(approximately 40 minutes)
In 1958, A.M. Rosenthal, then a correspondent for The New York Times, visited Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, where four million prisoners, most of them Jews, were exterminated. He filed this report to his newspaper editor.
Read this essay by Rosenthal carefully. In a well-organized essay, explain how the title reflects the tone of the essay. Discuss why the author’s tone is powerful without outrage or anger and explain his use of restraint and refrain.
Avoid summary and paraphrase.
No News From Auschwitz
August 31, 1958
The most terrible thing of all, somehow, was at Brzezinka the sun was bright and warm, the rows of graceful poplars were lovely to look upon and on the grass near the gates children played.
It all seemed frighteningly wrong, as in a nightmare, that at Brzezinka the sun should ever shine or that there should be light and greenness and the sound of young laughter. It would be fitting if the sun never shone and the grass withered because this is a place of unutterable terror.
And yet, every day, from all over the world, people come to Brzezinka, quite possibly the most grisly tourist center on earth. They come for a variety of reasons -- to see if it could really have been true, to remind themselves not to forget, to pay homage to the dead by the simple act of looking upon their place of suffering.
Brzezinka is a couple of miles from the better-known southern Polish town of Oswiecim. Oswiecim has about 12,000 inhabitants, is situated about 171 miles from Warsaw, and lies in a damp, marshy area at the eastern end of the pass called the Moravian Gate. Brzezinka and Oswiecim together formed part of that minutely organized factory of torture and death that the Nazis called Konzentrationslager Auschwitz.
By now, fourteen years after the last batch of prisoners was herded naked into the gas chambers by dogs and guards, the story of Auschwitz has been told a great many times. Some of the inmates have written of those events of which sane men cannot conceive. Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess, the superintendent of the camp, before he was executed wrote his detailed memoirs of mass exterminations and the experiments on living bodies. Four million people died here, the Poles say.
And so there is no news to report about Auschwitz. There is merely the compulsion to write something about it, a compulsion that grows out of a restless feeling that to have visited Auschwitz and then turned away without having said or written anything would be a grievous act of discourtesy to those who died here.
Brzezinka and Oswiecim are very quiet places now; the screams can no longer be heard. The tourist walks silently, quickly at first to get it over with and then, as his mind peoples the barracks and the chambers and the dungeons and flogging posts, he walks draggingly. The guide does not say much either, because there is nothing much for him to say after he has pointed.
For every visitor, there is one particular bit of horror that he knows he will never forget. For some it is seeing the rebuilt gas chamber at Oswiecim and being told that this is the “small one.” For others it is the fact that at Brzezinka, in the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria the Germans blew up when they retreated, there area daisies growing.
There are visitors who gaze blankly at the gas chambers and the furnaces because their minds simply cannot encompass them, but stand shivering before the great mounds of human hair behind the plate glass window or the piles of babies’ shoes or the brick cells where men sentenced to death by suffocation were walled up.
One visitor opened his mouth in a silent scream simply at the sight of boxes -- great stretches of three-tiered wooden boxes in the women’s barracks. They were about six fee wide, about three feet high, and into them from five to ten prisoners were shoved for the night. The guide walks quickly through the barracks. Nothing more to see here.
A brick building where sterilization experiments were carried out on women prisoners. The guide tries the door -- it’s locked. The visitor is grateful that he does not have to go in, and then flushes with shame.
A long corridor where rows of faces stare from the walls. Thousands of pictures, the photographs of prisoners. They are all dead now, the men and the women who stood before the cameras, and they all knew they were to die.
They all stare blank-faced, but one picture, in the middle of a row, seizes the eye and wrenches the mind. A girl, 22 years old, plumply pretty, blonde. She is smiling gently, as at a a sweet, treasured thought. What was the thought that passed through her young mind and is now her memorial on the wall of the dead at Auschwitz?
In to the suffocation dungeons the visitor is taken for a moment and feels himself strangling. Another visitor goes in, stumbles out and crosses herself. There is no place to pray at Auschwitz.
The visitors look pleadingly at each other and say to the guide, “Enough.”
There is nothing new to report about Auschwitz. It was a sunny day and the trees were green and at the gates children played.
Sample student essay: (not perfect but good for 40 minute first draft)
The title of “No News From Auschwitz” reflects the tone of quiet horror and unreality which pervades this entire article. A.M. Rosenthal deliberately uses restraint because it is much more effective and reverent than any loud outrage. Through the contrast of diction and emotion, his matter-of-fact tone emphasizes the horrible unreality of the occurrences at Auschwitz. What happened there is a fact, and all the anger and outrage in the world seems puny in comparison to the truth of its horror.
Perhaps Rosenthal felt that to rant over this place as one would over a lost bet on a horse race would only add to the indignity suffered by its inmates. The quietness of his tone gives the dead the respect and dignity robbed from them when they were alive. The calm tone shows how deeply affected he was, because it touched him almost too deeply for words. Instead of meaningless complaints, he feels only a disbelief that nature and life could go where such abominations had occurred.
The title of the passage further shows his refusal to sensationalize his subject. News usually has calculated shock value, which Rosenthal rejects. The facts are also known to the world by now. The author’s intention is not to report new things but to remind us of old happenings. It seems that he feels obligated by the dead to report the truth and to do so in an honorable way. So he writes carefully and with admirable restraint, as if to remind the readers that we have no right to react with shock, for our burden is only to listen and remember. We did not live it. The inmates had to live it. In the end Rosenthal’s quiet tone drives home the horror of Auschwitz more strongly than any impassioned sermon could.
Words become helpless, inadequate, and insubstantial before the horror of this place. Incomplete sentences hold the fragmented images of the grisly tour as he nears the end. The visual impact of the photo of the young girl with the gentle smile, her vanished secrets, her lost years “wrenches his mind.” A visitor stumbles from the dungeon, crossing herself, aware of the unholy ground upon which she stands. “Enough,” the visitors plead because there is no holy word to vanquish the horrors of this history. What happened here was, quite simply, too much, too terrible, too sad.
How can daisies bloom and children play and the sun shine in this place? Rosenthal’s restrained understatement and repeated nature refrain contrast sharply with the excesses of this death factory. The daisies are not a callous reminder that life goes on but that so much life ended here, full of hopes and dreams. In that quiet image, the writer shows us the disturbing contrast of life and death which dismays him in this place. With a survivor’s guilt, he walks the tour, humbled, shamed, and stricken by what these humans suffered. Leave anger to those who were there during the war. The rest of us dare not presume to know what is enough outrage for this suffering and loss of life.
There is no news from Auschwitz, only human history as ancient as slavery and the Inquisition and a thousand other cruelties and injustices. To report would create a headline. The author elects instead to write an obituary, a memorial lest we forget.
In small groups of two or three, discuss the Rosenthal essay. Appoint one member of your group to take notes (in order of topics) on your discussion of each topic.
6. Refrain and repetition
10. Concrete Details
11. Agree or disagree: Understatement can be just as powerful as outrage -- or can express outrage through restraint.
Provide reasons and examples.
(ok to disagree but must provide reasons and examples also)
Discuss (in small groups) the following topics about this essay. Continue notetaking.
1. Rewrite the AP essay question sentences into ONE true interrogative sentence.
2. Identify thesis. (Where is answer to question?)
4. Weaknesses (Write in margin: How? Why? So? Prove. Specify.)
5. use of specific words, phrases pulled directly from text (Rosenthal’s essay)
6. other possibilities (supported by text and history) for visitor to say “Enough”
7. Explain last sentence.
8. Does the student essay answer the question?
How well or how little? What score (1-9) should it receive?