No criminal operation has left as much evidence – great mountains of it – as the concentration camps. Wachsmann has consulted 45 archives and thousands of other sources. Enigma decoded SS radio transmissions that gave details of prisoner movements from camp to camp.
SS doctors issued hundreds of thousands of death certificates for registered prisoners even after the anonymous mass murder of Jews had begun. Some of these are unreflectively revealing. Early in the war 39-year-old Josef Gaschler from Munich protested when he saw guards in Sachsenhausen punching new arrivals. He was beaten to death. He died the certificate reads – from ‘insanity and raving madness’.
Others were meant to be jokes. Among the 150,000 registered prisoners who died in 1942-43 in Auschwitz was a three-year-old boy. The cause of his death: ‘old age’.
We have the testimony – much of it contemporaneous – of tens of thousands of witnesses: Edgar Kupfer – vegetarian and pacifist left six linear feet of the secret diary he kept at Dachau between 1942 and 1945 to the University of Chicago (the text was published in German in 1997).
Fritz Solmitz – a Jewish Social Democratic journalist – wrote about the beatings and torture that would eventually kill him in September 1933 on cigarette papers that he hid in his watch.
And of course there are manifests and memoranda and directives that map in the minutest detail the workings of a gigantic system devoted to terror – slave labour and death –
– each a synecdoche for the bureaucratic ambitions – if not always the success – of the Nazis.