Survival in Auschwitz | Study Guide

Primo Levi

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Survival in Auschwitz | Author's Preface | Summary

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Summary

Primo Levi notes that it was his "good fortune" to be deported in 1944, after the decision was made to "lengthen the average lifespan of the prisoners." He writes that his account does not add to what is known of the camps, but to "formulate new accusations." Specifically, he states that many people and nations believe "every stranger is an enemy." The end result of that belief, in Levi's estimation, can be the existence of the camps. Levi asserts, "The story of the death camps should be understood by everyone as a sinister alarm-signal."

Levi adds a request to the reader to forgive the "defects" in the book. He notes that the objective of the text is to tell the story to "the rest" of the people, those not personally aware of life in the Lager (prison). He notes that this impulse was one "competing with our other elementary needs" while in the Lager. He closes his preface by adding: "It seems to me unnecessary to add that none of the facts are invented."

Analysis

Levi's use of the phrase "good fortune" has multiple meanings. He conveys verbal irony: the deep and bitter irony of what has been done to him is clear in that he outlived it. There is also the Italian sense of fortuna as not only luck but also fate and destiny. Had he been caught earlier, he might well have died.

One of the valuable notes that readers find in this brief preface is that the text is not simply about recounting the immense horror of Auschwitz. In addition, it addresses the question of why it happened. There is comfort in suggesting that such a thing could not happen again, that the perpetrators were simply "evil." But Levi does not reduce the situation to something easy here. He points out that many people and nations believe "every stranger is an enemy." He is setting the stage to address the topics of xenophobia (fear of foreigners) and nationalism (a sense that one's nation is "superior" to any others). These were the foundation of the anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust (also called the Shoah). The belief that Germans were a "superior" race enabled the Nazis to justify removing a perceived threat. Such rampant nationalism is not merely a thing of the past. As a survivor of its end result—and one who guarantees that his facts are true—Levi makes this clear.

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