The dehydration from the trip and made to

The
way Goldhagen describes the camps in his analyses is quite similar to the
horrible experiences Levi went through. Even though Levi was the one that
actually lived through and survived the camps, Goldhagen provides a good
description of the camps. In his analyses, Goldhagen describes the universe of
the camps to be like their own world where its only purpose is to make Jews’
lives a living hell along with the constant threat of death. Levi was degraded,
broken down from the labor, and psychologically tortured at the camps by the
Germans. “In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was
revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink any lower
than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it
conceivably be so.” (Levi, Pg. 26)

            Goldhagen described the concentration camp as ‘work
camps’ which is pretty interesting considering that that’s what the camps were
at first. However their nature and purpose changed over time but also remained
somewhat constant in terms of extermination. The stripping of identities, cruel
subjugation to horrible living conditions, and mass murder were the nature of
the camps. Levi experienced his first taste when he first arrived at
Monowitz-Buna and was forced to wait in a room, already suffering from extreme
dehydration from the trip and made to stand naked on cold water, waiting while
not knowing absolutely anything. However Levi had already been condemned to
social death just as all Jews were before even arriving at the camps. “Social
death is a former status.” (Goldhagen, Pg. 168) To Goldhagen, social death
means that members of a society that are missing essential human attributes
don’t deserve social, civil, and legal protection. They (Jews) have no honor,
especially social honor which is needed to be a part of society. To maintain
the status quo, oppressors must subject them (Jews) to violence or the threat
of it. (Goldhagen, Pg. 169)

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            Now according to Goldhagen’s characteristics of the camps;
pointless labor was assigned to keep the Jews working and miserable, Jews were
treated considerably worse than others, the gas chambers were almost
exclusively for Jews as well, the living conditions were atrocious, the food
was barely edible, and Jews were usually sentenced to death if they committed
even the slightest crime. (Goldhagen, Pg. 297) This gave some insight into how
Levi endured his time at the camps since a lot of people had different ways of
doing things. Despite the terrible times Levi went through, he still had some
friends at the camp which can mean the difference between life and death.
Alberto, who became Levi’s best friend, lent a lot of support and encouragement
and solidarity in hard times. (Levi. Pg. 57) However the one who really saved
Levi was Lorenzo. “But Lorenzzo was a man; his humanity was pure and uncontaminated,
he was outside this world of negation. Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to
forget that I myself was a man.” (Levi, Pg.122) It was Lorenzo’s good nature to
help and never accept anything in return that deeply impressed Levi since he
was starting to believe there weren’t any good people left outside the barbed wire’s
perimeter.

The
purpose of the camps changed over time but they were first used for production
purposes/ free labor. However soon enough the camps became a system to exterminate
all Jews, imprison political enemies and people of other races/beliefs that did
not cooperate with the Reich. “In every respect, the Jews fared the worst;
within a given camp or institution, Germans treated Jews far more harshly, fed
them more miserably, and assigned them the most exhausting and demeaning jobs.”
(Goldhagen, Pg. 313) The place of the Jews in the camp was the lowest of the
low. Jews were never allowed to remain idle since they are never supposed to be
in a painless state. (Goldhagen, Pg. 304)

I
have chosen to write segments of three about the Grey Zone, Night and Fog, and
the Quarrel. In The Grey Zone, there is a man that’s part of the Sonderkommando
named Hoffman whom is Jewish. The Sonderkommando were composed of concentration
camp prisoners, usually Jews, who were coerced or forced, by threat of their
own deaths if they don’t comply, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber
victims during the Holocaust. They were given extra rations and supplies for
their efforts. One of Levi’s themes is that Jews were subject to endure all
types of hellish suffering and dehumanization. Hoffman was leading the newly
arrived Jews to the “showers” and orders everyone to de-clothe and remove all their
possessions and were assured that they will be returned after their shower.
Hoffman struggles with the lie that he’s forced to live. However it’s either
four extra months of guaranteed survival or death. A man shouts about how
Hoffman is lying to them and can’t believe he would do this to other Jews. He
beats him to death while the SS guards watch, after he’s done, the guards smile
at him and give him the dead man’s watch. It could be seen that Hoffman did not
want to do this, just like Levi did not want to toil day in and day out with
back breaking labor. It was a very powerful scene and fully shows the pressure
that the Sonderkommando experienced. In another scene, a squad of prisoners was
stuffing corpses one by one into the crematoriums. This depicts Levi’s theme of
how the Haftlinge (prisoners) show the world their struggle to survive and
fight for life on a daily basis. Either you shove corpses into a big brick oven
or get shot on the spot. That scene truly captured the horror of what these men
were forced to endure. As for the last scene, the SS guards are suspicious
about some gun powder floating around camp and they interrogate these two women
who seem to know where it is. The guards line up a bunch of prisoners and start
shooting them in the head one by one until one of the women talk. Eventually,
eight people get shot until the psychological torture is too much to bear and
the two women commit suicide. This scene in particular depicts several of
Levi’s themes and Goldhagen’s, the first of which is that from seemingly
everyday situations to moments of life and death, nothing in Auschwitz seems to
abide by reason or logic. The guards were having the time of their lives
watching the women mentally break but were also making the torture so brutal
that the women killed themselves to stop the others from being shot. The second
theme is that these were horrors that perhaps have never been seen in human
history; at least not to that extreme. According to Goldhagen, German
perpetrators/SS guards committed these acts of violence against the Jews
because they thought it was right and necessary in order to cleanse Europe of Jews,
once and for all. The German guards really were evil and their lack of
conscience for the death of Jews leaves me without words.

In
The Quarrel, two men were discussing their beliefs in God and the debate gets
heated due to differing opinions. “If I knew God, I’d be God.” (The Quarrel,
Hersh) “If I knew God, I’d put Him on trial.” (The Quarrel, Chaim) Just like
Levi described in his book, hundreds of thousands trapped in the camps prayed
to God but their prayers went unanswered and He allowed the Holocaust to
happen; that’s what Chaim is angry about. Levi was afraid to hope in the camps
because it was dangerous to hope. Chaim denounced his faith in God. Hersh is
the opposite and actually got closer to God because of his experiences in the
camps so he wishes to be God for Chaim but he doesn’t feel the same way (put
God on trial). Even though they were childhood friends that parted on bad terms
and haven’t seen each other in years, they still found each other, almost like
fate and found that they still had great respect for each other. In a way, this
is what Levi wanted with Alberto but seems not everyone gets to be lucky. As
for the last scene, after Hersh and Chaim have a heated argument about religion
and morality, they walk away in a huff down separate paths, each hoping they
took the right path back. Turns out both paths led to the same place. This
shows that friendship and love for a dear friend will trump anger and regret. Levi,
as he has mentioned himself, would not have survived the camps if it wasn’t for
his two close friends giving him support along the way. With this, Levi
succeeded in keeping his humanity; he didn’t let the guards beat him down.

Inga
Clendinnen’s impression of Primo Levi’s book was that he is a gifted writer,
amazing at painting a vivid mental picture, and has fantastic insight with
helping others grasp the complex details of his story. (Clendinnen, Pg. 38) “I
labour these points because the very simplicity of Levi’s prose can blind us
both to its beauty and its intellectual penetration, as the shining surface of
clear water dazzles our sight and hides the depths beneath.” (Clendinnen, Pg.
41-42) Clendinnen believes that by Levi having a mission to stay alive, it
helped him psychologically along with the support of his close friends in the
camp; however Clendinnen doesn’t believe that’s all it took. Luck had a lot to
do with it. Hundreds of thousands of other Jews had the same beliefs but
perished anyway. Levi was lucky enough to get deported to Auschwitz in 1944.
Since Levi was also young, he got to go work at Monowitz instead of winding up
in Birkenau’s crematorium. Along with the help of Alberto, Lorenzo, and some impressive
hustling, Levi was able to get by and land himself a job that got him out of
the cold when he was most likely to die. (Clendinnen, Pg. 46)

Hope
was the only thing left after everything and there were so many obstacles that
tried their damndest to crush that hope, after all, that’s the nature of the
camp. “The discipline of the camps–the discipline which destroyed these men as
sentient beings–was largely in the hands of prisoners, most especially the
block leaders and the Kapos, the bosses of the work team.” (Clendinnen, Pg. 36)
After the Holocaust ended, Jewish and non-Jewish survivors claimed it was other
prisoners attacking them that destroyed almost all their belief in hope which
means it really was up to Levi as a person to hold on and persevere past the
atrocities done to him. Levi did not let the SS convince him that he was not
allowed to live. The system of murder, brutality, torture, and survival of the
fittest that was put in place to turn the Jews on each other worked on most,
but not Levi. In Auschwitz, Levi was able to hold on to some of his integrity,
his sense of perseverance, because of his earlier training (Bachelor’s of
Science in Chemistry) and because of his ability to watch, analyze, and
identify while he was a chemist and surviving at the camps. (Clendinnen, Pg.
42) Nevertheless, according to Clendinnen, Levi’s book is a tribute to the
celebration of human encounters at the camps and considered them gifts.
(Clendinnen, Pg. 45) “Levi gave a voice to the voiceless. Levi was not only a
fine writer but a fine historian. Even as he recounts catastrophes we are
reassured, because Levi is Levi still: responsive, ironic, and gravely gay.”
(Clendinnen, Pg. 48-50) Levi lived through the horror and is a good storyteller
meanwhile; Goldhagen examines the Holocaust from an academic standpoint while Clendinnen
observes from a writer and visual perspective. In Goldhagen’s belief, the root
cause of the persecution of Jews was due to pre-Nazi anti-Semitism which was
there long before the camps were established and had just been festering and
festering until most of the German society was consumed while Clendinnen focuses
on the resilience of the human spirit and the fact that Levi got lucky. Clendinnen’s
impressions of Levi are somewhat similar to my comparison of Levi and Goldhagen.
Clendinnen focuses more on a positive outlook based off of Levi’s experiences
and his ability to put that story out there so vividly while Goldhagen is more
in terms of realism and accusation which is why he got critiqued by many other
scholars who do not share his point of view.

Browning’s
thesis contains multiple views and opinions of the Holocaust and is used to
figure out why the men from Battalion 101 turned into killers. Ordinary Men is
a story of normal people who were commissioned to carry out horrific deeds in
the most notorious mass killings in modern times and provides insight into who
the contributors of genocide actually are. However at the center of the Shoah,
there is a little ball of dense mass filled with massive amounts of genocide
which swallows Jews left and right. “Never before had I encountered the issue
of choice so dramatically framed by the course of events and so openly
discussed by at least some of the perpetrators. Never before had I seen the
monstrous deeds of the Holocaust so starkly juxtaposed with the human face of
the killers.” (Browning, Pg. xvi) Browning’s goal is to find out how the
Holocaust came to be and what it signified. So why did these normal policemen
kill that many people? In order to find out, Browning made his own history of
the Battalion by acquiring sensitive records. Nevertheless, Browning’s findings
changed how the Holocaust is looked at now. The Final Solution was usually
always associated with concentration camps and mass killings however Browning
showed that hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in a
face-to-face manner. Contrary to Goldhagen, Browning believes it’s not
“enlightenment” ideology that drove the Battalion to kill since they didn’t
have a Nazi affiliation. So why did these men kill? Browning concluded that
these men became murderers for dull reasons like: loyalty to the job and their
co-workers, fear of losing respect amongst their peers/boss, and/or an absence
of morality. This is the complete opposite of Goldhagen since the Holocaust was
not incited by the longstanding hatred towards Jews or anti-Semitism believes
Browning. It was however put into action due to human error. This is when
Browning concludes that the men in the battalion were ‘Ordinary Men’. Now it
should be mentioned that Trapp, the commander of the Battalion gave his men the
option to not participate in the shootings. (Browning, Pg. 2) As Browning
stated previously, these men had a choice but had mundane/illogical reasons for
not backing out.

Goldhagen
argues that Germans possessed a unique form of anti-Semitism, which he called
“eliminationist anti-Semitism”, a screwed up ideology dating back through
centuries of German history. Under its influence, the vast majority of Germans
wanted to eradicate Jews from German society, and the ones responsible for
starting the Holocaust did it because they believed it was ‘right and utterly
necessary’. If given the chance, Germans would sign up to kill and so Goldhagen
concludes that ‘Ordinary Germans’ were the perpetrators there. Goldhagen made
an assumption that Germans were not “normal” people but merely influenced by the
ideology of Enlightenment of the time. Goldhagen goes on to contend that the
vast majority of Germans were actively anti-Semitic already and wanted to kill
Jews in the most inhumane way possible. Goldhagen also argues that the
Battalion 101 was far from ‘ordinary’ as Browning classified them. So Goldhagen
researched the policemens themselves and their motives with the same materials
as Browning. Nevertheless, Goldhagen firmly still believed that these men were
filled with hate towards the Jews meanwhile anti-Semitism was at an all time
high. 

            The
Wannsee Conference provides complete support to Goldhagen’s theory of
‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’. There was some slight support for Browning’s
view as well but not as much as Goldhagen’s. The meeting of top brass Nazi
officials was for the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ where they laid
out the plan for the eradication of 11 million Jews across Europe. A big topic
amongst the officials was racial discrimination. If anyone was part Jewish, no
matter how small, practiced the Jewish faith, or if married to a Jew
(privileged mixed marriage) or had a baby with a Jew, even if they’re Aryan
German, they would be considered Jewish and added to the list of undesirables
which met their end in the concentration camps. “An Aryan’s father’s belief in
the Jewish faith outweighs his Aryan blood. He’s considered a Jew and treated
as a Jew.” (SS Officer who resigned at the end, Wannsee Conference) Besides the
implementation of the Final Solution, it was very obvious how strong these
officials hatred was for the Jews. Germans really did want to eliminate Jews
from German society and now all of Europe. The hatred of Jews was a ‘normal’
part of German society by now that some women were comfortable talking about it
and seem to be unphased by the mass killings. “Jews only have themselves to
blame. I understand why the Fuhrer is making them pay. They’ve amassed a huge
debt. One day the world will thank us.” (Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich, Wannsee
Conference) This quote just elaborates even more of what the Germans felt and
wanted from the Jews. They wanted their debt paid with suffering and death. However
the fact that the Obergruppenfuhrer (meeting leader) said the word ‘amassed’, it
sounds similar to Goldhagen’s belief that their ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’
is not something new and has been around for centuries. The actions and
descriptions of these evil men prove Goldhagen right; however maybe not about
the German population in its entirety. The horror continues with the revision
of the Final Solution and the current progress the Reich has made in clearing
Jews out of Europe and to the east which is where Auschwitz is. Estonia,
Latvia, and Lithuania were proclaimed Jew-free and were met with applause. A
map was pulled out showing the current death tolls in each country; most of
which were in the high 50,000’s. In that room and almost everywhere else in Germany
at the time, Jews were seen as parasites; bacteria that needed to be eradicated
in order to save the rest of the organism. This was made evident by, “With some
prodding, we used the anti-Semitism of the local population.” (Obergruppenfuhrer
Heydrich, Wannsee Conference) The Obergruppenfuhrer actually said that which
proves Goldhagen right, there were mass amounts of anti-Semitism in Germany and
the officials had control over it which in turns leads to the conclusion that
these methods were used to coerce the public further into going along with
their maniacal genocide. The official next to the Obergruppenfuhrer had to take
his saying off the record in order to keep things under wraps. So did these
military men really believe they were doing the right thing? The
Obergruppenfuhrer mentioned how the Reichsfuhrer-SS (commander of SS) fainted
while witnessing the execution of a Jew. He finished by stating that it proves
Germans are human too. These people truly don’t see anything wrong with their
actions and their beliefs. They have such a hard-wired notion that Jews are the
enemy and seem to be experts at killing mass amounts of Jews for fun. An
example would be the continued use of all four types of poison gas for the Jews
instead of reducing them; ‘competition is good for business’. “It’s either them
or us.” (Obergruppenfuhrer Heydrich, Wannsee Conference) The officials were
having trouble not only with Jews but with people in their own government. A
tactic used by Stalin in his administration is to go after the nay-sayers and
‘undesirables’ and give them an ultimatum, join or else. Goldhagen was right
that the Germans were unique in their dedicated hatred. Except The SS official
that had the flu had his reservations about the inclusion of Jews from mixed
marriages and vice-versa. The other officials looked so comfortable talking
about extermination methods but it didn’t seem like this man was as
anti-Semitic as his comrades were. In the end, he resigned. Anti-Semitism drove
a country to murder and ruin. In the end, Goldhagen was proven right by the
Wannsee conference and Browning was wrong in this case.