Hitler's Death Camps is a study of the Holocaust: of the Nazi concentration camps, the concentration system, and the human beings who experienced it. It is, by necessity, an interdisciplinary analysis. Attempting to understand both the unique and universal implications of the Holocaust forces the student and the writer to draw upon the insights of poetry, literature, art, music, and drama; history, political science, and geography; sociology, psychology, and anthropology; medicine and science; philosophy and religion; memoirs, interviews, and documents.
It is extremely difficult to secure reliable information on anything that happened during this period because so much was lost or destroyed, and what remains, from the Nazi side at least, is tainted. The system encouraged lying -- lying in speeches, memos, reports, diaries, letters. No historian could write of this period if he insisted upon using only materials whose accuracy is unimpeachable. I, like others, have used a wide variety of sources and hope that the result approximates reality. My purpose has been to pull together the available material on the major camps in one book, one central source, leaving to future specialized studies the challenge of filling in the remaining gaps.
The book focuses on the major Nazi concentration camps as defined by Heinrich Himmler; the concentration system as it evolved; the actions, reactions, and feelings of the different groups of people involved in it; and the many phases of the process of dehumanization, destruction, and death. At the core are the nineteen official camps with their similarities and differences. Each camp exemplifies a major aspect of the system. Dachau is the creation of a model for scientific experimentation on human beings, while Ravensbrück illustrates the fate of Aryan and non-Aryan women in the Third Reich. Chelmno incarnates the crude, primitive killing phase; Treblinka, the victory of technology in achieving the efficient disposal of subhumans; and Buchenwald, the internal political system. Theresienstadt embodies the frantic measures taken by Himmler to create a positive illusion for the outside world, and also the magnificent strength of the strugglers as evidenced in the literature, music, and art created in that fortress. Majdanek demonstrates the profitable economic enterprise in the plunder, disposal, and