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History and Perception of Soviet Special Camps in Germany
At the end of World War II, the Soviet secret police installed ten special camps in the Soviet occupation zone, later to become the German Democratic Republik. Between 1945 and 1950, roughly 154,000 Germans were held incommunicado in these camps. Whether those accused of being Nazis, spies, or terrorists were indeed guilty as charged, they were indiscriminately imprisoned as security threats and denied due process of the law. One third of the captives did not survive. To this day, most Germans have no knowledge of this postwar Stalinist persecution, even though it exemplifies in a unique way the entangled history of Germans as perpetrators and victims.
How can one write the history of victims in a “society of perpetrators?” This is only one of the questions
Displaced Terror: History and Perception of Soviet Special Camps in Germany
raises in exploring issues in memory culture in contemporary Germany. The study begins with a detailed description of the camp system against the backdrop of Stalinist security policies in a territory undergoing a transition from war zone to occupation zone to Cold War hot spot. The interpretation of the camps as an instrument of pacification rather than of denacification does not ignore the fact that, while actual perpetrators were a minority, the majority of the special camp inmates had at least been supporters of Nazi rule and were now imprisoned under life-threatening conditions together with victims and opponents of the defeated regime. Based on their detention memoirs, the second part of the book offers a closer look at life and death in the camps, focusing on the prisoners' self-organization and the frictions within these coerced communities. The memoirs also play an important role in the third and last part of the study. Read as attempts to establish public acknowledgment of violence suffered by Germans, they mirror German memory culture since the end of World War II.
Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-0-7391-7743-3 • Hardback • April 2014 •
978-0-7391-7744-0 • eBook • April 2014 •
The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series
History / Europe / Germany
History / Europe / Former Soviet Republics
History / Europe / Russia & the Former Soviet Union
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Bettina Greiner is a German historian working at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and is coordinator of the Berlin Colloquia on Contemporary History.
The NKVD Order No. 00315 or the End of “Mobilization”
Soviet Military Tribunals (SMTs)
“Political Purges” and the Struggle against “Deviationists
The Divided Camp Community
“Second-Class Victims” or Self-Imposed Isolation
The Dependency Trap
“Alternate Framings” and Other “Narrative Templates”
Chapter Five – The Special Camps and Their Place in History
The POW Camps of the GUPVI
The Soviet GULAG
National Socialist Camps
Index of Names
This translation of a 2010 German book is a deeply sourced, sophisticated analytical study of the imprisonment of German civilians in the Soviet military occupation zone in East Germany and the German Democratic Republic between 1945 and 1950. POWs and war criminals convicted by Soviet military courts were forced to work. But over 120,000 German civilians, arrested ostensibly for denazification procedures and kept in
camps, were not permitted to work. . . .What purpose did these special camps serve? Greiner thinks they began as pretrial sites for suspected Nazis of minor standing and evolved into long-term prisons for unconvicted inmates. . . .Greiner reflects on changes in the historical memorialization of political captivity in Germany and warns against equating Nazi and Soviet political confinement, especially with regard to guilt and victimhood. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
The significant contribution of Greiner’s book lies in its focus on the individual experiences and memories of those detained. Based on memoirs and oral testimonies,
carefully reconstructs the experiences of denunciation, [and] arrest. . . .Greiner has thus written an excellent and insightful book that scholars in the fields of postwar central European history and memory studies will benefit from reading with care.
Bettina Greiner’s admirable and comprehensive study of the Soviet special camps in occupied Germany is a crucial contribution to our understanding of Soviet repressive measures in Germany after World War II and their memory—and forgetting—since the Cold War. Her creative use of little-known German prisoner memoirs and accounts, combined with thorough research in Soviet and German sources on camp policies and practices, produce unparalleled insights into this revealing corner of the history of Soviet terror in postwar Europe.
Norman Naimark, Stanford University
Bettina Greiner’s deeply researched study of Soviet secret police camps in Germany from 1945-1950 analyzes not just the Soviet policies and practices behind the ‘special camps,’ but connects them to prisoners’ experiences and the German politics of memory. Anyone interested in political violence, concentration camp systems, and the fateful entanglements of Germany and Russia/USSR in the twentieth century should consider this important case.
Michael David-Fox, University of Georgetown
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