The Drowned and the Saved, by Primo Levi

Powerful Essays
In looking back upon his experience in Auschwitz, Primo Levi wrote in 1988: ?It is naïve, absurd, and historically false to believe that an infernal system such as National Socialism (Nazism) sanctifies its victims. On the contrary, it degrades them, it makes them resemble itself.? (Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, 40). The victims of National Socialism in Levi?s book are clearly the Jewish Haftlings. Survival in Auschwitz, a book written by Levi after he was liberated from the camp, clearly makes a case that the majority of the Jews in the lager were stripped of their human dignity. The Jewish prisoners not only went through a physical hell, but they were psychologically driven under as well. Levi writes, ??the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts? We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death?? (Levi, 41). One would be hard pressed to find passages in Survival in Auschwitz that portray victims of the camp as being martyrs. The treatment of the Jews in the book explicitly spells out the dehumanization to which they were subjected. It is important to look at how the Jews were degraded in the camp, and then examine whether or not they came to embody National Socialism after this.

(It should be noted that when describing hardships of the concentration camps, understatements will inevitably be made. Levi puts it well when he says, ?We say ?hunger?, we say ?tiredness?, ?fear?, ?pain?, we say ?winter? and they are different things. They are free words, created and used by free men who lived in comfort and suffering in their homes. If the Lagers had lasted longer a new, harsh language would have been born; only this language could express what it means to toil the whole day?? (Levi, 123).)

Concentration camps, such as the one in which Levi lived, were tools of national socialist ideology. It further empowered the Nazi?s to treat the Jews as subhuman (an ?inferior race?). Within in a short time after arriving at the camp, men were stripped of everything they had known throughout life. Families were immediately separated after the transport trains were unloaded, dividing the ?healthy? from the ?ill?. Levi learns that he is now called a ?Haftling? and is given a number (174517), which is tattooed on his forearm, replacing his actual name. ?The whole process of introduction to what was f...

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...talks of exchanging stories with other fellow Haftlings. He says, ?We tell them to each other in the evening?and they are simple and incomprehensible like the stories in the Bible. But are they not themselves stories of a new Bible?? (Levi, 66). However, talk such as this doesn?t really appear anywhere else in the book, which leads the reader to believe that this is not a message intended to be emphasized by the author. Also Levi writes this: ?Today I think that if for no other reason than that of an Auschwitz existed, no one in our age should speak of Providence? (Levi, 158). Levi also becomes angry at a fellow Haftling when he thanks God for sparing him from the ?selection?, and another Haftling right next to him is doomed to go to the gas chamber the very next day. It is clear that Levi?s belief in God?s intervention in the lives of individuals has been greatly shaped by his experience.

Work Cited Primo Levi, " The Drowned and the Saved"
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