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Nazi Concentration Camp Overseers (Paperback)

Sonderkommandos, Kapos & Trawniki - Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives

WWII Photographic Books Hitler & the Third Reich WWII Photographic Books Military

By Ian Baxter
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Series: Images of War
Pages: 128
Illustrations: 147 black & white
ISBN: 9781526799951
Published: 8th April 2021

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The Nazis’ vast concentration camp network and, later, the ‘Final Solution’ programme made heavy demands on the SS whose responsibility it was. The use of ‘overseers’ minimised costs and enabled the camps to run with fewer SS personnel. As this well researched book describes, there were three principal groups of ‘helpers’: Sonderkommandos, Kapos and Trawniki.

The Sonderkommandos’ duties included unloading Jews from trains, collecting their possessions and allocating work details. Under SS supervision, they also ran the gas chambers and crematoria.

The Kapos oversaw the Sonderkommandos. Many were originally prisoner functionaries recruited from violent criminal gangs and had a well-deserved reputation for brutality.

The third group, known as Trawniki or Trawnikimänner, were Central and Eastern European collaborators recruited from Russian POW camps. While some served in a military capacity, others played an instrumental role in the Holocaust programme, rounding up and transporting Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps.

The graphic images and text of this Images of War series work demonstrate that the ‘overseer’ system was extensive and effective as its members competed without scruple to maintain the favour of their SS masters while pitting victim against victim.

Nazi Concentration Camp Overseers by Ian Baxter – Sonderkommandos, Kapos & Trawniki – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives is a must read for everybody. It’s a fantastic book with clearly presented details and horrifying pictures. The difference between the Nazi and Trawniki (collaborators) smiling at the camera and the pictures with Jews is staggering. What I liked the most about this book is that the information is presented in a clear and non-judgemental way, without any sensationalistic remarks. The images speak for themselves when it comes to the horror of reality, so there is no need for anything else.

5/5 stars

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Coffee and Books

Now I have read a number of these books and everyone has been first class, they should in my opinion be more well known and this book is just the same, with a slight difference. The difference in this book is that it feels like it’s more concentrated on one particular subject rather than a broad sweep trying to include everything. This book has concentrated on what were classed as ‘overseers’, or more honestly volunteers. That’s right it appears you had soldiers that would have to do this job as in working in a concentration camp, no you would have those that weren’t soldiers volunteering to do the jobs in a concentration camp.

These ‘volunteers’ were split into groups and then each group were given a number of jobs to be in charge of ranging from moving people around to be killed, being in charge of the ovens, organising transport in and out, being guards, selecting victims or organising forced labour projects. There wasn’t really anything light, it was all rather grim stuff some people were more than happy to do. I found this fascinating mainly because it’s hard to imagine what people will do, it was interesting to learn more about other camps rather than the main few that sadly make the headlines like Auschwitz and Belsen. I would really recommend this book although very sad, and I found it very interesting, certainly one I would recommend.

5 stars

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UK Historian

About Ian Baxter

Ian Baxter is a much-published author and photographic collector whose books draw an increasing following. Among his many previous titles in the Images of War Series are Hitler’s Boy Soldiers, Nazi Concentration Camp Commandants, German Army on the Eastern Front – The Advance, German Army on the Eastern Front – The Retreat, The Crushing of Army Group (North) and the SS Waffen Division series including SS Leibstandarte Division, SS Totenkopf Division At War. He lives near Chelmsford, Essex.

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