I don't know what made me order KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration
Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann. Probably a good review and my love of
history and interest in World War II. In high school I remember trying to
read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - I didn't get far, too dense.
(The book, not me.) Later I read it in college and couldn't put it down
and naturally with my obsessive nature, had to devour everything by
William L. Shirer (Berlin Diary is a must-read).
KL is dense. Almost 900 pages and over 600 pages of text. It's heavy. I
put it on the scale and it weighs almost three pounds. Comprehensive, a
great amount of detail, excellent maps. And as precise and clinical when
describing KL bureaucracy, Wachsmann is also able to connect us
emotionally to inmates through their letters and testimony after the war.
(Although far too many letter writers do not survive and only live on
through their writing.)
From simple, somewhat disorganized beginnings in 1933, the KLs (shorthand
for Konzentrationslager, concentration camp) were populated with mostly
criminals, communists, homosexuals, and "asocials." It was surprising to
get deep into the book and realize how many of the inmates in the early
years weren't Jewish. But that certainly changes.
And once it does the horror of the Holocaust becomes very evident in KL. And
there are other horrors - as the treatment of Soviet POWs vividly
At times I had to put down KL. But KL is an important book. It describes how
camps originally created to contain opponents to Hitler eventually
evolved into camps that practiced mass extermination. Put the bureaucracy aside -
how could human beings could treat each other like this? How did people survive
and go on with their lives after this experience?
There's a reason people say never again. There's a reason people should
read books like this, even though they're not easy.