Survival in Auschwitz | Study Guide

Primo Levi

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Survival in Auschwitz | Chapter 6 : The Work | Summary



Levi relates details of his next bunkmate, Resnyk, who is tall and courteous. He is also assigned to Levi's kommando (work detail). To Levi's surprise, Resnyk is willing to pair with Levi for the harsh work detail of moving 175-pound sleepers. The weight of these is the limit of what they can typically bear, and after the second trip, Levi goes to the latrine to buy himself time. He lingers as long as he can, and then he returns to complete "two or three" more trips with Resnyk. They break for the midday meal. After that, they return to work in the cold at tasks that are at the extent of what they can endure. Resnyk remarks, "Si j'avey une chien, je ne le chasse pas de-hors." (This means in poor French, "If I had a dog, I would not put him outside.")


Part of the reality of life in Auschwitz is that prisoners are living in a deadly cold climate when winter comes. Resnyk's remark that he wouldn't subject an animal to these conditions shows that the SS (Nazis) treat the Jews worse than one treats animals. The conditions are dire, and the work is at the limit of what a body can endure. Such work provides no sense of satisfaction. The prisoners are starving and exhausted, and each day is tortuous.

The reader will also recall the prior discussions of food. For all the difficulty in these activities, they were exacerbated by the starvation rations the prisoners received. Prisoners were to work a minimum of 11 hours per day, and they did so on insufficient caloric intake. What Levi has presented here are the factual reasons why prisoners like the aforementioned Null Achtzehn become musselmen. To find hope, to find a reason to survive in such horrifying conditions is an act that does not comes easily. Thus far, Levi has shared the advice of Steinlauf, the presence of his best friend, the kindness of another prisoner (Resnyk). Each of these acts supports the theme of being a man. They are all humanizing, and the things that keep Levi feeling like a man, rather than a number, allow him to strive to endure.

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