Survival In Auschwitz: Is This a Man by Primo Levi

At first glance: Having read Night by Elie Wiesel, I expected to find more of a personal, heartfelt account of Primo Levi’s experience in Auschwitz. But to my surprise, Levi’s account seemed more removed and utilized language that I can only describe as “uppity”. With this in mind, I thought that Levi’s apparent detached language allowed the reader to empathize and vicariously endure the suffering Levi experienced through his depictions of the torturous train ride to Auschwitz and his painful ordeals as he performed heavy labor on German projects. I also noticed that Levi primarily uses the words “we” and “our” as opposed to “I”. I also think this helped Levi force the reader to empathize and experience the suffering of victims and survivors of the Holocaust

Levi’s writing has a tendency to make me laugh, particularly when I read his asides. I assume it’s an attempt to bring light to such a difficult story to write and it definitely made the work more enjoyable, but I also felt weird doing it. Maybe that was intentional.

Interesting factoid that I discovered while reading Primo Levi’s account was the rich bartering market present in Auschwitz. Levi dedicates a good portion of a chapter to explain this market and I thought that it was fascinating to read about the creation of a bartering market even when the prison conditions were designed to make the prisoners, especially Jews, behave as animals without a concept of structure. Hell, it might even be a nice research topic for my final paper.

I was not sure if I agreed with Levi’s assertion in the Drowned and the Saved chapter that all or most of the victims of the Holocaust who survived only three months died because they decided to accept their fate. I felt as though the only purpose of this chapter was to stave off any criticism of Levi from the reader about his taking of a chemist’s position in Auschwitz in which he was sheltered from the cold, torturous life of a prison laborer. I felt that Levi would have better served himself had he just left that chapter out altogether and stood firm about his decision. I think that would have made him a more likable narrator.

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