Survival in Auschwitz

Survival in Auschwitz

In the History of the world there have
been few incidences of atrocities that equal the treatment of the Jews
in Europe during World War II. It is difficult to accept the
levels of systematic cruelty and terror experienced during this period.

In the book Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi paints a picture with disturbing
detail that is meant to serve as a reminder of the unimaginable horrors
millions of men, women and children were forcefully subjected to as a result
of hate.

As a Jew, Levi knew he was in danger while
living in fascist Northern Italy. By 1943, the Nazis had moved south
and set up holding camps around Italy to detain political prisoners and
those of the Jewish nationality until they could be transported to established
concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau. This book depicts what
happened to Levi after his arrest in 1944. Along with 650 others,
he was loaded into a freight train for a four day journey without food
or water and without the liberty to leave the train at anytime. Upon
their arrival at the camp of Auschwitz, Poland, the first of a precession
of selections took place. The German SS Soldiers separated those
they deemed capable of work from those they deemed incapable, such as women,
children and elderly. Only 135 of the 650 from Leviís train were admitted
into Auschwitz, the other 515 went immediately to the gas chambers. These
methods of selection were to a degree, a logical means as compared to other
random selections. "Later, a simpler method was adopted that involved merely
opening both doors on the train. Without warning or instruction
to the new arrivals, those who by chance climbed down on one side of the
convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber."(20)

He was herded with the others into the
camp and after being striped naked and having his head shaved, he was given
an old striped uniform and the identification numbers 174517 tattooed on
his arm. Levi recalled with remarkable accuracy the humiliation and confusion
felt as he was forced to assimilate into his new surroundings. The
food rations were too insufficient to stave off the hunger. Thousands
of others around him were suffering and unavoidably dying as a result of
this insufficient food supply. Although he was new to the camp, his
experiences with others and his own observations told him that the Germans
militant nature was at its worst. In order to outlive the war and
survive, he found ways to maintain the illusion of usefulness with the
least possible exertion. Any protest or disobedience from prisoners ended
swiftly with beatings and death.

An iron sign above the front gates proclaimed
the camp slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei". This translated to; "work gives
you freedom. " Prisoners of Auschwitz were forced to work seven days a
week with two Sundays off a month which were filled with tedious, exhausting
tasks and were often the only opportunity available was to attend to personal
hygiene needs. The bulk of their time was spent working 16-hour days in
factories and around the camp, making supplies for the war and other items
for the Germans. With little food and inadequate clothing, it was easy
to fall ill or die from exhaustion while working in the snow and rain.

Levi was lucky enough to be sent to (and return from) the Ka-be or the
infirmary to recover from an injury to his Achilles tendon. The Ka-be
was overcrowded, and was populated by individuals with deadly, communicable
diseases such as typhus and dysentery. There were no medicines available
to relieve the symptoms and the pain and suffering was widespread. Despite
this he was able to rest and build up some strength before returning back
to work. Much of the work assigned to them was needless. It
was given for the purpose of wearing down the prisoner and making him weaker.

A weak prisoner was less likely to protest or attempt to escape.

Levi described how many of the prisoners,
after long hours of manual labor, would gather in a corner of the camp
for a market. They would trade rations and stolen goods. Such
goods as a spoon or buttons were as valuable as gold. The market followed
all the classical economic laws. This seemed to show the ability of people
to live and think and work in the most adverse of conditions. Inside
the barbed wire, the prisoners had created their own social and economical
world in order to endure.

Primo Levi seems to write as