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Inside Concentration Camps: Social Life at the Extremes




Inside Concentration Camps: Social Life at the Extremes

Maja Suderland

ISBN: 978-0-745-66336-4 December 2013 Polity 300 Pages


Terror was central to the Nazi regime, and the Nazi concentration camps were places of horror where prisoners were dehumanized and robbed of their dignity and where millions were murdered. How did prisoners cope with the brutal and degrading conditions of life within the camps?

In this highly original book Maja Suderland takes the reader inside the concentration camps and examines the everyday social life of prisoners - their daily activities and routines, the social relationships and networks they created and the strategies they developed to cope with the harsh conditions and the brutality of the guards. Without overlooking the violence of the camps, the contradictions of camp life or the elusive complexity of the multicultural prisoner society, Suderland explores the hidden social practices that enabled prisoners to preserve their human dignity and create a sense of individuality and community despite the appalling circumstances.

This remarkable account of social life in extreme conditions will be of great interest to students and scholars in history, sociology and the social sciences generally, as well as to a wider readership interested in the Holocaust and the concentration camps.
Foreword by Beate Krais
Translator’s note
A. Introduction
1. Topic and research question
2. The ‘Third Reich’ and the Nazi concentration camps
2.1. The establishment of the Nazi concentration camps:
Historical, social and legal background
2.2. Germany and its forcible detention camps
2.3. The organizational structure of the concentration camps
2.4. The concentration camp SS and guards
2.5. Summary: A complex interrelationship
B. Sociological avenues of inquiry
3. Introductory comments on the disciplinary context and methods
3.1. Empirical material and methodological approach
3.2. The impossibility of representing reality and the special characteristics
of Holocaust literature
3.3. The relationship between historical scholarship and sociology
4. Sociological orientations
4.1. Preliminary remarks: The sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and
the use of other central theoretical ideas
4.2. The ‘basic concepts’ of society
4.2.1 Individuals and society:
Views of a complex relationship
4.2.2 Classes and ways of life: Social differentiation
4.2.3 Gender: Physical characteristics and their
symbolic significance for social differentiation
4.2.4 ‘Ethnic group’ and caste: The belief in genetic kinship and the notion of social inescapability
4.2.5. Summary: Habitus and society
4.3. Concentration camps
4.3.1. The significance of physical torture:
Michel Foucault’s restoration of
sovereignty through ‘the vengeance of the sovereign’
and the ‘dissymmetry of forces’
4.3.2. ‘Total institutions’ and the possibility
of surviving one:
Erving Goffman’s ‘secondary adjustments’
4.3.3. Suppressing the ‘odors’ of death:
Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of culture
4.4. A theoretical perspective:
The complex society of the ‘Third Reich’
and the social reality in the forcible detention camps
C. The social world of the Nazi concentration camps
5. Camp life
5.1. Arrival and registration of the prisoners at the camp
or: How the ‘practical logic’ of the camp
gradually revealed itself to the prisoners
5.2. Prisoner life: Recurring processes
5.3. Three levels of sociality
5.4. Summary:
A micro-sociological view of the intricacies of complex camp life
or: How many realities were there?
6. Prisoner society
6.1. Fragmentation, dissociation, community-building:
Social processes
6.2. Regular prisoners, armband wearers, camp aristocracy:
The mass and the elite
6.3. Men, women, children or: What’s still normal here?
6.4. Summary:
An examination of the structure of the prisoner society
or: The significance of similarity and difference
D. Social libido
7. The constitution of social identity in the concentration camps:
The concepts of individuality and the importance
of social structures in a ‘topsy-turvy world’
E. Notes to the text
F. Bibliography
"Maja Suderland has written an innovative and tremendously exciting book. The meticulous examination of the complex reality of the concentration camps, the balanced analysis and careful reading which makes it possible to detect the finest nuances, and finally, the clear, precise and differentiated language make this an outstanding sociological work that sets new standards."
Beate Krais, Technical University of Darmstadt

"Maja Suderland's book is the first convincing sociological analysis of the Nazi concentration camps. She goes beyond specific historical cases and achieves an analytical depth which explains how the concentration camps functioned in terms of the social categories we are familiar with from 'normal' society."
Claus Füllberg-Stolberg, Leibniz University, Hannover


"This is clearly a unique study."