chapter  9
26 Pages

The afterlife of the camps


While the histories of most Nazi concentration camps are now fairly well known, what happened with them after liberation until their reincarnation as museums or memorial sites is generally not. Surveying the former Nazi camps that dotted Europe at the end of the war, we can say there are five basic uses to which they have been put since 1945. Chronologically the first use was to educate the local populace about the conditions in the camps as they were found at liberation. The very first camps to be liberated had been emptied of prisoners before the arrival of the Allied armies, but even there sufficient evidence of horrific atrocities remained that the liberators were moved to force local civilians to view the premises and participate in clean-up work. In addition to this punitive pedagogy, in those camps whose inmates had not been murdered or completely evacuated prior to liberation, such forced tours overlapped with the second use: nursing the hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of survivors back to health. This use as a medical and recuperation facility usually lasted from several weeks to a few months, in some cases up to a year or more, until political conditions became suitable for the survivors to return to their home countries or emigrate to find new homes.