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

University of Nebraska Press  2012


Soon after Hitler came to power in 1933, his regime organized the first concentration camps in Germany. Those originally sent to camps like Dachau were the political enemies of the Nazi regime, but targeted groups soon included “social outsiders” such as Jews, Gypsies, criminals, and so on. After Kristallnacht, the focus of the camps became racial, targeting non-Aryans, including thousands of Jews. By 1939, there were more than one hundred camps holding a million prisoners.

This book brings together primary documents drawn from archives and libraries in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, and the United States, which deal with the Nazi prewar concentration camps. A welcome complement to The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945 project published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, this book investigates everyday life in the camps from the perspective of the Nazi bureaucracy, which ran the camps; Nazi legal files; trial records of former camp officials; Nazi and foreign newspaper articles, including The New York Times; secret police reports; published and unpublished accounts by former prisoners, and many other sources. Each of the six thematic chapters is introduced by a brief introduction to the subject matter of the documents. Chapter 3, for example, concerns the Concentration Camp SS, where we are introduced to the brutal Theodore Eicke, the commandant of Dachau, who was also responsible for the “rules and regulations” of the prewar Nazi concentration cam system. In this chapter, the editors also explore through documents the rank-in-file SS guards, who have long been neglected by historians of the camps.

As the editors of this documentary history of the pre-war camps inform us, ”almost all prisoners survived the prewar camps, and mass murder and mass detention did not generally occur until the war.” Unlike many documentary histories, the collection under review (many of the documents have been translated into English for the first time) makes for compelling reading as well as shedding light on the complex relationship between terror, state, and society in the Third Reich.

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