Carrying history forward

by VanessaVaile

History of predecessors to contemporary incarnations, however renamed as family detention centers or refugee camps

“A haunting history of modernity’s greatest tragedy: concentration camps. Coming from Little, Brown in September 2017.

Beginning with 1890s Cuba and ending with Guantanamo today, [Andrea Pitzer pinpoints camps around the world. From the Philippines and Southern Africa in the early twentieth century to the Soviet Gulag and detention camps in China and North Korea that took root during the Cold War, camp systems have been used as tools for civilian relocation, political repression, and extermination. Often justified as a measure to protect a nation, or even interned groups themselves, camps have instead served as brutal and dehumanizing sites that have claimed the lives of millions.”

Andrea Pitzer

I first visited the site of a former concentration camp in November 2011, flying into Hamburg on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Seventy-three years before, in 1938, a maelstrom of organized street violence directed against Jews across Germany and Austria led to the detention of tens of thousands, along with the destruction of hundreds of synagogues, thousands of businesses, and nearly a hundred deaths. At that point, I had been focusing on concentration camp history for three years. My thought was that by traveling on those dates, local commemorations for Kristallnacht in Germany might reveal how public memory had preserved or forgotten these events.

My first night in Germany was spent in Bergedorf, a suburb on the southeastern outskirts of the city. I woke up early the next morning, put my laptop into my backpack, and walked four miles to the former concentration camp at Neuengamme.

At that time, I was…

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