series of testimonials sourced from buried and hidden letters, smu 'KL' or Konzentrationslager was the word given to the detention camps initially used for political subversion and later for the implementation of the 'racial hygiene' ideology of the Nazi Regime. In a deeply researched and thoroughly detailed book, Nikolaus Wachsmann brilliantly charts the evolution of the 'KL' system elucidating the dynamic nature of the concentration camps both at the micro- as well as the macro-scale. Through a series of testimonials sourced from buried and hidden letters, smuggled messages and etchings on the walls of the cells, NW recreates the daily-life inside of the camps as a prisoner and as a guard providing a rich history of KL at the micro-scale. The social hierarchies at different levels that were existent within the camp are recounted detailing the interactions that lead to the brutality that was often associated with these camps and the inability of the prisoners to form a coordinated resistance movement. At the macro-scale, NW retraces the various forms these concentration camps took and the different purposes they served as the war progressed on. The KL system was undoubtedly of great value to the Third Reich as it enabled them to detain and break politically misaligned persons without generating a great uproar, recruit forced labor for work in factories and towards the war effort and finally cleanse the European land of Jews in what the Nazis termed as 'The Final Solution'. This book is more like a reference than a standard historic text, significantly lacking in organisation. However, given the integration of the micro-and macro-scales and the complexity of the movement, compiling a coherent text is understandably a challenging task.

  28. 5 out of 5

    julianne

    “What is needed is a study that captures the complexity of the camps without fragmenting, and sets them into their wider political and cultural context without becoming reductive. But how to write such a history of the KL?” ― Nikolaus Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps The author has succeeded with this hauntingly accurate and beautifully researched history. Covering the start of them when the inmates were political enemies of the swift rising Nazi party to the horror found “What is needed is a study that captures the complexity of the camps without fragmenting, and sets them into their wider political and cultural context without becoming reductive. But how to write such a history of the KL?” ― Nikolaus Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps The author has succeeded with this hauntingly accurate and beautifully researched history. Covering the start of them when the inmates were political enemies of the swift rising Nazi party to the horror found as they were liberated by the allies at the end of World War II. Nikolaus Wachsmann holds no punches as he details every part of the camps, mostly dispassionately, as he reveals the true history of them. I'm going to admit this was difficult to read, I lost count of the amount of times I put it down swearing that I couldn't continue before picking it back up. This is a book that should be compulsory for every student of history to read. We cannot allow anything like this to happen again.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    Comprehensive look at the build up of concentration camps through to the liberation. Excellent book though I can't think of anyone else I know who would read it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A surprisingly brisk and dry read, though I'll admit that I skimmed a few of the chapters in the first half -- Wachsmann is not immune to that common failing of historians, i.e., adding heaps of repetitive/boring material simply because he wants to make sure that he fits in all of his 'new finds in the archives' (building a book around one's research notes rather than vice versa). Wachsmann also fails to make the case that KL are, in themselves, especially interesting -- he makes vague gestures A surprisingly brisk and dry read, though I'll admit that I skimmed a few of the chapters in the first half -- Wachsmann is not immune to that common failing of historians, i.e., adding heaps of repetitive/boring material simply because he wants to make sure that he fits in all of his 'new finds in the archives' (building a book around one's research notes rather than vice versa). Wachsmann also fails to make the case that KL are, in themselves, especially interesting -- he makes vague gestures at calling the KL system the "true core" of Nazism, etc., but the book really becomes more interesting when he talks about the wider issues involved. In a way, KL: A History is a general and somewhat dry -- though very well-researched -- history of Nazism from 1933 to 1945 that happens to use KL as a lens. Anyway, the material is roughly as depressing and enervating as one might expect. I can never quite bring myself to believe -- though I've seen a great deal of historical evidence -- that human beings are capable of doing such things to each other. I was also surprised to learn that the early camps (1933-1937) were quite as bad as they were, and that the conditions were publicized in the NYT already by late 1933; it actually made me rethink the idea that, e.g., Heidegger's early support for the Nazi party was relatively innocuous.

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