In The Complete Lives of Camp People Rudolf Mrázek presents a sweeping study of the material and cultural lives of twentieth-century concentration camp internees and the multiple ways in which their experiences speak to the fundamental logics of modernity. Mrázek focuses on the minutiae of daily life in two camps: Theresienstadt, a Nazi “ghetto” for Jews near Prague, and the Dutch “isolation camp” Boven Digoel—which was located in a remote part of New Guinea between 1927 and 1943 and held Indonesian rebels who attempted to overthrow the colonial government. Drawing on a mix of interviews with survivors and their descendants, archival accounts, ephemera, and media representations, Mrázek shows how modern life's most mundane tasks—buying clothes, getting haircuts, playing sports—continued on in the camps, which were themselves designed, built, and managed in accordance with modernity's tenets. In this way, Mrázek demonstrates that concentration camps are not exceptional spaces; they are the locus of modernity in its most distilled form.
“The Complete Lives of Camp People is quite simply an extraordinary, provocative, challenging, and brilliant work. Offering an audacious theorization of modernity via modernity's twin forms of violence—colonialism and the camp—Rudolf Mrázek has written perhaps the finest book I have read this decade.”
Rosalind C. Morris, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
“The Complete Lives of Camp People is a stunning collage assembled from witness testimonies, administrative instructions, philosophical reflections, and poetic illuminations. By juxtaposing the stories of two ‘model camps’—Boven Digoel and Theresienstadt—Rudolf Mrázek explores the sensory, material, experiential, and spatial dimensions of twentieth-century internment camps. This is the ‘thickest description’ of camp life yet to appear in print, providing valuable insights into a ubiquitous feature of modernity.”
Iris Rachamimov, Tel Aviv University