- Holocaust Landscapes by Tim Cole
During the Holocaust both rural and urban environments were irreversibly altered to accommodate camps, ghettos, and infrastructure. Many landscapes became killing and burial sites, hiding places, spaces of resistance and refuge, or de facto instruments of torture. Tim Cole’s Holocaust Landscapes skilfully presents this “place-making event” (p. 2) through a spatial lens in order to analyze the places that were inhabited or created as a result of Nazi persecution. Building upon work centered on Holocaust geographies and archaeologies—much of which has emerged over the last decade— Holocaust Landscapes offers novel perspectives regarding the ways in which the Nazis’ victims were affected by, and influenced, the places they encountered.
The book follows a geographic and broadly temporal structure. It begins and ends with the notion of leaving/returning, commencing in 1938 with Kristallnacht and early attempts to attack the Jewish population (chapter 2), and culminating with discussions of events in 1945, the liberation of the camps, and the collapse of the Nazi regime. The places discussed in the chapters in between represent the diverse landscapes where the Holocaust was perpetrated and experienced: ghettos, forests, camps, trains, attics, cellars, mountains, seas, rivers, roads. Although Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, and the Warsaw ghetto feature, lesser-known sites and typologies beyond camp and ghetto allow us to see past familiar tropes. The very order of the chapters mirrors the movement of genocide across Europe, from West to East and back again. Cole reminds us that “instead of viewing the Holocaust as a single, monolithic event, rather different genocides were enacted in different places, at different times across the course of the war” (p. 2).
Avoiding dry, architectural history, Cole has expertly interwoven the stories of those who experienced the places he describes, connecting the reader to the people who experienced events. Every chapter draws upon survivor testimonies to build a compelling—albeit disturbing—narrative of place and event. Chapter 2, “Prologue: Returning Home/Leaving Home,” unpacks the context of relationships with home during the early years of Nazi domination. Here we meet Gerda Blachman as she negotiates the route home to Breslau from her Munich boarding school in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. Through Gerda’s story, that of her family, and others, Cole illustrates how a “sense of violation” inhered in the destruction of the built environment—in this case homes, businesses, and synagogues. For many, the destruction of place proved they needed to leave their homes—even their countries. In fact, such acts of cultural genocide often predicted physical genocide. [End Page 432]
A theme first introduced in this chapter figures as well in the next (on the ghettos): the shifting scale of the Holocaust. For many, persecution began (and in some cases continued) within their homes, cities, towns, and villages, and their experiences were defined by confinement in these spaces. Others fell under a different modus operandi of the Nazis and their collaborators: separation from their homes and traversal of the continent. These extremes of scale appear in the story of Janina Bauman and her family (chapter 3, p. 21), and present both the vast scale and architecture of the Warsaw ghetto and the micro-environment within one family’s apartment. The themes of hiding and escape permeate most of the chapters: be it in the mental map by which Mary Berg avoided those areas of the Warsaw ghetto plagued by typhus (p. 40), or the manner by which Menachem Katz exploited the terrain along the edges of forests to evade capture (p. 56). Chapter 4 shows us how individuals and groups negotiate forests (which carried the risk of capture but also offered the opportunity to find safety—even family members hid there too). Vast, forests might yet represent confined spaces as fugitives attempted to avoid detection.
Although life within a forest—or, as we see in chapter 7, in attics, cellars, and other hiding spaces—effectively limited direct engagement with the Nazi regime, Cole notes that “to be in hiding was to be far from free” (p. 147). Cole presents in detail the...