A scholarly, nuanced micro history of a Nazi slave-labor camp.
Browning (History/Univ. of North Carolina; The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939–March 1942) systematically relates how the Jews of Wierzbnik became the property of the SS, slaves who were rented out as laborers in the neighboring camp of Starachowice. Despite the humiliations, physical abuse, bondage and murder, the war-supply camp was, for a while, a haven for those with work papers. Then there was the local killing Aktion one day in October 1942, and, though the destruction of Nazi human property might have been against state interest, there were many wanton shootings just for sport. A few comparatively decent overseers notwithstanding, the Jews faced the brutal police chief Walter Becker (who was acquitted of war crimes in 1972), the dangerous Ukrainian guards and the Polish partisans. Ultimately, thousands of Jews were transported by rail from Starachowice to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination. Browning methodically narrates the tale on a survivor-by-survivor basis. His trenchant, relentless exposition shows how the camp was truly exceptional in its evil efficiency. The text is all the more powerful because the author avoids dramatization or overwrought polemics. A coda describes the rigged postwar trial of Becker and the egregious miscarriage of justice that outraged the author and provoked his study.
An important addition to Holocaust studies, evoking the small band of survivors who remembered.