Total domination-- between conception and experience : rethinking the Arendtian account through Holocaust testimonies / by Michal Aharony
Includes bibliographical references (p. 312-325)
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This dissertation analyzes the category of total domination in the work of Hannah Arendt in light of testimonies of Holocaust survivors. The primary goal of totalitarianism, largely achieved in the concentration camps, Arendt argued, was the virtual eradication of human plurality, individuality and the capacity for spontaneity. Thinking with and against Arendt's framework, I contend that we cannot philosophically exhaust the problem of "total domination" without taking into account the dynamics of the camps from the perspective of the survivors. Utilizing various testimonies of survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, I engage in an interdisciplinary research into the limits of the Nazis' attempt to reach total domination over man. I analyze works by Primo Levi, Jean Améry, Charlotte Delbo, Jorge Semprun, Imre Kertész, and Viktor Frankl, as well as oral testimonies of survivors who remained largely unknown who provide more "raw" descriptions of their experiences.I propose a certain "ethics of listening," anchored in two central contentions: (1) In order to comprehend the human experience in general and in Auschwitz in particular, we need to examine a plurality of experiences and perspectives of different people. (2) When dealing with such extraordinary stories one should attempt to approach them without a-priori judgments regarding what is moral or immoral behavior. When we examine the question of the prisoners' ability to maintain their morality and individuality in different testimonies from a variety of perspectives and without being judgmental, we can get a fuller and perhaps more accurate picture of human beings in their plurality. We also might learn the complexity and different facets of the process of dehumanization, which was experienced differently by each person in the camps. Comparing Arendt's speculation about "total domination" with the actual experience of the victims, I conclude that through covert and overt acts of resistance some prisoners were able to retain their human dignity, personal and collective identity, and moral bearing even under the most extreme circumstances.
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