Identity and Perception of Others in Post-Holocaust Literature

This week’s readings are all from post-Holocaust literature. Each of these works have a unique theme and way of story telling, but there are a few ways they all connect. The theme for this week is self identity and how it relates to others. The works we will be reading this week are as follows. The first story is “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Taduesz Borowski. This story shows what life in the concentration camps were like for some of the prisoners, and how they were forced to change their perspective of both others and themselves in order to cope with the traumatic events around them. The second reading is a set of poems. “Deathfugue,” “Aspen Tree,” “Shibboleth,” by Paul Celan are a set of poems that make a beautiful usage of metaphor to share and memorialize the experiences of Jewish people in the Holocaust. The 3rd reading is another set of poems: “God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children,” “Tourists,” “Jerusalem,” and “An Arab Shepherd Is Searching for His Goat on Mount Zion,” by Yehuda Amichai. These poems are about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and show the humanity of the people involved. The final reading is a story called “The Daydreams of a Drunk Woman,” by Clarice Lispector. In this story, the main character copes with how she feels towards herself by turning that perception outwards, and feeling contempt and rage for others when they show traits she dislikes in herself. 


I think the story from our readings that best fits the theme is “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” by Taduesz Borowski. This story tackles the idea of identity and perception of others in a heartbreaking and deeply real way. The main character is in a camp forced to work to bring about and clean up after the deaths of other victims. The only way many people in his camp are able to get proper food and clothing is by stealing it from the prisoners being transported in. In the story, the main character hates these other prisoners, stating that he doesn’t care that they’re going to die, because somehow it’s their fault he is here. To cope with the horrific reality he and the others at the camp are in, they have to view someone as the enemy that they can realistically do something towards. He tries to view himself as a good person, and he views himself as an innocent victim of the Germans, which he is. However, if he views both himself and the prisoners being brought in for execution as innocent victims, the grief and reality of the situation would be more than most people could bear. 

While heartbreaking, this story is an excellent one to both educate oneselves on the horrors of the Holocaust so that it does not repeat, and to see how literature portrays feelings and story in an more understandable way.  


To teach about this section, have each student chose one of the works assigned, and identify a theme in it. Have them explain how this theme is an example of how emotion and human experience are shared through literature, and what experience the work portrays. 

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