Sometimes I think that talking about the Holocaust is way too easy and, at the same time, impossibly difficult. Easy, because such an event will likely remain an open wound in the history of mankind for centuries to come and, as long as this is the case, writing about it will inevitably elicit a strong emotional response in the reader. Difficult, because many readers (me included) could quickly come to believe that everything that should be said about the Holocaust has already been said in memoirs, like Primo Levi’s own “If This Is a Man”. It’s tempting, almost reassuring to an extent, because once we get over the shock, “internalizing” the concept of the Holocaust seems straightforward for a rational mind. Quite black and white.
Well, “The Drowned and the Saved” does the immensely important job of breaking this comfortable illusion for us. Right away from page one, Levi starts by undermining the very idea of memory that we cherish so much when talking about the Holocaust: in fact, he warns the reader that his (and everyone’s) memory is fallible, an unreliable mean for the crucial task of keeping self-consciousness alive. What’s painful is that witnessing -telling the story- is not just difficult: rather, as Levi argues, it is not even wholly possible to begin with, because those who could really tell the story, the true witnesses, did not survive. They are “the drowned”, those who reached bottom and never came back. Instead, most of the survivors (“the saved”) were, in some way, compromised. And Levi explicitly and shamelessly includes himself in this group. He also writes at length about shame and suicide, and puts forward some reasons why suicide was rare in the Lager (“when one is dying, one is much too busy to think about death”, he explains while quoting Italo Svevo). Interestingly enough, “The Drowned and the Saved” is the last book published by Levi shortly before he himself committed suicide, perhaps as a way to ultimately prove to himself that he survived as a man.
So, in short, this book reminds us that nothing about the Holocaust is straightforward. Nothing is black and white. The “Grey Zone”, as Levi describes it, is way broader than we like to think. And we should always combat our inclination to simplify, by at least acknowledging that it is (and will always be) one of our greatest biases:
Without profound simplification the world around us would be an infinite, undefined tangle that would defy our ability to orient ourselves and decide upon our actions. In short, we are compelled to reduce the knowable to a schema.
Still, complexity is not the end of the story. Most importantly, Levi’s writing doesn't have a shade of dismissal. He is extremely lucid and compelling in stressing that, despite how impossible the task looks like, witnessing what happened is a necessity. And complexity is never an excuse to give up communicating:
Except for cases of pathological incapacity, one can and must communicate, and thereby contribute in a useful and easy way to the peace of others and oneself, because silence, the absence of signals, is itself a signal, but an ambiguous one, and ambiguity generates anxiety and suspicion. To say that it is impossible to communicate is false; one always can....Continua
Un saggio che non ti aspetti, che tutti dovrebbero leggere, in quanto offre molti spunti di riflessione.
“Se questo è un uomo” è testimonianza di quanto accaduto, e mi aveva già colpito per quanto Primo Levi riuscisse a risultare neutrale a quanto a lui stesso accadde.
Ma la lucidità, l’obiettività con cui affronta l’argomento, la tragedia in questo libro, sono sorprendenti.
Un’analisi lucida e scevra di qualsiasi retorica dell’esperienza dei campi di concentramento. Molto interessante l’analisi delle relazioni interpersonali che si creavano all’interno dei campi e di quell’area grigia che esisteva all’interno dei campi dei collaboratori,
Levi mette in evidenza che la nostra percezione di cosa furono i campi di concentramento nazisti è solo parziale perché i racconti che abbiamo ascoltato vengono quasi esclusivamente da sopravvissuti che riuscirono a ricavarsi delle nicchie di privilegio, anche a spese dei compagni, ed a sfuggire alle prove più dure....Continua
Levi fu un grand'uomo.
Vittima della strage nazista, ma capace di obbiettività, di senso critico, e capace anche di mettersi nei panni dei suoi aguzzini, per capire, per comprendere il senso di ciò che è stato, e che ha vissuto sulla sua pelle.
Primo Levi ci prova, constata, ragiona, ma una vera spiegazione di ciò che è stato non è riuscito a trovarla, neanche dalle numerose lettere ricevute da umerosi tedeschi all'uscita di "Se questo è un uomo" in Germania.