Primo Levi's Survival In Auschwitz Essay

1638 words - 7 pages

Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz

Reading the novel Survival in Auschwitz by author Primo Levi leads one to wonder whether his survival is attributed to his indefinite will to survive or a very subservient streak of luck. Throughout the novel, he is time and again spared from the fate that supposedly lies ahead of all inhabitants of the death camp at Auschwitz. Whether it was falling ill at the most convenient times or coming in contact with prisoners who had a compassionate, albeit uncommon, disposition, it would seem as though the Gods were always smiling upon him. Although throughout the novel primo is characterized as a very willing and competent individual, one can not say that his personality or his training as a chemist were the sole factors of his survival. For the purposes of this essay, it is necessary to further address the possibility that maybe Primo Levi was just a lucky guy.

The very first lines of the novel support without a doubt the fact that even Levi (Häftlinge # 174517) himself is aware of the capacity that luck plays in his life. He begins the novel with the phrase “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average lifespan of the prisoners destined for elimi- nation” (Levi 9). So, had he been captured prior to 1944, his story might not have been told. Seeing as life in Monowitz (aka Buna or the Läger) was particularly brutal upon his arrival, one can only imagine the conditions that existed before the Nazi war machine experienced its labor shortage.

When compelled to consider the conditions in which Levi was forced to live, it is clear to see that the will to survive must be complemented by another factor, as this will alone is not at all strong enough to sustain life. Not only are the authority figures brutish and sadistic, but the code among the prisoners themselves is even more cutthroat. In addition, the “cuisine” is terrible and is summed up in the following passage: “...every two or three hours we have to get up to discharge ourselves of the great dose of water which during the day we are forced to absorb in the form of soup in order to satisfy our hunger…” (Levi 61). Furthermore, the camp is arranged in a hierarchical system with each group of prisoners having corresponding identification numbers tattooed on their arms, (ex. Numbers 174,000 represented the Italian Jews) which further exacerbated the tension and contempt already manifested among the prisoners. On top were the SS men, who were superior supervisors of the various camps; next in line were the kapos who were trustee inmates who supervised the prisoners; under them were the Aryan German criminals and political dissidents; underneath the pure-blooded germans were the Prominenz—which was a unique group of people. “It was the name given to camp officials from the Häftling-director to the Kapos, to the...

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