Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
A Touchstone Book
Published by Simon & Schuster
Impact: We'll see.
Read it Again: I dunno.
Recommend It: Yes.
Recommend It: Yes.
What to Expect
Primo Levi spent one year in the death camps of Auschwitz. He is an Jewish Italian who was capture after joining the Resistance in 1943.
This is his first book, a memoir of that year.
(As expected, this book does have some nasty bits, but over all is very tastefully written.)
Although not as lyrical as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi is a very gifted writer. His book is disturbing, hopeful, and heart breaking.
He gives more of a big picture than other accounts I have read. It was eye opening. You get a much better idea about life for everyone, the confusion of languages, the bartering, etc...
He uses a disturbing amount of colons and writes in present tense erratically. But neither bothered me too much since it did have to survive translation and the present tense was powerful even when mixed with past. It was a good tool for a memoir like this.
From the Book..and more obtrusive squibbing
One interesting thing was his talk about identity. I love it when I'm reading more then one book at the same time and things start to line up. I've been going through Leithart's book on 1 & 2 Kings and he happened to be talking about identity too.
Here's part of what Levi said...
"Imagine now a man who is depraved of everyone he loves, and at the same time his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses: he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself. He will be a man whose life or death can be lightly decided with no sense of human affinity, in the most fortunate of cases, on the basis of a pure judgement of utility. It is in this way that one can understand the double sense of the term 'extermination camp', and it is now clear what we seek to express with the phrase: 'to lie on the bottom.'"
Here's part of what Leithart said...
"Some goods, Augustine argues, are such that they can be possessed only when they are given away; they can be possessed rightly and truly only in dispossession, only in recognizing that the self must be centered in God. The self is among these goods. First Kings 11 suggests a similar anthropology: Solomon is himself not in himself but in relation to his Lord, Yahweh, and when he departs from Yahweh he becomes a different Solomon."
So, that doesn't really give all of what Leithart was saying...I didn't think you wanted me to post the whole chapter. ;-) But I'm hoping it gives the idea.
Obviously these are extremely different situations. Levi is talking about things I can not imagine. Leithart is talking about Solomon turning away. But it seems to me that they are both talking about the root of identity. The root of usness. It seems like "finding ourselves" is such a big deal, but we look in all the wrong places and put our assurance on all the wrong things. Don't know if I make sense, but it certainly made sense in my mind. ;-)
There so much puzzling about Jewish life. I think it's an interesting study. Levi is proud of being Jewish, but I can't remember a single mention of God or faith. Near the ending of the book he does mention Providence and luck numerous times and hoping from a miracle from the Bible. But no where does he mention faith or hope.
How could you go through what he went through and come out human without Christ?
Elie Wiesel's books talk about this more. He seems to understand Jesus is the answer to suffering. He is Hope. But Wiesel stays with Judaism. His books talk about his anger at God and later reconciliation, but Primo Levi does not mention anything in Survival of Auschwitz. It's almost more disturbing.
But I am rambling.
Here is another quote...
"We lay in a world of death and phantoms. The last trace of civilization had vanished around and inside of us. The work of the bestial degradation, began by the victorious Germans, had been carried to its conclusion by Germans in defeat."
Another sobering read, but I'm glad I read this book.
Thank you for reading,