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Despair and an Empty Void

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Primo Levi’s “If This is a Man” this week. In the novel, Levi describes his journey to Auschwitz and the horrendous environment he is placed within. On his way there, inside the train, Levi sees the Italian terrain and notices that in the train, “everyone stood up, but no one said a word. The thought of the return journey struck in my heart,” (17). Even though this is not one of the darkest quotes in the novel, it shows the disparity and hopelessness that Levi kept within himself. The silence in the train foreshows the austere future awaiting the passengers in the train. There is nothing to say because no possible words could alleviate the fear and anguish being felt by everyone. 

Once Levi in inside the concentration camp, he notes, “Nothing belongs to us anymore; they have taken away out clothes, our shoes, even our hair” (27). This really got me thinking about how little importance we place on our everyday items like hair and clothes, but without them, we are essentially nothing, stripped from what makes us unique. Hair is especially important. We spend hundreds of dollars to style, cut, and maintain our locks (not just women, men as well) because it is a part of who we are. The camps at Auschwitz did their best to make the Jews within them feel like they had no worth and were less than human by taking away their basic necessities. Levi went through an intense period of suffering where every day seemed very bleak with no chance of escape.

My question for this week is, in times where one feels there is no more hope left for them, how do they push themselves to keep going forward and keep living another day? In this situation, what is the silver lining when you constantly see dead bodies every day, with new ones piling on top day after day? 

Discussion (1)

  1. One way you might connect to (not answer) your question might be: when you are in a large class, how do you struggle to maintain a sense of your importance to the learning?

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