“Auschwitz. A Monograph on the Human” by Piotr Cywiński. An attempt to delve deeply into human emotions inside the camp.
“Auschwitz. A Monograph on the Human” is a new book by the Auschwitz Museum Director Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński. It is the first attempt - on a global scale - to delve so deeply into human emotions inside the camp. It is a must-read for those seeking to understand what Auschwitz was all about.
The gathering of materials and work on the publication took almost six years. Piotr Cywiński analysed nearly 250 books with memoirs of survivors of the German Nazi camp Auschwitz and extensive hitherto unpublished archival material containing their accounts. On this basis, he presented an in-depth reflection on the condition of people subjected to the process of turning into prisoners of the concentration camp.
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‘The subject of his reflection became the emotions and inner dilemmas of the people incarcerated in the camp and the defence strategies that helped them survive. The diversity of issues he highlighted during conversations with survivors and the analysis of their memoirs and accounts is striking,’ said Jadwiga Pinderska-Lech, head of the Museum Publishing House.
The book is divided into more than thirty chapters, each devoted to a separate subject. They include, among others, “Initial Shock,” “Loneliness,” “Death,” “Hunger,” “Friendship,” “Empathy,” “Decency,” “Struggle and Resistance,” “Culture and learning,” “Fear,” and “Hope.” One great asset of the book is the extremely aptly chosen quotations from nearly 450 Auschwitz survivors.
In the preface to the book, Piotr Cywiński wrote: “How did they live in the camp? What stirred in their hearts and minds? What were their dreams? What did they fear, and what did they fear most? Where could they seek hope? What were their desires? Did they feel lonely in a crowd of prisoners? Could they find solace in any interpersonal contacts? What caused apathy and stupor? How did reactions to cultural stimuli vanish, and how were the deepest reactions, those we call primal, revealed? How were social hierarchies formed within this kind of society, which was newly constructed, and based on entirely new rules? And what about decency and a sense of justice? Was there room for growth of spiritual values in Auschwitz? What was the escape, what was the burden, and what was the dream? What truth about humanity did the prisoners experience?”
“The post-war historiography of the events at Auschwitz is most often shown through the prism of facts, figures and dates. This required decades of painstaking and sometimes very tedious historical analysis of frustratingly scarce archival sources. This is undoubtedly an enormous achievement of several generations of historians, which I have not the slightest intention of disavowing. It is important, probably even fundamental, to know exactly what had occurred and exactly when it had occurred. This is particularly significant in reference to this part of human history, which has so often been denied and continues to be denied and falsified. But Auschwitz cannot be fully understood in terms of dates, figures and facts. The history of Auschwitz is above all a massive human tragedy whose unique dimension goes beyond the confines of chronology and exists in parallel with, but apart from central historical statistics, facts and dates,” it states
‘Each chapter of the book can be treated as an independent analysis of a single issue. However, it is only when read as a whole does it provide an overview of the complicated emotional world of people uprooted from their daily lives and thrown into a world that one of the prisoners called the heart of hell,’ added Jadwiga Pinderska-Lech.
‘I am incredibly impressed; it’s all in plain sight, as if you were there with me, Piotr. I read over a hundred pages, and everything around me seemed to cease to exist besides the Camp. You have broadened my memories and images with an orderly explanation of the incomprehensible, chaotic reality of fear and the struggle for every moment of life, in the constant encounter with death I was so deeply trapped in and grew up with from the age of 14 to 16,’ said Auschwitz survivor Halina Birenbaum.
‘An extraordinary, new monograph on the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp written from the perspective of the prisoners’ diverse experiences. It talks about suffering, loneliness, hunger and death, decency, empathy or the inner life. Piotr Cywiński has used hundreds of accounts by former prisoners to give us a complex, fascinating, and uniquely credible picture of the experience of people from many European countries that were subjected to this “hell on earth”,’ said Prof. Barbara Engelking, head of the Holocaust Research Center at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
‘It is groundbreaking work. No one has ever looked at the camp this way, and no one has ever described it in such a manner. By delving into the deepest experiences of former prisoners and survivors, Piotr Cywiński reaches almost to the very core of darkness. The book urges us to rethink many notions we have held up to date, starting with education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust’ said editor Marek Zając, chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation Board.
In the last chapter of the book “Auschwitz. A Monograph on the Human” entitled “Conclusions”, Piotr Cywiński wrote: “I hope that my attempt to restore the perspective about which the survivors had spoken, which we were unable to sufficiently comprehend, will fulfil my obligation to their words, memories and warnings, and with regard to them specifically. I also hope that it will serve as a proposal for a new approach in the historiography of concentration camps and extermination camps, as well as perhaps other studies of genocides—so that human experiences, studied in the polyphony of voices of memory, become the focal point of research. We owe it not to the survivors, but to ourselves. And to future generations. This experience was too important, too severe and too deadly to be expressed exclusively in numbers, dates and facts. Analyses should focus on more important, far more important issues than strictly factual findings.”
The book “Auschwitz. A Monograph on the Human” by Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, is available on the Museum’s online bookshop and at the Memorial Site.