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Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Glimpse on Primo Levi's Book: Survival in Auschwitz

The term Holocaust refers to a completely burned offering of sacrifice. History records approximately eleven million men, women and children served as sacrificial offerings by the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party headed by Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. 

Primo Levi
Italian Jew survivor of the Holocaust

Numerous survivors of this German cruelty lived to tell their stories and first-hand experiences of what life in a concentration camp was like. An Italian Jew named Primo Levi was among those people who had been given a second chance to live a normal life when he was finally set free from being confined in the inferno-like Jewish concentration camp.

Primo Levi's Book

According to Levi, in his book Survival in Auschwitz, one must endure the physical hardships in order to stay alive inside the concentration camp. In a portion of his said book, he writes: 
"Today we have to unload an enormous, cast iron cylinder from the wagon... and will weigh several tons ...after fifty steps I am at the limit of what a person is theoretically able to support: my knees bend, my shoulder aches as if pressed in a vice, my equilibrium is in danger," 
The Holocaust was the Nazi’s organized method of eliminating Jews by murder. The said unlawful system was supported by the state and was in fact Adolf Hitler’s way of getting rid of people whom he considered to be political threats or whom he thought were racially inferior. 

Among the largest groups who suffered the German dictator’s cruelty through this method were the prisoners of war from the Soviet Union and Poland, the mentally and physically handicapped Germans, Gypsies, Communists, homosexuals, ministers and priests, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even labor union members.

The Nazi’s strong belief that only the Aryans were pure Germans made them deem other races as less superior. Their racial purity theory made them blame the Jews for Germany’s problems and treat them as well as the other non-Aryans with such intense aversion; making them appear and feel less human-like.

The Nazis took away the Jewish’s right to be free and live like normal human beings. The Jews were ordered to wear the Star of David which, that time, symbolized their inferiority. Their belongings and properties were taken away from them and they were forced by the Nazis to be confined in concentration camps, where many suffered from starvation and the over crowdedness caused various kinds of diseases. Many died long before the trucks were able to reach the camps; some were being shot along the way. 

The prisoners were marked by a tattooed number on their wrists; wiping away their identity. Levi, being a camp prisoner himself, described in his book how he, together with the others, was degraded by such act:

"For many days, while the habits of freedom still led me to look for the time on my wristwatch, my new name ironically appeared instead, a number tattooed in bluish characters under the skin, 

Historical statistics show the number of people who became victims of the so-called Final Solution, the policy of the Nazis which aimed to eliminate all the Jews in the entire Europe:
• Nearly two out of three Jews living in Europe were killed
• Some 200,000 Roma (Gypsies)
• At least 200,000 mentally or physically disabled patients, mainly Germans, living in an institutional setting were murdered in the so-called Euthanasia Program.
• Between two and three million Soviet prisoners of war were murdered or died of starvation, disease, neglect or maltreatment. 

Furnace in Krema II, Auschwitz

Historical accounts on the Holocaust point to one major reason why Hitler ordered anti-Semitism to officially become a policy of the German government, he was blaming the Jews for the early 1930’s German economic crisis and Germany’s defeat during the First World War. Many prohibitions deprived the Jews of living a normal life and these were proven by historical records. The restrictions that were applied to the Jews include the following:
• The German government made and implemented laws which defined the difference between a Jew and a Mischling or mixed blood, wherein the former having at least three grandparents who were Jewish, while the latter having only one.
• Sometime in the early part of the first quarter of 1933, the Germans, refused to patronize all business, particularly the stores which were owned by Jewish businessmen, in compliance with the law that was implemented by Hitler.
• Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jews.
• A law was set in which the Jewish citizenship were stripped from them.
• Jews were forbidden to use public facilities such as swimming pools and benches that were located in parks.
• Seizure of Jewish properties including their businesses.

Hitler wanted to have a Jew-free Germany, thus, these distinctions were done in order to drive the Jews out of the country. Unfortunately, the volume of Jewish people fleeing from Germany was too large to be accommodated by other countries, so these poor people did not have any other option but to stay and face the consequences of being what they were.

During Hitler’s regime, there were approximately six million Jews, along with Slavs – particularly Soviet leaders – and Gypsies, were exterminated by the Nazis. Some were shot, others were loaded into sealed vans where they were forced to inhale exhaust fumes while the vehicle was on the move and was heading for the pit where the bodies of the would-be-dead passengers would be piled up and burned; but most of them were placed on gas chambers, where Hitler’s elite party guards called Schutzstaffel, more commonly known as the SS were the ones who were performing a systematic destruction of approximately 2,000 people at one time, otherwise known as genocide.

The Holocaust may have long been over, but its victims, both living and dead continue to tell their stories through the diaries that they have written, the literary works that they made, and the people who witnessed their sufferings from what many people would consider a living hell.


Bachrach, Susan. “Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust”. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Little, Brown (1994).

Holocaust Photos. Shamash: The Jewish Network. Retrieved from

Levi, Primo. “Survival in Auschwitz”. New York: Touchstone Books (1996).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Holocaust”. Holocaust Encyclopedia. (5 May 2009).

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