„I mentioned art before. Can art even exist in a concentration camp? It depends of course on what we call art. From time to time improvised cabaret performances took place in the camp. At that time, one of the barracks was emptied, wooden benches were slid together – or nailed down and the program of the performance was arranged. In the evening, those who held a relatively good position in the camp hierarchy – the kapos and prisoners, who did not have to leave the camp and march to distant work places – gathered in the barrack. They would come there to laugh a little or to shed a tear – one way or another, to forget. The cabaret program included songs, poems, jokes, and satirical texts secretly related to camp life. All this had one purpose – to help us forget – and usually it served its purpose. The performances of the cabaret were so effective, that even ordinary prisoners visited the barracks (despite being extremely exhausted, and although this meant a loss of daily food portion for them).


For an outsider, the discovery that something like art was developing in the camp might come as a surprise; even more surprising, however, may be information that among the prisoners there were signs of a sense of humor, although of course they were only a pale reflection of true cheerfulness and rarely lasted longer than a few seconds or minutes. However, humor was another weapon of a tormented soul in the fight for survival and was an expression of self-preservation instinct. It is well known that a sense of humor, like no other character trait, allows a person to keep a distance and gives him the ability to rise – even for a short moment – over virtually any circumstance.

I remember training a friend of a fellow prisoner who worked next to me on a construction site, helping him develop his sense of humor. I proposed that we agree that each of us would come up with at least one funny anecdote every day about an event that could take place the day after our liberation from the camp. My companion was a surgeon, an assistant in the ward of one of the large hospitals. Once, I tried to make him laugh with a story of how he would find out after returning to work that he was not able to give up his habits related to camp life. It was generally accepted that at the construction site, the guarding kapo prisoners warmed us up to work faster – especially when the supervisor was just making a rounds – shouting loudly: “Do! Do!”. So I turned to my friend with these words: – Imagine that one day, when you are in the operating room again and you are undergoing major abdominal surgery, at some point the door to the room will open and a paramedic will come, announcing the arrival of the head of surgery with shouting: “Do! Do!”

Other fellow prisoners also came up with funny situations from the future, prophesying, for example, that they would forget themselves during dinner and while seeing the soup poured into the plates, they would beg for a portion from the „bottom of the cauldron”.

/ Victor E. Frankl, „Men’s search for meaning” (translated from Polish to English, so not perfect), photo from Auschwitz by Michael Ruetz