The first thought on this…well… It is a controversial term to most. But not so to Hannah Arendt who utilizes the term ‘suicide’ under “We Refugees” within the book Altogether Elsewhere edited by Marc Robinson, to mean freedom; a negative liberty. Arendt mentions that, “we became witnesses and victims of worse terrors than death-without having been able to discover a higher ideal than life. Thus, although death lost its horrors for us, we became neither willing not capable to risk our lives for a cause,”implying that the Austrian Jews could not bear to lose their lives despite having not feared death. At least not for any cause. But with suicide, she mentions that the Jews were “free to throw life away and to leave the world.”Suicide is therefore, freedom.

Ironic. But the reasons behind this act despite being condemned by Pious Jews as “murder” and “an interference with the rights of the Creator,”provide a justification for its use to mean freedom. Arendt states that “yet our suicides are no mad rebels who hurl defiance at life and the world, who try to kill in themselves the whole universe. Theirs is a quiet and modest way of vanishing; they seem to apologize for the violent solution they found for their personal problems,”to mean that suicide is not carried out by the Jews to show their distaste of the world and all it holds, but rather for personal issues. A last resort to the issues they face. A freedom from their trouble. Such troubles are expounded on, including economic and social matters that force their hands in resorting to the only other option that fully takes away their despairing optimism, suicide.  Arendt also looks at other statistics around this term, confirming that suicide is prominent in other places such as Berlin and Vienna, in Bucharest, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and in Montevideo.However, such suicides carried out as a form of freedom, are not seen in concentration camps or in the ghettos. She mentions that “I heard only once about suicide, and that was the suggestion of a collective action, apparently a kind of protest on order to vex the French” implying that, in the camp of Gurs, suicide was indeed carried out as a form of protest, hence, for a cause other than personal troubles. Suicide is therefore a fundamental form of freedom for the Jews, and in this case, another form for fighting for other liberties.

This term is essentially trigging and makes me curious about why the act is carried out, and the opinions on it. Abendt has shown me the different reasons if not justifications for suicide and why others attest against it. The reasons somewhat allow me to tap into the lives of the refugees, realizing that if there were any ways for them to go back to their previous free lives, they would. But suicide is what stands as a solution when they cannot bear the insecurities, the traumatizing experiences and the lack of support for their humanity. It is freedom.


Works Cited

Robinson, Marc. Altogether Elsewhere:writers on exile. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1996.