Surviving Auschwitz

There is this woman in my life, my Uncle’s mother, who I have known since I was quite young. As a child, there were three things I knew about Huggy (as we kids called her) she is tiny (about 4’6″), she is French, and she always wears long sleeves.

Growing up Jewish, the holocaust was a key part of my religious education. French Jews were imprisoned? Huggy is a French Jew. It took place in the 1940s? Huggy was growing up then. Piecing realizations together until figuring out Huguette was a Holocaust survivor.

Huggy entered Auschwitz with her family when she was about 12, and due to treatment/malnutrition in the camp did not grow. She is tattooed with her ID number on her for arm. She and her brother were the only surviving members of the family. She is an Auschwitz survivor.

Reading Levi’s book, you can understand the  gravity, and hopelessness of the situation he is in. However, he preaches that hope, compassion, and looking out for each other were the key to survival. I don’t think that Huguette would agree with any of these tactics and plans, to her there were those who were lucky enough to survive, and those who weren’t.


Quiet Survival

In the afterword to Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi stated: “As for survival…I insist there was no general rule, except entering the camp in good health and knowing German. Barring this, luck dominated” (180). Levi did enter the Lager in relatively good health and quickly learned some German, and he did encounter more luck than many of the Häftling, especially in the case of meeting Lorenzo, who provided Levi with both the physical sustenance of soup as well as the less tangible reminder of the world outside, where goodness still existed. Despite Levi’s statement that luck was the most important factor in survival, throughout his book, Levi mentioned other factors that likely contributed to his ability to survive despite the horrendous trials he and his fellow prisoners faced.

Levi’s ability to retain or at least remember his humanity was one of the most important factors to his survival. As mentioned previously, Lorenzo offered Levi a reminder of humanity in addition to the soup he gave him. Levi could see this element of Lorenzo’s offering, where other people might only see the soup. The fact that Levi could find the deeper meaning to such a simple gesture enabled him to never become the animal that the Germans saw him as. Before Levi met Lorenzo, a man named Steinlauf explained to him the importance of not becoming a “beast” (41). Levi carried this idea on with him thenceforth.

In addition to the importance of humanity, Levi also emphasized the importance of looking forward to small things. “Hope” may be too strong a word for this act, but any motivating factor could have given the prisoners the ability to stay alive, even if only one day at a time. During his first winter in the Lager, Levi explained that the prisoners’ “only purpose [was] to reach the spring” (71). Even though they would still be hungry and miserable in the spring, they would not be as cold, and this was something the prisoners could look forward too, small as it might seem to us. Another small light in Levi’s life was the menaschka, or pot, that he and Alberto obtained to transport Lorenzo’s soup. The tiniest of act of defiance, having such a pot boosted their social standing and gave them something other than hunger and misery to think about.

Throughout Levi’s book, it is small acts of humanity and small changes to daily life that seemed to have sustained him during his time in Auschwitz. In his book, survival is not a grand, heroic triumph but rather a quiet sustaining of the things that make us human, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity. Trans. S. J. Woolf. Ed. Philip Roth. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print

The Racial Paradigm: Hitler and the Holocaust

Both Stargardt and Kershaw discuss Hitler’s leadership style. Each specifically discusses Hitler’s leadership as it relates to the extermination of the Jewish population in Germany, or the Final Solution. Kershaw discusses Hitler’s leadership style as a bottom-up approach. Stargardt similarly argues that Hitler relied on local leaders to implement his policies.

It is commonly known that Hitler had his inner-circle of advisors whom he relied on for advice and implementation. However, both articles brought up the racial issue that was central to Hitler’s regime. To orchestrate something as large as the Holocaust, mass organization was necessary.

Stargardt has a section of his article titled “The Racial Paradigm” in which he addressed the complexity of race during the Holocaust. He argued that although political decisions were made within the inner-circle, the majority of participation came from middle class lobbyists. Stargardt’s claim is logical, as mass participation had to occur in order for society’s perception to change.

This brings up the subject of societal consciousness. Although there was mass participation, was society aware of the bottom-up format of government, or were they still under the impression that this was solely Hitler’s doing?


Fleeing Franco

Hywell Davies Fleeing Franco delivers an interesting perspective on the Spanish Civil War, showing the tight relationship between Wales and the Basques. Davies does an excellent job communicating the children’s viewpoint in addition to that of the Welsh, but due to his background, it is possible that there is a bias. Davies was born and raised in Wales and teaches there. In addition, Fleeing Franco was published by the University of Wales Press. He relies on interviews and newspapers to get a sizable amount of information and uses his secondary sources to frame that information and create a narrative. His book, although credible, does not criticize the Welsh nearly enough to make it seem as if he is “unbiased”.

The interesting part I took away from Davies was the differences in responses to the plight of the Basques versus the plight of the Jews then shortly thereafter. Davies describes how unemployed workers would spare anything they had in order to support the Basques and Republicans versus the support for the Jews. Davies briefly mentions this, but he does not compare or contrast it enough for the reader to understand the differences in the support for the two groups. I felt as if not only religion, but working class had an important part to play in this decision. But why? Why do the people of Wales take in 4,000 Basque children yet they ignore the plight of the Jewish children shortly thereafter?

The Nowaks and the Jews

The Jews living in Berlin were some of the most assimilated Jews in all of Europe. Why, then, did the Nazis not face more resistance when they began to ship Jews off to concentration camps? The Jews were clearly different from other Berliners, but how were they viewed before the Nazis came into power? Did other German dislike the Jews and want them to be taken away?

In his short story, “The Nowaks”, Christopher Isherwood captures a few different German views toward Jews. There is a Jewish tailor in the neighborhood who sells clothing to people on credit and never pushes for his money back. He is well liked, even though everyone owes him money. “He enjoyed the status of a public character whom people curse without real malice” (p.117). When discussing the tailor with Christoph, Frau Nowak says, ‘ “when Hitler comes, he’ll show these Jews a thing or two. They won’t be so cheeky then” ’(p.117). But Frau Nowak goes on to clarify that she doesn’t want the Jews taken away, saying ‘ “You ask the people round here, Herr Christoph: they’d never turn out the Jews” ’(p.117).  This statement seems contradictory to her previous one, and in hindsight, is extremely ironic.

In contrast with his wife, Herr Nowak believes that “we’re all equal as God made us. You’re as good as me; I’m as good as you”(p.110). Herr Nowak, even though he is drunk most of the time and is a working class man, is wise, and probably a communist. He discusses how he and a French soldier met on a road during WWI and parted as “aim”(p.110). He also makes fun of both Jews and Catholics equally, imitating how each group prays (p.123).

The Nowaks don’t seem like people who would turn their Jewish neighbors over to the Nazis, but other Germans did. Frau Nowak said herself that the Jewish tailor gives credit like no Christian would and is well liked, so what does he need to be taught by Hitler? Do the people actually secretly resent him because they owe him money?  What was it really about the Jews that bothered Germans?