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De Wind, E. (1968). The Confrontation with Death. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:302-305.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:302-305

The Confrontation with Death

E. De Wind

In considering the human reactions to the atrocious experiences in the German concentration camps, and to other recent forms of man-made disaster, we must take into account not only the nature of the stress inflicted on the victims but also the duration of the trauma they had to endure. In the camps, those who were not immediately sent to the gas-chamber—and especially those few who survived throughout—lived in constant confrontation with death over a period of months or even years.

When we consider the fate of concentration camp victims, we must keep clearly in mind that we are dealing with a very heterogeneous group of people, and that, in addition, it is unrealistic to treat the camp itself as a unit. In Auschwitz only a small minority of those who were put to work had any possibility of holding out. Most prisoners were made to do such heavy work on so little food that they soon became exhausted and were selected for the gas-chamber. But even among those who, accidentally, were living under relatively favourable conditions, there were essential differences in their chances of survival. These differences can be discerned only on very close scrutiny, and perhaps only by one who knows that world from personal experience.

Yet while recognizing how intricate was the world of the camp, there did exist a number of conditions to which all the prisoners were subject. Everybody suffered physical exhaustion and constant, continuous humiliation. The indefiniteness of the imprisonment, the end of which no one could foresee, was an extremely heavy stress for every one of the prisoners.

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