The latest Holocaust book is entitled A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps
Written by Nikolaus Wachsmann
Illustrated. 865 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $40.
The New York Times article about the new book, which you can read in full here, begins and ends with Buchenwald.
A photo of Ilse Koch, “the bitch of Buchenwald,” is shown at the top of the New York Times article about the book.
Take a look at the photo of Ilse Koch and her husband, shown above. Note the flirtatious look and the way that Ilse pulls back her coat to show off her figure. You know she’s trouble with a capital T. You just know that she had human skin lamp shades made to decorate her home. I am sure that this will be explained in great detail in the new book.
The Buchenwald concentration camp was located near the German city of Weimar where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous writer, had lived from 1775 until his death in 1832. The area where the Buchenwald Memorial Site now stands was Goethe’s favorite forest retreat, where he had sat under his favorite oak tree.
When a spot in the forest on the Ettersberg was cleared for the Buchenwald camp, Goethe’s oak was left standing, and when the tree was killed in an Allied bombing raid on the camp on August 24, 1944, the Nazis cut it down but carefully preserved the stump, which is shown in my photo below.
The article about the new book begins and ends with Buchenwald. The photo of Ilse Koch is at the top of the article and the article ends with the story of how the Nazis saved Goethe’s oak.
In the following paragraphs, I am quoting from the New York Times article:
This explanation is given: Wachsmann focuses on one [prisoner]. His name is Moritz Choinowski, a Polish-born Jew detained by the Gestao in 1939 in the German town of Magdeburg. By the time of his liberation on April 29, 1945, Choinowski has survived Buchenwald, Auschwitz, a slowly growing German camp called Gross-Rosen and finally Dachau as well as the nightmarish forms of transportation between them. Is this possible? he sobs in the Dachau infirmary. It was, just.
Wachsmann, a history professor at London University’s Birkbeck College, has written a work of prodigious scholarship. At 865 pages, it is, in every sense, no light read. In fact it is claustrophobic in its evocation of the depths to which people can succumb. Readers may find themselves wanting out, but there is always worse to come. The book does not upend our understanding of the camp system, whose core elements are well known by now. But it imbues them with agonizing human texture and extraordinary detail. This is as relentless a chronicle of the collapse of an entire society and civilization — from its doctors drawn to every inhuman experiment to its foot soldiers looting the dead — as may be imagined.
Were the SS camps “typically German,” as some prisoners believed? Wachsmann answers that this “seems doubtful” in that “the men behind the KL system were far more invested in radical Nazi ideology than most ordinary Germans, who felt more ambivalent about the camps.”
One Olga Lengyel arrives in Auschwitz determined to protect her son from hard labor. She is asked by an SS physician (strange oxymoron), Dr. Fritz Klein, how old her son is. She says he is under 13, although he looks older. The boy is promptly sent to the gas. As Wachsmann writes, “Those under the age of 14 were almost all gassed on arrival.” After the war, Lengyel writes in despair, “How should I have known?” How indeed could anyone, so far had the Nazis gone in the application of the unthinkable.
The mystery remains. The Holocaust can never quite be digested, even when it is dissected into such minute detail. Buchenwald stood near Goethe’s hometown, Weimar. As Wachsmann writes, the connection with Goethe could not be severed: “A large oak tree, under which he had supposedly met with his muse, stood right on the new camp grounds; because it was protected, the SS had to build around it.”
They did and, step by step, Höss and his ilk found a way to usher Germany from the inspiration of its greatest writer to the inferno of mass murder.
End of quote from the New York Times.
I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site several years ago, and wrote about it on my website at http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Buchenwald/index.html