The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

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Release Date: 
March 14, 2023
Yale University Press
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It should be said that this is a paperback release of a book first published in 2015. Despite that fact and considering the increase in Holocaust historiography in recent years, it is certainly relevant and necessary to do so inasmuch as there is always more to learn as well as to ensure that such an event is never forgotten.

Author Dan Stone, a professor of modern history at the University of London, has published 20 books on the Holocaust, genocide and 20th century European history so he has considerable expertise in writing on the subject.

Having said that, the liberation of the various camps established and run by the Nazis in the 12-year existence of the Third Reich should seem to the layman as being cause for joy and celebration, which it was at first glance. What most people seem to neglect or forget is that that was not the end of the suffering, trials and tribulations for those liberated.

Although the author describes the events behind the camps’ liberation, first in a chapter referencing those by the Soviet Red Army and, in another, that by the Western Allies, the crux of this book is in the aftermath. Even for years after their liberation, many of the Jews and other prisoners found themselves basically incarcerated in the camps themselves due to the fact that many had no one to whom to return and no home to which to return, given the war’s devastation.

These displaced persons (DPs) were essentially forced to make their homes in the camps, surrounded by the German population that oppressed them in the first place, until such time as a disposition could be made in terms of a final destination. In the case of the Jews, this was more often than not Palestine, primarily, followed by the United States, Canada, and other Western nations, as antisemitism was still rampant and they felt they had no home or place in Europe.

Palestine wasn’t a given for Jews as the British held a mandate there and were doing their utmost to maintain cordial relations with and, for that matter, to placate the Arab populations in the Middle East. The Royal Navy’s coastal blockade meant that many passengers on ships attempting to reach Palestine were then incarcerated, again, in camps on the island of Cyprus.   

Complicating this was the postwar Cold War and the Iron Curtain of Communism descending across Eastern Europe with many more DPs infiltrating from the East. The fact that the Western Allies themselves were overwhelmed by the rescue and rehabilitation of the prisoners and were more concerned with countering Communist domination certainly didn’t improve the situation and only exacerbated the attitudes of the prisoners toward them as time went on.

Various relief organizations, especially the Jewish ones, did what they could but sometimes operated at cross purposes in addition to the necessity of obtaining or developing resources to aid the prisoners in overcoming their wartime psychological and physical suffering and providing job training, education and other services in order to facilitate their return to some semblance of a “normal” life.

In the event, there were many factors, political, cultural, and otherwise, which resulted in a liberation that wasn’t always what it should have been for those who had suffered so much at the hands of the Nazis. Their problems continued for years after the end of the war. Indeed, the author points out that liberation didn’t necessarily mean the end of the Holocaust.

To be expected in such a scholarly work are endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. The former two are extensive and show the extent to which the author has gone to provide a thorough, at times personal, and certainly nuanced analysis of his subject.

The photographic section contains photos of the camps, many of the prisoners and their efforts to reestablish some kind of normal life while awaiting visas, passports, or other supporting documentation that would finally allow them to permanently exit the camps.

The Holocaust has most definitely not ended and won’t be while there are still living victims to bear witness and camps, such as Auschwitz, which remain as memorials today to remind us that man’s inhumanity to man is never far from rearing its ugly head.