Cataloguing the 'Missed Destiny of Death'

Volume II of a Holocaust Encyclopedia Runs 2,000 Pages

‘Staggering’ Work: The U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new volume of its Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos is an impressive compendium of research.
‘Staggering’ Work: The U.S. Holocaust Museum’s new volume of its Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos is an impressive compendium of research.

By Lawrence L. Langer

Published April 19, 2012.
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Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II
Edited by Martin Dean
Geoffrey P. Megargee, General Editor
Indiana University Press, 2,036 pages, $236

Over the past two decades, a number of essential works have contributed to both our knowledge of the Nazi regime during World War II and its plans to conquer Europe and eventually murder all the Jews under its control. These works include Raul Hilberg’s path-breaking “The Destruction of the European Jews” (three-volume revised edition), Saul Friedlander’s two-volume “Nazi Germany and the Jews,” Richard J. Evans’s three-volume history of the Third Reich, Christopher R. Browning’s “The Origins of the Final Solution” and, most recently, Daniel Blatman’s detailed account of the closing phase of the Jewish catastrophe, “The Death Marches.”

But equal praise and attention must be granted to the scholars and editors whose diligence and persistence produced the first volumes of an ongoing project from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, appearing under the general title of “Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945.” The initial volume (2009) was devoted to “Early Camps, Youth Camps, and Concentration Camps and Subcamps,” several of which eventually became the sites of extermination centers where nearly two-thirds of European Jewry were murdered.

Read the Forward’s story by Robert Zaretsky about new biographies of Hitler and Himmler.

The first volume of the encyclopedia contained brief essays not only on familiar names like Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and Treblinka, but also on countless little-known locales where Jews were gathered with minimal provisions for food and housing to labor for the war economy of the Third Reich. Places like Dachau and Buchenwald had more than 100 sub-camps each, which, in a monumental triumph of scholarly investigation, finally emerged from anonymity in the earlier volume to assume their legitimate place in the history of the Holocaust.

Now, we are presented with the results of an equally staggering achievement. Volume II of the series, just published, is devoted to “Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe,” and at around 2,000 pages it’s an even more impressive compendium of scholarly research and editorial enterprise than Volume I. Without the efforts of this consortium of international contributors, most of these places — “How many people would guess,” as the preface asks us, “that the Germans alone set up more than 1,100” of them? — might have disappeared from historical memory and slipped into oblivion.


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