INMATE RELATIONS IN HOLOCAUST NARRATIVES
One of the curiosities of Holocaust memoirs is that the vast majority contain contradictory evidence about the predominance of selfishness over cooperation in the concentration and death camps. General statements about helping and comradeship stand side by side with assertions that the Nazi system set people against each other and that selfish responses were the norm. Some memoirs emphasize such egocentric responses as stealing food, rejecting communication with other inmates, or limiting concern to one's own suffering or safety. But sometimes the same accounts, or others, stress the comforting power of conversation, the saving of comrades' lives, or the pain of seeing others suffer. And the issue is complicated by the act of writing about the events from the distance of time. The survivor's present condition imprints itself on the retelling of the past: continued ties with the dead produce a sense of guilt and sadness but also a responsibility to bear witness to the unique events suffered in common. The survivor-author has frequently made the goal of bearing witness his or her reason to survive and often carries an implicit or explicit pact with the dead that whoever survives will assume the burden of speaking for the others. Only in this way will death not be absolute, as Terrence Des Pres has eloquently stated. 1 But this act of witnessing often conveys a multifaceted vision: the extraordinary otherness of the Holocaust, part
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Publication information: Book title: Gender and Destiny:Women Writers and the Holocaust. Contributors: Marlene E. Heinemann - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1986. Page number: 81.