Elli, her mother and all of the prisoners they meet all have to undergo numerous physical and psychological hardships when they are forced into the concentration camps. They are treated like cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse when they are taken from their houses to the ghetto, then to the synagogue, and eventually to Auschwitz, the death camp.
The majority of suffering that was inflicted on Elli and her associates was physically inflicted, this was in the various forms of: beatings, rapes, murders, hard labor, and also subjective forms such as being exposed to diseases. The Germans also toyed with different ploys to beat the Jews, such as sterilization. This is demonstrated in Chapter Twenty in the book, they hear the rumor circulating that the Germans are putting ‘Bromide’; in the prisoner’s food. The prisoners are provided no forms of personal hygiene such as showers, except the one they receive when they enter and leave the camp, other than that they are given no forms of washing or grooming. Their toilet facilities are non-existent, and instead they have to balance precariously over a pit that is never emptied of the stagnant waste that remains inside. They receive no protection from the sun in summer and because of this they develop numerous blisters and scars all over their bodies. In one part of the story Elli gets a chance to see what she looks like and she is shocked at her appearance, because she hadn’t for so long. She claims she looks like a clown because of the blisters on the sides of her face, also she says her hair looks like thorns protruding from her head instead of hair.
Likewise, in the winter they are given little protection from the elements, in the barracks they are only given two blankets per five people, one to lay on and the other to cover themselves with.
Being exposed to the kind of horror that Elli was, you can expect her to have many problems. She has to witness people being shot, beaten, executed, demoralised, tortured, and tormented. Many times it is her who is the victim in these scenarios, such as in Chapter Twenty-seven when Elli tries to protect her mother from being beaten by the female guard. Elli loses all common sense at this point and lets her emotions take over her, and as her punishment she is savagely beaten by the guard as well. After witnessing so much death, pain, and suffering Elli would have been scarred for life.
We see a classic example of this when we meet ‘Felicia the Blockalteste.’; The German’s that killed her family tormented her and later she started to work for them. She was trying to get some blood redemption by being so harsh to the Jewish prisoners, even though she was Jewish herself.
In the death camps, as well as much physical abuse, they were also the victims of constant moral abuse. For example, the male guards were always calling them ‘Blode Lumpen’; which means ‘Idiotic Whores’;, also ‘Blode Schweine’; meaning ‘Idiotic Swine’;, finally to ‘Blode Hunde’; meaning ‘Idiotic Dogs’;. They found the latter the easiest to cope with, although none of them ever did much for their confidence or self-esteem, which was probably the intended effect.
If the prisoners had no spirit the Germans would have the best chance of keeping them under control, and the last thought on the prisoner’s minds would be trying to revolt or escape.
As the prisoners go through the whole ordeal they are continuously deprived of space and identity. First of all they are moved into the ghetto, the synagogue, and finally the camps. At the start families are forced to live in just two rooms, then the space of one room in the synagogue, and then the space of each other when they are travelling in the cattle-wagons. Later in the camps they are given space but this time it is not their space, because they are always being watched and observed. They are never given the chance to socialise (even though they do) and they are hardly even living a life- just a monotonous cycle of work, sleep, eat (If that’s what you want to call it)- they are turned into robots and not humans with emotions and feelings.
They shave the girl’s heads so they all look the same, or look like men for example, and give them all the same dresses so no-one is individual, everyone is the same. They are like bodies without souls. They have all their books burnt in the ghetto and this is the start of the German’s plan to totally nullify the Jewish existence. Another instance when the prisoners were psychologically abused was when they were taken to work in the factory and the worker’s thought that they were men. This must have been tragic for the prisoners because they would feel like they have lost their identity and even their sexual status.
The suffering they had to experience in this period was immense, some people did not cope with it too well and these people passed away. Others trying to speak out against the wrongs of the Germans, and these people died as well. But a select few decided to blend in the crowd and try not to be noticed, not complain about work load, not crumble under psychological stress, and not give up. These people fortunately survived, not unscathed, but survived none the less and that is the most important thing.