Dr. T Porter
The Holocaust Experience
Simply put, the Holocaust was the annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazi regime. In 1933 approximately nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during the war and by 1945 about two out of every three European Jews had been killed. The European Jews were the major victims of the Holocaust. But Jews were not the only group singled out for persecution by Hitler's Nazi regime. As many as one and a half million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally or physically disabled persons, and more than three million Soviet prisoners of war also fell victim to Nazi genocide. In this section of reading we talk about the categories in which those in the camps fell into. There are victims and perpetrators and we see how the Jewish people themselves played roles in the camps. This sections also talks about gender roles and we have a large divide between three of the historians and how gender played a role in this section. In looking at the history of the Jewish survivors from the beginning of the Nazi occupation until the liquidation of the ghettos, you can see that there are common features and similar psycho physiological patterns in their responses to the persecutions. What was the duration of the trauma? During the Holocaust, was the victim alone or with family and friends? Was he or she in a camp or in hiding? Did he or she use false "Aryan" papers? Was he or she a witness to mass murder in the ghetto or in the camp? In looking at their will for survival we have to look at what was it that they were put through? Power is a strange phenomenon. In those camps the act of playing God seemed to be of fun to them. Terrence Des Pres explains this best by stating: “As power grows, it grows more and more hostile to everything outside itself. Its logic is inherently negative, which is why it ends by destroying itself. . . The exercise of totalitarian power, in any case, does not stop with the demand of outward compliance. It seeks, further, to crush the spirit, to obliterate that active inward principle whose strength depends on its freedom from entire determination by external forces. And thus the compulsion, felt by men with great power, to seek out and destroy all resistance, all spiritual autonomy, all sign of dignity in those held captive. . .The death of the soul was aimed at.” Yet the Jewish people seemed to have mustered the will to fight to survive. Des Pres concludes that the "survivor is the figure who emerges from all those who fought for life in the concentration camps". Clearly, he believes that survival and resistance were possible. One could also argue that the acts of resistance used by the prisoners to help other prisoners were, in fact, acts of rescue. Certainly, without the help Des Pres describes, many other Jews would likely have died in the camps. In his section Primo Levi describes the lagers as a terrible place for the newcomers. He states that people could not be simply divided into victims and persecutors. Now in looking at his exert we must first look at it openly. Before divulging into the gray zone we must know and understand that Levi though a “prisoner” in the camps he was not in a death camp and he was in the camps before they began killing the people. His account or opinion must be looked at a little differently. According to Levi, the gray zone of protekcja and collaboration springs from multiple roots. The motives of guilt, torture, terror and desire of power have come into play to create this gray zone. The camps, Levi writes, were an inverted moral universe, a ''gray zone'' where irrationality reigned. Precisely, the gray zone is a reflection on the nature of total domination in the accomplished form that it took on in the Lager. The topics of “complicity” and responsibility are tied in with those circumstances and this should help us never forget the extreme and uninterrupted pressure that was inflicted upon the prisoners. He says that prisoner-functionaries exist to maintain order in concentration camps based on a system of punishments and privileges, based on the consent or tolerance of the guards or other prisoners higher in the ranks of the deportees, or, in some cases, the consent of the commandant. Levi shows how all the “victims” were not truly victims in fact how they themselves played a role in the destruction of their people in order to survive. In my interpretation “the gray zone” is more of the survival of the fittest because it was either let them do to you what they want or fight to the best of your ability to survive. Those that you may step on in the course are just innocent obstacles that seemed to stand in the way. Bruno Bettelheim writes that survival was possible, but only through lack of resistance. He argues that the longer prisoners remained in the concentration camps, the more childlike they became, and the more they imitated the behavior of the Nazi officers. He says that they were so imitated by the officers that they turned against other concentration camp survivors who were weaker or newer to camp than themselves and who, therefore, threatened the older camp survivors' lives. Terrence Des Pres contends that Bettelheim misses numerous instances of resistance that may have been masked by mimicking behavior. Des Press contends that prisoners often used the appearance of compliance to help other, weaker, prisoners He writes that Bettelheim's argument overlooks "'a whole system of mimicry toward the SS,' and 'ever-present camouflage' which concealed true feelings and intention”. As a child Psychologist he fails to understand humans adapt for survival strategy, Yes as a small child one automatically falls into line out of fear of punishment. When one becomes an adult in need to survive one will adjust and fit into the force environment they have been placed into in order to survive. Documentation on survival of the Holocaust has primarily focused on the lives of men as written by men and perceived by men. This leads us to believe that men and women experienced the Holocaust the same way. Although one would be naïve in assigning purely gender-related reasons for survival (experiences such as thirst, hunger and deprivation were non-discriminate). According to Sybil Milton it is clear that gender-related behavior of men and women, and gender roles in the Jewish community led to different survival capabilities. Different experiences faced by men and women were a function of the fact that each sex was vulnerable to the Nazis in ways specific and exclusive to them. We can say that woman carried a sort of card that queued them for instant death. Mothers were especially at risk for early execution. Being a mother with a child, pregnant, or just by holding the hand of a child meant instant death. Sybil Milton states that the social differences between men and women enabled women to better struggle against the sub-human conditions of degradation, deprivation, terror and even death. Milton offers an insight into the reactions of devoutly religious Jewish women, as she interprets their feelings of “both a physical and spiritual nakedness” upon being shorn of their hair. They formed mutual assistant groups to help and ensure their survival. Through friendship and comradeship came hope and a reason to live. These groups, sought strength in numbers. They formed deep bonds with each other which led to mutual co-operation and helped to increase their chances of survival. With emotional involvement, there was more of an interest invested in the group to see that everyone in the group survived. Members of these groups shared food, information and offered protection. Milton then suggests that women flirtatiously played upon their feminine sexuality in their struggles against SS men. In a way, her suggestion that women used sex as a tool for survival is a feeble attempt to present sex in the camps as a positive aspect of women’s experiences and further obscures views of sex as a unique difficulty women faced. Milton goes on to say that, essentially on of the main reasons in way women survived was that women cleaned their surroundings and kept themselves cleaner longer than men did thus warding off diseases for longer periods. Milton states that this comradely and other such uses by the female population are what helped the women to survive. Yet in looking at Zoe Waxman she is the complete opposite of the so called feminist view of the holocaust well at least opposite of Milton. Zoe Waxman shows how the conditions and motivations changed those in the camps immeasurably. She reveals the multiplicity of Holocaust experiences, the historically contingent nature of victims' responses, and the extent to which their identities; secular or religious, male or female, East or West European affected not only what they observed but also how they dealt with the events occurring around them. She too like Levi showed that women themselves chose how they fought. They again yes are victims like Milton says they are but according to Waxman they as well are perpetrators because like with men they themselves did what had to be done to survive whether it be kill their children or it be deny that they had a child in order to survive. She also lets it be known that sex wasn’t a pawn like Milton attempts to make it, in fact it was rape and that the men in charge of those camps used it to hurt the woman and not that the women enjoyed it or used it as a way of survival like Milton tries to make it seem. Lawrence Langer argues that gendered histories of the Holocaust will create “‘myths of comparative endurance’” that are likely founded on misleading “‘situational accidents”. What Langer is arguing or suggesting here is that examples like female solidarity that Milton points out as distinctive female coping Mechanisms, may have been a result of conditions imposed upon them by the Nazis or their collaborators. Langer argues for the “severely diminished role that gendered behavior played during the Holocaust. He says that it is ethically impossible to look at the holocaust through the glasses of gender. His argument is that we trivialize the holocaust by looking at it through such light especially when a feminist agenda is placed into the history of it. Langer suggests that women stayed together more often than men because of their work situations, not because of typical gender practices. Thus, to Langer, the Holocaust clearly exhibits universal suffering, and to view it in any other light would be an injustice to the victims. He also challenged the moral legitimacy of what he considered to represent the privileging of one group over another. He maintains that men and women suffered equally, but also rejects the very notion of gender-specific Holocaust studies. In the End when looking at it from a general point of view, the survivors, for the most part have shown to be as strong as humanly possible. Not one person who hasn't seen what they saw can possibly imagine how they feel. Many people are greatly affected by things the survivors would consider menial. Yet I think in this section the line must be blurred. Truly all these people at one point in time had to play the role of perpetrator in order to stay alive. Yes they could have just allowed what happened to them happen but as human being we have the “flaw” to step on others in order to survive. These people were lucky to have survived but there is no doubt that there have been times when their memories have made them think otherwise. There is always a discussion into how and why those who made it through were able to make it. I agree that yes there was a psychological digression by those in the camp into a childlike state but there was also a fight and will to survive. Sybil Milton may have had some points that may have helped women survive but her argument was not historically sound. Many of her arguments are mere attempt at glorifying the feministic point of view and glorify simple things that women did or to use of sex in the camps as a way to over glorify women. Waxman and Lager are truthful in saying that all are victims but they point out the actions of the people. Levi though his opinion can be taken as a grain of salt make a point in the gray zone how people can jump between the role of victim to the role of perpetrator.