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Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp

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Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp

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Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp
Edited by Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum
Indiana University Press: Bloomington & Indianapolis: 1998
Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
ISBN: 978-0-253-20884-2

Reviewed by Boris Segel - April 7, 2013

Auschwitz. Even out of context, the name Auschwitz conjures up visions of mass murder, starvation, and the ultimate in inhumanity. The Auschwitz Death Camp was more than just a killing center. It was actually the center piece of a much large complex that consisted of a variety of 'camps' ranging from a mass killing site to slave labor camps and 'traditional' concentration camp facilities. These satellite camps included Birkenau (Auschwitz II), Jawischowitz, Babitz, Monowitz (Auschwitz III), Lagisze, Chelmek, Kobier, Neu-Dachs, and many more. Today, Auschwitz is perhaps the best known of the Nazi concentration / death camps, and it has been studied extensively. In Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, the editors of this book, Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, have compiled a selection of essays written by some of the most senior and acknowledged experts on the Auschwitz Death Camp, covering its history, uses, and its legacy.

Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp contains twenty-nine essays, and an introductory preface that places Auschwitz within the greater context of World War II, and the Holocaust as a whole. The aim of this book is to present a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary overview of Auschwitz. Contributors to this compendium come from a variety of fields, not only from the fields of history and Holocaust studies, but also from such far ranging fields from sociology and psychology to art history and medicine. The combination of viewpoints and detailed analysis of camps provides one of the most well-rounded and in-depth studies of Auschwitz that I've ever encountered. It is a masterful work that is essential reading for anyone engaged in the study of the Holocaust, World War II, Nazism, genocide studies, or any related field.

The essays in this collection are organized into six thematic parts covering:
  1. The history of Auschwitz, including its organization and the various satellite camps that comprised the greater Auschwitz facility.

  2. The second part, entitled "Dimensions of Genocide" detail how the mass murders were carried out, and the role that Auschwitz played in the Nazi's "Final Solution." Also covered is the exploitation of the prisoners, the theft of their property, and the plundering of the corpses.

  3. The next section examines the lives, motivations, and actions of the perpetrators. Included is a detailed look at the role that Nazi doctors, including Josef Mengele, played in the selection of prisoners who were to be murdered immediately, in addition to the range of inhumane experiments carried out on inmates.

  4. The next section examines the plight of the both Jewish and non-Jewish inmates. This examination ranges from conditions in the camps, the punishments that they endured, the types of jobs carried out by slave laborers, and the psychological implications of being incarcerated in Auschwitz. One chapter is devoted to the plight of the Gypsy (Roma) prisoners in Auschwitz.

  5. The fifth part of this monumental work details the various forms of resistance taken by the prisoners in Auschwitz, including escape attempts, and the efforts of the Sonderkommando to destroy one of the crematories in Birkenau.

  6. The final section of this book details what information, about Auschwitz, was known by the outside world and why this information was never acted upon. This section also looks at two postwar issues. Namely, the prosecution of Auschwitz SS officers, and the growth of literature related to Auschwitz.
Filled with relevant illustrations and detailed notes, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp is an indispensable guide to Auschwitz and all that it has come to represent. It is an important contribution to the body of work on the Holocaust, and a copy of this book should be added to every public and private library. The text can be used as the foundation for classes on the Holocaust, or as a supplemental text in any class, high school level and beyond, dealing with World War II, genocide studies, or Jewish studies.

Due to its subject matter, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp is a difficult book to read. However, it should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand exactly what happened at Auschwitz, the role it played in the Nazi's "Final Solution," and the cultural and political role that it still plays today.


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