Memory and Complicity: Migrations of Holocaust Remembrance

By Debarati Sanyal | Go to book overview

ONE
A Soccer Match in Auschwitz: Passing Trauma
in Holocaust Studies

In The Drowned and the Saved, his final meditation on the Nazi camps, Primo Levi describes a scene reported by Miklós Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish physician who worked as pathologist for Josef Mengele and survived the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz. Nyiszli describes a soccer game played in the courtyard of the crematorium between the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Sonderkommando (SK), a squad composed primarily of Jewish prisoners in charge of duties at the crematoria: “So, Nyiszli tells how during a ‘work’ pause, he attended a soccer game between the SS and the SK, that is to say, between a group representing the SS on guard at the crematorium and a group representing the Special Squad. Other men of the SS and the rest of the squad are present at the game; they take sides, bet, applaud, urge the players on as if, rather than at the gates of hell, the game were taking place on the village green.”1 This scene is a powerful illustration of what Primo Levi termed “the gray zone” in the moral topography of the Nazi camps, a zone of violence and ambiguity in which victim, perpetrator, accomplice,

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