This passage, which is taken from the closing pages of Primo Levi’s ‘If This Is A Man’, describes the final days in the concentration camp. To put it into context; the Germans, who were keen to save themselves, have abandoned Levi and the others, who are too ill to travel, to fend for themselves. Levi focuses on the irony of their situation; after suffering the horrors of the camp Levi and his fellow abandoned prisoners are finally free, but in reality they do not receive the benefits normally associated with freedom, they are in fact in many ways worse off than before. In this extract Levi highlights how despite the freezing conditions, there is a thaw in human relationships.
“I have a ration of bread under the sack. Divide it among you three. I shall not be eating anymore”
These are the first words of this passage, they are important because they clearly show that this man has been through countless horrific experiences, and as a result he has lost the will to live. He has accepted that death is around the corner, and so chooses to give up his ration of bread, to help his fellow prisoners. The act of kindness of giving up his bread, shows that these men are still able to be kind to one another, they still have their sense of decency. Which is rather a contrast to what has been seen by these men throughout the book and their time in the camp. It would have been expected that in their time spent being abused, they would have lost their ability to be kind. Instead there is evidence that the rules of the Lager, where every man is for himself, are no longer being adhered to, they have chosen to remain respectable men, by offering to help each other, and by not accepting the bread offered to them, shows that they still have the ability to be ‘polite’ and respect one another. It says that the men did not know what to say to the old man’s kind gesture of offering his bread, perhaps they did not know how to react to the mans acceptance of death.
“A harsh silence” is the phrase used to describe the atmosphere in the hut. Harsh is a good choice of word for it allows the overall scale of the silence to be pictured. It is a strong word, and gives the impression that the silence is almost piercing.
The harsh silence is soon broken by the old man, Somogyi, who gave up his ration of bread. He had become delirious, haunted by the very ideas of slavery, and having already accepted that death was approaching, his madness had driven him to repeating the word ‘Jawohl’ constantly, mechanically. He had become so accustomed to the ways of the Lager that when he finally reached madness, he was stripped of all that made him man, he was now just as good as a machine, a machine programmed by the laws and rules of the Lager. He accepted all that he had been through, and he was now awaiting death to take him. This way that Levi describes Somogyi’s madness is a good way of showing how man can change, and come to accept death when it approaches. It makes the reader...