Survival in Auschwitz

The Struggle of Prisoners in Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Primo Levi’s memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, paints a vivid and horrifying picture of the life of a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War Two. The description of everyday life consisted of mental, emotional and physical struggle. Prisoners who entered the camp had everything stripped from them. Upon arrival, families were separated, heads were shaved, clothes were stripped, personal belongings were discarded and names were replaced with a series of numbers. Mass genocide took place, millions died. Those who lived through the Holocaust relied on distraction, compassion and hope for their survival.

Those in the camp worked almost every day from dusk till dawn, performing demanding manual labor. But perhaps the most painful and devastating physical struggle was one of thirst. Starvation and dehydration contributed to physical torture of the prisoners. Levi’s physical trauma can be seen in the following quote, “We have a terrible thirst. The weak gurgle of the water in the radiators makes us ferocious; we have had nothing to drink for four days. But there is also a tap—and above it a card which says that it is forbidden to drink as the water is dirty. Nonsense. It seems obvious that the card is a joke, ‘they’ know that we are dying of thirst and they put us in a room, and there is a tap, and Wassertrinken Verboten. I drink and I incite my companions to do likewise, but I have to spit it out, the water is tepid and sweetish, with the smell of a swamp.” (Primo Levi, Survival In Auschwitz (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 22) Levi’s physical pain translates into a mental struggle, for he is extremely thirsty and tempted by the forbidden tap. He knows not the drink from it, but reasonably does so anyway. To him, it is illogical to have what seems to be a perfectly suitable water supply labeled ‘off limits’. It is almost as if the water tap was placed in such a spot to torment the disadvantaged. Levi learns that he can no longer apply logic or reason to his situation, he has no control over his wellbeing. This concept of dependence is hard for him to comprehend at first. Levi comes to realize that his physical struggle is just as painful as his mental struggle.

For well over a year, Levi is forced to endure unimaginable suffering. In the camp, Levi and other prisoners are beaten, starved and worked without limitation. This physical pain had a serve effect on one’s mental health, “Dawn came on us like a betrayer; it seemed as though the new sun rose as an ally of our enemies to assist in our destruction.” (Levi, Survival In Auschwitz, 16). The rising sun is usually a beacon of hope, it universally symbolizes a new day, a fresh start and a clean slate. However, for Levi and others in the camp, this was not the case. In the book, Levi describes the sun as if it too only existed to shed light on the pain and suffering of the prisoners. This reflects Levi’s mental struggle for an optimistic view in a world where even the most objective of things seem to be against him.

The physical struggle of life at Auschwitz was demanding, but what gets overlooked in most textbooks and classrooms, is the ever so slightly more demanding mental strength needed to survive. Levi comes to a philosophical realization, “Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable.” ((Levi, Survival In Auschwitz, 17) Levi attempts to come to terms with his situation, but comes to realize, logically, that true happiness is unattainable within the camp. Likewise, he thinks that, perfect unhappiness is also unattainable. He finds comfort in the idea that it’s impossible to be completely miserable, it gives him hope. Although Levi lives what seems to be a miserable life, he always finds something to keep him going. The physical pain he experiences can at least distract him from the genocide around him.

Distraction of any kind was necessary for Levi’s survival. Sometimes, self-inflicted pain was the only distraction that was affordable, “After fifty steps I am at the limit of what a person is theoretically able to support: my knees bend, my shoulder aches as if pressed in a vice, my equilibrium is in danger. At every step I feel my shoes sucked away by the greedy mud, by this omnipresent Polish mud whose monotonous horror fills our days. I bite deeply into my lips; we know well that to gain a small, extraneous pain serves as a stimulant to mobilize our last reserves of energy.” ((Levi, Survival In Auschwitz, 67) Levi intentionally inflicts pain on himself, in efforts to distract himself from the demanding and dreadful haul. While it seems counterintuitive, he does indeed find relief at least for a moment. It is a sad truth and a concept hard to grasp, but sometimes, the only thing that distracts one from a painful reality is shock of a lesser pain, one that is more tolerable. At least he can control that.

Levi believes that survivors have responsibilities within the camp. One of the most profound experiences he has is with an Italian bricklayer, Lorenzo. Unlike Levi, Lorenzo is not a prisoner, but a civilian worker. Lorenzo risks a lot in helping Levi. He illegally gives Levi bread and soup, and demands absolutely nothing in return. This is extremely abnormal because for most at Auschwitz, it is every man for himself. To obtain anything extra, one would have to trade in an underground market. Lorenzo’s illegal actions give Levi a glimpse of hope. He says that Lorenzo’s ‘humanity was pure and uncontaminated’ and that “thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.” (Levi, Survival In Auschwitz, 112) Lorenzo’s actions reminded Levi that compassion still exists and that hope for compassion propelled Levis mental stability. Levi was completely dehumanized, he was stripped of everything. He forgot that he was human, he forgot that compassion and love and happiness existed. Lorenzo was a narrow beam of light, in a dark desperate tunnel. Levi believes that compassion for others is critical in maintaining sanity. Personally, I agree with Levi, in that compassion is necessary in a world of pain a suffering. As long as compassions exists, mankind and all things good will prevail.

In conclusion, Survival in Auschwitz, tells a sad story about one of the biggest stains in the historical fabric of mankind. Levi’s perseverance and strength is apparent throughout the story. In times of darkness, when hope is lost and there seems to be no end in sight, compassion for others can lift ones spirit, and maybe even carry them to survival.

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Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi: Depiction of Nazi Assault on Humanity

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the Nazi death camps; few who entered ever left. Primo Levi, author of Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity, miraculously survived after being deported to the camp at the young age of 24 in 1944 (Levi 9). Although fate was ultimately in the hands of the Nazis, Levi had control over his ability to consent to what he was being subject to, his conscious support of basic human nature, and his attitude towards his experiences. This micro autonomy gave him the tools necessary to internalize a subconscious hope that aided his survival.

The dehumanizing torture tactics exhibited by the Nazis in the camps unforgivingly stripped the victims down to their most vulnerable layers. The perpetrators were certain to convey a message of total control to the prisoners through their atrocities. Any remaining instances in which the prisoners had autonomy were scarce but crucial to nursing what was left of their emotional well being and ultimately their likelihood of survival in the camp. Levi described the experience— “We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all out strength for it is the last— the power to refuse our consent” (41). Hope is the forward vision of improvement, and is the universal motivation for progress. Without hope, one can not expect progress to be achieved. Giving up hope and surrendering to the perpetrators was the quickest way to be executed in the camps. Levi was able to hold on to his last power as an individual: his refusal to consent. By refusing to normalize the abusive treatment he received, he was able to create expectations for progress and improvement. This final manifestation of control in his life prolonged his unwillingness to surrender.

Levi’s perseverance here was indirect and subconscious. Early in his journey, he internalized what his probable fate would be, believing they “will kill us, whoever thinks he is going to live is mad, it means that he has swallowed the bait, but I have not; I have understood that it will soon all be over” (24). Even though he directly admitted that he does not see a positive end, Levi’s power to not consent to it was a subconscious hope that he carried with him for the entirety of the Holocaust. Hidden from himself was an internal voice that influenced every action he made. It was this subconscious motivation that also influenced his interpersonal behavior with the other prisoners.

There was an established social system within the camp that was unwritten but understood by Levi. He consciously lived conforming to pseudo-theories such as social darwinism; being so violently and irrationally enforced, the Haftling social hierarchy was easily accepted as the natural order of things. Social climate was determined by many factors, but there was a gauging indication to know where someone fell on the social ladder: “To the old hands of the camp, the numbers told everything: the period of entry into the camp, the convoy of which one formed a part, and consequently the nationality.” (28) By having a standardized method of identifying people not only by name but by their nationality and seniority in the camp, creating an internal social hierarchy among the prisoners was easily achieved. Having a type of caste system in the camp provided a semi-self maintained structure that the Nazi’s did not directly control. This consciously or subconsciously affected all of the prisoners on a constant basis. This construct is a direct product of how breaking an individual down to their most essential level can bring out the purest, most primitive form of human nature. Levi explains that, “it is the normal order of things that the privileged oppress the unprivileged: the social structure of the camp is based on this human law” (44). While in the camps, prisoners were broken down to the most basic human state. Through dehumanization tactics prisoners lost all sense of what morality meant. As a symptom of that, true human nature manifested in the social contracts between one another.

Perhaps his greatest form of control was that Levi never accepted life in the camp as usual. That can be accredited to his attitude toward the different situations going on around him. When one negative occurrence, like the frigid weather, began to change to a more positive outcome, Levi made sure to remember that these feelings were all relative to the atrocities that he was experiencing. When the sun came out and prisoners began to smile, Levi remembered that nothing had really changed, everything was not okay, and that people were still starving. He explains that “human nature is such that grief and pain…do not add up as a whole in our consciousness, but hide, the lesser behind the greater….It is providential and is our means of surviving in this camp” (73). He believes that no matter what, there will always be more aspects of our lives that are incorrect or uncomfortable. When problems are resolved, it is on an individual basis— meaning not all problems in one’s life are abolished simultaneously. As a result, perpetual instances of disenchantment arise. This constant evolution of unsettling circumstances, according to Levi, is crucial to survival in the camps. This is because uncomfort is an inducement for change. A strive for change and betterment can also be seen as another form of hope. Levi’s possession of these small hopes were the key to his survival. Even when he was beaten physically, mentally, and emotionally, he still subconsciously held a little glimmer of a better place beyond where he was currently.

Primo Levi experienced one of the most horrendous barbarisms in human history and survived to share his story. On top of good timing a luck, Levi’s ability to find means of gaining control in his life put him on the track to survival in this death camp. Establishing control through refusal of consent, social hierarchy and attitude gave him a subconscious level of hope that eventually sustained his life in the camp until he was liberated.

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Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi: Literary Review

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, times of pain are commonly associated with times of relief in his life, portraying the idea that being injured or ill is more humane than the conditions of their everyday lives. Levi and other prisoners at Auschwitz were treated like animals, living in conditions as inhumane as possible. There are times throughout his experience at Auschwitz when he experiences pain, such as when Primo cuts his foot badly, when winter is coming and he is sure he will die, and when he gets scarlet fever. Levi uses diction, structure, and rhetorical language to imply that a life of pain was a relief from a life at the camp. While these are times of pain, Levi more vividly describes them as brief times of relief from the suffering of his normal conditions at Auschwitz. Although he is in pain, his relief allows him to reflect on his conditions, and on his humanity. In a camp where the objective is to dehumanize prisoners, Levi is able to keep his character by reflecting on his past during this time of relief.

Primo goes through a time of pain when he cuts his foot badly while carrying an iron support. At first, he is forced to continue working, since he can stand on his foot and it is not broken. After completing his work, and waiting for hours on his injured foot, he gets medical attention. While the injury to his foot caused him severe pain, it was about to bring him temporary relief from his life in horrible conditions. Levi uses diction and metaphor to describe the relief he feels while in the Ka-Be, saying “And for the first time since I entered the camp the reveille catches me in a deep sleep and its ringing is a return from nothingness. As the bread is distributed one can hear, far from the windows, in the dark air, the band beginning to play: the healthy comrades are leaving in squads for work” (Levi 50). Levi uses the metaphor of a return from nothingness to show this time as a relief from his suffering. The return from nothingness represents his temporary ability to have real time to think and reflect on the conditions of the camp. For the first time in his imprisonment, he is able to think about what he is going through and see the camp from the outside. By presenting this as a metaphor, Levi portrays his typical condition as ‘nothingness’ in which he is constantly overworked and starved, without time to think. His diction in this passage is also used to show his time in the Ka-Be as a time of relief. Levi uses phrases like “far from the windows” and “in the dark air” to show that he was so distant from the world that he lived in every day, being in the Ka-Be. By saying that he is far from the windows and the dark air, it implies that he is separate and distant from his normal pain. Additionally, Levi says “The life of Ka-Be is a life of limbo. The material discomforts are relatively few, apart from hunger and the inherent pains of illness” (Levi 50). Using the metaphor of a life of limbo, Levi reiterates that this time is just a temporary period of relief, limbo, surrounded by the pain of his everyday life. Though Levi is in pain, it offers him a time of relief in an otherwise horrible condition of living.

As winter quickly approaches, Primo is afraid that it will be his last. Living conditions worsen in the winter, and he is working with chemicals that burn his skin. He describes individuals who had become ill, and one who had died, to further give the impression that this coming winter would be difficult to survive. Levi also lists the various jobs, and the various members of that group, to give the illusion that this is a normal day, right before he gets news that is anything but normal. Though this seems to be a time of pain, it results in a second period of relief for Levi. He is one of three men chosen to work in the laboratory. Primo’s living conditions significantly improve during this time, as he has warm shelter for the winter, plenty of food, and does not have any conflicts with other prisoners. He again has a temporary relief from his pain, saying “The glass instruments in a corner to drip, the precision balance, a Heraeus oven, a Hoppler thermostat. The smell makes me start back as if from the blow of a whip: the weak aromatic smell of organic chemistry laboratories. For a moment the large semidark room at the university, my fourth year, the mild air of May in Italy comes back to me” (Levi 139). His simile and diction in this passage not only imply his relief from life at the camp, but also takes him back to his life before his imprisonment. Levi begins by introducing the various instruments throughout the room, naming them individually, to provide imagery. Normally, he did not have time to think, as he did not have any time to himself. Levi describes how the smell of the laboratory jogged his memory, using the simile ‘as if from the blow of a whip’. He also uses descriptive words such as weak, aromatic, semidark, and mild. This diction shows the clarity in which he could recollect and reflect on his life before his imprisonment, and what it has become. By inserting this brief passage of recollection, Levi offers a comparison between his first life, and his second life. His ability to do this in a time of pain could imply that this period of relief in Levi’s life reminds him of his humanity. Their cruel treatment was intentional, in order to dehumanize them and to see them as objects, or pieces. In Levi’s relief, he is able to regain his humanity and gain the strength to keep it during his time at Auschwitz.

On January 11, 1945 Levi became ill with scarlet fever. As a result, he gets sent to the Ka-Be again, beginning another temporary period of relief for Levi, brought on by the pain of scarlet fever. He gets assigned small, clean room, sharing the room with two French political prisoners, two young Hungarian Jews, and eight others. He was excited for his time in the Ka-Be, saying “Four of the others had scarlet fever; there were three with diphtheria, two with typhus, while one suffered from a repellent facial erysipelas… I was lucky enough to have a bunk to myself: I lay down with relief knowing that I had the right to forty days’ isolation and therefore of rest, while I felt myself still sufficiently strong to feat neither the consequences of scarlet fever nor the selections” (Levi 151). He first shows us the relief and fortune he feels in his current situation, although he has an illness. He describes in detail the illnesses of other prisoners that share his room, portraying the living conditions as inhumane, treated like animals. Further, by listing the numerous conditions and diseases in a quick order, there seem to be an overwhelming amount. Though he has scarlet fever, Levi never described how it affected him, what symptoms he had, or if he had any discomfort as a result. By omitting this, it seems as if Levi’s sense of relief in the Ka-Be had made him forgot his illness. Although Levi was sick, his temporary relief from his usual pain is more important than any illness. His sentence structure also seems to suggest that even though Levi is relieved at the time, he is my no means in a safe or healthy environment. The structure of pairing every positive thought with a negative thought has a negating affect. Levi gets scarlet fever, a negative, but he is lucky enough to have a bunk to himself, a positive. He then feels strong, but must mention that he has scarlet fever and could still be subject to selections. By doing this, Levi expresses the idea that while some aspects of his life have improved, he is still a prisoner at Auschwitz, and can only reminisce on his previous life. His relief from everyday life allows Levi to reflect on his condition and the pain he has suffered at the camp.

Scarlet fever causes another time of relief for Levi, when the Germans evacuate the camp. He was in the Ka-Be as a direct result of his being in pain from scarlet fever, and would have been kept as a prisoner or killed if he had not been there. Since he had scarlet fever, he got to stay behind with the other sick prisoners, and found plenty of food, blankets, alcohol, and eventually freedom when the Russians arrive. He describes his time saying “We loaded ourselves with a bottle of vodka, various medicines, newspapers…Cheerful and irresponsible, we carried the fruits of our expedition back to the dormitory” (Levi 165). By listing the luxuries that he found, Levi makes it seem as if there is an abundance of luxuries, making this time period of relief seem comfortable. This feeling of comfort is a sharp contrast from his usual way of life, in dehumanizing conditions and starving. Levi’s diction further implies this point, when he describes themselves being ‘cheerful’ and ‘irresponsible’. These words give the impression of humanity, or innocence, which is a relief from the constant inhumanities that they face every day. ‘Cheerful’ and ‘Irresponsible’ are both words that are associated with happiness and carelessness, not with imprisonment in Auschwitz. This contrast further suggests that this is a time of relief for Levi, in a previously painful time. If Levi had not experienced the pain of scarlet fever, he would not experiences any of these luxuries, his relief, and he would not have been rescued by the Russians.

Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz commonly associates times of pain in his life, with times of relief, implying that injury or illness were better conditions of living than their everyday lives. In a prison where the goal was to dehumanize prisoners, these times of relief offered opportunities for Levi to regain humanity and reflect on everything that has happened to him. He experiences pain during his time at Auschwitz, specifically when he cuts his foot, when winter is on its way and he fears for his life, and when he gets scarlet fever. Although he is ill or injured, Levi never describes in as much detail the conditions of his pain. Instead, he portrays the relief that he felt as a result of this pain. Primo Levi uses diction, structure, and rhetorical language to associate pain with relief in Survival in Auschwitz, implying that living in pain was better than living in the conditions of a Nazi prison.

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Auschwitz Concentration Camp

December 9, 2020 by Essay Writer

Located approximately 37 miles west of Krakow, Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp complex established by the Nazi regime in April of 1940. Containing three other subcamps within the camp which all used prisoners for forced labor, one doubling as a killing center. Nazi Germany gained this area of land after invading and conquering Poland in 1939. The three main camps of Auschwitz were called Auschwitz I, established in April 1940, Auschwitz-Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II) established in October 1941, and Auschwitz-Monowitz (also called Auschwitz III), established in October 1942. “The best estimates of the number of victims at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, including the killing center at Auschwitz-Birkenau, between 1940 and 1945 are: Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died).” Reports claim that police and the SS deported at least 1.3 million victims to the Auschwitz complex within the years of 1940 and 1945, of which approximately 1.1 million were murdered by the camp authorities. In November 1943, the SS decided Auschwitz-Birkenau and Auschwitz-Monowitz would become independent concentration camps, but that only lasted until November of 1944 when Auschwitz II was reunited with Auschwitz I. Auschwitz III stayed independent and was renamed the Monowitz concentration camp. There were many commanders of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex including: SS Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Hoess, from May 1940 until November 21943; SS Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Liebehenschel, from November 1943 until mid-May 1944; and SS Major Richard Baer, from mid-May 1944 until January 27, 1945. While Auschwitz-Birkenau (November 1943 until November 1944) the commanders of the camp were SS Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Hartjenstein, from November 1943 until May 1944; and SS Captain Josef Kramer, from May to November 1944. Unlike Birkenau, Monowitz kept one commander with the name of Captain Heinrich Schwarz, who commanded the camp from November 1943 to January 1945.

Auschwitz I was constructed in April of 1940 near Oswiecim in an abandoned Polish army barrack. The SS Authorities used prisoners to expand the camp using forced labor, clearing about 40 square kilometers as a development zone to be reserved for exclusive use in the camp. Prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp were moved to Auschwitz to serve as the first prisoners of Auschwitz I, where they had be incarcerated for repeated criminal offenders. Polish political prisoners from Lodz via Dachau concentration camp and from Tarnow in Krakow District of the General government were also of the first to be introduced to the camp. Auschwitz was constructed for three main reasons, like most concentration camps; “to incarcerate real and perceived enemies of the Nazi regime and the German occupation authorities in Poland for an indefinite period of time”, “to provide a supply of forced laborers for deployment in SS-owned construction-related enterprises (and, later, armaments and other war-related production)”, and “to serve as a site to kill small, targeted groups of the population whose death was determined by the SS and police authorities to be essential to the security of 3Nazi Germany.” Like other concentration camps, Auschwitz I had gas chambers and a Crematorium. At first, engineers developed an improvised gas chamber but after time they constructed a larger, permanent gas chamber. SS physicians conducted medical experiments, such as forced sterilizations and castrations of adults. and pseudoscientific research on infants, twins, and dwarfs. SS Captain Dr. Josef Mengele is the best-known of these kinds of physicians. The “Black Wall”, standing between the medical-experiments and the prison block, was where SS guards executed thousands of prisoners.

The construction of Auschwitz II, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, began in the area of Brzezinka in October of 1941. The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp had the largest total prisoner count of all three camps. Birkenau was divided into ten different sections separated by electrified barbed-wire fences. Just as Auschwitz I, Birkenau was patrolled by SS guards, including SS dog handlers- after 1942. The Camp had sections for women, men, a separate family camp for Gypsies deported from Germany and Austria, and a family camp for jewish deported from the “Theresienstadt ghetto”. Auschwitz-Birkenau played a central role in the German plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Zyklon B gas was introduced during the summer and fall of 1941 and used as an instrument of mass murder in the gas chambers at the Auschwitz complex. The SS initially converted two farmhouses near Birkenau to use as gas chambers until the SS judged these facilities to be inadequate for the scale of gassing they planned. In June of 1943 four large crematorium buildings were constructed. “Each [building] had three components: a disrobing area, a large gas chamber, and crematorium ovens. The SS continued gassing operations at Auschwitz-Birkenau until November 1944.”

Auschwitz III, commonly known as Buna or Monowitz, was established in October of 1942. The prisoners it housed were assigned to work at the Buna synthetic rubber works, near the outskirts of Monowice. In 1941 German conglomerate I.G Farben built a factory in which the executives intended to deed concentration camp labor to fabricate synthetic rubber and fuels. I.G Farben devoted more than 700 million Reichsmarks (Approximately 2.8 million US dollars, in 1941 terms) into Auschwitz III. The SS had transported prisoners from Auschwitz I to the “Buna Detachment”, initially by foot but later by rail, from May 1941 to July 1942. The prisoners who were deployed at Buna lived in Auschwitz III. Monowitz also had a Labor Education Camp for non-Jewish prisoners who were believed to have violated any German-imposed labor discipline.

In late january 1945, SS and German police forced over 4,000 prisoners to evacuate Blechhammer, a subcamp of Auschwitz-Monowitz, on foot. The SS was estimated to have murdered about 1,000 people during the march to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, due to have fallen behind, those who could no longer continue, illnesses, or even some Jews’ unsuccessful attempts to hide. After much delay, the SS conveyed around 3,000 Blechhammer prisoners from Gross-Rosen to be at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. On January 27, 1945, the Soviet army bombarded Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Monowitz, liberating more than 6,000 prisoners, most of which were ill and or dying.

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Alberto and Lorenzo: True Men that Resist Dehumanization

December 9, 2020 by Essay Writer

Within Survival in Auschwitz, author Primo Levi endured a struggle with resisting dehumanization. He had been put in a place where no man is considered human anymore and where within this place, if a man wants to survive whether mentally or physically, it is up to that man to resist the dehumanizing torture by the Nazis When looking into Levi’s struggle to survive, there are people who reconnect Levi to his humanity. Primo Levi’s survival was because of two important minor characters who may be seen as Saviors to Levi and who were a part of his guide to survival. Lorenzo and Alberto were two people who had hopes for Levi and whom Levi trusted throughout his journey. They were the ones who saved Levi from being completely dehumanized like Null Achtzehn or “the drowned” characters that Levi discusses in his work. When looking deeper into Levi’s survival, one can see how Levi’s survival in the end was mostly due to the strengths and encouragements of both Lorenzo and Alberto giving Levi his ultimate hope to survival.

Alberto was Levi’s best friend since they both were captured and shipped to the camps. From the start of the journey, Alberto had been a determined man who “entered the Lager with his head high” (57). He is brave and resistant to reluctantly becoming dehumanized. Alberto knew the consequences of the camp, but he also knew that he had “entered the battle from the beginning” (57) and that life as he knows it “is war” (57) Alberto has been resistant of becoming so comfortable in the camp so that he will not be stripped of his humanity. He is intelligent in a way that he sees logic and reason as his prime reason to anything and he knows the consequence of being subjected to becoming what the Nazi’s want the prisoners to become.

Both Alberto and Levi were in the Lager together to support and help each other through any obstacles that they faced within the camps. Alberto was the second main character within the work and his role within the book was being Levi’s support and hope. Although both Levi and Alberto were placed in the Lager together, it would seem as if Alberto went into the Lager for Levi. Alberto is the one person that Levi trust and the only one who knows Levi personally. Alberto helps Levi in a way in which he guides Levi through the prisons rules and regulations. Alberto knows that he must do as he is told in order to survive. Alberto knows the key ways to survive within the camp, “he ‘knows’ whom to corrupt, whom to avoid, whose compassion to arouse, whom to resist” (57). Levi may be new to the ways of surviving, but Alberto is used to it and is prepared to live on the camp. This is why Alberto himself never became corrupt or scathed.

Within communicating in the camp, Unlike Levi, Alberto is able to communicate in different languages, so Alberto’s intelligence in multiple languages helps him to be able to respond to mostly anyone giving him a command. Alberto’s guidance to Levi comes within language. Alberto is able to understand these commands being presented to him, and he can either translate to Levi, or teach Levi what he does not know. Levi’s poor German and poor French stands in the way of him receiving a blow to the head or being mistreated, but with Alberto’s help, he can follow his path and be safe from any of that.

Alberto is a supportive friend to Levi who does not discourage him because Levi has benefits that Alberto himself did not get. Instead, Alberto is happy for his friend and gives encouragement and When Levi was chosen as one of the top three to work in the Chemistry Lab, people around him had envied him and wished that it were them instead, but Alberto on the other hand was supportive and congratulated Levi. Alberto understood why Levi was chosen, and instead of being an envies friend who spat on Levi and gave him mean looks, Alberto instead supported Levi and hoped the best for him. This is why Levi has so much trust in Alberto.

Alberto has been there for Levi throughout Levi’s entire journey within the work and although Alberto does die in the end, he was able to help Levi from dying mentally and physically. He gave Levi hope, support, and a good state of mind on how to survive. His behavior and attitude was an encouraging example to Levi, to show Levi how to keep his sanity or humanity.

Lorenzo has also been a person who has gave Levi hope. Although Lorenzo was not speaking of much, Lorenzo in some ways was like Alberto. He was supportive to Levi and he himself was “pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror” (121) he knew the struggle of being inside the Lager and knew that whatever he could possibly do for Levi it would help in the end.

All of the civilian workers do in some way help the prisoners when it comes to starvation. They hate to see the starving looks of the prisoners and share any soup portion that was leftover or bread that they do not want. The Italian civilian worker Lorenzo came to Levi on a normal working day, and began to offer Levi the remainder of his bread for several months. He also clothed Levi by giving him his vest that was filled with many pockets, pockets to store much needed survival supplies. He also “wrote a postcard on [Levi’s] behalf to Italy and brought [Levi] the reply” (119). Lorenzo did all of these things for Levi, out of the goodness of his heart. He was an honest man who supported Levi and understood the rough situation that Levi was placed into. Even though some civilian workers do throw bread at the prisoners just out of curiosity to see how the prisoners will behave, Lorenzo was not one of them. He fed Levi out of the kindness of his heart and the sake of him knowing that Levi and many of the other prisoners were not beast, and were still humans like the rest of them.

Levi says that Lorenzo not only saved him physically by giving him food, but he more so saves him mentally and helps him to remain humane. This may be so because of the encouragement Lorenzo gives Levi and the support he gives him. Levi specifically says that it was due to Lorenzo that he is alive after the torture within the camp. The one thing about Lorenzo, is that he is a, in some way, random man, who helps Levi for the good of his heart. He asks for nothing in return because he was a good man who “did not think that one did good for a reward” (119) and this is why Levi sees Lorenzo as the reason for his survival, because he was a good man, a pure man, and an honest man. Lorenzo gave Levi hope that there were still good people in the world, and someone who was on his side. “Lorenzo was a man” (122) and because of Lorenzo, Levi was always able to look back and remember that he himself is a man and he will not stand to be treated no less.

Both Alberto and Lorenzo give Levi much needed support throughout Levi’s journey. They both are non-corrupt and are real men who will not deprive themselves or others of their humanity. They resist all attempts of dehumanization whether it is them personally or someone else, and they both are Levi’s encouragement to survive and they are also one of his hopes to a better life. They are the saviors of this work and are the encouraging factors to Levi’s survival. Although Alberto does not make it to the end, and Lorenzo only was with Levi for 6 months, these two minor characters may be the most important to Levi throughout his work because they both were seen as a true man and not a beast.

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Surviving the Camp

December 9, 2020 by Essay Writer

There’s a plethora of adjectives one could apply to the survivors of Hitler’s nightmarish concentration camps during the later years of the second world war; lucky, miraculous, strong-willed, and many more. However, what one must begin to consider as they ponder what the futures for these survivors was like after liberation from the camps. Many, if not all of these poor souls were left scarred for the rest of their lives, having to live every day with the images of crematoriums, skeleton-esque human beings, and the countless other atrocities that have been burned into their minds. To have emerged from the camps alive by the war’s end surely resulted on numerous factors, some of which aren’t even in one’s control. The story of Primo Levi and his tale of having survived one of the most terrifying eras for Jewish people in perhaps all of history reveals just what some of these factors were. From holding on to any sliver of dignity/humanity they had left in the camps to using cunning and wit to increase chances of survival, Primo prevailed against all odds. Having known that “man is bound to pursue his own ends by all possible means, while he who errs but once pays dearly” (1.3), the persistence and desire to make it out alive fueled the determination of a man trapped in a land of fleeting trusts and moldy crusts.

Perhaps the most important contributor to the explanation how Primo survived when so many others around him did not entails holding on to the very thing the Nazi’s sought to destroy within the barbed wire fences of the camps: humanity. If there’s anything Hitler’s concentration camps did better than extinguishing the lives of all those unfortunate enough to be imprisoned in one, it was robbing the prisoners of their humanity. Primo became keen to the inner workings and motives of these camps fairly early on in his journey, realizing that “if we want to keep [our names], we will have to find in ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains” (2.21). Before it was too late, Primo began clinging on to every shred of his past life that he could, utilizing skills and actions done before his imprisonment that reminded him of his humanity. The prisoners began trading and bargaining with their portions of bread, something that somewhat resembled the structure of a makeshift economy in the camps. Bread became the coin of the land in place of the paper/coin currency obviously absent in that environment. One individual in particular, an ex-sergeant of the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, served to be one of the earliest assets contributing to Primo clinging on to his humanity. Steinlauf spoke words of supreme wisdom to Primo that he’d remember so well that they’d go on to be included in his book years later. Steinlauf desperately wanted Primo to acknowledge that “[they] must polish [their] shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety” (3.41). The importance of maintaining routine order aside from the one enforced by the Nazi guards was key to keeping a level head in that hellish world. If one could clean themselves, dry off in their jackets, and even find the time to polish their shoes, then the declination of sanity would slow down drastically. While Primo is skeptical of this advice in the beginning, wondering whether or not it’d be better to simply recognize the futility of having personal rules, it’s without a doubt one of the sole reasons he escaped the war with any bit of his humanity left intact. Another fateful action Primo chose to perform was analyzing and befriending select prisoners during his time in the camp. From having reunited with his childhood friend, Alberto, to holding down his territory in the Ka-Be medical center with Charles and Arthur in the final days leading to their freedom, Primo almost certainly would’ve perished long ago if it weren’t for the interactions he had with all the people he met along the way. He deemed anyone who became completely deprived from everyone he loved as being “a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint” (2.26), therefore taking it upon himself to make sure he wouldn’t become stranded there without anyone to care for. Despite having lost Alberto to the Nazi death marches as the Russians grew closer to the Auschwitz, Primo came to think so fondly of Charles and Arthur that he even went as far to say that he exchanged letters with Charles after their liberation, “[hoping] to see him again one day” (17.22). Through the combination of tactics and friendly connection Primo developed as he adapted to life in the concentration camp, the Jewish chemist was able to keep what little humanity he had left from being viciously stripped away from him by the dehumanizing Nazi regime.

While he definitely gained a lot of the knowledge leading to his triumphant survival within the walls of his enclosure, it’d be ignorant to overlook Primo’s naturally admirable intelligence he had before arriving at Auschwitz. Aside from being a formally recognized chemist in the life he lived before the war, Primo was able to analytically observe his surroundings and those around him, which resulted in the discovery of ways he could go about his day while expending the least amount of energy possible. In one particular instance, Primo recruited the aid of a man named Resnyk to help him with a task requiring the heavy lifting of wooden beams weighing nearly 175 lbs each. Shortly after meeting the fellow prisoner, Primo wasted no time taking mental notes of the advantages to associating himself with him, labeling him as a “good worker [whose] being taller would support the greater part of the weight” (6.10). Levi’s natural ability to seek out the talents and usefulness that would come in handy should he need their assistance surely played an important role in his survival in Auschwitz. Touching back on his specialty in the field of chemistry as well, Primo’s choice to take the Chemical Examination put forward by German officers seeking out a Chemical Kommando for the camp gave him unparalleled legs-up over the other prisoners. Although it took awhile for the advantages of this action to finally become apparent, Primo found himself receiving better clothing at a more frequent rate, a warm workspace, and even the privilege of having a weekly shave once having secured the position (which was only earned by two other men). Using the strong mind gifted to him at birth to find ways to make his situation even just slightly more bearable undoubtedly gave Primo Levi the resources he needed to last until the Russians’ inevitable arrival at Auschwitz.

One can’t help but sit back and truly think to themselves for a minute just how incredible it is that any concentration camp prisoner made it out of Hitler’s mortifying Europe with their lives. There were a few viable reasons that could help better explain why Primo Levi survived when countless others perished mere feet away from him on a daily basis, but the most influential ones included having humanity, intelligence and even luck on his side. There’s no way Primo would’ve made it out of Auschwitz if it weren’t for a few extremely fateful events, like his meeting of a local, kind-hearted citizen named Lorenzo, who would often provide extra portions of food in secrecy to him during the periods of air raid bombings (as the prisoners were forced to wait outside the bomb shelters during the attacks). He credits Lorenzo and his generosity for being “one of the main reasons for [his] survival” (12.9) by the time he and the rest of the remaining prisoners were liberated in 1945. Nevertheless, no matter what the reasoning may be for Primo having survived one of the scariest examples of unrelenting anti-semitism in modern history, it goes without saying that this man deserved none of the horrible atrocities inflicted upon him during World War II. None of the victims of Hitler’s reign of terror did, and we can only hope that their spirits have found some degree of peace in the unknown world beyond the one riddled with hate, war and conflict that humanity continues to live in today.

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Levi the Chemist and Levi the Writer: Survival in Auschwitz

June 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

When considering Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, one is immediately struck by his deadpan tone, emphasis on factual descriptions and blunt presentation of his content. Levi comments on the events he describes and offers his own insight, but never allows his perspective to interfere with his presentation of facts or detract from the objective manner in which he recalls the events of the Holocaust. Given Levi’s background as a chemist, the question arises as to how one should differentiate between Levi the author and Levi the scientist, or whether such a distinction is necessary. This essay will consider Levi’s identity and outlook, as well as both his motivation behind writing and method of communicating, in an effort to establish to what degree he writes like a chemist.

The first factor that one must consider is Levi’s own upbringing and personal context, since it was influential on his outlook on the Holocaust. He was educated at the Liceo Massimo d’Azeglio, a school renowned for its anti-Fascist sentiments, and studied chemistry at the Università degli Studi di Turino, although his classification as a Jew made it hard for him to graduate. From this education, he drew a positivist outlook by which he placed his trust in facts and reality, in contrast to Fascist racial dogma and idealism. Levi himself remarked that ‘chemistry and physics . . . were the antidote to Fascism’ (Il sistema periodico, Ferro), and since he leans on his scientific principles when examining Fascism, it is only natural that his careful, analytical realism should be reflected in his writing.

In addition to this, Levi was born in Turin and lived there both before and after his experience in Auschwitz, since he felt a strong connection with it as a home. This is significant when it is considered that Turin was an industrial, positivist city that remained notably anti-Fascist and was at odds with Mussolini’s idealistic Italy. For example, Antonio Sonnessa (Factory Cells and the Red Aid Movement: Factory and Neighbourhood Forms of Organisation and Resistance to Fascism in Turin, 1922-1926) notes ‘The recalcitrant opposition of the city’s labor movement and working class to fascism and capitalism between 1920 and 1922’ and thereby outlines a city with an ideological foundation that was strongly sceptical of Fascism and modern Italian politics. Whilst Levi should not be considered synonymous with predominant Turinese opinion, it is clear from his writing that he retained this scepticism and rejection of Fascism. In short, before he had any experience in a concentration camp, Levi was provided with the perspective of a secular, positivist chemist by his education, career and home town, and one would expect this perspective to influence his writing regardless of subject matter; he is not merely writing like a chemist, he is writing as a chemist.

Moreover, Levi’s style of writing and the reasoning behind it must also be considered; it is not enough to say that he writes like a chemist because he is one, given his careful treatment of the subject matter. While he maintains a matter-of-fact, deadpan register throughout, Levi adopts two manners of writing. The first of these styles is that of factual description that lacks any deliberate emotional resonance with the reader; if one does react to it, it is a personal reaction and nothing more. The other style is focused more on Levi’s own thoughts and reactions and therefore offers a more philosophical insight into content that is otherwise totally dry. The difference between these two styles is outlined effectively by two passages in which Levi describes Auschwitz: in the first (‘Auschwitz: un nome privo di dignificato, allora e per noi; ma doveva pur corrispondere a un luogo di questa terra’) he captures the sense of the unknown that gripped him and his fellow passengers on the train to the camp, as well as a sense of positivist relief at learning that they were headed to a real destination – he grants the reader a powerful emotional insight into the mind of a Jew travelling towards an uncertain doom. However, the second reference to Auschwitz (‘Noi siamo a Monowitz, vicino ad Auschwitz, in Alta Slesia: una regione abitata promiscuamente da tedeschi e polacchi…’ and so on) is a stream of information with nothing attached to it that might point the reader towards a specific reaction; Levi details the facts and leaves his reader to treat them as he/she will. Whilst these two approaches to writing are very different, they both resemble what one might expect to see in a lab report – the factual approach parallels to observations of what occurs during an experiment, and the philosophical approach parallels to the explanation and interpretation of data that one would expect a chemist to offer. This style is effective for writing about the Holocaust, since Levi’s facts are objective and faithful to the events whilst supplying the reader with an accessible means through which to view them. On the other hand, Levi’s personal insights are distinct enough from the bare facts to avoid the universal experience of the Holocaust being clouded by or confused with Levi’s experience as an individual, so they provide a compelling and thought-provoking perspective that doesn’t attempt to represent the suffering of others in itself.

Consideration of Levi as writing like a chemist takes on another level of significance when one contemplates the nature of Auschwitz and what concentration camps actually represented. One might consider the Lager as a laboratory examining the behaviour of humanity when pushed beyond the boundaries of humane living conditions. In I sommersi e i salvati, most notably the chapter La zona grigia, Levi considers how individuals had to compromise their own values in order to survive under the SS’ regime, the hierarchy of which permeated the society of the prisoners, especially in the context of how some prisoners were granted special privileges by the guards. As Levi says here, ‘Limitiamoci al Lager, che però…può ben servire da “laboratorio”: la classe ibrida dei prigionieri-funzionari ne costituisce l’ossatura, ed insieme il lineamento più inquietante.’ Having detailed the use of the Lager as a laboratory in which one could observe the reaction of its prisoners to its harsh environment, most notably in the case of those who became part of the system as ‘functionary prisoners.’ However, he also says that this specific class of prisoners were only the ‘ossatura’ and that the prisoners’ society was ‘una struttura interna inredibilmente complicata’ – as Levi writes in Se questo, ‘voremmo far considerare come il Lager sia stato…una gigantesca esperienza biologica e sociale,’ and he also expresses shock at the cold, indifferent approach of the guards, showing the sterile, mechanical way that the camp and its authorities operated. Therefore, if one takes the Lager as the framework for a huge social experiment, as Levi did, then in observing and attempting to understand it, one takes on the role of a scientist. Enrico Mattioda (Al di qua dal bene e del male) considers the how Levi’s perspective as a chemist makes him especially suitable for this observational, analytical role, since ‘La chimica ha insegnato a diffidare delle apparenze, a distinguere il simile dal dissimile, ed anche questo si rivela utile in Lager.’ Levi is not just a chemist in vocation, education and style of writing, but also as a writer and prisoner. It therefore follows that in writing an account of his experience as the latter, he must also do so as the former, thereby assuming the role of a scientist considering an experiment.

Levi’s scientific style of writing can be attributed not only to the content that he aims to capture with it, but also to his purpose behind writing. Levi’s is not only account, but also of hundreds of thousands of people who died in concentration camps before they had a chance to bear witness to their experiences – as Jonathon Drucker (Primo Levi and Humanism After Auschwitz (2009)) puts it, ‘Levi’s testimony shoulders the heavy responsibility of speaking for victims…who have no voice of their own.’ As such, it cannot be a wholly personal or subjective account as with some other testimony (for example, the diary of Anne Frank), since this would fail to do justice to those who did not survive – compelling as one might find it, the experience of Primo Levi does not count as the experience of thousands of other Holocaust victims. Therefore, in writing on behalf of others in a highly observational and analytical manner, Levi provides a convincing representation of what life might have been life for any of the prisoners (overlooking experiences specific to Levi, such as his work as a prisoner-chemist.) What Se questo lacks in personal value is made up for by its convincing insight into the mechanisms of Auschwitz as would apply to any of the victims on behalf of whom Levi is testifying.

However, Levi’s intention in writing is not just testimonial; Se questo certainly bears witness to the tragedy of Holocaust victims, but it also has a confrontational side. In I sommersi e i salvati, he wrote with regard to the perpetrators of the Holocaust that ‘before, they were oppressors or indifferent spectators, now they would be readers: I would corner them, tie them before a mirror.’ In this context, one might consider him as writing just as much like a jurist as like a chemist; both roles must present facts in a clear and unbiased way, but unlike the chemist, the jurist does to attain a certain reaction. In the words of Judith Woolf (The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi, Chapter 3), ‘Justice with which Primo Levi was concerned was not the justice of Nuremburg…he wanted to understand his adversaries and to confront them by forcing them to confront themselves.’ Levi’s dry style displays the Holocaust through its own inhumane nature rather than through subjective embellishment, and therefore forces the reader the react to the events it describes. Whilst Se questo does resemble the writing of a chemist to a significant degree, it must be remembered that science does not concern itself with morality, unlike Levi as a writer in sense of some form of justice. Therefore, Levi’s manner of being analytical, observational and looking for patterns of understanding has significance beyond Levi’s experience as a chemist and the scientific nature of what he captures; it is also the most effective way of confronting the perpetrators.

While the parallel between Ulysses, the wandering hero who goes through great trials before returning home, and Levi might lead one to view Levi as a valorous protagonist as well, there is a crucial difference between them: Dante’s Ulysses (with whom Levi concerns himself primarily, as opposed to Homer’s) pushes the boundaries of what humanity can achieve, but Levi experiences the boundaries of what can humanity can endure. Therefore, Levi is not an explorer, but an observer of what is effectively a destructive experiment on humanity. His role as an author does not correspond fully to that of a chemist – his own moral perspective and search for ‘justice’ by forcing the perpetrators of the Holocaust to confront their own misdeeds transcend the confines of a scientific perspective. However, Levi’s education, positivist outlook and careful observational treatment of his content result in a testimonial account that has much in common with the writing of a chemist.

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The Survival of Hope in Auschwitz

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In his memoir, Survival In Auschwitz, Primo Levi defines hope and expresses its significance as a key feature of our humanity through the use of style, characterization and tone.Levi poignantly defines his personal definition of hope through the use of authorial style. For one who may not know what it is to live without hope, he paints a physical picture. With words such as ‘bleak’ (39), ‘muddy (40)’, and ‘small’ (32), along with a lack of colour, vibrancy, excitement, and light, (135) Levi creates a lack of visual appeal. This creates a feeling of loss and emptiness in the reader’s interpretation of the setting, as well as the mood within the camp. The ‘dark and cold of sidereal space’ (56), and the shades of grey (37) that he uses as descriptive adjectives are intended to discourage, and bring about deep feelings of resentment, lethargy and weakness. Levi also employs imagery as a means to manipulate emotions; forging a connection to the victim within the scene. He utilizes suspense by recounting the story in a particular order. Some events in the story are recounted in chronological order, but most of his story is told in an order in relation to its relevance to the tale. In terms of intention and point of view, the author controls the flow of the information, dictating the facts that are available to the reader, which creates an interesting parallel to the guards who controlled the lives of the prisoners within the camp itself. The lack of warmth (40) is a strong evocation of emotions for an experience of mental depression and a cold, lonely place within the mind. It reflects the desolation of the camp environment. Levi also sets up no hope of a future for the prisoners, and avoids the subject of times to come, living and surviving only in the moment. He discusses a word within the camp slang which means never (133). The literal translation of this word is ‘tomorrow morning’ (133), directly linking the lack of hope in with the language and culture of the camp. Levi uses imagery in an attempt to convey the incomprehensible environment within the camp, and the total despair, and absence of hope. He also demonstrates this through account of the actions and reactions of the humans within the camp; how they treat each other, and how they express their need for hope. Though Levi clearly expresses the pain that he experiences within the camp (45), he also speaks of what it feels like to be freed, and to have hope again (71). On ‘a good day’, Levi shines the light of good fortune through his imagery, and shares the excitement of the change in mood (71). When referring to his experiences after the camp’s release, and on days when he demonstrates hope, Levi speaks about the ‘horizon’, show his focus and reliance on the future, and of ‘bright[ness]’, clarity and sun. The sun has a healing power of warmth, and new life (71). The warmth encompasses regeneration, and comfort, while the light from the sun chases away the clouds of the figurative storm. (168) This brings hope, not only for him, but for the reader along for the ride as well (73).Building upon the imagery, the tone of the memoir further enhances the comprehension of hope, as well as influencing a reaction to what is written. This is calculated to convey a specific judgment on the humanity within the camp. Because the tone is so detached, the story is open to interpretation. The fact that the story is told from the prisoner’s point of view is powerful in that the story remains one man’s personal experience and the strenuous weight of the realities of the consequences of this experience. However, Levi also uses the power of observation, and takes a witness’ account of things to make himself a more reliable narrator, who is more likely to create sympathy within the reader. Alongside the use of this device, Levi does not play up, or draw attention to himself as the poor, targeted prisoner that he is, therefore the reader is more likely to take his humility in stride, and feel more sympathetic towards him. The tone which is utilized by the author is also helpful in making the reading less emotional; guarding from distraction (123). It helps to demonstrate some of the psychological effects that the camp had on Levi, that is, the lack of hope, and the apathy, which ties into our understanding of humanity and behavioral psychology; Because the prisoners were treated inhumanely, and the they were not expected to act as such, they fulfilled the expectations of their captors, and acted with a lack of what makes them distinctly human, their humanity. Once he touches upon humanity, Levi explores the relationship between hope and humanity (129). Throughout the memoir, where there is a lack of hope, comes a lack of humanity. For example, when Levi and his friend Alberto felt in an utterly hopeless and broken position, they no longer even understood what it would be like to have the strength to fight for humanity. (150) There is no rebellion, or sense of injustice evoked within them, and they were depicted in the apathetic complacency of their hopeless situation.Levi outlines his comments on hope and humanity through his characterization, and how he chooses to tell his story. He achieves this through the use of realistic opinions and descriptions of the characters who surround him, the main character in the memoir. He shows us that characters who have hope within them and how they show their humanity in some small ways: for example, the man who made the effort to keep himself clean while the rest of the camp resigned themselves to the ever present dirt and grime of the camp. The actions that he took towards preserving this portion of his humanity were indicative of the hope he still had in the outside world, and the importance he placed on this hope, and his own humanity. However, those whose ‘souls are dead’ (51) consistently showed that their lack of hope contributed to their lack of humanity. As Levi comments; it is “for he who loses all often easily loses himself.” For the character of Levi himself, he demonstrates a lack of humanity while he has no hope, but this attitude changes after he is freed and he begins to care for others. He shows this through being kinder and joyful, and comes to the conclusion that “the conviction that life has a purpose is rooted in every fibre of a man, it is a property of the human” (71). It is through this that he shows how he believes in humanity, but relies on hope to bring it to life. His characterization further shows a cultural perspective from within the camp. It demonstrates how people saw each other, and how their worth was measured. Levi uses animal metaphors and similes to comment on humanity and how it appears when stripped down to its roots. It shows human priorities and basic instincts when reduced down to the level of a survivor. Throughout the story, Levi sometimes shows he had trouble with some of the ways other people see things, particularly the fact that some can find some hope in the situation, while he cannot (130, 155). Levi was frustrated and jealous, because of his own lack of hope, shown through his observations and descriptions of others. (122)The fact that this story took place, and that there really was a correlation between hope and humanity within the camp, creates an emotional connection between the reader and author. The reader is allowed to see things from the point of view of the character (131) and prisoner, which is especially maintained through the imagery, the tone and the characterization. In this story, hope is reliant on humanity, and it is the presence of hope and a striving towards a better future that gives man the incentive and the strength to live (173).

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Fleeting Trusts and Moldy Crusts

February 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

There’s a plethora of adjectives one could apply to the survivors of Hitler’s nightmarish concentration camps during the later years of the second world war; lucky, miraculous, strong-willed, and many more. However, what one must begin to consider as they ponder what the futures for these survivors was like after liberation from the camps. Many, if not all of these poor souls were left scarred for the rest of their lives, having to live every day with the images of crematoriums, skeleton-esque human beings, and the countless other atrocities that have been burned into their minds. To have emerged from the camps alive by the war’s end surely resulted on numerous factors, some of which aren’t even in one’s control. The story of Primo Levi and his tale of having survived one of the most terrifying eras for Jewish people in perhaps all of history reveals just what some of these factors were. From holding on to any sliver of dignity/humanity they had left in the camps to using cunning and wit to increase chances of survival, Primo prevailed against all odds. Having known that “man is bound to pursue his own ends by all possible means, while he who errs but once pays dearly” (1.3), the persistence and desire to make it out alive fueled the determination of a man trapped in a land of fleeting trusts and moldy crusts.

Perhaps the most important contributor to the explanation how Primo survived when so many others around him did not entails holding on to the very thing the Nazi’s sought to destroy within the barbed wire fences of the camps: humanity. If there’s anything Hitler’s concentration camps did better than extinguishing the lives of all those unfortunate enough to be imprisoned in one, it was robbing the prisoners of their humanity. Primo became keen to the inner workings and motives of these camps fairly early on in his journey, realizing that “if we want to keep [our names], we will have to find in ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains” (2.21). Before it was too late, Primo began clinging on to every shred of his past life that he could, utilizing skills and actions done before his imprisonment that reminded him of his humanity. The prisoners began trading and bargaining with their portions of bread, something that somewhat resembled the structure of a makeshift economy in the camps. Bread became the coin of the land in place of the paper/coin currency obviously absent in that environment. One individual in particular, an ex-sergeant of the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, served to be one of the earliest assets contributing to Primo clinging on to his humanity. Steinlauf spoke words of supreme wisdom to Primo that he’d remember so well that they’d go on to be included in his book years later. Steinlauf desperately wanted Primo to acknowledge that “[they] must polish [their] shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety” (3.41). The importance of maintaining routine order aside from the one enforced by the Nazi guards was key to keeping a level head in that hellish world. If one could clean themselves, dry off in their jackets, and even find the time to polish their shoes, then the declination of sanity would slow down drastically. While Primo is skeptical of this advice in the beginning, wondering whether or not it’d be better to simply recognize the futility of having personal rules, it’s without a doubt one of the sole reasons he escaped the war with any bit of his humanity left intact. Another fateful action Primo chose to perform was analyzing and befriending select prisoners during his time in the camp. From having reunited with his childhood friend, Alberto, to holding down his territory in the Ka-Be medical center with Charles and Arthur in the final days leading to their freedom, Primo almost certainly would’ve perished long ago if it weren’t for the interactions he had with all the people he met along the way. He deemed anyone who became completely deprived from everyone he loved as being “a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint” (2.26), therefore taking it upon himself to make sure he wouldn’t become stranded there without anyone to care for. Despite having lost Alberto to the Nazi death marches as the Russians grew closer to the Auschwitz, Primo came to think so fondly of Charles and Arthur that he even went as far to say that he exchanged letters with Charles after their liberation, “[hoping] to see him again one day” (17.22). Through the combination of tactics and friendly connection Primo developed as he adapted to life in the concentration camp, the Jewish chemist was able to keep what little humanity he had left from being viciously stripped away from him by the dehumanizing Nazi regime.

While he definitely gained a lot of the knowledge leading to his triumphant survival within the walls of his enclosure, it’d be ignorant to overlook Primo’s naturally admirable intelligence he had before arriving at Auschwitz. Aside from being a formally recognized chemist in the life he lived before the war, Primo was able to analytically observe his surroundings and those around him, which resulted in the discovery of ways he could go about his day while expending the least amount of energy possible. In one particular instance, Primo recruited the aid of a man named Resnyk to help him with a task requiring the heavy lifting of wooden beams weighing nearly 175 lbs each. Shortly after meeting the fellow prisoner, Primo wasted no time taking mental notes of the advantages to associating himself with him, labeling him as a “good worker [whose] being taller would support the greater part of the weight” (6.10). Levi’s natural ability to seek out the talents and usefulness that would come in handy should he need their assistance surely played an important role in his survival in Auschwitz. Touching back on his specialty in the field of chemistry as well, Primo’s choice to take the Chemical Examination put forward by German officers seeking out a Chemical Kommando for the camp gave him unparalleled legs-up over the other prisoners. Although it took awhile for the advantages of this action to finally become apparent, Primo found himself receiving better clothing at a more frequent rate, a warm workspace, and even the privilege of having a weekly shave once having secured the position (which was only earned by two other men). Using the strong mind gifted to him at birth to find ways to make his situation even just slightly more bearable undoubtedly gave Primo Levi the resources he needed to last until the Russians’ inevitable arrival at Auschwitz.

One can’t help but sit back and truly think to themselves for a minute just how incredible it is that any concentration camp prisoner made it out of Hitler’s mortifying Europe with their lives. There were a few viable reasons that could help better explain why Primo Levi survived when countless others perished mere feet away from him on a daily basis, but the most influential ones included having humanity, intelligence and even luck on his side. There’s no way Primo would’ve made it out of Auschwitz if it weren’t for a few extremely fateful events, like his meeting of a local, kind-hearted citizen named Lorenzo, who would often provide extra portions of food in secrecy to him during the periods of air raid bombings (as the prisoners were forced to wait outside the bomb shelters during the attacks). He credits Lorenzo and his generosity for being “one of the main reasons for [his] survival” (12.9) by the time he and the rest of the remaining prisoners were liberated in 1945. Nevertheless, no matter what the reasoning may be for Primo having survived one of the scariest examples of unrelenting anti-semitism in modern history, it goes without saying that this man deserved none of the horrible atrocities inflicted upon him during World War II. None of the victims of Hitler’s reign of terror did, and we can only hope that their spirits have found some degree of peace in the unknown world beyond the one riddled with hate, war and conflict that humanity continues to live in today.

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