Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor
Primo Levi, fully Primo Michele Levi
Italian Jewish Chemist, Writer and Holocaust Survivor
They are the typical product of the structure of the German Lager: if one offers a position of privilege to a few individuals in a state of slavery, exacting in exchange the betrayal of a natural solidarity with their comrades, there will certainly be someone who will accept. He will be withdrawn from the common law and will become untouchable; the more power that he is given, the more he will be consequently hateful and hated. When he is given the command of a group of unfortunates, with the right of life or death over them, he will be cruel and tyrannical, because he will understand that if he is not sufficiently so, someone else, judged more suitable, will take over his post. Moreover, his capacity for hatred, unfulfilled in the direction of the oppressors, will double back, beyond all reason, on the oppressed; and he will only be satisfied when he has unloaded onto his underlings the injury received from above.
Today the only thing left of the life of those days is what one needs to suffer hunger and cold; I am not even alive enough to know how to kill myself.
We the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared.
Even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last ? the power to refuse our consent.
He fights for his life but still remains everybody's friend. He knows whom to corrupt, whom to avoid, whose compassion to arouse, whom to resist.
I do not know what I will think tomorrow and later; today I feel no distinct emotion.
If you and your child were going to be killed tomorrow, would you not give him to eat today?
It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange, how in some way one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and it is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup, so that even today you find the strength to reach the evening. Or it is raining, windy and you have the usual hunger, and then you think that if you really had to, if you really felt nothing in your heart but suffering and tedium - as sometimes happens, when you really seem to lie on the bottom - well, even in that case, at any moment you want you could always go and touch the electric wire-fence, or throw yourself under the shunting trains, and then it would stop raining.
Logic and morality made it impossible to accept an illogical and immoral reality; they engendered a rejection of reality which as a rule led the cultivated man rapidly to despair. But the varieties of the man-animal are innumerable, and I saw and have described men of refined culture, especially if young, throw all this overboard, simplify and barbarize themselves, and survive. A simple man, accustomed not to ask questions of himself, was beyond the reach of the useless torment of asking himself why.
Our camp had taught insane proximity to danger and death risk visnem rope because we eat more, it seemed sensible, even obvious choice.
Strange, somehow you always have the impression of being lucky, that some circumstance, perhaps infinitesimal, we retain the brink and grant us to live.
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.
They sensed that what had happened around them and in their presence, and in them, was irrevocable. Never again could it be cleansed; it would prove that man, the human species - we, in short - had the potential to construct an enormity of pain, and that pain is the only force created from nothing, without cost and without effort. It is enough not to see, not to listen, not to act.
Today, I think that if for no other reason than that an Auschwitz existed, no one in our age should speak of Providence.
We too are so dazzled by power and money as to forget our essential fragility, forget that all of us our in the ghetto, that the ghetto is fenced in, that beyond the fence stands the lords of death, and not far away the train is waiting.
Everybody is somebody's Jew. And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis.
He never asked nor accepted any reward, because he was good and simple and did not think that one did good for a reward.
I felt a silent appreciation for lust. Of course, I'd tried, as you would not have tried ... In those days, in which quite fearlessly expecting death, fed my soul a breaking desire for everything to all kinds of human experiences cursed his previous life that I felt that I utilized the bad and insufficient, and I felt the time is poured between my fingers ran from my body minute by minute as bleeding that will not stop. I became a prospector and yet how, not to get rich, but to try this new skill to get back to land, air and water, of which I shared a wider every day abyss and to rediscover their profession a chemist in its proper, primary form, namely Scheidekunst, the art of ripping metal from rock ...
I'm a libertine, but it's not my specialty.
It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbor to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist.
Man is a centaur, a tangle of flesh and mind, divine inspiration and dust.
Our ignorance allowed us to live, as you are in the mountains, and your rope is frayed and about to break, but you don't know it and feel safe.
That precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last?the power to refuse our consent.
The soup-kitchen was behind the cathedral; it remained only to determine which, of the many and beautiful churches of Cracow, was the cathedral. Whom could one ask, and how? A priest walked by; I would ask the priest. Now the priest, young and of benign appearance, understood neither French nor German; as a result, for the first and only time in my post-scholastic career, I reaped the fruits of years of classical studies, carrying on the most extravagant and chaotic of conversations in Latin. After the initial request for information (Pater optime, ubi est menas pauperorum?), we began to speak confusedly of everything, of my being a Jew, of the Lager (castra? better: Lager, only too likely to be understood by everybody), of Italy, of the danger of speaking German in public (which I was to understand soon after, by direct experience), and of innumerable other things, to which the unusual dress of the language gave a curious air of the remotest past.
This cell belongs to a brain, and it is my brain, the brain of me who is writing; and the cell in question, and within it the atom in question, is in charge of my writing, in a gigantic minuscule game which nobody has yet described. It is that which at this instant, issuing out of a labyrinthine tangle of yeses and nos, makes my hand run along a certain path on the paper, mark it with these volutes that are signs: a double snap, up and down, between two levels of energy, guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.