After reading Survival in Auschwitz for a second time, I have to say this is one of the best texts we’ve read all year. It’s the only true work of non-fiction (Columbus you were lieing through your teeth!) we’ve read throughout this entire course, and it makes me incredibly disappointed. This retelling made me remember how vivid and encapsulating true stories can be, and how it can makes events that occurred in our real world so physically real. Through Levi, I can it least be given a portion of the experiences of the grottoes of the German concentration camps, and the embodiments of the men running them. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to the experience of time travel. Arts 1 needs more non-fiction, and from a first-hand telling!
Enough of that, the first idea that comes to mind is the title: Survival in Auschwitz. This title is far too literal to only the context of the story, not the brilliant telling or insight that Levi gives us. Some of his sentences really make me stop for a moment and think hard. Many of them come passing through my mind days later. The Italian Jew’s life in the Polish ghettos give him an experience and perspective that most men couldn’t gain within a lifetime, and he gives such strong resonance to his readers. Blame this incorrect cover on American publishers for trying to make such a compelling tale’s title another alteration based on commercial appeal. Levi’s real title from its Italian print is “Se questo è un uomo or in english “Is this a Man?”, which resembles and signifies his struggles and consistent emasculation throughout the text to a infinitely greater extent. What have the German people made him, what have they distorted his self-reflection to?
The most interesting aspect of the story is it’s lack of linear format. Within the center bulk of the autobiographical recount, all events lack firm dates, in fact Primo openly states that majority of the events told are in no particular order. The reasoning behind this has to be that Levi cannot recall which events happened in which order. The labors done each day is endless, and lacks difference or significance of the days before. Almost everyday is relentlessly replayed and painfully similar to the ones preceding it. Levi openly reminisces that the following days are nothing to look forward to, he’s trapped in an endless loop of torture! And we the readers are given a false and bias perspective upon reading his account. We know he enters Monowitz in the starting months of 1944, less than a year before the Soviets would invade the heartland of Poland. Thus he only needs to survive eleven months of the death camp to survive, but he certainly doesn’t get this blessing of foresight. Within those camps who knew how long it would be until the war ended? Remember when George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan in 2001? I do, I remember televised he said they’d be out of there within months. Look where the troops are still stationed eleven years later! It’s only within the final 30 pages that we see any signs of the Red Army’s approach, but even then who says Levi will survive the labor in the Winter’s cold, or that he won’t be chosen for the furnaces? Who says that even days before the Soviets arrive he won’t be forced to walk the infamous death marches? The eleven months he spent there toiling in the dirt, crushing his back and starving day to day without any clear light to the end of his pitch-black tunnel is the worst kind of torture I could ever imagine. This man is our modern Dante, he’s been through the Seven Rings of Hell and back.