Writing to Survive: The Testimony of the Concentration Camps

Zoe Vania Waxman

in Writing the Holocaust

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780199541546
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191709739 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Historical Monographs

Writing to Survive: The Testimony of the Concentration Camps

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter highlights how the conditions of the concentration camps largely militated against the writing of testimony. It looks at the few important exceptions, including the writings of the Sonderkommando (special detachment) prisoners forced to work in the crematoria of Auschwitz–Birkenau. They consciously resisted the Nazis not only by leaving documentation of their existence, but also by bearing witness to the destruction of the European Jews. The testimonies of survivors reveal how the concentration camps disconnected prisoners from their previous identities. They also show that it was essential to regain a part of the past in order to find some meaning which would allow prisoners to carry on the struggle to survive. For many, it was the desire to bear witness that gave this meaning to their lives, and hence the post-war memoir became a vehicle for the resurrection of identity.

Keywords: writing; testimony; concentration camps; Sonderkommando; crematoria; Auschwitz–Bikenau; prisoners; post-war memoir; identity

Chapter.  14802 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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