Skip to main content

CR3 #3: Auschwitz: A New History by Laurence Rees

I've been interested in the literature of the Holocaust since I was young. I read everything I could get my hands on about it, trying to understand how such a massive travesty could occur, and how the people involved could possibly rationalize it to themselves, how anyone could have the ability to move on from such a horrific experience. It's been about fifteen years since I read my first book on the subject, and I am probably no closer to understanding than I was then.

Laurence Rees's book, Auschwitz, is focused on that particular camp. He begins by discussing the Nazis' original plans for the "Final Solution" (based on his research, Rees believes their original plan was much different than the one most of us were taught). He continues to explain how Auschwitz was planned, built, and operated, first as a concentration/work camp. He then shows how--due to changes in circumstances both political and logistical--Auschwitz was transformed into the notorious death camp we know it as today.

Rees has done a great deal of detailed research, utilizing old Nazi documents as well as the testimony of a variety of survivors. He has interviews from Jewish prisoners who were brought to the camp from all around Europe, political prisoners from Poland, POWs from the Soviet Union, as well as with camp guards and citizens who observed what happened. He includes excerpts from the memoirs of the man who ran the camp through most of its life, and notes from some of the most well-known Nazi war criminals. Rees tries to explain how average citizens could become part of the machinery of death that killed millions of innocent people without feeling the slightest twinge of conscience.

It's interesting to see how something as horrible as Auschwitz could rise out of political wrangling and bureaucratic complications. The Nazis are often thought of as being a well-oiled machine, stressing organization, planning, and conformity. In Rees's book, he shows how many of their decisions were merely reactions to previous poorly-thought out decisions. They were not so much well-organized as they were masters of bureaucracy...their decisions may have been haphazard, but they were always neatly documented. In the end, the death camps resulted less from an original plan to exterminate Europe's Jews and simply as a way to deal with a population that had been removed from their homes without any idea where they should go.

The book is obviously very dark, and also very dry--Rees does not hesitate to list any facts and figures he may find relevant. It's clearly not for the delicate, as there are descriptions of unimaginably horrible events. However, I'd recommend this book to anyone trying to understand how something of this magnitude could happen and perhaps ways to recognize the signs should it ever start to happen again.


Jen K said…
I've also read quite a few books on the subject since I was a kid - it all started when my parents took me to KZ Dachau when I was in third grade. I might have to check this out eventually - have you read Explaining Hitler? It doesn't so much offer an explanation of Hitler but collects the different ways people have tried to explain him and analyzes what the explanations say about us - the English major in me thought it was fascinating. I'm sure I reviewed it on my blog somewhere . . .

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #5 Borgin Keep by Ron Ripley

I've read the entire Berkeley Street series, as well as the Haunted series, and I think this was definitely one of the better offerings. This time, former Marine Shane and his slowly growing band of willing (and unwilling) ghost hunting allies face their biggest challenge yet. While the ghosts of Borgin Keep are both very dangerous and very evil, Shane also must keep one step ahead of The Watchers, a ruthless and powerful organization who find him to be a threat to their shadowy goals.

As always, for me the best part are the characters. Shane and his ghost-hunting partner Frank (a former soldier/former monk) are joined once again by police detective Marie LaFontaine, who is a very tough woman determined to avenge a dead friend. I'm not as fond of Shane's girlfriend Courtney, but I understand her uses as far as character development.

The plot moves along quickly, and I found this book a little better fleshed out than a few of the previous ones in the series -- while I enjoye…