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Journal Articles L'Europe en formation. Revue d'études sur la construction européenne et le fédéralisme Year : 2010

Work, Violence and Cruelty


This paper examines individual violent acts of female and male SS-personnel at the concentration and extermination camp Majdanek (1941-1944) in occupied Poland in a history of everyday live-perspective. It provides insight into three different exemplary forms of concentrational and genocidal violence – extermination, physical ill-treatment and cruelty – interrogating the situational context, social dynamics and cultural meaning in terms of the everyday culture and society of the concentration camp. The first part analyzes “official” genocidal violence, showing how the head of the Majdanek crematorium, Erich Muhsfeldt, conceived extermination as day-to-day “work.” This understanding of extermination as everyday work constituted a normalizing or legitimizing and motivating frame for his tasks and formed the basis of his “work ethic.” The second part focuses on individual and unofficial acts of violence placing the guards’ most frequent forms of violence in a microsocial context. This shows the communicative character of these violences. The third part illuminates practices of violence that seem the most incomprehensible, because of their “surplus” of violence: a type of cruelty which, when seen from the perpetrator’s perspective, appears as a constructive and empowering form of self-cultivation. The article argues that the physical violence which the subaltern SS-staff daily exercised in the Nazi camps was not so much ordered from above but rather an appropriation of the work and living context by actors on the ground. Also, daily violence revolved not only around the perpetrator-victim relation but first and foremost around the complex relations within the perpetrators’ “society.” It finally states that cruelty figured as an important performance of the self


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hal-03570016 , version 1 (13-02-2022)



Elissa Mailänder. Work, Violence and Cruelty: An Everyday Historical Perspective on Perpetrators in Nazi Concentration Camps. L'Europe en formation. Revue d'études sur la construction européenne et le fédéralisme, 2010, ⟨10.3917/eufor.357.0029⟩. ⟨hal-03570016⟩


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