Survival in Aushwitz Summary
Tyler Schmidt 4-18-12 Survival in Auschwitz Summary Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi is a highly insightful book. It is his story of being persecuted and arrested in the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. It goes into great detail describing everyday life in the camp, from merely survival tactics all the way to the “economics” of the camp. His vivid details and metaphors give the reader very powerful images of what the hell inside the camp was like. I’ll start with his journey to Auschwitz, He started in an internment camp with other Jews at Fossoli.
Here, they were treated okay and were able to eat decently and remain with their families. But then they were given word that they were to be transported elsewhere. This frightened everyone, as they had heard the stories of what was to come and Levi stated in the book that their last night in the internment camp was a strange one, some were drunk, some were with loved ones, others packed their things (unknowing what was to come). They were informed that roll call would be in the morning and that for every person missing, 10 would be shot. That morning, 650 Jews were crammed into cattle train cars for a two week journey to the camp.
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When they arrived there was mass confusion, 96 capable men were selected to work, the rest were never seen again. The first few days of the camp were an awkward and confusing time, prior to even mentioning the horrible conditions. The were to sleep in places called “huts” each of which were numbered and were crammed with bunks, and even more crammed with a stupid amount of people having to reside there. The “haftlinges” were given one ration of bread and watery soup per day (which is their only form of money). They were stripped naked and waiting for hours, waiting to shower and be shaved by one of the barbers.
They took all of their clothes and belongings and gave them ratty pants, shirt, light jacket and beret; along with shoes with wooden soles that never fit right. You were to learn quickly that these items were essential to surviving the winter, and would be stolen in a moments notice if your guard were let down. The prisoners were given tattoos of a six-figure number; this was how they were identified. Levi’s number was 174517. These numbers were almost a class system; the lower numbers had been there longest, therefore being much wiser than the new ones.
Him and the others being recent additions to the camp they were “on the bottom” and had no clue of the interworking’s and how to survive in the camp. One day, Levi injured his foot/ankle while working. He was terribly afraid of this because if you were injured and went to the Ka-be (hospital) you didn’t necessarily make it back out if your injury wasn’t worth trying to fix. Luckily for Levi this wasn’t the case and he was able to rest in the Ka-be for fair amount of time before he was released back to work at the Buna.
I previously mentioned the “economics” of the camp, and how their food rations (among any thing else they could find) were their only form of money. Things like light bulbs, ordinary/shaving soap, files, pliers, sacks, nails etc. were all things stolen in the “complex network of thefts” that one could bargain with. One specific detail I remember, was that Primo’s friend Alberto, would check a large file out to work with, trade this file for 2 smaller ones, and then return one of them and using the second as a bargaining tool for bread or soup. This of course required a form of connection with people within the camp.
Also clothes were used to bargain for food, however long it was to be before they were to be issued new clothes determined just how much food their ratty clothes were worth. After a while, some of the people in the camp were able to make civilian acquaintances in Buna, the factory. This was a huge factor in Primo’s ability to survive that year in Auschwitz, and his friend Lorenzo would help him and Alberto greatly. One day Levi was given the opportunity to be in Kommando 98, which was called the chemical commando, given that he had a degree in chemistry.
Fifteen Haftlinge eagerly waited their opportunity to take this chemical examination in hopes of being accepted and getting easier work opportunities/moments of unsupervised work. Three of these fifteen disappeared, whether they were sent back, or “cancelled from this world”. Another five were not chemists, they were beaten but somehow allowed to stay as “auxiliaries”. So these twelve now made up the Kommado 98, and were somewhat given these work opportunities they had hoped for. Sometime later, after summer had passed, Primo was given an unheard of opportunity; he had been of three selected to work in the actual laboratory.
This news essentially saved him from what would be his second winter in the camp, and also placed the foundation for more outside friendships which led to opportunities for extra food rations. Days and days went by, and despite being almost entirely lifeless, the prisoners were able to hear the sounds of battle, and the Russians coming closer and closer. This gave them a sense of hope, if that was even possible. They began noticing that the Germans were going to be defeated, just a matter of when.
They saw that they had already started placing sabotage mines all around Buna for the inevitable end. Then on January 11, 1945, Levi fell ill with scarlet fever and was sent to the Ka-be once again. He was able to smuggle in all of his belongings and such. There were eleven of them in the ward of the Ka-be. But then, they catch word of the Germans are going to march whoever is healthy enough to walk twelve miles (most of which died during, including Alberto). This sort of excitement had never before been seen here, as many thought it was over. Levi being ill, was not able to march.
Then on January 18th, the camp was bombed, at first distant but became closer and closer and eventually hit the camp! All the Germans were now gone, from the towers, and everywhere. This was a new feeling to them. So the next ten days went by with the eleven of them fighting to survive by raiding the old German soldier camps for food and supplies and such. They were able to find many potatoes and a woodstove to use to keep their ward in the Ka-be warm. During those ten days, only one of the eleven died, and on January 27, 1945 the Russians arrive to liberate the camp.