Sir Ian Kershaw in The Telegraph:
So what is new about Wachsmann’s book, and why is it so important? Odd as it might seem, his is the first comprehensive study of the camps, based on mastery of a huge literature and stupendous research in many parts of the world. Its value lies in no small measure in the way it weaves together the history both of the perpetrators and of the victims. Wachsmann tells the terrible story through the eyes of those who inhabited the camps. He writes of the camps as places where people lived. Prisoners become individuals, not just objects of terror. The behaviour of guards is shown to be more complex than mere sadism and brutality. A great virtue of the book is the way in which Wachsmann differentiates the camps. He shows the differences in organisation and structure as the vast camp network develops. For many readers, these differences will be new. The best-known camps are Dachau and Auschwitz. Both were places of horror, but with different purposes. Dachau, near Munich, was the prototype SS camp, meant to be widely known as a deterrent to opponents of the regime, especially at first communists. It served to hold prisoners who were subjected to arbitrary terror and forced to labour until the point of exhaustion, without any judicial protection, until (at least in theory) they were fit to rejoin society as compliant citizens.
Auschwitz, in a part of Poland annexed by Germany in 1939, had all this too, aimed primarily at recalcitrant Poles, but was unique within the system because it was an extermination camp as well as a concentration camp. The death camps further east in German-occupied Poland (Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka), on the other hand, operated outside the concentration camp system. They did not imprison people and force them to work. Their sole purpose was to kill the Jews – close on two million, nearly all from Poland – as quickly as possible. But within the KL system itself, Jews were a minority among the prisoners. The Holocaust, as Wachsmann emphasises, mainly took place outside the concentration camps.