Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land

By Sara Nomberg-Przytyk; Eli Pefferkorn et al. | Go to book overview

OLD WORDS -- NEW MEANINGS

For some people, Auschwitz was an ordinary term, but now the word had taken on a completely new set of meanings. An unusually interesting psychological study might result if someone could demonstrate the way in which meanings passed beyond the accepted boundaries of conventional significance. Why a psychological study? Because the new set of meanings provided the best evidence of the devastation that Auschwitz created in the psyche of every human being. No one was able to resist totally the criminal, amoral logic of everyday life in the concentration camp. To some extent all of us were drawn into a bizarre transformation of reality. We knew what those innocent words meant, such words as "gas," "selection," but we uttered them, nevertheless, as though there was nothing hidden behind them.

Take the word "organize." Usually it is associated with such positive values as political, social, and cultural order and wellbeing. When we say of someone that he is a good organizer we usually mean that he is a constructive leader who brings sanity and tranquility to the whole community. In Auschwitz, however, "to organize" meant to improve your own situation, very often at someone else's expense by taking advantage of that person's ignorance or inexperience. "To organize" meant to procure for yourself, by any means, better clothing, lodging, or food. The person who knew how "to organize" slept under a silk comforter, wore silk underwear, and had not only enough bread and soup but even meat. How did she do it? I thought about it after I saw how she had prospered. When I first met her she was in tattered rags. Now she wore warm boots and an elegant sweater. She had a full belly and a smile on her face. When I asked the other prisoners about her I kept getting the same answer: "Apparently she knows how to organize." I managed to observe the workings of this kind of "organizing" in the young lady from Cracow named Fela.

In January 1944 we were both inmates in the new arrivals block. Eighteen years old at the time, she had been sent to Ausch-

-72-

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Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Translator's Foreword ix
  • Alienation 3
  • Exchange 8
  • New Arrivals 13
  • Without Pity 17
  • Death of the Zugang 22
  • Salvation 27
  • The Roar of the Beast 31
  • The Infirmary 36
  • What Kind of a Person Was Orli Reichert? 41
  • The Fight for Masha's Life 43
  • A Plate of Soup 45
  • Erika's Red Triangle 48
  • A Peculiar Roll Call 51
  • The Block of Death 53
  • Morituri Te Salutant 58
  • Marie and Odette 63
  • Esther's First Born 67
  • Old Words -- New Meanings 72
  • Children 79
  • A Living Torch 81
  • The Little Gypsy 83
  • Taut as a String 85
  • The Extermination of the Midgets 89
  • Natasha's Triumph 94
  • The Price of Life 98
  • The Lovers of Auschwitz 100
  • The Dance of the Rabbis 105
  • Revenge of a Dancer 107
  • The Verdict 110
  • Friendly Meetings 114
  • Old Women 118
  • Ilya Ehrenburg Addresses Us 121
  • The New Year's Celebration 123
  • The Bewitched Sleigh 127
  • The Camp Blanket 132
  • In Pursuit of Life 137
  • The Plagues of Egypt 142
  • Without the Escorts 146
  • The First Days of Freedom 151
  • The Road Back 155
  • Editors' Afterword 163
  • Glossary 183
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