The Ways In Which The Häftlinge In Primo Levi's 'if This Is A Man' And Zeks In Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 'ivan Denisovich' Overcome The Dehumanisation Through The Formation Of Friendships

1511 words - 6 pages

Both 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and 'If This is a Man' by Primo Levi are books written about one of the most horrific features of the twentieth century - forced labour camps. Although the authors describe different types of camps with different regimes, their stories are very similar in one aspect. Both of them write about the degradation of the human soul as a result of the harsh conditions in the camp. However, despite cold, hunger, humiliating treatment, and omnipresent fear of death, some prisoners in both narratives, in particular the heroes of each, managed to maintain their humanity, largely through the formation of either genuine friendships or pragmatic alliances. Still, Häftlinge in the Nazi concentration camp are more devastated by the system than zeks in the Gulag camp, because, although all had to endure forced labour in both camps, the Gulag was established with the purpose of obtaining a free labour force, while the German concentration camps were death camps, from which there was meant to be no escape or return. Knowledge of this fact led Häftlinge to give up on life and hope, and this often made them heartless towards others. Therefore, judging from Levi's and Solzhenitsyn's accounts, friendship in Auschwitz was a rarity, while in the Gulag amity was usual.The human soul's inseparability from physical sufferings of the body can lead to the destruction of an individual's humanity. In both the Gulag camp described in 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' and the Nazi Lager portrayed in 'If This is a Man' detainees undergo systematically cruel and brutal treatment. They suffer from hunger, lack of sleep, exposure, exhaustion, and above all, deprivation of human rights. Nevertheless, in the worst sufferings there could often be a supporting word or action from a friend. This becomes most evident in the description of working a day in both books. Although during the working day there was material motivation for helping others - namely a bigger ration of soup or bread: "Either everybody gets a bonus or else they die all together." (Solzhenitsyn, p. 53) - prisoners aided each other also out of moral duty, hence keeping their humanity. Thus, Primo Levi portrays a man called Resnyk, who, unlike himself, is a strong and robust person. Resnyk could easily choose another strong person to work with, yet, out of compassion and friendliness, decides to do the shift with weak and helpless Levi. Resnyk goes even further, he "lifts up the sleeper by himself and rests it on my (Levi's) shoulder with care;" (Levi, p. 77), restoring Primo Levi's faith that humanity can survive even in the cruel world of the Lager. Yet, in the German concentration camp support from another person is an exception, as even the prisoners who manage to keep their humanity, like Levi himself, struggle desperately to survive and therefore cannot facilitate others.On the other hand, in Solzhenitsy's Gulag, helping each...

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