MUSELMANN (German for Muslim), death camp slang word for prisoners on the edge of death who have surrendered to their fate, i.e., showing the symptoms of the last stages of hunger, disease, mental indifference and physical exhaustion. This term was mostly used at Auschwitz. It seems to have originated from the typical deportment of the sufferers, e.g., to squat with their legs tucked in an "Oriental" fashion, their faces masklike in stiffness. Often the muselmann was the target of anger from fellow prisoners, who avoided them lest they too be overcome by despair at the conditions they faced.
Primo *Levi has argued that had the lagers lasted a little longer they would have developed a language of their own. His chilling description of the muselmann indicates the depth of their despair: "The musselmaner, the drowned, form the backbone of the camp, an anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march to labor in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to suffer. One hesitates to call them living; one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, they are too tired to understand.… If I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image, which is familiar to me: an emaciated man with head dropped and shoulders curved, on which face and in whose eyes not a trace of thought is to be seen."
Kowalczykowa, in: Przegląd Lekarski, 18 (Eng., 1962), 28–31 (incl. refs. to British medical publications). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (1960).
[Yehuda Reshef /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.