The Psychological Toll of Concentration Camps
by Vanessa Shubin ( a wonderful student essayist)
A human being can become accustomed to any depth of depravity and horror. It is unfortunate but also true that many people have the natural inclination to go along with authority figures no matter their level of personal emotional distress. Not only did the Holocaust affect the individuals who lived through it, but it has also impacted those who were connected to those fortunate to survive through this time of fear. Hannah Arendt’s Total Domination paints a perfect, yet frightening, image of the people subjected to the terror of concentration camps.
Many have heard the popular saying “time heals all wounds” but when it comes to Holocaust survivors, this might not be the case. Time cannot cure survivors’ traumas because the Holocaust has left such deep scars on their minds. The Holocaust is the biggest trauma in survivors’ lives and changes their destinies. They lost everything including their family members, relatives, houses, properties, jobs, businesses, social positions, and future. No matter how many years pass, the damage cannot be erased in survivors’ minds. Hannah Arendt writes, “The end result in any case is inanimate men… who can no longer be psychologically understood, whose return to the… human world closely resembles the resurrection of Lazarus,” (Arendt, 286). This excerpt gives the reader a clear example of not on the psychological but the psychical affects the survivors had to live with after the liberation of the concentration camps.
When the survivors integrated back into society after the war, they found it very hard to adjust. It was made difficult by the fact that they often induced uncertain feelings of fear, avoidance, guilt, pity, and anxiety. This might have been hard for them, but decades after the Holocaust most of the survivors managed to rehabilitate their capacities and rejoin the paths their lives might have taken prior to the Holocaust. This is more true for the people who experienced the Holocaust as children or young adults. The experience of the Holocaust shows how human beings can undergo extreme traumatic experiences without suffering from a total regression and without losing their ability to rehabilitate their ego strength. The survivors discovered the powers within them in whatever aspect in their lives that were needed.
The treatment that the survivors had to undergo could leave anyone fearful. Arendt writes, “The murderer leaves a corpse behind and does not pretend that his victim has never existed; he wipes out any traces… of his own identity… he destroys a life,” (Arendt, 287). The measures that the Nazis went through to treat the prisoners as if they’re lives were worth less, or worth nothing to be more specific, were outrageous. Arendt continues to advise the reader that the real horror of concentration camps lie “in the fact that the inmates… are more effectively cut off from the world of the living than if they had died, because terror enforces oblivion,” (Arendt, 288). In the concentration camps, murder was an everyday thing, just how waking up and going to work is for most of us nowadays, and that fact is shocking.
When looking at it from a general point of view, the survivors, for the most part have shown to be as strong as humanly possible. Not one person who hasn’t seen what they saw can possibly imagine how they feel. These people were lucky to have survived but there is no doubt that there have been times when their memories have made them think otherwise.
Arendt, Hannah. “Total Domination.” A World of Ideas edited by Lee Jacobus. Bedford/St.Martins, 2013. Pp 279-290.