Auschwitz, 1270 to the Present

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9780300067552: Auschwitz, 1270 to the Present

The overwhelming horror and scale of the genocide associated with Auschwitz isolates it in the human imagination. In the 1940s, however, this epicentre of the Holocaust was located at the edge of a town of 30,000 that had become the focus of a Germanisation programme involving wholescale urban re-construction, massive industrial investment and ruthless ethnic cleansing. "Auschwitz, 1270 to the Present" elucidates how, step by step, this otherwise ordinary prewar town became Germany's most lethal killing site: a transformation wrought by human beings, mostly German and mostly male. Who were the men who conceived, designed and constructed the death camp? What lay in their minds as they systematically developed a human slaughter house? Using the hundreds of architectural plans that the Nazis, in their haste, omitted to destroy, as well as blueprints and papers in the municipal archive of Auschwitz, the provincial archive of Upper Silesia, and the federal German archives, Robert Jan van Pelt and Deborah Dwork show that the town of Auschwitz and the camp of the same name were the centrepiece of Himmler's ambitious project to recover in Nazi-ruled Poland the German legacy of the Tuetonic Knights and Frederick the Great. Analysing the close ties between the 700-year history of the town and the five-year evolution of the concentration camp in its suburbs, they offer an interpretation of the origins and creation of the death camp. Drawing on oral histories of survivors, memoirs, depositions and diaries, the authors explore its ever more murderous impact on the daily lives of its inmates. A work of scholarship and narration, this is a history of the site that has come to epitomise evil.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Significant new research that examines both the relevant prewar history of Auschwitz and the blueprints of the death camp's daily functions. Dwork (Holocaust Studies and Modern Jewish History/Clark Univ.) and van Pelt (Cultural History/Univ. of Waterloo, Ontario) present both the historical, cultural, and architectural plans of the Nazis for Auschwitz. The entire surrounding region of Upper Silesia had been long targeted to be wrested from Poland and returned to Germany, whose claims extended back to the conquests of 13th-century Teutonic knights. The area referred to as ``the German East'' by Josef Goebbels was to become a rural paradise for redirected Germans, while the local Poles were to be expelled, exploited for slave labor, and ultimately exterminated. Even more damning than Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's controversial new study, Hitler's Willing Executioners, this book makes clear that thousands of transportation workers, accountants, Farben employees, engineers, architects, and builders were as conscious of the lethal goals of Auschwitz as Himmler or Hitler. In the slower-paced cremations of murder victims in 1940, for example, the camp utilized ``an efficient and technologically advanced doubled-muffle . . . coke-heated furnace from Topf and Sons for 9,000 marks'' with ``the capacity to incinerate seventy bodies in twenty-four hours.'' With ``one wash barrack per 7,800 inmates and one latrine hut per 7,000,'' it is argued that degradation and disease were not incidental, but that ``the design was, in fact, lethal.'' The pride of the gathered architects of Auschwitz-Birkenau is successfully captured in a group photo, as is the sincerity of a Polish nun in 1990 comparing the campgrounds to the sanctity of Golgotha. If the amalgam of insightful historical analysis and exhaustive pictorial and financial documentation is challenging for students of this period, just think of the difficult reading facing Holocaust deniers. Scores of van Pelt's photos and enhanced plans and blueprints supplement the lengthy notes in this peerless work of documentation and research that sheds new light on this century's darkest address. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Founded by Germans in 1270 and sold to Polish King Casimir IV in 1457, the small provincial town of Auschwitz (Oswiecim in Polish) became a pawn in power struggles between Poland, Germany, Bohemia and Hungary. When Hitler annexed this border town to the Reich in 1939 as German troops smashed Poland, the Nazis celebrated their push to reclaim the "German East," a mythologized, racially pure domain once contested by medieval knights of the Teutonic Order, who ruled Prussia in the 13th century after virtually exterminating the native population and repopulating the town with Germans. The concentration camp established in Auschwitz's suburbs in 1940-designed as a transit camp for Poles being shipped west as slave laborers-was soon transformed into an extermination camp for killing Jews. Using 224 photographs and architectural plans, as well as oral histories of survivors, this careful, detached study traces the camp's evolution into a site where more than one million people were killed and through January 1945, when the remaining 60,000 prisoners underwent a forced march into Germany. Dwork is a professor of Holocaust studies at Clark University in Mass.; van Pelt a cultural history professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Robert Jan van Pelt & Deborah Dwork.
Published by Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996 (1996)
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Robert Jan Van Pelt; Deborah Dwork
Published by Yale University Press (1996)
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