The following reflections on aspects and dimensions of social life in national Socialist concentration camps take their point of departure from the widely held view that, because the concentration camp represents an unprecedentedly extreme case of a relationship of subordination, it cannot be examined from a social point of view. In my paper, I will first discuss the features indicating that concentration camp prisoners did indeed comprise societies, and will thereupon present in greater detail the evidence of such societies found in the empirical material. Through a detailed analysis of ethnic differentiations made by the prisoners themselves, as well as of Antisemitism and Antiziganism within concentration camp society, I will then explain in detail how social distinctions functioned in this context. The analysis reveals that many of the criteria of social distinction had a material basis, frequently expressed in culturally defend behavior, while other aspects – such as Antisemitism – were based more on some inmates' belief in the “otherness” of their fellow prisoners. In the concluding summary, I formulate some basic ideas about the existence and nature of “society” in the concentration camps, and assess the explanatory power of social scientific theories.
An Extreme Case of Social Life: Inmate Society in National Socialist Concentration Camps
MAJA SUDERLAND IS CURRENTLY A PROFESSOR OF EMPIRICAL SOCIAL RESEARCH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF APPLIED SCIENCES IN FULDA (GERMANY). HER RESEARCH INTERESTS AND THE MAIN TOPICS OF HER WORK ARE: SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY; PERSECUTION, ANTISEMITISM, AND THE HOLOCAUST; THE SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE; METHODS OF QUALITATIVE SOCIAL RESEARCH. HER PUBICATIONS ARE MAINLY IN THE SUBJECT AREA OF THE HOLOCAUST AND SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES.