“Survival in Auschwitz” by Primo Levi

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Primo Levi was captured shortly after joining a small group of anti-Fascist partisans who were hiding in the forests of Italy. He was then sent to prison in Italy by the Fascists in 1943, then after a short period, all the prisoners captured by the Italian Jews were moved to Auschwitz concentration camp making their lives more miserable. For instance, Levi and other prisoners were brutally forced to do hard jobs in the detention camp. Moreover, he was performing tasks that were not even in his area of specialization of an educated chemist. Nonetheless, Levi survived all these problems of starvation, diseases, bone-numbing cold, and others. Nazis neglected the camp in 1945 due to constant bombing of the camp by the Soviet Union army. Also, Nazis took healthy prisoners with them while the sick ones were left to die in the camp. Levi was sick then so he was left behind in the camp with other prisoners as he was suffering from scarlet fever. The prisoners that were left behind took ten days before the Soviet army rescued them after a lot of suffering in the cold and dead bodies increasing as the conditions kept on becoming bad.

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The survival at Auschwitz needs exclusion of human dignity and self-respect as the act of continuous acts that are inhuman makes to lose the respect for other people’s lives but look for ways for their survival (Levi, 45). The kind of injustices that they went through made them look for surviving tactics by not being able to separate between what’s right and wrong since what mattered to them is how to survive.

Retaining mental stability was difficult in the camp since they were facing a sense of hopelessness and certain death is what was waiting for the prisoners. Moreover, in the camp, they were not only subjected to physical torture but also mental torture as suffering became the order of the day (Levi, 59). Concentrating too much on the injustices at the camp was pointless as the only thing one needed was to adapt to the problems that they were facing to survive the horrific incidences in camp. The camp was like a warehouse for keeping people as slaves for torturing and also given the worst treatment.

Levi (67) argued that for any individual held in the camp to retain their normal mental conditions one needed a distractor or distracting situation. Moreover, to hide and forget the suffering that they were going through as without that one will be dead mentally in the camp. Also, dwelling so much on the problems that they were going through like hunger, physical assaults, and other injustices will only lead one to continued mental torture. Nonetheless, to avoid this one would give themselves little hope of survival as they had survived the cold during winter made them retain their mental condition with hopes of having a better future. Moreover, their main problem was now hunger as the cold was over and they held little hope of surviving all these problems even though the chances were minimal.

The prisoners developed resistance for the cold that was biting them all through the winter by developing the distracting features. They were able to distract themselves cold, hunger and physical beating that in the Lager. They developed this trait by majoring in the material care with the hope that conditions will improve (Levi, 60). The prisoners were able to withstand their suffering by forgetting their problems this made them ease the severe problems that they were undergoing with the long for justice for them in the future.

The book talks about a story of a man by the name Elias who developed surviving tactics by becoming mad to adapt to the system and do not end up losing his mind (Peter, 84). Moreover, madness made him work without complaining hence he was able to survive for long without being affected by neither hunger nor the hard tasks that they do. Elias does not quest for justice hence work without any lamentation hence made him not to deteriorate mentally. For one to survive in Auschwitz one need to adapt mentally to the harsh conditions thereby able to survive the hunger, disease, and the coldness that was much in the area.

For any individual to survive physical assaults in Auschwitz done to them through forced labor and physical beatings and other horrific conditions one needs to adapt to this injustices by making them motivating factor (Freud, 24). By making these negative conditions positive one will not complain about them but focus on how to survive as they quest for justice to prevail for them. Even if the situation worsens, one should remain focused in order not to be distracted by the suffering but motivated by them to overcome them. In becoming resistant to these problems, one needs to be blind to assume that they do not see any of the physical assault like beatings when carrying the load.

Life in the camp was difficult, and for any individual to survive, one must forget about the human rights and their existence. The kind of sleep that the prisoners had did not go according to Levi as they were sleeping on the wood hedge without moving a single inch to prevent problems from the neighbors in the Lager. Since if one laments the suffering they were going through could only worsen the situation, however, the prisoners needed a motivating factor by being resistant to the challenges that they were going through and adapt to them positively to survive (Peter, 84). The Lager society does not care about the human morality therefore for one to survive one needs to embrace each other’s social and behavioral needs. For instance, Levi says that thousands of people are locked in a camp fenced by barbed wire, and they have varying ages, language, culture, and customs. Also, they live a controlled life regularly and fewer survival conditions. To survive one needs to know what is important and advantageous.

In relevance to human suffering, Sigmund Freud works on Civilization, and its Discontents provides an appropriate reference. The book Civilization and its Discontents is influential as presents tension between individual and civilization (Peter, 83). The book dwells on the conflict of the individual’s desire to live or wish to die. In his belief, a successful psychoanalytic treatment would lead to decreased suffering. The psychoanalytic treatment would as well provide individuals with tools to overcome pain. Initially, his work aimed to come up with a mind theory that was broad enough to cater for the fluctuations of human pain and suffering. In this regard, individuals are hardwired to avoid pain and to pursue pleasure. The theory majors on an instinctual drive that is essential for motivation and pain immunity.

According to Freud (23), the theory works by discharging the instincts into the environment. The instincts there after going against societal expectations while maximizing pleasure and suppressing antisocial underpinnings. Freud states that bringing repressed into consciousness is important in classical psychoanalytic treatment. Regarding human nature, the minimization of suffering is through by making the repressed conscious. However, it must be well timed and accurate. I must as well note that suffering is unavoidable completely.

The suffering experienced in the book exceptional in normal scenarios. It is, however, a fact because there were survivors who lived to record the happenings. There is then the question of they managed to overcome the extreme life conditions they underwent in the abandoned camp. According to the explanation of Freud concerning suffering, brain played a big role in ensuring they survived. Owing to the point that the survivors had reached an extent that they could somehow wish for their death. Elias is seen to turn mad to survive harsh living condition is proof that if the brain is tuned to focus on the pleasure instead of the suffering one can overcome suffering. Freud explains this by arguing that to overcome human suffering, one has to send positive instincts about life to his environment. The instincts will help in coming up with survival mechanisms that will then be applied in life aspects to ensure one survives harsh environmental conditions.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund, civilization, and its discontents (2016) Dover thrift editions

Levi, Primo, and S. J. Woolf. Survival in Auschwitz: If This Is a Man / Primo Levi; Translated from the Italian by Stuart Woolf. New York: Orion Press; [s.l.]: BN Pub., c2008., 2008.

Levi, Primo, Survival in Auschwitz (1996) touchstone editions

Peter L, Kraus. “”The Issue of Survival and the Human Condition in Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz as Interpreted through the Oxford English Dictionary.”” Journal of Arts and Humanities, Vol 6, Iss 3, Pp 83-85 (2017), no. 3, 2017, p. 83.

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"Survival in Auschwitz" by Primo Levi. (2018, Dec 29). Retrieved December 1, 2022 , from
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