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At the Minds Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities [Paperback]

Jean Amery , Stella P. Rosenfeld , Sidney Rosenfeld
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 May 1998
In 1943 Jean Amery was captured by the Gestapo and sent to a series of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. In this remarkable memoir and autobiography he describes his vision of humanity and the betrayal of that vision."

Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (1 May 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253211735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253211736
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 630,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Because Auschwitz was among the most brutal of the concentration camps, ruled by capricious, pure force and not by any discernable political or social structure, the intellectual there "was alone with his intellect ... and there was no social reality that could support and confirm it." In other words, there was no place for the intellect to act, outside of the confines of a person's own skull. Jean Amery's At The Mind's Limits is a focused meditation on the position of the intellectual placed in "a borderline situation, where he has to confirm the reality and effectiveness of his intellect, or to declare its impotence: in Auschwitz." In the camp, Amery writes, "The intellect very abruptly lost its basic quality: its transcendence." Considering this loss, Amery describes his own experience of torture, his reactions of resentment, anger and bitterness, his loss of any vital sense of metaphysical questions and his search for some way to maintain moral character and Jewish identity in the absence of such consciousness. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jean Amery (1912-1978) was born in Vienna and in 1938 emigrated to Belgium, where he joined the Resistance Movement. He was caught by the Germans in 1943, tortured by the SS, and survived the next two years in the concentration camps. He was author of seven volumes of essays and two novels. He committed suicide in 1978.Sidney Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Professor of German at Oberlin College, and Stella P. Rosenfeld, Ph.D., are cotranslators of Radical Humanism by Jean Amery and Jewish Life in Germany edited by M. Richarz.

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TAKE CARE, a well-meaning friend advised me when he heard of my plan to speak on the intellectual in Auschwitz. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All kinds of torture are totally unacceptable 13 May 2013
In these extremely painful reflections on his fate during the Third Reich, Jean Améry paints a very disturbing picture of man, civilization and
society. His text is a forceful plea for a total condemnation of all kinds of torture and its devastating effects.

Torture, human beings, the world
Faced with unlimited evil power in the hands of a torturer man becomes pure flesh. A tortured man broken by violence, who cannot expect any help and who has lost all rights of self-defense, is nothing more than a body.
From the first lash he receives, man is deprived of what is called his `confidence in the world'. This confidence constitutes the certainty that the other will spare him according to social contracts, that he will respect his physical existence. Torture as a physical rape becomes an act of existential annihilation, since there is no hope to be helped. A tortured person becomes a stranger in the world.

What overwhelmed Jean Améry really was the society of man. For him, it is the society of men and it alone which robbed him of his confidence in the world.
A specific society was the Third Reich: Germany killed Jews and political opponents, because it believed that this was the only way to realize itself. Torture was its essence. But, for Jean Améry, one should not forget that the Greek civilization was built on slavery and that an Athenian army butchered the population of the island of Melos as the SS did in Ukraine.
For Jean Améry, every society thinks only about its own safety and has nothing to do with damaged lives; it only looks forward and, in the best case, it tries to prevent that the same things will happen again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding 15 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I first read a library copy of this collection some years ago and I had to own it. The prose still cuts and blisters as I remember it. Amery is a very fine writer who, perhaps because of the historic nature of his writings, will be wrongly catalogued and typecast with other "survivor literature". There is a message that transcends Auschwitz that places him with Primo Levi, not just as a fellow survivor, but as a genuine world voice. Amery should be known and read more and admitted in the canon of the immortals.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars That Which is Incumbent Upon Every Human Being 9 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on
To the world at large, none of the death camps is better known than is Auschwitz. There is now in existence a very large volume of literature regarding the atrocities committed in that infamous place, much of it written by its survivors. This literature is often reflective as well as descriptive as it recounts, not only the day-to-day horror of life and death but the destructive effects of relentless and senseless violence on human understanding. In this respect, the books of both Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi must stand as premier examples of intellectual and spiritual revelation as well as personal witness.
Jean Amery's At the Mind's Limit: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities must join the works of Wiesel and Levi as indispensable reading for anyone seeking to grasp the deepest range of emotions and implications the name Auschwitz should evoke. In this book Amery stresses the negative and shows on virtually every page how futile it would be to scrutinize the experience of a Holocaust survivor for anything even remotely redemptive. Auschwitz was destruction without deliverance, a place of inexplicable and implacable hostility against the very definition of humanity. As a consequence, a mind that searches Auschwitz, or any of the other camps, for reasonable and rational explanations will only be confronted with its own impotence. As Amery puts it, "In the camp the intellect in its totality declared itself to be incompetent...Beauty: that was an illusion. Knowledge: that turned out to be a game with ideas." The intellect, Amery tells us, was robbed of its transcendence, rendering the intellectual the most vulnerable of victims.
The five autobiographical essays that make up this remarkable book are models of intellectual sobriety, lucidity and moral earnestness. Amery's experiences at Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz and other camps, detailed in the first essay, brought him to the realization that all of his previously-held aesthetic concepts and analytic capabilities were rendered useless. "The aesthetic view of death had revealed itself to the intellectual as part of an aesthetic mode of life; where the latter had been all but forgotten, the former was nothing but an elegant trifle. In the camp no Tristan music accompanied death, only the roaring of the SS and the Kapos." Spiritually disarmed and intellectually disoriented, "the intellectual faced death defenselessly."
The book's second essay, which is unusually vivid, concerns the genesis and nature of sadistic physical torture. Torture was an essential component of Nazism and not a peripheral aspect. It was the determinant that defined and coalesced the basically depraved and destructive character of Nazism, an ideology "that expressly established...the role of the a principle." Nihilistic principles have always existed, but German National Socialism distilled and purified them. They tortured, not to gain advantages, but because they were torturers.
The remaining three essays deal with a variety of topics, all related to and all centering on the ordeals Amery endured during the Holocaust as well as its aftermath. The book's concluding essay, "On the Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew," is a culminating statement that defines in wretchedly painful terms a dilemma that is far more than Amery's alone.
As Amery both felt and lived with the Holocaust, his awareness demanded that he contend with all manifestations of postwar anti-Semitism, something he did with increasing frequency during the final years of his life. Although his own Judaism was, to him, highly problematic, he was uncompromising in his opposition to those who attacked the ideological concept of the State of Israel. "The impossibility of being a Jew," he said, "becomes the necessity to be one, and that means: a vehemently protesting Jew."
Amery, however, worried that in any newfound prosperity the events of the Third Reich would be forgotten or simply submerged in accounts of the general historical epoch. And, indeed, even the young survivors of the camps have now reached their seventh decade of life. What will preserve the memory of the camps once the last survivor is gone? For, "Remembering," said Amery. "That is the cue."
The entire world was, and is, affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust. It therefore becomes incumbent upon every human being alive, and not just every Jew, as well as those human beings yet to be born, to bear the imprint of the Holocaust upon his heart. In this way, mankind will never cease to do what is so very essential. Remember.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Potent...Like a bitter drink you have to come back to... 1 Aug 2001
By A Customer - Published on
I really can't say much about this book, except that it is the most worn in my library of over 1,000 volumes compiled from a lifetime of literature. This translation is amazing as well. This book is an intellectual's journey through, and life after, hell.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One to return to 10 Aug 2005
By - Published on
Ever since writing a term paper on Amery's "At the Mind's Limits", I have continuously come back to this work. There is a lifetime's worth of contemplation to survey here, not that this is an autobiography or even a complete memoir, but the years of his life on which he writes and the experiences dissected provoke a lifetime's worth of questions, mostly unanswered.

I think of this work as a distinct and great existential accomplishment. It provokes the reader to empathize while simultaneously making him question or even feel guilty for such empathy. How can an intellect, in the modern west at least, empathize with one who has experienced dehumanization to such an unimaginable degree? The short answer is that to try to do so is impossible and even probably detestable, morally speaking.

But isn't the motivation of Amery's expression the prevention of such dehumanization in future? And isn't such prevention dependent on empathetic attempts at least (among other things)?

These are unanswerable contradictions for the reader. But the introspective applications make this a necessary book to read over and over again.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary meditation on catastrophe. 24 Oct 2005
By Richard S. Moore - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Prior to reading Amery's book, I thought of myself as thoroughly read in what one French scholar has called "the writing of the disaster," but Amery's may be among the half dozen essential texts in the now overwhelming body of Holocaust literature. A profound meditation on language, on mind, and on disaster in the 20th century.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jean Amery, the thinker, makes one think 13 Mar 2006
By Vic S - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Of all the Holocaust books, this book stands above the rest, with the content focused not on the gory details of Nazi atrocities (which are by themselves worth reading if you want to validate the experiences of those who suffered), but rather on the psychological implications of being a victim. Only books by Primo Levi contain this degree of depth of thought and introspection.
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