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“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi Essay (Book Review)


The banality of evil is directly related to Primo Levi’s narration. When the author describes in detail the horrors experienced in concentration camps, he questions the way people can delineate between right and wrong and between good and evil. He stresses that the desire to divide all people into two categories, which are “we” and “they”, pushes them to make wrongful judgments. Nevertheless, the real-life setting is more complex, and individuals wish to make it simpler by introducing such notions as “friend” and “enemy”. Notably, the author states that he can understand this intention but cannot justify the actual process of simplification.

To convey his testimony, Levi immerses the reader in the atmosphere of uncertainty. The author has a position of a narrator who provides descriptive utterances and enables the audience to make their judgments. Following this strategy, he makes the reader responsible for interpreting the text. For instance, in the chapter called “The Drowned and the Saved”, the author only describes the setting and does not allow making any particular conclusions about his position, and the reader has to interpret the events him or herself to be able to choose between two sides. This technique allows Levi to create a testimony that would connect the past with the present.

It can be assumed that the Lager can be turned into a learning experience. However, the essential condition for gaining this experience is to stay alive in this inhumane environment. Nonetheless, a person surviving the Lager can truly comprehend what it takes to be a human being and after which events a person can no longer be considered a human. Also, this experience should help answer the question about the efforts it takes to remain human in the most difficult conditions.

The purpose of providing the classification described in the chapter “The Saved and the Drowned” is to immerse the reader in the atmosphere, which has been established in the Lager and reflect on the way they would react if they found themselves in such a setting. It pushes the reader to dwell upon how they will act if they want to prolong their life. I believe that the two descriptions do not contradict each other. It has been done intentionally to make the audience contemplate whether they would survive if they were placed in the Lager.

It is difficult to say whether Levi identifies himself with the drowned or the saved. He mentions that his own identity has been ruined because of this devastating experience; nevertheless, he has been able to learn from it, and this extremely difficult period of his life has transformed his personality. Therefore, part of Levi belongs to the drowned and part of him – to the saved.

The author describes the peculiarities of other people, which have been manifested even in the most horrible settings to explain implicitly how human dignity is preserved in any environment. For instance:

  • “Henri, on the other hand, is eminently civilized and sane, and possesses a complete and organic theory on the ways to survive in Lager” (pg.113);
  • “Of his conquests, he speaks with educated modesty” (pg. 115).

Doctor Pannwitz is Levi’s Aryan counterpart. Their encounter occurred when Levi came to a physical examination (pg. 122). They started talking with the doctor, and it turned out that they shared similar backgrounds; however, Pannowitz was considered Aryan, and Levi was believed to be Jewish. At the end of their encounter, the doctor wiped his hand on Levi’s shoulder “without hatred” because it was dirty (pg. 125).

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 13). “Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/survival-in-auschwitz-by-primo-levi/

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"“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi." IvyPanda, 13 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/survival-in-auschwitz-by-primo-levi/.

1. IvyPanda. "“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/survival-in-auschwitz-by-primo-levi/.


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IvyPanda. "“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/survival-in-auschwitz-by-primo-levi/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi." September 13, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/survival-in-auschwitz-by-primo-levi/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi'. 13 September.

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