Hitler's Death Camps in Occupied Poland
...an Images of War book from Pen & Sword
Title: Hitler's Death Camps in Occupied Poland
Author: Ian Baxter
Publisher: Pen & Sword
I feel I must start this by saying I had to think hard about even starting to review a book which present a photographic record of Death Camps in WW2. In the end I decided that it is a subject that must be faced up to, and not something that can just be ignored or just spoken about in hushed tones.
The book is divided into 3 chapters. The first tells the story of the early stages in the war, when the first camps were established in Poland, covering Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. A few pages of text to introduce what happened and supported by the first set of archive images. That's followed by The Reinhard Camps, of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Everything is rounded off in chapter 3, The Last Years. There is much of the detail contained in the captions for the collection of pictures. Fortunately I think these do not include any showing the horror of the bodies of those that were killed. They do have pictures of some of the Nazi personnel responsible for the horrors that were these death camps, of victims, old and young, being rounded up and then being sorted on arrival at the camps. Added to these there are pictures of the camps themselves, both wartime aerial photos as well as detail images of what remains on the sites today. Many of the photos were taken by German troops working at the camps. Quite what made them want to actually record the terrible job they were doing does in itself beg the question. The faces seen on so many victims are gone forever, and the numbers they killed staggering. At the end just some managed to survive and were liberated in the closing stages of the war, though many in a very poor state.
I was happy it doesn't show the real horrors of the camps, though piles of personal belongings being sorted through makes it very clear how the prisoners were misled into their understanding of the fate that awaited them, and they remained calm. It is evidence of the terrible events that took place, and with some of the pictures coming from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum there is still plenty of visual impact. I could not help but wonder why anyone would have put so much effort into murdering people on such a vast scale. The resources it took up, the manpower and potentially willing labour it took away from the war effort plus the resentment it built within countries such as Poland, Russia and states such as the Ukraine. If Germany had behaved differently, maybe the support they might have received from conquered populations might have made a difference in their favour. The sort of 'what if' question that I think we can't help asking ourselves. A thought provoking, if somewhat frightening record of what human beings can do to others. Please God, or whatever your belief, this should never happen again, and however horrifying, something I think does need to be faced up to.
Thanks to Pen & Sword for our review copy.