Can questions like "What could a jew do, when he arrived with a train in Auschwitz?" really be answered? Do such questions have a place in philosophy? What about analytic philosophy? Works of continental philosophy like Minimal Moralia apparently deal with such questions, but statements like "There is no right life in the wrong one." don't feel like sufficient answers to me.

There is however a grain of truth in such an answer, because it is already too late to do anything at the moment where you arrive at the death camp. There were certainly enough signs that things got worse before, while it was still possible to leave the country. But leaving is not easy, temporary shelter might be easy to find, but what about the long term future? And what about the friends and family you leave behind, they might have to pay a high price for you leaving. Assume people get arrested for what they think (not for what they did or planed to do), certain groups of people are no longer allowed to leave the country, and those abroad are called back with the justification that one might want to arrest them for who they liked or disliked. Wouldn't that be enough justification for leaving the country, or at least not return if you are currently abroad?

That short digression indicates that one main problem with such questions is that they cannot be answered in isolation. And because of that, they also don't have correct answers. And the partial answers that they do have imply uncomfortable political conclusions. Does philosophy deal with those issues? Is there a difference between analytic and continental philosophy in this respect?

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    I'm not sure what can be said philosophically about this, but an illuminating read about surviving Auschwitz is "If This Is a Man" by Primo Levi.
    – E...
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 10:38
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    You are aware that the quote from Minima Moralia is from a short text on furniture.
    – mart
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 8:11
  • @mart I'm even aware that Adorno later (1957) relativized his statement (or at least tried to do so, he still only drew political conclusions leaving the questions of the individual unanswered). I checked both the German and English resources including Adorno's text itself, and was pretty aware of the fact that it might be hard for an English reader to appreciate the significance and intended meaning of Adorno's sententia. (See de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Es_gibt_kein_richtiges_Leben_im_falschen if you can read German.) Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 9:32
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    think this question does have deep philosphical significance esp wrt avoiding nihilism. a really great ref on topic, 10M copies in print worldwide, mans search for meaning by victor frankl, mostly considered a work of psychology but think has large philosophy overlap (and anyway the distinctions tend to break down with this writing).
    – vzn
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


'Eichmann in Jerusalem' by Hannah Arendt discusses the questions of "what could the Jews do?" and "Why did they permit themselves to be led, like sheep, onto trains; into camps?" Arendt was a Jew that attended the trials after the war was over and asks many of the controversial questions. I don't wish to ruin the answer to these questions by quoting the book, it's truly worth the read.

In short, yes, philosophy does address the questions, but many topics of this nature require social ostracism, therefore, it's not commonly seen.

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