At the Mind's Limit by Jean Amery: Book Report

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Joseph Chaput
Book Report I
At The Mind’s Limit:
Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities
By Jean Amery
“At The Mind’s Limit” is a series of essays written by Jean Amery, a German born Jew who survived the holocaust, who gives the reader a very interesting perspective into the mind of a persecuted Jew from 1935 forward. Amery does not consider himself a religious Jew or one who follows any Jewish traditions. In fact, he did not know that Yiddish was a language until he was 18. So Amery describes the events leading up to and following the holocaust through the eyes of an “intellectual” and tries to find out whether being an “intellectual” helped or hindered his mental and spiritual capacity as he experienced unimaginable terrors.

The first section entitled At The Mind’s Limit, examines the effects of these unthinkable events on the minds of what he refers to as intellectual and non-intellectual people. Amery claims that intellectual people are people who know poetry, art, philosophy, music, and literature; basically a man who emerged from the Renaissance with a sense of reason. The initial shock of what was happening hit the Jews at different times. While all of the non-intellectuals began trying to hold onto anything that still made sense (God, possessions, family), the intellectual, plagued by reason, steps back from the event occurring and try to apply reason. Through reason they could see that they were totally helpless. Being rounded up to be slaughtered with no help in sight. This made the initial “sting” of the events leading up to the holocaust become worst for the intellectuals. Also, because the world around the intellectual used to hold so much meaning and beauty that is expressed for example in poetry, the fact the world that he now finds himself in holds no hope or beauty but instead only confidence in death burns deeper into the intellectual rather than the non-intellectual.

The next section, entitled Torture, analyses the effects that torture had on the authors mind. While using minimal gruesome detail, Amery shows us a horrible picture in which the tortured experiences not only physical, but also mental and spiritual pains. Amery claims that every person feels a certain sense of security in the world. They believe that if they are in trouble someone will help them, and even though they hear of horrible things happened in the world, they would never think that anything bad would happen to them. This ideal view on life was torn away from the Jews as if a large curtain were dropped to reveal how uncertain and terrifying life can be. Amery calls this realization of life, as it truly is, the “first blow”. He goes on to say that “with the first blow from a policeman’s fist, against which there can be no defense and which no helping hand will ward off, a part of our life ends and it can never be revived”(29). It is as is they are being told that Santa is not real, and the possibility for that magic and perhaps part of their imagination that is ingrained into their sense of self is destroyed. With the author’s loss of the belief in humanity, if he were shown any small amount of such humanity he would become hysterical and for a moment be able to grasp the hope that humanity is alive. However, the torture Amery suffers through continues with him everyday as he explains, “Whoever was tortured, stays tortured”(34).

In the third section entitled How Much Home Does a Person Need? Amery examines the meaning of “Home” beyond the romanticized connotation, and to determine the necessity for one to have a home. Amery defines the sense of Home as a sense of security in ones surroundings though linguistic assimilation and knowledge of the things around you. While the author agrees that these characteristics of a place to live can be achieved through extensive time spent in the area, he also recognizes the idea of a “homeland” where one grew into the culture and sees the...
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