How would I go about writing as a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp?How would I go about writing as a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp?
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There will be many approaches to take on this particular task. Before starting on it, I would strongly advise you to make sure that what you write is not something that trivializes the Holocaust experiences. The one challenging in writing assignments like this is that we, as people removed from the experience, can really never authentically replicate the horror that someone actually endured during the time period. At a moment where we, as writers and readers, sense something as painful and horrific, we can put down the pen, stop typing, or cease reading. That was not an option for someone who had to march to the gas chamber, or someone who was shot for trying to steal an extra loaf of bread out of hunger. That was not an option for the mothers who were separated from their children or the fathers who never saw their sons again. It is important- real important- that if you are going to undertake this, you have to do some honor to the experience of those who had to endure the unspeakable horror of history that we call "the Holocaust."
Having said this, I would strongly investigate Holocaust literature. One example of a source that would help you would be Elie Wiesel's narrative, Night. It is about a boy, Eliezer (Wiesel himself), who endures the unspeakable in the Holocaust. Another example of Holocaust literature that I would investigate that would allow you to get a feel for how individuals endured the nightmare of the camps would be Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic. Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas allows an outsider, and a child's, point of view to be recognized in the camps. I would also investigate films that help detail the horror of survival. Spielberg's Schindler's List replicates the experience of the camps in powerful detail. Another would be a five minute clip from Pakula's Sophie's Choice, where Auschwitz is shown and where a mother must make an unthinkable decision. For the issue of survival, Polanski's The Pianist would be excellent to physically show what survival looks like in the Holocaust. These will help you grasp the feel of what you want in your writing.
In composing your writing, I would try to strike a balance between the horror that surrounds your persona along with the internal feelings experienced. Essentially, you are raising questions for which answers are difficult. How do you block out what is happening around you? How do you physically feel about the chimneys that bellow out smoke of bodies being incinerated? What do you feel about the hunger for food and for freedom? Where is your family? Do you know? How do you feel about the tattoo of numbers on your arm? Have you tried to escape? Are you trying to get through life inside the camp? If you have left the camp, what is your sleep like? What are your nightmares? How is life outside the world for you when compared to what you had to endure? I don't think that the answers to these questions are simple or reductive, just as the Holocaust experience was not. They are complex and intricate of a time that has to be studied and understood, even though so much it lies beyond understanding.
There is no one right answer to this question. However, there are several responsible things that you can do accomplish your task of writing as a survivor. Let me offer five suggestions.
First, the most obvious choice would be to talk to someone who actually went through the experience. This is probably the best route that you can take. Interview and develop a relationship. If you cannot find someone, then talk to other people who went through similar experiences in their lives. Talking to people who have suffered is better than talking to no one. Second, read as much as you can from survivors. There are many books out there on this topic. Third, read about the time period more broadly and see what was going on in society.
Fourth, visit the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. It is one of the best museums around and you can learn so much just by visiting. Fifth, you can watch movies and documentaries on this topic. You will have to be selective, but there are some great ones out there and the benefit is that you can get a sense of the horror visually to let your imagination run.