report on primo levi



His 113 – Final Paper on The Drowned and the Saved

I chose to use option one for the last writing assignment. I can understand
where some of Primo Levi’s ideas are coming from. It is hard to argue with
someone that actually lived through the terrible events in World War II and in
the concentration camps. There are some similarities between the death camps and
the ideas of a modern society, but there are also some differences. It appears
to me that the Nazis tried to use and portray enlightenment ideas to justify
their actions. The Nazis also succeeded in using their prisoners against each
other so that they did not have to the dirty work themselves.

I agree with Levi in the sense that horrible situations can make good people
do horrible things. This idea was shown every time that someone was beaten,
killed or starved in the concentration camps. In many cases people that suffered
the same misfortune at the beginning were abusing the other Jews that came into
the camp. If the prisoners were able to live long enough and help out the Nazis
they were able to achieve a higher social status or privilege within the
concentration camp universe.

The “gray zone” is a good example of how people’s minds can be beaten
down and corrupted when they are suffering severely. Someone living in the
United States during present times could very easily criticize the prisoners who
were helping run the camps for their actions. Obviously there was anger in the
senior prisoners, but I don’t think that is the reason they were mean to the
new arrivals. The guards had been in the camps long enough to figure out how to
survive and knew that the easiest way to get yourself killed was to show that
you had your own will. Prisoners that acted like they had been beaten and were
willing to do what the SS wanted actually had a chance to survive. In a subtle
way the camp guards were trying to break the spirit of the new arrivals to show
them how to stay alive and that they needed to look out for themselves.

Many of the brutal prisoners that managed to survive to the end of the war,
as time progressed after the war, had less recollection of the hardships that
they caused for the other prisoners. Some of the SS guards who were people with
a conscience suffered from the same suppression of memory. Primo Levi talks, in
his book, about human memory and what effects the events that are retained in a
person’s memory. This definitely worked to the advantage of the Nazis in World
War II. Traumatic events sometimes cause a person to block out unpleasant parts
of a memory. The events in the concentration camps were made so horrible that
many people had a tendency to forget the details. For this reason, I believe
that this type of war could definitely happen again. I do think the chances of
it happening again are very slim and that in today’s society as a whole people
are more educated and reminded of what really happened. People need to be
reminded continuously so that they are not subject to the same manipulation that
happened to the Germans in World War II. One difference between then and now is,
in general, people in the more powerful nations of the world are more educated.
That is one reason why the possibility of such horrible events happening again
would not be probable.

The Nazis were able to make Germans of all types believe that killing people
was the only way to change Germany and the world. By shipping out all the Jews
to Poland and getting them off of German soil citizens of Germany were kept from
seeing the horrible things that were happening to the Jews. Although everyone
must have known what was going on, the atrocities were out of sight and out of
mind. The German citizens were able to buy cheap houses and businesses that were
owned by the victims of the death camps. Since the pure blooded German people
were able to benefit, they were willing to accept the idea of the Jews being
deported. The Nazis were able to keep uprisings to a minimal level because the
killing was concentrated to the camps. The camps were even kept separate from
each other so their massive scale was not as apparent.

Hitler began the war by selling the idea that he was creating the perfect
race. That is one way in