Thinking about Evil, Justice, and Redemption in the Nazi Concentration Camps: Contemporary Reflections and Poems Written by French Inmates (1943-1945)
Thursday 20 April 2023, 1pm-2.20 pm, Milgate Seminar Room, AD Hope or via zoom (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for link)
The widespread public outcry following the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the revelations of the atrocities committed in them, as questions were asked about how such moral depravity could have been enacted and demands made for justice to be served to the perpetrators, is well documented. Less well known is the existence of texts written by concentration camp prisoners during their captivity that engage with precisely such questions of evil, justice, and moral renewal. In this seminar, I look at poems and reflections written by French political prisoners (former Resistants) in the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Mittelbau-Dora, Ravensbrück, and Auschwitz. These writings interrogate the conscience and motivations of the perpetrators and contemplate what form justice may take. From a belief in the necessity of retribution, through the suggestion that punishment will be self-inflicted, to an explicit rejection of hatred and vengeance, the poets of the camps display a variety of stances towards the crimes they witnessed. But what brings them together is an emphasis on the figures of goodness they saw as serving as a moral beacon for prisoners and an enduring faith in ultimate justice and redemption.
Dr Belle Joseph is a Visiting Fellow at the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics (ANU). She has a forthcoming book, Saving Words: Poetry, Trauma, and Survival in the Nazi Concentration Camps (1943-1945), with Liverpool University Press.