The first account of the concentration camps that I can remember reading was an essay by Hannah Arendt in the July 1948 number of Partisan Review when I was a sophomore in college. What I now mainly recall about my first reading of this essay, “The Concentration Camps,” is that I was greatly put off by it. Expecting, somewhat fearfully, to be given a gruesome account of life (and death) in the camps, what I encountered instead was a succession of apodictic abstractions and pronouncements that seemed, to my undergraduate mind, unduly eager to place the whole subject beyond the reader’s ability to comprehend it. Innocent as I then was about the details of the camps, this approach nonetheless struck me as an odd way to deal with a human catastrophe on an epic scale.

Rereading that essay today, more than half a century later, I can easily see what had put me off. This is a representative passage: ...


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