As I say terror was a constant, and I must add that to mobilize one self to resist was a choice these women also had to make. Psychological surrender would have been the comfortable way, paralysis and numbness the alternatives. Just examine the people about you and one can only surmise who would endure, who would resist and who would be shattered by the relentless Nazi machine of dehumanization, unprecedented in the history of man because it was systematic and organized. With people about you who would be traitorous, and who might very well reveal your identity, your very hiding place, one can only imagine what inner strengths had to be called upon so one would not commit treason against one’s self. Capitulation was always an available option.
A constant state of anomie prevailed in this environment. And how to engage that often became a test of character. Fortitude is the word that comes to mind. All of the women in one way or another, gave up their adolescence and assumed the mantle of adult behaviors. It had its cost much later on. It is often said that young people in the camps, after two weeks, had already garnered the behavior of men. One of the delayed savageries of the Nazi system was the indelible cost it made upon the survivor in later life. Survivors suffered twice over.
Indeed, at the end, one woman of valor who became a scientist and has a brilliant mind speaks of post-traumatic shock disorder. The word is not the thing itself, one philosopher has said. And before we had the term, the disorder had been with mankind for centuries. Survivors who have had relentless dreams and flashbacks decades later can attest to this phenomenon. In my own stories, I enter here with my own skills and try to grasp the psychological mayhem done to survivors. Ms. Gilbert gives the facts and her empathy; I relate feelings based on such facts as she has supplied as well as others, Primo Levi, Olga Lengyel and Wiesel.
It takes guts, if you think about, to be a living, feeling, thinking, and compassionate human being! Imagine the task for a young teenager who must psychologically defend herself and at the same time sustain her own inner-directedness as her culture collapses about her.