Although his perspective is cool and calm, the story George Köves tells of his arrest and incarceration by the Nazis builds to a harrowing vision of evil. His ordeal begins in his home in Hungary, where things are already unraveling. George’s parents have divorced, and his father, because he is a Jew, has been forced to relinquish his successful business and work instead in a German labor camp. Although George’s Uncle Lajos tells him that he must accept what is happening and understand that such persecution is the Jewish fate, George does not agree. Similarly, he resists his little girlfriend’s suggestion that his Jewish identity is fated by biology. George upsets his uncle and his playmate when he refuses to accept the premise that his life is somehow in the hands of a predetermined collective destiny. Nevertheless, it is as a Jew rather than for any more personal reason that George is first forced to labor at an oil refinery outside Budapest and then sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. His identity is made even more impersonal and abstract when his name is taken from him in the camps and he is known only as #64,921.
Along with the other boys with whom he was arrested, George has claimed to be one year older than he really is because he has been told that as an older boy he is more likely to be put to work rather than slaughtered in the gas chambers. After a short time at Auschwitz and then Buchenwald, George is transferred to Zeitz, a work camp where he labors in a quarry. He begins to understand that, despite everything, he and his fellow prisoners are still not completely under the rule of the Nazis; they are free to dissent from the Nazi perspective and to resist its perverse logic.
George describes this resistance to himself as stubbornness. His own detached perspective is one instance of this stubbornness; another is the way the prisoners help one another rather than descending to the law of the jungle as the Nazis expect them to do. For instance, a fellow prisoner makes sure that the young George’s food ration is not purloined. Even more important, a fellow Hungarian, a resourceful twenty-year-old man named Bandi Citrom, befriends George. Bandi gives him numerous tips that will help him survive the hardships of his circumstances.
Bandi’s belief in the value of an ordered, ethical daily life rescues George from confusion and despair and represents another way to dissent from the demoralizing, dehumanizing world of the camps. Another form of resistance is George’s imagination: Even though he is captive,...
(The entire section is 1052 words.)