Re-thinking the Muselmann: Narratives, Concepts, and Social Realities
The so-called Muselmann was a figure known to nearly all Nazi concentration camp prisoners. The literature on the topic portrays the Muselmänner as those prisoners who had fallen to a near-death condition and lost their human features, thus making them the extreme emblem of Nazi atrocities. Previous studies have addressed the Muselmann primarily from a medical, etymological, or philosophical perspective. This special issue takes a different approach. It does not view the Muselmann as an irrevocable condition inevitably ending in death, but as a transitory condition of the human body brought about by the psychological and social consequences of its extreme context. As an integral part of prisoner society, the Muselmann participated actively in the social and economic life of concentration camps and had a major impact on its symbolic, material and social order.
As almost any prisoner could become a Muselmann, our approach offers insights into social structures and processes within concentration camps across categories of gender, age, nationality, class and Nazi persecution label. Examining the Muselmann as a narrative in survivors’ texts and other literary genres furthermore provides insight into post-war conceptualizations of camps, suffering, death, and survival. We invite scholars from all disciplines to contribute to this issue.