Born in 1919 in Turin, Primo Levi was captured on December 1943 by the Italian fascist militia, delivered near Modena to the Nazi regime in January 1944 and from there promptly hoarded by cargo train to Auschwitz. He survived.
His book “If this is a man” is a first person narration of his capture and year in the Monowitz (near Auschwitz) concentration camp. He does not only convey the facts of his depressing timeline but also his state of mind and thoughts; from the initial fatality of knowing his sure death, through the stupor of falling deeper and deeper beyond inhumanity, to themes in the life—if life is not a too generous term—of a jew in a Nazi concentration camp.
Hence the lector is taken through that slide down the depth of humankind, and down to the bottom, and yet another bottom, around the themes of work, illness, food, hopelessness, the thin line between life and death. Through Levi’s eyes, one can figure out the system behind and beyond his story. A system designed for one purpose: the destruction of people. Of a particular part of humankind. A system we all, for our sanity, want to deny it ever existed, and it could ever exist.
The macabre design of an economic system within those camps, where faucets be new prisoners and sinks be “selections”, cold, and hunger-by-design. With a stock exchange (a stolen screwdriver during the day at work could mean a week of food), currency standards (a loaf of grey bread), and the undeniable certainty, that who did not engage in this forbidden-but-encouraged economical activity, would die after three months. Systematically precisely three months.
The arrival of the winter 1944, on that morning of October, when “winter” become another meaning beyond that what the free people can imagine. When movements must be carefully and precisely executed so that the contact of the body with the wet linen of the jacket is minimised to not lose that last bit of body warmth and keep alive, one week longer.
The magnitude of evil is so difficult to comprehend, that one can only recall these words and reflect. And never forget.
“But I say that even as the holy
and the righteous cannot rise
beyond the highest which
is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak
cannot fall lower than the lowest
which is in you also.”