Essay

Analysis of the Theme of Survival in Auschwitz

Essay title: Analysis of the Theme of Survival in Auschwitz

In Chapter 2, appropriately titled “On the Bottom”, Levi discusses his experience of being processed as a prisoner into Auschwitz and the realization that they will not be treated with any human regard. He and all the prisoners who arrive with him are stripped of everything they own and are shaved, disinfected, and tagged like they were livestock. Once the prisoners have been processed and they see what they have become, Levi describes the supreme indignation of their treatment as “the demolition of a man” and all realize that “It is not possible to sink lower than this, no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so” (26-27). All the Jewish prisoners of the camp have absolutely no rights and no possessions. Levi states, “Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand” (27). Indeed most of the prisoners speak little or no German, which makes it almost impossible to communicate with their Nazi masters. When each prisoner has a number tattooed on his arm, Levi realizes that the Nazis will even try to take away from him his former identity. For him to keep his name, he will need to find the strength to remember it, “to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were remains” (27). The initiation procedure into the camp removes all pretenses of hope and it is soon clear that they will only leave the camp through the crematorium chimney. As Levi states quite effectively, “We are slaves deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death…” (41).

Another element of life in the Lager, or death camp, that reinforced the dehumanizing aspect of camp life and the struggle for survival was the frequent and indiscriminate beatings the Jewish prisoners received. From the start of their journey to Auschwitz, Levi and the prisoners he accompanied received blows from the SS men, who struck them without any apparent anger, to Levi’s amazement (16). Most violations of the innumerable camp rules are punished with beatings from the SS guards, Kapos, or prominents. No explanations need to be given since “in this place everything is forbidden…because the camp has been created for that purpose” (29). The new arrivals to the camp know nothing of the rules and codes of conduct of camp life and are especially likely to be beaten. When Levi arrived at the camp he understood little of what people said and no one would explain anything to him. He illustrates this confused state of new arrivals when he says, “No one has time here, no one has patience, no one listens to you; we latest arrivals instinctively collect in the corners, against the walls afraid of being beaten” (38). Anyone with authority or social standing has the right to beat the “racially inferior” Jewish prisoners. In Chapter 6, Levi tells how Kapos, “beat us from pure bestiality and violence, but others beat us when we are under a load almost lovingly, accompanying the blows with exhortations, as cart-drivers do with willing horses” (67).

A further aspect of Survival in Auschwitz that reinforces the dehumanizing effect of the death camp on the Jewish prisoners is the constant presence of hunger and starvation among the prisoners. Food and its acquisition and consumption are a constant topic that Primo Levi discusses because it constantly occupied the minds of most prisoners. Levi states, “We have learnt the value of food; now we also diligently scrape the bottom of the bowl after the ration and we hold it under our chins when.