At the terrible heart of the modern age lies Auschwitz. In a total inversion of earlier hopes about the use of science and technology to improve, extend and protect human life, Auschwitz manipulated the same systems to quite different ends. In Sybille Steinbacher's terse, powerful new book, the reader is led through the process by which something unthinkable to any European in the 1930s had become a sprawling, industrial reality during the course of the world war. How Auschwitz grew and mutated into an entire dreadful city, ...
At the terrible heart of the modern age lies Auschwitz. In a total inversion of earlier hopes about the use of science and technology to improve, extend and protect human life, Auschwitz manipulated the same systems to quite different ends. In Sybille Steinbacher's terse, powerful new book, the reader is led through the process by which something unthinkable to any European in the 1930s had become a sprawling, industrial reality during the course of the world war. How Auschwitz grew and mutated into an entire dreadful city, how both those who managed it and those who were killed by it came to be in Poland in the 1940s, and how it was allowed to happen, is something everyone needs to understand.
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In this short book, Sybille Steinbacher, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Modern and Contemporary History at Ruhr University, gives a compelling account of Auschwitz. Professor Steinbacher, and her able translator, Shaun Whiteside, writes in a concise, stark, understated, and eloquent way. She avoids the tendency to sensationalize and overdramatize and allows her material to speak for itself. The stylistic, nonsensationalistic excellence of this book adds greatly to its impact.
In brief, measured chapters, Professor Steinbacher discusses the long history of the Polish town of Oswiecim, and its history of Jewish habitation, before it became notorious as Auschwitz. She explains how Auschwitz lay in the path of Germany's eastern expansion and how it inexorably became a killing camp. It moved from a camp for political prisoners and a labor camp to, beginning in mid-1942, a death camp for Jews. She discusses how this change came about as a result of high policy within the Nazi regime and how it was implemented in the camp with mass gasing, shootings, beatings, starvations, and medical torture. She describes the role of the German corporation IB Farben in organizing the camps, using the labor of the prisoners, and providing the cyanide gas, Zyclon B, for the killings. Following her discussion of the founding of the camp, and its development into a site for mass murder, Professor Steinbacher discusses how the Nazi's abandoned the camp, took the remaining prisoners on lengthy death marches, and attempted to destroy the evidence of their brutality as the Soviet Army moved closer and ultimately occupied the camp. She describes the attempt, following the end of the War, to bring some of the perpetuators of Auschwitz to justice, with mixed results. Finally, a short chapter considers those who have denied the Holocaust and the crimes perpetuated at Auschwitz. Professor Steinbacher discusses the extent to which people in the town of Auschwitz, in Germany, and in the outside world were aware of the events in the camp. She also discusses, briefly, the decision of the Allies not to bomb the camp when they learned of the ongoing atrocities. The book includes detailed maps of the complexes at Auschwitz and a good bibliography.
With its tone of restraint, careful factual presentation, and considered judgment, Professor Steinbacher's book was highly valuable in helping me think about Auschwitz.
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