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Bare Witness Essay

1737 words - 7 pages

Bearing witness

When we encounter a Holocaust survivor, a lot of questions come to our mind. We start to wonder how did they manage to survive. We tend to assume that once the Holocaust was over, survivors began to reestablish their lives and their pain disappeared. However, Holocaust survivors suffered, and even after 70 years after the liberation, Holocaust survivors still experience difficulties on their day-to-day basis. In the years followed the Holocaust they struggled with their painful memories while attempting to renew their lives, most of them in new countries. The Holocaust was one of the greatest massacres against humanity. As time goes by, the Holocaust survivors’ memories start to fade. The obligation to remember is engraved on every Holocaust memorial, but even words “Never Forget” become wearing eventually. With the fear of future generations forgetting the Holocaust, these survivors bare witness in many ways. One of the ways Holocaust survivors bare witness was by literature and education.

There have been literally thousands of books written on the experiences of the Holocaust, many of them from eyewitnesses and victims. Virtually all of the Holocaust literature is moving and important, for the Holocaust is one of the major definitive experiences of world history. Of all the works on the Holocaust, those by Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived the Holocaust, are amongst the most powerful. Primo Levi was born in Turin on July 13, 1919; he committed suicide, also in Turin, on April 11, 1987. The experiences of Jews in Fascist Italy were not immediately comparable to those of Nazi Germany. Levi suffered anti-Semitism at school, although again nothing compared to Nazi Germany. He was made fun of in school, but he was not brutally abused like the other Jews around Europe. Levi went to the University of Turin in 1939 and graduated as a chemist in 1941 and worked for a series of employers who were willing to ignore the race laws governing Jews in order to get the talents of a chemist.

Primo Levi wrote with understated passion and genuine anger and he challenges the idea of the “Final Solution” being either exclusively German or exclusively in the past; he claims, “It happened therefore it can happen again...it can happen, and it can happen everywhere.” Levi’s work is clear about the nature of the Holocaust and its importance as a warning against genocide and ethnic cleansing.

“Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last – the power to refuse our consent.” – Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz.

Just like Primo Levi, many Holocaust survivors wrote books...

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