Reading the firsthand accounts of a survivor of Auschwitz brings to light the facts of daily life in the concentration camps that a textbook never could. I like that the narrator starts his story at a refugee camp, instead of a ghetto where most holocaust stories start; it gives us a different perspective of someone entering Auschwitz in which they were not already subjected to complete oppression. Yes, he was still subjected to cruelty, but it was nowhere near as severe as those who were under the control of the Nazis already. This made his transfer to the concentration camp all the more jarring for him.
The mind games that the Nazis play on the prisoners was emphasized far more in this novel than the physical torment, which is another thing we don’t often hear about in textbooks. Primo Levi’s take on his story provides us with a view on this well-known history that we rarely hear, and I like that it is not just the same story of Nazis soldiers beating and starving prisoners and then leading them off to the gas chambers (Although, to be fair, all those stories are personal for each and are important to hear and know).
The sub stories Primo Levi tells about the people he met also bring a new outlook on the daily life in Auschwitz. It’s not just people from one group working in one area of the camp, people are split up and thrown together and language barriers are overcome even as they lose the ability to remember specific phrases in their languages. Primo Levi knew how to say words like “to eat, to work, and to die” but not how to address someone respectfully. This shows what was important to the prisoners, what was happening in their daily lives.
He focuses on the daily life he lived in Buna (a sub camp of Auschwitz); he talks about going to work, eating his midday “meal,” and going back to bed. He really doesn’t focus on the beatings and torment the Nazis soldiers carried out. He talks about the things they did to get out of work, the extra food they got for one day, the loss of humanity the prisoners experienced. Except for Lorenzo, which brought in a sense of peace in his story. Primo Levi writes that Lorenzo “was a man” where in others “humanity was buried. It amazes me that someone was able to be as kind as Lorenzo was surrounded by all that suffering.
Here is a picture of a cat: