cover image The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp

The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp

Wolfgang Sofsky. Princeton University Press, $40 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-691-04354-8

The Nazi concentration camps illustrate the Dostoevskian doctrine that where there is no God, everything is permitted. While the camps had many rules, there were no laws, and certainly no justice. In this lucidly translated volume, award-winning German sociologist Sofsky sets out to analyze the organization of dominance in the camps and concludes that they were places of ""absolute power; not a means to an end, but an end in itself."" Indifferently ruled by the SS, which delegated responsibility for the day-to-day running to prisoner-functionaries, the lagers were divided into classes, with German political prisoners at the top, and Jews, Poles, and Russians at the bottom. Whether beaten, worked to death or left to die of disease, their lives were worthless, and their pain meaningful only in the pleasure it provided to the torturers. They were nothing, so nothing done to them mattered. Sofsky emphasizes that the murderers, ordinary people who were suffused with a spirit of ""camaraderie"" and a faith that they wouldn't be punished, did more than was required. ""They did what they were permitted to--and they were permitted to do everything."" Despite Sofsky's vast and painstaking research, his admirable and horrifying book leaves the reader convinced that the Holocaust is not a subject for sociologists but for theologians. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Jan.)