THE SURVIVOR: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps by Terrence Des Pres

THE SURVIVOR: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps

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Drawing on existentialist literature, Lorenzian ethnology, and the clinical data of the Nazi extermination camps, this essay argues that the lesson of camp survival is our ""biological wisdom."" Once the horror of the material and the book's dark graphics are distanced, this thesis becomes inconsistent and rather silly. Des Pres shows that organized resistance in the camps drew on tremendous moral, intellectual and, usually, political resources; he claims that this occurred despite civilization, not because of it, and we should all become ""mature"" enough to settle for sheer physical survival. The book accounts for self-sacrifice in the camps by pointing to the cooperative instinct of insects. Presumably the kapos and passive victims were somehow born deficient in this instinct; Des Pres simply writes as if all kapos were choosing the cleverest way to give secret aid to others. On the other hand, if ""the body's crude claims"" are the key to survival, we cannot explain the inmates who were ready to die for others, not to mention the WW II anti-fascists without whom no resister would have survived the camps.

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 1976
ISBN: 0195027035
Publisher: Oxford