"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Friday, July 30, 2010

Survival in Auschwitz

by Primo Levi

I was actually planning on writing about one of my favorite childhood books today, but last night I caught the end of a great old movie, Judgement at Nuremberg, about one of the Nazi war criminal trials.  It has some of the best actors and actresses including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, and Judy Garland.  Even a young William Shatner appears.  I read later that many of these big names took reduced pay for the film because of the importance of it being told.  If you've never seen this movie, you should.  It is one of the best court room dramas ever, not to mention it reminds us about just how easy it is for good men to be corrupted by doing what is easy instead of what is right.  The ending will make you think long and hard about how you might have acted, given the terrible choices of the time.

Perhaps the subject matter was why I didn't sleep well last night, and I woke up this morning reminded of the book Survival in Auschwitz which I read for a class in my MFA program.  It is a hard book to read, as any Holocaust account should be, but it is an important one to read as well.  It covers the horrors of the concentration camps but also reminds us of the strength of the human spirit to persevere in unimaginable circumstances.  What I loved most about this book is the chapters that talk about the daily living of the camps, detailing the work they did, and the intricate trading system between the inmates.  There are even brief moments of humor, however absurd it may seem.  These brief chapters of normalcy interspersed with chapters of horror brought a unique perspective to the book.  Levi also delves into the workings of the human mind and how different people dealt with the reality of the death camps in different ways.

Levi was lucky to have been put in Auschwitz towards the end of the war so only spent 9 months there, but at the end of the book he details the equally horrific events that occur after the Nazis abandon the camps and leave the starving, sick, and wasted inmates to fend for themselves until they are rescued.  This part of the ordeal is a subject I had not read about much in other books, but the chapter titled "The Story of Ten Days" is one that I will never forget. 

Read this book, if only to once again remember what should never be forgotten.


  1. Good movie. Yes. Love a good courtroom drama.

    Best courtroom drama based on a book? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "To Kill A Mockingbird"....

  2. Totally agree, can anyone really hold a candle to Atticus Finch? Although 12 Angry Men (the original of course) is also one of my favorites, but would that count as courtroom, since technically they are never in the official courtroom?

  3. I'll have to read this book. When I was 15, my sister got married in DC and during the week we went to the holocaust museum. It really brought to life what took place all those years ago.