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"What we are seeing in this project is that all of Europe was a camp."
June 3, 2009 8:07 PM   Subscribe

"What we are seeing in this project is that all of Europe was a camp." The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum just released the first volume of a projected seven-volume Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. "They assumed the finished work would be massive, featuring a staggering 5,000 to 7,000 camps and ghettos. They underestimated by 15,000." posted by kirkaracha (23 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It figures, Europeans have all the fun. While we Americans were off fighting WWII, they were all camping.
posted by mullingitover at 8:25 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Shapiro says that the sheer number of camps may end one of the lingering protestations surrounding the Holocaust -- that ordinary people knew nothing of the killing underway in their locales."

Devastating.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:35 PM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Because there's a prison / holding area in town, you know they are killing people there?
posted by smackfu at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was watching the Reader just yesterday and one of the bit players claimed everyone knew about the camps and what was going on inside them. I had always thought it was a well-kept secret until after D Day.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:42 PM on June 3, 2009


I also think the article (and Shapiro) is fast and loose switching between referring to "death camps" vs "camps/ghettos".
posted by smackfu at 8:45 PM on June 3, 2009


Because there's a prison / holding area in town, you know they are killing people there?

People didn't want to know. And so they didn't.

I also think the article (and Shapiro) is fast and loose switching between referring to "death camps" vs "camps/ghettos".

What's the difference? The mortality rates in the ghettos were quite high.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 PM on June 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was watching the Reader just yesterday and one of the bit players claimed everyone knew about the camps and what was going on inside them. I had always thought it was a well-kept secret until after D Day.

Major Canadian and American Jewish organizations knew in 1942. See Jonathan D. Sarna's American Judaism and Frank Bialystok's Delayed Impact: The Holocaust and the Canadian Jewish Community. If Canada knew, I doubt nations more directly involved didn't.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:23 PM on June 3, 2009


"People didn't want to know. And so they didn't."

And most still don't.
To an extent, I understand that. I was exposed to one of those famous pictures while I was leafing through a book when I was six years old. I was in terror for a couple of days.

"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
- Nietzsche
posted by Twang at 10:16 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also think the article (and Shapiro) is fast and loose switching between referring to "death camps" vs "camps/ghettos".

As I've mentioned before, I've given talks of my Sarajevan war experiences alongside Holocaust survivors. One of the more interesting things I've learned from them is that the not-knowingness of the ghettos was, for many, a much worse experience than the death camps, where the relative "certainty" of death made life more precious and made moral issues clearer - on some level of stress, it was a weird kind of liberation to move from ghetto to death camp. Never having experienced a death camp myself (but having experienced something quite like a 'ghetto'), I can't say for sure, but I think I understand the sentiment exactly. When you're forced into a small enclosed space with no real hope of leaving, bullied and starved and frozen and filthy - and people dying around you, from violence, disease and hunger . . . you soon lose the luxury that would allow you to parse any meaningful difference between "ghetto" and "death camp."
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:22 PM on June 3, 2009 [11 favorites]


Because there's a prison / holding area in town, you know they are killing people there?

what, you think they were throwing parties there?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:32 PM on June 3, 2009


The ghettoes were basically holding cells for the camps. And as Dee says, in many cases they weren't much better. I'd dig up links, but I don't really feel like justifying the point that the Holocaust was beyond awful.
posted by lunasol at 11:19 PM on June 3, 2009


KokuRyu: "People didn't want to know. And so they didn't."


Just over half of Americans Germans say torture death camps is are justified in some cases to thwart terrorist attacks the Zionist conspiracy. - Associated Press Der Stürmer
posted by Joe Beese at 4:59 AM on June 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'd be interested in finding out what percent of the population was in camps. We all know that one percent of Americans are in jail right now, and it doesn't seem to really be a big moral concern in mainstream discourse. In fact, in my experience, people hardly ever talk about it, they just go on with their lives as if everything were normal. According to this Jewish people accounted for less than one percent of the total population of Germany in 1933, so the majority of Germans probably wouldn't have to try very hard to ignore what was happening.
posted by creasy boy at 5:56 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


People didn't want to know. And so they didn't.

In Germany and the occupied countries, I think people pretty much knew, though there was always a little bit of refusing to name it directly. They even made jokes about it -- I saw (maybe from a MeFi link? maybe one about the use of TV by the Reich?) just the other week archival footage of one of the top Nazis making a ha-ha in a televised speech where he jokingly started to say "exterminate" and then -- nudge nudge wink wink -- said "deport." People knew, even if they didn't want to name the thing directly.

And it wasn't some closely-held secret in the US, either, though it was often dismissed as leftist propaganda and exaggerations. Here's an Alice Neel painting from 1936 showing a communist march in New York City, with signs saying "Nazis Murder Jews," for example; I know that there were speaking tours and activism and all the usual ways people try to attract attention to a cause. But again, there was a very strong reluctance to name things directly, and both a widely shared antisemitism and strong pro-German lobbying, that made it really easy to know on one level that things were bad, and at the same time put that knowledge aside completely.
posted by Forktine at 6:01 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Victor Klemperer's diaries offer good anecdotal evidence of what "ordinary" Germans knew.
posted by orrnyereg at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2009


I'm pretty sure that this is the FPP I am thinking of.
posted by Forktine at 6:52 AM on June 4, 2009


Anyway, I don't think it really matters how much people knew about the killing in the camps. That started in, what, 1942? In 1932 you knew that the Nazis were racist, anti-Semitic, violent, anti-democratic, authoritarian, militaristic, etc., and if you voted for them I think that pretty much makes you morally culpable for everything that happened afterwards. In 1933 you knew that they overturned the democratic order. 1934-6 you knew they were closing Jewish businesses, stealing Jewish property, and moving Jews into ghettos. 1939 you knew they started a pretty unreasonable war against, oh, the entire world pretty much...and started putting Jews in all the occupied areas of Europe into "work camps", along with Communists, Roma and Sinti, etc. There were so many levels of fuckedness in the regime, if you had even a passing knowledge of just about anything then you knew that to collaborate with the Nazis was to be complicit in a great evil. By the time 1942 rolled around, what you knew was pretty much irrelevant. What would you do at that point, resign your party membership? Send a nasty letter to the local paper?
posted by creasy boy at 7:01 AM on June 4, 2009


Because there's a prison / holding area in town, you know they are killing people there?

Exactly. I understand the equation of ghetto/death camp for our purposes here, and think it's probably valid to some extent. But I think we can just look at ourselves today to point out that people very likely did not know what was going on in there: if there is a state or federal prison near you, do you know right now, without looking it up, whether that institution has a "death row" and carries out capital punishment or not (think death camp)?

What I'm saying is that we all know it's awful in prisons regardless of whether people are being killed (think 'mere' ghetto), but do you know if it's one of the "bad ones" where they kill people? I'll bet very few of us do.

If not, why haven't you gone out of your way to find out, when it's available right on the Internet? I think we can cut many WWII Europeans the same slack.
posted by resurrexit at 7:15 AM on June 4, 2009


I don't know, resurrexit - on the one hand, you're talking about a facility to hold criminals (some falsely convicted, to be sure), where, undoubtedly, the conditions are lamentable and the very infrastructure is broken.

On the other hand, we're talking about a camp at which train-fuls of people arrive everyday (in the thousands) for the express purpose of being exterminated. Between the rot, the ash, and the smoke, I'm sure the stench was unmistakable for miles around
posted by fingers_of_fire at 7:52 AM on June 4, 2009


I can't recall the name of the program I saw, but it basically showed that even when a couple of Jewish prisoners escaped from a death camp and reported on what was happening, no one believed them.
posted by bwg at 8:56 AM on June 4, 2009


on the one hand, you're talking about a facility to hold criminals (some falsely convicted, to be sure), where, undoubtedly, the conditions are lamentable and the very infrastructure is broken.

That's the kind of newly discovered camp that the article is talking about: "In most towns, there was some sort of prison, or holding area or place where people were victimized"
posted by smackfu at 9:02 AM on June 4, 2009


Germany's Jewish population was 565,000 in 1933. In 1950, it was 37,000.

Ask MetaFilter: When did America Know About the Holocaust?
posted by kirkaracha at 9:23 AM on June 4, 2009


Thanks for the post. This is vitally important work: before the evidence disappears, the full extent of the crimes needs to be documented and nailed down so only the most blinkered bigot can deny it. (It's interesting that parallel work in the former Soviet Union has produced similar results—there were more camps, hoding areas, prisons, and other Gulag facilities than we can easily imagine, and in the same sense as here, all of the USSR was a camp.)
posted by languagehat at 12:42 PM on June 4, 2009


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