Modernity and the Holocaust

Zygmunt Baumans’ article provides the reader a look at the sociological aspect of modernity and the holocaust.  In his article, Bauman mixes “modernity” and ‘sociological behavior” together while using the Holocaust to look at human behavior.  Bauman argues that the Holocaust is another chapter in modern society.  Like many events that preceded the Holocaust, violence, in Bauman’s mind, was a “constitutive feature of Modern Civilization” and that the “Holocaust-style phenomena must be recognized as legitimate outcome of civilizing tendency.”  (Bauman Pg 28) He thinks that because of how humans interact with one another, how each individual thinks differently, and how each individual solves problems differently, humanity will always be doomed to use violence from time to time to solve its problems.  For example, he believed that the Holocaust had a feeling of familiarity from its past.  He uses the “slaughter of Albigensian heretics” and “the British invention of concentration camps during the Boer War” as examples of how the Holocaust took a familiar path from other events in history.

Bauman provides his audience with a valid argument in that the Holocaust became another example of how human behavior tends to lead toward violence from time to time. As society has and will continue to advance, humans will continue to fight over various issues.  Over the course of time, Humanity has seen violence over  Religion, imperialism, politics, and present day terrorism.  In the 20th and 21st centuries, humans continue to fight over natural resources and politics.  These conflicts over natural resources and politics have led to two global conflicts and many more small scaled wars.   Whatever the reason may be, the fact that violence continues today makes a strong case for Baumans argument that humans will continue to fight and the Holocaust was another chapter in modern societies.

Bauman used the term “Modernity” to describe the social beliefs humans have and will have toward the world.  He used it in a way that helped him explain how the legacy of the Holocaust became another example of human tendencies toward violence, like  predeceasing conflicts before it.




Survival in Auschwitz

Three Points:
  1. In these camps, one of the largest barriers between those living there was language. Most of them had Jewish background and many of them were educated; however, there was little access to communication. Not only did this make work more difficult when listening to the commanders who spoke German and the other workers that one was working with, but also an enormous feeling of isolation.
  2. The demoralizing of the people in the concentration camps proves to be one of the founding steps in the process of their success. Levi often discusses how the process would make the officers go out of their way to demean the people coming into the camps, such as when they would have to stand naked for hours when waiting to enter the camp. Not only did the Nazis make their presence known through physical trauma towards these people, but in addition they made sure that their living circumstances were all they could think about.
  3. I was surprised to hear that people within the camps were not always aware of the extreme circumstances there. For some time, Levi was unaware about the crematoriums and how prevalent the Germans used them in the concentration caps. The Germans attempted to keep the prisoners in the dark about as many things as possible, but specifically this surprised me because of how frequently they were used.
  1. I was wondering more about the levels of hierarchy in the concentration camps, specifically the kapos. How did their roles affect the way that they were perceived by the other prisoners, and how were they perceived by the Germans running the camp?
  2. Levi mentions that he would rather have disclosed his religion than his political affiliation. However, in Levi’s youth, he participated in the Avanguardisti- a section of the youth organization run by the Italian fascists, Opera Nazionale Balilla, for 14 to 18 year olds.  Was there any possibility in using this to cover up his political affiliation to avoid being taken?
When Levi publishes this book, it was through a small Italian publisher. However, as the book grew in popularity and fame he expanded through Europe. When he began the translation into German in 1961, Levi apparently was very careful on which German publisher to use, and was supervising the whole process. Most importantly with his decision to maintain a part of this process was his introduction written specifically for this version to the German people, condemning them for what they allowed to happen. We discussed in class how after WWII many Germans denied knowledge of these events or participation, and Levi immediately shuts that down by investing the time in forcing these people to acknowledge the actual horrors of the war.

Survival in Auschwitz

  1. Primo Levi was an Italian Jew born in Turin, Italy, in 1919. At age twenty-four, he was part of a political resistance group that was caught by the fascist militia. When interrogated, he disclosed that he was a Jewish Italian citizen rather than explaining his political affiliation because he feared torture and certain death. He was sent to a vast detention camp in Fossoli, near Modena.
  2. After SS troops inspected the detention camp, they announced the deportation of all Jews. The SS troops sent the Jews to a work camp near Auschwitz called Monowitz. Here, Levi is reduced to a number and experiences the severe horrors of the Holocaust: extreme starvation, fatigue, illness, uncertainty, and terror.
  3. Levi remained at the work camp until January 1945. The SS troops knew that a Russian bombing was imminent and decided to take all of the “healthy” prisoners on a death march to the next camp. Levi, who had caught scarlet fever, was left behind. The bombings caused the Germans to flee the camp. Levi, along with other prisoners, managed to survive the bombings and ultimately escape the deserted camp.


Even though Levi believed he would have been executed for announcing his political resistance, would he had fared better had he not disclosed his religion to the fascist militia?

How is Levi able to refuse to consent to his treatment by the SS troops? How is he able to keep a clear mind and possess the will to survive against all odds?


I find it most interesting how lucky Levi was during his imprisonment in the work camp. He was not only sent to the infirmary after a foot injury, which meant forty days free of work, but he only got ill once, contracting scarlet fever right before the death march, and he survived the bombings by the Russian allies. Statistically, Levi was one of the very few that survived from his original group.

Spread of Nazism Throughout Europe

In Dark Continent, Mazower briefly discusses Germany’s view of Europe as a racial entity.  The movement to eradicate Jews from the population did not exist only in Germany—it was a genocide that aimed to span the entire continent. Mazower argues that racism was the driving force behind World War II, and the desire to improve and cleanse the population occurred throughout Europe. As the power of the Nazi party strengthened, it expanded outside of Germany and ultimately led to one of the greatest genocides in history.

When comparing these concepts to the 25 Points, there is an interesting contradiction when defining national identity.  The 25 Points was written in 1920, before Germany began to expand into other European countries.  Because the Nazis invaded other countries in the following years, the definition of nationality became somewhat confused.  In order to promote a united front, the Nazis accused Jews of being scapegoats for the hardships that Germany faced during the interwar period.  What ultimately led to Germany’s continental dominance, and the mass extermination of Jews, was the need for a blame for Europe’s dark interwar period. Overall, racism was the catalyst behind German power during the Nazi regime.

How did the increase in German power affect the 25 Points? Did it strengthen or weaken the document?

European Dictators: The Worse of Two Evils?

While viewing pictures of the gulags on, I was reminded of the pictures of Auschwicz  I had seen in high school during our holocaust unit. The starvation, disease, and forced labor I read about on the site, as well as in the book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich seemed reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps.

These facts made me wonder why in American culture Joseph Stalin’s crimes often seem to be minimized. (Not that I believe Hitler’s crimes are exaggerated at all.)  According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 11 million people were killed in the Holocaust. According to the International Business Times, Stalin’s kill count is estimated to be 20 million. *Both counts vary according to different sources.

I will not try to determine “who is worse.”  I am merely examining why Hitler seems so much more evil to Americans than Stalin does, while, at first glance, they committed similar crimes.

I think the reason America remembers Hitler more than Stalin is because 1) Hitler was concerned with the extermination of certain races 2) Hitler killed using more sadistic methods 3) Stalin’s crimes were internalized to his country and 4) Stalin had been an American ally.

While Hitler was probably “more racist” as his entire philosophy was based around race, Stalin wasn’t exactly Martin Luther King. He sent various nationalities to the gulags because he perceived them as a threat.  These nationalities included Ukrainians, Germans, and yes, Jews.  So Stalin was also anti-Semitic.  Though he was arguably less so than Hitler, (he didn’t want to actually exterminate them), does it really matter who is more or less anti-Semitic?  Both of them killed people simply for being Jewish.  Which we can all agree is incredibly wrong.

Yes, Hitler was definitely more sadistic than Stalin. While Stalin killed people who he felt threatened by, Hitler almost seemed to take joy in the pure act of sadistic killing. My guess is that this is what truly sets the two apart in the minds of most Americans. Stalin joins the ranks of Genghis Khan and the ancient Roman emperors- killing because they believed they had to in order to remain in power. Hitler’s more of a Jeffrey Dahmer figure with unlimited power.

Hitler also attempted to take over Europe: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, France and an alliance with Italy, and an attempt on Russia. When he would take over a country, he would send the local Jewish, Romani, handicapped, etc. populations to concentration camps (except in the case of Poland, where he basically sent anyone he could).  Stalin stuck to the Soviet Union. While it was the largest country in the world at the time, it was Stalin’s, so he could more or less do as he pleased.

Finally, during World War II, the United States sided with the Soviet Union, and Stalin. First of all, Soviet troops fought valiantly against Hitler, following the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” rule.  Also, as we did ally ourselves with Stalin, we may have trouble admitting we sided with someone who was basically as evil as the one we were fighting against.

Stalin is perceived as less racist and less sadistic than Hitler. He stuck to his own territory and was even an American ally for a little while. Whether deserved or not, these reasons make Stalin the “lesser of two evils” for many Americans.


Eugenics in the Modern Socialist State

Nazi Eugenics Poster

Nazi Eugenics Poster

With the rise of the modern socialist state, states now found themselves responsible for the well-being of their citizens. Because of the physical and mental capabilities of some citizens, many countries in Europe during the inter-war period began to advocate and implement eugenics programs in order to decrease the strain and burden on the bureaucratic system.

States such as France and Germany began to give benefits to its working class; the right to vote, improved health care, education, etc to name a few. All of these rights have costs and benefits to the state, costs that are worth every penny IF the citizen is a healthy and productive member of society. However, in the case of unproductive members (mentally challenged, “undesirables”, crippled, etc) they can act as a burden on the state. Thus, in order to provide for productive members in times of an economic crisis, citizens began to advocate and help implement eugenics into European society.

As demonstrated above, eugenics were not promoted by showing the end result of the people in question; rather, eugenics was promoted through propaganda using imagery designed to show the dead weight that the “unproductive” citizens were sharing with those who were productive. The ubermensch German is shown to carry the sick and deformed as part of their duty to the state while the freeloaders ride on his shoulders. This sort of imagery in the times of a recession agreed with citizens view points on making sure that they survived the crisis. Because of this agreement, citizens began to implement such programs as eugenics, leading to the Holocaust.


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