Primo Levi’s Reflection on Humanity in Crisis: Survival in Auschwitz

SurvivalinAushwitz

Primo Levi’s Reflection on Humanity in Crisis: Survival in Auschwitz

Primo Levi’s memoir, Survival in Auschwitz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, translated by Giulio Einaudi), depicts not only the author’s survival in the notorious Nazi concentration camp, but also the survival of his humanity after enduring such a grueling process of dehumanization. Published in 1947 under the Italian title If This is a Man (Se questo e un uomo), Levi doesn’t claim to offer new information about the Holocaust in this autobiographical book. Nor does he wish to level fresh accusations against the Nazis. Writing in an introspective manner, Levi sets out “to furnish documentation for a quiet study of certain aspects of the human mind” (9).

Pensive and thought provoking, Survival in Auschwitz constitutes a reflection on the power—and limits—of forgiveness. In an interview published by the New Republic on February 16, 1986, Levi announces that he did not harbor any feelings of hatred towards the Germans. He explains: “I regard hatred as bestial and crude, and prefer that my actions and thoughts be the product, as far as possible, of reason. Much less do I accept hatred directed collectively at an ethnic group, for example at all the Germans.” Levi views the Holocaust not as a reflection of the German nation, but rather as a broader crisis of humanity. Nation after nation fell under the spell of Fascism as countless individuals engaged in horrific acts of cruelty.

Does this mean that the author absolves the Nazis of moral responsibility for their actions? No. During the same interview, Levi qualifies: “All the same, I would not want my abstaining from explicit judgment to be confused with an indiscriminate pardon.” He explains that he can only forgive those who show–through actions, not just words–that they take responsibility and feel guilty for their crimes against humanity. He is speaking, above all, of the crimes perpetrated by ordinary men and women.

In Survival in Auschwitz Levi describes how inflicting harm upon others became a matter of routine during the Holocaust. Sometimes, even without harboring any particular hatred, many Nazi officers conducted the selection process and sent hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths in the gas chambers. Two of the main questions that continue to haunt Levi throughout his life are: how mass murder could have become so commonplace and how much did the German population know about the Holocaust.

In his 1986 interview with the New Republic, Levi offers lucid and reasonable answers. Because totalitarian regimes function very differently from democracies, he argues, it’s not possible to have a dissemination of truthful information and open criticism of despicable actions in totalitarian regimes that we have in democratic societies. Yet, by the same token, Levi remarks, “it was not possible to hide the existence of the enormous concentration camp apparatus from the German people. What’s more, that was not (from the Nazi point of view) even desirable. Creating and maintaining an atmosphere of undefined terror in the country was one of the aims of Nazism.”

Perhaps one of the most astute observations in Survival in Auschwitz is the statement that just as absolute happiness is impossible, so is absolute unhappiness. Even in the hellish conditions of the Nazi concentration camps, prisoners gradually adapt to each phase of the process of dehumanization: starting with the isolation from the rest of the population in Jewish ghettos; to the order to gather by the train station to be transported in cattle trains to concentration camps; to the brutal conditions of the camps themselves. It is rarely a planned acquiescence to humiliation and abuse. Rather, at each phase of their oppression, victims tend to focus on the moment-to-moment struggle for survival. Heroism in such adverse conditions becomes almost impossible. By way of contrast, as Levi observes, “to sink is the easiest of matters; it is enough to carry out all the orders one receives, to eat only the ration, to observe the discipline of the work and the camp” (Survival in Auschwitz, 90). In such a context, the quest for survival assumes heroic dimensions itself, as does the ability to endure extreme hardship while remaining dignified and humane. Few are able to achieve this. Among them is Levi’s friend, Lorenzo, a man whom the author remembers fondly for the rest of his life.

When asked, in the New Republic interview, why a grander, more ambitious heroism didn’t occur in the camps—“How is it that there were no large-scale revolts?”—Levi reminds readers that in such closely monitored environments, “Escape was difficult and extremely dangerous. The prisoners were debilitated, besides being demoralized, by hunger and ill treatment. Their heads were shaved, their striped clothing was immediately recognizable, and their wooden clogs made silent and rapid walking impossible.” Furthermore, most of the inmates found themselves imprisoned in foreign countries whose inhabitants spoke a different language. Many of the natives were hostile to Jews and most were indifferent to their plight. As for revolts, as Levi points out, they existed: in Treblinka, Sobibor and Birkenau. However, “They did not have much numerical weight. Like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, they represented, rather, examples of extraordinary moral force. In every instance they were planned and led by prisoners who were privileged in some way, and consequently in better physical and spiritual condition than the average camp prisoner.”

Although, philosophically speaking, Levi remained a humanist and rationalist throughout his life despite the severe trauma he endured at Auschwitz, he eventually succumbed to its effects. Depression and nightmares haunted him throughout his life. In April 1987, Levi died after falling from his third-story apartment in Turin, which many close to him considered a suicide. Yet he did not write, suffer and die in vain. Through his memoirs, books and interviews, Primo Levi left behind an invaluable intellectual legacy that helps us recall, commemorate and better comprehend the worst humanitarian crisis in history.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Review of After the Holocaust the bells still ring

RabbiJosephPolak

Review of Rabbi Joseph Polak’s memoir, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring

by Claudia Moscovici

Early childhood development specialists emphasize the importance of having a nurturing and stable environment for infants and toddlers. That’s when the foundations of a child’s personality are formed and influence the rest of their life. For instance, studies have shown that many of the children who grew up in the Communist Romanian orphanages during the 1980’s, living in deplorable conditions and deprived of love, attention, adequate sanitary facilities and healthy food, developed personality deficiencies. Many felt emotionally detached from others and could barely communicate.

What about the youngest children of the Holocaust, growing up in the most hellish circumstances imaginable? We know that most of them perished in the fires of the crematoria, being the first to be selected for immediate death. The few so-called “lucky” child survivors recall bits and pieces of what might have been an even worse fate. Rabbi Joseph Polak’s memoir, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring (New York, Urim Publications, 2015), winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award, depicts surviving as a toddler in environments whose only certainties were suffering, squalor, misery and death.

Joseph Polak was born on October 16, 1942, in a Jewish family in German-occupied Netherlands. The Dutch Nazis were ready to snatch him from normal life and send his entire family to the transit camp Westerbork before he was even born. His mother recalled the loud pounding on the door in the middle of the night by “the Police” when she was nine months pregnant with Joseph. She courageously warded off the Dutch Nazis by pointing out the advanced state of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, they didn’t stay away for long. A year later, on September 29, 1943, the Nazis returned. The Polak family was sent to Westerbork for about four months, joining 100,000 other Jews who would be deported to “the East”.

Being so young, Joseph retained only hazy traces of memory of the transit camp, enhanced by his mother’s subsequent descriptions: its crowded, sweaty, uncomfortable conditions; the state of anxiety of so many uprooted, displaced people deprived of their roots, assets, professions, families and identities while awaiting to be sent to what they rightly suspected would be a miserable place. The Dutch government set up Camp Westerbork in the fall of 1939 for Jewish refugees who were not Dutch citizens and had entered the country illegally. Following the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940, the camp grew and became, between 1942 to 1944, a transit camp for all Dutch Jews on their way to the Nazi concentration camps. While the camp organizers, who were also Jewish, attempted to create some semblance of normalcy through various routines and activities—which included entertaining diversions such as plays and musical shows—inmates were obsessed with the weekly lists of candidates for deportation to the East. Staying versus leaving Westerbork could mean the difference between life and death. Eventually almost everyone was deported.

Joseph and his parents were sent to Bergen-Belsen on February 1, 1944, when the camp was known for its relatively good conditions. Those didn’t last long, however. In December 1944, the camp began receiving a large intake of prisoners from Eastern camps evacuated by the Germans faced with the advance of the Soviet army. Grossly overcrowded and without sufficient food and medical supplies or sanitation facilities for its growing population, during its last few months, Bergen-Belsen became a breeding ground for typhus, dysentery, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and death. Starving and deprived of adequate care, with a mother who had become a shadow of her former self and weighed only 50 pounds, little Joseph wandered around hungry and in rags, playing among the miles of corpses lined up at Bergen-Belsen. The narrator depicts, vividly, the overpowering stench of feces and decomposing bodies. Ultimately, his family was “lucky” again. On April 9, 1945 they were sent along with 2500 other Jews to Theresienstadt. On the way, they were liberated by the Soviet Army in Tröbitz, a little village of 700 people in East Germany. Unfortunately, by then his parents had lost their health and stamina. His father passed away in May, while his mother fell gravely ill. Joseph was taken by the Dutch authorities and placed in the care of another Dutch-Jewish family.

Joseph doesn’t have many memories of this brief period. He only recalls the fleeting impression of security offered by his adoptive father. The young boy held on tightly to the man’s jacket as they rode together on a scooter, enjoying the sights and the breeze. Their destination, however, would be a new shock for little Joseph: a white hospital bed where he’s reunited with a mother that he can no longer bond with or even recognize. It takes time for mother and child to begin to heal and grow together again in the more livable conditions offered by a center for Jewish survivors in The Hague. They spend there the next three years, from 1945 to 1948. Later, his mother tells Joseph how she managed to put the atrocious conditions of the concentration camp momentarily out of her mind by imagining that she was at her favorite department store, far removed from the squalor of Bergen-Belsen. Then she takes him to that store again. Flashes of memory spark in the child’s mind, as he perceives, with a sense of wonder and incomprehensible nostalgia for the sordid yet familiar past, the contrast between the luxurious goods in front of his eyes and the misery of his first years of life. In December 1948, mother and child sail to New York together. Later, they end up living with her family in Montreal.

It took Rabbi Joseph Polak decades to return to his early childhood past, which he only vaguely recalls in bits and pieces, and which, for a long time, he wanted to forget. When he was fifty years old, ten years after his mother had passed away, he returned to Bergen-Belsen after a trip to Paris, where he lectured on Jewish law. He was ready, by then, not only to recollect his family’s experiences of the Holocaust, but also to preserve and share them with others. It occurred to him that, as even the youngest child survivors of the Holocaust age and pass away, there is a risk that their memories will disappear along with them. Reading After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring accomplishes more than remind readers of the Holocaust. It also helps us empathize with the victims by placing readers in those circumstances through different narrative means.

Above all, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring is a beautifully written, evocative memoir. In parts, it’s also a theosophical dialogue, staging discussions between the narrator and the Angel of Death on the timeless question of theodicy: namely, how can an omnipotent and omniscient God allow the horrific suffering of children, of innocents? I’m not sure that this question is answered in any definitive manner by the text, but readers can find some solace in the evolution of the author’s own life. Rabbi Joseph Polak used his good fortune of being one of the few very young child Holocaust survivors to fill the void of nihilism left by the trauma of his past and make something worthwhile and redeeming of his life. Instead of turning his back upon humanity for what so many did to their fellow human beings, he reached out to help and heal others, both as a religious figure and as a writer.

His narrative is also an educational text. It makes pedagogical bridges with new generations of readers. Where relevant, Rabbi Polak offers helpful historical background and places the Dutch Holocaust in proper perspective. Middle school and high school students, exposed to Anne Frank’s diary and little else about the Holocaust in the Netherlands, may perceive the Dutch citizens of the era as heroes who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Nazis. While many courageous individuals certainly did, as Polak points out, the Netherlands was at the same time a country that rounded up Jews with remarkable zeal and efficiency. Between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944, the Dutch collaborators sent over 100,000 Jews, or 75 percent of the country’s Jewish citizens, to concentration camps. Only 5,200 among them survived. The odds were better for those who went into hiding with the aid of the Dutch underground or of their non-Jewish friends. Of the 30,000 Jews who hid from the Nazis, two thirds survived.

Last but not least, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring has a beautiful, authentic and lyrical style. At times, it reminded me of Marguerite Duras’ writing: vivid yet also vaguely suggestive; drawing out the philosophical implications of sensory descriptions; versatile in the way it reaches out to readers. Memoir, philosophical and religious treatise, oratory, history lesson and literary text: you will find all this and more in Joseph Polak’s After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

Bergen-Belsen and Four Perfect Pebbles

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

Bergen-Belsen and Four Perfect Pebbles

Review by Claudia Moscovici

In a child’s imagination, there’s a fine line between hope and superstition. For Marion Blumenthal, a nine-year-old Jewish girl imprisoned with her family in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, hope means psychological survival in dire conditions, in which death is a near certainty. Holding four pebbles in her hand, the young girl tells her older brother, Albert: “Look closely. I have these three pebbles, exactly matching. Today I will find the fourth. I suppose you think I’m silly’” (Four Perfect Pebbles co-written by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan, New York: Scholastic, 1996, 7). Although Albert humors his emotional and imaginative sister, for Marion finding the fourth pebble represents the survival of each of her family members: her mother, her father, herself and her brother.

The memoir Four Perfect Pebbles tells the story of the Blumenthal family’s survival against all odds. Of German Jewish origin, the Blumenthals flee the anti-Semitic measures adopted by the Nazis in Germany. They believe that they have escaped to relative safety in Holland. As the Nazi empire expands to Holland, however, in 1944 they arrange to be part of a group immigrating to Palestine (in exchange for the release of German POW’s). However, to their misfortune, their ship is delayed for three months. Instead of finding their way to Israel, the Blumenthals are sent off first to the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork and later to the “Family Camp” in Bergen-Belsen.

Four Perfect Pebbles offers invaluable historical information about the Holocaust, targeting a young adult audience. The book describes an exceptional story of survival in what became, during the final months of the war, one of the most lethal Nazi camps: the same one, in fact, where the sisters Frank perished. Initially intended as a prisoner of war camp, in 1943 Bergen-Belsen became a full-fledged concentration camp. Located in Northern Germany, it operated between 1940 and 1945. In June 1943, Bergen-Belsen was designated as a “holding camp” for Jews who were supposed to be exchanged for German prisoners in other countries. Initially, the conditions were relatively good, but with overcrowding they deteriorated. The SS divided the camp into several sections, including the “Hungarian camp”, the “Special camp” for Polish Jews and the “Star camp” for Dutch Jews, where Marion Blumenthal and her family were interned.

Aside from being deprived of sufficient food, water, adequate medical treatment and basic hygiene facilities, the inmates of Bergen-Belsen were forced to work all day long. Approximately 50,000 people perished there. Bergen-Belsen imprisoned Jews, Poles, Russians, Dutch, Czech, German and Austrian inmates. In August 1944, the Nazis created a new section, the “Women’s Camp”, which held about 9,000 women and girls at any given time. In general, the concentration camp became dangerously overcrowded. Over 80,000 people were brought there in cattle trains from camps in Poland and other areas overtaken by the Soviet army.

Unlike Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen had no gas chambers. Yet as death surrounded her and dozens of corpses were laid out on top of one another outside her barracks each day, Marion lived in constant fear of extermination: “Even though we had been told that there were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, how could we ever be sure? … The soap that the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen were given before entering the showers did not guarantee their harmlessness. For it was common practice at Auschwitz to provide victims some soap—and also promise them hot coffee or warm soup afterward—in order to maintain calm and to deceive those about to be gassed” (66-67).

Conditions at Bergen-Belsen deteriorated rapidly towards the end of the war, even by Nazi concentration camp standards. As Marion Blumenthal recalls, “By early 1945 the food at Bergen-Belsen consisted mainly of cabbage-flavored water and moldy bread. This ration was far less than the six hundred calories a day per inmate that the camp had formerly provided… The death toll was now mounting rapidly as the result of exposure, hunger, severe diarrhea, and fevers” (70). Anne and Marion Frank perished there from typhus in February 1945, only weeks before the camp’s liberation by the Allies.

When the British and Canadians entered the camp on April 15, 1945, they found thousands of corpses and 60,000 prisoners. Fortunately, Marion and her family were not among them. After having been starved, forced into slave labor, infested by fleas and ill with typhus, the Nazis transported them in cattle trains away from the approaching Soviet army. They were nevertheless found and freed by the Soviets, ending up in a refugee camp in Tröbitz. As she had grasped the four perfect pebbles, Marion continued to hold on to the hope of her family’s survival. Unfortunately, her father didn’t make it. He succumbed to typhus in May 1945. His death came as a blow to their tight-knit nuclear family. As Marion wistfully notes, “We had come so far, through flight, imprisonment, evacuation, the Nazis’ final attempt to destroy us, liberation at last, and now this—freedom and sorrow”(99). Her memoir, Four Perfect Pebbles, keeps his memory—and that of countless other Holocaust victims–alive. This book offers a moving testimony of the paradoxical “freedom and sorrow” of being liberated after having suffered so much trauma and the inconsolable loss of loved ones who perished in the Holocaust.

Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

The Psychopaths of the Holocaust: Lovefraud.com Review of Holocaust Memories

Holocaust Memories by Claudia Moscovici

Book Review: The psychopaths of the Holocaust

Holocaust Memories: A survey of Holocaust memoirs, histories, novels, and films, by Claudia Moscovici

Review by Donna Andersen on Lovefraud.com

Most of us have some knowledge of the Holocaust. We’ve heard about the concentration camps and gas chambers. We know one of Adolf Hitler’s objectives during World War II was the “Final Solution” — an attempt to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe. We know that six million Jews were murdered, plus millions more Communists, prisoners of war, gypsies, intellectuals, handicapped people and others.

We may have seen movies like Schindler’s List and Sophie’s Choice. Maybe we read The Diary of Anne Frank. But it’s doubtful that we understand the true brutality of the killings, and the depravity of the people who committed them.

Claudia Moscovici’s book, Holocaust Memories, captures the scope of the horror.

The book is a collection of 70 essays by the author, each one a summary or review of a classic book or film about the Holocaust. Some are well known, such as Night by Elie Weisel, and Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil, by Hannah Arendt. Because each of Moscovici’s essays is short — usually only two pages — the painful history comes in small doses.

Many of the works were new to me, depicting particular aspects of the Holocaust that I didn’t know. The author Leni Yahil described what happened in Hungary: In less than two months, from May 15 to July 9, 1944, 440,000 Jews, more than half of the country’s Jewish population, were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Most of them died in the gas chambers.

How can people do this?

Moscovici knows about psychopaths — she is author of the Psychopathy Awareness blog. In some essays, she analyzes the perpetrators’ disorder. For example, she talks about Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi lieutenant colonel who was one of the main organizers of the mass deportation of Jews. Eichmann escaped after the war and fled to Argentina. He was eventually captured and tried for his crimes in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt, who covered the trial, was surprised that Eichmann seemed so normal and felt no moral responsibility for his crimes. As Moscovici points out, the reason for this is simple — the man was a psychopath. Failure to take responsibility for anything is one of the key characteristics of a psychopath.

Holocaust Memories is an exceptional work of scholarship about one of the darkest chapters of human history. For all those people who now say the Holocaust never happened — well, there are plenty of eyewitnesses who know that it did, because they lived it.

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Holocaust Memories Advance Praise

HolocaustMemoriessmallcover

Advance Praise for Claudia Moscovici’s

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

The screen that portrays the horrors of the twentieth Century is fading more rapidly than its audience can bear. Claudia Moscovici’s book will go far to help keep it lit longer.

 

Rabbi Joseph Polak, Author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award

 

This book fills a present and mounting need for all readers interested in the Holocaust, including scholars and teachers.  With the literature about that unprecedented crime becoming steadily more extensive, Claudia Moscovici’s work offers a valuable and well-written guide to key works on various aspects of the Holocaust or on its entire history.

 

Guy Stern, ​Distinguished Professor Emeritus Wayne State University; Director, International Institute of the Righteous Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Center, Farmington Hills, MI

 

Holocaust Memories is a morally urgent book, an encyclopedia of mourning, remembrance, and compassion, an invitation and a behest to keep memory alive and to resist unwaveringly any form of authoritarian temptation. It is particularly recommended to high school and college students, but also to a general audience. I learned a lot from it and I am convinced that many others will share my superlative endorsement.

 

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Professor of Politics, University of Maryland (College Park), author of The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century

 

A well-written series of book reviews that can be used as a solid tool for those who want to study the Holocaust.

 

Radu Ioanid, Author of The Holocaust in Romania and The Ransom of the Jews

 

Intended for a wide public and a new generation of readers, this bold and ambitious book forms an overview of the Holocaust from a myriad of sources – historical, philosophical, or literary works and films. More than sixty lucid and concise essays (usually two or three pages long) introduce various circumstances of human cruelty in Germany, Hungary, Romania, and Soviet Russia, but also in Cambodia and Rwanda. These focused readings comprise an invaluable source book for anyone seeking to understand the horrors of totalitarian regimes, constantly reminding us that moral courage must prevail over politics.

 

Edward K. Kaplan, Kaiserman Professor in the Humanities Emeritus, Brandeis University, author a two-volume biography of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

 

Holocaust Memories provides a wealth of reviews and summaries of major memoirs, histories, biographies, novels and films related to the Holocaust. In the breadth of its coverage it provides an important and much-needed resource for teachers and students of all ages who are exploring the record of a tragedy so extensive and horrific it defies understanding. In bringing together testimonials and perspectives from many different voices and a range of genres, Moscovici provides a nuanced and multi-faceted approach that will allow readers to begin to register the unfathomable pain and loss brought about by the Nazis’ decimation of Jews, Gypsies, Poles and other groups. The clarity and vividness of the writing make the reviews intense, each capturing a sense of the impact of the source being described. And since the book also covers works about other genocides, such as those in China, Cambodia, and Rwanda, it underscores that genocide is not just a matter of history; it is sadly also a matter of the present.

 

Natalie McKnight, Dean and Professor of Humanities, The College of General Studies, Boston University

 

The Holocaust is much more than a historical event; it is a continuing story playing out in the lives of survivors, their descendants, their communities and entire societies. It is a seminal presence that provokes reflection and alerts us to the risks of falling into the abyss of inhuman depravity – of what could happen because it did happen. In Holocaust Memories, Moscovici has given us a panoramic view of the Shoah and framed it with other modern genocides. This book is at once much broader than virtually any other work I know, deeper than most in its gentle insistence that we persist in wrestling with the most fundamental moral questions. Those questions are as pertinent today as they were in 1945. Holocaust Memories will be an invaluable resource as I write my own memoirs as a survivor.

 

Martin Heisler, Professor Emeritus of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, College Park

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

 

 

Holocaust Memories Table of Contents

HolocaustMemoriessmallcover

Table of Contents

Holocaust Memories

To write Holocaust Memories, I have read nearly 500 memoirs, novels and films about the Holocaust and other genocides in recent history and reviewed 70 of them. The process of choosing among these sources was difficult. Ultimately, it was based on a desire to cover all of Europe, personal interests and preferences, and the notability of many of the sources. Please find below the book’s Table of Contents, which lists the books and films I reviewed in my book.

 

Foreword by Rabbi Joseph Polak

 

Introduction

 

A precedent for the Holocaust: The Armenian Genocide and The Promise

 

  1. Between Fanaticism and Terror: Hitler, Stalin and The Noise of Time 11

                                                                                            

  1. Elie Wiesel’s Night: Shedding Light Upon the Darkness 15

 

  1. Bergen-Belsen and Four Perfect Pebbles 18

 

  1. The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank by Willy Lindwer 21

 

  1. Hazy Hints of Memory: After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring 24

 

  1. Survivors Club: A Family’s Legendary Tale 29

 

  1. Levi’s Reflection on Humanity in Crisis: Survival in Auschwitz 32

 

  1. Sarah’s Key and the Holocaust in France 35

 

  1. The Holocaust in Hungary: Leni Yahil’s The Holocaust 37

 

  1. A Holocaust Hero in Hungary: Wallenberg by Kati Marton 41

 

  1. Imre Kertesz’s Fatelessness 43

 

  1. Anti-Semitism in Hungary Today 45

 

  1. Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism: Why the Jews? 47

 

  1. The Role of the Masses in The Origins of Totalitarianism 51

 

  1. Beyond the Jewish Genocide: Inferno by Max Hastings 54

 

  1. Hitler’s Ban on Modern Art: The “Degenerate Art” Exhibit 56

 

  1. Saving European Art from the Nazis: The Monuments Men 59

 

  1. The Holocaust in Austria and The Woman in Red 61

 

 

  1. On the Anschluss: Becoming Alice 64

 

  1. The Gypsy Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies 66

 

  1. Eichmann in Jerusalem: What is the Banality of Evil? 69

 

  1. The Real Banality of Evil: Ordinary Men 75

 

  1. Eichmann’s Extraordinary Evil: Eichmann Before Jerusalem 77

 

  1. The Concentration Camp Commandants: Soldiers of Evil 80

                                                                                            

  1. The Auschwitz Kommandant: Arthur Wilhelm Liebehenschel 84

 

  1. The Real Story of the Terezin Jewish Ghetto: I am a Star 88

 

  1. The Wannsee Conference: Planning the Final Solution 90

 

  1. America First 92

 

  1. Quiet Neighbors by Allan A. Ryan 96

 

  1. Action T 4: From “Euthanasia” to the Final Solution 98

 

  1. Hitler’s Niece and Historical Fiction 100

 

  1. An Unlikely Hero: Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally 105

 

  1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: An Instructive Fable 108

 

  1. Unbroken: Forgiven but Never Forgotten 110

 

  1. The 1936 Berlin Olympics: The Boys in the Boat 113

 

  1. Manufacturing Death: Hell’s Cartel 116

 

  1. Prosecuting War Crimes: The Nuremberg Trial 119

 

  1. Kamikaze Warfare: Inferno 123

 

  1. Hateful Words: Nazi Propaganda 125

 

  1. A Cowardly Success: Bloodlands 128

 

  1. Planning a Soviet Holocaust: Stalin’s Last Crime 130

 

  1. Lebensraum: The Second World War 134

 

  1. The Siege of Leningrad and Genocide by Starvation 136

 

  1. The Murderous Einsatzgruppen (Task Forces) 138

 

  1. Poland’s Plight: Gustaw Herling’s A World Apart 141

 

  1. Children of the War Years: Witnesses of War 145

 

  1. Sophie’s Choice: Holocaust Literature as Psychological Fiction 146

 

  1. An Incredible Tale of Survival: Alicia, My Story 149

 

  1. Revealing the Ugly Truth: The Holocaust in Romania 151

 

  1. A Romanian Hero: The Memoirs of Wilhelm Filderman 154

 

  1. Ion Antonescu: Hitler’s Forgotten Ally 156

 

  1. Anti-Semitism in Romania: The Journal of Mihai Sebastian 160

 

  1. Heroism in Hell: Resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 164

 

  1. Privilege and Persecution: The Diary of Mary Berg 167

 

  1. Janusz Korczak: The King of the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto 171

 

  1. The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of Survival in Warsaw 172

 

  1. Trapped in the Lodz Ghetto: The Cage 175

 

  1. The Book Thief: Holocaust Literature as Best Seller 178

 

  1. The Forgotten Holocaust: The Rape of Nanking 181

 

  1. A Cataclismic War: Postwar, a History of Europe since 1945 184

 

  1. The Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward 187

 

  1. The Killing Fields: Genocide in Cambodia 190

 

  1. Genocide in Rwanda: Me Against My Brother 193

 

  1. North Korea’s State of Terror: Nothing to Envy 196

 

  1. Yad Vashem: “A Place and a Name” of Remembrance 199

 

  1. An Impossible Conflict in Gaza: Rock the Casbah 201

 

  1. Anti-Semitism Today and the Assault on Democratic Values 205

 

  1. Would you Forgive the Nazi Perpetrator? The Sunflower 208

 

  1. Could the Holocaust Happen Again? Nazi Hunter 211

 

  1. Ethics Above Politics 214

 

Conclusion: Judaic Studies and the Holocaust via Reviews               217

 

Bibliography                                                                            220

 

About the Author       

 

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Holocaust Memories: A Survey of Holocaust Memoirs, Histories, Novels and Films

 

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction

                                                                    

 

Partners in Evil: The Psychopath and Malignant Narcissist Combo

You probably have heard on the news about the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Duguard, when she was only 11 years old. The young girl was kidnapped on June 10, 1991 from a school bus stop near her home and held hostage for more than 18 years by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Garrido raped and imprisoned Jaycee. They had two girls together (age 11 and 15 at the time they were discovered by the police), whom Garrido and his wife also imprisoned in unsanitary tents in their backyard.

At the time they kidnapped Jaycee, Garrido had already been convicted of a sex crime. Despite the fact that parole officers checked regularly the house, they didn’t bother to look in the couple’s backyard, behind a fence. Nancy Garrido is shown on one tape interfering with the police inspection, harassing the inspector in order to distract him and prevent him from finding Jaycee and the girls. She is a partner in her husband’s crime; a fellow abuser. The couple pled guilty to kidnapping and other charges on April 28, 2011 and were convicted on June 2, 2011. Phillip Garrido was sentenced to 431 years of imprisonment while Nancy received a lesser sentence of 36 years to life.

We see this phenomenon of dangerous duos, or partners in evil, on the news over and over again. What kind of women stay with male psychopaths, enable their wrongdoings, participate in them and then cover them up? Sometimes it’s female psychopaths who partner in crime sprees with their male counterparts. The most notable example of this is Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, the young Canadian couple who kidnapped and killed several young women, including Karla’s younger sister. They were convicted in 1993 and are perhaps the inspiration behind  Oliver Stone‘s controversial movie, Natural Born Killers (1994). Usually, however, two psychopaths together can’t last long. Each has to outdo the other in wrongdoings; each wants to be top dog; each looks out for number one and, at the slightest provocation, turns against the other (as, in fact, happened in the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka).

The partnership between Phillip and Nancy Garrido reflects a different dynamic: the equally dangerous yet usually far more enduring combination between a psychopath and a malignant narcissist. In this combination, there is a clear top dog who guides the relationship: the psychopath. However, the malignant narcissist helps him carry out his wrongdoings and covers up for him. What is in it for a malignant narcissist when she teams up with a psychopath? How does this dynamic play out and why does it last? These are the questions I’d like to address next.

I have explained at length the features of a psychopath and why his lack of conscience and empathy, combined with an underlying psychological sadism (enjoyment at causing others pain) would lead him to commit the kinds of crimes Phillip Garrido was found guilty of. But what kind of woman stands by such a man? My hypothesis is: a malignant narcissist. All narcissistic personalities–even those who appear to have high self-confidence and to consider themselves superior to others–crave constant validation. An insatiable need for validation forms the core of unhealthy, excessive narcissism. I say “excessive narcissism” because we all have egos or selves and thus we all have some narcissistic tendencies that are healthy–in moderation–and make us the individuals we are.

Psychopaths are very adept at identifying individuals who suffer from unhealthy, excessive narcissism. Why? Because such individuals appear to be vulnerable and insecure. Caring too much about what others think and pinning one’s self-esteem on the opinions of others is, indeed, a weakness and a vulnerability. Those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder have a weak and relative sense of self that needs constant validation. They need to feel better than others or superior to others in order to have an identity and feel good about themselves.

Psychopaths form a symbiotic relationship with such highly narcissistic individuals by holding out the promise of becoming a superior and very special couple. Because psychopaths have an inherent sense of superiority and because they’re thrill seekers who consider themselves to be above the rules and laws, they often manage to convince such narcissistic partners that together they make an unbeatable power couple: closer than other couples, better than them, smarter than them, more cunning than them, hotter than them. During the honeymoon phase of the relationship, there are no words in any language to describe this superlative superiority.

The problem is, as we know, that psychopaths inevitably pass from the idealization phase to a devaluation phase in all of their relationships. This is part and parcel of their personality disorder: to become bored with and emotionally detach from every person they are with. Since a narcissistic partner requires constant reassurance of her superiority to other women–especially since the psychopath,with his constant flirting and cheating, gives her plenty of reasons to be jealous of them–she will feel threatened during the devaluation phase, when he no longer finds her hot, virtuous, brilliant, practical, wise, and all the other qualities he formerly (and all too briefly) ascribed to her.

That’s when the most dangerous and pathological aspect of their relationship begins. During the devaluation phase, the malignant narcissist begins to be rewarded almost exclusively by the punishment of other women the psychopath hooks up with, uses, devalues and abuses. She may no longer be as wonderful as she seemed in his eyes in the beginning. However, there’s this reward left in their “special” and “superior” relationship: by staying with her; by needing her as an alibi and cover for him; by harming other women jointly, she proves her (sick) love and loyalty to him while he, in turn, acknowledges her superiority to all the other women he uses and abuses worse than he does her.

The worse other women are treated by the psychopath–in more commonplace cases, used and disposed of like dirty condoms; in extreme cases, raped and murdered–the more this abuse confirms her special status in his eyes. Such women are without conscience, without remorse, without empathy just like the psychopaths themselves. They are manipulative, deceptive and abusive like psychopaths. The main difference between such malignant narcissists and the psychopaths is that the narcissists are in some respects weaker and more vulnerable.

They tend to be followers rather than leaders because of their excessive need for validation, which puts them at the mercy of others and makes them especially appealing to psychopaths: as their partners in life and allies in wrongdoings. If you read about other similar cases to that of Phillip and Nancy Garrido or about the psychology of cult followers, you will see this psychological dynamic at play. There are few more enduring and dangerous duos than these partners in evil: the psychopath and malignant narcissist combo.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

Dangerous Liaisons: How to Identify and Escape from Psychopathic Seduction


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