“Auschwitz. Monograph of the Human” by Piotr Cywiński delves deeply into human emotions inside the camp
“Auschwitz. Monograph of the Human” is a new book by 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 English translation should be published by the beginning of 2022.
The gathering of materials and work on the publication took almost six years. Piotr Cywiński analysed over 250 books with memoirs of survivors of the German Nazi Auschwitz camp and extensive hitherto unpublished archival material containing their accounts. On this basis, he presented an in-depth reflection on the condition of humans subjected to the concentration camp process.
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 memories 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,” “Solitude,” “Death,” “Hunger,” “Companionship,” “Empathy,” “Decency,” “Struggle and Resistance,” “Culture and Science,” “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: “What did people live on in the camp? What were the thoughts in their head and heart? What did they dream about? What and how frightened were they? Where did they seek hope? What were their desires? Did they feel lonely in the crowd, or did they seek to rebuild any social ties? What caused their apathy and stupefaction? How did the disappearance of reactions to all cultural stimuli unfold, and how did the deepest reflexes, known as primary reflexes, manifest themselves? How did the interpersonal hierarchy develop in such a community, built anew and based on completely new rules? What about decency and a sense of justice? Was there room in Auschwitz for the development of spiritual values? What was an escape, a burden and a dream? What truth about humanity did the prisoners experience?”
“In post-war historiography, the history of Auschwitz is most often presented through the prism of facts, figures and dates. The establishment of these required several decades of analysis of the scarce archival resources and sometimes very painstaking historical research. It is undoubtedly a major achievement of several generations of historians. I do not intend to disavow this fact at all. It’s important, perhaps even fundamental in some ways, to know what happened and when, particularly in relation to that section of human history that has been and continues to be denied and misrepresented. However, Auschwitz cannot be fully expressed in dates, numbers, and facts. The history of Auschwitz is above all an enormous human tragedy, the individual dimension of which eludes chronology and goes on with its dramatic life alongside large numbers, important dates, and historical facts,” - 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.
Concluding the last chapter of the book “Auschwitz. Monograph of the Human” entitled “Conclusions”, Piotr Cywiński wrote: “I hope that my attempt to restore the perspective that the survivors spoke of, which we have not been able to perceive fully, will do my duty to their words, memories and warnings. I also trust that it will fulfil its role as a proposal for a new approach in the historiography of concentration camps and extermination centres, and perhaps other genocide studies - so that human experience, examined in the polyphony of memoir voices, becomes the full focus of researchers of the issue. We do not owe it to them but ourselves. And to subsequent generations. It was an experience too important, acute and deadly to be encapsulated in numbers, dates and facts. Analysis requires more important, much more relevant issues beyond these - strictly factual - findings.”
The book “Auschwitz. Monograph of the Human” by Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, is available in Polish on the Museum’s online bookshop and at the Memorial Site. The English translation should be published by the beginning of 2022.