Concentration camp: The term concentration camp has variedly been conceptualized and understood differently depending on the context of use. However, Anna Kozirog et al. (172) define concentration camp as an area a government forces individuals to live without trial. Concentration camps, in other words, is a confine for a group of individuals whom the government does not like or enemies of the state in times of war. It implies a place where people are securely kept. The main idea behind concentration camps was to sequester people who were not found guilty of any crime. The book, Saving Lives in Auschwitz by Ewa Bacon extends the understanding of concentration camps but at the same time, challenges the origin of the term as used by the author.
From the definition, a concentration camp and its primary purpose differ from that of a prison. Primarily, a prison holds lawfully convicted individuals. The two are not similar and should not be used interchangeably (MacDonald, Rosner, and Venters 98). According to Ewa Bacon who narrates accounts of Auschwitz survivors, the camp housed a mixture of people convicted of crimes and others forcefully imperiled (mainly Jews) by the Nazi government (Helm 165). To this end, the purpose of concentration camp is controverted thereby raising a concern of whether the place was a concentration camp, a prison or a combination of both.
The book depicts how Nazis subjected Jews and other people (including the old, women and children) to forced labor. The fact that these people were forced to work under severe inhumane conditions takes away the confinement element of concentration centers (Robinson and Picard 241). As such, Nazis’ use of concentration camps challenges the basic understanding of the intentions behind concentration centers which is to hold the enemies of the state during war or terrorism suspects. According to the recounts of the survivors interviewed, a day in Auschwitz was like walking in hellfire and being helpless to do something about it.
Moreover, according to the version of the story by Bacon, on arrival, people were divided into two groups – the healthy, young and fit who could work and women, children, elderly, and the infirm (unable to work). The latter group was taken somewhere else and gassed up while the former was taken to the camp to work resolutely. At this point, this was not just a concentration camp but a place where prisoners were forced to work. Reading further, the prisoners were consistently humiliated and dehumanized. This is not a feature of a concentration camp especially at that point in history.
One can also explore the concept of a concentration camp from a historical point of view. The findings from Van de Poel-Knottnerus and Knottnerus (108-111) apart from concurring with the present knowledge of the phenomenon add more valuable insight into the idea which helps contextualize the term as used in the book. The analysis holds the view that the purpose of a concentration camp for some governments is to subject captives to forced labor or purposefully kill them. Van de Poel-Knottnerus’ and Knottnerus’ (111) views help reinforce the knowledge of a concentration camp from this perspective. The authors go further to give an example of Germany under the Nazis and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
As the term suggests, a concentration camp is a place highly concentrated by people who are criminals or “suspects” to a government especially during war times. This aspect of the camp is portrayed in the book. Despite limited space, Auschwitz was highly populated that the concentration camp could not support sustainable living. It is estimated that more than 1.3 million people were sent to the elaborate camp between 1940 and 1945 (Basic 81). The camp was barely 40 square kilometers. This further demonstrates the extremely harsh conditions in concentration camps. The governments’ intended purpose for such camps is to victimize prisoners.
The book, although not directly,
touches on concentration camps in respect to Auschwitz and depicts different
aspects and primary purpose of a
concentration camp. Aside from the general understanding of what it is, a
concentration camp is used for various
reasons, and two main reasons portrayed
by Ewa Bacon include enslavement and extra judicial killing. It provides a
demonstrative framework for furthering the knowledge on the phenomenon and also
challenging the outlook and belief of what a concentration camp is.
Bacon, Ewa K. Saving Lives in Auschwitz: The Prisoners Hospital in Buna-Monowitz. Purdue University Press, 2017.
Basic, Goran. “Concentration camp rituals: narratives of former Bosnian detainees.” Humanity & Society 41.1 (2017): 73-94.
Helm, Sarah. Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Anchor, 2015.
Katz, Steven T. “The uniqueness of the Holocaust: the historical dimension.” Is the Holocaust Unique?. Routledge, 2018. 55-74.
Koziróg, Anna, et al. “Colonising organisms as a biodegradation factor affecting historical wood materials at the former concentration camp of Auschwitz II–Birkenau.” International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation 86 (2014): 171-178.
MacDonald, Ross, Zachary Rosner, and Homer Venters. “Case series of exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis in the New York City jail system.” The American journal of emergency medicine 32.5 (2014): 466.
Robinson, Mike, and David Picard, eds. Emotion in motion: Tourism, affect and transformation. Routledge, 2016.
Van de Poel-Knottnerus, Frédérique, and J. David Knottnerus. “Disruption and deritualization: Concentration camp internment and the breakdown of social order.” Ritual as a Missing Link. Routledge, 2016. 107-132.