The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945
Volume III: Camps and Ghettos under European Regimes Aligned with Nazi Germany
- ISBN: 9780253023735
- Published By: University of Indiana Press
- Published: April 2018
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume III is part of a planned seven-volume encyclopedia set. This volume focuses on concentration camps, ghettos, and detention sites located in countries which aligned themselves with Nazi Germany. Edited by the late Geoffrey P. Megargee (1959–2020) and Joseph White, the volume includes Nazi allies, satellite states, and collaborationist regimes with sections on Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France/Vichy, Vichy Africa, Hungary, Italy and Italian-occupied territories, Norway, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Tunisia. Providing details on the many small and relatively unknown camps and ghettos scattered throughout Europe which were not under direct German control, this volume draws attention to hundreds of previously unknown and obscure sites.
The stated goal of the encyclopedia is “to provide as much basic information as possible about each site” (XXV). Each section begins with an introductory essay that provides a general overview of the country’s camp system and maps showing the locations of the sites. An alphabetical listing of the sites with details, sources, and notes follows. Sources are given to encourage and facilitate further research on them. The sections vary in length from just a few pages to 260 pages (on Romania). Other than Romania, the longest sections are dedicated to France (140 pages), Italy (ninety pages), and Hungary (eighty-six pages). The shortest sections, under ten pages each, are on Finland, Norway, Serbia, and Tunisia.
In order to create a sense of consistency, contributors were asked to answer specific questions about aspects of each site including its history, purpose, demographics, prisoner culture, and the circumstances of its dissolution. At times, this creates a feeling of repetition as one reads through the entries because the camps and ghettos of each country often followed similar patterns. In a way, repetition shows the imitative and consistent nature of camps and ghettos in each state.
Reading through this volume conveys a sense of how vast and extensive the camp and ghettos systems were, even in countries not under direct German occupation, and demonstrates the widespread willingness of regimes to imprison and persecute their “enemies.” It highlights how camps and ghettos functioned differently depending on the specific history and ethnic makeup of each state, the degree of Nazi control and influence, military and political developments, the goals of the regimes, and the attitudes of the local population.
Several trends, insights, and conclusions emerge. First, this encyclopedia shows ghettos were a more widespread phenomenon than was previously thought. While the ghettos of Poland, the occupied Soviet Union, and the temporary ghettos in Hungary are widely known and studied, the large number of ghettos in Romania and temporary ghettos in Bulgaria have received much less attention. Here, they are identified, documented, and fully described—thus widening our understanding of ghettos and how they functioned.
Also shown is the diversity of types of camps and detention centers through the inclusion of forced labor camps, Prisoner of War camps, Roma camps, internment camps, transit camps, prisons, and temporary holding centers. The widely divergent ways prisoners were treated is also revealed with living conditions ranging from unhygienic, disease-ridden pigsties with no access to even the most basic life necessities in Romania’s Transnistria to facilities with electricity, running water, mess halls, decent work opportunities, and even some freedom of mobility in a handful of Italian camps.
In presenting the detailed history of hundreds of sites, some common myths are dispelled. For example, Bulgaria’s reputation as a country which rescued its Jews is challenged by descriptions of the harsh treatment of Jews in Bulgarian labor camps and the regime’s determination to deport its Jews. While the shifting calculus of the war ultimately saved the Jews of old Bulgaria from extermination, most Jews of the annexed territories were deported to Treblinka where they were killed on arrival.
Though gender was not one of the topics that the contributors were specifically asked to address, details emerge throughout the volume regarding gender-specific experiences in camps and ghettos. While the Ravensbrück and Moringen women’s camps in Germany are known and have received scholarly attention, several lesser-known special camps and detention sites for women and children scattered across Nazi-dominated Europe are documented. These include the Dakovo and Loborgrad camps in Croatia (53, 71), La Lande in Vichy (157), the Hotel de Bompard in Marseille (174), the Casacalenda, Pollenza, Solofra, and Treia camps in Italy (414, 450, 462, 466), and Bojkova in Slovakia (854). There were also camps that held only women and children for part of their existence and some that exclusively detained Jewish men (Sidi Azaz for example, 529).
Separation of men and women into different camps or sections of camps, rape and sexual abuse, and humiliating searches of body cavities occurred across these states and their sites. The treatment and abuse of Jewish women is shown to have been particularly brutal in Hungary with account after account of women undergoing excessively intrusive body and cavity searches for hidden valuables, rapes, and beatings. For example, Vera Brent, a survivor of the Pécs ghetto and entrainment center, testified “that a female nurse or midwife conducted her ‘examination,’ which left her bleeding and traumatized” (367).
The volume also raises awareness of the especially harsh conditions and excesses and primitive nature of the Romanian camps and ghettos, particularly those in the eastern part of the Golta district (named Transnistria’s “kingdom of death” by scholars). For example, the Acmecetca camp, the first listing in the section on Romania, was established on a pig farm encircled by three rows of barbed wire and deep trenches and guarded by police and dogs. Jews were kept in dark and dirty pigsties frequently deprived of food and medical assistance. “Starvation and disease resulting from a lack of hygiene claimed the lives of most deportees. People died every day in the camp. Before dying, many spent weeks lying on the pigsty floor (there were no beds) without the ability to move or defecate” (588). This is just one of many similar examples.
Finally, this volume sheds light on the diversity of what camps and ghettos looked like and how they functioned. In addition to providing readers with access to information on hundreds of sites and sources for further research, this work expands our understanding of camps and ghettos and the roles they played throughout Nazi-dominated Europe. The book is intended for researchers as well as for anyone looking for information about particular sites and their place in the country’s detention system.
Alison Rose is adjunct professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Rhode Island and adjunct faculty in religion and philosophy at Capital University.Alison RoseDate Of Review:April 1, 2022