Tag Archives: Before Auschwitz

Before Auschwitz


Before Auschwitz –
Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps
By Kim Wunschmann
Harvard University Press – £33.95

So tomorrow, January 20th, we have President (elect) Donald Trump to look forward to.

He, whose parents were members of America’s Klu Klux Klan organisation, will enter what has to be the most powerful office in the world. An ever increasing, wayward world might I add, in which tyrants and terrorists, deprivation and division, continue to make headlines; while those who kneel at the alter of hedge-fund hypocrisy, continue to succeed in keeping it that way.

It’s as if the populace of the so-called intelligent species, has learnt absolutely nothing.

Nic that is, other than:
a) wholeheartedly know how to turn away when someone else is in need (as in the cold, blooded murder of the MP, Jo Cox – who, as she lay on the ground being to stabbed to death, hordes of people did absolutely nothing because they far were too busy filming her murder on their mobile phones)
b) wholeheartedly embrace the dictum: what’s in it for me?

Just two exceedingly valid reasons why people need to at least be made aware of January 27th, Holocaust Memorial Day, to comprehend an iota of where blatant ignorance can lead. In a word, Trump., in anther word., ISIS., in another (chilling yet infamous) word, Auschwitz.

The world would indeed be wise to take note of Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners In The Prewar Concentration Camps, which pioneers the formulaic and prerequisite ideological stance of nationally condoned suffering, barbarity and murder.

The book’s six chapters, Introduction and Conclusion, compellingly unearths the little-known origins of the concentration camp system in the years leading up to the Second World War, and reveals the instrumental role of these extralegal detention centres in the development of Nazi policies towards Jews (and its eventual plans to create a racially pure Third Reich): ”First of all, a historical study of the imprisonment of Jews before 1939 demands an understanding of the period in its own right. The concentration camps of the pre-war era were different from the wartime camps. They had different forms and different functions. Simply to place them into a seemingly linear development of Nazi anti-Jewish policy […] would miss the particularity of the pre-war period. The development that ultimately culminated in genocide on an unprecedented scale was neither preordained nor the direct result of a single man’s long-standing fantasies. Karl Schleunes’s concept of ”the twisted road to Auschwitz” is more apposite, helping us to grasp a process of gradual development in response to outside influences and internal power rivalries, a process that, at each stage, might have pointed to a different destination.”

A different destination indeed, which, from the relative comfort of hindsight, is all too easy say, come to terms with, and ultimately assimilate. But these 235 pages (not including Appendix: SS Ranks and U.S. Army Equivalents, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index) really ought to shunt hindsight unto the Rose Garden of The White House – for all the world’s media to witness on a regular basis.

If not the Oval Office itself, although, knowing Trump, he’d probably deny the fact that The Holocaust ever took place.

In investigating more than a dozen camps, from Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen to less familiar sites, authoress Kim Wunschmann uncovers a process of terror designed to identify and isolate German Jews, primarily from 1933 to 1939. During this period, shocking accounts of camp life filtered through to the German population, sending the preposterous message that Jews were different from true Germans: they were portrayed as dangerous to associate with and fair game for barbaric acts of intimidation and violence.

The latter of which is rather like Brexit’s reaction to non-Englanders, only on a far bigger, far more criminal level. But hey, it’s still early days.
And tomorrow we have Trump, to look forward to.

As Robert Gellately, author of Stalin’s Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War has written, Before Auschwitz is ”an impressive, well-written study of a little-known chapter in the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Wunschmann has carried out prodigious archival research, unearthing all kinds of interesting and troubling material, particularly on the fate of Jewish citizens who were sent to the camps without trial and held without rights in what the police euphemistically called ‘protective custody.’ Her book will certainly find a wide readership.”

Here’s hoping it will, because it’s outwardly brave, memorably brazen and overtly bodacious.

David Marx


The Sphinx


The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, The Isolationists, and the Road to World War II
By Nicholas Wapshott
Norton & Company – £18.99

As is always the case with any book that honestly addresses America’s isolationism during the first half of the twentieth century, there is always going to be some sort of eye opening consternation. An inevitable revelation so recondite, but not necessarily surprising, that is capable of making one re-assess ones’ own beliefs, if not myopic, pre-ordained knowledge.

In this instance, I refer to that extraordinary cartoonist and cultural icon; yet resoundingly, politically naïve film producer, Walt Disney. A nigh brand name if not phenomenon, who in the past at least, many held responsible for bequeathing a horribly tarnished world with a child-like sense of profound innocence and wonderment. Although The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, The Isolationists, and the Road to World War II by Nicholas Wapshott (a truly fascinating book) sheds colossal new light on Disney, among others, as well as an entire era. An entire continent.

The so-called New World, which readily subscribes to the ideology known as the inexorable pursuit of happiness, has always catered for many an individual renowned for appalling isolationism and despicable anti-Semitism. The car-manufacturer, Henry Ford, was one, Walt Disney, another. This is glaringly brought to bear in the seventh chapter of this audacious book (‘Kristallnacht’), where, writing of Leni Riefenstahl – who was in America at the time to promote Olympia, the ”elegiac movie account of the Nazi 1936 Olympics” – the author writes: ”One who welcomed Riefenstahl was Walt Disney. As Riefenstahl recalled:

”In Hollyood, naturally, I ran into resistance from the Jews who, on my arrival, had already published a giant advertisement in several newspapers that – under the headline ”There is no place in Hollywood for Fraulein Riefenstahl” – demanded a boycott against me. Numerous American film directors didn’t care to receive me because of their financial dependence on the Jewish moneymen.

An honourable exception, Walt Disney, creator of Snow White, warmly welcomed me and and showed me his extensive studios and even his latest work. It was gratifying to learn how thoroughly proper Americans distance themselves from the smear campaign of the Jews.”

”Smear campaign”?
Was Riefenstahl (that) delusional?
Did Riefenstahl really not not know, just what was taking place within the unbelievably dire parameters of Nazi Germany?

Suffice to say, it’s much easier to write with the benefit of hindsight, but by November 1938, thousands of Jews within Germany and Austria, had already been deported to such early concentration camps as Oranienburg, Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen – without trial – where literally thousands were brutally tortured and murdered. For more information and confirmation, one need only read the recently published, excellent Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners in the Pre-war Concentration Camps by Kim Wunschmann (Harvard University Press).

That said, Wapshott’s The Sphinx is a very thorough, meticulously researched and more than readable account of a particularly turbulent time in America’s far from easy history. From the ‘New Dealers’ to ‘Peace In Our Time,’ ‘Third Term Fever’ to ‘The Battle of Britain,’ ‘Barbarossa’ to Isolationism Redux,’ the former editor of the London Times has herein written what many might consider to be an altogether timely book; especially given America’s current reluctance to supply The Kurds with the modern weaponry they so desperately need in their, and the world’s fight, against the Islamic State.

An utterly in-human organisation, who to my mind, are up there with the Nazis.

David Marx