Semprun, Philosophy, and the Texture of Literature

  • Carol L. Bernstein
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


Jorge Semprun’s four books set in Buchenwald together present a self-portrait as philosophy student turned Resistance fighter. He informs his readers about the books he was carrying in his knapsack before his capture—Kant’s Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone) and Malraux’s L’espoir (Man’s Hope) were among them—and about his insistence upon his scholarly calling (kein Beruf, nur ein Berufung: not a profession, but a calling) during the nightmare of registration at the concentration camp. On Sunday afternoons in Buchenwald, he often went to the Little Camp, where new arrivals were quarantined before being integrated into the labor system and where those who were dying or otherwise unable to work were quartered. There he pursued philosophical issues with a small group, often focusing on the nature of radical evil. The narrative repetition—four times in three books—of the registration episode alone has been characterized as the working through of Semprun’s traumatic experience, and there is no reason to doubt its importance in that context.1


Nazi Regime Narrative Style Philosophic Identity Radical Evil German Soldier 
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Copyright information

© Ofelia Ferrán and Gina Herrmann 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol L. Bernstein

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