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Primo Levi's Survival In Auschwitz

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Reading the novel Survival in Auschwitz by author Primo Levi leads one to wonder whether his survival is attributed to his indefinite will to survive or a very subservient streak of luck. Throughout the novel, he is time and again spared from the fate that supposedly lies ahead of all inhabitants of the death camp at Auschwitz. Whether it was falling ill at the most convenient times or coming in contact with prisoners who had a compassionate, albeit uncommon, disposition, it would seem as though the Gods were always smiling upon him. Although throughout the novel primo is characterized as a very willing ands competent individual, one can not say that his personality or his training as a chemist were the sole factors of his survival. For the purposes of this essay, it is necessary to further address the possibility that maybe Primo Levi was just a lucky guy.

The very first lines of the novel support without a doubt the fact that even Levi (HÐ"¤ftlinge # 174517) himself is aware of the capacity that luck plays in his life. He begins the novel with the phrase "It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average lifespan of the prisoners destined for elimi- nation" (Levi 9). So, had he been captured prior to 1944, his story might not have been told. Seeing as life in Monowitz (aka Buna or the LÐ"¤ger) was particularly brutal upon his arrival, one can only imagine the conditions that existed before the Nazi war machine experienced its labor shortage.

When compelled to consider the conditions in which Levi was forced to live, it is clear to see that the will to survive must be complemented by another factor, as this will alone is not at all strong enough to sustain life. Not only are the authority figures brutish and sadistic, but the code among the prisoners themselves is even more cutthroat. In addition, the "cuisine" is terrible and is summed up in the following passage: "...every two or three hours we have to get up to discharge ourselves of the great dose of water which during the day we are forced to absorb in the form of soup in order to satisfy our hungerÐ'..." (Levi 61). Furthermore, the camp is arranged in a hierarchical system with each group of prisoners having corresponding identification numbers tattooed on their arms, (ex. Numbers 174,000 represented the Italian Jews) which further exacerbated the tension and contempt already manifested among the prisoners. On top were the SS men, who were superior supervisors of the various camps; next in line were the kapos who were trustee inmates who supervised the prisoners; under them were the Aryan German criminals and political dissidents; underneath the pure-blooded germans were the ProminenzÐ'--which was a unique group of people. "It was the name given to camp officials from the HÐ"¤ftling-director to the Kapos, to the cooks, the nurses, the night-guards, even to the hut sweepers" (Levi 90). Included in this group were also some fort- unate Jewish prisoners, which Levi believes to be an anomaly. Levi writes "Ð'...if one offers a position of privilege to a few individuals in a state of slavery, exacting in ex- change the betrayal of a natural solidarity with their comrades, there will certainly be someone who will accept" (Levi 91). Levi believed that when given command of his peers, the Jewish prominent will almost always abuse his power in order to display com- petency for the position as well as unload their hatred for their oppressors onto their sub- jects. Finally, the disoriented mass of religious Jews were on the bottom. They were from various regions throughout Europe includingÐ'--but not limited toÐ'--Italy, France, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, Greece, Russia, etc.

Although Levi was never chosen to be a "prominenten", this did not matter as his training as a chemist turned out to be his liberating factor. He was one of three Jewish inmates chosen to work in a chemistry laboratory in the camp. Again Levi refers to his "luck" when he writes "So it would seem that fate Ð'...has arranged that we three Ð'...suffer neither hunger nor cold this winter" (Levi 140). One must say that to be chosen as one of the three men, out of the 10,000 which comprised the LÐ"¤ger, can only be attributed to luck. In addition to his envied position in the LÐ"¤ger, his background as a chemist also proved vital when the prisoners had to fend for themselves after the germans abandoned the camp due to the encroachment of the Russian army. Since all municipal provisions were deserted as a result of the hasty departure of the Germans, it was Levi who was able to light the stove using flints stolen from the laboratory. This in turn enabled them to melt snow for water and cook the potatoes and cabbage that they were able to salvage. It was also Levi who used an abandoned battery from the lorry to finally provide light in their room.

Furthermore, Levi's luck also appeared to be beneficial in that it allowed him to make the acquaintance of inmates who appeared to be just as honest and forthcoming as him. Although Levi's relationships with his comrades were always respectful and genuine, at times he appears to be emotionally removed from them. Aside from Alberto, who was Levi's best friend from Turin, Levi came in contact with many men whose selflessness was by no means deterred by their degrading situation. Among the "compatriots" that stick out to Levi is Jean who was an Alsatian student. Jean was given the post of "Pikolo" which was a



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