From Publishers Weekly
In 1942 the liquidation of the Jewish-Polish ghetto of Wierzbnik sent 4,000 Jews to their deaths in Treblinka and enslaved another 1,600 at factory camps in the nearby town of Starachowice. Wierzbnik at its peak had 5,400 Jews, of whom 600 to 700 survived the war, and half of these left testimonies in memoirs or others forms. National Jewish Book Award–winning historian Browning (The Origins of the Final Solution
) bases his study primarily on survivor testimonies from the slave-labor camps at the Starachowice factory. Willi Althoff, the first commander of factory security whose killings of Jews were theatrically staged and who killed all Jews infected with typhus, was succeeded by pragmatist Kurt Baumgarten, who preferred keeping workers alive to increase factory production and line his pockets by extorting. Nuanced survivor accounts from live interviews, memoirs and archived accounts depicts some Ukrainian guards as sadistic anti-Semites while others were lenient, well-behaved, or corruptible. As the Soviets approached, the Germans deported the slaves to Auschwitz-Birkenau before retreating. Although too specialized for the casual reader, Browning's authoritative, lucid, and subtly analyzed microhistory of a relatively obscure area of Holocaust history will be of considerable value to scholars. 10 photos, maps. (Jan.)
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Browning, professor of history at the University of North Carolina, profiled the motivations and actions of German death squads in eastern Europe in his celebrated, Ordinary Men (1992). Here, he concentrates on another, less-publicized aspect of the Holocaust, the German system of slave-labor camps. Spurred on by the acquittal of the man responsible for sending many Polish Jews to these camps in a German court in 1972, Browning began a comprehensive investigation, relying heavily upon the testimonies of survivors from the Starachowice camp in central Poland. Browning is a meticulous and disciplined researcher, and he strives to filter out what he views as unreliable testimony. What emerges is a highly credible and deeply shocking account of a slave-labor camp where the cruelty and brutality is comparable to the more publicized extermination camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz. Inmates were regarded as expendable material to be kept alive at a level only adequate enough to perform work duties. They were starved, beaten, and subject to daily terrors and humiliations. This is an excellent addition to the field of Holocaust studies. --Jay Freeman