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The presentation for the text “Saving Lives in Auschwitz,” written by Professor Emerita of History Dr. Ewa Bacon, began at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8 in the St. Charles Borromeo Convocation Hall. The book was this year’s Common Reader, which all first year students are required to read for their Introduction to the College Experience (ICE) classes.
Prior to writing her book, Bacon received her bachelor’s in psychology from Stanford University and a doctorate in history from the University of Chicago. Bacon then proceeded to devote the next two decades of her life teaching students about globalization issues, Eastern European history and genocide. She joined the Lewis staff in 1994 and retired in 2016.
Bacon was first inspired to write “Saving Lives in Auschwitz” when she received a copy of a testimony to the Oświȩcim Museum belonging to her father, Stefan Budziaszek. This discussed his imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp system during World War II. The story follows along the narrative of Budziaszek’s imprisonment, focusing on his role as not only a prisoner, but a doctor working in the camp’s hospital as well.
Bacon began the presentation by asking attendees to imagine a hypothetical situation in which they were in a computer game, and the goal was to stay alive. She described a scenario in which one’s national leaders have been killed, and the gamer is without any obvious weapons, or any real value to society at all.
“Do you resist the state that has overtaken your country?” asked Bacon. “It is no longer clear who is friend and who is competitor. Your promotion means their demotion.”
The dystopian example paralleled the events Budziaszek survived in Bacon’s book. In this game, Bacon described five levels, ranging from being trapped in a prison in which one could be severely punished for any form of noncompliance, to the utilitarian concept of deciding who receives medical treatment and who will die.
Through Bacon’s indirect synopsis of the events detailed in her book, she brought up many of the unethical actions of the German Schutzstaffel (SS) that took place in concentration camps throughout the 1930s and 40s. Prisoners were only allowed a maximum of 14 days of treatment or else they would be labeled as useless and killed. This left Budziaszek, a prisoner doctor, to handle the complexities of deciding who would benefit the most from his treatment.
Throughout Bacon’s metaphor, she addressed students studying criminal justice, health professions, psychology, political science, business and theology with questions pertaining to their major, in order to demonstrate how one’s digestion of the book will be different from another’s.
“I presented you with a game for true events,” said Bacon. “The concept you are trying to find here is different from someone in, say, aviation.”
Bacon also clarified that this book, known as her life’s work, is not a story of the Holocaust. It is instead a narrative of her father, who was persecuted due to his Polish nationalism and anti-Nazi views, and his journey as a doctor in the camps.
“She really made us think about the emotional impact of the whole situation,” said freshman Meghan Dolan.
Throughout the extensive research that went into the writing of the text, Bacon still wanted first-year students to be able to find it attractive enough to engage in the text. She is currently meeting with a total of 22 ICE classes to further discuss the common reader.