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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

An evolutionary history

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps - Nikolaus Wachsmann

This is an excellent overview of the vast Nazi KL system and its history from the 1930s through the end of World War II.  Wachsmann’s writing is particularly lucid, with a very readable mix of anecdotal and archival/statistical documentation.


The largely chronological organization helps reveal the evolution of the camps.  It’s easy to have just one picture of how the KL worked, but Wachsmann does a fine job showing how the camps not only had different purposes from each other, but that the purposes and methods of operation changed over time.  One example he explores is how the work camps became statistically less deadly in 1943, in response to Himmler’s orders to make prisoners more of a labor resource to outside industry.


Another particular strength is Wachsmann’s showing how Nazi ideology swayed––and sometimes very far––to serve war expedients and the ambitions of commandants and their superiors.  He enlivens his work by illustrating his conclusions with examples of particular individuals, both well-known historical figures and numerous people whose fate was to be swept into the brutal world of the camps.


Wachsmann tackles some of the conventional wisdom about the camps and the prisoners (such as that all kapos were sadists, that prisoners became completely dehumanized, that women formed close bonds but men didn’t), presents his views and reasons for his conclusions.  Wachsmann has a clear-eyed, pragmatic and logical style.  He is no prisoner of ideology in his approach.


Along with another stellar recent work, Sarah Helm’s Ravensbruck, this will be a resource for years to come.