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Auschwitzby Laurence Rees
"Rees has compiled a solid overview of one of humanity's more shameful periods. Auschwitz: A New History demonstrates most of the perpetrators of the Holocaust were not inhuman monsters but, as Christopher Browning put it in the title of his groundbreaking work on Reserve Police Battalion 101, simply ordinary men....As a general introduction to the Holocaust and its causes, Auschwitz: A New History is a good starting point." Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
Published for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-a devastating and surprising account of the most infamous death camp the world has ever known.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the site of the largest mass murder in human history. Yet its story is not fully known. In Auschwitz, Laurence Rees reveals new insights from more than 100 original interviews with Auschwitz survivors and Nazi perpetrators who speak on the record for the first time. Their testimonies provide a portrait of the inner workings of the camp in unrivalled detail-from the techniques of mass murder, to the politics and gossip mill that turned between guards and prisoners, to the on-camp brothel in which the lines between those guards and prisoners became surprisingly blurred.
Rees examines the strategic decisions that led the Nazi leadership to prescribe Auschwitz as its primary site for the extinction of Europe's Jews-their"Final Solution." He concludes that many of the horrors that were perpetrated in Auschwitz were driven not just by ideological inevitability but as a"practical" response to a war in the East that had begun to go wrong for Germany. A terrible immoral pragmatism characterizes many of the decisions that determined what happened at Auschwitz. Thus the story of the camp becomes a morality tale, too, in which evil is shown to proceed in a series of deft, almost noiseless incremental steps until it produces the overwhelming horror of the industrial scale slaughter that was inflicted in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
"This pathbreaking work reveals the 'destructive dynamism' of the Nazis' most notorious death camp. Rees, creative director of history programs for the BBC, consistently offers new insights, drawn from more than 100 interviews with survivors and Nazi perpetrators. He gives a vivid portrait of the behind-the-scenes workings of the camp: for instance, of how a sympathetic guard could mean the difference between life and death for inmates, and the opening of a brothel to satisfy the 'needs' of sadistic camp guards. But this is more than an anecdotal account of Nazi brutality. Rees also examines, and takes a stand on, controversial issues: he argues, for instance, that bombing the camp's train tracks wouldn't have saved many Jews. Nor does he overlook stories of individual acts of kindness or the Danes' rescue of their Jewish community. Rees (The Nazis: A Warning from History) gives a complete history of the camp — how it was turned over time from a concentration camp into a death factory where 10,000 people were killed in a single day. Indeed, his argument for incrementalism at Auschwitz mirrors his larger claim that the 'Final Solution' came about in an ad hoc fashion, as top Nazi officials struggled for a way to implement their virulent anti-Semitism. Some scholars have made this argument, and others reject it, but the depth and wealth of detail Rees provides make this treatment highly compelling. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, BBC. (Jan.) FYI: This book is the companion to a documentary that PBS will air in three two-hour segments, on January 19, January 26 and February 2." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Laurence Rees's compact, devastating new history of the infamous death factory distills a crucial lesson — perhaps the crucial lesson — of the 20th century: that the human capacity for mass murder is grotesquely widespread and must be faced squarely if we hope to resist it." Don Von Drehle, The Washington Post
Book News Annotation:
Rees, who has spent 15 years writing books and working on BBC television programs about the Nazis, sees Auschwitz as the perfect microcosm to help readers understand one of the worst and least understandable crimes in history. The camp had a certain beginning (the first prisoners arrived in June 1940) and a definite end (it was liberated in January 1945); in between, Auschwitz had a complex and surprising history, made up of incremental, almost noiseless steps that mirrored changes in the intricacies of Nazi racial and ethnic policy. The study of Auschwitz, Rees notes, also affords the chance to understand how people behaved in some of the most extreme conditions ever recorded. The volume, based on hundreds of interviews with Nazi perpetrators and camp survivors, is a companion to the PBS documentary "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State."
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In time for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Rees has penned a devastating and surprising account of the most infamous death camp the world has ever known.
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