Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor
Primo Levi, fully Primo Michele Levi
Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor
This is hell. Today, in our times, hell must be like this. A huge, empty room: we are tired, standing on our feet, with a tap which drips while we cannot drink the water, and we wait for something which will certainly be terrible, and nothing happens and nothing continues to happen.
Until one day there will be no more sense in saying: tomorrow.
We who survived the Camps are not true witnesses. This is an uncomfortable notion which I have gradually come to accept by reading what other survivors have written, including myself, when I re-read my writings after a lapse of years. We, the survivors, are not only a tiny but also an anomalous minority. We are those who, through prevarication, skill or luck, never touched bottom. Those who have, and who have seen the face of the Gorgon, did not return, or returned wordless.
Fear is supremely contagious, and its immediate reaction is to make one try to run away.
He was a bricklayer; for fifty years, in Italy, America, France, then again in Italy, and finally in Germany, he had laid bricks, and every brick had been cemented with curses. He cursed continuously, but not mechanically; he cursed with method and care, acrimoniously, pausing to find the right word, frequently correcting himself and losing his temper when unable to find the word he wanted; then he cursed the curse that would not come.
I read somewhere ? and the person who wrote this was not a mountaineer but a sailor ? that the sea?s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don?t know much about the sea, but I do know that that?s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.
In every part of the world, wherever you begin by denying the fundamental liberties of mankind, and equality among people, you move toward the concentration camp system, and it is a road on which it is difficult to halt.
It is the duty of righteous men to make war on all undeserved privilege, but one must not forget that this is a war without end.
Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.
Perhaps Kafka laughed when he told stories? because one isn't always equal to oneself.
The bond between a man and his profession is similar to that which ties him to his country; it is just as complex, often ambivalent, and in general it is understood completely only when it is broken: by exile or emigration in the case of one?s country, by retirement in the case of a trade or profession.
The truck went on its way in the night and Gedaleh shouted, laughing, If not this way, how? And if not now, when?
This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real. Everyone dreamed past and future dreams, of slavery and redemption, of improbable paradises, of equally mythical and improbable enemies; cosmic enemies, perverse and subtle, who pervade everything like the air.
We also have friends among the railroad men, and they tell us that so far the Germans of the garrison haven?t dared touch the pumpkins. They?ve blocked the line and have brought in a team of mine detectors from Cracow. They?re more worried about the pumpkins than about the car you stole.
For a country is considered the more civilized the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak or a powerful one too powerful.
He was a physicist, more precisely an astrophysicist, diligent and eager but without illusions: the Truth lay beyond, inaccessible to our telescopes, accessible to the initiates. This was a long road which he was traveling with effort, wonderment, and profound joy. Physics was prose: elegant gymnastics for the mind, mirror of Creation, the key to man's dominion over the planet; but what is the stature of Creation, of man and the planet? His road was long and he had barely started up it, but I was his disciple: did I want to follow him?
I thought a lot of foolish things, and some things I did not think sadly sensible.
In fact, we are the untouchables to the civilians. They think, more or less explicitly?with all the nuances lying between contempt and commiseration?that as we have been condemned to this life of ours, reduced to our condition, we must be tainted by some mysterious, grave sin. They hear us speak in many different languages, which they do not understand and which sound to them as grotesque as animal noises; they see us reduced to ignoble slavery, without hair, without honor and without names, beaten every day, more abject every day, and they never see in our eyes a light of rebellion, or of peace, or of faith. They know us as thieves and untrustworthy, muddy, ragged and starving, and mistaking the effect for the cause, they judge us worthy of our abasement.
It is this refrain that we hear repeated by everyone: you are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney. (What did it mean? Soon we were all to learn what it meant.)
My number is 174517; we have been baptized, we will carry the tattoo on our left arm until we die.
Perhaps memory is like a bucket; if you want to cram into it more fruit than it will hold, the fruit is crushed.
The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign.
The war, it is mainly a big confusion in the field and in people's heads: Often a person does not understand exactly who wins and who loses, about then decide generals and those who write the history books.
Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.
We are dissatisfied with our choices and what life has given us, but when we meet we experience both the curious and not unpleasant impression (there we repeatedly described each other) that a veil, a breath, a sudden die, we have diverted on two divergent roads that were not ours