The Captive Mind

Milosz’s sketch of Beta is the most powerful for me.  Prior to the War Beta was a young man already known for his literary talents.  During the war, Beta, like Alpha and Milosz, was writer in the underground; however, Beta was unique in that he observed that the underground was only countering German nationalism with Polish nationalism and that this would not change anything.  “This lack of vision led him to see the world as a place in which nothing existed outside of naked force.” (113)  Beta sought a rational reason for the underground but discovered none. Beta was eventually captured by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz and fortunately he lived and was able to write about his experience which provides a unique view of the role of prisoners in the camp that contradicts many of the romanticized depictions of the prisoners.  Beta relates how those prisoners in advantageous positions, like himself, were able to survive and how other failed.  Milosz recounts and heavily quotes Beta’s book where he describes how he as a trusted prisoner helped to divide newly arrived prisoners between those who lived and died and how they would sort through the arrives luggage for beneficial items such as shoes and food.  Milosz believes that Beta’s descriptions are cold and emphasize his ability to dehumanize the situation and utilize his cleverness to survive where others failed.  After surviving Auschwitz and living in Munich, Beta choose to return to Poland and participate in the government.  With his writings on the evils of Nazism, he was given a prominent position in which to espouse his ideas, but as the Soviet system became rigid, his ideas and writings were no longer acceptable.  He was now to infuse Marxist – Leninism into his writings.  Now instead of the individual surviving in concentration camps Beta was forced to show class tensions that never existed.  Like Alpha, Beta became disillusioned with this role in the party and eventually committed suicide.


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