VALUES AND VIOLENCE IN AUSCHWITZ: A Sociological Analysis by Anna Pawelcyzynska


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Professor Pawelczynska, of Warsaw University, demonstrates what a sociological study can add to the growing holocaust literature by treating the concentration camp as a social system, albeit one based on criminal intent and practice. For Pawelczynska, Nazis are ""gangsters,"" their camps an ecological testing ground for life stripped of all moral pretensions and ideals. Yet in this behavioral sink violence does not destroy the prisoners' values: instead, those who survive are those who demonstrate ""creativity"" in the moral sphere. ""Love your neighbor as yourself"" becomes ""Do not harm your neighbor and, if possible, save him."" Along with this discussion of values, Pawelczynska details the status system, the adaptations to limited space and deprivation of food, and the terror that not only made up daily life in the camps but also largely determined who might survive. Herself a survivor of Auschwitz, she relies in her discussion on such ""objective categories"" and yet maintains her moral stance--the study only gains in impact through her control. While she never fulfills part of her original aim to draw connections between the camps and the criminal society that fostered them, her discussion of dally camp life--the triangular badges, the work crews, the resistance movement--exposes the camp's structure and purpose and illustrates how, far from collapsing, people adapt their values and behaviors to life in extremity. The book complements Terence Des Pres' more purely psychological work, The Survivor, and underpins the holocaust literature--novels, memoirs, reflections--that is still so much with us.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of California Press