[Cross-posted from New Books in Genocide Studies] Christopher Browning is one of the giants in the field of Holocaust Studies. He has contributed vitally to at least two of the basic debates in the field: the intentionalist/functionalist discussion about when, why and how the Germans decided to annihilate the Jews of Europe, and the question of why individual perpetrators killed.
His new book, then, seems like something of a departure. Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp (W. W. Norton, 2010), examines the labor camp at Starachowice, Poland. Starting before the Nazi invasion, Browning tracks the members of the Jewish community in the region throughout the war, from their initial encounters with Nazi presence through their deportation to Auschwitz to their eventual return (or not) to their homes after the war. The book engages deeply questions of survival, resistance and community and family in the life of the Jewish captives.
But, as Browning suggests during the interview, the book is really a continuation of his previous strategy of using case studies to shed light on questions of broad significance. This time, by studying a labor camp, Browning is able to examine both the captives and those wo held them prisoner. The result is every bit as rich as his previous work.
Browning speaks as carefully and thoughtfully as he writes. We talked both about the story he tells in the book and some of the methodological issues he confronted in writing it. There’s more in the book than we could get to in an hour. I hope you’ll listen to the interview and then go out and read the book.