How does one survive in Auschwitz?

In Survival in Auschwitz, the author Primo Levi captures the reader into the harsh reality of life in the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Primo Levi is a young Jewish-Italian man who, in 1943 at the age of 24, was captured by the Nazi fascists while hiding in the woods and stripped of everything that belonged to him including his name.

Auschwitz is probably the most well known out of all the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Primo Levi spends almost an entire year, what to him seemed like an eternity, being starved, badly beaten and worked until he could no longer breathe. The camp presented extremely unsanitary conditions and prisoners were fed little to nothing, as they were given soup with scraps of potato and cabbage. During this time, Primo struggled to maintain a sense of humanity and never saw an end to his suffering. After spending almost an entire year in these devastating conditions the Nazi’s abandoned these camps with the threat of the invading Soviet Union and after surviving on their own they were eventually rescued.

To answer the topic question, “How does one survive Auschwitz?”, Primo presents severals cases and points. For one to survive Auschwitz you must be extremely lucky, know German, never give up hope, maintain good health as best you can and most importantly have compassion. Compassion is something Primo learns when he meets the ever so kind Lorenzo, who isn’t a prisoner but yet a civilian worker, who constantly provides food secretly to Primo and talks with him. Primo says, “I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me of his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside of our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, not extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.” (121) Compassion in Auschwitz means having a community of people who look out for each other and share their resources to maximize the entire groups chances of survival. This sense of community helped maintain sanity for Primo and through his inspiration that he found from Lorenzo that he was able to survive Auschwitz.



Hitler outlines the platform of the National German’s German Workers Party, which eventually becomes the Nazi Party, in a speech delivered to 2,000 people on February 24, 1920. Hitler outlined the goals of his newly renamed party, and true to it’s socialist roots, many points of the platform are extremely socialist. For example, Hitler called for equal rights for all citizens, profit-sharing from large industries, and increases in retirement pensions. In addition, he wanted public education of poor students, as well as maternity welfare centers. The common image of the Nazi Party is restrictive, unyielding, and forceful. When the word “Nazi” is heard, the first association is Auschwitz, and the socialist roots of the party remain undiscussed. However, it is important to note that Hitler calls for these benefits to German citizens, not simply the inhabitants of Germany. He recognizes a clear hierarchy amongst the races, and Aryan is the only race that truly deserves to inhabit Germany. He called for the end of immigration of non-Germans, and the expulsion of non-Germans if food supplies were to run short.

The portions in regards to the superiority of the German race is more in line with the traditional view of Nazism. Hitler’s solution to solving race problems was to expunge non-Germans, which would also cause the available wealth to be distributed more evenly to the superior German race. Upon reflection, it is difficult to accept that an entire nation would be willing to join a party committed to destroying an “inferior people,” but many elements of the party platform remain undiscussed. When an individual is taking home wheelbarrows full of worthless money, the idea of retirement pensions is extremely appealing. While the Jews were not responsible for the terrible peace treaty, the Jews were an easy scapegoat, and the socialist platform was appealing to many Germans. Hitler’s charisma and the turmoil caused by the Treaty of Versailles is often used as the explanation for the rise of Nazism. However, ignoring the socialist platform is disregarding an extremely important part of the popularity of Nazism.


While Fascist Italy under Mussolini sought to control its people and implement a new united world of ideas and ways of life in Italy, it did not succeed. Bosworth’s article, “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy” demonstrated the disunity and corruption under Fascist rule.1 Bosworth cited numerous examples of Fascist leaders who corrupted the system. They reverted to the well known political practices. They appeared almost like American gangsters from the same era. Most of the men who were sent to exile used violence, threats, and terror to control their regions and gain desired power.
There was an interesting parallel in Fascist Italy to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. In the opening story, a group of men were reported singing a communist song while in a drunken state.2 As in Nazi Germany, there was a fear of communism and those who held communist beliefs. Also, as in both other regimes, citizens denounced one another for undesired behavior. Yet, did this protect Italians from themselves being denounced, as it did initially in the Soviet Union? Or did it backfire as during the Great Terror?
Another parallel to the Soviet Union and Germany was the punishment of those deemed unproductive, that drained the economy. The drunken communist was denounced as lazy and an alcoholic.3 This added to peoples dislike for him, and he was sentenced to a common punishment, exile. Although most leading Fascist officials who were sentenced to long terms of exile had the sentences overturned after just a few months. Was this due to other Fascists condoning their behavior?

1. R.J.B. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism: Friends, Family, Locality and Violence in Fascist Italy”, Contemporary European History, 14 (2005) 23-43.
2. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism”, 23-24.
3. Bosworth, “Everyday Mussolinism”, 24.

Think of the Children

In Beyond Totalitarianism, chapter 3 focuses on the reproductive policies of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Both countries, along with Italy and all of Western Europe, placed importance on increasing the birth rate and population numbers in their respective countries. WWI had devastated a generation and decreased birth rates dramatically. The countries related population numbers to military strength, the more people you had, the more men you could use to fight the enemy.

The Nazis, Fascists and Soviets implemented policies and incentives to encourage increased birth rates. Medals were given to Nazi mothers who had more than 7/8 children, and stipends were given to Soviet women who produced more than four children. In the Soviet Union these were mostly rural peasant mothers, where large families were needed to work the farm. Also, many of these large families existed before the government introduced the compensation.

Yet, with the push for an immediate population increase, did no one think of the future? The Earth has a maximum capacity for life. It can only support so many. As twisted as it is, wars throughout history, along with epidemics have kept the population in check. Imagine how overpopulated the world would be if the Black Plague had not struck Europe. Currently the world is facing a problem of overpopulation, if the European nations had not pushed so much for increased births would it have delayed this problem? Or since the birth rates in Germany and the Soviet Union were not dramatically increased with the incentives and laws, did this have little effect on the world problem we currently face?

Public Works- How Well Did Government Intervention Work? Could The Private Sector Have Done It Better?

The economic collapse in 1928 left the United States close to ruin. Jobs didn’t come easily, and when they did, workers often found themselves over worked, under paid, and without viable options for social and economic upward mobility. The same can be said for Nazi Germany. Suffering both from the crushing debt accumulated after the First World War and the global effects of the American economic collapse, the German people found themselves in a similar situation to the Americans. A liberal approach to economic stimulation (fair competition among corporations) where the free market would take control and hopefully ‘right the ship’ of both floundering countries did not suit Hitler or Roosevelt. Instead, both men funneled government money, time, and resources into major infrastructure building programs. Schivelbusch highlights two of these programs: the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States, and The Autobhan in Germany. Both of these programs brought significant economic stimulation in terms of job creation, infrastructure development, and efficient land usage. They also instilled national pride.

President Roosevelt created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 with the aim to redevelop 39,000 square miles of land that boasted an average median per capita income 50% lower than the national average. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang. “Public Works” in Three New Deals, 153-154 New York: Picador, 2006.)) The government, in effect, took control of the rivers, dams, and other infrastructure created in the area, which it in turn re-developed into lakes, rivers, and usable waterways for “commerce that now nourish their business enterprises.” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 159.)).  Doesn’t sound like a terrible deal. A poor, decrepit area gets a government funded revitalization which puts millions to work building dams and creating man-made lakes. The bigger point, however, which Schivelbusch points out, is that it showed Democracy’s ability to “surpass totalitarianism’s achievements in the realm of planning.” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 162)). This flex of “democratic muscle” created a greater sense of national pride, which contributed to the rising morale of the American people as a whole in the post depression era.

The German Autobahn provided a “symbolic salvation” ((Schivelbusch, “Public Works”, 169)) for the National Socialist party. As Schivelbusch points out, much like Roosevelt, Hitler put the reputation and legitimacy of his regime in a grandiose project meant to revitalize both the economy and national pride of his people. What some might call a major flaw in Hitler’s plan, however, arguably made his achievement greater. Hitler ordered the construction of the Autobahn in 1933, a year in which the automobile existed as more of a novelty to the German people rather than an every day convenience (or perhaps a hassle) as it did to the Americans. Despite this, the creation of the Autobahn, much like the revitalization of the Tennessee Valley, prompted an economic boom- in 1938, the Volkswagen came into being. Hitler’s Autobahn, which could be seen as a highway to nowhere, ended up stimulating the German automotive industry; to paraphrase a voice heard in a cornfield in Iowa, “since he built it, they came.”

The Autobahn and the Tennessee Valley redevelopment both provided massive economic stimulation, national pride, and long term industry revitalization. Which of these endeavors did more for their respective country? Did Hitler’s highway building (and eventual creation of a booming automotive industry) do more to revitalize Germany than Roosevelt’s redevelopment of the Tennessee Valley? Or, had Hitler and Roosevelt relied on a liberal, capitalist approach to the crisis, would either leader have seen similar success? Could the private sector of either the United States or Germany breathe life back into the economy of each state as the government did?


The Age of Propaganda


“Jap Trap,” World War II propaganda poster, United States Information Service, 1941–45. Densho Digital Archive,

“Propaganda can tip the scales,” claims Schivelbusch in regards to state influence in times of political turmoil in his Three New Deals. (85) The usual dialogue on the topic of interwar propaganda mostly elicits imagery associated with the USSR and Nazi regime, but what about the propaganda and control by the United States government? This is an example:

This blatantly racist imagery not only compares the Japanese to rats, it also depicts the rat with the physical stereotypes American’s gave the Japanese during the time. The squinted eyes, protruding teeth, and cartoonishly animated circular spectacles reappeared throughout anti-Japanese propaganda. The simple process of dehumanization of the enemy through animation also appears commonly in the anti-semitic propaganda perpetuated by the Nazis.


The Nazis as well as America assimilated the rat with their enemies. Rats are grotesque, parasitic, and carry disease. Essentially, they are an animal no one loves. It is certainly easier to identify propaganda that is new or foreign, however, after those images are presented repeatedly they become automatically associated with the intended concept and sink into the subconscious. This, in effect, is what makes it so powerful.

If an audience is being persuaded without realizing, can they stop it?



Mussolini: What is he?

“Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” by B.J.B Bosworth discussed the different views of Mussolini. Mussolini was fascist Italy. There cannot be one without the other. He was imbued with mythical even biblical status by his followers. He was a hero to Italians across the globe, he offset the negative Italian stereotype many faced. Each dictatorial nation created a myth of the leader, and Italy was no different. Mussolini was initially welcomes and praised as fascism led Italy out of the Great Depression.

To fully understand Mussolini and fascist Italy one must also look at the circumstances of the time. At first Mussolini was viewed as a pioneer in Europe, he controlled a nation for more than two decades. He modernized Italy and expanded it’s border in an attempt to recapture it’s roman prestige. Fascism allowed Italy to overcome the Great Depression with greater ease than other nations.  Mussolini was initially looked upon with admiration and respect before the Nazis rose to power in Germany. With the emergence of the Nazi party Italy was downgraded to the lowest of the “great European powers”. As Bosworth stated, Mussolini became a “dictator minor”, he did not command the same respect and power that Hitler and Stalin did.1

Mussolini in 1934 was more than willing to fight against the union of Austria and Germany. He was an opponent of the Nazis belief of the existence of a true Aryan.2 However, when Italy entered WWII six years later, the people felt betrayed by their leader.3 Mussolini created a nation in a period of peace that fell short during the war.

According to Emil Ludwig, in the 1930s, Mussolini was the “Nietzschean superman”, whose movement helped Italy to prosper4. His fascist nation created “new forms, new myths, and new rites” for the Italian people. This is in opposition to many reviews of Mussolini that portray him as a propagandist, a man who failed as a leader. There are many conflicting views, and as Bosworth stated in his conclusion, more research needs to be conducted to make a full “appraisal” of Mussolini.5 There is still much unknown as to his decision making role.

1. B.J.B Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce; Sawdust Caesar, Roman Statesman or Dictator Minor?” The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism, London: Arnold, 1998, 74.

2. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73-74.

3. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 67.

4. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 73.

5. Bosworth, “Mussolini the Duce” 81.


By What Modes? Politicism Under Stalin and Hitler

In traditional examinations of the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, the singular point of focus is the complete domination that the two leaders exerted over their people. However, one particular that is often left out of the comparison is how the regimes functioned in conjunction with the respective parties of the two states. Similar arguments are found in Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals – a comparison of Roosevelt, Hitler, and Mussolini’s state-building practices – and Yoran Gorlizki and Hans Mommsen’s article “The Political (Dis)Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism”, an in-depth look at the striking differences between the Nazis and the Soviets. In both pieces is made the argument that Hitler used his image and position as Führer to propel his policies forward, though Gorlizki and Mommson go even further, arguing that while Nazi control was exerted legally through the state, Soviet power built itself from the bottom up by means of a party bent on “wholesale restructuring of domestic state and society”. ((Gorlizki, Yoram and Hans Mommsen. “The Political (Dis)Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 41-86. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. p. 44))

In Stalinist Russia, the Soviet party dominated policies of the state. Through bureaucratic reformation and extremely tailored individual appointments, Stalin was able to unify the purposes of his party with the ideology it was founded on in order to create a totalitarian state. By 1930, he was confident enough to publicly imply that certain governmental positions existed only to perpetuate the aims of the party. ((Ibid., 51.)) Gorlizki and Mommsen explain that this dynamic developed in such a manner due to the revolutionary climate at the time of the Soviet rise to power; as such, the party ideology came first, and by Stalin’s skillfull administrative practices, the government was reformatted around it. ((Ibid., 64.))

The Nazis, however, came into power under very different circumstances. There existed already a well-established and firmly authoritative government in 1933 when the party took over; it was simply a means of maneuvering legally in order to secure the power to facilitate party operations. This process reached a peak with the death of President von Hindenburg; Hitler assumed the position of Head of State, thus “constitutionally [reinforcing]” his power and policies. ((Ibid., 55.)) However, Hitler had not the bureaucratic finesse of Stalin, and as such most of his power came directly from his own image. Presenting himself as the “incarnated soul of the people”, Hitler moved his people to action not through the subjugation of politics to ideology but by imposing his persona on every man, woman, and child in Germany. ((Shivelbusch, Wolfgang. Three New Deals. New York: Picador, 2006, p. 52.)) For the Nazis, there was no reconstruction of social order, because a social order already existed; there was simply a mass movement spurred by a charismatic figure and a politically secure ruling party.