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Books

Reading Response To Primo Levi’s Survival In Auschwitz

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In his memoir, Primo Levi provides insight on basic survival in Auschwitz, as well as detailed stories about acquaintances he met during his stay. Throughout the book, Levi seemed to heavily analyze numerous people he met, encounters he had or what he saw. Each character he introduced in the story had a meaning that attributed to his survival. Early on in the book, Primo meets Steinlauf who advises him to hang on to as much of his humanity he has left. Primo did not understand why he should clean himself when he was just going to get dirty again. He explains that the prison is dedicated to making prisoners feel unhuman, and to feel like wild animals. By keeping yourself and your surroundings as clean as you can, this will help preserve your humanity. Steinlauf could see that most prisoners have become barbaric due to hunger and thirst. It becomes apparent that prisoners did whatever it took to survive. It did not matter how “good” of a man someone was, because when people are restricted from their basic needs, they will do anything to receive them. I can assume it’s difficult for Levi to reflect on this because he has done some things that don’t align with his character, but had to for survival.

Levi points out that surviving in Auschwitz is a constant struggle, and it is nearly impossible to survive without breaking your own moral code. This causes prisoners to do things that would never do outside of a camp, such as steal. Levi meets Henri who he defines as a master manipulator. He has no regard for anyone but himself and of course, the guards. Henri assessed people and situations to see how much he could manipulate something to benefit himself without being found out and killed. Levi goes as far to say that he feels like he is an instrument to Henri, just waiting to be used. Levi addresses his final thoughts on Henri by saying “I know that Henri is living today. I would give much to know his life as a free man, but I do not want to see him again”. It is understandable why Levi never wants to see him again, but it’s interesting how he is curious about his life today. I believe it’s because he wants to know what Henri is like beyond the confinement of prison. It is impossible to know the true character of someone when their life is constantly in danger. Did the stress of Auschwitz cause Henri to become a master manipulator? Was he manipulative before he was thrown into the camp? Is he continuing to manipulate after the fact? I think these are the kinds of questions that we, the readers, have as well as Levi.

I believe that Levi could have said that about anyone who he had met in Auschwitz, not just Henri. I’m sure he is curious about the whereabouts of the survivors who have befriended him, helped him, and stole from him. I know I would be. Imagine how difficult it would be to come face to face with someone who stole from you. Would you be mad? Forgive them because they had to do whatever it took to survive? What about if you stole from another prisoner and then came face to face with them years after liberation. Would you be embarrassed because that’s how they remember your character? As a theft? I can only assume that seeing fellow prisoners outside of the Auschwitz confines leads to feelings of despair that some survivors haven’t felt in years. Bringing back memories of the barbaric things one would do to survive in Auschwitz. 

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