The Drowned and the Saved is a collection of stories which examines the Holocaust forty years later, where he is seen concerned with univers concentrationnaire, along with all the inhabitants who are the living and the deceased. Primo Levi in his discussion articulates controversial/analytical concepts such as shame, gray zone and useless violence. In his work, he uses different aspects of memory, truth and how these things are unearthed yet obscure. This is done through denial and mendacity of those who look back at the events during and after the Holocaust. Levi has a way of stylizing different memories, including his own in part of those who might do things in order to pretend that they do not care, or that they do not want to remember. His work focuses, not only on the painstaking steps in the stratification of the Lager as well as the useless violence the authorities of the camp employed. He illustrates these aspects accrued from his experiences explaining human behavior at the time of liberation or in the camps.
Levi explains the life in the endless roll calls and at large the pointless work that was meant to humiliate and cause more harm than good. He focuses on the tasks or the things done to the people within the camp, rather than on feelings. By doing it this way, Levi is able to invoke the feelings of the reader through visualization, rather than just on words, creating a more powerful kind of memory. This is seen in his statement:
“Occasionally having a purpose, yet always redundant, always disproportionate to the purpose itself” (qtd. Levi 5).
His definition of “gray zone” is an area in which survival particularly from the Holocaust was achieved through participation. The Gray zoners’ followed their instincts for survival which to a great extent burdened them with extra hardship. Without directly saying it, he claims that there is purpose in these acts, which is to humiliate those within the camp. The victims are dehumanized while the camp authorities have an easy time; they are also seen to enjoy what they are doing. He challenges the tendency to grossly over-simplify unpleasant truths in the hierarchy of the inmates that was developed in the camps. This hierarchy was personally aggravated Nazi’s methodology. He further elaborates that the good and the honest were victims of circumstances and were the first to perish. He tells us this from a survivor’s perspective who is trying to understand the reasoning behind a scientist who is solving a problem soundly but in the real sense is trying to pass judgment on certain individuals. He makes his profound changes known which during, before and after the tribulation to him. Levi draws round the coercive conditions which make people inhumane and cause them to become very downhearted to appoint of harming each other. He says that such an act of violence could happen again though it doesn’t have to it is so unfortunate that it actually happened (Levi 42).
The book is seemingly the most moving and profound section where Levi talks of “shame”. He starts by discussing a particular phenomenon that occurred after they were finally liberated from the camps. He continues to state that the majority of the people who had been imprisoned were either profoundly depressed or committed suicide. He attributes all these two feelings of guilt and shame. To affirm this statement, he quotes that “coming out of the darkness we suffered the consequences due to the perception of being murdered” (Levi 93). He notes that their moral yardstick had drastically changed and further than that, everyone one of them lived in their stead and at one time assumed their neighbor.
Levi notes that his imprisonment was more torture and suffering “useless violence”. This torture was based on nothing and any prisoner found doing something odd was given a thorough beating. This suffering was not justified at all in fact it was inhumane and unreasonable. Things in this camp were very different from the outside world in many instances, prisoners who acted right were victims of circumstances, they were beaten up, given terrible tasks and others were killed. Full of hatred, German people of the Nazi era acted in selfish acts. Any prisoner found to collaborating with the gray zone was dehumanized too and did pay for their foolish acts. At some point, he stated “one must beware of stereotypes and hindsight”, this means that in the cause of life, we all should focus on what lies beneath us and those around us. This statement is more of a parable than just a statement. Error consists in judging distant places and epochs and when focusing on the future, “we are no better than our fathers” (Levi 111). This could mean than although we may appear intellectually fit and much informed than our parents, we just cannot determine our future. Levi’s situation was so adverse to a level where he could not trust to anyone or anything if he was to see a new day.
The terms used by Levi to define the life in the camps are sincere and real. For instance when he speaks about useless violence, it clicks in our minds the extent to which mankind is abused and degraded. This term “useless violence” is used accordingly to illustrate the situation in such kinds of environment. The strength in this term is appropriate and justified in all angles. Life in the camp where Levi and his accomplice were detained was no joke. He notes that “it is the sommersi the drowned or the submerged whose lives are a testimony to the annihilation, terrible truth and the final solution” (Levi 122). His narration serves as a detailed account of the imprisonment which is at times quite explicit and not ones with little faith. Levis ruminations are deep; they literally cut to the heart of what being a human being is, the nature of the political party line, what we value and to a great extent our natural pain threshold. His work reiterates a quivering truth, precisely in the “unnecessary violence”, he introduces the subject of methodical cruelty against slave workers and camp prisoners. Subsequently, works are said now because there were no chances speak them out before.
The chapter on the “Gray Zone” discuses the moral ambiguities occurring in the camp. It is a reflection of the moral integrity that has b become impossible due to certain conditions such as cohesion diminishing in the society. It puts emphasis on the rising levels of moral ambiguity. It highlights the language barrier particularly in the large. Levi therefore implores us the perpetrators of the unfortunate events as he brings to light to dehumanizing nature of the perpetrators ‘the Holocaust’.
“Useless violence” is mainly a differentiation of useful and useless forms of violence. Levi notes that burning and gassing of the victims was quite useful since it was a way of furthering their goal. On the contrary, actions such as the defilement of the homes of the displaced Jews and the mandatory military-style making of the beds should be considered useless as they do not fall into this rational framework. He later notes that the totalitarian system was fully responsible for the proliferation of unfortunate level of the massacre witnessed. Levi posits that remembering these issues (grey zone and the useless violence) is painful and difficult to remember. It was very unfortunate that the prisoners who expected to find refuge from their fellows on arrival were in for a rude shock as they were either betrayed or beaten up by their own kind. Despite facing all these, Levi does not judge collaborators instead, he opts to bury the hatchet and leave the dead bury the dead.
The words “gray zone, useless violence and shame” pay special attention to the inmates who had survived the initial selection and continued increasing their chances of survival. His illustration and description of the entire place touches Levi’s heart and the picture he presents to us is never oversimplified, dichotomous or schematic. His words are well selected and defined, as he beliefs that authenticity has a form of prism that breaks down rays of light into special colors. He sincerely portrays some analytical concepts of the Lager phenomenon which appear obscure. He actually wants to assist people today to keenly meditate and ask upon intricate questions which all of us should reflect on (Levi 212). Even after decades of the destruction, the responsibility of the genocide is still here. He reminds us that studying historical facts is of paramount importance and passing them to other generations is of the essence. After learning what happened in the past, we all should reflect on all aspects in order to comprehend. It still remains much for us to read and fully understand what life in the camps actually is.
Human behavior can best be defined by our actions and not our words. A reflection on Levi’s story portrays him, affliction, predicament and misery in the camp. It is a primitive system where human beings have regressed and chosen to live with a mindset where they simply have to survive. Much of the Levi’s description of his experience in the camp made the environment seem familiar to him, and mundane. Yet, for readers it invoked sadness, pain and empathy. The strengths of his words are more about the present and the future, while using images and truths of the past. He concludes by calling for action and wisdom needed to end the threat of nuclear dangers and obliteration Levi exactly knew how difficult it is to accept and understand the ideal choices of other people when their actions and decisions do mirrors that of the majority. It is not the case that all objections are mistaken. In this context, criticism is doing what it often does; it literally has inverted the truth about the romantic notion of the escape and the pressure to escape. The cost of the army of the West has greatly affected ways in which people perceive civilian captives. The term survival needs to be interpreted deeply in a meaning that goes beyond the physical and the tendency to think in binary terms; wrong, good and evil overlooks rational characteristics of the human behavior.
Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Print.