There is statistical proof that the risk of suicide in long term prisoners awaiting release is higher than average. Factors that can affect this include the age of the prisoner (it is more common in older people) and if the inmate has been held in a local prison. A significant number of prominent Nazis committed suicide at the end of the war, but this was not motivated so much by guilt as a wish to end their lives alongside the end of the Third Reich, and escape trial. Many German civilians also took their own lives through a sense of despair, fear or grief at their country's defeat.
Primo Levi (1919-1987) is considered to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. Born to a Jewish family in Turin, Italy, he originally trained as a chemist. He spent eleven months in Auschwitz there until the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army in January 1945. It took him a year to make his way back to Italy, where he immediately began to talk about what he had experienced as a prisoner. His first book, and perhaps his most famous, was ‘If This Is a Man’, published in 1947. He also rebuilt his career as a chemist with great success. At various times he travelled to Germany on business and always wore a short sleeved shirt to ensure his prisoner’s tattoo from Auschwitz was clearly visible. His further books included ‘The Truce’, ‘The Periodic Table’ and ‘Moments of Reprieve’, and
he became an important literary figure. He spoke in many schools and lectured abroad, and supported public events which commemorated the Holocaust. Levi died at the age of 67 by falling down a flight of stairs in his apartment building. His death was officially recorded as suicide; he had long suffered from depression due to the traumas of his earlier experiences. Others have questioned this assumption, not believing he was disposed to take his own life.
Elie Wiesel is a Jewish writer and peace activist. He was born in Romania in 1930 and now holds US citizenship. His family were initially imprisoned in a ghetto in Sighet during the war, and then in 1944 they were transported to Auschwitz, where his mother and one sister were killed. He and his father were eventually moved to Buchenwald, where his father died. Two sisters did survive. Wiesel became a journalist after the war but did not begin to write of his Holocaust experiences for some years. His first book, ‘Night’, was published in the US in 1960, and is now a set text in many schools, as well as selling millions of copies in thirty languages. Wiesel has written something in the region of sixty books altogether. He has also received the Nobel Peace Prize and an honorary British knighthood in recognition of his activism.
Tadeusz Borowski was a Polish writer born in 1922. He was arrested by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw in 1943 and transported to Auschwitz. From here he was sent to Natzweiler-Struthof (the camp Michael later visits), and finally to Dachau, until the American liberation in May 1945. A year later, he returned to Poland and was miraculously reunited with his fiancée, Maria, who had also survived Auschwitz. His most famous work is a collection of short stories linked by one narrator, ‘This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen’. Like many of his contemporaries, he wrote with detachment, describing events rather than directly condemning the perpetrators. In 1948 he joined the Communist Party, but soon became disillusioned when he saw that violence was being used in the name of the ideology. He committed suicide in 1951, three days after becoming a father. He was just 28.
Jean Amery (1912-1978) was an Austrian writer of Jewish descent whose essays were profoundly influenced by his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen during the war. He was initially arrested for his actions as a member of the Belgian resistance movement, after which he was tortured by the Gestapo. His birth name had been Hans Mayer, but he felt bound to change this after the war in an effort to separate himself from Germany. His best known works include ‘At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities’ and ‘On Aging’. His work is remarkable for its clarity of voice and argument; he did not believe in forgiveness, nor in people attempting to reach universal definitions of what the Holocaust meant, believing that this would then too easily consign it to history. Another highly notable work was ‘On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death’, which explored why a person may make the decision to end their life and how this could be seen as a rational choice. Like many with his experiences, Amery himself committed suicide at the age of 65.
Rudolf Höss was the commandant of Auschwitz from 1940-1943. He evaded capture at the end of the war by adopting a false identity, but was eventually apprehended in 1946. He appeared as a witness during the Nuremberg trials, and was then tried himself in Poland at the Supreme National Tribunal. He was sentenced to death, and wrote his autobiography in the fortnight leading up to his execution. It is a factual account of the administration of Auschwitz and was first published in 1958, with royalties going to help survivors of the camp. Primo Levi wrote an introduction which is still used; it said, “This book...is filled with evil...and reading it is agony.”
" I wrote to the Institute for Contemporary History "
Wiener Library, Tel Aviv University - Credit: Gellerj
Also known as the Wiener Library, the Institute was started in 1933 by Alfred Wiener, a German Jew living in Amsterdam who wanted to document the persecution of Jews by the Nazis as an information resource for governments, intelligence agencies and the press. In 1939 the collection was moved to London, and at the end of the war it proved a vital tool in bringing war criminals to justice. Part of the collection was moved to Tel Aviv in 1974 for financial reasons, and a linked library is now maintained there too. The work in London continues, as in addition to its original work it now also holds resources on Neo-Nazism and other forms of Anti-Semitism.
" Hannah Arendt's report on Eichmann in Jerusalem "
Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) was a German Jew who had fled to Paris and then later the USA in 1941. A noted political theorist, her reports on Adolf Eichmann’s trial were originally published in The New Yorker in 1962. They were released in book form a year later, with the subtitle, ‘A Report on the Banality of Evil’, due to Arendt’s belief that the defendant had committed crimes through a belief in following orders, rather than psychopathic tendencies. Eichmann had been a senior Nazi, tasked by Reinhard Heydrich to manage the administrative side of the deportation of Jews to ghettos, concentration camps and death camps. After the war he fled to Argentina with false papers, where he lived and worked until 1960. Mossad located him and brought him to Israel for trial, which resulted in his execution.
A tea caddy is a box or jar used to store tea. Tea bags did not come properly into existence until the 1950s (Tetley introduced them in the UK in 1953), so prior to this it was necessary to have a receptacle to store the leaves. Tea was also more expensive in the past, and correspondingly tea caddies over the centuries could themselves be highly valuable and decorative items. It is likely, however, that the tea caddies referred to here are common tin varieties. Despite being much cheaper, they were often charmingly decorated, for example with contemporary logos and advertisements for brands of tea.
" The daughter lived in New York on a street near Central Park "
The first recorded Jewish people to settle in New York arrived as refugees in 1654; today around 12% of the city is made up of Jews or people of Jewish descent. As the USA did not directly experience the atrocities of the holocaust, its Jewish population was still high after WW2, as well as prosperous, and in time a number of European Jews sought to emigrate there from abroad (though this was after strict immigration rules became reduced in 1948). A well known Jewish-New Yorker who has written about her experiences during the Holocaust is Irene Frisch.
Living near Central Park, as this lady does, suggests a comfortable, middle class income.
" And grant Frau Schmitz her absolution? "
Absolution is a term for forgiveness within various Christian churches, but is particularly associated with Catholicism. Traditionally, it occurs after an individual has made their confession to a priest, who then delivers the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this context, the daughter is saying to Michael that she is neither able nor willing to forgive Hanna for her crimes.
" I donated Hanna's money in her name to The Jewish League Against Illiteracy "