The Müselmann at the Water Cooler

The Müselmann at the Water Cooler

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Eli Pfefferkorn

Series: Reference Library of Jewish Intellectual History
ISBN: 9781936235667 (hardcover) / 9781618111579 (paper)
Pages: 244 pp.
Publication Date: May 2011

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Winner of the 2012 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award in Holocaust Literature


A survivor of concentration camps and the Death March, Eli Pfefferkorn looks back on his Holocaust and post-Holocaust experiences to compare patterns of human behavior in extremis with those of ordinary life. What he finds is that the concentration camp Muselmann, who has lost his hunger for life and is thus shunned by his fellow inmates on the soup line, bears an eerie resemblance to an office employee who has fallen from grace and whose coworkers avoid spending time with him at the water cooler. Though the circumstances are unfathomably far apart, the human response to their situations is triggered by self-preservation rather than by calculated evil. By juxtaposing these two separate worlds, Pfefferkorn demonstrates that ultimately the human condition has not changed significantly since Cain slew Abel and the Athenians sentenced Socrates.

Eli Pfefferkorn (PhD Brown University) has served as Director of Research at the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, worked as a reviewer for the Literary Supplement of Haaretz, and edited the periodical Hebrew Literature in Translation. He has worked as a professor at Haifa and Tel-Aviv Universities and has been a guest lecturer at Brown University. He is also the recipient of a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship.

Titled The Muselmann at the Water Cooler, the book is an arresting reading experience both for the manner in which Pfefferkorn writes and the conclusions that he conveys. Not surprisingly, given his adult life-long dedication at the personal and scholarly level to writing, drama, poetry and prose, Pfefferkorn is a superb literary craftsman and stylist. His book is truly memoir as literature.
— MBD , Jewish Canadian News, December 1, 2011
Pfefferkorn has a lively style and a fascinating story to tell: his insights and his perspectives deserve a wide audience.
— Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Winston Churchill and author of The Second World War (Weidenfeld and Holt, 1989)
Pfefferkorn’s experience and his memoir about it are both unusual in the field of Holocaust studies. He experienced the Shoah and survived it, played a crucial role in the establishment of the United States Holocaust Museum, and has made substantial academic contributions as well. His memoir is well done, and will make an important contribution to the field of Holocaust studies.
— John K. Roth, Edward Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College