chapter  3
24 Pages

Social life in an unsocial environment: the inmates’ struggle for survival

ByFALK PINGEL

Over the last few years many of the former socialist countries have allowed researchers to work with archive material that hitherto had not been accessible, and at the same time gave them the freedom to choose topics no longer regarded as politically inappropriate or taboo. The result has been a number of studies that afford us a much deeper insight into various concentration camps.1 Recently these individual studies have been supplemented by more comprehensive works which attempt to give an overall picture of the camps and their organization.2 As far as the topic of this chapter is concerned, the research has certainly yielded a vast amount of new information: however, with a few exceptions, it has tended to focus on the structural and institutional aspects of the concentration camp and refrains from a more theoretical discussion concerning the social dimension that dominated inmates’ daily life. Hence, it can be said that the literature has produced no fundamental changes in how we might evaluate the life-and-death struggle of the inmates and the limited opportunities they had for resistance. Nevertheless, the great merit of this recent research lies in the fact that it gives us a comprehensive history of individual camps, as well as describing in much greater detail the fate of inmates belonging to the lesser-documented categories – such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or women prisoners. Furthermore, it has revealed how the phenomenon of the concentration camp was able to expand and develop.