New Currents in Holocaust Research (Lesson and Legacies Series)

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In the courtroom and the classroom, in popular media, public policy, and scholarly pursuits, the Holocaust-its origins, its nature, and its implications-remains very much a matter of interest, debate, and controversy. Arriving at a time when a new generation must come to terms with the legacy of the Holocaust or forever lose the benefit of its historical, social, and moral lessons, this volume offers a richly varied, deeply informed perspective on the practice, interpretation, and direction of Holocaust research now and in the future. In their essays the authors-an international group including eminent senior scholars as well those who represent the future of the field-set the agenda for Holocaust studies in the coming years, even as they give readers the means for understanding today's news and views of the Holocaust, whether in court cases involving victims and perpetrators; international, national, and corporate developments; or fictional, documentary, and historical accounts.

Several of the essays-such as one on nonarmed "amidah" or resistance and others on the role of gender in the behavior of perpetrators and victims-provide innovative and potentially significant interpretive frameworks for the field of Holocaust studies. Others; for instance, the rounding up of Jews in Italy, Nazi food policy in Eastern Europe, and Nazi anti-Jewish scholarship, emphasize the importance of new sources for reconstructing the historical record. Still others, including essays on the 1964 Frankfurt trial of Auschwitz guards and on the response of the Catholic Church to the question of German guilt, bring a new depth and sophistication to highly charged, sharply politicized topics. Together these essays will inform the future of the Holocaust in scholarly research and in popular understanding.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810120013
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Series: Lesson & Legacies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffry M. Diefendorf is a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.
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Read an Excerpt

New Currents in Holocaust Research

Copyright © 2004

Northwestern University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2001-3

Chapter One Concentration Camps and Cultural Policy: Rethinking the Development of the Camp System, 1936-41

IT HAS LONG BEEN RECOGNIZED THAT ONE OF THE DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS of the National Socialist regime was its ability to infiltrate, mobilize, and radicalize every major aspect of German public life. Scholars have often used this point to indicate the complexity of the development of policies leading to the destruction of the European Jews. Moving beyond the debates concerning policymaking that searched for the specific orders directly related to the murder of the Jewish populations, scholarly trends have more recently been interested in exploring the ways seemingly non-Jewish policies, institutions, and administrations led to a cumulative enactment of state-sponsored violence that paved the way and enabled the ultimate violent policies of the genocide. Looking at complex causal factors and institutional opportunities created outside the specific focus on anti-Semitic policy has not meant, however, that we need to ignore the importance of individual agency, nor has it meant that we must see the Holocaust as structurally preordained. Rather, it has meant analyzing the ways in which actors had choices within given institutional and structural limits, and that they then made decisions which in turn created new political, economic, and social conditions that allowed for other choices and an expansion beyond previous limitations. This dynamic historical process allowed for the intersection of specific anti-Semitic interests with the general promotion of developments in other spheres of the Nazi state. The SS, as one of the primary institutions with foremost responsibility for the implementation of the genocide, was just as subject to this dynamic as were other administrative powers. The ways in which cultural policy influenced the setting of priorities within the SS is a crucial example of how a more complex understanding of the National Socialist past helps us to clarify the complicated road that led to Auschwitz.

In the past ten years, we have seen scholars extend their analyses to include an understanding of how National Socialist policies were used to influence and manipulate culture. As the public role of culture has been more and more under scrutiny, it has become evident that here, too, the interests of key Nazi leaders and specific aspects of the dominant political ideology became inextricably linked to everything from advertisements in the daily newspaper to the elite culture displayed at the "Great German Art Shows." This process by which National Socialist policies and politicians influenced public culture was not a linear development but rather, as with much in the Nazi regime, was sporadic and often inconsistent. Not surprisingly, the contradictions as well as the points of consensus that marked the internal development of the Party and state had their complementary expression in the development of public culture. Hence, public culture was yet another sphere that could be taken advantage of at particular moments and by specific individuals to push their own intrapolitical influence as well as to promote the radicalization of state-sanctioned policies such as anti-Semitism. While culture was never the determining realm of political power and ideology, it was nevertheless a high-profile area of work that could effectively be the means by which seemingly noncultural political, economic, and social policies could be extended and enacted.

Such a dynamic becomes clear if we look at what Hitler considered to be his most important public cultural policy-monumental state and Party architecture-in relation to the Nazi state's most devastating policing weapon: the SS-controlled concentration camp system. Across historical and art historical scholarship, Hitler's involvement with architectural projects has been well researched. The extent of his plans was massive, not only for the redesign of the so-called Hitler cities of Linz, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, and the Party Rally Grounds at Nuremberg, but also for thirty-five other sites that, by 1941, had been added to the official registry of German cities to be redesigned. Albert Speer controlled the two major projects of the Berlin redesign and the Nuremberg rally grounds, and the majority of the monumental buildings here and elsewhere favored Speer's and Hitler's preferred aesthetic of stripped-down neoclassicism with large-scale masonry construction.

Many scholars have noted that it is exactly here, in the masonry-building economy, that SS interests intersected with state cultural policy. But the precise connection between the two has nevertheless remained under-researched, especially as it concerns the initial decision of SS administrators to reorient the concentration camp forced labor in the late thirties. Most scholars have relied on the early and important work of Enno Georg, who analyzed the SS forced-labor industries through a summation of documents available through the Nuremberg Tribunals. More recent close studies of particular camps, such as Hermann Kaienburg's work on Neuengamme, have also depended on Georg's research when dealing with the prewar phase of forced-labor policy.4 Yet because the SS never efficiently mobilized its forced labor for the building industry, the importance of public cultural policy is generally dismissed as a side issue to the history of the brutally effective policing practices established in the camps leading into the war.

But the distinction between productive forced labor and oppression is not quite as clean, particularly in the war years, as scholars have more recently recognized (including, most notably, Michael Allen in his study of the administrative organization of SS engineers and bureaucrats within the Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt [WVHA]). It is neither easy to argue that forced labor in the camps was simply a means to annihilate unwanted ideological and political enemies (Jewish and non-Jewish), nor possible to argue that the SS mobilized its control over forced labor at the expense of policies and practices of oppression. But in spite of this reconsideration, little attention has been given to a new assessment of the initial stages of the systematic use of forced labor in the late thirties. Clearly, in these years, the efficient mobilization of forced labor was never achieved due to the cruelty of the treatment of prisoners at the camp sites themselves. Nevertheless, the lack of efficient treatment did not mean that inmates were not compelled to be productive. Hence, the period of concentration camp development beginning with the reorganization of the camps in 1936 needs to be looked at anew.

Issues of efficiency, productivity, and oppressive policy not only are crucial to the present study but also have broad resonance with other areas of Holocaust research, particularly those devoted to labor policies in occupied Eastern Europe. However, in the prewar labor camps studied here, the vast majority of prisoners were non-Jewish inmates defined by other political or ideologically generated categories (communists, socialists, labor leaders, Jehovah's Witnesses, gay men, etc.). For example, in the largest quarry concentration camp at Mauthausen (founded in 1938), the first Jewish inmate to be recorded in SS records was sent to the camp because he was a gay man from Vienna. He died in the camp from unknown causes in March 1940. Yet the point here would be that the kinds of decisions implemented in the forced-labor camps in the late thirties allowed for and influenced the timing and enactment of practices of oppression directed at a specifically Jewish population later in the war. In this sense, the conjunction of cultural policies and brutal policing measures indicated one way that SS administrators could extend their power over individuals by institutionalizing a strong connection between economic practices and ideological policies of oppression. Later policies of labor and oppression could take advantage of this institutionalized structure, even while they dramatically adapted it to more brutal goals. Understanding the role of productivity within this matrix of contradictory and inconsistently applied economic practices gives us insight into the radicalization of the SS that prepared the way for a further extension of its power over the Jewish populations of Europe during the war. Issues of productivity and cultural policy form a crucial component that makes our analysis of how state leaders were able to incarcerate, punish, and kill more complex, and hence, more historically comprehensible.

Productivity was a planned result of oppression, not simply a byproduct of the conditions implemented by SS camp personnel. In the late thirties and the early war years, the productive goals of SS administrators and the success or failure of productivity at camp sites themselves depended most clearly on the major public peacetime initiative of the Nazi state, its monumental architecture. Taking the goals of the SS administration seriously means looking beyond the propagandistic and ideological function of culture and reconsidering its political-economic effects. It is here that the development of the policing function of forced-labor concentration camps intersects most clearly with the public architectural goals of the state.

Soon after Himmler was appointed to head the German police in June 1936, two major state-driven initiatives began to dominate the industrial and cultural management of public policy: (1) rearmament, with its demands on the German economy, especially after the introduction of the Four Year Plan; and (2) the prioritization of architectural policy and its focus on specific key sites, above all the Party Rally Grounds at Nuremberg and Hitler's developing ideas around the rebuilding of Berlin. The short-term militarist goal of rearmament paralleled the long-term peacetime goal of monumental state architecture, and each held a strong interest for Hitler. Further, each goal provided a focus for competition or coordination of a variety of policies initiated by individual state and Party institutions, policies that included the development of anti-Semitic measures as well as the continued oppression of designated ideological or political enemies of the Party.

The potential to take advantage of broad state policy allowed for the radicalization of key institutions that sought to increase their control over German life or extend their popularity (and hence, power) with Hitler. The SS was one such institution and, in a crucial decision, Himmler directed the reorganization of the camp system in the late thirties precisely toward one of the key, publicly stated goals of Hitler: the redesign of German cities. After 1936, the extension of the camps and choice of sites indicate that Himmler's goal was not simply to set up an effective penal system but to establish the long-term viability of the camps as political and economic tools of the SS. For example, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald were chosen for their proximity not only to population centers (Prussia, Saxony/Thuringia), but also to clay deposits suitable for brick making. In the initial stages, these economic plans remained vague in terms of how they were to be implemented; nevertheless, the interest in the economic use of forced labor for the building economy influenced this extension of the concentration camp system.

By 1937, the political authority won by the SS enabled the pursuit of other interests that would contribute to the consolidation of the concentration camps as integral institutions in the German state. Himmler, through his head administrator Oswald Pohl, began to place increasing emphasis on securing the permanence of the camps by adapting them to a comprehensive economic program. It was already clear to Himmler that larger camps would be needed in times of war, but a growing emphasis on economic enterprises would give the SS a reason to expand the camps in peacetime as well. Though the intent to exploit penal labor was part of the organization of the camps from the very beginning, it was only in 1937-38 that the SS addressed the economic potential of forced labor as a key means of guaranteeing its role in a peacetime Germany. After regulations concerning who could be taken into custody were broadened, the SS could and did actively target prisoners who met its economic needs. Prepared as they were to select prisoners based on political, ideological, and economic criteria, the SS could attempt to maximize its economic potential. This policy was also clearly in line with the need to extend the productivity of all labor as defined by the state's economic goals and those of Göring's Four Year Plan.

Extending the function of the camps to include grander schemes of developing an economic empire occurred first with the brickworks established at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen in 1938. It was in this period, a time when severe labor and material shortages were common in the building industry and other segments of the German economy, that the SS began seriously to orient forced-labor operations to the building materials market. At first, SS brickworks were linked only to the necessities of the Four Year Plan. Yet by the time construction began on the brickworks in 1938, the SS had turned to the more exclusive and increasingly powerful patronage of Speer by linking the new forced-labor quarries and some of the brickworks to Speer's needs as head of the Inspector General of Building for the Reich Capital Berlin (Generalbauinspektor für die Reichshauptstadt Berlin [GBI]).

The decision to focus the majority of forced-labor operations on the production of large-scale brickworks and stone quarries came at the initial meeting of Speer, Himmler, and Hitler, which occurred after Buchenwald opened in July 1937 but before Pohl's trip to Flossenbürg and Mauthausen in March 1938. With the support of Speer and Hitler, the use of the prisoners to make bricks and to quarry stone became institutionalized in the founding of the German Earth and Stone Works (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke [DEST]) on April 29, 1938. The business was officially registered on June 10, 1938 under the management of SS-Obersturmbannführer Arthur Ahrens (who in September 1938 appointed Walter Salpeter as deputy manager). On paper, the business always had a double organization. DEST personnel administered the concern as a private enterprise but, as SS members, they were also politically responsible to the SS-Verwaltungsamt under Pohl. At this stage, however, Pohl played little more than an oversight role of the firm.

Such a company was of dubious legality as it involved a Party institution getting involved with the private economy, a point that had been ignored with the small-scale SS operations prior to 1937-38 but now became of crucial importance to Nazi Party Treasurer Francis Xaver Schwarz as the SS expanded into the national building materials markets. The German state had such a restriction on economic activity because, obviously, a political institution was perceived as having an unfair advantage and, hence, must be banned from investing in the private market. While the line between a state or party organization and ownership of a private concern had always been fuzzy even before the Nazi era, specific challenges were made concerning the legal status of DEST that forced the SS to respond. SS administrators avoided the legal critique by claiming the loophole that their concerns were not like private businesses engaged in maximization of profit but rather served the dual political goals of punishing or "reforming" inmates through labor as well as providing needed materials for the monumental building projects prioritized by Hitler. Specifically, Speer's plans for Berlin were cited continuously by the SS in its reports and contracts as a justification for the unlawful entry of a Party institution into private business.

In its first year, DEST struggled with Ahrens and his unprofessional staff, which bungled operations, particularly in the brickworks at Sachsenhausen.17 Furthermore, DEST lacked significant funding for development in the concentration camps. Yet, this situation changed when DEST received a major contract from the GBI on July 1, 1938. This was to be the first of many contracts, large and small, that the SS made and attempted to make with the GBI, establishing a predominantly architectural orientation to DEST's economic concerns.

The GBI was the first and largest single patron of DEST during its entire history as a provider of building materials. Beginning with base payments in 1938 for preapproved brick orders and additional payments through 1941 totaling over RM 9 million, no other customer was so crucial to DEST's success. Though credit funds were received from other sources, including the Reichsbank, the GBI retained its role as the predominant architectural client through its payments to the SS. Financing the enterprises at the camps rested largely on the advantage taken by the SS of the GBI's need for an ever larger share of the building materials market in Germany-that is to say, on the advantage the SS took of public cultural policy initiatives.

Bank credits and advances from the GBI allowed the SS to build and develop its ventures from 1938 to the beginning of the war in September 1939. Construction had begun on the brickworks at Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald by the summer of 1938 and the initial quarries at Flossenbürg and Mauthausen were either leased or acquired by this time. The 1938 annual report showed a loss, but in 1939 the operating budget jumped and a small profit of RM 135,850 was achieved. These initially optimistic figures were compromised by the mistakes made at Sachsenhausen, but nevertheless reflect the growth of the concerns. Payments were also received in these years for relatively small orders from (among others) the Reichsautobahn and the "Buildings at Adolf Hitler Platz" Association in Weimar. Both of these orders were for stone, as the brickworks were not yet operational, and indicate the relative success of the granite works in this period (profit of over RM 390,000) in relation to the brickworks (loss of more than RM 390,000). Thus, by the time the war began, four of the six concentration camps were producing or being readied to produce building materials, some of which were already making their way to the monumental building projects of the Party and state. The SS attempt to obtain a major share of the building materials industry in Germany was well underway before September 1939 due to consistent financial backing and the increased authority to arrest extended categories of people. With Speer's GBI and the centralized organization of the seemingly unlimited forced labor, these concentration camps were filled and the inmates put to work.

The outbreak of war in September 1939 did little to dampen the development of DEST and the pursuit by the SS of a share in the German building economy. Not only did the SS expect the war to end quickly, but it had been exempted from turning over its economic operations to armaments industries. Hence, DEST extended its operations, acquired new quarry sites and brick-making facilities, and directed its production to specific monumental projects. Punishing prisoners through the development of the forced-labor camps continued at a rapid pace.


Copyright © 2004 by Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Theodore Zev Weiss


Jeffry M. Diefendorf

I. Rethinking Nazi Policies

Paul B. Jaskot
Concentration Camps and Cultural Policy: Rethinking the Development of the Camp System, 1936-41

Sybille Steinbacher
The Relationship of the Auschwitz Camp to the Outside Environment, Economy and Society

Richard Breitman
The Nazis and the Jews of Italy: New Sources on the Responsibility for the Holocaust in Italy

II. Resistance and Rescue

Yehuda Bauer
The Problem of Non-Armed Jewish Reactions to Nazi Rule in Eastern Europe

Jonathan Goldstein
Motivation in Holocaust Rescue: The Case of Jan Zwartendijk in Lithuania, 1940

Yehudi Lindeman
Against All Odds: Successes and Fialures of the Dutch Palestine Pioneers

Lenore J. Weitzman
Women of Courage: The Kashariyot (Couriers) in the Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

III. German Scholars and the Holocaust

Patricia von Papen-Bodek
Anti-Jewish Research of the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage in Frankfurt am Main between 1939 and 1945

Konrad Jarausch
Unasked Questions: The Controversy about Nazi Collaboration among German Historians

Devin Pendas
The Historiography of Horror: The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial and the German Historical Imagination

IV. Historiography and the Challenges to Historians

Dan Michman
"Euphoria of Victory" as the Key: Situation Christopher Browning on the Map of Research on the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question"

Gerhard Weinberg
Browning and the Big Picture

Dariusz Stola
New Research on the Holocaust in Poland

Christian Gerlach
Some Recent Trends in German Holocaust Research

Susannah Herschel
Does Atrocity Have a Gender? Feminist Interpretations of the Women in the SS

V. Trials, Compensation, and Jewish Assets

Hilary Earl
Scales of Justice: History, Testimony, and the Einsatzgruppen Trial and Nuremburg

Rebecca Wittmann
Legitimating the Criminal State: Former Nazi Judges and the Distortion of Justice at the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963-65

Constantin Goschler
German Compensation to Jewish Nazi Victims

Jonathan Steinberg
Compensation Cases and the Nazi Past: Deutsche Bank and Its Historical Legacy

Helen Junz
Holocaust-Era Assets: Globalization of the Issue

VI. Confronting the Past 

Ian Buruma
The Innocent Eye: Childlike, Childish, and Children's Perspectives on The Holocaust

Jeffrey Herf
How and Why Did Holocaust Memory come to the United States A Response to Peter Novick's Challenge

Pieter Lagrou
Facing the Holocaust in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands

Suzanne Brown-Fleming
Excusing the Holocaust: German Catholics and the Sensation of Cardinal Aloisius Muench's "One World in Charity," 1946-59

James E. Young
Germany's Holocaust Memorial Problem—and Mine

Notes on Contributors

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