6. Visualizing the Archive: Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The SS transformation of Oświęcim into KL Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz  II), and Monowitz (Auschwitz III) has a well-known history. Its roots extend back to Heinrich Himmler’s control over the prewar concentration camp system, in which he emphasized the system’s capacity to utilize forced labor simultaneous with oppression.1 After the war broke out in September 1939, the SS also developed ambitions at Oś­więcim to extend its empire and support the military cause. With the Soviet campaign in 1941 and Nazi leaders’ decision to kill all European Jews, SS concentration camps played 6 Visualizing the Archive Building at Auschwitz as a Geographic Problem Paul B. Jaskot, Anne Kelly Knowles, and Chester Harvey, with Benjamin Perry Blackshear 159 an increasingly brutal role in both the exploitation of labor and genocide , none more infamously than Auschwitz. Furthermore, due to its provision of forced labor for the IG Farben plant as well as its central geographic location in Nazi-controlled Europe, Auschwitz was a linchpin in carrying out the racist imperialist ideals at the heart of Hitler’s military drive.2 Crucial, of course, to these transformations was the construction of the appropriate built environment. In particular, from late 1942 through the spring of 1943, the design process for the planned development of the city of Auschwitz beyond the walls of the camp as well as the SS area of interest reached a fever pitch, involving multiple institutions in the finalization of hundreds of individual structures and the site as a whole. Hans Stosberg, a freelance architect commissioned by the Reich Ministry of Labor, finalized his plan of the city by January 1943 (see figure 6.1). On May 13, 1943, Stosberg met with SS officials to discuss how his proposal for the city meshed with Untersturmführer and architect Lothar Hartjenstein’s 1942 plans for the SS-specific areas, including the concentration camp complex at Auschwitz (see figure 6.2). After this meeting, with few changes, the major design developments of the physical plan for the city of Auschwitz and the vast SS concentration camp were set; the ideal form was ready for construction.3 By their very nature, however, ideal plans, even brutal ones backed by a vast military apparatus, are never fully realized. The plans visualized the perpetrators’ fantastically ambitious conception of the camp and the transformation of the surrounding city into a functioning monument to German empire in the East. However, a vast body of evidence reveals how the organization and uses of space at Auschwitz diverged from the 1943 plan. Significant portions of this evidence are visual. For example, photographs taken of the arrival of Hungarian Jews in 1944 show awkward juxtapositions of people and structures, mud-filled spaces , and unruly groups of figures that belie the order and visual unity of the plans, even as they also express elements of the same imperialist conception of Auschwitz that inspired both Stosberg and Hartjenstein.4 The photos and the plans are part of the extensive visual material that documents SS goals and actions at this concentration, labor, and death camp. They also highlight the spaces in which SS visions and ideas were put into action, both those that were imagined at the scale of the city and camp as well as those that were experienced at the level of the individual human being. Yet the standard chronology of the physical development of the camp points to a significant gap in our understanding of Auschwitz: namely, what happened between the finalization of plans for the spaces Jaskot, Knowles, and Harvey, with Blackshear 160 of genocide and the ultimate use of those spaces, as exemplified by the SS urban schemes, on the one hand, and the photographs of Hungarian Jews, on the other? Did the material creation of the structures that were crucial to linking the ideal plan to the implementation of the racist goals play a significant role? From May 1943 to February 1944, the SS focused on constructing the physical infrastructure of genocide 6.1. Detail from Hans Stosberg’s design for the urban environment of the city of Auschwitz (1943). Note the train-station plaza, upper left, with newly designed road into the city. The ghostly hatching in the lower left indicates the location of the Auschwitz I main camp. Courtesy Niels Gutschow. Visualizing the Archive 161 and imperialism. How fully were the plans realized? How exactly did ideology translate into function – or was the translation imperfect or incomplete ? What were...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- History -- Case studies.
  • Historical geography -- Europe -- Case studies.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities -- Case studies.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access