Monday, May 25, 2015


Review by Bill Doughty

USNS General C. H. Muir
The Navy ship USNS General C. H. Muir (AP-142), launched by Kaiser Co. in 1944, was among American transport vessels that brought immigrants across the Atlantic from Europe after American and Russian troop liberated World War II concentration camps in Germany.

Allies liberate Dachau.
Referred to by the Nazis as KL (from the German Konzentrationslager), the camps "embodied the spirt of Nazism like no other institution in the Third Reich," author Nikolaus Wachsmann writes in "KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps" (2015; Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Using primary sources, including recently accessible SS and German police reports, Wachsmann describes the horror and terror in the camps, where both guards and prisoners were dehumanized.

Liberated prisoners. (photo courtesy Truman Library)
"Terror stood at the center of the Third Reich, and no other institution embodied Nazi terror more fully than the KL," he writes, noting anti-semitism was at the core of the "racial war" carried out by Hitler, Himmler and their followers.

The Nazis used an Orwellian term, "protective custody," to describe their reason for establishing the KL. Eventually targeting Jews and other groups, the initial target was political enemies of the State, especially Communists, according to Wachsmann.

Wachsmann's chronology begins in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler rekindled a fascist dictatorship the ashes of Germany's failed early democracy. The Nazis practiced "radical repression of all internal enemies." The chronology examines the complicated nature of the different kinds of camps, describes how they were run, and shows how they were liberated.

Along with terror, at the heart of the reason for the camps was fear and hate. Even after liberation, Wachsmann describes the fear some German soldiers and citizens had of the men, women and children who were imprisoned. "Fear sometimes turned into paranoia and panic, with apocalyptic visions of escaped prisoners."

Wachsmann writes about memorials at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Berlin. Nearly 200 pages of this 865-page book are devoted to notes and sources.

This book is a new authoritative standard on the history of concentration camps in Nazi Germany, showing different facets from the point of view of captors and captives, alike.

Gen. Charles H. Muir
As for USNS General C. H. Muir, the ship not only served to bring troops and survivors back from Europe in 1945 but then also brought troops to Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, Ulithi, and Leyte and in the following decade served in the Korean War. General C. H. Muir received two battle stars for Korean War service, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The ship's namesake was born in 1860, the year before the Civil War began.  According to NHHC:
"Following duty at various posts in the United States, including service in the Indian Wars, [General Muir] took part in the capture of Santiago during the Spanish-American War and fought in the Philippines – during the insurrection which followed. Muir was also a member of the China Relief Expedition of 1901. Staff duty and service in the Philippines followed; and, with America's entrance into World War I, he was given command of the 28th Division. Muir was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his service during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive."
Muir died December 8, 1933, the same year Hitler came to power in Germany.

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