Scrapbookpages Blog

June 2, 2016

the late Primo Levy is back in the news

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:28 am
Primo Levi as a young man

Primo Levi as a young man

If you don’t know who Primo Levi is, I can’t help you.  Suffice to say, if you don’t know the name Primo Levi, it is almost certain that you have never been to college.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I previously blogged about Primo Levi on this blog post: https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/primo-levi-the-story-of-ten-days-jan-18th-to-jan-27th-1945/

Today, I am commenting on a news article, which you can read in full at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/us-holocaust-museum-gets-a-treasured-auschwitz-manuscript-by-primo-levi/2016/06/01/a1106c5e-280f-11e6-ae4a-3cdd5fe74204_story.html

The news article is about an original manuscript, written years ago, by Primo Levi. The manuscript was recently put into a museum in Washington, DC.

The recent news article begins with this quote:

Begin quote

Manuela Paul had the precious documents in a plastic folder, inside an artist’s satchel, inside a Whole Foods shopping bag, which she kept at her side the entire bus ride from New York to Washington [DC].

The package in her custody was a rare 1946 draft of one of the most revered books to come out of the Holocaust — Italian author Primo Levi’s classic memoir of his 10 months in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz [Monowitz].

End quote

Normally, a news story begins with “Who, What, Where, When and Why,” but not if it is a news story about Jews. The Jews are “God’s Chosen People.” They are not like the lowly goyim who are not even human. The Jews can break the rules and get away with it.

The following quote is the very last paragraph in the news article, which was written backwards, with the most important information given at the end of the article.

Begin quote:

“Survival in Auschwitz” [written by Primo Levy] is considered one of the great Holocaust books, along with “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Elie Wiesel’s concentration camp memoir, “Night,” the museum said.

The manuscript includes 10 of the eventual 17 chapters, dating from the winter and spring of 1946. Levi had been liberated by the Russians [Soviet Union soldiers] in January 1945. He died in 1987.
End quote

Personally, I think that the writing of Primo Levi is highly over rated. If he had not been a Jew, his books would never have been published.

The factories in the Monowitz camp, where Levi was a prisoner, are still being used, and the camp is off limits to tourists. I have written several blog posts about Monowitz: https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/tag/monowitz/

 

 

May 18, 2016

It happened, therefore it can happen again….

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 3:06 pm

 

Primo Levi as a young man

Primo Levi as a young man

The words, in the title of my blog post, were written by Primo Levi, a famous Holocaust survivor, who is shown in the photo above. He was a prisoner at the Monowitz camp, which was also known as the Auschwitz III camp.

Prisoners working at Monowitz

Prisoners working in Monowitz factory

You can read about the Monowitz camp on my website at : http://www.scrapbookpages.com/AuschwitzScrapbook/History/Articles/Monowitz.html

Primo Levi as an older man

famous Holocaust survivor Primo Levi

In my previous blog post, I wrote the following about Primo Levi:

Auschwitz was abandoned by the German SS guards on January 18, 1945 and it was ten days before Soviet troops arrived to rescue the prisoners.  Primo Levi was an Italian Jew, who was a prisoner at the Monowitz labor camp in the Auschwitz complex.  In 1947, Levi wrote a poem entitled “If this is a man,” which is included in a book published in America under the title Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

Chapter 17 of the book is entitled, “The Story of Ten Days.”  This is the story of what happened during the ten days that the prisoners were on their own, without the Germans to keep order and feed them.  There are some surprising revelations in this chapter.

Primo Levi had come down with scarlet fever on January 11, 1945 and he had been put into the hospital at Monowitz, so he was not able to join the march out of the camp on January 18, 1945.  He wrote that he was being treated in the hospital with sulpha drugs.

There has been a lot of speculation about why some of the prisoners stayed in the three Auschwitz camps (Auschwitz I, Birkenau and Monowitz) instead of following the fleeing Germans on January 18, 1945. The Holocaust experts believe that the prisoners were marched out of the camp for the purpose of killing them so that they could not testify about the gassing of the prisoners.  They believe that the prisoners joined the march for fear that they would be killed if they stayed behind.

Levi wrote that there were “rumours which had been circulating for some days: that the Russians were at Censtochowa sixty miles to the north; […] that at Buna (Monowitz) the Germans were already preparing to sabotage mines.”

Strangely, Levi did not mention anything about the Germans blowing up the gas chambers at Birkenau.  Levi was a prisoner at Monowitz and perhaps he didn’t know what was going on at Birkenau.

In the “Author’s Preface” to the book, the first sentence reads: “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German Government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life-span of the prisoners destined for elimination…”  Primo Levi was never in the Birkenau camp, so he apparently never knew that 450,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned there in only 10 weeks, starting in May 1944.

Levi had arrived in Auschwitz in January 1944.  He had been captured by the Italian Fascist Militia on 13 December 1943, according to his book. He  wrote that he had fled into the mountains to help set up what “should have become a partisan band affiliated with the Resistance movement Justice and Liberty.”  Levi thought that “the admission of my political activity would have meant torture and certain death.”  Remarkably, he wrote that he “preferred to admit my status of Italian citizen of Jewish race.”

So on the first page of Chapter 1 in his book, Levy reveals that he thought he would be killed if he admitted to being a partisan, but not if he admitted to being a Jew.  Yet on page 20, he wrote, with regard to the selections for the gas chamber, that “later a simpler method was often adopted of merely opening both of the doors of the wagon without warning or instructions to the new arrivals.  Those who by chance climbed down on one side of the convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber.”

Levi wrote in Chapter 17 that the day before the Monowitz camp was to be evacuated, a Greek doctor who was a prisoner himself came to the hospital and told the prisoners that “all patients able to walk would be given shoes and clothes and would leave the following day with the healthy ones on a twelve mile march.” The others would remain in the hospital with assistants to be chosen from the patients who were the least sick.  When Levi asked the doctor what would happen to the sick prisoners, the doctor said that “probably the Germans would leave us to our fate: no, he did not think that they would kill us.”

Read more at https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/primo-levi-the-story-of-ten-days-jan-18th-to-jan-27th-1945/

August 11, 2015

New book about a survivor of the Lodz ghetto

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:57 am
The cover of a new book written by the son of a Holocaust survivor

The cover of a new book written by Goran Rosenberg,  the son of a Holocaust survivor

You can read  all about this new book at http://www.ydr.com/crime/ci_28614456/son-recounts-his-fathers-struggle-new-holocaust-memoir

I wrote about a survivor of the Lodz ghetto on this page of my website:  http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/JackAdler.html

This quote is from the very end of the news article, cited above:

In this haunting exploration of the Auschwitz legacy — how it crushes long after the gas chambers are shut down — Goran Rosenberg [the son of a Holocaust survivor] has wrought, from the second-generation perspective, a book that overwhelms.

Brimming with duty-bound love but inescapably tragic at its core, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz” is a tour de force fully on par with Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man” and other literary classics of the Holocaust.

I wrote about Primo Levi in this previous blog post:

https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/primo-levi-the-story-of-ten-days-jan-18th-to-jan-27th-1945/

This quote from the news story tells about the Jews, who went to Sweden after they survived the Holocaust, but found that even the Swedes hated the Jews:

Sweden has its own dark side. Snowballs hit the kitchen window as children shout “Jews!” Goran learns on the playground that a “marble Jew” is someone who cheats at the game. And his father sustains a concussion in a violent fight at the truck factory with a co-worker who insinuates that he is a good-for-nothing Jew.

This quote is from the beginning of the news article:

But a recent book by Swedish author and journalist Goran Rosenberg is both. In “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” Rosenberg masterfully retraces the struggle of his father to rebuild a completely shattered life after surviving Nazi slave labor and death camps, including the infamous Auschwitz.

[..]

David Rosenberg, a Polish Jew from Lodz who barely survives the war, arrives in Sweden in 1945 at age 24. He eventually settles in the bland, industrial town of Sodertalje in search of a place to replace the sights, smells, sounds and people of a world that has disappeared.

[…]

… he reunites with Hala, from whom he was separated on the selection ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau; they marry and soon have a child. They want to name him Gershon, after David’s father, who died in the Lodz ghetto. But friends say the name sounds too foreign. How about Goran? It’s nice, Swedish-sounding, and will help the child blend in.

Did you catch the part about the “marble Jew”?  Even in Sweden, the citizens didn’t like Jews because they cheat.  Is this why the Jews were Holocausted?

February 1, 2015

President Obama mentions Primo Levi in his statement on Auschwitz

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 11:59 am

President Barack Obama mentioned famous Holocaust survivor Primo Levi in his official statement on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945.

Primo Levi was a famous Holocaust survivor

Primo Levi was a famous Holocaust survivor

This quote is from President Obama’s statement which you can read in full here:

We commemorate all of the victims of the Holocaust, pledging never to forget, and recalling the cautionary words of the author and survivor of Auschwitz Primo Levi, “It happened, therefore it can happen again. . . . It can happen anywhere.” Today we come together and commit, to the millions of murdered souls and all survivors, that it must never happen again.

I wonder who wrote this statement for President Obama.  I doubt that he knows who Primo Levi was.

I wrote about Primo Levi in this previous blog post:

https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/primo-levi-the-story-of-ten-days-jan-18th-to-jan-27th-1945/

Scroll way down on the blog post cited above, to read Primo Levi’s famous poem entitled If this is a man.

July 21, 2013

The three sisters of Franz Kafka perished in the Nazi gas chambers

The title of my blog post comes from a sentence in an article which you can read in full here.  Franz Kafka died in 1924.  He died a very painful death, but at least he was not gassed.

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This quote is from the article cited above:

Born in Prague in 1883 into a German-speaking Jewish family, Kafka lived a life of quite exemplary tedium as an insurance clerk, rarely travelling (sic) beyond his home or that of his parents. [Primo] Levi saw similar constrictions in his own life as an assimilated Jew in bourgeois Turin. Moreover, Kafka’s three sisters had all perished in the Nazi gas chambers – victims of the grotesque bureaucracy foretold by their brother two decades earlier in The Trial. Kafka must have had a seer-like sensibility, Levi thought, to have looked so accurately into the future.

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

I have been unable to find any more information about exactly where the sisters of Franz Kafka “perished in the Nazi gas chambers.”  Jews from Prague were initially sent to the nearby Theresienstadt camp (now the town of Terezin) from where they were transferred to Auschwitz and placed in a “family camp.”  I wrote about the Czech Family Camp on my blog here.

I previously blogged about Primo Levi, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz.

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

This quote is from the Wikipedia page on Franz Kafka:

Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family were middle-class Ashkenazi Jews. His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka,[5][6] a shochet or ritual slaughterer in Osek, a Czech village with a large Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia.[7] Hermann brought the Kafka family to Prague.

[…]

Hermann and Julie [Kafka] had six children, of whom Franz was he eldest.  Franz’s two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven; his three sisters were Gabriele (“Ellie”) (1889-1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1892- 1943) and Ottilie (“Ottila”) 1892 – 1943.  They all died during the Holocaust of World War II. Valli was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1942, but that is the last documentation of her.

Note that “Ellie” died in 1944, at the time that the Czech Family Camp Jews were sent to the gas chamber.   Valli was sent to the Lodz ghetto where many of the Jews remained until the last days of World War II.  However, Valli died in 1943, which means she was sent to the Chelmno death camp, according to the statistics on the JewishGen website.

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

In the photo above, the house on the right is called the House of the Stone Ram.  The House of the Stone Ram is where Albert Einstein played his violin for Franz Kafka when Einstein was a professor at Prague German University from 1911 to 1912. On the left, in the photo, is the House at the Stone Madonna, also called the Storch house; it has a painting of St. Wenceslas on horseback.

This quote about Franz Kafka is from Wikipedia:

Kafka grew up in Prague as a German-speaking Jew.[106] He was deeply fascinated by the Jews of Eastern Europe, who (sic) he thought possessed an intensity of spiritual life that was absent from Jews in the West. His diary is full of references to Yiddish writers.[107] Yet he was at times alienated from Judaism and Jewish life: “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe”.[108] In his adolescent years, Kafka had declared himself an atheist.[109]

Hawes suggests that Kafka, though very aware of his own Jewishness, did not incorporate it into his work, which, according to Hawes, lacks Jewish characters, scenes or themes.[110][111][112] In the opinion of literary critic Harold Bloom, although Kafka was uneasy with his Jewish heritage, he was the quintessential Jewish writer.[113]

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

The photo above shows the Old-New synagogue which Franz Kafka attended when he lived in Prague; His bar mitzvah was held in the Old-New Synagogue.

On the west wall of the main hall in the Synagogue, there is a glass case shaped like the two stone tablets on which Moses chiseled the ten commandants. The case is filled with tiny light bulbs which light up on the anniversary of someone’s death if the relatives have paid for this feature. One of the lights is for Franz Kafka.

This synagogue got its strange name, Altneuschul, which is German for old-new-school because at the time that it was completed in 1275, it was the Neuschul or New Synagogue, but by the 16th century when other new synagogues were built in Prague, it became the Altneuschul or Old-New Synagogue.

Tourists flock to this street in Prague

Tourists flock to Hrbitova street in Prague

On the right in the photo above, tourists are shown crowding around the street vendors’ stalls on Hrbitova Street, looking for souvenirs of their visit. This picture is the view looking east toward the intersection of Maiselova and Hrbitova, taken from the entrance to the Klausen Synagogue which is at the other end of this street, behind the camera. On the left side of the picture, you see tourists looking at the windows of the souvenir shops. In the the center of the photo, a tour group is shown, listening as their guide tells them about the Old Town Hall, the pink building in front of them.

January 24, 2012

the alleged “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign at Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 11:04 am

The question of the alleged Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the Monowitz (Auschwitz III) camp came up in a recent comment on my blog.  As proof that this sign taunted the prisoners in the Monowitz camp, as well as in other Nazi camps, we have the eye-witness account written by Primo Levi, who was a prisoner at Monowitz.  I previously blogged about Primo Levi here, but I didn’t include the information that Levi mentioned the sign on page 22 of the book Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

On page 19, Levi wrote this about his arrival at Auschwitz on a transport train:  “A vast platform appeared before us, lit up by reflectors.”  This is a reference to the Judenrampe, which was a large train platform, near the Birkenau camp, which was used from 1942 to May 1944. The Judenrampe was torn down when the train tracks were extended inside the Birkenau death camp, so that the prisoners could be brought to a spot within a few feet of the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III.  (God forbid that the Jews should have to walk to the gas chambers.)

Levi’s description of his arrival at Monowitz begins on page 22:

The journey [to Monowitz from the Judenrampe] did not last more than twenty minutes.  Then the lorry [truck] stopped and we saw a large door, and above it a sign, brightly illuminated (its memory still strikes me in my dreams): Arbeit Macht Frei, work gives freedom.

We climb down, they make us enter an enormous empty room that is poorly heated.

So the sign was on a DOOR, not a gate.  It was the door to an enormous empty ROOM, not the door into a camp.  Note that he not only saw the sign on the door, he also saw it in his dreams.

Denis Avey also mentioned an Arbeit Macht Frei sign at Monowitz in his book The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz. On page 140, Avey describes the scene when he entered the Monowitz prison camp:

It was still light when we passed through the gate and I saw the sign bearing the cruel promise ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ — work sets you free.

I didn’t know that the irony of those words would scream across the decades. This was Auschwitz III–Monowitz.

Note that the sign that Denis Avey saw was on a GATE, not a door.

Rob Broomby co-wrote Denis Avey’s book.  On page 235, we learn that Rob questioned whether this sign was actually on the Monowitz gate.

This quote, written by Denis Avey, is from page 235 of the American edition of his book:

As Rob’s research continued it threw up some interesting questions about the nature of memory. He kept asking me if I was certain I had seen that Arbeit Macht Frei sign at the gates to Auschwitz III–Monowitz.  I was, but he said some experts had questioned it and nothing survives at the site today to testify one way or the other. The sign everyone knows these days is at the gates of the main camp, Auschwitz I. After more than sixty years it is that one which is emblazoned on the collective memory although many camps had them. Rob said the most influential account of life in the camp — that of survivor and writer Primo Levi — mentioned the sign at Auschwitz III more than once but the head of Research at Auschwitz wasn’t convinced.

So was there an Arbeit macht Frei sign at Monowitz or not?  I would say NOT.  Primo Levi saw the sign in his dreams, and Denis Avey read about it in Primo Levi’s book.  The Arbeit Macht Frei sign was used on the gates of the Nazi camps that were classified as Class I camps. Auschwitz I was a Class I camp and it had the sign.  Monowitz was a labor camp which probably did not have the sign.  I explained all this on a previous post which you can read here.

January 10, 2011

Primo Levi — The Story of Ten Days (Jan. 18th to Jan. 27th, 1945)

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:51 am

Auschwitz was abandoned by the German SS guards on January 18, 1945 and it was ten days before Soviet troops arrived to rescue the prisoners.  Primo Levi was an Italian Jew, who was a prisoner at the Monowitz labor camp in the Auschwitz complex.  In 1947, Levi wrote a poem entitled “If this is a man,” which is included in a book published in America under the title Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

Chapter 17 of the book is entitled, “The Story of Ten Days.”  This is the story of what happened during the ten days that the prisoners were on their own, without the Germans to keep order and feed them.  There are some surprising revelations in this chapter.

Primo Levi had come down with scarlet fever on January 11, 1945 and he had been put into the hospital at Monowitz, so he was not able to join the march out of the camp on January 18, 1945.  He wrote that he was being treated in the hospital with sulpha drugs.

There has been a lot of speculation about why some of the prisoners stayed in the three Auschwitz camps (Auschwitz I, Birkenau and Monowitz) instead of following the fleeing Germans on January 18, 1945. The Holocaust experts believe that the prisoners were marched out of the camp for the purpose of killing them so that they could not testify about the gassing of the prisoners.  They believe that the prisoners joined the march for fear that they would be killed if they stayed behind.

Levi wrote that there were “rumours which had been circulating for some days: that the Russians were at Censtochowa sixty miles to the north; […] that at Buna (Monowitz) the Germans were already preparing to sabotage mines.”

Strangely, Levi did not mention anything about the Germans blowing up the gas chambers at Birkenau.  Levi was a prisoner at Monowitz and perhaps he didn’t know what was going on at Birkenau.

In the “Author’s Preface” to the book, the first sentence reads: “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German Government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life-span of the prisoners destined for elimination…”  Primo Levi was never in the Birkenau camp, so he apparently never knew that 450,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned there in only 10 weeks, starting in May 1944.

Levi had arrived in Auschwitz in January 1944.  He had been captured by the Italian Fascist Militia on 13 December 1943, according to his book. He  wrote that he had fled into the mountains to help set up what “should have become a partisan band affiliated with the Resistance movement Justice and Liberty.”  Levi thought that “the admission of my political activity would have meant torture and certain death.”  Remarkably, he wrote that he “preferred to admit my status of Italian citizen of Jewish race.”

So on the first page of Chapter 1 in his book, Levy reveals that he thought he would be killed if he admitted to being a partisan, but not if he admitted to being a Jew.  Yet on page 20, he wrote, with regard to the selections for the gas chamber, that “later a simpler method was often adopted of merely opening both of the doors of the wagon without warning or instructions to the new arrivals.  Those who by chance climbed down on one side of the convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber.”

Levi wrote in Chapter 17 that the day before the Monowitz camp was to be evacuated, a Greek doctor who was a prisoner himself came to the hospital and told the prisoners that “all patients able to walk would be given shoes and clothes and would leave the following day with the healthy ones on a twelve mile march.” The others would remain in the hospital with assistants to be chosen from the patients who were the least sick.  When Levi asked the doctor what would happen to the sick prisoners, the doctor said that “probably the Germans would leave us to our fate: no, he did not think that they would kill us.”

Levi did not believe the doctor. He wrote that the doctor “made no effort to hide the fact that he thought otherwise. His very cheerfulness boded ill.”

Levi himself had no choice; he was too sick with scarlet fever to join the march.  He was in the ward for patients with infectious diseases.  Even if he had wanted to go on the death march, he would probably not have been allowed to go, for fear of infecting the other prisoners with scarlet fever.  Elie Wiesel was also in the hospital in Monowitz and he chose to go on the march out of the camp.

After the Germans left with 60,000 of the prisoners on the night of January 18th, the last distribution of soup was given to the sick prisoners the next morning.  After that, the prisoners were on their own with no one to cook for them and no one to take care of the central heating plant.  It was 5 degrees below zero.

On page 157 of the paperback edition, Levi wrote that around 11 p.m. on Jan. 18th, “One could hear the roar of the aeroplanes. Then the bombardment began.”  I knew that Monowitz had been bombed several times, but I didn’t know that there were bombs dropped on the very night that the march out of the camp began.

Here is a quote from page 157:

After a few minutes it was obvious that the camp had been struck. Two huts were burning fiercely, another two had been pulverized, but they were all empty. […] The Germans were no longer there.  The towers were empty.

This quote describes the situation after the air raid:

“No more water, or electricity, broken windows and doors slamming to in the wind, loose iron sheets from the roofs screeching, ashes from the fire drifting high, afar. The work of the bombs had been completed by the work of man: ragged, decrepit, skeleton-like patients at all able to move dragged themselves everywhere on the frozen soil, like an invasion of worms.”

After the Germans left, the prisoners in the hospital had nothing to eat except potatoes and turnips.  There were no Germans to bake the bread and cook the soup. There was no clean water and the prisoners had to drink melted snow.

On Jan. 22, the hospital patients went exploring in the SS camp that was immediately outside the electric barbed wire fence.  Levi wrote that the camp guards must have left in a great hurry because the prisoners found plates half full of by-now frozen soup, and mugs full of frozen beer, along with a chess board with an unfinished game.

Throughout the book, Levi had written that there were constant selections made in the hospital.  The patients who didn’t get well in a hurry were sent to the gas chambers.  In Chapter 17, Levi wrote about a seventeen year old Dutch Jew who “had been in bed for three months; I have no idea how he managed  to survive the selections.”  This was Levi’s second time in the camp hospital; he had previously been hospitalized for an injured foot.  In his book, Levi didn’t speculate on why he had not been selected for the gas chamber while he was hospitalized.

By Jan. 23rd, all the potatoes had been eaten.  The next day, Jan. 24, the prisoners in hut 14 of the hospital “organized an expedition to the English prisoner of war camp.”  There they found “margarine, custard powders, lard, soya bean flour, whiskey.”  It was a mile to the English POW camp and Levi and the other sick prisoners were not strong enough to walk there, even though they were starving and were desperate for food.

The Soviet soldiers finally arrived at Auschwitz on Jan. 27th and set up a temporary hospital. There were 12 prisoners in the infectious ward at Monowitz and only one of them died during the ten days after the Germans left.  Another prisoner in this ward died a few weeks later in the Russian hospital.

Here is Levi’s famous poem, “If this is a man”:

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.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

In conclusion: This is not a book review, but I must say that I found Levi’s attitude about his imprisonment to be very arrogant.  He criticizes the smallest details about his treatment.  He couldn’t stand the “infernal” German music.  The playing of the German song “Rosamunda” particularly irritated him. Regarding the playing of music, he wrote “the Germans created this monstrous rite.”

Levi didn’t like “that curt, barbaric barking of Germans.”  He refers to “the degenerate German engineer” of the train that was taking him to Auschwitz.  Why was the engineer of the train “degenerate?”  He had allowed water to be drawn from the engine to bathe a three year old girl who was on the train.

Levi had been arrested because he was a member of the Resistance.  As an illegal combatant, he could have been executed under the rules of the Geneva Convention.  There was a war going on.  Yet Levi expected to be treated as if he were at a resort.

At one point, Levi asked if the new arrivals would be given back their toothbrushes.   The prisoner, whom he had asked, told him in French: “you are not at home.”  Levi wrote “And it is this refrain that we hear repeated by everyone: you are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney.”

He is critical of the signs and pictures showing the prisoners how to keep themselves clean.  He doesn’t like it when he is repeatedly warned not to drink the tap water.  His general attitude is that he hates the Germans even though he was treated well under the circumstances.

I learned from the Wikipedia entry about him that when Levi began to write this book, he wrote the chapter about the Ten Days first.  Apparently, his most vivid memory of his time in the camp was when he had scarlet fever and there were no German doctors to take care of him, and no Germans to keep order and hand out food to the prisoners.  He then began to understand the reason for the strict discipline in the camp.

The place where Primo Levi was imprisoned was the Auschwitz III labor camp, known as Monowitz; it was near a factory called the Buna Werke because it was a factory for making synthetic rubber.

The Monowitz industrial complex was built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in April 1941. Initially, the workers walked from the Auschwitz main camp to the building site, a distance of 4 to 6 kilometers each way. By 1942, barracks had been built for the prisoners at Monowitz.

The Buna Werke was built in May 1942, six kilometers from the main Auschwitz camp, by the German company called IG Farbenindustrie. At first, it was one of the 40 sub-camps of the main camp, but in November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became Auschwitz III with its own sub-camps.

Monument in honor of the prisoners who died at Monowtiz

The monument to the prisoners who died at Monowitz, shown in the photo above, is located across the street from the ice hockey rink on the eastern side of the town of Oswiecim. According to a book entitled “Auschwitz 1940 – 1945” which I purchased at the Auschwitz Museum, there were 30,000 prisoners employed by the IG-Farbenindustrie factories at Monowitz, who died during a 3-year period.

Bomb shelter for the SS guards at Monowitz

The photo above shows the ruins of a bomb shelter which the Nazis built near the Monowitz factories. The people on the left in the photo are Polish residents, not tourists. Note the street sign on the left; this building is on an ordinary city street in the town of Monowitz.   The Allies began bombing Monowitz in August 1944.

The barracks where the prisoners lived at Monowitz have all been torn down and replaced by houses.

Barracks at Monowitz, July 1944

In the photograph above, Heinrich Himmler is on the far right; the man in civilian clothes, who is shaking hands, is Max Faust. The barracks for the prisoners are shown in the background; prisoners from the main Auschwitz camp were transferred to the Monowitz barracks at the end of October 1942.

The Polish village of Monowice, which was called Monowitz by the Germans, is 4 kilometers from the site of the factories. Some of the old factory buildings are still standing, although now abandoned, while others are still in use as factories. The concrete wall around the factories, with its distinctive curved posts, can still be seen along the road from Oswiecim to the Krakow airport.

The Monowitz sub-camp was known as Bunalager (Buna Camp) until November 1943 when it became the KL Auschwitz III camp with its own administrative headquarters. Auschwitz III consisted of 28 sub-camps which were built between 1942 and 1944. This area of Upper Silesia was known as the “Black Triangle” because of its coal deposits. The Buna plant attracted the attention of the Allies, and there were several bombing raids on the factories.

When you enter the town of Oswiecim, coming from the Krakow airport, the fence is the first thing you see that tells you that the area around this town was once the home of Nazi forced labor camps, where the Jews worked as slave laborers. The fence stretches for miles and behind it are some factories, built by the Germans, that are still being used today. The factories and the ruins are off limits to visitors; the tour groups do not visit the ruins, and even the private tour guides refuse to take visitors there.

While he was a prisoner at Monowitz, Primo Levi met Lorenzo, an Italian who was a worker at the camp, not a prisoner. For six months, Lorenzo gave Primo extra bread each day, patched up shirts and even wrote a postcard for him to Italy.

Primo Levi as a young man

Regarding his survival at Auschwitz III, Levi wrote on page 132 of his book:

“If there is any point in trying to understand why I should be the one to be saved, out of so many thousands of others, I believe that it was primarily because of Lorenzo. And not necessarily because of his material help. It was much more because his treatment of me, his simple behavior and kindness, reminded me every day that there is still a humane and just world on the other side of the barbed wire fence; that outside the camp there are people with a heart, and that there are pure values; that not everything is corrupt and cruel; that a world without hatred and fear exists out there. It is true that all those are vague at the moment, distant and incomprehensible, but it is worth making the effort to survive in order to get back there.”

December 25, 2010

the “death march” out of Auschwitz on Jan. 18, 1945

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 5:26 pm

I can vividly recall the moment when I first learned about the “death march” out of Auschwitz.  It was when I read an article in my local newspaper about a Holocaust survivor who explained how she had managed to survive the march out of Auschwitz when the camp was abandoned on January 18, 1945.  She said that her father had advised her to wear her ski boots when the family was transported on a train to Auschwitz.  She managed to keep her ski boots throughout the time that she was a prisoner at Auschwitz and she wore them during the march out of the camp.  This was what saved her life.   (more…)