A short analysis of Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz

Survival is considered one of the most powerful abilities of humanity. Whether it is jumping off a cliff to avoid a charging animal or simply taking a bit out of a sandwich for lunch, by any means we sustain ourselves. But what of when we face each other; does ones sole survival take precedence over the other? IS one will so strong as to overcome the will of the opposition? Primo Levi seems to answer these questions in his work and numerous more. His personal account was striking and absolutely fascinating to say the least. Images of horror and maddening sights that no sane man can overlook in silence. From the very first chapter of his account, Levi did not disappoint. His masterful combination of sentimentality and recognition of events served to move me every paragraph that passed. One quote I felt a blow to the heart with as it were was “Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable”. He then goes on to elaborate this idea and what factors oppose which generally include our very nature as human beings. Personally, Levi time and time again brought up perspectives and angles of the “Holocaust story” that I never truly ever gave much of a second thought. For example; as Levi describes the conditions of the prison blocks and how cleanliness within them was “practically pointless” but “necessary as an instrument of moral survival” he is capturing a mere glimpse of the will to sustain ones self and the persistence of ones humanity even in a place that denounces theirs. Numerous accounts exist of the prisoners of the death camps seeming to persist in many of the habits considered typically human such as washing, praying, and even despite the odds love and hope was even sustained. Levi’s accounts of the his prisoner friends and their role in his own survival pay testament to the fact that even a prisoner practically chosen for death with no true hope of escaping their predestined fate can still act and behave as a civilized human. Questions such as: Is it truly a waste of energy to wash? what significance does it truly have to us as humans? “Why should I was?”. Not a single moment in Levi’s book left me sure of the reality of his experience. Questions that seemed almost submerged below what I had come to see as common perspective came to new light. Levi being a chemist also spoke to my “inner-scientist” as it were. Which is to say that as I also pursue a career in science I find this story of survival to be that more closer to home. Also his ability to utilize this knowledge and experience to better his chances of survival was truly impressive to say the least. To say is his story is inspiring and even simply “a good book” would not even begin to cover the amount of power captured in every word and every metaphor. Levi’s survival as a human being gave to us a story that would encompass the suffering of a people. And even despite his agony and woe one could truly feel his humble nature. That no event that had befallen him was by any means more tragic than that of others whom he personally mentions we far less fortunate. This was also the first time I have ever read an account by a Italian Jew associated with the holocaust, which seemed to kick out the frame of simply an innocent eastern European or simply a Jew from Poland which seems to be the source of many stories but are far from the only ones.Levi himself and his work are both equally humbled as well as fascinating in thought and honest in experience.


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