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The Survivor: Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps [Hardcover]

Terrence Des Pres

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Book Description

8 April 1976
An eloquent revelation that touches the foundations of what man is. Neither despairing nor conventionally hopeful, The Survivor describes the most terrible events in human memory. But what emerges finally is an image of man stubbornly equal to the worst that can happen.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st Edition edition (8 April 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195019520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195019520
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,237,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Remains a perfect analytic supplement for students reading (as mine do) the memoir literature (Wiesel, Levi, Tec, etc.) in courses on the Holocaust and its impact on survivors and, through them, on western imagination. (A.J. Slavin, University of Louisville)

Powerful book! An intriguing look into the inner workings of the death camps. A must reading for anyone who wants to know just how inhumanly the Nazis treated their victims. (Prof. Marvin Seperson, New England College)

[A] very fine book. (Saul Lerner, Purdue University Calumet)

A brilliant and beautifully written book about one of the ultimate human experiences. (E.O. Wilson, Harvard University)

An important, tormented, tormenting book. (Elie Wiesel, Boston University)

One turns the last page convinced that, doomsday prophecies notwithstanding, the human species will continue to resist and to survive. (Wassily Leontief, New York University)

A horrifying, well-written, moving account of how men and women come to survive in the worst of all possible worlds. (The Washington Post)

Infinitely touching and heartening. (Alfred Kazin, The New York Times Book Review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

The late Terrence Des Pres was Crawshaw Professor of English Literature at Colgate University --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
EACH THING, said Spinoza in the "Ethics," insofar as it is in itself, endeavors to persevere in its being. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Survivors live to witness 6 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
A close and penetrating look at how the survivors of the Nazi and Stalinist death camps came through such horror in human ways. Des Pres explodes the myths about the Jews going to their deaths "like sheep;" of survivors saving their own lives by becoming amoral; of those who lived suffering from "survivor's guilt." Rather, says Des Pres, survivors felt an obligation to the dead to bear witness; survivors lived by maintaining their moral sensibilities and by cooperating with one another and sharing in each other's tribulations and successes; to survive in the conditions of extremity found in the death camps was, in itself, an act of resistance. Humans are social by nature of their very biology, says Des Pres, and this is perhaps our main hope in this century. His depiction of survivor as "hero" is a welcome contrast to the numerous dead heroes of Western literature -- and a necessary one in this century of atrocities. Des Pres also wrote _Praises and Dispraises: Poetry and Politics, the 20th Century_ and _Writing Into the World: Essays 1973-1987_ -- both important books about the social and political role of the poet (and other writers). It's unfortunate that these two volumes are currently out of print.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surviving 1 April 2001
By Elaine Bernard - Published on Amazon.com
I have never read a more important or more accurate account of life in a concentration camp. Des Pres gives a new and important meaning to the word 'courage.' Des Pres' analysis of courage provides the lie to the depiction of Jews succumbing like sheep to the Nazi horror. He clearly demonstrates the courage it took to stay alive, to bear witness, to resist. Furthermore, he provides a base for understanding the meaning of the courage it took for Jews to survive 1,000 years of Christian efforts to debase Jews in their European diaspora- the courage to survive and live as Jews. I am only sorry that I did not discover this book earlier in my life.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most important book ever written about the Holocaust 27 April 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Few historians have the stomach to tackle an in-depth historical survey of the Nazi Holocaust.
Even fewer have the depth and intelligence to look deep into its many figures and faces to create a work of literature which deals with the ontological essence of humankind. Such an effort would seem like an unreachable and naive goal if it weren't so beautifully examined in Des Pres' book, in which he uses a wealth of haunting voices from the Holocaust to introduce his readers to a new chapter of the human spirit: the Survivor.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars extraodinary book 13 July 2009
By Helen C. Harrison - Published on Amazon.com
I read this book many years ago, when it was newly published. It still resonates in my memory as the most acute, most gripping, most honest and above all most honorable account of why human beings survived the Holocaust and the Gulags. It is my belief that this gentleman, who was an English professor, not a historian, did more to change what I have always thought were negative, hurtful and incorrect ideas ---see Bruno Bettleheim et al ---of what constitutes a survivor. He also makes it clear that all the survivors did not survivors. An immense accomplishment.
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the emotionally difficult read 6 Sep 2013
By Fourier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Detailed description of the essential elements of character needed to survive murderous prisons, mainly the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag. They are surprising. Every man for himself did not work. An appreciation for life, and a willingness to help when possible, are two of the surprising traits that emerge.

Highly recommended. First part is relatively uninteresting. Keep going.
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