Parallels between European Imperialism In Africa and Holocaust: Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Levi's Survival in Auschwitz

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Violence and murder became prominent in European imperialism in Africa and left the supposedly lower races destined for extinction, which would be brought about by any means, including intentional extermination of entire populations like with the Holocaust. Attempts to dehumanize the Jewish people and Africans were also very similar in structure with both authorities using a three-pronged approach. They first stripped the Africans or Jews of their identity, then physically tortured them, and lastly, redefined their humanity such that it became unrecognizable to even the Jews or Africans themselves. Many of the very factors that make us human include aspects of our personal identity, which shape our values, morals, and humanitarian duty, but upon hours of arriving at Auschwitz, the prisoners were completely robbed of all the factors that made them unique and reduced to a less than human state. They were “reduced to ignoble slavery, without hair, without honor, without names, beaten every day, more abject every day.” Levi reiterates that his appearance was reflected in that of thousands of others who had all been molded into miserable and permanently scarred puppets. This lack of personality and a sense of emptiness within themselves rendered to be extremely mentally draining for not only the prisoners, but also the Africans in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which describes the Africans as “dying slowly – it was very clear …. they were nothing earthly now -- nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.” The subjected individuals were also severely deprived of food, sleep, space, and medical attention that made them lose all sense of even their basic needs for survival, with Levi mentioning an example of a young man who “has not even the rudimentary astuteness of a draught-horse, which stops pulling a little before it reaches exhaustion.” The young man’s inability to recognize even the fact that he needs rest, shows that the Nazis have completely robbed him of his basic human instincts, reducing him merely to a labor beast. Conrad also shares how the first slaves Marlow (his story’s protagonist) encountered were “with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages.” Discontentment was a common theme among the prisoners and Africans in Levi and Conrad’s stories, but the final blow came with the social isolation and internal desolation the Jews and Africans had to face. In both the Heart of Darkness and Survival in Auschwitz, it was shown that recognizing the claims and needs of other humans not only keeps us connected to them, but it also lets us remain in touch with our own humanity. However, in the camps and Africa, most individuals held no such civic ties, and therefore were reduced to become beasts with no sense of compassion for those around them. Without being able to forge connections with other human beings, these individuals were deeply isolated and paved their own way to hollowness.

Another key experience that, to some degree, set the scene for the Holocaust is the German imperialism in South West Africa. While Arendt’s general correlation between European imperialism and the Holocaust is questionable because totalitarianism only emerged in Germany, this link can piece together a more concrete comparison. Specifically, the Herero Genocide in South Africa and the cultural developments that glorified imperialism to the domestic audience were significant in serving as a precedent for the later catastrophe in Germany. The war against the Herero people took form as a completely scaled genocide, fought against already dying people with the goal of total elimination as demonstrated by General von Trotha’s annihilation order and demographically portrayed by the Herero population’s reduction from 80,000 to under 20,000 between just 1904 and 1905. Further parallels can be drawn with regard to the ‘extermination through deliberate neglect’ employed by forcing the Herero people into a barren desert, and later in the war against the Soviet Union, which encompassed mass destruction of infrastructure and nearly all basic necessities. This idea of intentional extermination then presents itself again in Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, where he mentions, “…in this place everything is forbidden, not for hidden reasons, but because the camp has been created for that purpose.” The deliberate planning involved with the creation of the concentration camps of Auschwitz convey the intentional neglect implemented in their ideology from the past, potentially being linked to colonialism in Africa.

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However, many of these imperial practices were made possible only by the construction of an “imaginary” colonial history which glorified past colonial actions and constructed Slavic and Jewish people as equivalent to the colonial foreigner. This cultural effort pervaded into the dominant political culture and popular mindset, which proved to be rather damaging as the Jewish and Slavic people were casted into the category of non-Europeans in much of notable German propaganda and literature. The genocidal aspect of imperialism was also glorified in Nazi cultural propaganda which attempted to gain popular approval for past atrocities in Africa to ensure they could commit such again within their European regimes with popular support. Scientists also gave a degree of integrity to the racial disparities that were adopted by imperialism and therefore lent themselves to the ideology of Nazism. Their work lent credibility to otherwise outrageous actions, with even Darwinism supporting a widespread cultural process in which Western societies legitimized atrocity in the colonies in the name of “natural selection”. This played a significant role in the dehumanization of the Africans, and later in that of the victims of the Holocaust, making murder of the “foreigners” thinkable given the anthropological and scientific constructions of cultural hierarchies. These portrayed racial and cultural superiority to be scientifically verifiable to a domestic audience, further building the credibility of the colonial domination techniques used in Africa and then transferred to Nazi Germany.

Although it is truly impossible to connect historical events together to distinctly define and measure guilt, the incidents of European colonial politics conveyed a threshold of cruelty and colonial domination that can clearly be framed as foreshadowing the Holocaust and its progression. This link as proposed by Hannah Arendt carries strong weight as imperialistic expansionism, racism as an ideological weapon, and bureaucratic rule are reoccurring in pan-Germanic imperialism and the methods used by the Nazis. The interconnectedness of science, culture, and literature also played a significant role in justifying the imperialistic actions and legitimizing the violence that took place. An extensively imperialistic mentality and various norms by such were developed in the colonies, which ultimately paved the path for totalitarian domination and mass extermination in Europe, as observed with the Holocaust and its events. Prefigured conditions in which humans were treated as merely superfluous entities made possible the atrocities of both imperialism and the Holocaust, dehumanizing the “other” population to breed an indifference to life and death. This ideology exposed the vulnerability of European humanism and made clear a previously fathomless darkness at the very core of humanity in its entirety.

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Parallels between European Imperialism In Africa and Holocaust: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“Parallels between European Imperialism In Africa and Holocaust: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023,
Parallels between European Imperialism In Africa and Holocaust: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Jul. 2024].
Parallels between European Imperialism In Africa and Holocaust: Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2024 Jul 18]. Available from:

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