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Ethics after Auschwitz?

Primo Levi’s and Elie Wiesel’s Response


Carole J. Lambert

Ethics after Auschwitz? Primo Levi’s and Elie Wiesel’s Response demonstrates how, after their horrific experiences in Auschwitz, both Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel could have deservedly expressed rage and bitterness for the rest of their lives. Housed in the same barracks in the depths of hell, a dark reality surpassing Dante’s vivid images portrayed in The Inferno, they chose to speak, write, and work for a better world, never allowing the memory of those who did not survive to fade. Why and how did they make this choice? What influenced their values before Auschwitz and their moral decision making after it? What can others who have suffered less devastating traumas learn from them? «The quest is in the question», Wiesel often tells his students. This book is a quest for hope and goodness emerging from the Shoah’s deepest «night».


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Conclusion 155


Conclusion In the Introduction we defined ‚ethics‛ as ‚a system of moral principles‛ and noted that, according to ethicist John K. Roth, ‚*e+thical imperatives direct attention and guide action‛ (Ethics 66). In response to the question of whether or not there can be ethics after Auschwitz, Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel emphatically affirm verbally and demonstrate consistently throughout their lives that the ethics of the Decalogue are still worthy standards of conduct. This book has examined their actions and writings in terms of each of the Ten Commandments; despite living in a postmodern and post-Holocaust era, Levi and Wiesel still adhere to the ancient proclamations from Sinai. Roth affirms: In our pluralistic world, where cultural, religious, and philosophical perspectives vary considerably, a widely held belief is that values are so relative to one’s time and place that the ‘truth’ of moral claims is much more a result of subjective preference and political power than a function of objective reality and universal reason. The relativistic outlook meets resistance in the Holocaust, for there is a widely shared conviction that the Holocaust was wrong. An assault not only against Jewish life but also against goodness itself, the Holocaust should not have happened, and nothing akin to it should ever happen again. (Ethics 26) Adherence to the Ten Words can help to prevent anything like the Shoah recurring. In a postmodern era, ethics remain. Tragedies happen when they are absent. The shocking reality of the Shoah demonstrates this powerful truth. Primo Levi also...

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