Survival in Auschwitz

Survival in Auschwitz - November 16, 2007 FR SEM: Ethnic...

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November 16, 2007 FR SEM: Ethnic Cleansing Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz Hearing the account of any Holocaust survivor is an almost unbelievable experience. In trying to summarize the stories we hear, we use metaphors like “living like animals,” or “inhuman.” By removing their experiences from the realm of humanity, we attempt to understand the magnitude of what they underwent. Part of this also stems from the fact that their persecutors fostered this idea, that the victims were less than human in some way. Their mental separation of familiar humanity from those they were trying to kill was more of a psychological defense mechanism than an intellectual attempt at empathy. But how well do these metaphors really articulate the experiences of Holocaust survivors? With all due respect to every Fido, Rover, and Spot that can roll over and play dead, if the concentration camp conditions constituted “living like animals,” then PETA has had it right all along. We must be seriously mistreating our animals! No, it is obvious that this is not what people mean when they talk about Holocaust survivors being treated like beasts. In fact, this metaphor is entirely inappropriate. The circumstances established during the Holocaust are hardly animalistic; they are the results of extraordinarily human motivations. For this reason, the Nazis did not succeed in their goal of turning their victims into beasts. This is not meant to be a sentimental or motivational point; in many ways, it is much more incomprehensible to think of real human beings undergoing the trauma of Auschwitz. Instead, it is simply an arguable point, that the conditions of Auschwitz, which arose out of the darker aspects of the human mind, turned the camp victims not into beasts, but into different forms of humans— forms that exemplify the skeletal qualities that fascinate anthropologists and make up the human condition. Before one can begin to demonstrate the ways in which Auschwitz survivors adapted, rather than abandoned, their humanity, it is necessary to illustrate how the Lager itself was a product of purely human elements. Most obviously, the overall Final Solution was the child of anti-Semitism, or more broadly, prejudice. The stereotyping and racist propaganda that made the concentration camps possible is something unique to humans; only we breed and promote hatred amongst ourselves based on superficial differences. This is evident by the fact that prejudices are learned, not innate (Anti-Defamation League). Our biases are a direct result of living in the society we’ve created.
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Survival in Auschwitz - November 16, 2007 FR SEM: Ethnic...

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