Essay title: Survival in Auschwitz
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
I. Survival in Auschwitz is the unique autobiographical account of how a young man endured the atrocities of a Nazi death camp and lived to tell the tale. Primo Levi, a 24-year-old Jewish chemist from Turin Italy, was captured by the fascist militia in December 1943 and deported to Camp Buna-Monowitz in Auschwitz.The trip by train took 4 long days in a jam-packed boxcar without food or water.Once there, interrogations by the SS of age and health determined life as a prisoner or untimely death.Levi along with hundreds of fellow Jews were stripped of their clothes, given rags to wear, had their heads shaved and were tattooed with a number on their left arm for life.The number would be their solitary identity; it told time of entrance into the camp, the nationality of the individual and was the only way one could get their daily food rations.
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In the camp, better known as the Lager, a man had to be cunning.He had to learn how to get extra soup and bread rations, avoidance of extremely hard labor whenever possible, and to never take your eyes off of your belongings or they would be stolen.It was as much survival of the smartest as it was survival of the fittest.It was every man for himself; you could not show pity on your fellow man, as it would lead to your own demise. Because of his background as a chemist, Levi was eventually assigned to work at the factory laboratory, which was a welcomed change from the hard labor he had been part of.During his time at the factory, Levi sustained an injury and was sent to the infirmary, better known as “Ka-Be”.It was either a place of refuge and rest, or a death sentence.Prisoners (haftlings) who recuperated went back to the Lager and those who didn’t were selected for the gas chamber.
Levi soon recovered and returned to what can only be described as hell. In August of ‘44, news traveled to the Buna yards that the allies had landed in Normandy, and the Russians were pushing towards Auschwitz.For a fleeting moment there was hope of rescue, but the bombardments would go on for months.In January ‘45, Primo Levi fell ill to Scarlet Fever and returned to the Ka-Be.During this time, the Russians were getting closer to the camp, and the Germans decided to evacuate.All healthy patients would join the other haftlings for the evacuation march.They were never to be seen again. Many of those left behind did not survive.
They would succumb to the starvation, frigid cold, or their particular affliction.On January 27, 1945, with the aid of the Russians, Primo Levi was one of twenty or so men to leave the camp alive.He attributes his survivalto sheer will, strength, intellect, but mostly luck.II. This book is an excellent example of how Hitler and the Nazi’s disregarded the idea of enlightenment.Chapter after chapter, Levi describes the inhumane actions of those who held them prisoners.
Their lives were lived to serve the needs of the camp and the Nazi’s. The Jewish haftlings were like robots; void of their own thoughts and feelings.They could not speak let alone share their opinions, and forget reasoning.Equality was not even in existence amongst prisoners.Non-Jewish criminals were at the top of the rung, then the non-Jewish politicals, and finally, the Jews.Orders were given to be followed, not questioned.
The ‘Weltanschauung’ of Adolph Hitler was evident throughout the book.The intimate detail, in which Levi describes the camp and the daily life of a man, was Hitler’s ideal of a near-perfect society.A civilization where the fittest survived and the strongest ruled.Use the Jews for economic gain until it was no longer an option, then death to them all.The life of a Jew in a concentration camp was what Hitler wanted not just for Germany, but worldwide.His goal of division of “We and They” was seen in the concentration camps, and felt by Primo Levi and all the other survivors and victims.
During Levi’s captivity, the Killing Machines had already been tested and were being refined with each use. Levi describes how “selections” could be made at any time, anywhere.From the hut in the early or late hours, during roll call, on the march to work, and especially in the infirmary.In the last chapter when the Germans were evacuating the camp with the healthy prisoners it was not stated where they were going.It is my impression they were headed.