Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Many Holocaust victims have expressed uneasiness or even shame regarding the actions they took to stay alive in the death camps. These acts of self-preservation were usually humiliating and often came at the expense of their fellow victims. This comes out most clearly in the testimonies of the members of the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz and Treblinka. Writers such as Filip Müller, Zalmen Gradowski, and Richard Glazar recount how they survived the lethal environment of the camp by appropriating the food, clothing, and valuables of the people murdered in the gas chambers. Although most scholars have interpreted these testimonies, and the acts of self-preservation they describe, as a form of resistance, I argue that the writings reflect an awareness of enslavement to the body and the imperative of self-preservation, which Arthur Schopenhauer calls the “will-to-live.” For the victims are not only lamenting the degrading things they had to do to preserve their lives; they are also questioning self-preservation itself. By reducing the victim to little more than a body, which never ceases in its physical demands until death, the death camp cruelly exploited the human enslavement to the will-to-live. The writers of these testimonies are critical of their own servitude to the imperative to survive at all costs and tend to admire, perhaps even envy, their fellow inmates who have the courage to resist the Nazis or commit suicide, which they view as the only true liberation from their bondage to the will-to-live.
Foster, Jessica Christina, "“I Held on at Any Price”: Victim Self-Preservation in the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz and Treblinka" (2022). All Theses. 3893.