In the History of the world there have been few incidences of atrocities that equal the treatment of the Jews in Europe during World War II. It is difficult to accept the levels of systematic cruelty and terror experienced during this period. In the book Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi paints a picture with disturbing detail that is meant to serve as a reminder of the unimaginable horrors millions of men, women and children were forcefully subjected to as a result of hate.
As a Jew, Levi knew he was in danger while living in fascist Northern Italy. By 1943, the Nazis had moved south and set up holding camps around Italy to detain political prisoners and those of the Jewish nationality until they could be transported to established concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau. This book depicts what happened to Levi after his arrest in 1944. Along with 650 others, he was loaded into a freight train for a four day journey without food or water and without the liberty to leave the train at anytime. Upon their arrival at the camp of Auschwitz, Poland, the first of a precession of selections took place. The German SS Soldiers separated those they deemed capable of work from those they deemed incapable, such as women, children and elderly. Only 135 of the 650 from Levi’s train were admitted into Auschwitz, the other 515 went immediately to the gas chambers. These methods of selection were to a degree, a logical means as compared to other random selections. “Later, a simpler method was adopted that involved merely opening both doors on the train. Without warning or instruction to the new arrivals, those who by chance climbed down on one side of the convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber.”(20)
He was herded with the others into the camp and after being striped naked and having his head shaved, he was given an old striped uniform and the identification numbers 174517 tattooed on his arm. Levi recalled with remarkable accuracy the humiliation and confusion felt as he was forced to assimilate into his new surroundings. The food rations were too insufficient to stave off the hunger. Thousands of others around him were suffering and unavoidably dying as a result of this insufficient food supply. Although he was new to the camp, his experiences with others and his own observations told him that the Germans militant nature was at its worst. In order to outlive the war and survive, he found ways to maintain the illusion of usefulness with the least possible exertion. Any protest or disobedience from prisoners ended swiftly with beatings and death.
An iron sign above the front gates proclaimed the camp slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei”. This translated to; “work gives you freedom. ” Prisoners of Auschwitz were forced to work seven days a week with two Sundays off a month which were filled with tedious, exhausting tasks and were often the only opportunity available was to attend to personal hygiene needs. The bulk of their time was spent working 16-hour days in factories and around the camp, making supplies for the war and other items for the Germans. With little food and inadequate clothing, it was easy to fall ill or die from exhaustion while working in the snow and rain. Levi was lucky enough to be sent to (and return from) the Ka-be or the infirmary to recover from an injury to his Achilles tendon. The Ka-be was overcrowded, and was populated by individuals with deadly, communicable diseases such as typhus and dysentery. There were no medicines available to relieve the symptoms and the pain and suffering was widespread. Despite this he was able to rest and build up some strength before returning back to work. Much of the work assigned to them was needless. It was given for the purpose of wearing down the prisoner and making him weaker. A weak prisoner was less likely to protest or attempt to escape.
Levi described how many of the prisoners, after long hours of manual labor, would gather in a corner of the camp for a market. They would trade rations and stolen goods. Such goods as a spoon or buttons were as valuable as gold. The market followed all the classical economic laws. This seemed to show the ability of people to live and think and work in the most adverse of conditions. Inside the barbed wire, the prisoners had created their own social and economical world in order to endure.
Primo Levi seems to write as a means in which he could express the physical trauma that he experienced as a survivor of Auschwitz and it’s emotional consequences. He recalls for the reader the challenges that he faced on a daily and hourly basis to meet the basic needs necessary to remain alive. Levi depicts his time as a prisoner with a straight forward and narrative approach and with an almost unemotional tone that often disguises the horror of what he is describing. It would be easy to bluntly horrify the reader with a book about life in a death camp, but this is not his intention, instead he produces a realistic account of events with an insight into his own feelings and emotions. Although most were only mentioned briefly, other prisoners are introduced to show empathy to the many nationalities that were persecuted. He tells the story of the oppressed and nameless rather then that of the adversary. He does not concern himself with trying to justify the motives behind the Nazis actions. “They behaved with the calm assurance of people doing their normal duty of everyday.”(19)
If not for his degree in chemistry, which earned him a place in the Chemistry Command working indoors during the last winter, Primo would have probably suffered the same fate as the eleven million people, six million of them Jews, who died during the war. It is hard to imagine the reasons why a man who had survived such incomprehensible horrors would commit suicide, but that is how Levi ended his life 42 years after being liberated by the Russians. For every one person whom survived and told his story like Primo Levi, There are thousands of others with equally shocking and disturbing stories who were gassed and murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
Filed Under: History, World War 2 (WW2)
Essay on Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
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Primo Levi, in his novel Survival in Auschwitz (2008), illustrates the atrocities inflicted upon the prisoners of the concentration camp by the Schutzstaffel, through dehumanization. Levi describes “the denial of humanness” constantly forced upon the prisoners through similes, metaphors, and imagery of animalistic and mechanistic dehumanization (“Dehumanization”). He makes his readers aware of the cruel reality in the concentration camp in order to help them examine the psychological effects dehumanization has not only on those dehumanized, but also on those who dehumanize. He establishes an earnest and reflective tone with his audience yearning to grasp the reality of genocide. In Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi laments that men…show more content…
Levi’s ability to demonstrate the adversities of their oppression illustrates the dehumanization of the prisoners. The inmates eat soup while in the camp. When the time comes for them to get their bowls filled, Levi professes they “have an animal hurry” to consume their food (Survival 69). This metaphor suggests the men’s animalistic behavior due to their severe thirst and hunger. The concept of dehumanization carried out by the Schutzstaffel primarily targets the prisoners‘ “identity” and “community” (“Dehumanization”). Each man’s struggle to survive in Auschwitz depends on their principal focus of themselves. They can “no longer elicit compassion or other moral responses”, every man endures on his own, and they cannot think of others. Ironically, waiting around to pass time satisfies the inmates; “ [they] are always happy to wait” (Survival 104). Levi rationalizes their content when Alex tells them to wait and says they have “the complete obtuse inertia of spiders in old webs” (Survival 104). He compares his Kommando to spiders, as they sit lifelessly, trapped in an abandoned labyrinth. The action of waiting brings the men solace, for once, as “time moves smoothly” and they have no duties to complete (Survival 104). Throughout the novel, Levi also provides imagery of the animalistic form of dehumanization through his diction. As the men eat in their bunks, Levi states that “David snarls” (Survival 75). The action or sound of snarling is typically given