Kogon, Eugen

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KOGON, Eugen

Nationality: Austrian. Born: 1903. Education: Studied under Othmar Spann. Career: Arrested in Austria for opposing the Nazis, 1937, 1938; prisoner, Buchenwald concentration camp, 1939. Professor of political science, University of Munich and University of Marburg, 1951-68. Founder and publisher, with Walter Dirks, Frankfurter Hefte.Award: Buber-Rosenzweig medal, German Coordinating Committee for Jewish-Christian Relations, 1980. Died: 1987.



Gesammelte Schriften [Collected Works], edited by Michael Kogon and Gottfried Erb:

Ideologie und Praxis der Unmenschlichkeit: Erfahrungen mit dem Nationalsozialismus. 1995.

Europäische Visonen. 1995.

Die restaurative Republik: Zur Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. 1996.

Liebe und tu, was du willst: Reflexionen eines Christen. 1996.

Die reformierte Gesellschaft. 1997.

"Dieses merkwürdige, wichtige Leben": Begegnungen. 1997.

Bedingungen der Humanität. 1998.

Die Idee des Christlichen Ständestaates: Frühe Schriften 1921-1940. 1999.


Der SS-Staat: Das System de Deutschen Konzentrationslager (memoir and study). 1946; as The SS State: The System of German Concentration Camps, 1946, as The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System behind Them, 1950.

Die Wissenschaft im Rahmen der politische Bildung. Vorträge, gehalten vom 16. bis 18. März 1950 in Berlin auf der Tagung der Deutschen Hochschule für Politik, with Alfred Weber (lecture). 1950.

Die Rolle der Arbeiterbewegung in der Kultur einer humanitären Welt. 1963.

Die unvollendete Erneuerung. 1964.

Freiheit in Gesellschaft, with Johannes Baptist Metz, Rudolf Pesch, and Adolf Exeler. 1971.

Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin. Ein Biograph. Essay. 1971.

Die Stunde der Ingenieure: Technologische Intelligenz und Politik. 1976.

Ökologische Zwischenbilanz. 1981.

Eugen Kogon—Ein politischer Publizist in Hessen: Essays, Aufsätze, Reden zwischen 1946 und 1982, edited by Hubert Habicht. 1982.

Editor, with Heinz Winfried Sabais, Der Mensch und seine Meinung. 1961.

Editor, with Hermann Langbein and Adalbert Rückerl, Nationalsozialistische Massentötungen durch Giftgas: Eine Dokumentation. 1983; as Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas, 1993.

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Journalist by profession, economist and sociologist by training, Austrian-born Eugen Kogon was catapulted into the forefront of postwar German politics by his report on the concentration camp system, published as Der SS-Staat ("The SS State," 1946; The Theory and Practice of Hell, 1950). A Catholic actively opposed to the Nazis, Kogon was arrested in 1937 and again in 1938 when the Nazis took power in Austria. Transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939, he worked as a clerk in the hospital and witnessed the medical experiments on prisoners conducted there. Der SS-Staat also made Kogon into one of the best-known survivors of the concentration camps in postwar Germany.

Kogon wrote Der SS-Staat on the basis of his report on Buchenwald for the Allies, commissioned in April 1945 after the liberation of the camp. Completed in less than four weeks, Kogon was assisted in his inquiries by a team of former camp inmates, heavily weighted toward the communists, and by a team of German-speaking intelligence officers from the U.S. Army. This was the first constraint on his work, since the communists had been the most influential—and the most compromised—group of prisoners in Buchenwald. The original report was not published, though selected portions were used in the Nuremberg war trials. As a result, the precise accusations contained in the interviews appended to Kogon's text were lost to students of the Holocaust until the 1980s. In this context still, a few dozen prisoners who read the work testified that it was thoroughly objective. The report had achieved this impression of objectivity by sidestepping the difficult subject of the complicity between political prisoners and the concentration camp regime. Only by the time of the publication of Der SS-Staat was Kogon able to write more freely about the relationship between the SS and the prisoner population, with a candor that makes his testimony particularly valuable. Nonetheless, Kogon's protected position within the inmate hierarchy is suggested by the anecdotes that appear throughout SS-Staat. Acknowledging the special fate of the Jews, Kogon still focused on the political prisoners, whose determined opposition to the Nazis made them primary actors in camp life. For Kogon and the politicals he worked with, the camp experience was first and foremost a struggle of will against the corruption and brutality of the SS rather than the life of suffering, death, and helpless degradation that appears more frequently in Jewish accounts.

From his earliest days in prison in Vienna, Kogon wrote sketches for essays on postwar planning. After the war his experiences at the hands of the Nazis were a leitmotiv in his passionate appeals for peace and reconciliation in Western Europe. In Theory and Practice of Hell Kogon argued that European states had to unite in order to prevent a return to the brutal dictatorship that had turned Europe into a kind of concentration camp. He became the academic coordinator of the European Committee for Research into the Causes and Consequences of the Second World War in Luxembourg, and his work as chair of the campaigning group Europa Union sealed his reputation as one of the leaders of the movement that created the European Communities in the 1950s. Kogon also believed Germany bore a responsibility to combat anti-Semitic violence and prejudice, and for his work in this area, particularly in founding the journal Frankfurter Hefte, he was awarded the Buber-Rosenzweig Medal of the German Coordinating Committee for Jewish-Christian Relations in 1980. He himself was disappointed, however, with the limited impact of the journal in educating Germans about current developments touching on their recent past—it was, he felt, too academic.

From 1946 Kogon published a series of articles on the concentration camps and on other aspects of the Nazi regime, a number of which were published posthumously in Ideologie und Praxis der Unmenschlichkeit (1995). As he acknowledged in Der SS-Staat, one of the main flaws in his report was the lack of information he had available covering the mass murder of the Jews. Kogon wrote repeatedly in the Frankfurter Hefteabout the repressed consciousness of the German public during the Nazi era of what had happened in the concentration camps, particularly to the Jews. In 1954 he wrote of his personal recollections of the screams of Jews in prison in Vienna following the November pogrom of 1938 (Kristallnacht ). His articles on the concentration camp system now began to cover the larger death camps as well, and Kogon ultimately edited a collection of academic essays, Nazi Mass Murder: A Documentary History of the Use of Poison Gas (1983). His last publication was an article, "Das Ende der Konzentrationslager" (1985; "The End of the Concentration Camp"), suggesting on the basis of the use of the camps after the war that in some senses the camp system continued to serve as an instrument of or model for social control in the postwar world.

Since 1978 Kogon had been working on a second monograph on the Nazi system. He died before completing it, delaying the project for years. In his son's view Kogon's reluctance to press ahead with the task was due in part to his conviction that the lessons of what was merely the first genocidal regime no longer commanded the attention they once had. He also believed that the atrocities of the Nazi regime could not provide any basis for humane social thought, hinting throughout his work at his personal faith, which remained unshaken.

—George R. Wilkes

See the essay on The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System behind Them.