Architects of Death: The Family Who Engineered the Death Camps

Karen Bartlett. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-11770-0
The banality of evil is chillingly delineated in this grim story of the Topf family, whose firm Topf and Sons actively collaborated with the Nazi regime by developing “the ventilation systems for the gas chambers and the ovens that disposed of the bodies of millions of their victims” in such concentration camps as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau. Beginning in 1939, after the Nazis discovered that they needed a more efficient way to get rid of corpses if they wanted to achieve their genocidal goals, Topf and Sons contracted with the German government to produce a “mobile cremation oven” that, by disregarding legal requirements for incinerating human remains, could reduce more people (which the company called “cremation objects”) to ashes more quickly. By 1943, the company expanded its business to include “improvements” to the efficiency of gas chambers. Bartlett’s research convincingly rebuts any suggestion that the Topf firm was intimidated into performing its work for the Nazis; she notes that it was often late in delivering equipment and even turned down commissions without fear of reprisal. Her depiction of Topf and Sons’ headquarters as an “office with drawing boards and a view of the Ettersberg mountain—where middle-aged men wearing stiff white collars dream up horrors, each more demented than the last” is one haunting image among many in this book. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2018
Release date: 08/21/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-250-11771-7
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