by Laurence Rees
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly, January 10, 2005.
This pathbreaking work reveals the “destructive dynamism” of the Nazis’ most notorious death camp. Rees, creative director of history programs for the BBC, consistently offers new insights, drawn from more than 100 interviews with survivors and Nazi perpetrators. He gives a vivid portrait of the behind-the-scenes workings of the camp: for instance, of how a sympathetic guard could mean the difference between life and death for inmates, and the opening of a brothel to satisfy the “needs” of sadistic camp guards. But this is more than an anecdotal account of Nazi brutality. Rees also examines, and takes a stand on, controversial issues: he argues, for instance, that bombing the camp’s train tracks wouldn’t have saved many Jews. Nor does he overlook stories of individual acts of kindness or the Danes’ rescue of their Jewish community. Rees (The Nazis: A Warning from History) gives a complete history of the camp—how it was turned over time from a concentration camp into a death factory where 10,000 people were killed in a single day. Indeed, his argument for incrementalism at Auschwitz mirrors his larger claim that the “Final Solution” came about in an ad hoc fashion, as top Nazi officials struggled for a way to implement their virulent anti-Semitism. Some scholars have made this argument, and others reject it, but the depth and wealth of detail Rees provides make this treatment highly compelling.