Survival in Auschwitz

Three Points:
  1. In these camps, one of the largest barriers between those living there was language. Most of them had Jewish background and many of them were educated; however, there was little access to communication. Not only did this make work more difficult when listening to the commanders who spoke German and the other workers that one was working with, but also an enormous feeling of isolation.
  2. The demoralizing of the people in the concentration camps proves to be one of the founding steps in the process of their success. Levi often discusses how the process would make the officers go out of their way to demean the people coming into the camps, such as when they would have to stand naked for hours when waiting to enter the camp. Not only did the Nazis make their presence known through physical trauma towards these people, but in addition they made sure that their living circumstances were all they could think about.
  3. I was surprised to hear that people within the camps were not always aware of the extreme circumstances there. For some time, Levi was unaware about the crematoriums and how prevalent the Germans used them in the concentration caps. The Germans attempted to keep the prisoners in the dark about as many things as possible, but specifically this surprised me because of how frequently they were used.
Questions:
  1. I was wondering more about the levels of hierarchy in the concentration camps, specifically the kapos. How did their roles affect the way that they were perceived by the other prisoners, and how were they perceived by the Germans running the camp?
  2. Levi mentions that he would rather have disclosed his religion than his political affiliation. However, in Levi’s youth, he participated in the Avanguardisti- a section of the youth organization run by the Italian fascists, Opera Nazionale Balilla, for 14 to 18 year olds.  Was there any possibility in using this to cover up his political affiliation to avoid being taken?
Observation:
When Levi publishes this book, it was through a small Italian publisher. However, as the book grew in popularity and fame he expanded through Europe. When he began the translation into German in 1961, Levi apparently was very careful on which German publisher to use, and was supervising the whole process. Most importantly with his decision to maintain a part of this process was his introduction written specifically for this version to the German people, condemning them for what they allowed to happen. We discussed in class how after WWII many Germans denied knowledge of these events or participation, and Levi immediately shuts that down by investing the time in forcing these people to acknowledge the actual horrors of the war.

2 thoughts on “Survival in Auschwitz

  1. “Our language lacks the words to express this offence, the demolition of Man.” This quote from Primo Levi stuck with me. Even though I have previously studied the treatment of Jews and other minorities at Auschwitz in a fairly extensive manner, I am still struck with the ability authors have to turn the emotional and physical experience of the concentration camp into an experience conveyed through words. Language, both written and spoken, can only go so far in conveying any type of experience.

  2. I think reading a book like this at this time, when we have so much access to information makes it much more powerful. Someone could easily just look up the Holocaust on wikipedia and be done with it but by reading Levi we gain an in depth perspective. His description of each event leaves a mark that makes the book incredibly powerful.

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