Nikolaus Wachsmann’s 863-page history of the Nazi concentration camps has won this year’s Jewish Quarterly Wingate literary prize.
KL – the Nazi abbreviation of Konzentrationslager, is a unique and comprehensive chronicle of the concentration camps, spanning the 12 years of the Third Reich.
This year’s judges: writer Samantha Ellis, columnist Hugo Rifkind, Granta Top 20 Young Novelist Tahmima Anam and Senior Masorti Judaism Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, described it as ‘an incredible achievement, one of those rare books you know people will still be consulting a generation from now’.
On the short-list alongside KL, were Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj; J by Howard Jacobson; The Life of Saul Bellow by Zachary Leader; Between Gods by Alison Pick; The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik and The Liberation of the Camps by Dan Stone.
Chair of judges Samantha Ellis said: ‘“The rise of Nazism will always be of Jewish interest but that is not why we have chosen KL. We think it is a book everyone should read.
‘It is a work of immense scholarship and of vivid humanity, as Nikolaus Wachsmann marshals many new primary sources, and thousands of individual testimonies, showing how the concentration camps were used against many different people, from political opponents of the regime to those considered racially unfit.
‘This is a book we think should be read, and re-read, and a book we know we will be coming back to for years to come.”
Speaking about his win, Nikolaus Wachsmann, said: ‘I’m greatly honoured to accept this prize. When writing this history of the Nazi concentration camps, I kept thinking about a message buried by a Jewish victim near the Auschwitz crematorium: “may the world at least behold a fraction of this tragic world in which we lived”. I hope my book makes a small contribution to this endeavour, to help us see and understand the tragic world of the Nazi camps a little clearer.’
Established in 1977, the annual JQ Wingate prize worth £4000 is awarded to the best book – fiction or non fiction – of Jewish interest for the general reader. The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize, run in association with JW3, is the only UK literary prize of its kind and attracts nominations from all over the globe. Previous winners include Amos Oz, Zadie Smith, Oliver Sacks, Otto Dov Kulka, David Grossman, Thomas Harding, W.G. Sebald and Linda Grant.