The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Spinoza’s Ethics and Josek Giser’s Survival Efforts in KZ Hessental

Very few diaries were written in concentration camps. Josek Giser`s diary, written in Polish from September 1944 to April 1945 in three concentration camps in the Reich: Vaihingen, Hessental, and Dachau, has revealed an extraordinary feature. Giser managed to carry from his hometown Radom to Auschwitz, Vaihingen, and Hessental a book he viewed as "a talisman or perhaps an orientation guide". It was Spinoza`s book `Ethics`. The paper provides an interpretation to Giser`s words: "an orientation guide". I argue that one can discern Spinoza`s views in Giser`s acts, thoughts, and, terminology. The paper focuses on Giser`s determination to survive in Hessental between November and April. It discusses how Spinoza`s views were central to Giser`s efforts to survive in strengthening his willpower, and in seeking intellectual challenges. These challenges are palpable in the characteristics of friendship relations he maintained with several fellow prisoners.

Following background of Giser, his diary and KZ Hessental, the paper examines the connection between Spinoza`s `Parallelism` and Giser`s writing about the mind and the body. It then discusses the increasing importance Giser places on willpower in parallel with the weakening of his body, mental challenges and survival. The paper then focuses on Giser`s relations with two prisoners. These included acts of solidarity such as sharing extra food, caring with physical needs, and mostly provided Giser with intellectual challenges and hope. Nevertheless, the two friendships ended when the prisoners became too weak and unable to converse.

Giser died three hours before liberation on the death march from Dachau in the arms of his friend Abram Fischman, who later donated this exceptional diary to Ghetto Fighters House Archive.