Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review : If This Is A Man - Primo Levi 10*



Primo Levi was a resistance fighter in World War 2, Italian, and Jewish. When he was captured by the fascists the Italian forces handed him and his comrades to the Nazis, they were then shipped to Auschwitz. Of the 650 Italian Jews brought in on Levi's train, only 20 were to survive.

Levi's story is harrowing in the extreme, he spares nothing in his descriptions of the horrors and privations endured by the inmates of the work camp. Levi's work isn't just an autobiographical statement of his recollections, it is a serious contemplation of the nature of mankind under the most extreme duress. The first and foremost thought in every inmate's deed and action is only to survive, and although Levi writes...

[that] "precisely because the camp was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that, if we want to survive, then it's important that we strive to preserve at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the external shape of civilization."

...it is apparent that only survival is possible, desperate survival from day to day, to be achieved by stealth, becoming invisible or important, by theft from your fellow inmates, by theft from the system. In a place where there is no possible chance of the renunciation of your 'crimes' or any possibility of hope, where man has all desires and dreams extinguished except that of simply staying alive for another day, there you will find what you are willing to do just to live.

Primo Levi's writing is intelligent and thoughtful, if applied to a subject other than the death camps, it would be beautiful, here it serves as a juxtaposition in itself, highlighting the deliberate evil without having to constantly state it.

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.

69 of 1001.

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