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The first comprehensive history of the Nazi concentration camps

In a landmark work of history, Nikolaus Wachsmann offers an unprecedented, integrated account of the Nazi concentration camps, from their inception in 1933 through their demise, seventy years ago, in the spring of 1945.

The Third Reich has been studied in more depth than virtually any other period in history, and yet until now there has been no history of the camp system that tells the full story of its broad development and the everyday experiences of its inhabitants—both perpetrators and victims—and all those living in what Primo Levi called “the gray zone.”

In KL, Wachsmann fills this glaring gap in our understanding. He not only synthesizes a new generation of scholarly work, much of it untranslated and unknown outside of Germany, but also presents startling revelations, based on many years of archival research, about the functioning and scope of the camp system. Examining life and death inside the camps and adopting a wider lens to show how the camp system was shaped by changing political, legal, social, economic, and military forces, Wachsmann produces a unified picture of the Nazi regime and its camps that we have never seen before.

A boldly ambitious work of deep importance, KL is destined to be a classic in the history of the twentieth century.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A remarkable achievement. Nikolaus Wachsmann has written the first integrated history of Nazi concentration camps, unifying in a single narrative the policies and measures governing the inception and growth of the system, the context in which the monstrous KL developed, and how each of its stages and facets was recorded and remembered by its victims. The study is essential for a further understanding of the Third Reich.”

    Saul Friedlander, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Years of Extermination

  • “‘The concentration camps embodied the spirit of Nazism like no other institution in the Third Reich,’ writes Wachsmann…and yet there exists no comprehensive analysis of the camp system, its principles and dynamics, or the forces and people that shaped it. Wachsmann, of Birkbeck College, University of London, fills that gap brilliantly. Working from a mass of documentary evidence—some of which was only made available in the last quarter century—and with a corresponding body of first-person accounts, he establishes the camps, referred to as KL (from the German konzentrationslager), at the center of the Nazi terror system…Wachsmann’s exhaustive study will be seen as the authoritative work on the subject.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “A harrowing, thorough study of the Nazi camps that gathers a staggering amount of useful and necessary information on the collective catastrophe. In a tightly organized, systematic narrative, Wachsmann… looks at forces both inside and outside the camps…that reveal the voices of the prisoners and the perpetrators…A comprehensive, encyclopedic work that should be included in the collections of libraries, schools, and other institutions.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Wachsmann probes the latest scholarly work, much of it untranslated and unknown beyond Germany, to clarify not just experiences within the various camps but how the camp system worked as a whole and how it was shaped by ever-shifting political, social, economic, and military considerations. Likely the one book you’ll need on the subject.”

    Library Journal

  • “Wachsmann has written an admirable historical overview of the Nazi concentration camps, effectively combining decades of recent scholarship with his own original research. He captures both the trajectory of dynamic change through which the camp system evolved as well as the experiences and agency—however limited—of the prisoner community. This is an impressive and valuable book.”

    Christopher R. Browning, author of Ordinary Men

  • “It is hard to imagine that Nikolaus Wachsmann’s superb book, surely to become the standard work on Nazi concentration camps, will ever be surpassed. Based on a huge array of widely scattered sources, it is a gripping as well as comprehensive and authoritative study of this grim but highly important topic.”

    Sir Ian Kershaw, author of The End

  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
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About the Author

Nikolaus Wachsmann is a professor of modern European history at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is the author of the prizewinning Hitler’s Prisons and a coeditor of Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany: The New Histories.