Remembering the Philosopher Who Showed How Moral Life Continued Even in Auschwitz

The French-Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov, who died earlier this month, devoted most of his career to studying how people behaved when faced with extremity, focusing particularly on inmates of concentration camps and the Soviet gulag. Reflecting on Todorov’s conclusion that moral life was not completely crushed by such inhuman circumstances, Bruce Edward Walker writes:

Todorov’s research details a king’s ransom of [moral] choices made by prisoners—often refuting those prisoners’ own claims [to the contrary]. Ena Weiss was an Austrian confined at Auschwitz who told another inmate she placed her own needs “first, second, and third. Then nothing. Then myself again—and then all the others.” [In reality, however], Weiss overstated her self-preservation dramatically. . . . Weiss assisted “tens, indeed hundreds of other prisoners.”

Other examples abound to support Todorov’s conclusion. Father Maximilian Kolbe was canonized after he gave his own life in return for the life of a father and husband while imprisoned in Auschwitz. . . .

It’s true that Todorov in his later years made lamentable comments drawing false equivalencies between the activities of Islamic terrorists and Western military actions deployed against them. While unfortunate, considering the breadth of his knowledge concerning the evils of totalitarianism, such statements are only footnotes to Todorov’s greater accomplishments.

One thing is for certain, and that is Communism and fascism weren’t defeated by the scolding of Western politicians. [Communism] collapsed of its own weight, expedited by such voices as . . . Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who bore witness to its crimes and everyday horrors. Perhaps as well it was commonplace displays of the moral qualities of kindness, caring, and recognition of each other’s dignity by the inmates in the gulags and concentration camps that helped doom such lamentable locations of human misery to the dustbin of recent history. Much of Todorov’s body of work makes a . . . compelling argument that morality is a powerful weapon against the enemies of human freedom.

Read more at Acton Center

More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Morality, Totalitarianism


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7