THE ORDER OF TERROR by Wolfgang Sofsky

THE ORDER OF TERROR

The Concentration Camp
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Sociology from hell: a thorough study of the harrowing dynamics of terror, violence, and absolute power in the Nazi concentration camps. Sofsky's (Sociology/Univ. of Gottingen) impeccably researched study focuses on the structuring of space, time, and sociality in Nazi concentration, labor, and extermination camps. Sofsky begins by classifying the thousands of camp and ghetto facilities, largely by the intent of the planners. In some, inmates lived to do specific work, but in others they worked merely because they were not yet dead. Sofsky offers both detailed descriptions of the camps and powerful quotes from survivors; his portrait offers unique insights into the physical and psychological effects of, for instance, the experience of sharing tiers of wooden bunk beds with other work-exhausted skeletons, and of everyday life in these horrific, carefully zoned landscapes of ``survival, dying, and killing.'' While some of this reads like industrial psychology, Sofsky's most significant chapters illuminate with great clarity the social patterns of the camps. While the SS bureaucracy is carefully outlined, emphasis is placed on the kapos, overseers, and German guards at the camps. Without apologizing for their behavior, the author places kapos and other collaborating inmates among the victims: ``One can hardly imagine a greater power than that which transforms victims into accessories to their own execution.'' Those kapos who most often resorted to kicks and blows are seen as the most vulnerable, the ones who had to constantly prove that they were indispensable to their superiors. Rather than simply dismissing camp personnel as gleeful sadists, Sofsky explains how the social dynamics and design of the camps encouraged innate tendencies for mayhem on the part of the lower layers of the power elite. ``The more dead bodies subculture members could chalk up, the greater was their fame; the more adroit and imaginative their brutality, the higher their rankings in the group pecking order.'' A detailed, rigorous sociological analysis of the incomprehensible.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-691-04354-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1996




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