Using the violence in Nazi concentration and death camps as its case study, this article explores the theoretical and empirical limits of the concept of dehumanization—the process by which the perpetrators come to perceive their victims as "not human" or "subhuman"—and delineates appropriate alternatives to the concept. The author argues that excessive violence is commonly misunderstood and misrepresented as dehumanization because it seems to aim at effacing the victim's human appearance. Yet, it is more accurate to see such violence as a ploy to extend the perpetrator's sense of power over another human being; it is precisely the human quality of the interaction that provides the violence with much of its meaning. The argument has a moral edge, demonstrating that the concept ultimately reduces, or displaces, the true horror of the killer-victim interaction.


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pp. 225-246
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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