Michael Berkowitz focuses on how the Nazis invented the myth of Jewish criminality in order to strip the Jews of legal rights and respect, justify their own actions, and attempt mass deception and rhetoric of “law and order.” He discusses Jewish stigma of criminality and actual criminality in the ghettos, the death camps, and after the war in DP camps and in the eyes of Germans, Americans, and the Jews themselves. By creating inhuman conditions for the Jews, practicing deception and double talk, redefining criminality, and putting Jews in charge of executing Nazi policies in ghettos and camps, the Nazis created a cruel hoax and a distorted reality that implicated the victims. To propagate the myth of the concentration camps as penal institutions, the Nazi administration used penal methods, public assemblies, and forensic photographing. Mixing Jews with non-Jewish violent criminals, they created an upside down terror world where the law-abiding were penalized and the criminal rewarded. They criminalized ideologies and political movements such as Communism and Zionism and then punished believers.
The main problem is that the work is not as innovative as Berkowitz claims and he tends to state the obvious. He writes as if the subject was never touched before him, ignoring much of the massive, methodical existing literature and archival documents about the criminal Nazi routines and policies since 1933. Berkowitz’s use of unverified interviews, personal communications, and memoirs is questionable. For example, when discussing Nazi hypocrisy, he relates an event that, he admits, was not scrutinized by scholars, in which gassing, already in process, was halted in order to pull out a Jewish woman who was on the wrong list that day.
Hence, Berkowitz misses some good opportunities to develop solid arguments because he does not base his study on consistent logic and thorough research. An example is the practice of mug-shot photography of some Jews in Auschwitz before the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. In fact shortly thereafter, most Jews who were sent to the death camps were not even registered in the camps and were sent directly to the slaughter houses. Berkowitz could have made a case that for a while, until the policy of the final solution became clear to the Nazi administration, they attempted to classify Jews as criminals for reasons mentioned above.
There is no bibliography, and there are some errors related to reading of the Polish alphabet. For example, Berkowitz repeatedly refers to Bal´uty, the poor and rundown area of L´ ódz´ Ghetto, as “Batut,” and street names in L´ ódz´ and Warsaw are often misspelled or misnamed. Illustrations, index, notes.