This paper explores the problems of judgement and representation in relation to Jewish victims of the Holocaust who occupied so-called privileged positions in the camps and ghettos. Such figures, forced to act in ways that have proven controversial both during and after the war, faced unprecedented ethical dilemmas under Nazi persecution. Taking Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi’s highly influential essay on the ‘grey zone’ as a point of departure, I examine the extreme situations confronted by prisoner doctors, an important – though little discussed – category of ‘privileged’ Jews. Investigating the synergies between history, memory and film, I focus particularly on the case of Gisella Perl, a prisoner doctor whose experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau are represented in her memoir and a recent fiction film. The emotionally and morally fraught circumstances of prisoner doctors can never be fully understood, yet reflecting on the double binds they faced, and acknowledging the inherent problems involved in representing and judging them, enables a nuanced approach to the moral complexities of the Holocaust.
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