Survival in Auschwitz

In Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi, Levi argued that one survived in Auschwitz by maintaining his humanity. In Auschwitz, everything possible was done to strip people of their humanity: upon arriving, people were robbed of their clothes, belongings, and money. They were then shaved and tattooed with numbers that replaced their names. People in Auschwitz lived without food or proper medical treatment; most were separated from their families. Everyone was forced to do back-breaking labor day after day with little to look forward to or hope for.

At the end of Chapter 9, Levi described how four particular people survived Auschwitz. In each of the stories, these people survived by maintaining elements of their personality within the de-humanizing walls. They found little things to cling to:  keeping clean, singing songs, or stealing to remember who they were. Levi explained that those “not initially favoured by fate” could survive if they had the will power “to battle everyday and every hour” (Levi 92).

There was also an emphasis on the methodical daily existence within Auschwitz. Everyday there were numerous pointless rules, rituals, and ceremonies designed to wear down the human psych. Simply finding a way to break the monotony of such a harsh structure was very important to surviving Auschwitz. Prisoners did this by partaking in the Exchange Market, or helping each other out in exchange for food.

Essentially, surviving in Auschwitz consisted of clinging to the little things. People had to find the small  things that helped them forge meaning into a system that attempted to make their lives meaningless.

Levi, Primo, and Stuart Woolf. Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

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