The power of the ‘Holocaust’ as a concept has all but obliterated other aspects of the crimes of the Nazis and the sufferings of their victims and driven the history of the concentration camps from cultural memory.
Wachsmann’s gripping – humane and beautifully written narrative begins with the establishment of the first of the Nazi camps at a disused munitions factory outside the town of Dachau near Munich. During the first half of 1933 as Hitler gathered the reins of power to himself makeshift camps were improvised all over Germany to incarcerate Communists and Social Democrats – the main political groups who resisted the Nazis’ violent seizure of power.
Only gradually were these closed down – with the release of the prisoners – many of whom had been badly beaten and tortured (even the official estimate reckoned that over six hundred were murdered by the Nazis) on promise of refraining from political engagement. By 1934 as Wachsmann showed in his previous book Hitler’s Prisons (2004) the function of political repression had been taken over by the police – the courts – and the regular state prisons and penitentiaries.