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Auschwitz: A New History

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About the Author

Laurence Rees is Creative Director of History Programs for the BBC and author of five books, including The Nazis: A Warning from History and Horror in the East: Japan and the Atrocities of World War II. He lives in London.


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. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, BBC. (Jan.) FYI: This book is the companion to a documentary that PBS will air in three two-hour segments, on January 19, January 26 and February 2. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Rees (creative director, history programs, BBC) contends that while Auschwitz is a major symbol of the Holocaust, it is also one of the least understood. The history of Auschwitz is complicated because it was not a single camp but rather a complex of three main and over two dozen satellite locations, each serving a variety of functions. Rees deftly explains that the creation of the Auschwitz complex was not the result of a coherent plan developed by the Nazis. Indeed, while the establishment of Auschwitz first as a concentration camp and later as a death camp emanated from Hitler and his subordinates, the actual methods of mass murder used there were shaped by local Nazis, such as Rudolph H?ss, Auschwitz's first commandant, and his subordinates, who initiated the earliest experiments with Zyklon-B. For Rees, the history of Auschwitz is a vehicle for understanding the development of the Final Solution and the personal responsibilities of the perpetrators. His analysis of the victims' response to the Auschwitz experience is also compelling. This companion volume to Rees's BBC documentary makes the story of Nazi genocide accessible to a wide audience.-Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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