Sidharth Vardhan

If this is a man

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“Only an animal worries all the time about the next meal.”
– Naguib Mahfouz

If there is a man coverThe desperation of the quote arising out of the idea that poor forced to live meal-to-meal might not be able to enjoy a human life can be found in Levi’s memoir too. It’s title coming from the poem that begins:

“You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.

Though Nazi violence is mentioned:

“how can one hit a man without anger?”

The book is more focused on the life of prisioners – how they survived while constantly feeling hunger (they would dream of food). How they learned to live the life of stealth, as people in such desperation circumstances are forced to – out of neccesity, nobody could survive the Auschwitz by being a nobel prisoner or by being altruistic to his fellow prisioners. They would avoid work as far as possible- even prefering being beaten to working

“one does not normally die of blows, but one does of exhaustion, and badly”

Stealing things – frequently from each other, trying to get up in the hierarchy that was present among prisioners. N0t all prisoners were equal, there were class divisions among prisioners – Jewish prisioners weren’t the only one but they were the worst, there were transactions among Jewish prisioners as well as between Jewish prisioners and other prisioners – using daily rations as a unit of currancy of this underground economy. And there were informal classes among prisioners too based on where they come, based on numbers given to them – the lower numbers and higher numbers etc.

And daily torments they had to go – constant hunger

“One can hear the sleepers breathing and snoring; some groan and speak. Many lick their lips and move their jaws. They are dreaming of eating; this is also a collective dream.”

Primo Levi If this is a man
Primo Levi

the uncleanliness (as soap was a luxury only available to those who managed to steal it from somewhere), the rule of Jungle – where you look up to someone who is able to have an unfair advantage even if he doesn’t share it rather than questioning them on moral grounds – well, that applies to most captialist societies to some extent., the hopelessness:

“… And for how long? But the old ones laugh at this question: they recognize the new arrivals by this question. They laugh and they do not reply. For months and years, the problem of the remote future has grown pale to them and has lost all intensity in face of the far more urgent and concrete problems of the near future: how much one will eat today, if it will snow, if there will be coal to unload.”/I>

Things like gratitude, sincerity and compassion came with a very serious disadvantage as they often are to poor. You couldn’t trust the person with whom you shared your bed and this when even a small piece of metal wire or a spoon were tresure. However, the poverty imposed on them by Nazis -their name, their identity, their family and friends were all taken away from them.

“Imagine now a man who is deprived of everyone he loves, and at the same time of his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses: he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself.”

‘… Until one day
there will be no more sense in saying: tomorrow.”

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