When Hitler began his career as a politician, he was always obsessed of eliminating the Jews in Germany. This “elimination” did not necessarily mean extermination of the said race, but nevertheless would involve too much savagery and cruelty. In 1930, Hitler became chancellor of Germany, a post he held until 1932, and began instituting anti-Jewish legislations. Jews were not permitted to hold any government office. They were also barred from using public utilities and services, and worst, their citizenship was cancelled.
When Hitler became dictator in 1933, he issued several orders to army and police units to begin the construction of concentration camps to hold prisoners. Many prisoners were transferred to these concentration camps. It was reported that they experienced torture and unwarranted murder. When the war broke, concentration camps were filled with Jews. Originally, the plan was to ship the Jews to Madagascar, a French colony (since Germany already defeated France during the war). 1 Because of lack of transport ships, Jews were forcibly transferred to the east where several concentration camps were being built.
The “trip” to these concentration camps were not pleasurably; more accurately horrible. Jews were sealed in the trains. For six days, the Jews had to suffer the lack of water and food, and poor ventilation system. There was no toilet in the cargo section of the train. Escape was impossible since German soldiers are guarding every section of the train. Jews caught jumping off the train were shot. Worse, the section where the said Jews escaped would have to be liquidated. This was the policy of the German military at that time. Contents of Levi’s Book
The book is essentially divided into 18 parts, organized into three themes (journey, life in the concentration camp, and war survival). 2 These are the chapters of Levi’s: 1) The Journey, 2) On the Bottom, 3) Initiation, 4) Ka-Be, 5) Our Nights, 6) The Work, 7) A Good Day, 8) This Side of Good and Evil, 9) The Drowned and the Saved, 10) Chemical Examination, 11) The Canto of Ulysses, 12) The Events of the Summer, 13) October 1944, 14) Kraus, 15) Die drie Leute vom Labor, 16) The Last One, 17) The Story of Ten Days, and 18) A Conversation with Primo Levi.
Each of these chapters reveals the factual events that occurred during the deportation of Jews to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The first chapter deals on the capture of Levi by Italian Fascists on December 13, 1943. Although he supported Mussolini during his yearly years in power, he was considered an enemy of the Italian Fascist army because of his Jewish leanings. When he fled to the mountains during the early course of the war, he was left with nothing but a couple of personal effects: a pair of shoes, a small firearm, and a bag of canned goods.
When he was captured, he was immediately sent to the SS camp in Northern Italy. The next chapters deal on the life of Levi on the concentration camp. At the end of January 1944, he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp along with 150 Italian Jews. At their first arrival, several Jews were shot on the orders of the camp commandant. The reasons for the shooting were never made clear by the chief sergeant of the work cells, but during the next days shooting of prisoners became a common sight.
The visit of the German doctors to the concentration camp, according to Levi, was initially welcomed by the Jewish prisoners in the belief that medicines would be distributed in the camp. It turned out that the doctors were invited by the camp commandant to take blood samples from selected Jews. These Jews would be transported back to Germany as part of an experiment. In October 1944, the Auschwitz camp commandant issued an order to liquidate some of the populous sections of the ghetto. Families became worried as German soldiers indiscriminately opened fire to women, children, and the old.
Men of adult age were immediately shot. One of the families, according to Levi, was praying in unison when an SS unit came and shot them. Some pleaded to German soldiers to spare the lives of children, but to no avail. The SS was instructed by the commandant to shot all Jews found in the selected section of the camp. Those who will ignore the order will be immediately shot. Life in the Concentration Camp (Levi’s Account of Auschwitz) Levi’s book fits well to historical documents proving the atrocities committed by the Nazis to the Jews during the Second World War.
His accounts of Auschwitz were invariably a supplementary record of war trials and criminal investigations of the Jewish High Tribunal. 3 His accounts however were highly accurate and devoid of emotions. It was as if the book was a photographed version of reality. Every prisoner in Auschwitz was supposed to work at least 16 hours a day. Not to do so would mean torture and with great probability death. Children were separated from the old. The old were machine gunned in a nearby SS camp. The children were sent to the “special treatment” house in Germany or in German-occupied territories to be gassed.
Able-bodied men and women were “employed” as laborers, taking many different jobs a day. Those who were disabled were automatically shot. It was even noted that no prisoner would survive in Auschwitz for even four weeks. It was the policy of the Germans to kill all the Jews transported after a month. This would make liquidation and transport more efficient. After the last batch was killed, a new batch would be sent to the camp to be killed. Added to that, any German caught of fraternizing with the Jews would suffer the penalty of death.
This policy was in accord with Nazi philosophy which requires every German to discriminate the Jews, take their properties, and possibly their lives (it was even noted that during Hitler’s time, crimes against Jews were relaxed. The courts were ordered by the Fuhrer not to proceed with crimes against the Jews, because they were not German citizens and should not be accorded with the rights and privileges of a German citizen). Sleeping was not also allowed. Anyone caught would be instantly killed. When anyone begged for mercy, the SS would take the pleasure of torturing him/her. 4 Killing would be the finale.
Sometimes, a thousand people were killed in a day. In Auschwitz alone, an estimated 1. 5 million Jews were killed during the duration of the war. These killings were done sometimes for sanitary purposes, sometimes for recreation, sometimes for the abject order of the camp commandant. The Jews were provided with food periodically by the SS. The distributed supplies of food were however insufficient to augment the prisoners’ labor nutrient requirements in the concentration camp. Many times, Jews were not given food because there was either a scarcity of such or by the order of the camp commandant.
It was also the policy of the Nazis to starve the Jewish race and to let them die in shame and pain. It was of no doubt that everyday many Jews in the camp die because of malnourishment and hunger. Clothing was not provided by the SS; the Jews were left on their own. They were ordered to bring their best clothing to the concentration camp, along with their personal effects. Their houses in the cities would be turned over to the German state. 5 Household equipments would have to be abandoned. There would be no room in the concentration camp for such “luxuries”.
The German police “assured” them that their properties would be left unharmed. Such assurances were never made factual, for the Germans considered Jewish property as their own, in compensation of the Jewish traitorous activities during the First World War. The conditions of the Jews became more and more horrible as the war progressed. A new technology was invented by a corporal in the German army which can kill 10, 000 Russian prisoners in the Eastern Front. The so-called gas chambers were utilized to kill at least 20, 000 Jews a day per concentration camp.
The efficiency of this newly discovered method eventually stimulated other SS commandants to adopt such method of execution. The “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was almost solved have not Germany faced the situation of unconditional surrender. Levy made this assertion when he was invited as a witness in the Nuremberg trials. Conclusion The book written by Primo Levi, a Jew with a doctorate in chemistry was full of details portraying the miserable conditions of the Jews under the Nazi regime. 6 These miserable conditions, however, were not far removed from the obsession of the Nazis of their inherent superior qualities.
The persecutions of the Jews during the Second World War were rooted in the deep hatred of the Germans to the Jews, of which was transformed into discrimination. This discrimination in due time was also transformed into political policies which highlighted the vagrant actions of the Germans against the Jews. The establishment of concentration camps, sufferings of the Jews in the concentration camps, and the desire of the Jews to be liberated from this system were historical facts, located in a milieu of social hatred and discrimination, imbibed in Hitler’s philosophy.