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Browning, Christopher R.

Remembering survival. Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp

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.

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