The Strange Case of the Muselmänner in Auschwitz

  • Joseph Farrell
Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)


Fateless, the semi-autobiographical novel written by Imre Kertesz, the Hungarian Jewish writer who was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, draws on the author’s experiences in Auschwitz and in other concentration and labor camps.1 Gyuri Koves, the novel’s 16-year-old protagonist—the age of Kertesz himself at his arrest—is initiated into the ways of the camp by Bandi Citrom, a fellow Hungarian inmate who is only slightly older but who has longer experience of life in the Lager. Inside the camp, they see a crowd of people with the letter L for Latvian inscribed in the center of the yellow star they are obliged to wear, and in the midst of the throng, Gyuri detects a separate grouping of “peculiar beings who at first were a little disconcerting.” Kertesz describes this latter group in greater detail:

Viewed from a certain distance, they are senilely doddering old codgers, and with their heads retracted into their necks, their noses sticking out from their faces, their filthy prison duds that they wear hanging loosely from their shoulders, even on the hottest summer’s day they put one in mind of winter crows with a perpetual chill. As if with each and every stiff, halting step they take one were to ask: is such an effort really worth the trouble? These mobile question marks, for I could characterize not only their outward appearance but perhaps even their very exiguousness in no other way, are known in the concentration camps as Musulmänner or Muslims, I was told. Bandi Citrom promptly warned me away from them: “You lose any will to live just by looking at them,” he reckoned, and there was some truth in that, although as time passed, I also came to realize that it takes more than just that. (38)


Page Number Labor Camp Bare Life Camp Life Yellow Star 
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Copyright information

© Risa Sodi and Millicent Marcus 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Farrell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of StrathclydeUK

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