Richard Overy

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25 August 2011

The concentration camp

The concentration camp is still popularly viewed as a distinctly national-socialist phenomenon. The focus on Germany has prevented a broader analysis of the prevailing ‘camp culture’ in the first half of the twentieth century, argues Richard Overy. Camps were widespread geographically and began well before the coming of the Third Reich. They reflected abrupt changes in mass politics, ethnic conflict and ideological confrontation following the dislocations caused by the Great War and became an expedient (and cheap) way of isolating those deemed to be biological, social or political outsiders. The perpetrators in all countries with camps saw themselves as heroic defenders of a threatened system. Victims need to be given a more positive historical narrative, to be better able to understand the traumatic consequences of exclusion and incarceration.