The Theory and Practice of Hell
Eugen Kogon
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Buy *The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them* by Eugen Kogon online

The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them
Eugen Kogon
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
368 pages
September 2006
rated 3 of 5 possible stars
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Many books have been written about the concentration camps, and the prospective buyer might wonder why he should buy and read yet another one. The answer is that in comparison to others, this work is far superior. Yes, it is a gory book, yet it is fascinating. One can only wonder about the Nazi mind and how it functioned when observing their cold methodical methods of murder and tortured prisoner labor. The detailed research that has been done and the first person account from the author cannot be surpassed. What would we know about these camps without victims such as the author or the German’s meticulous recordkeeping?

The author was confined to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and spent over seven years in Nazi prisons and camps. In this book he intended to lay out the structure and social organization, the ritual degradation of prisoners from day one, the relentless daily routine, labor, sanitation, health, physical exercise, discipline, punishment and murder in the camps. He originally tried to avoid a personal account of his activities, but eventually included his strife and relentless efforts to help others. Covering a wide area of atrocities against the Jews, the Gypsies and other “Undesirables”, the author reveals the complete Nazi concentration camp.

Dr. Kogon accomplishes his goal to explain and describe the conditions of Buchenwald and many of the others. The Nazi’s propaganda effort had many Jews believing that they were only going to be jailed from 3 to 6 months, so they put up with a lot and did not rebel, believing that it was just going to be a short period. The real intent of the Third Reich was life imprisonment at hard labor.

After sorting out the disabled and weak, the Germans loaded their prisoners into box cars (150 each) after taking their extra suitcases and bags and transported the prisoners hundreds of miles to the camps without food or water. Next was a long march from the railroad to the camp; if a prisoner stumbled or fell, they were shot immediately. Depending on their total numbers, 10-12 men would be kicked, trounced and shoved into 4 ft by 6 ft. cell, and then the heat was turned up until they passed out and they were unable to fall to the floor. Some were urinated on by the SS guards as a form of humor. The next morning the prisoners were again kicked, punched and prodded as they moved along to various stations for processing.

A personal record was made up for every prisoner, photographs and statements were taken, and their life history was recorded. Later, their birth and marriage certificates would be obtained from their hometowns to check for accuracy and for the record. At the next station came the stripping off of the clothing and the dipping of their bodies into disinfectant that burned their skin. Then they were purposely marched naked through the camp, even in the winter, to degrade them even more. Many died from pneumonia as a result of this march. Next station was the barbershop, where they were shaved bald. Next, clothing of the dead from Auschwitz and other death camps were given to them without regard to size or wear. Many were given wooden Dutch clogs to wear, causing a great deal of pain when they were told to run or walk long distances. Others were given outsized or small shoes to labor in.

Every step of their confinement has been detailed from their morning routines to their very extreme labors under terrible conditions of starvation and extreme thirst. Then, in many cases, a bullet was the final solution. For example, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the camp refused conscription into the German military at the outbreak of the war. Forty were shot and killed as a warning to the others. Of course, it wasn’t only the Witnesses; the Nazi’s were very democratic and fair - they killed anyone and everyone without hesitation, Jews, Poles, Czechs, Gypsies, and homosexuals.

This book must be read by the young to be informed of the atrocities of World War II, and it must be read by older persons who have forgotten the past. Appropriately, in 1905, George Santayana, a Spanish/American philosopher wrote, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Lawrence McMicking, 2006

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