Survival in Auschwitz | Study Guide

Primo Levi

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Survival in Auschwitz | Chapter 12 : The Events of the Summer | Summary

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Summary

Levi reports that the majority of the prisoners arriving in the summer are from Hungary. There has been no progress on the chemical kommando, and Levi notes that they are not surprised by this. The news of the war brings them "violent but ephemeral hope." The changes that come also mean that the beginning of the production of rubber at the Buna is postponed and eventually not mentioned at all.

Raids begin, and the air raid shelters must be built. These are as "ineffective as sand castles." The prisoners are not allowed to enter the reinforced shelters. They, instead, pile together in the ruins of the Buna "like dead men." During this time, Levi meets Lorenzo, a civilian worker who becomes his protector—giving him bread and a portion of his ration. He does not ask for a reward for this. Levi notes that he thinks it is because of Lorenzo that he survived. It was not the food and the vest that made this so, but the emotional aspects of Lorenzo's help. "Thanks to Lorenzo, I managed not to forget that I myself was a man," he says.

Analysis

The influx of Hungarian prisoners changes the face of the camp. Between May and July, approximately 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported from all over the country, mostly to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The only Jewish community in Hungary after July 1944 was in the capital (Budapest), making it even easier to round them up for extinction. As these prisoners were brought to the camp, there were neither facilities nor sufficient food. The reader, even without knowing the history, will realize at this point that the efficiency of the Nazis will result in massive deaths. The sheer number of prisoners means the already thin resources will be further strained.

In the next chapter of the book, Levi addresses another selection period, made necessary because the crematoriums could kill and dispose of only a set number of people per day. As horrific as it is, the mass deaths of these innocent people became a logistics issue in the camp with the influx of new prisoners in such a short time. If 4,000,000 deaths is the accurate total for Auschwitz, this figure is roughly one-eighth of the entire prison population at Auschwitz over the years of its operation. If the number is 2,000,000, this figure is roughly one-fourth of the entire prison population at Auschwitz for the years of its operation. As the war was ending, the killing of the Hungarian Jews became an especially grisly event of ultimate horror, likely beyond understanding then or now.

In this same chapter, Levi speaks of his protector, Lorenzo. Lorenzo Perrone was a mason, hired by the Italian firm Boetti. He took food to Levi daily for six months (June 1944 until December 1944). In December, Lorenzo was sent home to Italy. During the time he was working at Auschwitz, Lorenzo not only gave Levi food, but he also provided a vest for Levi to wear under his uniform for warmth, and mailed postcards to Italy. Those postcards enabled Levi to get word that he was still alive to his mother and sister.

As Levi said in an interview after Lorenzo's death, he was a silent man who didn't speak much. Lorenzo was unable to recover from the things he witnessed, and he began to drink heavily. His death in 1952 was a result of alcohol abuse and tuberculosis. Levi named both of his children (Lisa and Renzo) after Lorenzo Perrone.

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