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Both “Son of Saul” film and “The Way to the Gas, Ladies, and Gentlemen” short story depict an everyday life of inmates trying to survive in a concentration camp of Auschwitz. The film focuses on one key character Saul Auslander, a Jewish prisoner and a member of a Sonderkommando whose job is to accompany inmates on their way to a gas chamber and then to remove all the signs of their presence, waiting for new ones. The short story is presented through the lenses of Tadek, a Polish gentile inmate, performing the same work as Saul in the death camp.
Survival, resistance, and heroism
Horrors and survival described in the film and the story involve daily deaths, fear, and inevitable awareness of the fact that these characters are forced to assist in killing others in order to continue their own existence. This significantly suppresses their feelings and personality making to become indifferent even to their friends. However, people find strengths to resist the regime and show heroism through seemingly negligible actions.1 For example, Tadek gives water to one of the inmates at the risk of his own life. The prisoners are trying to implement some meaningful actions: to blow up the camp, save their lives, take photos of the massacres, and send documents to someone outside the camp so that the world can know the truth. All these actions fail one after the other while only the body of the boy remains hidden to be buried with Jewish traditions. In this inside-out world, fortune favors only the most insane plans.
Relations between inmates and Nazi oppressors
The relationships between inmates cannot be close as it is prohibited by the camp nature, yet all their communication and collaboration are directed to a plan of rebellion. The overall goal, common reason, and strong desire to live and be free – all these unite inmates. At the same time, the relationships of inmates with Nazi oppressors are characterized by constant humiliation and bullying. The selection of prisoners was, perhaps, the cruelest manifestation of Nazi concentration camps as those who did not pass it were destined to be murdered in gas chambers.2 Furthermore, every day was a struggle for survival under unbearable conditions. The prisoners were kept in buildings without windows. Some prisoners were engaged in forced labor in the camp, for example, women sorted the heaps of clothes, shoes, and other items belonging to inmates that were sent to Germany to be used. Under the supervision of armed guards, they purified the roads from snow and cleaned debris on the roads and in the cities affected by the air raids. Over time, the forced labor began to be used on a large scale in factories that produced weapons and other products to meet the needs of the Nazi war machine.
How to retain dignity?
How can one avoid degradation and retain dignity under such enormous pressure? This can be feasible only in case a person tries his or her best to remain a human, preserving the very sense of kindness to others that can lead forward in spite of difficulties and serve as a saving lighthouse in the impenetrable darkness. The dreadful scenes of daily work of Saul resemble a circle of hell which Dante could not even imagine. However, the mechanical actions of Saul suddenly interfered with the meeting with a boy in which he saw his son. In fact, a viewer cannot know for sure whether this is his son or merely the result of an injured psyche. The more important issue is the desire to bury the boy according to the Jewish ritual signifying a resurrection of the human feelings in Saul. Even though Saul’s intention may look absurd at first sight, especially during the escape from the concentration camp as it puts at risk not only his life but also those of his friends, this desire gives him hope and faith for the future. In other words, the described intention clearly demonstrates that even in such extreme conditions, a man can maintain dignity, thus making the first step to the promotion of humaneness.
In its turn, the short story also reflects the way to retain human dignity. Joining the labor gang, Tadek encounters a multicolored wave of inmates and separates them to those who will work and those who will die. At this point, he understands that helplessness turns to hatred not only to Nazi oppressors but also to those Jews as a reason for his dazed state. After a while, the narrator realizes that he can struggle against the oppression by nobly helping others. Despite precipitously blurring boundaries between normality and abnormality, he is still capable of self-sacrificing that makes Tadek stay strong and self-respectful.
To conclude, both the short story and the film focus on violent events of Holocaust in Auschwitz. The paramount idea is also similar, and the message is clear: nothing could destroy a human in case he or she is able to retain dignity. Even in the condition of cruelty, death, fear, and pain, people need to hope for better and exert every effort to remain humane.
Langer, Lawrence L. Art from the Ashes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Permana, Agung, S. “Son of Saul (2015) Stream Online”. Filmed . YouTube video, 1.33. Web.
- Lawrence L. Langer, Art from the Ashes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 348.
- Agung, S. Permana, “Son of Saul (2015) Stream Online”. Filmed . Web.