Academic journal article Journalism History

The Nazi Concentration Camps, 1933-1939: A Documentary History

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Nazi Concentration Camps, 1933-1939: A Documentary History

Article excerpt

Goeschel, Christian, and Wachsmann, Nikolaus. The Nazi Concentration Camps, 1933-1939: A Documentary History. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. 448 pp. $65.

Histories of the Nazi concentration camps have mainly focused on the last and most tragic years of World War II. But, as modern European historians Christian Goeschel and Nikolaus Wachsmann argue in The Nazi Concentration Camps, 1933-1939: A Documentary History, the camps were created neither by World War II nor by the Holocaust. Ihey were first set up in 1 933, soon after Adolf Hitler's appointment as Germany's chancellor, as places of confinement for political enemies, mostly German Communist sympathizers. Almost all prisoners survived the prewar camps. Mass detentions and exterminations started along with the war. A systematic examination of these early and less-known fixtures of the Third Reich, relying on primary documents from the camps, helps reveal the thinking of the Nazi leadership and explain the atrocities committed later in the concentration camp system.

'Ihe primary sources in this volume include official SS documents and speeches, Nazi legal files and trial records, articles in Nazi and foreign newspapers, secret police reports, and accounts by former prisoners. Ihe volume is thematically grouped in six chapters, the last one being of most interest to journalism historians, as it focuses on the portrayal of the camps in Nazi propaganda and the foreign press. Each chapter and subsection starts with an introduction of the historical context followed by generous extracts from primary documents, illuminating the subject matter from various perspectives. Illese documents are transcribed chronologically and stand on their own. While they are not woven into a narrative, they provide a lot of insight.

Goeschel and Wachsmann's chronicle starts with the chaotic year of 1933, when, in an attempt to secure National Socialism's hold on power, the SS arrested or kidnapped left-wing activists and placed them in protective custody. Since the numbers of these prisoners were in the tens of thousands, few came before judges and prosecutors, and few could fit in the soon-overcrowded regular prisons. Faced with this logistical problem, the SS had to improvise. By the summer of 1933, it hastily created a confusing and uncoordinated network of extralegal camps, run by different authorities under different sets of rules, where alleged opponents of the regime were detained or tortured.

Most of these makeshift camps operated for a few weeks or months, as they were never supposed to be permanent. Cue in SS leader Heinrich Himmler, whose papers and draconian decrees are given ample space in the volume and provide insight into one of the most diabolical minds in history. He set up the largest and most effectively run camp in Dachau, thus creating the template for the nationwide system of SS concentration camps that emerged from 1934 to 1939 under his guidance as head of the newly established Gestapo. As the Nazi regime consolidated its dictatorship, the camps became a permanent feature of the Nazi state, due in part to Hitler and Himmlers distrust of the traditional legal system. …

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