This encyclopedia is the first in a projected multivolume publishing effort by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that aims to become the standard reference work on the persecution, confinement, and death of victims of the National Socialist regime. Already the recipient of numerous awards and praise, the two-part volume draws on the research expertise and archival knowledge of approximately 150 scholars and researchers from North America, Europe, the United Kingdom, and other countries, who are familiar with the historical evolution and functioning of concentration camps. The collective results of their research are intended to answer [End Page 431] some basic questions: “How many camps and ghettos existed? Who ran them? Who were their victims? How long were camps and ghettos in operation, and for what specific purposes?” (xxviv).
The USHMM Encyclopedia is both a reference work and an incomplete inventory. Before work on the volume began, initial estimates of the number of ghettos and camps known to have existed between 1933 and 1945 were between 5,000 and 7,000, although that number has since been revised to 20,000. Volume 1 of the encyclopedia documents just 1,000 of those camps, primarily the “early camps” that Nazi authorities and police established on an improvised basis in the first year of the regime (1933–1934), and the concentration camps and subcamps that operated since 1936 under the control of the SS Business Administration Office (WVHA). Corresponding entries on camps and subcamps provide basic historical information, including dates of operation, kinds of internees and the demographics of inmate population, persecution of inmates, elements of prisoner culture, prosecution of camp personnel, and sources used by the contributors.
The essays by Joseph Robert White and Karin Orth on each camp model (“early” and “WVHA”) are the only extensive analytical statements on the history and interpretation of the camp models’ development. As such, they are essential for readers unfamiliar with the temporal and political evolution of the camp system and its urban geography, as well as the complex administrative procedures. White provides an overview of the emergence of approximately 100 detention facilities and camps (protective custody camps, concentration camps, and torture sites) that were used to terrorize and incarcerate political enemies (mainly Communists) in this period. He argues that the early camps’ locations and inmate demography introduced and legitimized a conveniently ambiguous definition of those deemed outside the national and racial community, which laid the groundwork for radicalization in the future, expanded “concentration camp” phase. White’s essay is part of a broader trend to read these “early camps” as part of a history of the terror and repressive practices of the Nazi regime, evident in the work of Nikolaus Wachsmann and Christian Goeschel, among others.
Karin Orth’s essay details the logistical and ideological emergence of the “National Socialist concentration camp” after 1936, evident particularly in the establishment of Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Mauthausen, and Ravensbrück, as well as the expansion of Dachau. She provides an overview of the perceived exigencies after 1939 that prompted the concentration camp system’s expansion, which, mirroring the Nazi regime’s ideological ambition and economic insecurities, led to increasing numbers of forced laborers and victims of genocide in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek in the second half of the war. Orth’s essay permits a rethinking of the temporal geography of the “Final Solution,” and of the related economic entanglement of war and local genocidal practices in the last years of the war. Far from downsizing the [End Page 432] grand plan for reorganizing Europe’s racial composition and territorial lines in the last year of the war, when defeat seemed imminent, the Nazi regime embarked on mass relocations of victims (e.g., Hungarian Jews), death marches between camps (e.g., after Majdanek was liberated), and increasing the number of prisoners in the concentration...