To me, there were three phases, in a literary sense. The first phase is the one just before the Holocaust. Times were tough, but you could get through somehow. The second phase, described by writers like Primo Levi, takes place in medias res, as though voiced from the inside, with all the astonishment and dismay of witnessing such events. These writers described what happened as something that would drive any man to madness—at least any man who continued to cling to old values. And what happened was beyond the witnesses’ capacity for coping. They tried to resist it as much as they could, but it left a mark on the rest of their lives. The third phase concerns literary works that came into existence after National Socialism and which examine the loss of old values. Writers such as Jean Améry or Tadeusz Borowski conceived their works for people who were already familiar with history and were aware that old values had lost their meaning. What was at stake was the creation of new values from such immense suffering, but most of those writers perished in the attempt. However, what they did bequeath to us is a radical tradition in literature.
I recently finished Fateless (Fatelessness) and watched the 2005 movie for which Kertész wrote the screenplay. I plan to post on both later this week since they are both very powerful works. One of the things that comes through in both versions, more in the book, is the humanity he ascribes to the people abetting the atrocities. More on this in later posts.